Answering Some Questions About Haiti

September 5, 2013

I’m back at 24 hours before heading into Haiti. This time tomorrow, I’ll be sitting at a gate in O’Hare airport in Chicago waiting for my flight to Miami. 

Every trip into Haiti brings fun emotion with it. The first few trips in, it was nervousness. It was anxiety. 

I just want this short post to answer a few questions that I hear concerning me going to Hait.

1.) What do you do when you go to Haiti?

I hang out. No seriously. I’ve gone in with groups. We’ve “constructed” buildings, per se. But it’s amongst my Haitian brothers and sisters. The boys in our children’s home are right there working with us. Or, many times, we find ourselves sitting in the girl’s dorm late at night. We go and sing. We laugh. We talk (as much as our limited Creole lets us).

It’s not a bait and switch where we have a project, and then we just go hang out, but it is about the relationships. These days when I make a trip, I’m not excited about the work at all. But I’m excited about getting to see people who are friends. Who know me. Who care about me. It’s about relationships, in the same sense that if I go visit a friend in another state, I am excited to see them, not help them wash their car…

2.) When are you moving to Haiti?

Never. Well, I say that and believe it. Unless God completely comes in and undoubtedly calls us, it appears that we are where we need to be. Lindsey and I feel called to be a bridge. We want to connect the local church, both ours and others, to what God is doing around the world. We feel blessed to have been able to go the places we have gone, and God has opened our eyes well beyond our Americanized concept of Christianity. If nothing else, I want people to be able to see what God is doing in other parts of the world so they can understand their role, and His role.

3.) Why do you keep going back to Haiti?

I’m selfish. I love Haiti. I love the relationships that I have down there. I love my kids. I do nothing for them, just to be honest. We’re friends first and foremost. A lot of people have this concept that we go, bringing goods and materials to the people that they lack, but that’s not true. I purposefully do NOT bring in things for them due to fear of creating dependency (see these posts as to why). Thus, I’m selfish.

I go for me. It is a time of spiritual refreshment for me. It is like visiting a family member after not seeing them for a while. It is simply what I want to do.

But also, I recognize that too many time in a short-term missions trip, we put our pin on a map that shows we’ve visited that place, and then we never return. What do the people we minister to and with think when we fail to show up again after investing and making those promises? Does that mean if someone makes a trip once and never goes back, it’s bad? Absolutely not, but I recognize that true impact is made on relationship – in the same way that it is in the states.

I cannot meet someone once, evangelize, and then never touch their life again. It takes work and intentionality.

I don’t bring Jesus to my friends at all. But my point is, it is an intentional relationship. I’m doing nothing to “improve” their lives in Haiti. I’m just a friend. And I want to see them. So I go. 

Hopefully this answers the big three questions that I get asked a lot. I do nothing in the grand scheme of things. I just want to hang out with my friends for a week.


Another Trip In

April 25, 2013

As you can see, this blog has become quite neglected over time. With Facebook and other forms of connection, I simply don’t get around to posting here as often. Plus, my running has suffered quite a bit, so I don’t often write, I suppose.

Nonetheless, after my trip last spring and a post here, many of you decided to give towards the work in Haiti. We were able to purchase 40 mattresses for the children in the home at Mountain Faith Mission, as well as use additional money to build enough beds for each student. It was a huge success, and I cannot share the joy that I felt to be able to witness the joy on their faces to have a mattress. These children are not “some kid in Haiti” but instead, these are my friends whom I love.

In 29 days, I will be making trip number 10, once again leading a group from my church. Here is the scoop:

  1. A kitchen. In 2010, the kitchen for the children’s home fell in the earthquake. This hasn’t been a huge ordeal, because they found other options to cook at. They moved it beside the present girl’s dorm. The problem with this is the fact that the smoke often billows into the dorm, making the west wing of the home almost completely black in the walls near the ceiling. Thus, our group will be building the kitchen that will be next door to the new girl’s dorm that is already under way. Last year, we began talks and have been fortunate to already have this under way in being built. Also fortunately, the kitchen has already been paid for by the awesome people at The Springs Church in Marana, AZ.
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  2. Girl’s dorm building. When the kitchen is drying from laying block and whatnot, we will hopefully be able to do some work on the girl’s dorm. The sooner we can get it to completion, obviously the better for our girls. Their home has some leaks and issues, and the sooner we can get them out of the old house and into the new, the better.
  3. Painting. This is my first trip from church in which we’ll have three ladies attend. There are some paint jobs that need to be taken care of which they have volunteered to help with whenever they are not fattening all of the men up from the kitchen. One of the ladies happens to be my smokin’ hot wife, so I am excited to be able to minister with her once again in Haiti. Anything that needs painting during the week, our lovely ladies will coat with paint.
  4. Schooling. My wife’s father will also be making his second trip with our group. He is a Christian school teacher (20+ years experience) and has a heart for Christian education. We will be doing some vision tripping while there with our school to see about some new projects. We would like to begin some more in depth teacher training, as well as just improve the structure and layout of the schools, as many of them have sub par facilities. Likewise, we hope to be able to come up with some new projects to better support our teachers both educationally and financially. Hopefully, we will be able to visit a few of our schools.
  5. Coffee. This is one of my favorite parts of the trip and I am hoping that it will all come to fruition. Of our churches in our mission, only one of them is high enough in elevation to grow Arabica coffee. This village (Montagne Terribe) is around 4700 feet in elevation to the west of Sodo. Many of the children in our home come from this village, where their parents still live, and just so happen to farm. Many of these farmers grow coffee. My goal is to get to Mt. Terribe and meet with some of these farmers, for no other reasons than to learn from them. I want to see where their coffee goes and see what type of output is happening. If they are satisfied, we do nothing, of course. They already know better than me. But, if they have opportunities to grow more, and then transport it to Port-au-Prince, one of the coffee companies in country, or even better, using Fair Trade, get it to the USA, this is my project that I plan on pursuing while I am there.
  6. The Party. Finally, when I take in groups, we like to celebrate with the kids in our home. We like to have one of our Haitian ladies to make a giant spread of food to eat. Last year, we had some of the best rice and beans with chicken – my favorite Haitian meal. Last year, we fed everyone for around $150, and that was around 55 people. The goal is to do this once again, because the fellowship is phenomenal with our friends that we are able to spend time with for a week.

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Here is my report of upcoming events, and if you would like to support this trip (none of the money goes to our group, expenses, etc. but only to the Haitian projects listed) you can contact me via Facebook link to the right, Twitter, email, or leave a comment and I will contact you. Likewise, you can donate via PayPal and simply designate your gift to the projects listed.

Again, many of you have given in the past and helped out in major ways. These gifts would be tax deductible, and again, would be used 100% for the children’s home projects listed above.

Contact me if you have any questions.


Setting the Oppressed Free

January 25, 2013

Last night, I was I was lying in bed, I picked up my phone to read my Bible before sleep. I was thinking heavily about Haiti and missions.

As many of you know, the book When Helping Hurts has been a game changer in my life, for the way that I view ministry both here and abroad. It is this book that has shifted the way that I look at my ministry, especially in Haiti.

The truth is, while Short Term Missions has done great things in the past, and has a very valuable aspect in the church today, there is no doubt in my mind that the church needs to rethink the way that we approach the issue.

I dove into Isaiah 58 last night, as God is speaking with the Israelites about their religious practices and fasting. The Israelites at the time were doing all of the great outward things that followers of God should have done, yet inside, they were filthy. While they would fast, they would fight. While they would humble themselves, they would expect gain.

In verse 6, God says this:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke? 

Now obviously, we know that God is speaking of the greatest issue here, that it is a factor found within the heart of each man and woman. No good works we do will earn God’s love. As David wrote in Psalm 51:17, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” 

It appears that many times, the church has fallen into the trap of thinking if we go abroad, we are somehow growing in our faith. While these two can be related at times, I do, oftentimes, think that many people feel as though if they can just get away to a place that is “less fortunate” that somehow they’ll have a Damascus Road experience where Jesus will shop up and say, “You must do this!”

And because of this, we get caught up in the wrong mentality.

As I read Isaiah 58:6, God condemns injustice. He declares His disdain for those who are living in situations that are unfair. He speaks of the yoke, the image used from two oxen being bound together. We get the image. And I think that all too often we think that suddenly, our job is to rush to their side with a bottle of water, a bag of rice, and some new (to them) shoes. Somehow, through those actions, we are changing their lives because of what we do, and we think that injustice has been broken.

But what if our contributions add to the injustice that we see?

I do not have the answers. I don’t think it is always a black and white issue. I don’t fully understand how to serve in Haiti. I don’t fully understand how to serve in the metro St. Louis area in ministry. I really don’t understand all that it takes to see the world as God sees it. I am a broken, sinful human being.

But sometimes, my good intentions can be laced with my brokenness. It can be laced with my “wanting to feel better about myself.” Sometimes, the way that I perceive justice is simply wrong compared to the way that God perceives justice.

What if, those who are suffering in an unjust world don’t need me to ship material goods to them? What if we need to speak with them, see what their goals and dreams are, and then simply encourage them to pursue those? What if that unwed mother who finds herself at a loss because she has no training in any profession, cannot secure a job, and she doesn’t need you to give her money today, because she will be out of it after buying formula? What if what she needs is for you most of all, to help her gain useful skills that not just impact her today, but impact her and her son for the years to come?

My point in all of this is not that I have it figured out. It is not that I say, “You’re doing it wrong. If you serve on a short-term missions team, then you’re breaking the country in half.” But what I have begun to figure out is that my ethnocentrism shines through, making me think I have all the answers. And because I am susceptible to the same  brokenness because of the sin in the world as you, or the unwed mother, or the man who is shoeless and just needs encouragement – maybe we should simply go back to Isaiah 58 and connect our heart to the heart of the Father.

He loves the people of Haiti infinitely greater than I can ever claim to love them. He loves the people of metro St. Louis infinitely greater than I could ever imagine to love my town.

If I start with me, then I will only get my results. But when I seek God’s counsel, beginning with my brokenness which all people possess, leading us all into poverty, it’s amazing the shift in worldview that will take place.


Learning About Short Term Missions

August 17, 2012

As I mentioned yesterday, the Short Term Mission movement in America has grown, which has created some interesting elements within the church. Brian Fikkert states in When Helping Hurts that in 2006, $1,600,000,000 was spent by Americans in STMs alone. Is this good or bad?

Growing up, I was very fortunate to be involved in missions. My father took an STM to Russia when I was a young boy and I remember hearing the stories and seeing the pictures. From that point on, my family was involved in missions. My mom knew about our denominational missionaries and would give reports on them at church. It is no surprise to me today that I work in Haiti with my father and my brother is working with missionaries in Central Asia. We love missions.

As I entered student ministry, I began to take note of some of the different elements of STMs. Hearing teens talking about what they learned on trips was “I should be grateful for what I have…,” while true, seemed to be where everything stopped. They would take trips, get emotional, have a fun experience, and then the long term effects on them wouldn’t really be there.

My first missions trip as a student pastor led me to an American Church plant. One day, as my students were working in the church, hanging drywall, etc., I rode to Home Depot with the associate pastor. I point-blank asked him, “So, I hear a lot of groups are more of a nuisance on an STM and do more vacationing than anything. Is that true?” And suddenly, he let loose and let me know the truth behind things. How immature and disrespectful groups would be. How some groups wouldn’t do anything beneficial and would actually create MORE work for the missionaries to do after they left. Some even would cost the missionaries a lot of money, leave, and have nothing more to do with them.

It was over the next year that I really began to dig and try to read everything I could get my hands on. 

My ministry in Haiti was forever changed after reading When Helping Hurts. If you are in ministry – read it. If you’re not in ministry – read it. 

The remainder of the post is not my story, but people who have served, learned, and see that there is a right way and a wrong way to serve in these capacities. They understand, because some of them live there full-time and are nice enough to share their thoughts, opinions, and findings with the rest of us. It is a brutal, first-hand look into the side of things that many people either don’t know are there, or simply don’t want to admit it.

For me, it began by reading a blog of missionaries in Haiti regularly. The Livesay family is a great family with a heart for the kingdom. It is actually their blog that introduced me to When Helping Hurts

Thinking Through STMs

Alleviate

I actually had the chance to meet Tara on a trip to Haiti in March 2011 and ask her just a few questions about what makes a group successful on an STM. I appreciate their heart to hosting groups and seeking for them to be done where they benefit the senders and the receivers. Check out their blog.

I’ve never met JamieTheVeryWorstMissionary, but her posts are brutally honest, which is something to be appreciated. I loved the set she did on STMs, and they are each included below.

Are We Calling This a Win-Win?

Win-Win Follow Up

Sorry, Poor People, It’s Not About You

Mmmm – No it’s not all good

Using Your Poor Kid To Teach My Rich Kid A Lesson

Other articles I’ve found helpful:

Why You Shouldn’t Build A House On Your Next Missions Trip

Mission Trips Handouts

 

There are numerous resources that speak to the correct way for Christians to help. Logically, to help long term is the approach that should be taken. The book When Helping Hurts breaks all of that down. So if you’re looking for a place to start (after you read every single post that I linked to, of course), start with When Helping Hurts. 

 


Preparing To Go To Haiti

August 16, 2012

Two weeks from this moment I am scheduled to be on a flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This will be my ninth trip to Haiti which has become a significant part of my life and my ministry. I serve as Children’s Home director for Mountain Faith Mission of Haiti, which in essence allows me the opportunity to work along side our missionaries and serve the students who live full time there.

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I don’t do anything specifically on the Haitian side of things but instead have the pleasure of working in the states to help raise funds for the every day functions of MFM. Goals include finding people to support the children’s home by donating monthly and essentially sponsoring an individual student. While the students are taken care of regardless of having a sponsor, the $30 comes in handy for curbing the every day cost. Likewise, my church took on the project to do some children’s home renovations earlier this year to work on bathrooms, shower, and roofing issues.

So trip number nine brings an exciting element to me. My wife is making her first trip with me this time. She has always desired to go, but because of having a teaching degree and always going at the beginning of September we have never set it up for her to go. She wouldn’t be able to miss school at the very start. Ironically, she has yet to actually have a job as school starts due to the awesome teacher job market in our area right now. This year we bit the bullet and are very excited to serve together.

I am enjoying watching the excitement come up in her. Two weeks out and she is already packing. It is fun to watch, but also creates even more excitement in me as well. I am ready for the people who have been wonderful friends to me over the past five years to meet my better half. I am ready for her to fall in love with the students in the children’s home.

So I was thinking of ways to prepare someone to go to Haiti. What should one know ? How do you prepare for a trip to Haiti which finds itself in the news as a dangerous and poverty stricken area?

Here are some thoughts…

1. Know the culture.
All too often it seems that we in America decide to go and visit a nation without being knowledgeable about who they are. Haiti is not St. Louis, Missouri. This goes deeper than knowing that they speak a different language and that there was an earthquake in 2010. Instead, one should be familiar with how the culture lives. For instance, there are conservative people in Haiti. I haven’t figured out if it’s a result of American missionaries in the 1900’s or if it is something see, but the area where we go in Central Haiti is conservative when it comes to Christianity. I had my wedding ring looked at and was told “pa bon,” or “no good.” While I think my wedding ring is fine and dandy, I don’t wear it down there anymore. I want to show them that I respect them, their culture, and their way of life. A friend of mine who goes has tattoos on his arms. This is again not part of the culture of the Christian people we minister to, so he wears long sleeves all week. Likewise, the area we are in, the women wear skirts all the time and the men don’t wear shorts. We live with them in this manner while we are there. This is THEIR culture. In Port-au-Prince, it is different. But when we are with them, we respect their culture and do as they do.

2. Don’t do things to stand out.
I have heard of many people who take missions trips to haiti and other places who fall into the trap of thinking that it is necessary for a giant group of white Americans to wear brightly colored matching t-shirts. You can check out multiple sources of missionaries who discourage this thought process. In the case of Haiti, you already stand out because you are white. This can be compounded by having thirty people wearing neon green shirts. You won’t lose someone…I promise.

Coupled with this is the ideas and concepts that you promote on your t-shirt. I have seen shirts that say stuff about saving Haiti and rebuilding Haiti and whatnot. There’s even a new movement with the slogan “Vacation To Save A Nation.” The way that we talk about things and present ourselves in another culture is sometimes repulsive.

I have stayed at a few guesthouses in PAP during my visits and without fail, when more than one group is there it seems that the two groups continually share stories trying to one up another. “We built 83 houses and fed 4500 people!” While the other group is talking about the 9600 people they gave clean water to.

I don’t want to sound cynical, but what a group does in 7 days in haiti, or wherever, is not bringing total redemption to the nation. Any many times, sometimes it does more harm than good… Keeping our role in perspective, we go quietly, serve humbly, and learn from those who live there…either American or Haitian. We are simply blessed enough to see what God is doing around the world.

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3. Have the correct perspectives.
I feel like I touched on this in the previous point, but it’s essential. Perspective in working with a place like Haiti is essential. This is why study is essential before a trip like this. My wife will be reading When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert. This book is essential to developing a correct view on how to serve the poor without being detrimental. Is it wrong to send down shoes to a place like Haiti? Probably more than you think. Is it detrimental to go and build a house the way that we want? Venturing to say very much so in this one. My favorite…what about building a water filtration system for the people? Are we willing to do more than just build it and supply it, such as doing education on the upkeep and maintenance of the filter. How can you hit the root problem of the issue? How can you create jobs? This book, as well as Walking With The Poor are essential for Christians to read to help change the perspective we have towards working with places like Haiti.

While it is hard to reduce all of preparing for Haiti to these three areas, I think it is a good place to start. At the risk of sounding cynical, I think the American church is messing up short term missions trips more often than not. I don’t have it figured out on how to do them right, but I am trying and want to do everything that I can to get there.

Tomorrow, I hope to post some inside views of missionaries who have shaped my thinking on the issue. They are in the trenches and looking to improve the way STMs are done.

Have you taken a STM and how would you define one as being successful?


A Big Thank You

May 14, 2012

A big thank you to everyone who gave and donated towards the projects that my team was able to work on last week. You might remember there were a few different projects that were going on. The original figures that I sent out…well they were not even close. But the great news is that you gave from the abundance and even though mattresses were $34, the bathrooms were closer to $700, the cemetery was closer to $1000, and numerous other things came up, we succeeded in what we went to do.

We didn’t do anything, just to remind you. We worked, but those things could have been accomplished with any group, Haitian or American. We were just blessed to be a part of what God has been doing in Haiti and around the world.

I leave you with a few pictures to show exactly where your money went and how it was used. I cannot express how grateful I am as the children’s home director to have mattresses taken care of for all of the students. They have a bathroom with running water and toilets that flush. Mirlanda will be moved in the coming weeks to be buried at the mission – the place of her upbringing. Numerous other things were done, and yet there is more to be done. These kids have impacted my life in phenomenal ways, and each man on my team can now testify to the same. I’ll give a bit more updates in the coming days, but the first thing I’d like to do is show you the progress that your giving has made to the wonderful children at the MFM Children’s Home.

New sinks.

New toilets for the bathrooms.

 

Thanks for giving towards the mattress project! 40 mattresses were bought from Port-au-Prince and now each student has a mattress. We’re in the process of completing the beds for each student to have their own bed.

Cemetery at the end of Day One.

Cemetery at the end of the week. Our Mason will continue to work to plaster and complete the project.


48 hours

May 2, 2012

In 48 hours, I’ll be landing in Miami to sit for that awkward layover time between home and Haiti.

It’s during this time that I get very antsy, anxious, nervous, and impatient. Well actually, in the last 48 hours before any trip to Haiti, I usually experience these sentiments and emotions.

This trip is an exciting time for me. Essentially, since I have moved into the position of the Children’s Home Director (again, essentially “The Dude Who Tries To Get Support For The Children’s Home”), this is my first trip dedicated to be able to focus completely on the home. The previous post lists all of the projects that we will be able to do while down there.

  • Cemetery
  • Mattresses/Beds
  • Roofing
  • Electricity
  • Bathrooms

I am very pleased to say, to my best knowledge, all of these will be funded. This doesn’t mean that my team will be able to complete the work on these next week, but it does mean that they’ll be funded and all of the work that is being done to fix up the home, bring it up to governmental standards, etc., is funded. This is a huge burden lifted off of me.
Being 100% transparent, I have felt much spiritual warfare going on leading up to the trip. First, it was the financial issue. I kept asking myself “How will these goals that have been given to you to get done while you’re down there by the Turners, get done, if you don’t have the money to do so?” And God supplied. Fast. No really, within a week, I was almost fully funded for mattresses and the cemetery – the two main projects. And yet it continued to come in so not only do we do the two main projects, we’ll be able to go above and beyond. That was a distraction and a worry to me, but God has taken care of it.
But then, things got a little dicier…this year, we were able to secure enough people to get a group rate through American Airlines. This was awesome, as we’re paying about $125-$175 less this year than we were last year. The only catch is you have to sign a contract, have 90% of your people fly, and there are no refunds. A few hoops, but no big deal…until family members of team members begin to get sick. There was a lot of stress over the last two weeks – much less for me than for them. Two different men were dealing with issues that put their status in question. If both of them dropped, we only flew 9, we lost a deposit, plus our ticket fares would change…never good. I was stressed, sleepless, and couldn’t focus. One of the men worked extensively to make sure he could go…and a way has been found. The other man worked extensively to make sure he could go…and a way was found.
Interestingly enough, on Sunday, I received a call from another friend my father had spoken with who informed me he would not only like to go, but would have the funding to go if someone dropped. So I offered the position up to one of the men who has gladly decided to stay home with his family member to relieve his stress. The other gentleman will be driving 7 hours to fly out of St. Louis with us.
Another man has had a vehicle’s transmission go out.
I say all of these things to point out that I am expecting a phenomenal trip. Why? Because there have been countless issues that have arisen in the past two weeks to try to distract. They might seem minor, but I do know that I am excited to be leading a team of men to Haiti.
It’s not anything that we’re going to be doing while we’re down there. I mean, let’s be honest – in seven days, what can we do? We can lay some brick, buy some mattresses, install some toilets – but that’s nothing that our Haitian workers cannot do. That’s not what this trip is about. I have shifted my mindset from it being a “short-term missions trip” to be more of a “vision trip.”
Yes, we’re going to work hard. Yes, we’re going to be in church with the Haitians, with a couple of Americans deciding to preach. But in seven days, what long term results will we set in motion? Probably none. Minute if any. But what we will see happen, is men catching a glimpse of what God is already doing around the world. We’ll see men changed through the power of God. The things that they will see, not the poverty and malnutrition, but the hope, love, and worship, will bring about a lifetime of memories and change.
I know what will happen to the men on my team, because through seven previous trips, that’s what has happened to me.
I do nothing special while I’m in Haiti. I hang out with kids. They’re my friends. It’s almost a vacation these days. Yes, we do work. Yes, we bring funding. But it’s not about me at all. The work would be done without me. Why? Because God’s Kingdom is being established. He is a mighty and powerful God.
I’m just lucky enough to be a part of it.

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