Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pa Gen Elektrisite

The light on the inverter literally said "defeat". I think it was gloating.

Night before last we had no power. Ugh. Our house can get power from three different sources:
  1. EDH, electricity d' Haiti, the public power utility, which works sometimes, if it wants to, some hours a week, at an outrageously high price
  2. a generator owned by Quisqueya that runs from 7 am to 9 pm on week days, unless it runs out of gas, or breaks in some fashion, or someone forgets to turn it on
  3. an inverter battery system, which is basically 12 car batteries hooked together, that is charged up by the generator and then powers our house when the generator is off, except you can't use heating or cooling elements (air conditioning, toasters, etc.) when it is on
Night before last none of the above were working. This was ok at 3 and 4 pm, because it was still light out, and we just threw open our doors and windows and read outside on the porch, in Jill's amazing camping hammock that I am now obsessed with.

But at bedtime? Ugh.

I washed my face by candlelight, used the booklight to read, and then tried to sleep. With no fan, we just pretty much lay there and sweat. And sweat. And sweat. I was still awake at midnight.

Then I started feeling bites. I woke up fully when a mosquito went in my ear. I lay there for a long time, because now I had to pull the sheet up and it was even hotter. I heard Ben mutter, "I think there's a mosquito in the net. I'm getting eaten alive (which is probably true, because of his lack of shirt)." It was 3:30 am. We turned on his flashlight to check the net and see if one was inside. We killed seven mosquitos, fat and dark with our blood, slumbering on the inside walls of our net. I have no idea how they got in. By now it was 4.

We lay back down to go to sleep, itchy. That's when we noticed the roosters beginning, and the stray dogs. At one point two animals got in a fight and we talked back and forth awhile about whether they were cats or rats fighting. We decided on cats after a particularly feline-like squeal. Then the tap-taps started driving, and the moto-taxis. By then it was just no use. The alarm went off at 6.

Needless to say, yesterday we were not on our A game.

Even as I type this I am self-critical and wonder whether it's selfish to e-whine about a hot, mosquito-y night. It's the norm, or the exclusive experience at night, for millions and billions. Granted. But it wasn't fun.

Last night we went to bed extremely early and slept like rocks. We're fine.

Most important takeaway: all day yesterday I was grateful for the fact that, even in the midst of a yucky night, we didn't fight. Nine times out of ten, we would have. But I've been trying an extremely sophisticated and elegant relationship strategy lately:

Shut my big fat mouth.

I tell you, it's a surefire argument-killer. Shut my mouth. Just don't even ask out loud if his side of the mosquito net was really tucked in well. Don't. Peace ensues. I want less conflict, more teamwork, less defensiveness and criticism, more flirting and laughing.

Mwen renmen ou, elektrisite!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Gospel, Over Easy

Last summer at children's camp I had a near-death experience. The camp pastor had done his opening juggling act. He had the kids hooked. He told some funny jokes, then introduced the Bible story. Then he did it. He asked a rhetorical question about whether it was possible to earning your way into heaven through church attendance or good deeds. He was meet with a significant number of audible yeses.

I died.

I often times think of the brilliant and prophetic essay by the late Michael Spencer about the coming evangelical collapse. One of the places that such a collapse might be rooted is in a lack of knowledge that most Christians have about what they believe.

Spencer felt that the main culprit of this is the church. Oftentimes Sunday is a glorified self-help session with some singing thrown in. Why? I wonder if the reason for this proliferation of empty teaching is because some feel Biblical truth would be too controversial (not "seeker sensitive"?) or too dense for some. But whatever the cause, far too many believers have no consistent well-reasoned doctrine that they can lean on, or explain to those who might disagree with them.

I mean, isn't the most basic thing you should teach a child that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ? Isn't that more important than learning VeggieTales (which I will admit are catchy and fun), not to life, or even a specific Bible story?

It is very easy to criticize, but it is much harder to get it right.

Back to camp. I sat outside in the warm and sticky summer air with a young man  who had responded to the camp pastor's invitation. I had been with this kid all week long. I asked him what has prompted him to respond.  He said that there were problems at home and he gets angry a lot. He started to cry a little and I asked him why did he thought he needed Jesus. The little boy responded that he just wanted to be happy more.

Oh crap.

I stammered and told him that I knew things were tough, but a relationship with Christ does not mean everything is roses. Things continue to be tough, but with Christ you have someone to help you through the tough times. I prayed for him, and he went back inside to the juggling pastor with rhetorical questions that the kids answered incorrectly. I stayed sitting in the grass, completely dejected, wondering where I failed to communicate the basics of the Gospel.

I never figured out where I got it wrong. Now K and I are back in Haiti. I find myself spending my morning praying for my students and wondering how I can communicate to them the truth of the Gospel, and not pervert it into a works-based, moralistic, God-is-a-genie-in-a-bottle reduction. I have no new answers.

Matt Chandler, a pastor in Dallas, has a video that I have streamed on YouTube a dozen times. He says he constantly preaches the Gospel to his congregation- a largely North Dallas church-raised  that knows Christ. I want to have this approach with my students.

I am not a professional evangelist. But I want to make known, time and time again: God desires us, wants to have a relationship with us,  and apart from that relationship your life is ultimately unfulfilled. I want them to know and experience that truth just as much as I want them to understand the US Constitution, what the Renaissance was, and when the 13 colonies were founded. I want them to know that they cannot earn God's love, have done nothing to deserve it, and can do nothing to lose it.

I want the next kid I sit with at camp or elsewhere to know exactly what (s)he is, and is not, going to get by following the Jewish rabbi (heck, I want the kid to even know Jesus WAS a Jewish rabbi). I think the only way I can do this is to talk about it time and time again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Medical Clinic at TeacHaiti

On Tuesday we got the day off from school due to Hurricane Irene. I was very excited to have the free time since I knew Miquette had a team in town working to provide medical and dental treatment for her TeacHaiti kids.
Everyone got a check of mouth, ears, eyes, nose, hands and feet.
 And a little listen to the heart.
Next, the students went upstairs on the roof to have their vision tested and be weighed.
 Then everybody saw a dentist. The best part- not only the students, but also their parents were seen. This mama is being treated by a dentist from Fairfax Community Church in Virginia.
Afterward I heard him tell Miquette that more than half the kids' teeth were in good shape, however the parents, on the whole, had many more problems. He said the biggest issues were infections and teeth that needed removal.
 Showing off her brand new toothbruth and toothpaste. In addition, Fairfax Community Church made a student health record for each child. That will help them track changes over time, but also help them refer students to local health providers for more extensive treatments (tooth extraction, for example).
 Waiting in line to visit the doctors.
 They had a little pharmacy set up for those who needed prescriptions, but everybody left with at least a baggie of vitamins.
And afterward, a hot meal. Some kids had already come on Monday, but showed up Tuesday as well for the big lunch.

I love TeacHaiti big time.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Will Get on a Helicopter if it Kills Me

Breaking news from the US Embassy in Haiti...

USNS Comfort Returns to Haiti after Hurricane Irene  

The Continuing Promise 2011 (CP11) mission team, embarked in USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), will return to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, August 24, to resume medical, dental, veterinary, and engineering operations.

Comfort was directed by Commander, United States Naval Forces Southern Command to depart the area and seek safe haven until the storm had passed. The ship weighed anchor and got underway the evening of August 21 in anticipation of the approaching Tropical Storm Irene. Comfort waited as the storm passed north of Haiti and then made her way back towards Haiti August 23.

Haiti is the ninth and final stop of the CP11 deployment, a five-month humanitarian assistance mission providing medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support to the Caribbean Basin and Central and South America.

Comfort initially arrived in Port-au-Prince August 18 and, over two days of operations, treated approximately 1,450 patients and performed 15 surgeries.

Why am I talking about this giant boat? Because Ben and I are going there on Saturday! Quisqueya was asked to provide interpreters, and our high schoolers are going all this week. Ben and I will chaperone on Saturday. Now mind you, we have been forewarned that the great majority of medical work and translating is done on the shore at a large triage center. Only the most serious cases are sent to the ship, with interpreters along for the ride ON A HELICOPTER from shore to the boat.

I'm sorry, did you say helicopter? Did you know one of my three life dreams is to ride in one? (Or, incidentally, that the other two are to visit Africa and be present when a baby is born?!).

At Baylor every incoming freshman takes an amazing test called Strengthsfinder, a personal strengths inventory created by the Gallop Poll people. Out of 50 strengths, my number three result was strategizing (or, as Ben calls it in honor of our dear sweet '43, strategery). This skill is already rearing its ugly head as I am already figuring out ways to get myself on one of those helicopters. I'm going on the boat. It's going to happen, people. Saturday. Get ready.

Wishing, hoping, strategerizing,

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Right is Right

One of the teaching books I like is Teach Like A Champion, which provides great practical advice based on systematic observation of some of the best teachers in the best charter schools in the States. One of the techniques they encourage is called "Right is Right". Basically when you ask a student a question, you only stop when they say the 100% correct answer. So if the student says an answer that is close you do not say, "right, close". You hold out for the right answer. I love that idea. So much in our culture is relative that I find the idea of absolute write and wrong refreshing.

I want to apply it in more places that just the classroom.

There is a church in Wisconsin partnering with Lifeline Mission that is in the middle of sending 28,000 jars of peanut butter to Haiti to help with the problem of malnutrition. And it is not right. This type of aid is detrimental to the economy of Haiti and a mis-allocation of resources. It is typical of well-intentioned but poorly informed people.
Before I explain my reasons for taking exception to their work, let me say that I have emailed the pastor of the church and the mission in keeping with the spirit of Matthew 18:5 and tried to bring my concern to them directly. I have not received a reply. I have learned that they have been inundated by emails from people critical of this project.

Haiti is indeed very poor. Kwashiorkor (severe protein deficiency) is a problem. However, I do believe there are right and wrong ways to help; ways that break systems of poverty and ways that perpetuate vicious cycles of unemployment and need.

The mindset behind most aid that comes from America is deeply troubling to me. It is part of the latter system that I mentioned. It is the White Santa mentality that we have talked about before (remember our ill-fated toy distribution?). The well-meaning folks in Wisconsin are right: Haiti is poor, but there are a few things Haiti can do quite well for itself. Harvesting mangoes is one, producing excellent rum is another, but the country also makes some good peanut butter. Peanuts are a resilient crop; they do well here. Haitian farmers sell their crop to local business who make a very good peanut butter that when sold here in Haiti is actually cheaper than the brands imported from the United States.

The aid mentality that says let's send stuff to a poor place is actually very destructive to that poor place's economic system and should be eliminated from our mindset entirely. It is simple economics.

By bringing 28,000 jars of peanut butter into the country, literally tons of it, they are reducing the demand for a local product. That means less sales at a local market for a marchan,who will buy less of the product from their supplier, who will buy less from the manufacture, who will purchase fewer peanuts from the farmer who depends on his crop to survive. It starts a terrible chain reaction that exacerbates poverty in this country. It is aid that tries to help but only ends up hurting the very people it is targeting and many more!

28,000 jars of peanut butter shipped to Haiti as aid is also a terrible waste of money. Walmart.com tells me that in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin a 15 oz jar of peanut butter is $2.12. At 28,000 jars that is $59,360! Here in country you could get better bang for your buck. Because the peanut butter is local it is cheaper so with the same amount of money you could actually buy more. These numbers do not even being to take in to consideration shipping costs and customs fees which can be considerable.

Of course I do not think that the people Lake Hallie, Wisconsin mean to harm Haiti, I am  certain it is just the opposite in fact. I believe that they have sincere compassion for Haiti, that they take Christ's commands to love their neighbor as themselves seriously. But I do believe that right is right. And this, while full of good intentions, this is not right.

Let me quickly suggest some alternatives.
  • The best alternative would to be to raise funds and purchase local peanut butter(or any product). This is always the best option for aid. It benefits the manufacturer as well as the farmer, and it all-around is a huge boost to the local economy. This option is also the most cost-effective since Haitian peanut butter or any local product) is much cheaper than its American counterpart. 
  • A second option would be be find a local wholesaler and purchase goods from them, even if it was American brands. This second option also works with any other product that you would like to deliver to the Haitian people. From baby formula to to tooth paste, it can all be bought here from local grocery stores.
  • Lastly, if you or your group are looking to help the Haitian people, and want to boost the Haitian economy let me suggest three online resources.
Obviously there are times when there are things that just cannot be purchased locally and must be shipped, but with good partners in country that happens less than you might think.


Shout out to my friend Corrigan for the 3 commerce links.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Kids on the Block

And we're off! Today was the second day of school. Things have gone well so far, in part because of the really capable and friendly new staff. Here's the rundown on the New Kidz on campus.

In our house (which is across the street from the campus, and is chopped up into three apartments), we have Kellyanne and Jill now moved in. Kellyanne is an Aussie, and I'm loving the accent. She's teaching third grade and is a go-getter with a fabulous sense of hospitality. Jill is leading our second graders, and is a recent grad who could not be friendlier. I love living next door to them both.

Over on the main campus Jarrett has just joined our staff and moved to Haiti to join his brand new wife Tiffany, who was with us last year. She's still teaching 5th and Jarrett is with Ben and I in high school, manning the computer lab. He's starting a really interesting film class- I wish I could take it, honestly. He's a smart guy who's already planning ahead for next spring's yearbook- I like that.

Josiah joined our staff full-time this fall after coming last spring to do his student teaching in PE. He's sporting some killer dreadlocks now and loves outdoorsy adventures. His claim to fame last spring was, getting in a moto accident and slamming face-first into a wall, requiring a trip to a Haitian ER for stitches. Quite a story to write home about. He led worship in our back-to-school rally on the first morning of school.

Amber is living with Miquette currently, and is taking on a mix of PE and middle school social studies. She is a Texan! Better yet, from Dallas. She is lovely and has a big heart for middle schoolers, which makes her practically a saint in my book.

Last but not least, Irene and Robbie! They hail from South Carolina and Virginia and we have loved getting to know them. They visited last spring during their process of discernment regarding their move to Haiti. Ben and I were trying very hard to be nonchalant, but were secretly hoping hoping hoping they would come... and here they are. Irene is a guidance counselor and Robbie teaches high school Bible- they are both talented artists and deep thinkers. I'm working with Irene on helping our seniors get oriented to the college process.

That is our crew! Art and Miquette are newly engaged and will be joining households come this fall. There are two more arrivals to come to our on-campus commune life: the Ream family comes in a few weeks with their kids, and another single male teacher is coming who I don't know much about.

Commune life. I highly recommend it.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kicking Off the New School Year

It is great being back here in Port-au-Prince. The city is direct assault to all of your senses. The sights, the sounds, the smells of Port are so unique and I missed them. They are not pleasant. The smell of stale urine, the shouting beggars at the airport, the heat that is just slightly cooler than Dallas. Some people experience those and feel despair. I experience those and know I am here to work. I am not immune to how troubling all of it is- blessedly it still breaks my heart. But it is just because it breaks my heart that I am so happy to be back.

I loved the time I had to rest this summer. I literally have never felt as at peace and rested than I did this summer. But I did begin to feel restless. All of my friends and my in-laws were at work. I was at home. The only people who were as carefree as I was were my really young friends who were in college. I began to get a little stir-crazy because I did not have a job, a mission. Oh, but in Haiti I do. There is plenty of work to be done here. Luckily it is work that I love doing. If you were filming my face the 6 days I have been in Haiti, well- you would have a rotten job having to film my ugly mug, but you would also see that I have been grinning the whole time. Haiti is a lot to bear, but I love the work.

And for full disclosure, I also probably like it here for prideful reasons. It is hard to live here and most people couldn't or wouldn't do it. But I do and it gets more manageable the longer I am here. And I like that. It gives me swagger like someone who has just run a marathon or climbed a mountain.

When school starts on Tuesday we will have over 300 students! The school has been painted, we have new lockers, and tons of new teachers along with a few new students. Good things are going to happen here. Kids are going to learn- everything from the alphabet, to how to write a 5 paragraph essay, to why Freud was a total nutcase. Lives are going to be changed. To repeat a point K and I make often- outside of our school there are very few places where the students get someone to pour into their lives. These kids deal with every issue that teenagers in the States deal with and then some, but they have fewer people to listen to them, advise them,  and to love them. Teachers at QCS fill that void and we want to fill it completely

So bring on the start of a new school year.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mosquito Net o' Joy

Our fancy new mosquito net arrived in the mail yesterday. It is cube-style, not teepee-style, and it is actually functional (sewn together on all sides, as opposed to decorative ones that are open).

Ben and I are often toasty hot when we sleep, and the old net made it worse by making us sleep quite close. Sweat city. 

One small online shopping click for Katie, one giant leap for marital happiness :)


Saturday, August 6, 2011

This Year's Wish List

Last semester I would lay in my bed, shrouded in a mosquito net with a fan blowing gale-force wind on me. I day-dreamed about my next trip to Dallas. As much as is possible, that day-dream came true these past two months during our summer break.

I have slept. I drank cold Texas beer. I have eaten smokey Texas barbecue. I swam in the deep, rich relationships that are always ready to welcome me back to Texas with open arms. And now it is time to go.

It is time to pack up all our gear and get our minds focused back on our calling. I do not go back and read old blog entries, but I feel like I am repeating myself when I say that I have high hopes for what happens this year. I know that my God is going to do tremendous things that I cannot think of, but I also hope that He does some specific things that I have been praying about. These are my hopes for the next 10 months.
  1. I hope that a spiritual awakening happens at Quisqueya Christian School. You might ask- why does a supposedly Christian school need an awakening? Many of our students do not have a strong concept of having a personal relationship with God. Quite a few have a background with families or schools that were secular or only nominally religious. Specifically, after the earthquake we had a large group of kids transfer in without much religious background. Some people in my Haiti community dislike this because it has changed the culture of the school- these kids can be rougher, more swearing, more cheating. I LOVE THESE KIDS and I love the challenge they present. They are hurting, they are hungry, and I want to walk with them. Also, not to be overly simplistic, but I think there we have a dream that as our students experience life change through Jesus, their families will be positively affected. And their families are in many cases leaders of the Haitian business class which (again, not to be too simplistic) could have a real effect on Haiti as a nation.
  2. I hope to develop into a bad-ass teacher. Seriously, I want to be a holy-history-terror. I want the students to cower in fear for primary-source documents, essays, and pop quizzes. When I am done with them, I want them all to be ready to dominate any college history course thrown at them and be able to, in perfect 5 paragraph format, tell their friends why their opinions are wrong. The best easily-quotable teacher advice I ever received came from the sage Art McMahon, who said that "we should strive now to be the teachers that the students will be grateful for 10 years from now; not be the teachers the students want now."
  3. I hope to be more intentional with my time. Something I hate about myself is that I have the worst time management. I am have great plans (see above) but I do not always do the things that make those plans successful. To me there is a considerable gap between who I want to be and who I am; the things I want to do and the things I do. So I want to be specific about how I spend my time this year. I want to make sure all the things I wrote above come to fruition.
So that, in blogable form, is what I want to see happen this year.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

To Haiti on Sunday

Here we go again. Back to Haiti on Sunday for another school year.

For a few weeks now I've been looking towards our return with ambivalent feelings- goodbye to all my comforts, goodbye to the feast that is summer in Texas. Feast of friends, feast of food, feast of laughter and homey things.

But then I sent an email to my students last week, reminding them about a supply I'm requiring for my class and also saying "how was your summer?" and "how can I pray for you?" I got quite a few responses from some of the high school girls I'm closest to. As I saw their little names pop up in my inbox, my heart warmed up about leaving Texas for Haiti. Their emails said they missed me and were excited for English class and bragged about books they read this summer. Some used textspeak (dear miss k i love u tonz!!!!), and even that was endearing. I miss them. I love them!

Two weeks ago I was in New Orleans on a girls' trip with The Tribe, a fantastic group of women who prayed together every week of our last two years at Baylor. That's all we did- just pray for each other. The last night of our trip we were on the porch at Sarah's parents' house, celebrating Sarah's engagement to Sergio. A conversation struck up about how hard it is to live in Haiti, and then we started to talk about heaven. I started to cry talking with Laura and Lauren about heaven, and how I will see some students there, partially because of how we love and teach them at Quisqueya...

And in the middle of that thought, with my eyes on that image, I  honestly could not care less about the comforts I leave behind in Texas. My life is so short. In two hundred years not even my own descendants will know my name. In less than one hundred years everything I own will be in a yard sale, or my grandkids' garages. I will need to reconjure that image when I'm sulking or feeling sorry for myself at the hurdles of Haitilife. We may walk back into our apartment and find it's been flooding since May, or we may go four days without water.... or any other number of annoyances. But when I think about heaven, and who will be there, and what I want my life's work to be......


Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Friends, just like we love telling you about our favorite Haitian charities, another adorable product that helps young women has crossed through my Google reader-


Check them out at http://www.ssekodesigns.com.
They are really adorable shoes made by young women in Uganda.
Buy some shoes. Help some ladies. This is a win-win here, friends.
Check them out today!

(PS If you're not ready to buy just yet, there is also a raffle going on to win a pair....)



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