Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Really Crappy Idea

My sister Taylor visited us for the Thanksgiving holiday. I love being with someone who is in Haiti for the first time. You canget desensitized to things here. I think by spending quality time with new people you can stay sensitive to the poverty and desperation.
I wanted to show my sister the city. I asked my most trusted adventure companion, John (of blog fame here) to drive us around. We weaved through the trash-strewn streets while I pointed out landmarks and former landmarks.

We pulled up next to the National Cathedral while I was telling the following story about John. Last year visited the same spot with one of his friends from the States. Three middle-aged women were sitting on the roadside and started asking us for money and food. John, a murse who has been in Haiti as long as I have been alive, did not bite. He sized one of the women up in a quick glance and told her in flawless Kreyol that she did not need to eat. He said she was overweight (she was) and probably had high blood pressure. Her two friends burst into loud cackles and nodded in agreement, shouting, "It is true! Her doctor tells her so!" This was the last time I was at the cathedral.

The roof of the cathedral collapsed in the earthquake. I distinctly remember a Haitian friend telling me she could not fathom what it looked like, and did not want to see because it would be too painful. This was the place where the president was inaugurated, and where people regularly worshiped. It is a shell of structure now.

A year ago, there was a sheet metal wall around the National Cathedral that kept us out. Now that was gone and anyone could walk in. Three other blan were at what used to be the alter with their nice camera equipment, no doubt getting some nice stock footage for some ubiquitous 2 year anniversary special. As I wondered around, I was struck by how tragically beautiful the clear blue sky and pure white clouds looked.
On what remained of the upper balcony, four men were at work with hammers and other hand tools breaking down the rest of the cathedral. That is how the rubble is being cleared in Haiti: hammers, chisels, sledgehammers and wheelbarrows.

I thought a picture from the balcony would create an interesting perspective. I noticed there were two spiral staircases on either side of the front entrance and decided to go for it.

I was aware that the structural integrity of the building was questionable at best. I told my sister to hang back. It smelled funny. As I ascended I quickly noticed the concrete spiral was more cracked and fissured than I previously thought. I also noticed the previous smell was only getting stronger- human waste. As I climbed the stairs hoping for a killer picture, I noticed that the staircase was apparently doubling as a bathroom. All around my feet were little landmines of human turds.

Eventually I reached an impasse. The upper parts of the building had collapsed; I could not go further. I pirouetted 360 degrees on my tip-toes and tried to walk back down.  I then realized that if I lost my footing on any of the loose cement or poo-slicked steps, I would fall and slide down the staircase, covered in other people's excrement. Much more scary to me was the idea of a minor earthquake, because of the structural insecurity. I had a brief vision of a tremor, the walls collapsing, and then being pinned under the cement with the poo.
Needless to say I quickly navigated down the steps.
When I reached the open air of the main cathedral hall I took deep breaths of relatively clean, poo-free air. I looked at my sister sideways and told her... 

that was a crappy idea.


Friday, November 25, 2011

A White People Holiday

Teachers cheering on Quisqueya soccer

These are my students. I teach every one of the teenagers in the pics above. If you want to know what I do in Haiti- here are the faces. That's my little flock. I often joke that I actually do teach, I swear- my schedule is not exclusively filled with soccer games and service projects... I guess those are just the days I wind up bringing the camera.


It's a weird couple of days for me. I just read this book, Travesty in Haiti, which is the account of a man who lived here for 15 years and observed just about every kind of fraud, corruption, and sin possibly created by the hands of mankind. He came to research for his dissertation, then stayed and worked with dozens of clinics, NGO's, Christian missions, hospitals, etc. His conclusion in the end- everybody is lying, everybody is stealing, everybody is greedy. He witnessed case after case of intentional, planned harm toward the Haitian poor, by Haitians and foreigners alike, through aid and development projects.

The concluding chapter of his books recounts how only once in his 15 years did he witness the poorest of the poor in Jean Makout county, where he was based, receive any outside help that actually brought them out of material squalor: when the Colombian drug traffickers arrived after the fall of President Aristide, and the locals got involved as middlemen.


I've been feeling kind of hopeless. I want to disciple high schoolers; I don't know how. I want God to bring revival to Haiti in all areas- leadership, government, in the church, in the business community; I don't see it happening. I drive to the grocery store; the streets are filled with rotting trash. I wake up to exhaust floating in my window, I see the haze of smog and petrochemicals and charcoal cooking fires drifting above the city... It's nasty. This city is nasty. Every already ugly wall, topped in razor wire and/or broken bottles, is smeared with graffiti and half-worn posters from last year's election.

The contrasts make me feel despair, and guilt.

I spent the morning yesterday at TeacHaiti and the orphanage next door. I hurried home from that to cook a feast for my 50-person Thanksgiving meal yesterday.

I read A Tale of Two Cities yesterday with two children of very elite Haitian families and four missionary kids. I thought about the plot: wealthy elite attend parties and chill in their chateau while les miserables starve in the fields. I recalled the scene where the Marquis calls the peasants names; it reminded me of the part in Travesty in Haiti where the author hears the Haitian elite calling the peasants "red teeth" and "cracked feet". My heart was so upset.

Then 3:00 hit and we all scampered: the kids to their moms or chauffeurs, me to grab Ben and his sister and jump in a truck to visit the Child Hope feeding program serving tent city kids. This is not me bragging, mind you- we just wanted to show Ben's sister Taylor this great program. Last year my mother was in tears when we brought her there, and this year Taylor was also very emotional. Me? I just stood to the side and socialized with my friend Brittany's family, who was also visiting for Thanksgiving. My heart is hard and my heart is soft, all at the same time.

I just don't know how to make sense of it. It's so much easier in America, where I only have to think about poverty at convenient times, like the Christmas missions offering, or when the letter arrives from your Compassion sponsored child every few months.

Then yesterday, we were home from school from Thanksgiving when our cleaning lady came. We paid her, kind of randomly, a week early, just because we had the cash and we were there and she was there... just an afterthought. She put the money on the kitchen table and put her arms in the air, closed her eyes, and started whispering. I got awkward real fast. When she heard me move she stopped and looked at me and said, "thank you, thank you." She went on to say that she was thanking God because she had run out of money, and something about her children and eating. She has five kids.

Oh, God.

It was Thanksgiving. Haitians don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so we went to TeacHaiti, because they would all be in class and we like to see the kids. At recess I tried to explain to a 4th grader named Naika why I wasn't working: "Jodi a se vakanse pou di mesi Bondye... pou priye." This translates (sort of) to "Today is a day of vacation to say thank you to God... to pray."

She replies: "O, vakanse blan". "Oh, a white people holiday".

Then she said, "Don't you pray every day?"


Anne Lamott says the two most powerful prayers we pray are, "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

It was a day for both.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jezi Renmen Tout Timoun Yo

Jezi renmen tout timoun yo
Tout timoun ki sou late
Koule rouj e nwa e blan
Li renmen yo tou le tan
Jezi renmen tout timoun ki sou late.

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.


Major events right now:

1) We are drowning in a Kreyol class that is two hours every night, after normal teaching hours and extracurriculars.

2) Ben's sister Taylor is visiting! We took Taylor to TeacHaiti last Saturday to meet our favorite kids. There is an orphanage next door; we took this photo there. I'll post many pics as soon as I can.

Jezi renmen tout timoun ki sou late!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Measles and Typhoid and Houseguests, Oh My

The latest:

I got to see God work on Tuesday. Within a few days two girls came in (separately) to my classroom to tell me about the fight they were having (with each other). Both were just spewing hurt feelings. I suggested talking it out with an adult, but both thought it wouldn't work. The issue came to a head because both girls were supposed to be in my discipleship group. I told them both that we were going to have a sit-down talk with Mrs. Pruitt (Irene, a great on-campus friend and our amazing guidance counselor), and if either of them refused to at least try to reconcile then she would have to be the one to switch to another discipleship group.

On Tuesday the two girls met with Irene and I, and all I have to say is, God worked. In less than 55 minutes, these extremely angry girls went from hostility to understanding. Irene was amazing. She used all sorts of communication tricksies and somehow... they went along. By the end, they were reflective listening, using their "I statements", and even apologizing to and forgiving each other for pieces of the conflict. So now the argument has cooled. Nobody's best friends again, and one chose to switch discipleship groups anyway, but there is peace.

My childhood friend Amanda came to be our houseguest this weekend. Amanda works in Leogane, the epicenter of the earthquake. She and I (and Ben) grew up in the same church, attending all the same choir tours, Disciple Nows, etc. Now she's here! Small world. Leogane is very rural and she has a far more limited set of comforts than I do- no grocery stores, never any warm water, no walking down the street to the bakery. Ben and I took her to Eagle market, and she practically burst with joy as she placed butter and cereal in her basket ("there are options other than corn flakes!!!).

We're taking a two-week intensive set of Kreyol lessons starting tomorrow. Two hours a day.

Discipleship groups started at Quisqueya! I have seven  girls: Anais, Sasha, Valerie, Virg-loty, Krystelle, Axel, and Christina. Four are with me again from last year, and three are new. We've met twice now. They want to grow. They've got questions. They've all "tasted and seen" relationship with God, and want more. Me too.

Prayer requests and upcoming events:

1) Several families at Quisqueya are here with Christian Service International, and the CSI headquarters were robbed Thursday night in a very scary way. There was a mission team staying at the house that night, visiting from the States. Ugh. Ugh.

2) One of my students has the measles. She's in 11th grade and has a 9th grade sister. Not all of our students and staff are immunized. There is also a typhoid outbreak currently at the JPHRO house, which is the organization where two of my house church friends work/live. Suzanna got typhoid, even after being vaccinated. Ugh.

3) One of my students has to leave the country for several weeks, basically to go watch her grandparent die. I grieve for her, and her mom, and all the other issues in her life.

4) Ben's sister Taylor is coming next week to visit! We've been excitedly anticipating this for quite some time. We got our living room all set up as a guest suite, complete with curtains across the entrance to provide a little privacy :)

5) Thanksgiving in Haiti. Many of our house church friends and fellow teacher friends are going on a trip to Port Salut, but we declined to join. We're planning a group meal with other friends and are so excited. Last year's Thanksgiving was such a blessing- God provided a family environment and we didn't feel sorry for ourselves at all for being away from Texas.

6) For TeacHaiti! Several of you back home have said you've recently received your sponsorship packets, with you little buddy's picture and story! I'm so excited and am compiling lists of kids to look for/meet the next time I go to TeacHaiti (which will probably be next weekend). TeacHaiti successfully expanded this year from 1st-4th grade to K-5th at their School of Hope.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Things I Hate

Or, "my students tell me how not to get raped."

I can't get this out of my head.

I teach Advanced Literature. We're reading Tale of Two Cities. We often get side-tracked.

For some reason last week, the themes of the book led us to a discussion of modern-day slavery, which led us to human trafficking, which led us to the threat of kidnapping in Haiti, which these kids know personally all too well. In the last two years a handful of business-class Haitian kids at Quisqueya have had cousins or close friends kidnapped.

One of the seniors was saying that being sexually assaulted during a kidnapping was her worst fear. We all nodded in agreement.

Another senior helpfully declared that, "you know you're supposed to throw up on yourself, right. That's the common advice- vomit or go to the bathroom on yourself, so the kidnappers won't...." They all nodded in agreement, voicing assent to his statement that "everybody knows" this advice.

The conversation had been theoretical until this point. It was an a-ha moment for me to realize what life is like for my students on a deeper level.

What 16 or 17-year-old needs to have that "conventional wisdom" tucked in the back of her brain? I'm disgusted that that's in their minds, that there's any reason why it would need to be. Disgusted and angry that instead of solely worrying about college applications and Brit Lit papers, they have that little tidbit stored up in case of need. Ugh. Ugh.

I hate it.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

What is Ben's role?

Lately I have been struggling mightily with jealousy.

I envy my coworkers. I envy them because I work with remarkable men and women who dearly love Christ and have a passion for young people. They are having amazing conversations with our students and leading them to Christ. I am having to fail students in history.

QCS has a discipleship program, one which I struggled through last year as I had all of the special cases. By the end of the year all but one of my students had been dismissed from QCS or told they would not be allowed to re-enroll. The only remaining student is so deep in the academic hole, he might not be make it through this year. Like I said, special.

This summer I watched my dear friend Ivy with girls she has been disciplining for years and asked how she built such strong bonds. She spoke of constantly pursing them. Creating situations to build their relationship. Ivy probably didn't know that I went home and wrote down a summary of our conversation with the intention of making sure her advice worked its way into my group. I planned out not only biblical material to cover but also how to spend time with them one-on-one so I could build a more personal relationship with them.

Then, some complications arose that were no one's fault, I just found out I do not have a group this year. The ratio of students to teachers is so low that my time slot just went unfilled. Put into an odd position, I decided not to join in with another leader. Honestly I went home angry. Mad. Not at anyone. I had not been slighted by a coworker. I was not left out. I just was not needed in this area. It was brutal to take. I wake up early every morning to pray for my students. I switch up the grade level every day and some of the special cases are prayed for daily. So to intercede for them so much, to plan so much, to desire so much to build deep spiritual relationships and then not have that opportunity? It stings.

I think I might have come to Haiti simply to teach and get a really cool experience. I did not know over two years ago when I was applying that I would care as much as I do about the spiritual development of my students. However, very quickly I have learned to care about that. In fact, Katie and I often question how any wealthy, Haitian teenager could possibly learn about God without us and our school!! (please hear self-mockery) We freely chide ourselves for having a dim view of God's sovereignty.

This lack of a discipleship group has lead to a temporary and hopefully brief crisis of identity. I have found myself questioning what exactly my role is. How do I find a way to balance faith, academics and student-teacher relationships?  I have no freaking clue. I am still wrestling with this.

The only way I have found to not become over come with jealousy is this passage and a great quote from a commentary: “He that planteth and he that watereth are one".

1 Corinthians 3:5-11

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? iServants through whom you believed, jas the Lord assigned to each. 6 kI planted, lApollos watered, mbut God gave the growth. 7 So nneither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each owill receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are pGod’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, qGod’s building.
10 rAccording to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a sfoundation, and tsomeone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a ufoundation other vthan that which is laid, wwhich is Jesus Christ. 
The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. 1 Co 3:5-11


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Today I Miss Sweet Hopkins

Today it's been three years since I lost my very good friend Sweet to cancer. Yes, her name was Sweet. That's the first question I always get when I mention her (which is often). I always answer by saying, "she was from Alabama", after which people always nod and seem to understand.
Sweet with her amazing daughters Ivy and Kendall
Sweet was the children's minister at the church where I grew up. She allowed me and Ben to be part of her ministry for many years. We are both utterly convinced that the only reason we know how to do half of what we're doing in Haiti is because of Sweet.

This is what I mean, specifically:

Sweet taught me how to share my faith with kids.
Sweet taught me it's important that kids have happy memories associated with learning about God. Not everything at church must be so somber; sometimes kids need to hula-hoop just because.
Sweet taught me how children are more important that the children's ministry program.
Sweet taught me how to be a teacher.
Sweet taught me how to answer kids' tough questions on the fly.
Sweet taught me how to leverage personality to teach.
Sweet reinforced my die-hard love of traditions.
Sweet taught me how to appreciate volunteers. 
Sweet taught me how to run efficient planning meetings.
Sweet taught me that efficient meetings always start best if a candy bowl is present.

Sweet was a master administrator.
She taught me how to organize events as if they were the invasion of Normandy. Interning for her was a flurry of color-coded white boards, to-do lists, 3-hole-punched handouts, reminder emails, and creating THE BINDER which was the nervous system of a large event, perfect organized to begin planning the same event next summer. She taught me how to mail merge, how to laminate, how to RIZZO, and how to walk into every vendor meeting carrying a clipboard.
(presence, all about presence).

Second reason I love Sweet Hopkins: she loved me, and trusted me, when I was just a wee one. She trusted 18-year-old Ben and loved him into being the man she knew he could be. She gave him responsible positions of leadership, taking two dozen little boys to camp for a week. He had the responsibility of caring for their behavior, safety, spiritual growth, and generally staying alive.

Don't think Sweet's trust in Teenage Ben was noteworthy? Consider Exhibit A:
Winne the Pooh/Teenage Ben
See? Watch him lead those tiny kids to Christ!!!!
Haha. But really, the experience was pivotal. He grew into so many characteristics because she believed in them. The boys pictured here are now seniors in high school. He's further discipled quite a few at youth retreats, camps, and VBS weeks. Sweet allowed us to get a taste for pouring out one's life for young people. It stuck.

And lest I get off scot-free in the old photo category, let's examine Exhibit C:
Leeeetle baby 18-year-old me.
This is our first summer at camp together after we had started dating.
Did I mention we fell in love working as counselors together in Sweet's ministry?
Thanks for that, too, Miss Sweet.

She was going to perform our wedding. We lost her three weeks before the big day. I really, really miss her, especially today.


PS Sweet's daughter, Kendall, wrote a tender post not too long ago: "Dear Mom Who Is Not Here".


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