Video: Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid Featured on Santa Barbara KEYT-3

After returning from Haiti, Westmont’s Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid class was featured on local Santa Barbara news station KEYT-3. Current students got to share their perspectives on the trip, what they learned, and why they chose to spend their Spring Break in Haiti:


KEYT-3

Day 7 – Nanbanyen & Northwest Haiti Christian Mission

Student Perspective 1 – Kayta Goyich – Senior Economics & Business Major

Today was our last day in Haiti. I have both a longing for the comforts of home as well as a pit in my stomach that grows with the thought of leaving this place tomorrow morning. Our class split the day between a visit to Nanbanyen, which is an area slightly outside of town that has heavy voodoo influences, and Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, which was founded by Larry and Diana, Rick and Neile’s connection in Haiti, 37 years ago.

Today was also the day when I had deep reservations. The main reason for the reservations was our visit to Nanbanyen. Nanbanyen is the jungle area that is outside of the main part of the city. There is a large tree there that is used in voodoo practices.  The Haitian people say that serpents live in the roots of the tree.  After Haiti had gone through the oppression of the French colonial era and the many years of war that scarred the country’s past, Haiti’s rulers dedicated the country to Satan. Satan’s control and influence of certain aspects of Haitian culture is clear, and Nanbanyen has been tightly in his grasp.

As anyone might react going into a place with such Satanic involvement, I was scared. I woke up that morning sick to my stomach at the thought of being near that much evil. In the fall when I was waiting to hear whether I had been accepted into this class, the voodoo influence and satanic presence in Haiti was something that we were told to take into consideration before applying. Additionally, the night before I found out that I had been accepted into the class I had one of the most terrifying experiences. I dreamt that I was being attacked from the inside by darkness. I woke up screaming and drenched in a cold sweat. Oddly enough I know that God had awakened me and in that realization, peace started chipping away at the terror that had gripped me. I was still safe in the comfort of my bed with my roommate sleeping soundly on the other side of the room. I know that God is bigger, but the fear that I felt in that moment resurfaced as our group prepared for the day, and began the walk toward Nanbanyen.

Again God shook the terror that gripped me. As we began walking into a the more jungle type terrain, about thirty yards in Larry stops, turns and addresses the group. He warned against underestimating evil, saying that Satan in no way is happy that we are visiting this area. No argument here. My nerves were rising. Larry then quoted 1 John 4:4 which says “Greater is He that is within me than he that is in the world,” or in this case, he that is in the tree. At that moment I realized that the tree that I had built up all this anxiety over was just off the trail.  I was unafraid for the first time all day. As I looked at this tree with its knots, funky branches, and scars from yeas of sacrifices cut into its trunk, I saw the tree not as a tool for worshiping Satan, but as a sad piece of God’s creation that needed redemption.

As we went to circle around it, the small Haitian children that clung to each of our arms and hands let go of us and would not leave the trail. At the base of the tree were small bowls with charred remains of burnt offerings, whips tied to its base, and a dead chicken stuck into the side of the trunk with a machete. People tie the whips to the tree as symbolism of a lasting curse on someone. There were also old pictures surrounding the base of the tree. The people in the picture were the victims of voodoo practices ranging from curses, to love influences, to zombification, which involves burying a person that is on the verge of death, unburying them before they actually die, and then drugging them so they remain in a zombie like state. So there we were, a bunch of crazy college kids from Santa Barbara and our God filled leaders, all circled around this Satanic alter of a tree.

Larry led us in prayer, reclaiming the tree and the surrounding area for God. We proceeded to worship (which all of us had been doing a lot of this week) and proclaimed God’s power over his creation. I had been humming Our God all morning and when a pause came in our singing the words came streaming out of my mouth. “Our God is greater. Our God is stronger. Our God is higher than any other.” Just as 1 John 4:4 says, we truly belong to a powerful God who is greater than he that is in the world. As we worshiped and prayed there were no serpents writhing in the roots or evil looming over us. The only presence I felt were the beautiful people that I had joined hands with and God’s grace smiling down on us.  I walked away fully aware of the strength and power of God.

Student Perspective 2 – Megan Litschewski, Sophomore Economics & Business Major

Friday afternoon we had the incredible experience of visiting the mission started by Larry and Diana almost four decades ago in St. Louis du Nord, about seven miles from Port de Paix. After a bumpy 45-minute truck ride past turquoise beaches (one of which was memorably named “Big Daddy Beach”) and children waving and screaming “Blanc! Blanc! Blanc!” we arrived at Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, a beautiful enclosed compound close to the center of the town. Larry graciously showed us the various wings of the compound, starting with a 5 story addition which Larry says he built with a “stick and a string” (sort of). Over the years, Americans have visited and installed a fish hatchery and a water tower (the latter had to be floated onto shore because there was nowhere for the boat to dock), among other conveniences, for the mission’s various operations. Orphaned boys and girls are brought to the mission at all ages, sometimes as babies who were left on the street for dead. They receive a safe home to play, learn, grow and worship God, and are supported in their efforts to pursue degrees and careers upon leaving the mission. Some orphans end up working at the mission; others, like Handson, work to restore God’s kingdom elsewhere.

We were just in time to sit in on a musical performance in the mission’s chapel tower, surrounded by beautiful views of the forest, ocean and mountains. About 50 of the mission’s girls sang hymns in Creole and English, accompanied by guitar and a tin can drum set. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we were in awe of the way God’s beauty, power and hope were conveyed by the many voices. We then offered some of our own musical talent with a performance by Scott, Fil, Ryan and James.

As a soft rain began to fall, we made our way back down through the compound to see the division for children with special needs. Larry told us that these children, who are often abandoned, would quickly die outside the mission. However, under the care of nurses and volunteers, the children are nourished and allowed to play in a safe environment. We saw disabled children of all ages, a testament to the mission’s ability to revitalize even the weakest in the community.

Here I have to share a very powerful experience that occurred during our walk through the disability wing. Larry told us these children long for physical touch, so just grasping their hands as we walked past was important. We touched shoulders and held hands and said “Bonswa!” over and over, and just as I turned the corner to leave, a boy reached out his arm to me. I held it, saying “Bonswa!” but he didn’t let go; instead, he hoisted himself off the ground and started leading me in the opposite direction. There was no fighting his strong grip and confident walk. As we passed some of the volunteers, they pointed to the boy and then to their eyes: he was blind. His other hand felt the wall, and each of his steps was overextended and searching. Yet onward he moved, clearly with some destination in mind. We reached a gate to the mission’s courtyard and I was unsure of how to proceed. Was he even allowed to go outside? His hand began tracing the metal curves of the gate, searching for the lock. Watching him, something startling occurred to me: he didn’t know I was white. Maybe it was my exhaustion, but this thought struck me so powerfully after a week of being stared at, yelled at, or altogether avoided. To this young orphan, I was just another person with the power to free him from his cage for a little while. I could finally be on the same level as these people and do God’s work not as charity from a rich American but as an equal. He found the gate’s lock, opened it, and pulled me outside into the fresh rain. Grabbing both of my hands, he started to run in a circle, faster and faster. I’d done this a hundred times with my little cousins over the years. I knew exactly what he wanted. I held on tight, and his thin legs rose into the air as I swung him in a wide circle, flying. His face broke out into a thrilling laugh, and before I knew it, I was surrounded by children begging me for a turn.

I don’t know who first taught this sweet boy how to fly. But in that moment, the reality of what this boy’s situation would be without the mission hit me and I was overcome with emotion.

Sadly, we had to move on with our tour. The next stop was one of Larry’s projects, which he calls the “Cracker Barrel.” Modeled after the American restaurant, the Cracker Barrel is a long porch with dozens of rocking chairs where the elderly (Gran Moun) receive a daily meal, community with one another, and a nice place to sit. They live inside the building, where rows of cots are lined up.

Larry told us that the mission started feeding these very rare people who live past their fifties, but they kept taking the food with them to feed their families instead of eating it themselves. So Larry made the rule that they could only eat on the porch. He was amazed to see how the people, so frail and sickly, came back to life. In Haiti, people in their forties and fifties often look as though they are ninety, so you can imagine the condition of these older folks. We greeted each person one by one, giving handshakes and kisses and “Bonswa”s. Some people were adorably energetic; others, quietly rocking. But each and every one smiled with utter joy at being greeted. One of the nurses started up a rhythm by clapping her hands, and began to sing a hymn in Creole. Everyone joined in, singing or clapping, even dancing. The pure elation of a people once so resigned to death and now given a new chance at life is indescribable.

Saying goodbye to our elderly new friends took a while, but the tour moved on to the surgical and birthing unit. An impressive array of supplies and utilities filled several rooms. Just days prior, an eye surgery had been conducted, giving a little boy the eye he’d been born without so that his skull could develop correctly. We also got to see a mother and her newborn recovering. Something like 10,000 births have occurred at the mission, with a mortality rate much lower than that of the country as a whole.

We finally returned to the mission courtyard and filed out of the front gate. Patrick led us to a restaurant in town that reportedly sold cheeseburgers and ice-cream; sadly, they had run out the previous week during a carnival. The alternative was incredibly satisfying: fried plantains, rice, beans, spiced chicken, and a noodle salad. I think we fed 19 people for under $90. After stuffing ourselves we loaded onto the truck for the long ride back to Port de Paix.

Back at Jerry’s Hotel, several of us decided to make the most of our final afternoon in Haiti with one last swim. Romaine, the incredibly sweet, English-speaking local, took us out a few hundred yards from shore on an old rowboat where we dove into the clear blue Caribbean. We floated among the swells for a while, and, after almost capsizing the boat, rowed back to shore and headed to Larry and Diana’s for dinner. There, we also prayed over Handson, Maxime, Simone, Larry and Diana for their continued strength and guidance in this new business venture and for restoring God’s kingdom in Haiti.

Day 6 – Looking Ahead

Student Perspective 1 – Filipp Kozachuk, Junior Economics & Business Major

Today was a day of new friendships, painful farewells, toilsome battles, and sweet victories. It was this very day that we dreaded from the moment we first arrived: the day we would say “au revoir” to our beloved entrepreneurs and leave them to carry on the businesses on their own.

I was privileged to continue working with Rosenie on her bridal boutique shop. Upon being greeted by kisses from Rosenie and her daughters, I walked into the shop and instantly noticed its cleanliness. Rosenie runs a tight ship in her shop… I placed my backpack on the ground and she immediately moved it to a space in the corner where no one would see it. Here stood a dignified woman who was proud of her shop and made sure everything was in order.

Megan also joined us that day and she and I set out to paint shop signs on the entrance gates to the shop. Because Rosenie’s shop had just opened, people didn’t really understand what was inside. Rosenie told us that she wanted the shop to be called “Boutique de Jesus Christ,” so we set out to paint signs that would attract people. What we thought would be an individual painting job soon became a community wide effort. Megan painted the letters while one young boy held the paint bucket for her. Another boy held a rag to wipe away any stray paint. Another boy held the ladder steady while Ryan and I traversed the awning we were painting. With them these boys brought around 30 little children, each one eager to participate in the events that were transpiring around them. That day I made several new little friends. Scott and James showed up and began playing guitar in the alleyway. All the children flooded around them and joined in joyful chorus to sing their versions of American worship songs. The melodies that filled the street that day were heard not only in our hearts, but also reached to the heights of heaven, as people from two very different walks of life worshipped God together through fellowship and singing.

When the hour came to leave, it was time to say farewell to our entrepreneurs. Rachel, Ryan, and I joined Rosenie in her shop to pray for her and say our farewells. With the help of our translator, we told Rosenie how very proud of her we were, and how we believed with all our hearts that her business would be successful. We thanked her for the opportunity to meet her and be her friend, and prayed with her. What happened next is engrained in my mnd and I hope will stay there for eternity. Tears of pure joy rolled down Rosenie’s cheeks as she kissed and hugged each of us goodbye. The profound effect that this opportunity had on her and her family brought her (and almost me) to tears. That moment made the entire trip worth it for me. We came here to change the lives of the people with whom we worked. Rosenie’s business was flourishing in only two days of being open. If this continues, she will be able to afford to pay her loan back, send her 7 kids to school, and feed and provide for her family. Rosenie showed me a shining example of determination and endurance to find a better way. As I write this post, I smile thinking of her as she scolds children for hanging around her shop, and waves at every sojourner that crosses her path. I know God is working powerfully in her life. I have nothing but gratitude for the chance to meet this amazing woman and be a part of her story.

I mentioned above that Thursday was a day we dreaded, but this time for another reason. Thursday was the day that we would play a Haitian team in soccer, on their home turf. After saying goodbye to our entrepreneurs, we set out to the only stadium in the city to play a local Haitian soccer team. The odds were entirely against us. Most of us hadn’t touched a soccer ball since AYSO in 3rd grade. Now, in the blazing Haitian sun, with 98% humidity and nothing but granola bars and dried fruit in our stomachs, we were to battle in a full soccer match against our opponents.

They came dressed in full uniform, cleats, and shin guards (ironically, their uniforms were old Westmont jerseys that were donated to them from one of Mrs. Ifland’s earlier trips). We came dressed in thick t-shirts, tennis shoes, and mosquito-bitten shins. Before we had even warmed up, most of us were already exhausted from the heat of the day. Imagine taking a hot shower in the middle of summer after going for a run…that is how we felt after 5 minutes of playing. The game was dirty and dusty with no referee the first half, and we went into half time with a score of 0-0. In the second half, the Haitian team scored first, we answered, they scored again and then we scored in the last minute of regulation to tie the game, 2-2.  After that we went into PK’s, where our boys got 4 balls into the goal (one of which was Professor Ifland’s…who is a surprisingly docile soccer player) and blocked three of theirs. With a final block from Scott that can only be described as epic, we found ourselves as the champions of the game. I still cannot believe that the underdogs were victorious!  While we won technically, the true victory is the Haitian’s. Handson scored 2 goals for us, so the score should have been 4-0, Haiti vs US. Regardless of who actually won, we left that field with smiles on our faces, sweat on our brows, and joy in our hearts. God is doing powerful things in Haiti, and I am humbled to have been a part of his work in Port de Paix.

As a final thought for today, I was reflecting on Esther 4:14 “…who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

I think I will look back on this week 20 years from now and realize that this was the week that changed everything. This was the week that my scales came off, Gods light shone into the prisons of my heart, and I was set free.

“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

Student Perspective 2 – Ky Kocur, Senior Economics & Business Major

Today was another exceptional day as we assisted Jacqueline at her pepe (used clothing) stand, pulled out an unexpected victory on the soccer field, and took a dip in the Caribbean. We arose fairly early to the sound of bustling mopeds and Haitian hip-hop right outside our windows, but we were excited to return to our business owners because this would be our last day to work with them while on our trip.

Since Megan had the opportunity to paint the bridal boutique, it was Olivia and I who attempted to calculate the financials that could then be simplified into practical ways for Jacqueline, our small business owner, to comprehend. While working with Jacqueline, who had little business expertise or experience, we knew it would be important to reiterate the dollar amount she would need to consistently hit in order to pay off her loan on time and put a few dollars in her pocket. If we had the time, we would have loved to sit down with her and discuss the financials a bit further, but we are confident that Handson, Simone, and Maxim are incredibly capable of carrying this program out with little to moderate assistance from us.

As this was the last day to work hand-in-hand with Jacqueline, there were a couple things we felt would be very encouraging for her to understand. First, Olivia and I wanted to remind her that Handson and his crew would be walking right alongside her through each and every step – whether good or bad – that her business would experience.  Second, we wanted to reassure her that the loan repayment process was not meant to be overwhelming and burdensome but rather a trouble-free way to empower her in growing her business.  Third, we tried to articulate as best as possible the significant impact she had already had on our lives in the short week we were with her due to her extraordinary work ethic in providing for her family, her steadfast joy in the Lord, and her selfless love towards us.

Jacqueline has one of the most unbelievable testimonies I have ever heard.  As the sole provider of four kids and a currently disabled husband, her way of life has opened my eyes to a whole new level of self-sacrificial love and joy in the Lord despite challenging circumstances. Jacqueline used to work back-breaking 12-14 hours each day, stooped over and washing other people’s clothes for $2 per day.  Her job was looked down on by society.  Her new job as a small business owner not only provided more income, it also gave her (and her family) standing in society.  She called our presence in her life a miracle.  Amazing.  I am thrilled for what the Lord is doing in Jacqueline’s life right now, and I can’t wait to see His faithfulness as prayers continue to be lifted for His provision in her life.

Student Perspective 3 – Rachel Huo, Senior Mathematics Major

Today is our last day working with Rosenie’s bridal boutique, and it also marks the beginning of a new period to allow them to take flight independently.  My prayer throughout the day was that God would maintain the hope in our Haitian friends and equip them with strength and perseverance to carry on the good work after we had gone back to the California.

Fillip, Ryan and I went to Rosenie’s shop this morning and helped to set up a stand by her gate. I noticed then that she was putting some of toiletries donated by the hotel into two baskets. Through our interpreter, Rosenie told me proudly that she was sending the baskets with two ladies who would sell them on the streets for 2 Haitian dollars per item or 5 for 3 items. Her plan was to pay the ladies by commission according to their sales at the end of each day. Through our time spent with the Haitian people, I am able to understand that this is a very good idea that would work well in their context. I have frequently seen people peddling goods on the street to know it is a common practice here and it allows Rosenie to make some additional sales during the day and to offer employment for people in the community. In order to not distract Rosenie from her business, we stayed at the back of the gate time and spent the day hanging out with her family and deepening the relationships we had fostered during this trip.

By lunchtime, Megan had finished designing and painting most of the signs for Rosenie’s shop. Some of the street boys gathered around to help us by holding the ladder and the paint bucket. Scott and James joined us with their guitar, singing worship songs with the street kids. I wrapped up the last hour we had and reemphasized the importance of a saving account to Rosenie and her husband. I could tell that they were both taking it seriously by the look in their eyes when I spoke with them. In the afternoon, we said our goodbyes to Rosenie and as she hugged us she started crying tears of joy. This moment reminded me of all the kissing and hugging from yesterday, when we told her that the donation we had collected amounted to at least 2000 Haitian Dollars (about $250 USD). She kept saying in English “I love you” and “I will pray for you”. These statements moved me and filled me with hope for Rosenie and her business

After the farewell, we walked to our soccer game from the church through one of the poorest regions in the country with some children from the streets. The children are so friendly and love to come up to us and hold our hands, while giggling with their friends. One of the little kids even volunteered to carry the gaiter, which is twice the size of his body, all the way to the soccer field. We played a wonderful game of soccer with our friends, the Haitian Westmont Soccer team; both teams scored 2 goals apiece in the game, but our team won by a two-goal lead in the penalty shootout.

We ended the day with “Jerry’s Cheeseburger” and the good news that Handson had found another two responsible moped businesspeople, so the rest of our team as able to meet with their business contacts on the last day. God has truly answered our prayers during this the trip in miraculous ways and I close the day with grateful thanks to Him and bright hope for our Haitian partners.

Day 5 – Entrepreneurship & The Marketplace

Student Perspective 1 – Daniel Erickson, Junior Economics & Business Major

Walking through the marketplace of Port-de-Paix Haiti trying to gain a business perspective to assist Edouarnise (my assigned entrepreneur) proved to be an anthropological experience. The dusty streets are lined with stands selling anything from bags of rice to used converse all-stars shoes set atop jerry-rigged wooden tables. Reminiscent of your childhood garage sale meets the Tijuana I’ve never been to. Mopeds blasting their local tunes fly down the streets, while those on foot go booth-to-booth shopping for the bare necessities in life.

My much over-generalized consensus is that there are two kinds of locals walking the streets of Haiti. The first are the more affluent amongst Haitians (which are still the poorest of the poor): those who can afford to send their kids to school, and have a decently accessible stand on the streets. The other type is comparatively poorer. They retreat directly outside of the streets, to a much more densely packed agora near the dainty ports that flow in America’s charity – Haiti’s economy.

This set up led to a moment of utter culture shock when our confident, but equally misinformed Haitian translator and guide, Patrick, led us through the outskirts of the market place. I’ll never forget the shocked, weather-beaten, and frankly angry expression consistently displayed on the faces of these Haitian merchants.  Their disposition communicated coherent expressions as if they were speaking to me in English. I understood them to say, “What are you doing here, observing me in my penniless poverty, and why aren’t you doing anything about it?” Professor Ifland made a comment after church a few days before, saying he was disappointed that at one local church (not the one we worked with) he didn’t observe any extremely poor looking people there, which suggested to him that there is a cultural norm at that church that you can’t attend unless you look nice enough, even if there is a whole world of poverty and brokenness at home. Similarly, I think in the marketplace those who can’t put up that same façade move to the outskirts, and when the blancs (a term given to white people by Haitians) set foot on their turf, disconcerting feelings are elicited on both sides.

While passing through, the only thing I wanted to do was to help feed these people or give them money – both ill-advised actions that would do more to hurt than to help in this poverty-stricken area. We were told that giving a large sum of food to people is actually counter-productive in the long run.  I wanted so badly to give out the two Clif bars in my backpack or the ten dollar bill in my wallet. And that is precisely when what we were there to do – microfinance – finally made sense to me in such a tangible way. Our personal charity could only help for today or tomorrow, but teaching seven people how to pay back a loan, and allowing their free-market intuitions to take over created sustainability, even if only on a very micro-level.

The success achieved, and our part needs to be qualified with respect to God’s infinitely greater role in our time in Port-de-Paix. With expectations set low initially, God delivered greatly behind the scenes, which demanded great humility knowing we students did nothing – God simply showed up. The success of these current businesses and hopefully more to come will be due in part by the efforts of us and future students, but only as vessels of God’s work, as He fill us with what He needs to do His work.

Student Perspective 2 – Ryan Naumu, Junior Economics & Business Major

We left the hotel in a timely fashion, a mere twenty minutes later than intended: six students, two translator, and Mrs. Ifland crowded onto the bench-lined bed on the back of the Waves of Mercy pickup truck. The temperature was already quite warm as the truck jostled its way through the bustling morning market towards the church.

The people were crowding through the market to make their purchases before the full heat of the day made shopping in direct sunlight miserable. As we crossed the stifled river, the air smelled like smoke-burning plastic. I noted the pigs rummaging among the trash heaped in the stagnant water. “Bonjou!” came the cry as we passed a group of children, smiling as we returned the greeting and waved. Elated smiles flashed over their faces as they repeated the gesture. Another little boy caught the edge of the truck bed as he ran alongside before being shooed away by an interpreter

I noted how sparse the market stalls’ merchandise was as one of the men, Patrick, informed us: “you gotta understand how difficult it is to be a unique business in the market,” pointing out how every other vendor seemed to be selling either used clothes or food. I considered the entrepreneur that I was working with, she had chosen to open a marriage boutique for the rental of dresses, to supply beauty services, and sell hygiene supplies. Pretty unique when compared to the other businesses around her.

I was struck by the thoughtfulness of her idea.  Culturally, it is necessary for men and women to be married in formal attire, but often times such vestments are prohibitively expensive, and require the long trip to Port Au Prince to acquire. Additionally, for any business in Port de Paix, restocking goods required a similar journey. Rosenie, the business owner I was partnered with, had knocked out two birds with one stone. By renting dresses, she avoids the need to resupply, and she enables the dresses to be rented or acquired at significantly lower cost.

That thought was put aside as the sign “Eglise du Christ” loomed overhead, the red gates of the yard next door that denote the entry to Rosenie’s shop, adjacent to the church. Stepping onto the concrete porch, I note the shine of smooth clean concrete. Rosenie had scrubbed the floor spotless. The partial carpet was brushed, every shelf of goods precisely arranged, and the certificate of participation that we had awarded hung prominently on the wall. The look of pride that shone on her face was full of excitement and joy, eager to continue her venture for another day. There was a childish exuberance in her posture, but also a rugged intensity, almost like a veteran returning home.

She greeted the three of us with a kiss. A quick embrace and a brush to the cheek welcomed us into her new store. After the greeting, we settled into the agenda for the day. We had brought with us the last of a cornucopia of small soaps, lotions, and gels that had been donated. We needed to cover a few points of business, and tally the inventory. Settling into the routine of counting the myriad soaps, I observed that Rosenie seemed unable to keep still.  The three of us must have been quite a sight, sorting complimentary imported french soaps on the concrete floor, surrounded by the dusty children that wandered in to watch. All the while Rosenie was fidgeting with the shelves, dusting the mannequin, and checking the outdoor table.

By the afternoon, all 752 items had be counted, bagged, and sorted. The crowd of children had grown as school ended, and the yard had attracted a crowd. The sound became a blur of Kreyol and French, and the view one of smiling faces, games, songs, and playful activity. The tenderness of the children shattered the barriers of language as they hung on to our words and our arms. Each moment with them became precious because of how much they treasured the time. They were living each moment with us to the fullest, and imploring us with their exuberance to do the same.  From holding each hand as it slipped into mine, or laughing with each child that marveled at our skin, we were worn out as the day drew to a close.

The Haitian people have an entirely different way of living. The specifics were so much less important to them, and yet time was so much more precious. I saw the ability to take joy in the slightest of moments: the elation of children or the satisfaction of a mother with new hope for her family.  Their creativity, intelligence, and passion weren’t couched in presumption or cynicism; they were far more raw. Its almost like the frailty of life apparent in the surroundings imbues them with a desperation for treasuring each opportunity for joy.  What might our lives look like if we could capture such vitality? How much more will we marvel over the bountiful gifts around us if we looked with the heart of a Haitian.

Day 4 – Thankful

Student Perspective 1 – Jake Allbaugh, Junior Economics & Business Major

I woke up this morning very thankful. Thankful to be blown away by God’s work in Port de Paix after the potential discouraging reality of restarting at ground zero yesterday. Thankful to be working with Sony, our Moped owner and equally thankful for his deep, genuine joy.  Thankful for the conversations and laughter shared with my classmates on this trip, many of whom I had not known previously. And finally, thankful to spend my 21st birthday in Haiti! I could not think of a better way to spend a birthday than being in Haiti, working on a fun, challenging project with both Haitian and American friends, riding mopeds across Port De Paix, laughing and hanging out with adorable Haitian children, and watching God tangibly answer prayer.

I will never forget watching Sony and all of the other small business owners at last night’s celebration. Sony’s face overflowed with pure, redeeming joy; it filled the room and exploded from his heart. Spending two hours with him last night created a huge excitement and thankfulness for the partnership to be established this week. This morning, Crawford and I sat down with Sony and our translator, Cool (Yes, that is his name), to find our starting foundation for Sony’s Moped Taxi Service. Together, the four of us walked through the process of loan repayment, savings, pricing, working hours, and other basic characteristics of operating a successful moped taxi service. Our conversation was that of partners; using knowledge and experience of both Sony and Cool living in Haiti their entire lives as well as Crawford and I from growing up in the United States. The meeting was far from Crawford and I spewing off a list of expectations and consequences. Instead, the four of us worked together to find the best business foundation that we could.

Sony’s grasp of loan repayment and understanding of the loan’s purpose fueled my motivation, drive, and commitment to making this business become a reality. Yet again, I had to get out of the way to see what God had been doing in Haiti the entire time. One of my prayers in the weeks leading up to the trip and throughout the entire semester was that the small business owners would have a strong sense of ownership in their part of the loan. Our team, lead strongly by Professor Ifland, did not want this to solely be our project that we threw onto the Haitian Business Owners. This program is meant to celebrate them; we are solely here to learn from them and help out in ways that we can. It’s a partnership. This is what makes ignites my heart: watching as people such as Hanson, Sony, and Jacqueline (another small business owner) take full ownership of their business to go after a goal with excitement and hope in a country that continually suffocates and oppresses any trace of long term hope or success.

Around noon, Crawford, Sony, Cool, and I successfully launched a Moped Taxi Service in Port de Paix. Praise the Lord! While Sony began the first of many days on his moped, Crawford and I spent the rest of the afternoon laughing, walking, and playing with Haitian children at Waves of Mercy Church. Few things have the capability of warming a heart more than a Haitian child calling you “blanc” and grabbing your hand with a huge smile on their face as you walk through the town. This afternoon introduced part two of launching a business in Port de Paix: learning how to just BE with our business owners and the Haitian people in their everyday lives. Launching a business in a new place requires the patience and willingness to presently observe what occurs on a typical day. Being a presence in a new market place is not the most exciting or active task but it may be the most crucial characteristic to the discovery of future innovation.

The time spent so far in Haiti has been more than I could have imagined. There is nothing else that could have made this a better birthday. However, more unexpected gifts came tonight at Larry and Diana’s home. During dinner, I was surprised with a delicious birthday cake and wrapped Creole Bible. Gratitude completely overflowed from my heart while receiving these unforgettable gifts. Having spent the last three birthdays outside the United States and away from my family I was not expecting much celebration; which I was totally content with. These gifts meant so much to me because the Iflands and Owens went completely above and beyond. I still am unsure how to describe how thankful I am for these gifts.

Last by not least, as a celebration of an abundantly blessed day, I did enjoy a local Haitian Beer with friends that night at Jerry’s hotel with the ocean waves breaking in the background. It is my 21st birthday after all! Never could I have imagined to be in the poorest country in the world, yet be surrounded by friends, great conversation about how the Lord had shown up during the day, much laughter, a full heart of joyful thankfulness from the days past, and incredible excitement for the days ahead.

To God be the Glory!

Student Perspective 2 – Olivia Peck, Sophomore Economics & Business Major

Today was the fourth day of our trip (and Jake’s 21st birthday!). We met this morning to prepare for the day and looked at 2 Kings 6:15-17, when Elisha tells his servant to not be afraid, praying, “ ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see’.” The servant sees God’s strength physically manifested in the hills full of horses and chariots of fire, but we pray that we can act without fear or hesitancy, that the Lord will provide our strength and that we might see Him show up in these next days of the trip. A constant prayer that I try to act on is to look for God in my daily life, and the extension of this prayer this morning really resonated with me. I’ve participated in an international mission trip before, during a time when I was neither emotionally nor spiritually mature enough to fully appreciate the circumstances or be aware of God’s work in my surroundings. I’ve grown tremendously since then, and know that my relationship with the Lord is firm. I’m prepared to take on and become fully engaged in all this trip entails (granted strength and courage from God), but I still fear that I will become caught up in our daily actions and miss seeing Him show up in these next days. After resting in this passage for the duration of the day, I’ve definitely had time to process this fear and reflect on the ways we’ve already seen God clearly working during our time here thus far, many of which occurred today. One of the greatest experiences is witnessing the Lord answering prayers, and the flood of miracles and obvious acts of His work today cemented the feeling that He had answered our prayer for sight and strength.

After our team meeting this morning at 8, we had half an hour to run back up to our rooms and grab breakfast and pack lunches for the rest of the day. It’s only the fourth day and I’m already getting tired of Clif bars (though I’m in no position to complain).

Last night we had our celebratory dinner for our entrepreneurs and got to meet them for the first time. Megan and I had both been anxious to meet Jacqueline and got to learn a lot about her beforehand from Patrick, our translator. Patrick was born in the Bahamas and grew up in Miami, where he completed high school but became heavily involved in drinking habits that led to his arrest resulting from a DUI. After breaking probation, he was forced to leave the United States and moved to his motherland of Haiti. It was here in Port de Paix that Patrick met Diana and Larry and became involved in the Waves of Mercy Ministry, turning around his lifestyle and dedicating himself to Christ. Patrick is incredibly passionate about Haiti and its people; he is serious and concerned in an endearingly comical way. He’s completely unaware of his tendencies to lock into stares of an almost murderous nature or preface his thoughts on Haitian culture through the continuous muttering of the phrase, “But you gotta understand…” Patrick knows Jacqueline well through the church, so Megan and I are lucky to have him translating for us.

Jacqueline’s life alone is enough to believe that Christ is creating miracles. Jacqueline is in her mid-forties, yet looks to be at least sixty. She is married to Rowlan, and has four children (two boys and two girls) who range in age from eight to twenty-three. Two years ago, her fifth child – a son – drowned in the river that flows just below their house – a daily reminder of the tragedy. Jacqueline has worked for years in this same river washing other people’s clothing for 14-15 hours a day in the blistering heat. This has left her with incredible pain, and she is now unable to do any kind of physical work. This occupation is looked down upon and is considered to be at the bottom of the caste-like society. She’s is the sole breadwinner of her family of six: Rowlan earned his living carrying people across the river, but was put out of work when the bridge was build. He then took up farming until he suffered from a hernia, leaving him unable to work. It’s easy to see that Jacqueline has already recognized that this loan is God’s means for her to completely change the course of her family’s life.

Our informational meeting with the entrepreneurs and translators, led by Rick and Handson, started at 9am. With Handson translating, Rick explained the idea behind the venture and explained the concept of the loans. After the informational session, we were supposed to meet with our entrepreneurs and discuss more of the business side of the relationship. For Megan and I, this started happening last night thanks to Patrick’s enthusiastic and overwhelming jump towards explaining the terms of the loan to Jacqueline and overemphasizing the need to work hard and pay the loan back. Normally this would have been fine because these were things that did need to be communicated to Jacqueline, but the dinner was intended to be relational and just to begin getting to know our entrepreneurs. As well, we struggled last night and a bit today with Patrick’s habit of steering the conversation and conversing with Jacqueline without translating into English, leaving Megan and I lost in a rapid flurry of Creole. We were able to dive right into our business discussion this morning however with the help of Patrick translating as directly as possible.

Jacqueline quickly grasped the concept of paying back the loan, so we didn’t have to continue going over the expectations associated with the loan as some of our peers did with their entrepreneurs. One of the first things we wanted to get a general idea of from Jacqueline were her expected expenses, so we would have a better idea of how the loan and revenues should be utilized. Her travel expense to get the market and back every day is $8 (Haitian). She averages about $35 (Haitian) per day for food expenses for the family, and school expenses for her four children are $4000 (Haitian) per year. Right now she’s using her sister’s space in the market, so she doesn’t have to pay any rent expense. (We weren’t sure how the dynamic between Jacqueline and her sister was going to play out, but we saw snippets of it in the marketplace later on). Jacqueline has already spent half of her loan on used clothing (pepe), but she was unable to buy it herself – she had been taking care of her sick husband and had someone else purchase the boxes. As a result, Jacqueline didn’t get to pick through the clothing herself, so she’s been left with merchandise that she is not sure will actually be popular. Because the pepe business is run on bargaining, Jacqueline has to know the value of the clothing and can only sell them for what they’re worth. It’s important that she can sell good items at an attractive price to guarantee that the inventory will sell. The most popular kinds of items are tennis shoes made by brands like Nike, Adidas, Converse, and Vans, women’s dress shoes, and just better quality used clothing. I’m pretty sure Patrick was paraphrasing Jacqueline’s words at that point, because he kept referring to items as “selling like hot cakes” – probably not a phrase in Jacqueline’s vocabulary.

We had brought a suitcase and bin full of used clothing and donated clothing from the Westmont Bookstore to give to the women running the two pepe businesses. When Jacqueline started pulling out some of this clothing, several women who worked at Jerry’s (the hotel we were staying at) came over and began bartering for the items. They immediately picked out several dresses and a pair of gold heels. We observed in quiet awe as Jacqueline immediately took on the role of a businesswoman. After firmly putting her foot down as the women offered low amounts, Jacqueline ended up selling four items for $115. And this was before we had even left the hotel for the market!

Just after the women left, I watched Jacqueline’s eyes well up with tears as she looked down at the dirty tiles beneath her, and she began softly speaking in Creole. Patrick hurried to translate: a month ago, she was slaving away in the river in the hot sun for hours a day, disrespected and looked down upon. Jacqueline then looked up and lifted her hands in praise, smiling and dancing, closing her eyes. “This is a gift from the Lord,” Patrick translated. Jacqueline lowered her hands and looked at us: “You are a miracle sent by God. May He bless you and your families. Thank you.” She continued on, praising God and offering blessings over Megan and I, thanking us for this miracle that was occurring in her life. For the first and one of the only times this week, Jacqueline raised her eyes and looked directly into mine. It’s so difficult to articulate the overwhelming feeling that I experienced. Up until the point our eyes locked, I had felt disconcerted and out of place: who was I to receive this blessing? But when I shared her gaze, all of my discomfort dissolved. This woman, who had previously avoided our gaze perhaps out of shame or reverence, exposed her heart and opened her world to us by simply looking us in the eyes. In that moment I saw a hope in her tired eyes and felt the same strain of hope run through my core that could only be rooted in Christ. I was loved by this woman who I had known for only a day – this was evident. The care that I had begun fostering for Jacqueline through prayer previous to the trip had grown in even the previous day after meeting her, and an overflowing warmth and peace spread within me as my love for her took hold. We were both left uncovered by a single shared look that revealed the same hope and love of God. I stood in front of her and unsuccessfully attempted to stifle the tears that were beginning to escape from my eyes. This was the Lord working right in front of me: the transformation of Jacqueline’s life through this opportunity. I had indeed witnessed a miracle, but it wasn’t Megan and me.

We then left the hotel and set out by truck for Jacqueline’s house, used clothing in tow. Jacqueline wanted to quickly move the items we had brought her to her residence, for fear of jealousy and theft. As often as I feel petty stings of jealousy in our material world full of unnecessary trinkets and meaningless labels, the envy that Jacqueline knows runs deep in a culture where even necessities are questionable. Jacqueline’s relationship with her own sister is an example of this jealousy – envy of the loan and opportunity given to Jacqueline. Patrick informed us of the sister’s growing envy of Jacqueline when he noticed it in the marketplace later on: Jacqueline’s sister trying to take our attention away from Jacqueline, paying us compliments and displaying shows of control. Despite the bond of blood, the sister effectively viewed Jacqueline the same as everyone else: a woman who belonged at the bottom of society washing clothes, who had simply been unfairly spoiled by the charity by Americans. This immediately brought to mind the brothers of Cain and Abel – the relationship between Jacqueline and her sister brought to life what I once imagined as simply a story in the Bible and now see as a heart-breaking reality. Learning of this relationship and seeing it play out was for me one of God’s clear illustrations of a culture entangled and trapped in brokenness and sin.

We arrived at Jacqueline’s house and were enthusiastically welcomed by an impressively limited number of words by her husband and three of her children. Their entire house, in which six people live, was about 1.5 times the size of my dorm room at Westmont (of which I am the sole occupant). Their roof was made of rusty tole, which is tin-like grooved sheaths. The supporting walls consisted of simple thatched and woven mats full of gaping holes that are falling apart, attached to wooden poles to keep them upright. On the inside, large swaths of mismatched fabric hung against the mats to protect from insects and the outside elements. Four cot-like beds hugged the walls. The dirt ground carried into the house, and a small wooden table covered by a tropical tablecloth sat surrounded by four rickety woven chairs in the middle of the space. One of the wooden chairs had already seen its time – the woven seat had torn and given way. It seemed left only as a frame of a chair, much like the rest of the house: the worn skeleton of a structure that was only basically functional.

Jacqueline brought out a large gallon sized plastic bag that looked to contain treasured items of the family and pulled out a stack of pictures to show us. Her youngest son, Wilguens, leapt up to point at what was a collection of his photography; this eight year old had been temporarily provided a camera by a team from the States and his photography leveled that of Crawford. We chatted for a bit through Patrick’s translation and enjoyed being in the presence of the close-knit family. The daughter stood alternating between holding Megan’s and my hands. Rodney, Jacqueline’s eldest at 23 years old, was the most vocal towards Megan and me, and continually thanked us for what we had done for the family and his mother. He blessed us fervently with a permanent smile that gleamed with the same hope I had seen earlier in Jacqueline. Rodney showed a kind of care and affectionate love for his mother and father that struck at my heart as I thought of my own family. As we were leaving, Jacqueline’s husband Rowlan took me gently by the arm and walked me down the small dirt slope from the house to the road, where he embraced me and whispered a phrase that I recognized as “God bless you”. Again fighting back tears, a flood of contentment and peace enveloped me as Rowlan stood holding my hands. The joyful faith and renewed hope I saw within each member of Jacqueline’s family cemented in me the feeling that Christ was at work in this home.

From there we left for the market, where we saw how Jacqueline ran her business and witnessed her interactions with her sister. Patrick led us on a brisk walk through the heat of the marketplace (he brings a new meaning to the phrase “walk with purpose”). There we experienced a full frontal attack on each of our senses. Meat that had sat out for days swarmed with flies, blood from freshly prepared meat stewed in buckets, and the variety of vegetables and produce displayed embodied the dizzying maze of sights and scents. Trash was heaped in mountains of waste, pushed off to the side (typical of the rest of the city). Some people engaged in bargaining, and some perused the disarray of goods; some aggressively shook their merchandise trying to find buyers, while others still rested, sitting in an exhausted silence after hours in the baking sun. Blaring culture shock at its finest. But I saw the promise of a market and ambitious people that were ready for growth and development. God has already been working here and continues to do so – it is evident in the motivation of the people that work tirelessly in sweltering heat for hours each day. God willing, microfinance programs like the one we are promoting can and will help these people develop sustainable businesses that will grow the economy and improve the community of Port-de-Paix. I prayed that I might not miss God’s work while we are here, and in response He blatantly shoved evidence of Him working in front of me at every opportunity today.

We eventually made our way to Larry and Diana’s for dinner and the team relaxed after an emotionally and physically tiring day with several passionate games of Uno and Jenga. Jake was surprised by a celebration of cake and singing for his birthday, and received a beautiful Haitian Creole Bible as a gift. Later at the hotel, the majority of us remained downstairs processing our day together. We shared insightful and refreshingly honest conversation (along with some entertainingly vehement debate) before retiring to our rooms.

I finally comprehended the concept of being instead of acting today, and really stepping aside for the Lord to do his work. My mistake had been to believe that I would be distracted by all of our actions. Had I really tried to act, I would have gotten in the way. Instead, I simply was. I observed and was pulled along today to see and experience Jacqueline’s world and the transformative miracles God is conducting in her life for her and her family. I was blessed to clearly witness these and share with Jacqueline a hope in Christ for more of His faithful action. We showed up as a team and needed the ability to open our eyes to see Him at work. Sight and strength have been provided, and the Lord is definitely present and active all around us.

Day 3 – “God Showed Up”

Scott Hempy, Senior Economics & Business Major 

“So they pulled their boats up on the shore, left everything, and followed Him,” Luke 5:11.

Today was inspiring to see God work in such powerful ways. We started the morning with a devotional in which Professor Ifland expressed his concern that our partners in Haiti were not on the same page as our group from Westmont. The language barrier, cultural misunderstandings, and differences in expectations had brought us to a point where we were unsure about our plans for the program. We didn’t know if translators had been lined up for the week, we didn’t know if the entrepreneurs knew to come to our banquet that evening. We though that some sort of formalized training for the entrepreneurs had taken place: it hadn’t. Needless to say, our morning devotional left us with a pretty grim outlook for the day and week ahead, or at least, not the outlook we expected.

In Luke 5, you have to think that Simon Peter, James, and John thought their day was going to turn out differently. No doubt they expected a hard days work, ready to cast their nets into the Lake of Gennesaret and try to earn a modest day’s wage. When Jesus showed up and told them to put down their nets and follow Him, not only did their day change but their lives changed as well. They left everything and set out to follow Him, COMPLETELY trusting in Christ, a man they had just met.

As we finished our devotional time three Haitian men cast their nets into the ocean behind us. During our prayer, these men pulled their net behind their rickety wooden row boat, hoping that their catch might be fruitful. Their catch was meager, but the image was powerful. In hindsight it is easy to see God was using that image as a reminder to our group. We needed to leave everything and trust Him.

God began to work from the moment we closed our time in prayer.

The group of translators showed up (though there were less of them than we thought there would be) along with Handson, Simone, and Maxim. The morning consisted of Professor Ifland describing to the translators the purpose and idea of microfinance loans. The group instantly seemed to understand the magnitude of the impact these loans could make. Guy (pronounced G-E-E), one of the Haitian translators, walked over to Professor Ifland after the meeting and said: “I think this could really work. It’s a great idea!”.  God was providing translators who understood our mission.

We spent the morning in our respective groups learning via the translators about the businesses, finding our about the business owners’ lives, and building relationships.

In the late afternoon the entrepreneurs and their families came to the hotel. We had a large feast of food and spent time in conversation, continuing to get to know the entrepreneurs. Smiles were present on both sides of the table and relationships began to be formed. Following dinner was a ceremony to congratulate the entrepreneurs and to explain the task set before them. Again, as Professor Ifland talked, the entrepreneurs seemed to catch the vision. Loans are given instead of handouts in order to create a long-term, sustainable program. Once the loan is paid back, another Haitian can receive the loan. The entrepreneurs began to understand this system. The ceremony concluded with the giving of “Honorary Entrepreneur” certificates, given from Westmont College to each of the entrepreneurs. Tears flowed and smiles were everywhere as the entrepreneurs and their families celebrated with each other and bonded together in their ventures and hope for the future.

One of the entrepreneurs approached Professor Ifland after the ceremony and (via translator) told him: “this was a miracle from God”. We were in the midst of God answering 7 Haitian’s prayers; prayed for years and years. We were in the midst of God performing a miracle.

Handson, Simone and Maxim understood what our purpose was, and knew that a celebration would be the best way to kick off the program. And were they ever right.

The night ended with a sunset over the ocean, hugs, and joy. God had showed up and blown our expectations away.

Simon Peter, James, and John knew when they left their boats there was still work to be done. But they trusted Jesus and left their plans for their day and for their lives to follow Him. There is still work to be done this week and for many years to come. Haiti is still impoverished; 7 jobs didn’t change that fact. But by admitting personal defeat, giving up our plans, and letting God show up, He showed us that bigger things are possible through Him.

Day 2 – Church

James Sievers, Senior Economics & Business Major

Sunday morning I woke, took a half-cold, half-warm shower, and dressed for
 church. I grabbed a Clif bar, my guitar, and my sermon notes. Our
 group hopped in the bed of a truck to head to church. It took around 15 minutes to cross town, and many people walking around were dressed 
very well on their way to church. The nice clothing wasn’t much different
 than our formal wear, and I was encouraged by how many people seemed to set
 aside Sunday morning for church.

We arrived early to Waves of Mercy, so we listened to
 Pastor Handson lead a Bible study for a group of young men and women. Handson plays a key role in the central infrastructure for the businesses we are starting, and it was wonderful to finally meet him after two months of video conferences. The Iflands have an established relationship with this church community and it was 
a joy to see them received enthusiastically by their Haitian friends.

The church building was small and full of people. I have no idea how long
 the morning service lasted, but it was full of wonderful singing and prayer. Many of the
 tunes were familiar to us, including How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, and
 Great is Thy Faithfulness. I am amazed to realize that I regularly worship 
alongside these brothers and sisters, we are just usually separated by 
several thousand miles. Fil Kozachuk led a few songs in English for our hosts, and I
 accompanied him on an oddly-tuned guitar. Leading worship in foreign contexts always comes with a few curveballs, but we managed to produce a chorus of joyful noises nonetheless.

Then came the message. Handson insisted that someone from our group preach 
a sermon for the church, and I was asked a couple weeks ago to do so. As a
 student who had never been to this church before—let alone this country—I 
was humbled by the great task of preaching the Word in a culture unfamiliar 
to me. A great deal of my preparation involved praying for the strength, 
courage, and words of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the effort would mean nothing if He did not show up. I used Acts 3 as my main text, telling the 
story of the lame man who was healed outside of the temple in Jerusalem. With Handson translating for me, I shared the deeper spiritual need that
 was addressed alongside the visible healing. Through the power of the 
Spirit, Peter healed the man’s legs. Yet the true miracle was the
 revelation of the saving knowledge of Christ, as Peter explains in the
 subsequent sermon to the temple crowd. I heard this passage preached at Santa Barbara 
Community Church earlier this month and felt it was the right message for 
this occasion. Our physical needs are very real, but they point to a
 greater need for reconciliation and spiritual healing.

Later that afternoon we sat in on a youth group meeting. They had a talent show
 of some kind with singing, stand-up comedy, and a humorous dating game. In between that service and evening worship we went next door to see the
 bridal boutique, which is one of the businesses our group is helping launch. A young boy named William
 grabbed me by the hand and spoke to me at length. Wishing I could communicate more
 than a simple hello, I watched him cling to my arm with undeserved
 affection. He took me across the street to meet his papa, all the while holding my hand tight. He kept smiling at me, and I wondered what he 
thought of the white people who came to visit.

We joined in on a total of seven hours of church that day, and were very
 tired and hot by the time it was over. We each shared a verse and a word of encouragement in the evening service. I read Psalm 51:1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions,” and shared how God is 
teaching me that we approach him based only on his love and mercy, and by 
no credentials of our own. I see the love of God reflected in these kind Haitians
 who greet us and love us simply because we showed up. Many don’t know who we 
are or what we are doing, but it is enough for them that we are here.