Final Day + Endless Travel 

I cannot believe how quickly this week has gone by.  It seems like only yesterday that we arrived nervous about the challenges we would face in the week ahead.  In only a week’s time we have grown to love our entrepreneurs and the country of Haiti.  We have seen immense poverty but we have also seen resilient, beautiful, and joyful people.  I think it is safe to say that all of us will leave a part of ourselves here in Haiti.

This morning was spent working with our entrepreneurs and getting everything finalized so that they would be equipped to continue the businesses on their own.  Heather and I worked with our entrepreneur, Wista, to finalize her food stand.  We carried the stand over from the church and set it up outside of her house in a shaded area.  She began to organize the items on her stand: rice, beans, oil, onions, dried fish, pasta, tomato paste, spices, and the beautiful candles she learned how to make.  She got some paint and named her stand “Som 23: Dieu Qui Donne” which translates “Psalm 23: God Who Gives”.  She made sure everything was in order, stepped back, and then gave us a huge smile and a hug.  Standing before us was a proud new business owner.  This work would give her dignity and allow her better care for her seven children.  We told her how incredibly proud of her we were, purchased some of the candles that we made with her earlier in the week, and then departed to check on some of the other businesses.

The afternoon was spent playing a game of soccer.  We mixed teams to contain both Haitians and Americans and played a short match on a huge dirt field riddled with rocks of various sizes.  It was a competitive match that brought the whole community together.  After the game we said our final goodbyes to Handson and made our way to Larry and Diana’s house for our final meal with them.  We were all pretty excited thinking about everything the Lord had done through us in the past week.  Larry and Diana shared stories about God’s faithfulness in their lives and challenged us to live a life of increased faith and devotion to the Lord.

We went back to the hotel, packed up our things and then got on a bus to Port-au-Prince.  We all did our best to sleep on the bus as we drove through the night, but the dirt roads didn’t make it easy.  We arrived at the airport tired and dazed at 4:30 in the morning.  We played a few quick games of cards and reminisced about the week.  We then flew to Miami and then to LAX where we went our separate ways.  It was a shock going from dirt roads and enormous poverty to paved 6 lane freeways and incredible wealth.

The week was incredible for me.  I enjoyed working with my entrepreneur and partnering with her to start her own business.  I enjoyed playing with the children, holding their hands, and letting them know that they are seen and loved.  I enjoyed talking with the translators about what life is like in Haiti.  I enjoyed riding on the back of mopeds and was astonished that we never hit anyone or anything.  Haiti is truly a special place.  I pray that Haiti would begin to see economic progress.  I pray that the Haitian people would increasingly find their hope in the Lord and that they would stay away from the voodoo so ingrained in their culture.  I pray that our partnership has blessed the people; it has certainly blessed me.

– Ryan Council

Futbol!

Our last day in Port-de-Paix was nothing less than a surreal celebration. We concluded our small helping roles in starting these business and left control in the hands of our entrepreneurs. Beyond the businesses, we cultivated relationships that we will sorely miss. Although Ryan and I (Evan) could not teach our entrepreneur, Elon, soap-making with actual lye, we have grown so fond of his quiet diligence in learning the process and with his thoughtfulness in implementing once all the ingredients are obtained. I wish I could stay and watch him bring his business to life, but I also feel confident that he can launch and expand his soap business without us, which is a gratifying feeling. I think we are all sad to leave the people here but happy to know that the respective businesses have a reasonable shot at thriving on their own.

Before we left, we celebrated our newfound community with a game of Futbol! Small houses and shacks on hillsides surrounded the rock-filled dirt field. It was as if we were playing in an organic coliseum. As we played, the surrounding community flocked to the field. The once peaceful soccer field became a chaotic scene of kids starting sideline scrimmages, families meeting and greeting, and young men lining up to join the next game. At half time, Tommy gave a devotional, translated by Handson, about striving for the Kingdom of God like an athlete training for victory. The whole experience was a fun and fulfilling way to end a fruitful week and to wish our friends in Port-de-Paix well before we depart this evening.

– Evan Kramer

God Cherishes Work of Every Size

As we ducked into the brothel, children huddled around and other men and women peered through the rusted aluminum door, curious about the reason for our visit. A few of the women were already out of their rooms to greet us, grinning from ear to ear and we looked on, still taken over with amazement and filled with joy at the baskets of beads placed on the ground and the remaining straws lined with the small wrapped vibrant cocoons resting on sheets of paper to dry. The women hurried into their rooms to retrieve their wonderful creations and returned with the loops of myriad colors assembled on their forearms, many whose faces were beaming with pride at the display of their creativity. One woman still hastily grabbed at strands of string and beads in front of her to quickly thread the products of her diligent effort. We gathered the women together to begin tagging the necklaces and asked that they would write their names on the tiny white markers. Now the strands were personalized. Now they were marked by their creators and would not pass on in anonymity, but were connected with each life, each person who carried their own story, each image-bearer of God, even as each bead was instilled with their maker’s creative spirit. After the necklaces were tagged, the women formed a line, each proudly holding their handiwork. The necklaces were counted and each woman received compensation for their beautiful jewelry. It turned out that many had stayed up all night in their desire to finish their necklaces! As we circled around in prayer, we thanked God for the success of this project and for each of the women and how precious each is in God’s eyes. And in time, we said our goodbyes, our eyes still filled with hope and joy that bubbled over from our hearts to our eyes, from our faces to our speech.

Contemplating on this endeavor leads me to think of how it fits into the greater project, the grander story, of God’s ultimate redemption of Creation. Only the Lord is able to make beautiful things from nothing, from scraps, from the broken, and has given us gifts and talents and creativity to mimic and participate in God’s work. During our time at the brothel, Neile looked at me at one point and said that she did not think she would ever get over the gravity of this experience, and I replied that I hoped we never will. Because that day we had seen the direct proof of God’s desire to redeem Creation and to restore dignity and flourishing to every one of God’s children.

I realize that our work, in the grand scheme of things, is very small. We partnered with women at one brothel, in one city, in one area of one country in one region of the world. However, I also realize that God cherishes every work of any size. Indeed, God came to earth in the form of one man. God became like small, insignificant us. And here, Jesus engaged our world at the individual level, caring for and dignifying every life, especially those whom society had marginalized. And he worked with small things: a few loaves and fish, humble artisans, his own single body. No work was too small, no individual insignificant in his eyes, no offering too meager, because through the small and the simple, God can be glorified. We have allowed God to use the little we had: some paper, some glue, some scissors, and straws, and have surrendered them to God to be used according to God’s purpose. By God’s power we have seen the lives of a few individuals to be made better, to become closer to the fullness and flourishing God wants to shower us with but which has been restricted due to the prevalence of sin and injustice in our world. Today was a small step towards restoration, toward our ever present cry for God’s kingdom to be established upon earth and for God’s realm to be merged with our own brokenness. May the Lord be glorified by this work and in everything we do.

– Megan Greeley

St. Louis du Nord

After spending the five days in Port-de-Paix, our group ventured out of the city and travelled to the Northwest Haiti Mission in St. Louis. We got to the mission by pickup truck, rumbling and tumbling in the bed of the truck through the scenic countryside. When we rode into the mission, it was unlike anything else we had seen all week.

When Larry and Diana (our missionaries) first got to Haiti, one of their first projects was building a central community center for the city of St. Louis. The town had nothing of the sort (like many cities in Haiti), and Larry and Diana envision it as the primary hub for the city’s needs. As Larry likes to explain, they built this huge campus “one bucket of cement at a time.” When we got to tour it, the complex atop the hill had an orphanage, a special needs center, a senior citizen home, a birthing clinic, a hospital, a cafeteria, and more. As Larry and Diana’s Northwest Haiti Mission grew, so did the economy and health of the city.

That said, it was still a desperate landscape that we got to drive through. The entire trip, I made a concerted effort to keep my emotions reined in. The last thing I wanted to do was make the trip about me and how Haiti made me feel, because it was truly about the Haitian entrepreneurs we were working with and God’s movement in Port-de-Paix. That didn’t hold up as we entered Heaven’s Waiting Room.

A small wing of the mission is dedicated to Haitian children with special needs, both physically and mentally. Most of them were orphans, abandoned by parents who just couldn’t afford to take care of a child who couldn’t care for him or herself. Getting to sit with this population of children, stroke their backs, tell them they were loved, was incredibly powerful. The somber name of Heaven’s Waiting Room seemed appropriate, as that was the hope that the children and workers had for them.

At the other end of the spectrum, the senior citizen center housed a group of elderly orphans, Haitians who either lost all of their family or couldn’t be taken care of anymore. They were more interactive, but still just as desperate for love and affirmation of their life. We sang and danced with them (except Ryan Anderson, whose advances were humorously rejected) and got to celebrate their life.

I broke down after these experiences. I couldn’t hold in the emotions anymore. When Jesus talked about us caring for the ‘least of these’, there could not be a more accurate depiction of His vision. Already living in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, the Haitians living in these two parts of Northwest Haiti Mission had been abandoned and left to fend for themselves when they were clearly unable to do so. My heart broke for them.

And yet I was incredibly filled with hope. There are people like Larry and Diana in the world today, acting as God’s hands and feet in some of the darkest places in the world. God has used their lives, along with a special group of Haitians, to bring St. Louis a little bit closer to looking like God’s New Kingdom. I have no idea how God is going to use my life, but I can only hope that God uses every ounce of me like He used Larry and Diana.

I know this trip wasn’t about me, and I sincerely hope that we were able to positively affect the lives of the Haitians in Port-de-Paix and St. Louis. I think with our unique approach and through God’s movement, we were able to do so. But I know for a fact that my experience in Haiti and at the Northwest Haiti Mission significantly impacted my global perspectives, my faith, and my life.

– Chad Sykes

Nanbanyan

Hello all! Today is our fifth day on our trip to Haiti, and it’s another eventful and life changing day. I started my day with a good conversation about the soap making business venture that Evan Kramer and I have with our entrepreneur, Elon. We had some difficulties with our business at the beginning of the trip when we found out that we couldn’t find lye, an important ingredient to soap, in the city. The reason why it was difficult to start was because without lye, we couldn’t truly show Elon how to make soap and see the finished product. This was a big disappointment for us because Elon was a person who learns new processes very well and very quickly. He is someone that Evan and I saw as a hard worker and very goal oriented, and we really wanted to see him succeed in his new business. But with all the frustration about the business, we didn’t want that to hold us back from starting it. The best thing that we could do together was for us to show Elon as best we could about how to make soap without lye. From the start, we were impressed with the way that Elon understood the process. And by the end of it, there was a quiet confidence that Elon displayed after the process. From there, we had the chance to see Elon’s house and where he would make his soap, and that was a very humbling and honorable experience for both of us.

Later that day, we had the opportunity to enter a small rural area of Port-de-Paix called Nan-banyan. This community is viewed as “outsiders” in the city and is physically located on the outer part of the city. One of the reasons for this is because the community participates heavily in Voodoo. In the heart of the community there is a Voodoo tree that is treated as a shrine (almost an idol) to most of the people in Port-de-Paix who practice this cult. Once we started to take our first steps into Nan-banyan, kids started flocking to us. They tried to hold our hands and were following us everywhere we went. Larry Owen, the founder of Waves of Mercy, was with us to guide and tell us more about the community. Larry gave us a task before visiting the voodoo tree, which was to mark each house, with the occupants permission, so Waves of Mercy can keep track of the people who live there and then show them neighborly love by occasionally giving them food and gifts that are specific to each household. I had a part in this task and I started to become busy, trying to markdown each house in the community. During this whole process, there was a child that was holding my hand. At first, I unfortunately was so overwhelmed with the task at hand that I didn’t really notice him. Finally, once I actually looked down, I saw a child who had the biggest smile on his face and was so overjoyed to see me. That moment was life changing for me because I learned that I could be so consumed with busyness that I miss the important stuff. But after looking at the joy in that child’s face, it made me realize that my mission to mark these houses wasn’t my true mission at all; rather, it was to be loving to this child and to admire God’s creation in everyone, especially this young boy. That moment will one that that I will never forget.

– Ryan Anderson

Changes of Plans

This morning at 9 am, Bradford and I met with Raynel Ilberard (our entrepreneur) to finalize his food stand. He was not able to start on Tuesday because he first needed to fix and secure his door. As we started off the day with Bonjours things went down hill quickly. The past few days Bradford and I thought Raynel was going to be running a retail store but we have now learned that he desires to operate a wholesale business instead. This unexpected change caused us to re-think the original plan and re-adjust our financial projections. In some ways, we now feel that we are stuck with a new business idea for which we have no preparation.

So with ease and patience Bradford and I quickly went to Handson and Professor Ifland to ask for more money and to tell them about the change of plans. They were quick to say if Raynel wants to do a wholesale food business he cannot be given a large sum of money; because of previous years people mishandled the money they were given. They both addressed first, he will have to prove that he is capable of running a wholesale business and that his sales volume will be sufficiently high enough to be given access to more funds. So the proposal was for him to start of with two of everything and start selling those first. When Raynel could show that he is capable of selling the two items he is given the church will then be willing to increase the volume of the items he wishes to sell. In the meantime Rick and Handson also proposed an example of how he can sell one bag wholesale and use the other bag as retail and do a hybrid. This quickly turned into a change of pace and attitude by Raynel that if he were not given the funds to do wholesale he would rather just quit. Now we were stuck with either making him do retail/wholesale or for him to quit. With a few conversations back and forth between rick, handson, and Raynel, Raynel decided that he would not pursue his business venture. He gave his money back and we were told to end things on a good note.

As Bradford and I were talking with raynel and alix, we showed our appreciation that he made it this far and that we were proud of him no matter what. We told him that it was not that the church didn’t trust him to receive 5 bags of everything, but that it would not be fair for others and he also needed to build credibility. We showed disappointment not in him, but that we could not work things out. We then asked him one last time are you sure you want to quit? And followed up with that he would get two of everything and that if he did well he could quickly get five items of everything.

All of a Sudden, Raynel said if I can get two of everything sure I would pursue it. He thought the whole time he was only getting two bags of rice. He also saw how sad we were and felt that he was letting us down so he decided to take on the challenge of only starting off with two items. Raynel showed courage and God was working with us the whole time. Yes it was slow and all of a sudden, but God was faithful to us the whole time. To make things more exciting Raynel decided to take on the challenge fourteen minutes before the whole group had to leave to go see the voodoo tree. We ended on an agreement to give his business venture a try. This time we were more motivated and energized, and we also knew that God was working in all of us during this whole time. It was rushed, chaotic, messy, and last minute, but God was orchestrating his plan throughout this process. Thanks be to God.

– Eric Byun

The Brothel

With the sun shining down on our hot, sweaty bodies, we walk slowly but determinedly through the poorer area of town to our destination. Seven women in company, along with a translator, we receive some unwelcoming and querulous stares; I try to smile and greet the people humbly with a gentle “bon-soir”. Finally, we come to a halt in front of the place that will soon provide me with one of the most difficult and beautiful experiences I’ve ever had – Port-de-Paix’s brothel.

We knock on the door and are let in, and I am confronted with the jarring reality of the lifestyle of the women who reside within the corrugated-tin walls. The atrium-of-sorts that we walk into is open to the sky, with five doors on each side and a lean-to shade structure on the left. Each door, to my gut-wrenching realization, has a number on it, scrawled messily in blue spray paint. These women are literally numbers.

Some peer out their doors and somehow trust us enough to lead us into a room that adjoins the compound-of-sorts. Soon, we are underway, cutting and rolling and gluing paper onto coffee stirrer straws that, when cut, dried, varnished, and strung, will turn into beautiful necklaces. The learning process is a struggle, though, and the 95-degree heat of the room, the unstoppable flies, and the language barrier are keeping me discouraged. How can these women, who wear such defeat on their faces, possibly find hope? How could a women’s craft time possibly mean anything to them?

Walking away that day, although it was amazing to be able to work alongside and teach these women a fun craft, I couldn’t shake the heavy feeling of hopelessness that weighed down my whole being. I couldn’t forget the looks of defeat on these women’s faces as when I first saw them peering out of their rooms, their beautiful dark faces nearly indistinguishable from the darkness behind.

Though we left them with plenty of supplies and promised to come back the next day to check on them, I thought this would be the whole story – sadness, defeat, frustration, and hopelessness. Hearing their tragic stories and listening to their prayer requests for freedom from that place was overwhelming. The next day, we stopped by the brothel again on the way to another neighborhood, but I still did not expect anything new really at all. However, as we walked once again into that place, the heaviness I felt before lifted as my eyes were met by one of the most incredibly joy-filled sights I’ve ever seen.

The doors to the dark rooms around the atrium were opened and light streamed into them, illuminating bowls and boxes and tabletops filled with and covered with dozens of straws chock-full of brightly-colored beads. Three ladies were making beads even at that moment, their faces gloriously bearing a countenance of pride and worth and confidence. All seven of us cried out in joy and rushed to hug and kiss each beautiful woman and to celebrate with them. I was dumbfounded.

This incredible transformation in that moment reminded me of the 180-flip people experience when deciding to surrender to Jesus for the first time. Scripture speaks of how God turns mourning to dancing.. A similar worship song declares, “He’s lifted my sorrows; I can’t stay silent, I must sing for His joy has come”. As each woman lifted their straws of beads to the light, my heart felt as if it was about to burst out of my chest. The Lord not only showed me His transforming power that day, but also worked a true miracle through using the success of a small craft to impact a whole community of prostitutes, giving them inextinguishable joy and worth.

Though I was blown away that day and still to this moment cannot stop thinking about how I can’t wait to share the story of these ladies with everyone I come into contact with, I am also sobered by my lack of faith in the power of God to transform. He was so incredibly faithful to all those women and I that day through mercifully proving yet again his love for his daughters. I will never again forget that the hopelessness of the world, however small or great, will someday be renewed. My God and my Savior has already completely wiped away all the shame those women experience and has already nailed it to a cross.

Yes, it is very true that there are still deep-seated structural and social problems that wrack the people of Haiti each and every day. However, it is also undeniable that our Lord is absolutely in the process of gloriously renewing and restoring the darkness and oppression that is often too easy to sense in this world – one bead, one necklace, one woman, one brothel at a time.

– Katie Skiff