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

Being in the Minority

Today was the first day that we actually put our business plans into practice. There is a fair bit of apprehension that I woke up with this morning because I fear that the drink stand that our entrepreneur wants to open will not be a profitable business because of the high price of ice in Port de Paix. Fortunately, in a meeting this morning, our entrepreneur told us that he had a friend with a freezer that for a much more reasonable price could freeze his ice to use for his drink stand. We gave him a loan and are planning on meeting him tomorrow to see his stand and see if there are any ways that we can improve it. I still have some fear about the drink stand because of the sheer quantity of drinks that Vilsaint will have to sell. I’m not sure that his stand is unique enough to compete with the numerous others like it in the market. Hopefully his location will make all the difference.

I also had the privilege of working with the charcoal project. We were able to burn our first batch today. It burned way faster than we thought that it would. Despite this we were able to gather a fair bit of raw material to produce the charcoal mixture that we will be compressing it into briquettes tomorrow. The whole time our entrepreneur showed so much energy and a great work ethic. I have to admit that by the afternoon I was very tired and getting runned down though, because of his motivation, we kept pushing forward. His strong work ethic truly reinforced the fact that this is a partnership and not a handout. I have great hope for the charcoal business; it all comes down to our experimentation this week.

In my experiences in the marketplace I notice staggering impact of being white and being in the minority. I have never been in a situation where I was in the minority and the difference has been so sharp. Much of the integration that has occurred has been very pleasant, though there has been some negativity directed at me. This experience will shape the way I view and experience minorities when I am in the majority. It has been a rare privilege to see and embrace the paradigms of others through their lens. It gives me more wisdom about the world to take back and use it in my day-to-day life.

– Maxwell Schwan

Renewed Vigor

Today was a day of renewed vigor for us in the Westmont camp. From traveling the Haitian countryside to attending church with our newly introduced brothers and sisters, our trip has been filled with emotional ups and downs. Today was the big day we met our entrepreneurs for this first time and began to lay the foundation for what would hopefully be a life-changing event in their lives. We met our translators in the courtyard of our hotel after a quick breakfast and an encouraging Bible study and prayer, which we do every morning before we start our day.

My translator is a very streetwise and young Haitian man by the name of Alix Jeanty. He is 22 years old, just like me, and went to a local missionary school by the name of Sonlight Academy. He has a soft voice but is very plugged in to the affairs of the city through his experience as a soccer player who traveled throughout the country while playing for the Port de Paix team. He also has the goal of one day applying and attending college at the University of Kentucky.

Next we met our entrepreneur, Raynel Ilberard, who, though he is a man of short stature, held a very serious air about him. We could tell he was very serious and prepared to work hard to develop his new business with two college students, and we were not disappointed. My Westmont partner for the week, Eric Byun, and I quickly discovered Raynel’s grasp of how the local market place worked and we were pleasantly surprised when he grasped almost all of the multiple concepts we put in front of him. Eric and I were ecstatic! We parted ways with our entrepreneur feeling good about this new relationship and excited to start our food stand with our new team of three.

We took an afternoon break so that the entrepreneurs could go home and get ready for tonight’s celebration dinner (we wanted to celebrate them for completing the training before they started their businesses so that they knew that we supported them regardless of the outcome of their business, so long as they continued to work hard).  During the afternoon break, I was still feeling drained from almost a full day of travel with minimal sleep so I took a nap in and woke up just in time for the next big event on our itinerary, the beginning of the week banquet with our entrepreneurs. Our entrepreneur arrived with his cousin, who would be his selling partner in the food stand business, and we sat down to a buffet style meal featuring several Haitian dishes that included: rice, beans, goat, chicken, and plantain. I thought that the food was delicious and our entrepreneur and our translator also seemed very pleased with the meal. We spent the majority of this time getting to know each other and building a relationship that would serve as the building block of our business relationship together.

Overall, I am still questioning my significance to these people. They seem intelligent and they seem to understand business as a whole, I somewhat feel like I am just here to watch them work, which is actually quite fascinating to me. I see the people of Haiti as beautiful people of God. Seeing children swarm and crowd around us asking for one thing or another, and sometimes asking for food, or money, or even our watches, hats, or anything else that catches their eye, they still stay when we turn them down, clinging to our hands and flashing us the warmest of smiles. In a place like Haiti the smile of a child or even just the common passerby is warmer than any morning cup of coffee, and the four or five kids holding onto each of your fingers is the friendship I’ve learned to enjoy as a minority in a foreign country.

God is absolutely at work in this place. I am more tired physically and emotionally from the multiple, hard realities of this country than I thought I would ever be. Life in Haiti is just raw and more vibrant than I can adequately express, and death is more apparent.   It is simply a place that reflects the harsh realities of life in every aspect of its existence and just does not let up no matter what. Amidst this raw torrent of reality I see God is really apparent.  I see a lot of what I feel Jesus must have seen when He was doing His ministry. He was put in the situation of seeing life as it really is and then offering true light and life to the berated and beaten down humans he met during his travels. In the same way I feel like we have been given a unique opportunity to live in a Christ like manner and shine a light of love and life into these peoples lives. I hope that with our efforts we will be the snowball that starts an avalanche and changes these peoples lives and makes Haiti a better place for people like Raynel and Alix.

Finally, I want to state that we are battered but inspired.  God has been so good to us. Haiti is a beautiful place with beautiful people.  It has the potential for real growth that would be absolutely unreal. I feel blessed to have this opportunty. Please keep us in your prayers whether you see this during or after our trip as this has been a huge experience for all of us and one way or another we are adding pieces to our puzzles that is our worldview and it is truly awesome. God Bless and Goodnight.

– Bradford Ortlund

Our First Day in Haiti

Today was a pretty exciting day as it marked the beginning of working with our entrepreneurs and the culmination of months of preparation. With Rick’s exhortation to be strong in the face of fear in our minds, we eagerly – if with a bit of apprehension – awaited the arrival of our translator and entrepreneur. One by one they began to trickle in with our entrepreneur (Katie and I) coming in late, which gave us an opportunity to get to know our verbose and entertaining translator George. I have to say that it was a bit of a relief getting someone who was friendly and spoke English so well…I was getting a little tired of exclusively saying bon swa (good afternoon) to all the locals. Once Jocelyn did arrive, she was enthusiastic and sweet, ready to listen and offer her own opinions which we readily received. It was an answer to prayer that things went so smoothly and we all got along well. She even tolerated our opinions about candle-making and experimenting with different scents and colors – this being a big step in a culture that is largely intolerant of change.

Some of the initial culture shock has begun to wear off and I am beginning to feel more comfortable and accepted. Perhaps the stares of the Haitians as we whiz by them on the back of the truck or the moped feel less threatening or simply we are less alien to it than before. As a photographer, I have been having trouble keeping up with all of the incredible opportunities to capture special moments and beautiful people so different, yet similar to myself. Their eyes speak of a deep pain and hopelessness which makes their moments of joy all the more exuberant and beautiful to witness. The restoration of that hope and joy are why we are here and remind me to press on when I feel exhausted and discouraged.

The celebration of the entrepreneurs occurred at night and provided another chance to build community in a great setting with great food! The breeze and fellowship left us all feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the beginning of work tomorrow. Pray for resilience, creativity, and – above all – love for God, each other, and the beautiful people we are here to serve. Thank you!

– Jacob Grant

Sunday

Today was our first full day in Haiti and the reality of the experience set in when we woke up in Jerry’s Beach Hotel in Port-de-Paix. We were feeling both excited and nervous to immerse ourselves in this unfamiliar culture. It was Palm Sunday and we began our day with a morning church service at Waves of Mercy. While all of the sermon and worship was in Creole, it was so beautiful and powerful to hear Haitians worship in their native language. Haitian worship is full of an energy that is contagious and everyone stands shoulder to shoulder in the small space to sing and dance with abandon. I could feel the praise pouring from their hearts and God’s presence filled the room. Getting the chance to participate in this was an incredible experience that I will carry with me when we leave. It was deeply moving and inspiring to see God’s light shine so brightly through these people and the joy that their faith brings them despite the many difficulties they face. I was surprised that after the service we were greeted by all of the members of church who graciously took our hands and kissed us on the cheek in welcoming us into their lives. I didn’t expect to feel this comfortable the whole time in Haiti, but the church immediately felt like a family greeting us with open arms.

Interacting with the children who gathered around us afterwards was my favorite moment of the day, though it was also difficult. They are so beautiful and endearing, but also hungry for food and love (both of which are lacking), and this realization made my heart break for each of them.

After the service we shared a meal and fellowship with Larry and Diana, the missionaries behind Waves of Mercy and several of the church members. Larry and Diana have the most wonderful, hilarious stories and are simply the most inspirational people. I am in complete awe of the change and hope they have brought to this community simply by showing up and showing God’s love to others. Over hamburgers at the restaurant located above a local gas station, I particularly enjoyed getting the chance to sit beside someone I didn’t know who accompanied us from their church. It turned out that she is just a few years younger than me (and speaks great English) so she gave me a glimpse into her day-to-day life. We became quick friends, and this connection opened my eyes to the daily reality of a young woman’s experience growing up in Haiti.

Although it didn’t seem possible, the evening service was even more active and vibrant than the morning service with louder songs and even livelier dancing. Towards the end of the service each of us had the opportunity to share something we have struggled with in our own lives, or a verse that is particularly meaningful to us, and how God has helped us overcome that struggle. I was really afraid that what I shared with my new friends might not relate to them, or that it may not evoke the same feelings or understanding in Haitian culture as it does in America. However, the next day our translator brought up what I spoke about that evening and how he related to it, which brought us closer together and immediately broke down some barriers and opened up a deeper conversation. This moment made me so hopeful for the week ahead and the many more moments to connect with our Haitian brothers and sisters.

– Alice McCormick

And so it begins…

And so it begins. Our two and a half months of planning are over, and I am writing down my thoughts from Jerry’s Beach Hotel in Port de Paix on night two. Quite a few thoughts are swirling around in my head, so bear with me as I try to explain. I’m feeling pretty exhausted: from door to door our trip took around 20 hours from bus rides to airports and bus rides again. I’m feeling outside my comfort zone: growing up in a suburban city and traveling across Northern Europe I’ve never been a minority. It is impossible for me to blend in; I get attention everywhere I go. Im feeling sadness: how is it possible for two places in the world to be so different? Children in the street come up to me, lift up their shirts, and plead with me for money because they are so hungry. But through all this I still feel hope: I hope for the work we are doing here, and for the potential I see in the people here.

So far we’ve been taking care of a lot of logistical work. We’ve been organizing suitcases, folding shirts, and seeing if everything we brought made it to Port de Paix. In the midst of all the work we are doing, sometimes I forget the big picture. I just go through the motions from getting on a plane, to folding shirts, or preparing to share a Bible verse. But looking at the big picture I realize that I’m traveling to a developing country to partake in the redemptive and restorative work of God. I’m starting a small business so people who live on less than a dollar a day have the power to permanently change their lives and provide for their families. I get to share the Word of God to a congregation in another country through a translator. How incredible is that?

I am blessed to be where I am, and this trip has given me eyes to see it in a whole new way. What 21-year-old gets to say these things? This journey in Haiti is and so it begins. Our two and a half months of planning are over, and I am writing down my thoughts from Jerry’s Beach Hotel in Port de Paix on night two. Quite a few thoughts are swirling around in my head, so bear with me as I try to explain. I’m feeling pretty exhausted: from door to door our trip took around 20 hours from bus rides to airports and bus rides again. I’m feeling outside my comfort zone: growing up in a suburban city and traveling across Northern Europe I’ve never been a minority. It is impossible for me to blend in; I get attention everywhere I go. Im feeling sadness: how is it possible for two places in the world to be so different? Children in the street come up to me, lift up their shirts, and plead with me for money because they are so hungry. But through all this I still feel hope: I hope for the work we are doing here, and for the potential I see in the people here.

So far we’ve been taking care of a lot of logistical work. We’ve been organizing suitcases, folding shirts, and seeing if everything we brought made it to Port de Paix. In the midst of all the work we are doing, sometimes I forget the big picture. I just go through the motions from getting on a plane, to folding shirts, or preparing to share a Bible verse. But looking at the big picture I realize that I’m traveling to a developing country to partake in the redemptive and restorative work of God. I’m starting a small business so people who live on less than a dollar a day have the power to permanently change their lives and provide for their families. I get to share the Word of God to a congregation in another country through a translator. How incredible is that?

I am blessed to be where I am, and this trip has given me eyes to see it in a whole new way. What 21-year-old gets to say these things? This journey in Haiti is going to be one of those moments that define my college experience. I am going to be able to look back with pride at the fact I was a part of something bigger than myself. It is incredible to see the work God is doing here in Haiti, and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.

Be able to look back with pride at the fact I was a part of something bigger than myself. It is incredible to see the work God is doing here in Haiti, and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.

– Tommy Nightingale

Celebrating the Heroes on the Ground

It is amazing how quickly this day has come. It seems like we arrived only yesterday, yet in a week’s time we have grown closer with our Haitian entrepreneurs than many of us have with some of our friends back home. Today we all woke up with a feeling of extraordinary humility and nostalgia as we reflected on our experience in Haiti over the last few days. It is safe to say that all of us will be intimately affected and changed due to our experience here and the relationships that we have built with those we have worked with. For some, today marked the day where many variables and tasks had to be carried out with vigor to attempt to ready our Haitian entrepreneurs to have the information needed to run their businesses successfully after our departure. For others, today was a day that we could sit back and watch as our entrepreneurs ran their newly created businesses with heightened excitement and renewed hope in a future of increased possibility. Our feelings were mixed to say the very least.

I for one felt very conflicted about departing from Haiti so soon. On one hand it felt as though I had just arrived, on the other, I was experiencing a sense of belonging and sadness that could be likened to leaving my own home. Inevitably, I feel as though a part of my heart will forever reside in Haiti. I have a strong resolve to make sure that I return to Haiti again in the near future to continue to develop the relationships that I have made and strengthen my commitment to this beautiful place and its beautiful people. Never before have I been so exposed to a place of such severe poverty complimented with this level of incarnational joy. I have encountered a mixture of suffering and joy here in Haiti that is both incredibly saddening and experientially hopeful.

After all of us spent the majority of the day finalizing things with our entrepreneurs, it was time to go visit every single business as an entire group one last time to celebrate the heroes on the ground. After spending the entire week in Haiti, it is glaringly obvious that we were merely witnesses to the businesses created here. The true heroes are our entrepreneurs. They are the ones that are going to make a better life for themselves and their family, despite the inherent hardship that they have been born into. Such fierce resolve to overcome the sufferings in front of you, with devout stewardship to God’s will and absolute trust in His sovereignty, is something that I rarely see back home. However, such courage and strength is commonplace here in Haiti. Our entrepreneurs taught each and every one of us what it means to be a hero and crusader for Christ, against all fears or doubts. I expected that I would learn more from coming to Haiti than I would teach; however, I did not know just how much I still had to learn. Haiti has changed the way I see the world around me and it has done so as a direct result of the courageous faith of those who call it home.

Lord, please protect and guide those whom we are about to leave here. They are so valuable and such an amazing part of your Kingdom to come. Thank you for bringing us into this beautiful place to break bread with these wonderful people. Help us never forget the lessons we have learned here. Help us have the strength to emulate the courageous servitude of our Haitian brothers and sisters. Amen.

– Dylan