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

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