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.