Sunday, March 30, 2014


Although much of Haiti is built in concrete, very little in Haiti is “written in concrete.”  Plans are as fluid as the delicious cherry juice we drink here.

Yesterday was to be a treat of sorts for us, as Jean, the director of the guesthouse we stay at, had agreed to take us to Jacmel for the day, a well-known oceanside city in the southwest corner of Haiti.  The previous day, Joyce and I had learned from Sister Alta that The Sisters of Companions of Jesus operated another home for abandoned men, women, and children called Aisle St. Vincent de Paul.   It was located in Leogane, Haiti and run by a nun named Sister Claudette.  Since we were going to be traveling through Leogane on our way to Jacmel, we had added a stop at St. Vincents to our itinerary. 

After minimal delays, we actually arrived in Leogane on time and were able to located Aisle St. Vincents.  Finding Sister Claudette proved to be a bit trickier as the complex was huge.  When we finally did run into her, she grilled us as to who we were and why we were there.  As always, the magic words, “We are Father Reiser’s nieces,” helped to win her over.  It was obvious she was a very busy woman, and she started out giving us an abbreviated tour of the area.  Most of the complex had been destroyed by the earthquake (Leogane was near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake), and the rebuilding was still in progress.  What had already been completed was beautiful.  Besides housing 100 men, women and children, many of who are mentally or physically handicapped, they also ran a preschool and an elementary school.   The grounds were lush and well cared for and the buildings immaculate and bustling with activity. 

The final building we toured was the Administration building.  Sister asked if we would like to see where Father Reiser had fallen and hurt himself so many years ago in Haiti.  We were stunned to learn it had happened here.  We had always known of Father’s awful injury to his leg that had caused the remaining years of his life to be pain-filled, resulted in subsequent multiple hospital stays, and had prevented him from traveling to Haiti ever again.  But we had been unclear as to what had caused the injury.  She led us to a small, dimly lit restroom, and we witnessed the innocent-looking spot where the injury had happened.  The moment was an intensely emotional one.  Somehow it helped me to finally put closure on that catastrophic event in my uncle’s life. 

After this somber moment, Sister Claudette took us back outside onto the beautiful grounds, set up chairs and a little table covered with a lace cloth, and under a big tropical shade tree, we ate fresh mangos together as fast as she and Jean could expertly peel and slice them.  We parted best of friends and promised to bring her one of Father Reiser’s books on our next visit.  I feel so blessed to have another of the wonderful nuns from the Sisters of Companions of Jesus to call my friend.

From there, how can I summarize the rest of the day?  Let me just say it included a twisting and turning trip up and down the mountains, a tour of Jacmel (picture a slightly run down section of New Orleans!), a stop at a construction site where we were given a tour of every room, a banana and mango harvesting experience, eating fresh fish oceanside, and a spectacular view of the sunset as we working our way up and over the mountains on the way home. 

Over and over in my mind on the drive home as I watched the setting sun and reveled in the memories of another wonderful day in Haiti, a phrase used so often by Father Reiser’s sister (and my beloved late aunt, Sister Bertrand) ran through my mind:  “All this and Heaven too.”

God bless the people of Haiti.

All This and Heaven Too

Yesterday my sister Ann observed that this has been our Haiti "trip of the nun."  We were privileged this trip to spend time with Sisters who we already knew and meet new Sisters who have dedicated their lives to Christ through vows of poverty, obedience and chastity.  They live among the poorest of the poor and spend their days spreading the Gospel with loving hands and compassionate hearts.

Yesterday we were privileged to meet Sr. Claudette.  She manages a crew at a facility called Asile St. Vincent de Paul who care for 100 abandoned elderly men and women and severely disabled Haitians of all ages.  She is an energetic and spry woman with an excellent sense of humor that reminded me so much of Fr. Reiser.    She knew both Fr. Reiser and Brother de Paul and graciously took us on a tour of the facility, most of which was reconstructed after it was destroyed in the earthquake that hit Haiti in January, 2010.

At the end of our tour she took us to an administrative building, pointed to a bathroom, and told us that this was the place where Fr. Reiser had fallen down and injured himself in Haiti.  I was shocked as I had never known exactly where this had happened.  Now I was standing in the exact place and hearing a first hand account of events.  I had always known that Fr. Reiser had fallen 'somewhere' in Haiti, that the wound he had from the fall had become badly infected, never healed properly, and had plagued him for the next 10-15 years until he died.  Fr. Reiser wrote of how he accepted this suffering, that is was nothing compared to the suffering of so many Haitians struggling to live, and that he offered his suffering up for them.     Sr. Claudette immediately recognized the emotional response in both me and Ann triggered by the place and the story, and kindly led us out to a shaded area in the garden to tell us more about her life story and the Sisters of the Companions of Jesus.  She served us fresh mangoes and fed our souls.  I was a lovely moment that I didn't want to end.

Towards the end of our time together she told us that she is so happy.  She doesn't have nice clothes or shoes or signs of status, but she doesn't need those things to be happy.  Serving others brings her joy.  It was simply and beautifully stated.

The rest of our day was spent traveling to Jacmel in southern Haiti and going on a series of adventures that included touring the downtown area with lovely architecture that reminded me of New Orleans, visiting a house under construction, harvesting mangoes, oranges and bananas, eating fresh fish at the beach, and enjoying majestic mountain vistas.  As we were driving through the mountains, Ann asked me what our aunt Sr. Bertrand (our mother and Fr. Reiser's sister) would have said at this moment.  The response:  "All this and Heaven too."  Not only does our Lord provide us with the beautiful gift of this earth filled with bounty, but there is also the promise of eternal life in His glory in Heaven.

On our way back into Port au Prince, we bought produce from a roadside stand for the guest house and put it in the back of the truck.    When we hit a traffic jam our Haitian friend / guide / driver / interpreter for the day, Jean, kept looking in his rearview mirror and checking on the produce.  He told me that in traffic jams there are often truck robbers running between vehicles and stealing whatever they can from the back of trucks or tap taps.  Then a couple of minutes later he pointed out a boy who was scoping out vehicles in front of us, darting this way and that, jumping on trucks and then jumping off.  A young boy, likely hungry, committing a reckless act.  What would you do if you hadn't eaten all day?  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  It was a sobering reminder of the great need and desperation that is the daily reality for so many Haitians.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Such a Simple Thing...

Even now, on my fifth trip to Haiti, I continue to be amazed by the largeness of things here in Haiti that are so ordinary by American standards. 

We invited the director of our Terra Promise School, Elder Morland, and his wife out for dinner.  Terre Promise School is located in Cite Soleil, the slums of Port au Prince, and over 500 students currently attend the school.    Elder operates the school on a shoestring budget, and deals with poverty, gangs, hunger, and homelessness on a daily basis.  

After many email exchanges between us, transportation issues were worked out, and Elder, his wife, and his nephew (the driver of a borrowed vehicle) picked us up at the guesthouse this evening.  All three of them were dressed in their finest clothes, and almost immediately expressed to us what a special evening this was for them.

At the restaurant, they were hesitant about what to order, and even after consulting with me and conferring amongst one another, they all ordered identical meals and one of the most modest on the menu.  We convinced each of them to order beer or wine, and Elder raised his eyes to God in a silent moment of thanks before taking his first sip of beer. 

We shared a delightful dinner of conversation (in spite of language barriers), new discoveries, photo sessions, and even business together before calling it an evening. Elder shared exciting information with us regarding another ministry in Haiti that Father Reiser had played an important role in helping, which we knew nothing about!

 It was such a treat to get to know Elder and his family on a more intimate level, and undoubtedly, we reached an even better level of trust and understanding with each other.  All three of them thanked us profusely for dinner and expressed to us how dinner out at a nice restaurant was something they would never normally be able to experience. 

Leaving the restaurant, it struck me how much we take for granted such an experience in the United States.  Every future meal eaten out in the U.S. by me, and shared with family and friends, will take on a different meaning for a long time to come.   And I have a wonderful Haitian friend to thank for giving me that insight.


Mark 12:30-31
Love The Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second command is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  There is no commandment greater than these.

We started our day at morning mass sitting among nuns who dedicate their lives to charity listening to an American priest who delivered a homily on Mark 12:30-31.

Fr. Hagen spoke of our three critical dimensions that make us human:  love of self, (honoring and respecting ourselves), love of others (putting the needs of others before our own) and loving God with all our heart.  If we have the first dimension but lack the other two, we are narcissistic incomplete beings with no purpose beyond our own selfish desires.  When we have all three we achieve synergism.

I spent time with two different orders of nuns today.  Both are dedicated fully to love of others and love of God, and  the fruits of this love are peaceful and lovely homes for abandoned elderly and children.   The fruits of the spirit are everywhere in these holy places.  We worked details with Sr. Alta for a new partnership between Reiser Relief and the Sisters of the Companions of Jesus.  We intend to work with the Sisters to make obviously needed facility improvements to assist in the care of beautiful elderly women.

This afternoon we visited General Hospital and my feelings of serenity were replaced with despair and tears.  I saw one disabled girl who was perhaps 8 or 9 years old, completely naked, tethered with a dirty knotted rag to a crib that was far to small for her.  She had pieces of diaper hanging on her face (had to chewed up her diaper?) and strewn all over the dirty floor.   The hospital building she was in was nothing more than a rickety narrow shed with open 'windows' and of course flies, other tropical bugs, and heavy tropical air flowing through.  It smelled of human waste and suffering.  It was a scene that will haunt me.  Where is the synergism here?  Who is loving this child of God?  Why could I do nothing but stand a safe distance away in shock and disgust?  What human sin and narcissism have led to this moment in time where a vulnerable, disabled girl is tethered to a filthy crib in a place filled with despair?

The Sisters of the Companions of Jesus regularly visit General Hospital.  They find women who are truly abandoned in this forsaken place and care for them in a God filled place.  With support from Reiser Relief they could take in perhaps 10 more women.  They make a difference one person at a time by loving themselves, others and God: beautiful synergism.  It's an inspiring example to emulate. 

Mialta Miracle

On February 16, I received a call that Mialta Miracle, the director of our Reiser Heights School in Haiti, had died.  He was 65 years old and spry as a 25-year-old man. 

I first met Mialta just less than two years ago when my sister Joyce and I made our first trip to Haiti.  After a long beautiful (and frightening!) trip up the mountains above Port au Prince, we ended up at Reiser Heights School, which is literally perched on the side of the mountain.  Mialta was a simple man with little education who had taken on the extraordinary job of running a school of about 350 students in a poor rural area of Haiti. 

Initially, we had our doubts about Mialta.  He spoke no English, so our only way of communicating with him was via translators.  We were never quite sure we were getting an accurate account of what was happening at the school, and every time we saw Mialta, we peppered him with questions by way of our translators.  But he always had an answer for us, he always came through with what we asked of him, was always willing to trudge through brush and up steep dirt hills to allow us to meet families of his students.  And he always had a smile on his face.  On a trip to Haiti last May, we asked him if he was Catholic.  He looked to our interpreter, then looked to us, and with the biggest smile you could imagine, he said, “Wi!” 

The next day, dressed in his Sunday best, Mialta took us even higher up the mountain to see his church and the kind priest who ran it.  They were obviously great friends and both had only the best interest of their small mountain community at heart.   From that moment on, we knew Father Reiser had picked the right man for the job after his first trip up the mountain nearly 20 years ago. 

Joyce and I were back up to Reiser Heights today for our first visit since Mialta’s death.  We got to offer our condolences to his very large family, we were able to see his grave right behind the school and the large sign posted on the side of the school remembering their wonderful director and leader of their mountainside village.  We even got to see photos of the funeral including the incredible procession of family and friends as far as the eye could see that followed behind Mialta’s casket as it was carried to his final resting place on the mountain.

The simple, dedicated, spiritual man has left an empty spot on the side of that mountain that will be difficult to fill.

God bless Mialta Miracle.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


On to my second blog of the day.  My series of un-related, but lovely moments of humor and cultural surprises.

Rebar.  It's the innards of almost every building in Haiti and is often poking out of walls at seemingly treacherous and random angles.  Today when we visited the grave of Mialta Miracle, we were surprised to see that the gravesite was covered with a concrete slab that was punctuated at each corner by jutting rebar carefully decorated with dried flowers, branches, bows and finery.

Posing with the corpse.  Mialta Miracle's family showed us many photos of his funeral.  I was shocked by how large it was.  The procession, led by the coffin and many musicians, stretched as far as the eye could see in the photos I looked at.  There were many photos of Mialta in his coffin. And many / all of the family members had taken turns posing with the corpse.  This is not a practice I have ever seen in the US, and a fascinating contrast of cultures.

Dresses.  Today we passed out dresses and shorts at Reiser Heights hand-sewn by a talented group from Roseville, MN.  The dresses were adorable and colorful and very feminine.  With minimal encouragement one of the male teachers and another exceedingly tall and thin male staff member agreed to try the dresses on over their clothing.  Much giggling ensued.

Suitcase.  I have a "Haiti suitcase" that I have a sentimental attachment to.  Today when we were driving down the mountain from Reiser Heights we had traveled quite a distance when I was surprised to see a Reiser Heights teacher and student still walking home.  We stopped and offered them a ride in the back of our pickup (one of the delightful things, to me, about Haiti is the lack of rules and regulations and the ability to do wild things like give kids rides in the back of pick ups).  Anyway, my old Haiti suitcase was empty and in the back of the pick up.  When the student and teacher got to their destination, the girl asked, very sweetly and politely, looking into the depths of my eyes, if she could have the suitcase.  I have a fantastic memory of seeing her walk away carrying it with a huge smile on her face.

Familiar faces.  One of the fun things about coming to Haiti multiple times is that I now get to see people that I "know" when I return.  My favorite is the old lady at the Baptist Mission who cleans / monitors / supervises the two very small toilets there.  For the service of her flushing BEFORE I go, pointing out where I can locate the toilet paper, and turning on the sink for me to wash my hands, she always gets a $1 tip.  I also get a kick out of the street vendors who sit on same little piece of asphalt year after year praising the beauty of the same products over and over.  Hello again!  Sorry, I still don't want to buy that statue.  But do keep asking me.  One of these times I'll break down and barter.

Coffee.  Today we stopped at a bakery on our way back to the guest house to pick up a birthday cake.  My sister, Ann, decided to buy a cup of coffee there.  I watched with great amusement as she first tried to order at the wrong counter (they only take cake orders there, not coffee), then ordered at another counter, paid in another area where her receipt was stamped, and then picked up her coffee in a third area where her receipt was stamped again.  Are we applying for 10 year visas or buying a cup of coffee?  Hard to tell!

Donkeys.  Did you know that donkeys can haul everything from kindling to rebar?  Yes, we're back to the rebar again.  Full circle.


Carry On

Just over two years ago my uncle, Fr. Bernard Reiser, passed away.  Fr. Reiser had a presence that was larger than life, and he was a respected spiritual leader and mentor to thousands upon thousands of people.  His death left a painful vacancy for his family, friends and followers.

Shortly after his death I joined the board about Reiser Relief knowing almost nothing about Haiti, missionary work or managing a non-profit.   All I knew was that I wanted to do what I could to carry on Fr. Reiser's ministry of serving the poorest of the poor in Haiti, and to answer God's call to Go!  And somehow I figured it out (or at least I'd like to think I did).

On February 15, 2014, Mialta Miracle, the director of Reiser Heights school in the rural mountainous village of Donte, Haiti passed away suddenly at the age of 65.  Mialta was not only the the director of the school with an enrollment of 333 children, but he was also a respected leader in his community and a father to 11 children 3 step children and 8 grandchildren.    His death left a sudden gap in his family, the school and his community.

Today we traveled to Reiser Heights to express our sympathy, to share in their grief over their loss, and to explore how we can partner with them to continue to support the legacy that both Fr. Reiser and Mialta Miracle left behind in Haiti: Reiser Heights school.

We spent time with Mialta's step daughter, Natacha.  Natacha has been the principal of Reiser Heights for the last few years while Mialta acted as the director.  Now Natacha is stepping up and doing what she can to keep Reiser Heights going.  Armed with a pre-school teaching license and some classes in business and computer skills (far more education than Mialta Miracle had), Natacha was bursting with confidence and courage that she can manage the school with the help of two of her younger brothers, Jean and Rodney.  She also has the support of her mother Madam Mialta, who is an astute business woman in her own right, butchering animals and selling meat at the local market.

I suppose that Natacha knows next to nothing about actually directing a school.  She likely has never established a vision statement, developed or implemented marketing strategies to attract students, or managed the finances of the school.  And I have confidence that Natacha will find her way and make it happen.  So much of leadership is an innate quality, and I saw that quality blooming in Natacha today.

We talked about marketing.  Natacha shared that she thinks having some computers at the school would attract students.   Kids are kids across the globe. We talked about the needs of the school.  Their most immediate need, after a severe dry season, is water.  Their cistern is dry and they have to purchase water from far away and haul it up to Reiser Heights.  We discussed installing more gutters to collect rainwater and a faucet to make the water easier to access.  We made preliminary plans to hold a summer carnival when I come back to Haiti this summer with a team.

Together, with the help of God, we will carry on.