Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Day in the Mountains

God Shows Up

Today reminded me to keep my eyes open to everything that God had set forth for me. It was really great just observing and listening to the conversations and friendships that have formed throughout the team.

We all packed up the tap-tap and left for Reiser Heights school around 9 am. The ride up there was breath-taking and we got to see a lot of Haiti. As we got farther up into the mountain the cement roads became nonexistent and everything was turning to green. About halfway up we stopped at the Baptist Mission rest stop. It was a market and food place all in one, plus the restrooms. We then continued up the mountain and that’s when the roads became bumpy. Our driver did an amazing job and we got to the Reiser Heights school just fine.

We spent most of our day there passing out candy and bags filled with gifts and little things for the kids to play with. Seeing the smiles and faces of the kids made me so happy and I enjoyed every minute! We also got to experience all the little ones sing a song to us and in return we sang “I’m A Little Tea Pot.” We got a little concert going after school where our interpreters, Patrick and Maxim (also our driver), played the piano and guitar and led songs in the native language. The Kids LOVED it! We also got a game of duck, duck, goose going and that was a big hit. The view of the landscape from high in the mountains was amazing, and it definitely was different then Port-au-Prince, but in a beautiful way.

We started down the mountain again and it was bumpy of course. We made another stop at the Baptist Mission and then stopped on the road to do a little shopping on the side of the road. It was a neat experience and the sellers are so artistic. It was also a little nerve racking because the traffic is nothing but chaos. I have to say the drivers are really good though. I also got to experience bartering today, which was really cool. Once everyone was done shopping, everyone loaded up into the tap-tap again and we headed home.

We hit Haiti rush hour traffic and sitting in the front with the driver is another experience. You get to see cars not even inches from each other, people walking across the street, wondering if they will get hit, and vendors walking directly up to vehicles selling drinks to the drivers. I had a good laugh and it was a great experience. The key to driving in Haiti, I think, is aggressiveness and assertiveness.

We got home and had a traditional Haitian meal, which was stew, rice, veggies, and plantain. It was by far my favorite meal so far. We ended the night with a team meeting and enjoyable conversations and togetherness. It was an early night for a lot of people on the team. Even though we were all exhausted, it still reminded me to be present and take in every little thing. Cannot wait for what tomorrow has to bring!


If you want to hear more about my personal experience follow


Monday, March 16, 2015


Today I am reminded of lyrics I sung nearly 20 years ago as a young girl in middle school choir.
“Music is the universal language each and everyone understands. It heals broken hearts and sets the spirit free.”

Upper-left: "Tent" church
Lower-left: Heather and Bill dancing after dinner
Right: Kaylee and her friend at Sacred Heart home for abandoned women

This theme weaved throughout Friday from beginning to end. Many of us began the day not-bright-yet and early at 5:30 am so we could head to a 6:00 church service in a huge pole barn.

From the moment we stepped inside the big white warehouse-looking building, I could hear slow guitar and piano notes and a slight drumbeat under a man’s Creole spoken words. We found our seats, and I started to feel my emotions swell with the chord progressions. Because the entire service was in Creole, I had the chance to reflect on my volunteer experience so far, my remarkable teammates, the Haitians in the room with me, and the ones who weren’t.

I kept my eyes, ears and mind open as I allowed everything to flow in—and out. Tears welled in my eyes, and although I initially tried fighting it to keep from drawing attention to myself, I let my tears fall by midservice. Happy tears, sad tears, grateful tears, hopeful tears. This is very unlike me, and it was truly the music that set my feelings loose.

I watched local church-goers pace up and down the aisles with their hands in the air saying their own prayers with such conviction that I know the music was moving them, too. I was clappin’ and groovin’ during a joyous song right before we left, and I saw a happy fellow stop his dancing journey to translate one line of a song as he passed our group. He wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the lyrics so we could fully take in the song. My smile grew as I sang and clapped harder before we headed out to serve the citizens of Haiti.

Music kept flowing throughout the day. While at a home for sick and dying adults, some gals and I serenaded the ladies while lotioning their dry skin and painting their nails. Our renditions of Backstreet Boys, The Little Mermaid, and Spice Girls jams were a big hit and brought many smiles to the women in their hospital beds. I hope our soothing touch and entertainment lifted their spirits and made them feel loved for even a short time. 

At Sacred Heart home, another for abandoned women, we sang songs and made jewelry for the ladies. Kaylee made the cutest connection with a blind woman in a wheelchair who taught her a children’s song. When they were apart for a bit, one of them would start singing “do do ti ti cama calla lou” and they were brought back together and holding hands in no time. The joy this quick friendship brought to the room was beautiful. Before we left, Sister Aleda belted out a rockin’ song that got everyone clapping and dancing.

We went to an authentic Haitian restaurant for dinner and were greeted with live music. I met eyes with the musician as I sang along to “Redemption Song,” and we shared a smile across the room. Our group chatted and laughed throughout the meal while various musicians provided a warm ambiance. A handful of our team members danced cheek to cheek under the stars while a Wyclef Jean sound-alike created the perfect close to our meal. We sang a few songs in the tap tap on the way home to round out the evening.

Music continues to bring our team members closer together, and with each stop on our trip we share the universal language. Whether singing in English or Creole, songs and smiles go hand in hand. You never know how your spirit will be set free.

Love from Haiti,
Amanda Bartschenfeld
Roseville, Minnesota

Read more about my experience at www.akbinhaiti.wordpress.com

Sunday, March 15, 2015

He is here

Morning in Haiti is my favorite time of the day.  It’s dark and quiet, except for the sound of roosters crowing, and the coolness of the air makes it hard to believe that in a few short hours it will be over 90 degrees.  Beyond the walls of guesthouse, peeks of Port au Prince are lit up in the pre-dawn light and the sounds of worship are just building at the nearby tent service.  And best of all, it’s alone time with God. 

When I made my first trip to Haiti three years ago, I had no idea how present God would be in this desperately poor country.  If I had to guess, my assumption would have been that our Lord would be hard to find amongst the dusty roads, the bedraggled people, the worn out buildings, the poverty.  But much to my shock, His presence was more palatable than I had ever experienced.

On every trip I’ve made to Haiti since my first one, I find myself looking forward to that strong bonding with God.  On this trip, we have already looked into the face of God on school children, orphans, sick babies and adults, and on handicapped children.  Tomorrow we will look into the face of Him on some of the beautiful elderly people of Haiti.  It has been a joy to observe my team members so effortlessly opening their hearts and letting God work through them by serving the people of Haiti in His name. 

Equally, I love observing the love of God in the Haitian people.  In the midst of trouble and sadness, His presence is strongly felt.  God is their resource for hope and survival.  Many days, God is all they have.  In prayer and song, they praise Him vehemently, and their faith in Him sustains them. 

At morning Mass two days ago, Father Tom talked about the faith of the Haitian people and how they count on God’s presence to get them through each day.  He said they simply say, “Jezi la.”  (“God is here”).  And He is.

Ann Brau

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Simple, but Profound

Day 3 (March 11, 2015)

The day started for some of the group with 6:30 a.m. mass in the dark at the Missionaries of Charity chapel.  It was like so many of the experiences thus far in Haiti, simple, but profound.  Not a pew or kneeler in the place, but as sacred as any cathedral.  Fr. Tom spoke of the natural order – 1.Right to life.  2. Right of possession (in this order).  He also spoke of the three dimensions that must be present to be fully human – Love of God, Love of others and Love of self.  Anything less is to be less than fully human.

This was a day of constant change, but as our group has quickly acclimated to the Haitian pace and culture, the day turned out 
wonderfully.  Despite the best-laid plans, it turned out that several planned stops for the day changed.  (Some of the words of the day, included resourceful, adaptive, flexible and go with the flow.)  We were even turned away from our first DeliMarket stop.  Our Haitian escorts, Jonas and Maxim, and our trip leaders, Ann and Rebecca, persevered to make the day a special one.  We eventually found our way to another DeliMarket and were able to stock up on supplies for our stop later this week to an Elderly Care facility.  Our first visit included a tour of a home for sick and dying babies where dedicated nuns serve our God through their baby care ministry.  We met a little baby that had been burned that barely had enough energy to cry because she was in so much pain and could only loosely cling to a finger.  We were able to hold a number of babies in the various rooms and share some loving.  Some of us relearned our diaper changing skills and helped air dry some babies after their sink baths.  All walked away with a deep respect for these special nuns and their vocation.

During the middle of the day, our group visited the Papillon Enterprise, where the future of Haiti can be seen today.  This company is bringing opportunity to hundreds of Haitians through the manufacturing of various products (jewelry, pottery, handbags, hanging ornamentals and much more) onsite.  By working with global designers, this company is showing that a local Haitian company can compete on the world stage.

Our last visit of the day ended at an orphanage, where we rewarded with the opportunity to be with several kids that each tugged on our hearts in their own special way.  I met a little three year-old girl named Christie that ambled into my arms and did not want to let go for the next couple of hours.  I learned some Creole (Ki jan ou rele – What is your name?) and Christie learned some English (“high five”, “chalk” and “God bless”), but mostly we communicated through the universal language of laughter and smiles.  Through these visits our group learned again the power of holding a baby and what the experience can teach us about life, those around us and ourselves – simple, but profound.

During our trip back to our Haitian home, while Maxim navigated around a bad spot in the road by moving to the left side of the road, the truck coming at us automatically moved to the opposite of the road.   Both passed each other uneventfully, no accidents.  Simple, but profound - especially for the nearly twenty people in the two trucks.

We are all excited for what awaits us during the rest of our visit to this most intriguing country as we learn about the Haitian people and culture, our fellow group members and ourselves in both simple and profound ways.

Gary Noel on behalf of the March, 2015 Reiser Relief Team

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quenching the Thirst

Day 2: Today is our first day in the Field. We started with our first breakfast in the house. Yummy! Scrambled eggs, French toast, oatmeal, avocado, mango, pineapple and watermelon. We loaded up into the tap-tap with a few bags of supplies. Our 1st stop was Terre Promise School where we met Elder, the leader of school.  We carried donations of 50 lbs. bags of beans and oil. We visited the children in their classrooms. They were singing and clapping and they wanted hugs. I touched their cheeks, hugged and tickled a few of them. Then I taught them how to “twirl and dip” – they’d giggled! They wanted to stand close to you. A highlight of the day was handing out pillowcase dresses, which were made and donated by a group in MN. The girls’ faces lit up! They were beaming with excitement. We met Rivka, who is the 14th student sponsored by Reiser Relief. She starts her classes next month and wants to major in Agronomy. As we left the school, we received lots of hugs and “merci” from the staff.

Next stop was the 1st water stop in Cité Soleil (the largest slum city in the western hemisphere). As we entered, the tap-tap honks the horn and the kids come running out and people start lining up with their buckets. As the doors on the tap-tap open, the kids are waiting for us. They would point to us and say “Hey you!” It’s like they pick you.

Then we’d pick them up and love on them, touch their cheeks, hug them, rub their backs, tickle them and speak positive words into them. As I stood there with a child on each hip, I observed what was happening around me. The men at the water truck were holding the hose and spraying water over the buckets, filling them to the top. Some Haitians were orderly. Others were trying to sneak into the front of the line. Maxim, Patrick, and Jonah (our 3 Healing Haiti men) would provide interpretation, security and order when needed. The kids in our arms just wanted love, more hugs and our attention. It was time to head back to the tap-tap. Hard to say good-bye to these little faces. The mind wonders about their lives…our lives…their circumstances…our circumstances. We are all blessed!

Back to the water truck station to re-fill the truck for our next stop.  It was an opportunity to watch the process of the trucks driving around the loop and waiting in queue. There were 4 lines where the pipes were gushing well water into the truck’s tanks.  

Onto our 2nd water stop…horns honk. Kids line up. Doors open on the tap-tap.  Hey you!  This sweet girl grabs my hand. I scooped her up and she snuggled in. I found some smiley boys and started teaching them some hand games: fist pumps exploding and high five tricks. I was asked to lift up buckets onto girls’ heads. Hard to imagine they can carry that much weight.   I was asked to carry full buckets for 3 different people.  I always found a partner and we walked a bit, but always within sight of the water truck and tap-tap. Three of us carried water back to a group of pregnant mamas.  It was time to go back to the tap-tap truck. We all agreed – the children’s faces were filled with smiles, laughter and happiness.

Next, up the Soccer Fields… An opportunity to run races with kids, play games, play soccer and take pictures. The boys wanted their pictures taken, then to see their photos. They really wanted to take the pictures themselves with the camera. After we played, we all lined up and walked down the street and into the soccer building. We sat at concrete tables, talked and played games like arm wrestling. The kids got in line for their post practice meal. We prayed before they ate and sang “Johnny Appleseed” and “Amen”. Each child received a donated drawstring  backpack and water bottle. They were elated! Each one of us got hugs and thank you’s from each child. After a few group photos, it was time to go.  Back to the tap-tap to return to the Healing Haiti guest house.  A cool shower is a very refreshing reward after a hot and dusty day! Our evening was a wonderful time to reflect and share stories from our day’s experiences.

Heather Bye-Kollbaum
- a mama from Minnesota