Monday, July 13, 2015

Cacophony of Music and Laughter

Just a few hundred yards up the hill from where Pierre and his wife live is a walled village called Grace. It is what we came to see. It is the reason I did everything possible to hand deliver twelve guitars to Haiti. And we went there today.
When we arrived, some kids had already gathered in anticipation of the guitars they knew we were bringing. The staff insisted that we take a tour of the facility before breaking into the day's activities.
Grace Village is an amazing respite from the desert and is so much more than 'less than nothing.' The vision of Fr. Reiser and Healing Haiti has transformed a barren rock outcrop into a truly 21st Century facility that should be the envy of community schools around the world.
There are dorms (which are more like community apartments), two transition homes for the older students, a self sustaining hydroponic farm that grows both tilapia and fresh veggies, a kitchen that feeds 500 people a day, bakery, clinic, pharmacy, large playground, pavilion
and of course the pre k-13 school.
All of it under 5 years old, funded by donations and built with Hatian labor.
It is unbelievable.
Following the tour, we got down to business and started a group guitar lesson with the 40 or so kids who were around for the summer program. I took the helm and gave a lesson to the older kids so that they in turn could teach the younger ones. In two hours, there were about twelve kids playing chords and more importantly reading the chord charts so that they could continue playing after we are gone.
While the twelve were learning guitar, the rest were given lessens on the recorders we brought.
There was a cacophony of music and laughter everywhere.
And with that, my work here is....done?
Dave Livermore

Saturday, July 11, 2015

They. Love. Jesus.

Imagine growing up in a town named Loserville.
Just think about that for a minute or two.
Any job application you filled out might be perfect right up until the HR rep saw where you were from and then it would go straight to the trash.
Now try to imagine the Haitian version of Loserville.
Pause a minute and ponder that.
As bad as it might be in the U.S., here in Haiti it is a hundred times worse.
That is where we went today.
Translated it means Less than Nothing.
It is a place so removed from Port Au Prince that the government saw fit to dump bodies by the truckload to in a mass grave after the 2010 earthquake. It is estimated that over two hundred thousand people are buried there.
And what did we do? We visited the elders. In Haiti, as we found yesterday, the elders are no longer
useful to society and therefore are the last to eat or get things like a roof over their heads.
So today, I sat on a small piece of cardboard in a mud puddle singing Amazing Grace while members of our group rubbed lotion into the calloused hands and feet of a man named Pierre and his wife; in a village called Less Than Nothing.
We asked Pierre what he did (as in career.)  He grew a garden. He and his wife raised five children in a dirt floored, cinder block hut no bigger than 12' square. We assume he sold produce down on the highway. When they had food, they ate. When they didn't have food, they didn't eat.
I have been wondering since we got here what people did.  What do they do? There doesn't seem to be much industry nor agriculture production. There are merchants on the street selling everything a person could need, but it doesn't seem like a way to live.
My question was finally answered today by Pierre. Not when we asked him what he did. But when we asked about his relationship with God. He did not hesitate for a second. He spoke for several minutes non stop. His voice would rise and fall from heated to reverent to near laughter. And even though he did not stop to allow translation, we all stood there gap-jawed and we all knew.
What to the people of Haiti do?
They. Love. Jesus.
And I really believe Jesus loves them.

Dave Livermore

Golden Rule

Like every other day this week, Haiti showed what a multifaceted place this really is. For such a small country, there is much to see, do and experience.

Our travels today took us to a beach some thirty miles up the coast. We arrived at a small resort where some thirty old ladies from an abandoned women's shelter waited for us to arrive to help them enjoy a day at the beach.

This was a new experience for everyone involved. Mission groups regularly take kids to the beach. But never have the elderly women had this opportunity.

I don't know how frequently you visit a nursing home, nor how comfortable you are jumping in to help, play and interact with the residents. I do know how awkward it is when we take our daughter's 6th grade Sunday school class to a local nursing home and how the kids tentatively sing, talk and do activities. In four years of going once a month, it has never been easy but I do know how much the people enjoy our visits.

Imagine taking an entire nursing home of women, in a foreign tropical country, out for a day on the beach. Complete with swimming. It was just about as far out of my comfort zone as I would care to venture. But our team handled it like trained professionals. We helped the ladies down to the water and swam with them, held them afloat, comforted them, helped them out of the water, up into the shade and sang for them. We painted their nails, had lunch (which was another Haitian feast, complete with Prestige beer and cake for dessert.). We shared coconut milk right out of the fruit. 

We did our best to be everything we would want, hope and dream others would be for us if we were 75 years old, living our final years in a small sequestered compound far out in the country, miles away from the rest of the world. And we did it on the day of a rare field trip to a tropical beach.

When I woke up this morning, I had no idea how far I was going to be taken to live the Golden Rule. But I have no regrets in doing so.

Dave Livermore

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I want to make a difference

Today we rose from the depths of hell and went all the way to the top of the world. It was an experience as unexpected as the slum though completely different. 

I found myself confused beyond all hope by Cite Soleil yesterday, and today did nothing to help me find clarity.
We drove through the city and up a mountain. Along the way the roads varied from rocky, to pavement, to comical (as one had power pylons smack in the middle of the west bound lane and no lines to provide direction as to how to deal with the permanent obstruction) to a mountain trail so steep the truck had to quit and let us off to finish the journey on foot.
At the top of the mountain we found a school that serves three hundred kids (yes, 300.)

They sang for us; we sang for them. Then we broke up and played and interacted with them. My job was to teach guitar to a few kids. Normally this would not be a problem. However I have never attempted this with kids who speak NO english. None. Nada. Zilch. To call it a challenge is an understatement.
But I am a winner and was able to teach a couple of them how to read a chord chart so they could continue learning after we drove back down the mountain.

The drive was long enough to allow for many questions and much reflection.  Yet the mirror remains steamed up and the image is barely recognizable. We are in one of the poorest places in the world. However the people do not seem overly unhappy. Most aren't even hopeless the kids we saw yesterday probably have no concept of the world outside the slum.
Rubble, dirt and dust, garbage and grime, raw putrid unfathomable waste, lines the streets. Walls surround every residence and hotel. Armed guards man the metal gates to allow people to come and go. 

But I remain confounded. The people here are alive. They are filled with a common spirit that defies understanding.

When I was a teenager, I remember looking up at the stars one particular clear night and experiencing an incredible feeling of insignificance. A massive weight was lifted from my shoulders as I stared at the universe and realized that any problem in my life was minuscule in the whole grand scheme of things. I knew that I could curl up and disappear into the cosmos and it would make no difference at all. And to me that was a good thing.

Then I went to sleep. When I woke up I started worrying about college, life, bills and all the other stupid stuff young adults concern themselves with.

This week has brought that feeling back for me. It is still incredible. But in a completely different way. 
As an adult who just last week connected with someone I had not talked to since college, I described myself as completely content and happy in life.

All. Is. Well. 

That is what I said.

This week I realize all is not well. I want to make a difference. 

That incredible feeling of insignificance is back but instead of releasing a weight from my shoulders, it is putting a yoke on them. Yet I do not know how I could possibly do ANYTHING of consequence to help Haiti. I am one person and there are millions of people and 'problems' here.

Dave Livermore

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Confounding Witness

It is the morning of day three and I am still processing yesterday.

The things I saw were confounding.  They are beyond anything I thought possible, and my sense of reality has been seriously challenged.

I spent the day in the poorest place on planet earth.   I came with no expectations other than to make a 'difference.'   
Yet I am pretty sure the only transformation I made was in myself.   I wake the next day with more questions than answers. 

Amid all hopelessness, I witnessed... .   I witnessed.   
Naked, hot, with distended bellies, the children who longed for nothing more than a hug and a bucket of water, I met their every want.

Yet I do not understand.   

Today as I reflect I do find some solace (not that it matters.)
Firstly, it is possible I have found a cure for anxiety.  The next time I feel an attack coming on, I hope I can cut through my clouded mind with memories of my day in Cite Soleil.   Any 'problem' I could come up with has nothing on what the children of the slum put up with before sunrise each day.

Second, music continues to be a constant in the world; A binding agent.   As we prepared to depart our first water stop, the children started getting a bit frantic.  We stood in a circle at the site of Hope (a church being built) and one of our guides stepped to the center and started singing 'God is so good, he's so good he's so good.'   Every child immediately joined in chorus.   From the chaos came instant order. 

Dave Livermore

It's a big world out there

I have been in Haiti for all of about eight hours and already am developing a deep appreciation for all the riches and blessings I really do have.   

Electricity.   We were in the airport for 10 minutes before the power flashed out for a few minutes.   By 7:30 pm, as we were all meeting to discuss tomorrow's adventures, the power went out no one even blinked.

Our transport from the airport was a truck with the bed removed and a metal cage put in its place with a roof over top.   Two benches allowed for seating and two rails with hand holds served to help those who were standing.  Our minivan has nothing on this beast.  

In our neighborhood, there are two potholes that give me reason to flinch every time I drive up the street.  They were recently repaired.   
After riding from the airport to the guest house, I think I experienced a lifetime's worth.   The narrow streets aren't even paved.   

There have been few times in my life where I was truly happy with the water pressure of my shower.  Dorms were the best and a few hotels have been rather impressive.  But other than that I can always find something to complain about.  
Never. Again.  
First Haitian shower. 
One faucet.   
Cold trickle.  And it felt amazing!

Wifi issues.  Who cares if you don't have access to to wifi?  There isn't a single bar of cell service either.  But no one seems too concerned here. 

Air Conditioning;  we have no idea how good we got it.  The push of a button controls the climate perfectly.  Most of the people around us have no concept at all.

Convenience store?   I think not.

I have always said that it is a big world out there.  But I really had no idea what that meant. 

Dave Livermore


2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Day one brought 14 team sleepy team members from Minnesota to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We arrived to a steamy airport where we stood in a line mixed with Haitians and other ambitious Americans ready to see what Haiti was all about. When we exited the airport we were bombarded with anxious Haitians wanting to help us with luggage. Our Healing Haiti escorts were loyally waiting for us. Our crew hopped in the colorful Healing Haiti 'Tap Tap' covered with scripture in Creole. Our ride through Port-au-Prince proved to us that we were no longer in Minnesota anymore. Haitians covered the streets with their cinder block homes in the background, plastic and trash covering the ditches. The Healing Haiti guest house is a vibrant, welcoming place housed with 6 bunk rooms, 3 bathrooms, and a well-organized kitchen. There are three women that cook for us morning and in the evening as well as some Haitian guards and the rest of the HH staff. We ate a delicious meal of some good 'ol Irish Shepard's Pie and explored the grounds with a beautiful Haitian sunset. With our long day of travel we all crashed, ready to take on the next day-the start of our journey Christ has led us to.

Day two brought water. After a tasty breakfast of eggs, French toast, oatmeal, freshly squeezed fruit juice, and of course coffee we met up with the Reiser water truck en route to Cite Soleil. The sight at stop 17 was like a scene out of a movie. There were children running from every corner of the gravel alleyways and behind each stone shanty chanting "Hey YOU!" Our Haitian guides tried to clear the way for us as we stepped down from the Tap Tap as children jumped and pulled on us. Within three steps, everyone had at least three children on top of them. As I (Allyson) held the two children it was amazing how much love and affection they desired-and how drastically protective they immediately became of the person holding them. It was as if they wanted to soak in all of the embrace possible before the inevitable end of our short stay. They snuggled their heads in and I was able to look at the scene around me. There were people lined up pushing buckets, cups, trash bins-just about anything that will hold some water- with loud voices protecting their spots in line. The truck had hoses that people use to fill the buckets to the brim, soak the people in the glorious, life-giving water, and cover the streets. There were women and men, young and old carrying buckets by the handle and top of their heads down the dusty path to their cloth covered homes.

As I looked around at my teammates, they were radiating. Playing ring-around the rosie, talking with the kids in a mix of creole and English, kids braiding hair and fighting over laps. The feeling you have is overwhelming with their desperation for water and lack of "stuff", yet there was joy that can only come in the purest of forms. The kids had maybe a shirt on or were naked and oh so dirty. But none of it mattered to them nor our team members. It was a special moment to share with them being able to show them Christ's love, for them to know they are not forgotten and hopefully to show the adults that we care. It is truly humbling to be along side of them and to realize our "problems" are quite trivial when coming face-to-face with hunger and dehydration.

We were also able to meet a gentleman who Faith Lutheran Church in Forest Lake is sponsoring through University. We met him at a school sponsored by Reiser Relief. We also were able to witness the beginnings of Hope Church being built. What struck me was the wooden cross that signified the entrance with blocks representing the outline of what will soon hold the community members worshiping God and bringing hope to the community. The most striking moment for me was simply my team member singing a song in creole while walking through the entrance to the church. It's amazing how the spirit can move through you in the simplest of times.

Our day was truly a blessing learning from the Haitians and seeing what challenges the world is faced with that brought many of us break down to raw emotion. Personally, I don't think my sprit will digest what my eyes saw, arms felt, and nose smelt for a few days but I know we are in the beginning of a large change as we walk through this week, with Christ glowing through us and the people we meet. It is just the beginning.