Thursday, March 17, 2016


I started crying before our plane left the tarmac.

The tears I swallowed down yesterday at an orphanage in Lillavois, Port au Prince, insisted on making an appearance.

We learned of the orphanage through a ministry partner in Haiti, a Catholic sister.  She had recently visited an orphanage where the children had, quite literally, nothing. When she arrived there was no food anywhere on the property. She found 32 hungry kids with no food. "Joyce, they would be better off on the street where they could at least beg or forage for food," she said.   Sister shared what she could; bags of rice and beans.

I have a responsibility as a spokesperson for Haiti to speak positively of the country, its people, and its future.  Haiti is beautiful and incredibly blessed in many ways. Progress happens daily. Earlier this week a Reiser Relief group attended the dedication of the Cecelia Kathryn Duffy memorial school in Marfranc. Built by Haitians hands and managed by Haitians, the school is already a positive force in the community and a symbol of hope.

But there is suffering in Haiti too, and we are called, as followers of Jesus Christ, to act with mercy in the face of suffering.

So I cry for the children in the orphanage who are suffering from malnutrition, from lack of shelter, education and sanitation. During our time there I made a lame attempt to talk to a couple of the children. I watched other team members engage and embrace them. But for the most part I stood apart, disengaged and overwhelmed. I couldn’t wait to leave. I felt like a failure. I didn’t know what to do about this orphanage. I still don’t. 

As I look ahead to Holy Week and reflect on the passion in the Gospel of Luke, my thoughts today are with Peter. He was confident the day before the crucifixion that he would follow Jesus to death. But he failed, denying Christ three times.  And then Jesus looked at him, with what? Was He angry or disappointed? I doubt it. Peter went on to be a leader and perpetuate the continuation of Christ's ministry.  I believe that Jesus looked at him with forgiveness and understanding.

I arrived in Haiti a few days ago giddy with excitement, confident in our ministry.  In retrospect, many moments in the past days exceeded expectations. My heart overflows with blessings.

Today I pray for mercy for my failures as a missionary. I leave Haiti broken, again and again, bewildered by God’s call to me and my responsibilities with Reiser Relief.

I give myself, broken and imperfect, to this ministry. Give me the strength, God, to allow your mercy to flow through. Forgive me. I need your mercy to act with mercy.


Monday, March 14, 2016

What time is it anyway?

Daylight savings time began yesterday. Our mini team had a 5:30am flight from Minneapolis, final destination Port au Prince.  “Real time” of our departure was 4:30.

My alarm was set for 1:30 and I watched with amusement as my phone time changed from 1:59 to 3 am at the precise hour.

Did you know that the only coffee available at MSP at 4am is McDonald’s?

So our day was run on exact time. Boarding, departure, arrivals, connections. It was predictable…like clockwork.

But clocks march to a different drummer in Haiti.

Our team had been awake for way too many hours by the time 6pm dinner rolled around. My stomach thought it was at least 8pm. But dinner was not ready and the table was not set. Isn’t it 6pm, we asked? The world clock on my phone says that it is 6pm in Haiti. The Digicel cellular network says it is 6pm.

Our host explained. The world clock says it’s 6pm, but Haitians say it is 5pm. They tried daylight savings time in the past and didn’t like it. So they are going with 5pm, world clock be damned.


I honestly have no idea what time to show up at the airport for departure.

There is something maddening and charming about this. Maddening in that my American brain can’t wrap my head around it. My phone and the wall clocks refuse to sync.

But on the other hand, it speaks to me of Haitian resilience and independence. You need some national attitude to overthrow Colonial rulers and become the first black republic, international sanctions be damned. You need attitude to endure decades of occupations and sketchy leadership and not lose a sense of cultural pride. You need national attitude to hear over and over and over again that you live in ‘the poorest country in the Western hemisphere’ and not let that stop you from praising God for your blessings, from finding joy in life, and from blowing off the world clock.

God bless Haiti.



Sunday, March 13, 2016

Praise God for Strength and Support

Good morning Haiti!
As we awake to the jubilating squawk of the plentiful roosters we awake to another beautiful day in Haiti.

We begin our day celebrating Mass at the Home of the Sick and Dying Babies, and once again surrounded by the spiritual aura and beautiful voices of the nuns.

After another delicious and hearty breakfast prepared by the wonderful Haitian women we once again board our beloved Tap-Tap.

The Tap-Tap, our mode of transportation in Haiti, is a cheerfully painted pick-up truck with brightly painted religious slogans on the exterior, and with multiple Bible verses inside. The bed of the truck is encased in a metal mesh, which allows for not only much needed air circulation, but also allows us to soak up the sights and sounds of the busy lives of the Haitian people.

The Tap-Tap is where we have shared many stories and excessive laughter, along with some uneasy and very suspenseful experiences as our driver navigates thru the extremely crowded, rocky, rutted and jarring roads of Haiti. As all of us squeeze together on the long narrow bench seats that line both sides of the Tap-Tap its essential that you either hold onto the metal bar above you, or grasp the classy leather straps that swing overhead.

As we bounce up and down, and oscillate back and forth it sometimes feels like our driver navigates like an experienced but doomed sea captain. We have been launched into and onto each other while somehow still managing to hang onto the above bar or leather straps, yet we all seem to look forward to the next wild adventure.

Haiti is comparable to New York City on steroids. Hundreds of people on the streets, the extreme congestion of traffic, and the never ending huts filled with clothing, Haitian art, homemade crafts, fruits, vegetables and coal are endless and overloaded.

Today we had a few hours after Mass and breakfast to tour the Rebo Coffee Factory.
Coffee is a tradition in Haiti. It is drunk strong and sweet. The average coffee vender on the street of Haiti can make up to 2-3 times the average hourly minimum wage. If a vender sells $10.00 worth of coffee a day, that is considered a very profitable day.

We then visited the Haitian History Center. We had a guided tour and learned the history and struggles of Haiti.

The Haitians are beautiful, joyful, and resilient people. If they are fortunate enough to afford it they make sure their children go to school. Most all education is private education. It may cost any where from $100.00-$400.00 per year to send them to school. The Haitian children are beautiful and delightful children, walking to school every morning in their brightly colored, fresh and clean uniforms. The girls have beautiful color coordinated barrettes and bows scattered throughout their neatly braided hair. Both the girls and boys are always smiling as they walk past us with their soft and polite “bonjour”.

After the history tour our destination was Sacred Heart Home where we spent the afternoon with the elderly and abandoned women. We polished fingernails and toenails, while providing lotion massages on their legs, feet, arms, and hands. We also brought and served pastries and juice, and then concluded our visit by singing and dancing with them. Even though there is a language barrier their eyes, the smiles on their faces, their laughter, and their spirited hand clapping was both heart warming and joyous for us all.

Our days in Haiti have been filled with much laughter, many smiles, tears, hugs, and a closeness that has brought us all together in a way we could never have imagined.

We praise God for His strength and support he has given us.

Bev Tillges 
From Service to Solidarity
Matt Palkert
At Reiser Heights School, where important lessons are learned each day, God graced us with a beautiful lesson of our own.  There we were outside the school, a half dozen of our best St. Mary’s singers assembled around a keyboard.  Joyce tickled the ivories.  The others sang excellent renditions (really, they were good) of the classics: Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, and Morning Has Broken, to name a few.   In the background stretched an incredible vista of Haiti.  Our focus on this mountaintop, however, was children.  In a few moments, school would be let out for the day.  We had just visited each classroom.  Would they now join us outside for an after-school “concert?”

Students trickled out.  Some gave a curious look.  A few little ones made their way over, but most continued down the dirt road toward home.  The music was lovely, but it wasn’t connecting.  We knew it.  

We asked Jonas, our Haitian interpreter and guide, if he could help.  He humbly stepped forward and began singing in Creole with the few children before us.  “Bea Bea!”, he cried out, with a double fist pump to the air.  The children echoed his call and lifted their little fists.  They seemed to know this one.  One of the Reiser Heights staff, Jean, sped off and returned with his drum.  More students poured out of the school.  Not sure at first, they kept a safe distance, but Jonas’ charisma and persistence would win them over. 

What ensued was powerful.  The students came, and in a flurry, a circle was formed.  Jonas called out, “Bea Bea!” and they erupted in response.  The students bounced.  They sang.  They did silly movements (think chicken dance, but much cooler!) Everyone, even the most bashful dancers in our group, was caught up in the beat.  After a few more songs, the singing stopped, and the ice was broken.  We milled about with the students, playing games, laughing, truly connecting.

This experience was so special for us, a mountaintop experience, to be sure.  It was special for many reasons, but mainly because it came from Jonas, Jean, and the students – all from Haiti. We Americans were privileged participants. 

What we were reminded of through this experience is that we ought to exercise caution when we believe we know what is best for others, especially in their home.  Jonas, Jean, and the students knew better than we about what would bring us together.  They knew better, but we know of course that it’s not a competition.  It’s not about who knows better than another.  What it is about is coming together, side-by-side, seeking understanding, deepening relationships, acknowledging our differences and in some cases, celebrating our differences.  The Catholic Church uses a word to describe what we are after – solidarity.  Solidarity is recognizing our interdependence, that what affects one affects the other.  It’s about mutuality, inviting forward the gifts of everyone involved, and in a special way the gifts of the poor, whose gifts are often overlooked even by those seeking to help.  This sounds like the kingdom to me – both here and now and yet to come.  We might say that solidarity is both the journey and the destination.

Fortunately, solidarity is not new to Reiser Relief.  All of its efforts to bring relief to the most impoverished of Haiti happen through partnership.  To see Ann Brau, Mary Welle, and Father Talbot greet our partners in Haiti with such joy and enthusiasm tells you right away that it’s about a relationship that has been built over time.  Since Father Reiser built Reiser Heights over 15 years ago, Reiser Relief and the school leadership have done the hard work of partnership and solidarity.  Thank God for this.  And thank God for using an incredible mountaintop experience to remind us that solidarity is worth the hard work. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Seeing God in the Poor

By Jerry Welle

Although it is my first time here, I have heard much about Haiti from my wife, Mary, who has been here many times. Because of this, I was not “surprised” by the poverty and chaos of Haiti. The traffic is worse than I imagined, and the smell of the city is worse than I expected. Yet despite the “challenges” of Haiti, the Holy Spirit is alive and strong here. God has led some of his most committed followers to Haiti. The most overwhelming experience for me has been praying and working alongside the Sisters, Priests, and Brothers who are “all in” for God. They have committed their whole lives to the poor, abandoned, elderly, and handicapped in Haiti. I felt as though I was walking with true saints as I visited them and their facilities. They have sacrificed their whole lives and surrendered their wills to serving God. Their love shines out and is displayed in their great joy, peace, and exuberance for their work. They are God’s presence on earth for me.
I have heard many times about seeing God in the poor. I have always struggled with that concept; it just didn’t “register” with me, until now. I have seen God in Haiti in the eyes of the sick infants I held (even though I’m not a baby guy), and I have seen God in the joy displayed by the abandoned elderly when I helped paint their fingernails and toenails. They were so filled with joy and seeing their eyes lit up moved me.

I am honored and blessed that our Pastor, Father Talbot, makes time, despite his busy schedule at our home parish, to reach out to the poor in Haiti. He has touched the lives of so many both at home and abroad.

Tomorrow, Mary and I will have been married 38 years. Haiti has become a real passion for her, and I am so proud of her, and truly blessed to share this trip with her. God’s love is with us; it is everywhere we look. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary.