Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Five Seconds

Five seconds

It took about 5 seconds of gazing into the eyes of a stranger in Haiti to change the way I view the poor.

It was graduation day at the Reiser Heights school on a mountain in Haiti.  Our team got out of the tap tap delighting in the cool mountain air, the tent decorated with colorful balloons, happy children, and an enthusiastic greeting from school staff member Jean dressed in a sparkling white suit and shoes.  I stopped to chat with 3 boys. As I stood up I caught the pleading eyes of a man standing at the edge of the property.  He was dirty.  He looked hungry.  We locked eyes for maybe 5 seconds.  He rubbed his stomach asking for food.  I shook my head slightly and turned away.

I had excellent reasons to turn away.  If I handed him food, dozens more people would have materialized begging for food.  If I handed him food every Reiser Relief team that day in the future would be hounded for food.  It wouldn't be safe for my team or future teams.  Our mission in Reiser Heights is educating the children. By employing teachers and educating children we are helping the community.  A small act of kindness on my part could put our mission at risk. It would have been a selfish act.  It was a brutal decision.

Haiti is a brutal country to be born into. 1 in 14 babies die before age 1. The unemployment rate is 70 %.  Haiti is home to Citi Soleil, the largest slum in the Western hemisphere.  Survival is a daily struggle for a great percentage of the population.  How often has that man and countless like him been forced to make brutal decisions?  Do they eat themselves or feed starving children, parents, siblings?  Do they sell a child into slavery to feed their family?

During our week in Haiti my team helped deliver water in Cite Soleil.  We held countless children.  We helped care for babies in a home for sick and dying babies.  We rubbed lotion into and painted the nails of elderly abandoned women. We played with. sang and danced with wonderful people in orphanages and schools.  We met wonderful selfless nuns, brothers, and priests who are devoting their lives to helping the most vulnerable people in Haiti.  None of the people I touched, sang with, ate with, worshiped with, danced with, impacted me like the man I locked eyes with for 5 seconds.

We spent the day in Reiser Heights celebrating with the graduates and their families.  We were fed a wonderful meal.  We ate our fill.  That evening we ate our fill at the guest house and fed the scraps to the dogs.  There are so many stories in the Bible that I could draw parallels to.

The man I turned my back on haunts my thoughts.  I see his eyes before I fall asleep at night.  I see his eyes when I casually eat a sample at Sam's Club.  I see his eyes when I toss food that spoils in my refrigerator.  I can only offer him prayers.  I pray he and his family ate that day and every day since.  

Sue Spencer

Too Much to Process

Too much to process
One can go online and read vivid descriptions of what it is like being in Haiti. The smells of the burning garbage as you drive through the streets, the feeling of holding the hand of an elderly women who has gone through an incomprehensible amount of struggles in life, or the sight of a group of children in the slums holding their arms up asking to be held because they are so desperately craving love and human contact.

What one would struggle to read about online is the mental feeling of experiencing all these things over the course of a few days and the absolute sensory overload that follows. The best way to describe the feeling is having a month or two worth of moments in only a week. This may sound strange at first but let me attempt to clarify a little.

Imagine as vividly as possible spending time with a close friend or family member. Think about going out to a restaurant, walking a downtown area with activity happening all around, or sitting down and having a cup of coffee. What you are doing with them isn’t the important part, what is important is that in any of these situations there will be a few moments throughout the time you spend with this person that stand out and get etched into your memory. This could be an unforgettable joke, seeing an amazing street performer, or a beautiful sunset in the background as you eat dinner. These are the moments you will smile about a year from now and these same sort of memorable moments are what causes such an overwhelming feeling when returning from Haiti.

While in Haiti it feels as if every moment is one you will remember vividly in a year, every second you are experiencing something you never have before, and each child you hold will change who you are. Each day in Haiti is so dense that the day could be broken down into 5 minute segments and each 5 minutes could be talked about for 5 hours, a thousand-page biography would need to be written to understand the elderly women whose hand you held for only a brief moment, and it would take a lifetime to make the change you want to see in just one block of Cite Soleil.

Upon returning home, taking the first warm shower in a week, and thinking back on the last few days this all sinks in. Your mind starts racing, not knowing what to focus on from the trip as so much happened the last few days focus is impossible. Your friends ask you to tell them about your trip and you know that no one story could give them an adequate understanding of all you want them to be able to understand. This feeling is like no other, while it is overwhelming and a bit scary it is also invaluable and confirms that the lens with which you view the world with has been greatly widened.

The next question you must ask is what will you do with this new understanding of the world and ability to have true empathy for those who are materially poor.

-Kyle Spencer

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Everyday Miracles

We started the morning bright and early. Out by 7:30 am headed to mass. We attended mass at a roofed, wall less church which serves a parish and a seminary where Reiser Relief sponsors seminarians. The mass was in French and Creole with a few key parts in English to keep us engaged. The singing by the choir was sweet and melodic and even though I didn’t understand the lyrics of the songs, the melody came across… joyful and happy, a lullaby for the soul.

After witnessing the kindergarten graduation of the local school, at the same location, we peeled ourselves off the metal chairs to which we had fused via water displacement. Some of our white team members, well okay they are all white, were even whiter and pastier.

We continued on our journey to Cardinal Stepinac Children’s Home. A home for children (some are earthquake orphans and others need to be here for their safety and wellbeing). This home is run by… guess who?...nuns. We have seen nuns every day we have been here, sometimes the same ones, but most of the time, different nuns, from different orders, nuns of different colors and sizes, local nuns and nuns from far-away places, older nuns and younger ones, but all with one single purpose, to help the least of the least. The nuns that run this place, Sister Liberija and Sister Ana from Croatia, receive no regular funding, they rely solely on benevolent benefactors, and, like sister Liberija said, God’s budget, a budget run on faith and the unwavering belief that once the cupboards are empty they will be replenished somehow. It reminds me of the story about Jesus, some fish, some loaves of bread and five thousand hungry people, the only difference is that this is happening now, here, and not 2,000 years ago in a faraway land. And I guess that’s what I will take with me from here: everyday miracles by everyday people.

Paul Christians


The most youthful team I’ve ever led is wrapping up their week in Haiti. Team members in high school and college outnumber the mature folks. It is tremendously exciting to watch these ‘kids’ connect, learn and transform as the week progresses. This experience can literally change their path of life. It’s my prayer that they will live with increased compassion, understanding and significance.

This has also been my team of questions.

Why is there so much garbage on the streets? What is the life expectancy of someone born in Cite Soleil?  What happens to all the goats? Why are elderly women abandoned? How can the children learn in dark classrooms with no electricity? What happened to the natives of the island of Hispaniola? Why are there so many candidates running for president? What is a breadfruit? How do the Haitians stay so clean? Do you EVER get used to the heat? Where do people in Cite Soleil go for medical treatment? Why are there so few traffic lights? Why are there almost no women drivers? Why didn’t I try to learn more Creole before this trip! Why is the UN here? Why are Oreos so expensive in the grocery store? What is the drinking age (!). How do I eat fresh sugar cane? Can I climb that coconut tree?
The questions will continue to form as we travel back to the US and the team has time to process. We will read stories about Haiti with renewed interest. We will share the story. We will pray for the poor. God, lead us and guide us in transformation. Amen.