Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rafael

We had a plan. It was Saturday morning in Haiti. First we would stop at the mass graves where thousands of Haitians were buried after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Port au Prince. Then we would visit the elderly and an orphanage.

Our visit to the grave went according to plan. The new memorial is nearly complete. We walked around, we prayed, we took in the enormity of this crisis.

Back to our plan. Next were elder visits. My plan was to visit 3 different elderly in their homes, bring them a hot meal and a cold drink. Offer prayer and comfort as we were able.

We stopped and bought food. We got to visit Marie. How marvelous. Everyone loves Marie! Over 100 years old, her faith and joy are contagious and uplifting. She is gracious and beautiful and charming. We sang, enjoyed her company, and reveled in the moment. We delivered a meal and a drink.

And then my plans unraveled. My Haitian guide told me that he didn’t know how to get to the home of the third elder on my list. We could only make 2 stops. “No worries! We can deliver 2 meals to the next elder.”

But God had another plan. As we were leaving Marie’s house, an elderly man using a walker approached us. And he sang. 

He was wearing a dress shirt and pink crocs (surely his only pair of shoes) and was clutching his hat in one hand.

The song finished and I approached him. His name was Rafael. He woke up hungry that day and had been praying for food.

Have you ever done that? I have to admit that when I’m hungry, I don’t pray for God to provide me food. I walk to the refrigerator.

Rafael had heard our truck and had walked a considerable distance to ask us for food.  And there I was standing, with a meal in hand.

God used our team to answer a prayer.

It was a moment that broke me.

I tell my teams before we go to Haiti to love the one who God puts in front of you.  The needs in Haiti are vast and overwhelming. The only way to make sense of it is to rely on God to lead you. And here was a man, who I nearly missed meeting and loving, who God and put literally in front of me. I felt dense. I had been focused on the plan. I had not been seeing with God’s eyes. I felt humble. Rafael’s faith was amazing.  I felt in awe of God’s presence. We were feeding not ‘the hungry,’ a nameless crowd. We were feeding Rafael, and thereby Christ who is present in the vulnerable and destitute.

I wish I knew more about Rafael. I think about him many times each day. I wonder if he has eaten today. Does he have family? Does he have anyone to care for him? How does he support himself?

I learned a beautiful phrase in Haiti last week. “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

And so today I lean into God’s grace. I lean into God’s love and mercy and pray for discernment. I am reminded that God is in control. I don’t need to lead, but rather to follow.

Thank you, Rafael, for reminding me to see the world through God’s eyes. I’ll do my best.

Peace,

Joyce

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Joy


One of many things I love about Haiti is contrasts. God puts challenging situations in front of us that bring us to our knees. Not many make it through a week without tears.  This is balanced by moments of intense joy. I can honestly say that I laugh more often and more deeply in Haiti than at any other time in my life.

So here are a few joyful moments from my last trip.


Relaying a message in English to Sr. Liberija who translated it to Sr. Ana in Croatian who translated it to the children in Creole. You can't make this stuff up.






Sr. Ana’s serious soccer game…and awesome shoes.



Watching a skilled coconut thwacker machete open coconuts for the team on Bethleem Farm in Leogane, first to drink and then to eat, after more machete thwacking.


Taking a 1pm repose with the Sisters in their residence….because that is what one does at 1pm. Who doesn’t know that?


Learning that the team took it upon themselves to learn our song of the week before my late arrival in Haiti, and enjoying a confident tap tap rendition on day one. Well done team, so well done.

I’ve tapped everywhere, man. I’ve tapped everywhere. 

Pulling weeds with Sister Ertha in the Pikli garden.

Our welcome at Reiser Heights of bongo drumming, children singing and huge smiles all around.

Maxim’s animated translations on dental hygiene.

Sharing the tap tap with Jean from Reiser Heights on the way back to Petionville and enjoying his perfect rendition of “All of Me.”
Watching Janet get serenaded with a heartfelt “Unchained Melody” at Kokoye restaurant by a determined and talented Haitian performer.





Samantha’s new hairdo-compliments of aspiring young hairdressers at Cardinal Stepinac’s Children’s home.




Witnessing the adventures of “Brownie,” a “special” suitcase with a broken front zipper and flappy front and missing pulls on the main zipper. Despite Brownie’s challenges, she served valiantly until our last day in Haiti. She came down early after requiring a special waiver at MSP. Then she enjoyed a few days at the Methodist guest house in Petionville, the Palm Hotel in Delmas, she traveled to Leogane to deliver supplies to the elderly, back to Delmas 31, then to Bon Repos to deliver donations to special children there, back to Delmas 31, then back to Bon Repos for mass at the seminary and double duty as a toy carrier and snack protector, before arriving at her special home at Croatian Relief services. Fortunately her cousin flappy traveled back to Minnesota, preparing for another trip to Haiti in June.

God Bless Haiti,

Joyce

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Trusting the Journey

I've heard it said that happiness never comes to those who fail to appreciate what they already have.  And while I have always agreed with this in principle,  I don't think I ever fully understood what it meant.... Until this week.

When I decided to join in on this mission trip to Haiti, It never really dawned on me what it meant, or why I was doing it.  It just seemed like the thing to do, and I thought it would be a great experience.  So off to Haiti I went.....and this is where reality hit. What the heck was I thinking???????

When you land in Haiti for a short-term mission, you know that while the living conditions aren't perfect, they are indeed temporary.  You know you're going home at the end of the week. Back to your cars, soft beds, comfortable lives.  So a week of "communal living" seems tolerable....short term.

Yet even though I KNEW these things, somehow over the first few days of this mission I started questioning why I was doing this.  WHY had I chosen to exchange my comfortable bed and hot shower for a shared room with no air conditioning?  WHY had I agreed to tiny and uncomfortable bedding, cold showers, and tap water that makes you sick?  Why had I, a self-admitted introvert, chosen to share a house with 15 other people who were almost all complete strangers?   WHY???

At one point in the week I seriously started to question my sanity, as I didn't really have a reason. I just knew I needed to do this. I needed to trust the journey and know that somewhere along the way the answer would present itself.

This week has been very different than what I expected it would be.  This week has been both physically challenging and emotionally draining. But in the same regard, as I closed my eyes at the end of every night, I felt something I hadn't felt in a very, very long time. I felt like I made a difference.

Somedays the difference was bringing water to people who desperately needed it.  Sometimes the difference was making a child feel safe and loved through the simple act of holding them. In all situations, regardless of the active purpose, the message delivered by my team was always the same ...."You Matter".

So, as I sit here, on the eve of my last day in Haiti, I look back at the week and wonder if I am able to articulate WHY I needed to come to Haiti now?  And I think my answer would be a resounding "maybe".

I believe that I will walk away from this experience a forever changed person. A more compassionate person. A more tolerant person.  But I also believe that some of my biggest changes will come when I leave the mission and return home.

Things that used to be big issues will now seem trite and silly in comparison to what I have just witnessed.  And many of the lessons learned here will be brought forward and shared. You cannot come to a place like this and not take a piece of it home with you. How you choose to bring it home is a choice only you can make. For it's your journey. And if you trust that your journey will bring to you what you need, then however you share it will never be less than heavenly perfection.

Melody Healey

A Legacy living on in Haiti

"Pere Reiser" Pillar at the Village of Jesus
One definition of  “legacy” is something passed down to the next generation. Our week in Haiti has been characterized by love and service to the neighbor, namely orphans and the elderly. These were the priorities of the founder of Reiser Relief, Father Bernard Reiser. These priorities are being lived out through the people whose lives he touched during his life as a priest. Since his death in 2011, still others like me, are becoming acquainted with his mission.

This week, I was fortunate to join a fabulous group led by Fr. Reiser’s niece, Joyce Getchell. Our team includes several others who attended the Catholic faith community he established - Church of the Epiphany in Coon Rapids. The self-described “Epiphanites” continue to keep his memory alive with stories and shared laughter. Their respect and gratitude for their beloved priest is evident.

On one of our day trips, we saw a beautiful pillar dedicated to Father Reiser at the Village of Jesus, a community of elderly women being cared by the Catholic sisters. The buildings, community and its ministries are just part of Fr. Reiser’s legacy in Haiti. (His commitment to education also lives on in the establishment of several schools.) 

At the Village of Jesus, our group filed in to greet Sister Josette, one of the elderly sisters being cared for on site. After sharing conversation, she took out her well-worn Bible. Opening it up, she showed us a photograph of Fr. Reiser, protected by plastic. Sister Josette continues to remember him as part of her daily life of faith, even after his death.

While I never met Fr. Reiser, it's evident he lived out of a belief that God’s mercies were new every day of his life. His writings convey a possibility-mindset grounded in the good news of Jesus Christ. As his niece, Joyce, said the other day, “Who starts a non-profit when they are 70 years old?”

Our God is a God who brings life out of death. Our God is a God who is creating new opportunities to love and serve others. As followers of Christ, we remember our Baptism and how it connects us to Christ as God’s beloved children.

In his life and in his death, Fr. Reiser’s legacy points to Jesus Christ. As a recent seminary graduate and a candidate approved for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I find traveling in Fr. Reiser’s footsteps to be an inspiration. In Minnesota and in Haiti, his life continues to encourage others to intentional living: service and compassion for those who need it the most, a possibility mindset, and a firm trust in a loving and forgiving God. I give thanks for his life and service to the Gospel.

Janet Karvonen-Montgomery


Friday, January 22, 2016

Not All Roads Are Paved


After our physically challenging day delivering water to Cite Soleil,,and our emotionally challenging day visiting the center for sick and dying babies and the home for severely disabled children, we had no idea what  today would bring.  This morning after breakfast, we all climbed into the tap tap for a nearly two hour journey to Reiser Heights, which is a school developed with the support of Father Reiser that educates children, preschool age through 6th grade.  The school  is located in the mountains, about 18 miles south of Port au Prince. We were excited to bring them toothbrushes and toothpaste, pens and pencils. We brought along a green dinosaur puppet, named Pierre, to demonstrate to the children how to properly brush their teeth. We made up a silly song to sing to the children during the demonstration, We were looking forward to seeing the results of Father Reiser's vision for Haiti.

Not all the roads to Reiser Heights were paved,  Some were paved, but clogged with traffic; some were full of potholes, rocks, animals, people, trucks, cars and motorcycles that had us clutching our grab bars with both hands to prevent us from falling off our bench seats. To say the road was rough does not describe the primitive path we traveled. At best, the tap tap maybe reached a top speed of 25 mph. Any faster, we would have been tossed around like rag dolls.

Our arrival was everything we hoped for. The youngest children had prepared a song for us, with bongo drums setting the rhythm, and they sang it with extreme enthusiasm.  What a joy it was to see and hear the children sing!  As we moved from classroom to classroom, sharing our toothbrushing tutorial, using Pierre as our training tool, it was clear that the younger grades found more value in our demonstration and song than the older grades, who seemed to be thinking that maybe we should have rehearsed more!

The drive back home was long and challenging. The roads were even more difficult to navigate and our driver, Maxim, took several alternate routes, including a u-turn to go back the way we came, to get us where we needed to go, back to the guesthouse.  Thinking that the upcoming presidential election would create more traffic than usual, we tried to prepare for it by leaving for home a little early. Despite our preparation and forethought, those last 12 miles took us a hour and a half to drive.

No matter how much we plan out our lives, we are often faced with having to take alternate routes to find our way home.  Sometimes those roads are far from "paved" and full of challenges and hardships, hurts and sorrows, Today was a reminder to us that we are not in control. God is in control and we need to give our lives over to him and follow where he leads, no matter how long and challenging that road may be.

Let God lead the way,
Rick & Wendy Haagenson

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Comfort Zones


 As a wise man (ie. Facebook) once said:  “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”   And just two days into this mission trip and I can tell you that truer words have never been spoken! 

We come here from a world of convenience and security.  Our lives are plush, and pampered, and most of all, sheltered.  But what I don’t think we ever really realized is that...... we are spoiled, rotten, brats. 

While neither of us would trade this experience, we very much miss our modern conveniences from home.  Some are the most simple things we take for granted, like a hot shower at the end of a day, or being able to use the water that comes out of the faucet to brush your teeth. Others are bit more life-impacting, like having a choice of when/where and what you want to eat, and having consistent electricity (necessary for air conditioning on a 95 degree day!).  None are meant to leave you “without” intentionally, but are done rather out of necessity.  For we are not “living” in a world with many of the conveniences we take for granted.  And the limited use of the resources we have are a major luxury, not to be used wastefully.

But with all of the minor inconveniences we have experienced, and as much as they start to quickly wear on you, and start to push you outside of your comfort zone, they are still, in reality, very minor.   And today we realized just how minor they were.

We started today very much like the last few days.  Up by 7am, breakfast at 8, and on the road at 9am.  Prepared with nothing in our pockets except lint.   And as we left, armed with nothing, nothing could have prepared for us for what we were about to walk into.  

Our day was divided between visiting the hospital for sick and dying babies and visiting a center for the severely disabled and abandoned.

It was powerful to spend the morning holding and playing with babies stricken primarily with Tuberculosis and/or malnutrition.  However, physical discomfort came from tired arms and emotional discomfort came when we had to put them down and say ‘au revoir’ and their lungs turned to screams and faces turned to tears.

While visiting the babies was an emotional experience, the afternoon was beyond words – the epitome of being outside our comfort zone and quite simply, terrifying. 

Since nobody from our mission team had been to the center prior to this visit, nobody had any idea what to expect.  As we entered the center and approached the children, it was vividly apparent how apprehensive everyone was during the first 5 minutes of the visit. 

Kristie:  “Having no past experience working with people with disabilities to this degree, all I could think about is, “What do I do?”   Luckily, I was surrounded by courageous people who showed me the way.  As my boss used to tell me, “Fake it ‘til you make it!” so that’s what I did.   Eventually I was able to just relax, be my self, and have fun.  There was no greater joy than seeing the smiles on their faces.”

Melody:  “My initial reaction was emotional grief, sadness and heaviness of heart seeing the severity of the physical handicaps of the residents.  I didn’t know what to do, and yet somehow once the first the touch; the first smile; the first laugh happened, the sadness and heaviness turned to joy.”

God works in amazing ways.  We were brought to these two locations today to bring joy comfort to the children we encountered.  However you have to wonder, throughout this mission’s journey, whose lives will be most impacted.  The individuals we meet, or us. And what possibilities will be opened up to us by learning to live so outside of our comfort zone.


Kristie Sullivan & Melody Healey

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Shifting Perspectives

Day 1 in Haiti....Cite Soliel.
While some of us arrived in Haiti on Sunday and others on Monday, today was our first full team day and work day. And what a way to start...water truck day. I will do my best to describe what that really means though words on a screen or paper can hardly do it justice.

In a plain definition, water truck day is simplistic. It's a matter of bringing clean drinking water to those in greatest need who have no means of collecting it on their own. These people live in Cite Soleil, the poorest part of Port at Prince--the capital city of Haiti--and maybe one of the poorest areas of the world with an estimated 300,000 people living in 8 sq miles.

Now let me describe what that experience really was for me from a few different aspects: the work, the environment, the people, and the children.

Let's start with the work, the easiest to talk about. What more basic need in this world is there than water. Imagine a day or even an hour when you did not have access to this most basic need. Being able to help provide this for even a small number of people.

Through the cooperation of multiple organizations, we rode from our very comfortable guest house to meet the water truck--a truck carrying 3,500 gallons--deep in Cite Soleil for stop 1. Within a couple of minutes, dozens of residents appear with the buckets and other containers waiting to be filled. Like a well-oiled machine, our guides and those with the water truck move people through the line as each container is filled and carried away. We worked to hold the hose coming from the truck, to move full buckets out of the way so others could be filled, and carried buckets--5 gallon, 10 gallon, and larger--to their homes. We repeated this process two additional times.

While the sun was hot and the work was hard, the environment was like no other I had experienced in my travels. To hear that the residents of Cite Soleil are among the poorest in the world cannot begin to paint a picture in your mind of what that looks like, feels like, and smells like. These are people with no access to not only clean water but other basic services we take for granted: septic systems, paved roads, garbage haul-away, electricity (unless you are fortunate enough to have a generator). They have no way of disposing of waste or garbage other than in the streets. Pigs, chickens, goats, and dogs walk among the garbage to find their food.

Lining the narrow streets, are their homes. While I use the word "homes," this is very different than what we call home. Some live in cinder block or cement structures and others make homes using scrap metal and material they find. Most have no doors or windows other than a sheet and are very small--often one room or maybe two. I ventured into only one home to deliver water that had a room large enough for a twin bed and a second room that served as their kitchen. So modest compared to what I call home.

Residing in these homes are the people of Cite Soleil. While we spoke different languages, we communicated beautifully to do the work needed. They could ask us to help lift the bucket so they could carry it on their heads without a word. Or direct us to their homes as we carried buckets with them. To be fair, they often started with a "Hey you!!" And they always ended with a "Thank you." I got the sense that they are a proud and grateful people. They graciously accepted the help of strangers and allowed us to work along side them.

Lastly, I must end with the children. So many children who were trusting and loving and happy to have us there. They could hear the water truck and the tap-tap (our ride) coming and would converge on the street. They would be waiting for us to get out of the tap-tap and instantly look for love. At all three stops, I had a child (or two) in my arms within seconds of emerging from the truck.

While there are many children who captured my attention today, a few in particular will forever hold a place in my heart. Nasoon (nah-soon) was a small boy of about 3 or 4. While he was wearing pants and a shirt, he had no shoes to protect his feet from the debris that littered the ground. He was a very quiet and sweet boy who smiled each time we made eye contact. Even when I carried water, he was waiting for my return when I would scoop him up again.

I also spent a good deal of time with Chrystala (Chris-sta-la) in my arms. She is probably 5-6 and a ball of energy who would not let me put her down or pick up another child. She was quite possessive of this stranger she had just met. And she was very affectionate kissing me at least a hundred times in the hour we spent together.

Lastly was Pierre who was a preschool student on his way home from school still in his uniform as we were arriving at our second stop. He simply came up next to me, grabbed my hand, and gestured for me to pick him up. Every time I delivered water, he held on to my shirt and walked with me so I could pick him back up and carry him again. He nestled his head in my neck and seemed at peace there for several minutes at a time. While we were there to fill the need for clean water, I did what I could in just a little bit of time to fill the need these tiny souls had for some attention and affection.

To say that day 1 was a powerful, overwhelming, and perspective-shifting day is an understatement. I can only hope these memories will serve as a constant reminder of how great life is and how much impact one experience can have.

Angela Olson

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