Friday, June 20, 2014

Words of Wisdom

It was a good opportunity to highlight some of the local programs and ministries for visiting partners and we delighted in doing so.  Several had come from the U.S. and there were even a few folk from Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago who were keen to meet and dialogue with local partners and supporters during the 2014 Consultation in Haiti.

On Sunday we divided into two groups to attend worship at churches in Carrefour and Fontamara.  The Rev. Dr. Jon Barnes, Executive for Mission Interpretation and
Constituency Relationships in Indianapolis and former Global Ministries missionary with his wife, Dawn, to South Africa and Mozambique, brought the morning's message at the Carrefour church. Jon shared a good word and we told him we would gladly travel to hear him preach at any church. Interestingly enough, this particular congregation was also celebrating the National Day of Children and and the young ones treated all of us to special songs, Scripture recitations, and a well-acted skit that was both humorous and meaningful.

Monday was a meeting day and we were privileged to hear from Gerard Granado, General Secretary of the Caribbean Conference of Churches (  This wise and gentle man emphasized the need for all to "support Haiti in its quest for authentic development..." which he said, "...involves a developmental and not a welfare approach to Haiti."

Mr. Granado, a Roman Catholic layman, also invited those pastors and bishops who were present to remember the importance of the church in Haiti by encouraging them to "...get the churches together to discuss challenges to the people of this nation" (a profound charge given the history of tension between Protestant and Catholic churches in
Haiti). He reminded the clergy of their role as leaders by saying, "Somehow, somebody has to take the first step to initiate dialogue between do not need another earthquake to unite the people of Haiti...the unity of the Haitian people will depend on the unity of the people of God in Haiti."

There was also a time set aside for visits to local ministries and programs and the one that Tim and I took special pleasure in sharing was a trip to see eleven young adults who live and work in Croix des Bouquets.  We had previously helped these college-age young people create a micro-savings group after they had attended a CONASPEH-hosted seminar on micro-savings and micro-enterprise.  Their goal
is to start a hardware store in their community and to use the proceeds to fund their university tuition. In the meantime, as they continue to seek out ways to source income and to save, they are using one of CONASPEH's block-making machines to make compressed cement blocks and selling them to local contractors.  Their tireless energy and excitement after some 1 1/2 years is a source of joy to us and we firmly believe they will realize their dream!

We understand the importance of the "business side" of such gatherings and, indeed, the need for crucial planning for future endeavors is a primary purpose for our coming together. At the same time we felt the power of "face-to-face" times of fellowship
which helped to create better knowledge about and a genuine understanding of who we are as people called to this ministry in Haiti.  Surely these exchanges are the building blocks for the foundation that will allow us to stand alongside one another in times of challenge and in times of success.  We are truly a blessed people to have been chosen for such a task.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.”

                                                                                                            Jeremiah 29: 11

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Chikungunya, a peculiar name and a peculiar viral-borne disease caused by the bite of the Aedes mosquito which is in the same family of mosquitoes that causes dengue. Some of you may remember that Tim had dengue when we lived in Asia and that he was pretty sick for about 6 weeks.  It started with a high fever and a headache; then moved on to terrible body aching; next a rash broke out over his mid-section; he experienced extreme fatigue; and then lastly the bottoms of his feet began peeling! 

In November of last year, Tim came down with another fever and headache, rash on his mid-section and had overall body aching.  He kept saying he felt like he had dengue but within 4 days or so he felt better.  At that time we thought it was just "one of those things" but we now believe it was Chikungunya because we have talked with several others who say they, too, had similar symptoms last fall.

Haiti is now in full epidemic mode and we recently heard that some 80% of the country has taken ill since the mosquito traveled through the Dominican Republic to our part of the island and is now, reportedly, moving on to south Florida.  We have had countless friends and colleagues who have been bitten and the most common statement about the virus is that they feel "like I have been hit by a truck."  Most have been down for a week or so and symptoms are varied but have included high fever; very bad headaches; rashes on the body; SEVERE body pain that has even kept some from being able to walk; ulcers in the mouth; and swollen glands.

We have been told the best protection against the disease-carrying mosquitoes is to use repellents that have at least 25% DEET in them, to wear long sleeves and trousers (yikes! It is 90 degrees here!) and to use air-conditioners (we have no electricity at night!) Thankfully though, we have had a man come and spray both the house and the property surrounding us and have not seen mosquitoes or ants (rampant in the kitchen!) for nearly 2 weeks now.

Even as I tease about the extra clothing with the hot temps and not having electricity for an air conditioner we know we are well off compared to the many who are so vulnerable (we know of a 2-day old baby who was bitten by the mosquito).  So many of our neighbors and friends do not have screens or glass on their windows as they live in tents and makeshift shacks.  Nor do they have the money to buy citronella candles to ward off the insects and those who struggle daily to even be able to buy rice are not able to pay the US $10 per can for mosquito repellent with DEET.

The government has made public announcements about the disease to educate communities and has also made an effort to fumigate various parts of the country to reduce mosquito populations.  Many mission programs have supported these efforts by distributing informational documents by hand and publishing the same information online in both Creole and French on ways to protect oneself.  They, too, have sprayed around their communities and orphanages.  Additionally, visiting mission teams have brought cans of the repellent with DEET to share with those in need.

We invite you to pray for those who are most at risk for contracting this virus and ask that you remember the children and the elderly who do not have immune systems as strong as others.  Remember, too, the mothers and fathers who must work to be able to provide for their families as they cannot afford to be incapacitated for a week.  

In a nation of so little the gift of prayer is one of the true riches that people are able to hold on to.  Please know how much our Haitian brothers and sisters appreciate hearing of your concern and support.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
                                                                    Philippians 4: 6

Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's What They Do

It all started before Christmas when our downstairs neighbor and friend, Jean Lamour, decided to get a couple of young chickens so he and his mom would have fresh eggs each day.  Tim helped him to build a chicken coop that would keep the birds safe from nocturnal critters and dry during the rainy season and once completed all seemed to be well.                                                   
Then around February we heard a noise outside of our bedroom window that sounded like some creature "choking" on a frog.  I asked Tim, "What is that?  Is that one of the chickens and is something wrong with it?"  

The next day we heard the same sound and, again, I asked Tim if it was one of the chickens and was there something wrong with it.  Each day, thereafter, we heard that same sound.  Finally, Sue, our next door neighbor and one of the "Mamas" to the ten toddlers who also live next door, called over and asked, "Diane, what is that sound?" Now I knew it wasn't just me!

March came and the "frog choking" sound while still deep and throaty began to take on the cadence of a rooster crowing.  We could hear him trying to imitate others who were part of the early morning reveille but more often than not he drowned them out with the sheer volume of his call.

With the advent of April the daily 4:30 am-5:00 am alarm is in full mode.  He directs the neighborhood choir in waking up and does so just below our bedroom window.  He is no longer a curiosity or funny and I've asked Jean Lamour if they have plans for a rooster stew any time soon (he just laughs at me).  I've tried to hush my nemesis by shining a flashlight on him, hoping it might startle him enough to quiet down, but then I worried it might frighten the (2) egg-laying chickens. I've tossed food to him thinking he would be more interested in eating than in waking me up but, alas, all to no avail.  He simply grows bigger and louder with each day.

But then, I received another wake-up call if you will.  Tim attended a men's prayer
breakfast and the guest speaker talked about his experience after the 2010 earthquake.  Like most people following that catastrophic event and with its continuing "aftershocks"he was afraid to sleep inside his house and began laying a pallet on an outside porch. What with all the loss, devastation, rumors and such he found it difficult to sleep and was only able to nod off for 3 hours or so at a time. To add insult to injury a rooster decided to nest in the tree right above this fellow's head and began his early morning wake-up call around 4:00 am.  Arrrggghhhh!

He began to devise ways to get rid of that rooster and even had thoughts of how he would "dress" him for a meal.  This went on for several days until one night the man simply prayed, "Lord please allow me to get one good night's sleep."  Sometime later he woke up with a startle as he heard a voice saying, "It's what they do."  "It's what they do?" the man asked himself.  Who? And what do they do?

Still mentally plotting the bird's demise, the next night the man settled into a restless sleep until he was once again startled awake by a voice that said, "It's what they do." As he was pondering the meaning of these words he heard yet again the voice saying, "They crow.  That's what roosters do."  Surprisingly the man went back to sleep and was able to get a solid rest for the remainder of the night.

As the storyteller thought about the voice and shared the incident with his family and friends, he came to the conclusion that God was talking to him and telling him that each time he complained against the bird he was complaining against what God had created the rooster to do.  From that time on whenever he encountered a difficult situation or worked with challenging people, he would remind himself, "It's what they do. Roosters crow."

Hmmmm...of course I had to re-evaluate my thinking after Tim shared this story and while I still do not relish being wakened in the middle of the night I find I am able to fall back asleep more quickly.  It's also kind of funny because just the other day we heard a peculiar sound a few houses away, almost like a bird with a frog in his throat, and sure enough our "mighty bird" was right there encouraging the new guy with a loud and resounding crow.

"Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place..."                                                                                    Job 38: 12

Friday, March 21, 2014

Do This, Not That

Why were they looking at us so peculiarly?  After all, we were giving them a "thumbs up" and cheering them on whenever they made a goal during their sandlot soccer game. Instead, the young people just stood there looking as if they were not certain what to make of us foreigners. We learned later that even as we thought we were encouraging these local Sri Lankan youngsters we were, in fact, making a not very nice gesture at them with our waggling, uplifted thumbs.  Imagine our embarrassment and regret!

Despite all the valuable insight we gain about cross-cultural living during Global Ministries' Missions Conferences there are times when we still have to figure out some of the local gestures and norms on our own. This is largely because it takes time and actually living in a country to learn their various particulars.

Our experience with the soccer-playing youth prompted us to seek out local colleagues and friends to learn what was considered appropriate and what was not. Listed below are some of the practices we have discovered over the years:

  • Punctuality - not everyone in the world follows U.S. standards of time and, in fact, many cultures do not consider one to be late even after 2-3 hours. Once I was on my way to a teach a seminar with women in Sri Lanka and did not arrive until 2 1/2 hours after our scheduled meeting time because we had been in an accident.  When I arrived the women were all sitting patiently and chatting away!
  • Head Touching - not to touch people, including children, on their head as many believe the head is the highest part of the body while others believe the head is the abode of one's spirit and, therefore, sacred.
  • Position of Feet - removing one's shoes before entering a house is common throughout much of Asia and the Pacific and is a practice we still maintain today when entering someone's home.  Additionally, displaying the bottom of one's feet or pointing them towards another is considered rude or even an insult in many countries.  For that reason, when sitting on the floor we followed the lead of others by tucking our feet under us or sitting cross-legged which proved to be a genuine test of our endurance during those times when we would sit for hours at a Fijian "kava session".
  • Eating With One's Hand - in countries where eating with one's hand is commonplace friends taught us to use our right hand for meals because the left hand is typically used for hygiene purposes.  A "real pro" knows to use only the fingertips up to the first joint for mixing the food, but it was a struggle to do so and to maintain the appearance of not being beginners by getting food on our palms.  To be honest it was also tempting to lick our fingers after meals but was oh so "not Emily Post" on the etiquette scale.  Oh yes, our gracious Indian and Sri Lankan friends knew Tim was a strong-dominant "leftie" and encouraged him to use the hand that was most easy for him.
  • Greeting One Another - wow!  This involved some skill as we needed to remember who to greet with (one, two, or three) kiss(es), a handshake or a head bow. In most countries we simply shook hands but by sharing some of their traditional greetings we were able to show our respect for each culture.
    In Haiti: when we arrive at CONASPEH's office the tradition is to greet each of our colleagues with a "Bon jou. Koman ou yè?" (Good morning. How are you?) and either extend a handshake or kiss them on one cheek. In India and Nepal: we oftentimes greeted others with palms together about chest high, with a slight head bow and the word greeting of, "namaste"; in Sri Lanka this is called the "ayubowan" in Sinalese; and in Thailand it is the respectful "wai"In the Philippines: we typically greeted others with a handshake, but hugged especially dear friends as hugging is normally reserved for close family and friends. In predominantly Islamic nations:  men would greet Tim with a handshake but less so with me; however, women I had gotten to know well
    would greet me with a warm embrace of both hands upon my forearms.
  • Pointing - Malaysians use their extended horizontal thumb and not their index finger for pointing; the Chinese use a whole straight-finger hand; Haitians and Vietnamese citizens consider pointing inappropriate. Interestingly enough, today I still point with my thumb.
  • Saving Face - the concept of "saving face" is a guiding force in the daily life of many societies.  We in the West say we appreciate people who are "up front" and "brutally honest", but not so for people in a number of other cultures.  For that reason we learned we should never deal with a situation by raising our voices because this makes the other person feel lowered in the eyes of his or her peers. This is also important when bargaining with a vendor because we do not want the shopkeeper to lose face by making him or her feel that he or she was short-changed during a transaction.  Tim loves to bargain but is always willing to give in some, too, on his final offer as a way of showing his respect.
  • Hospitality - this has been perhaps our greatest lesson as we believe this is the gift we bring to each other no matter what our country, ethnicity, religion, culture, age, or gender may be.  It is the inherent giving of oneself and the offer of kindness that crosses all borders.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”                         
                                              Hebrews 13: 2

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sometimes Hope Looks Like....

Even with so many students we are always surprised at how orderly the young people are as they gather in an outside common area (the basketball court) during their periodic testing weeks. They seem to know where they are to sit and they listen attentively to Bishop Francoise as she gives directions for the exams.

What we were unprepared for on this occasion were the faces of the parents as they stood near CONASPEH's entrance gate watching their children. Almost instantly tears sprang to my eyes because what I saw so clearly on their countenance was hope. Despite the school's Scholarship Fund these parents still sacrifice for their children's education in a way the majority of us cannot imagine.  With an average income of US $2.00 a day most families spend 80% of their income on school tuition and do so willingly because they believe education is the key to a better life for their kids. Sometimes the face of hope can be so powerful it brings tears to your eyes.

We learned a long time ago an expression from Habitat for Humanity founder, Millard Fuller, who used to say, "It's not coincidence, it's God-incidence", whenever something happened that could not be explained.  We experienced such a revelation last week when a dental team ended up not going to a designated clinic but instead to a church and its community. Dentists are like gold in Haiti and whenever these doctors bring their skills to a neighborhood the word gets out fast and soon patients are lined up.

Dr. Mike told us he knew it was not a coincidence when he and his wife, Nina, and other team members went to the church because there he met a 20-year-old young woman who was in great pain as well as malnourished because she was unable to eat. As he examined her, Dr. Mike found a mouth full of infection and decay and spent several hours extracting 18 teeth (allowing the woman periodic breaks). Nina said the young person could have died if she had not received this unplanned dental care and antibiotics. If you don't think hope saves lives, talk to a Kansas City dentist.

It is Hope that has kept us in the mission field all these years.  Oh sure, we have seen some pretty unbelievable sights:  lightning flashing behind clouds so thick they make that tremendous electrical display look like the proverbial "silver lining"; and waves of women
walking early in the morning to their jobs at various garment factories and creating a swath of rainbow colors in their brightly-colored shalwar kameez outfits, a display so beautiful we simply stopped and gazed as they passed by.  

While each of these moments has created rich memories it is the interaction between those whose skills have tapped into a God-given hope and those who remind the "experts" of their own humanity that renews us daily. We are strengthened in such renewal.

"But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."   I Corinthians 13: 13

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Baby Changes Things

Babies, babies everywhere!  When Tim and I get ready to back our truck out of the courtyard area where we live we have to first check that our landlady's 2 puppies are not
Tim, puppies, mama and grandma
underneath.  Kekette will make a "smooching" sound with her mouth to try and get them to come to her and if that doesn't work she pulls out their little tin feeding dish and they come running!  Next we have to do a search for Jean Lamour's four toddler-age peeps before moving the truck because as soon as Tim starts the engine they will run across the gate area and right behind our behemoth.  Finally, we make certain that baby-girl, Daya, is either on her mama's lap or with another adult who will keep her safe because it is amazing how quickly little ones can move when we are not paying attention.  Check list completed we are at last able to depart the busy gathering area.

Not all little ones in Haiti have the opportunity to be so well cared for as families struggle to meet a multitude of needs in their daily lives but, thankfully, there are programs to support families as they prepare for the birth of a new baby. For example, our friends, John and Beth McHoul of Heartline Ministries and residents of Haiti for 24 years, set out to build a "birthing center" after they saw a tremendous need to provide a clean, sterile facility with well-trained midwives and nurses for expectant mothers and their unborn babies. The result was not only a good and safe place to deliver their infants but also a program that encourages mothers-to-be to take part in essential prenatal care before giving birth. Solid health care is only one component in raising healthy children and the strongly relational people of Haiti know that the support of community is key as well.

For that reason we were delighted to read a recent blog written by Beth McHoul in which she says, "Part of the deal when moms deliver with us is that they stay in our post postpartum until they feel ready to go and then we take them home.  Home can be a USAID tent, with or without a roof, or a cement house that looks pretty okay.  We have women at different economic levels in our program.  I've noticed regardless of their economic status our ladies are rich in community.  As we wind down a dirt road barely big enough for the vehicle and come to a stop people come out of nowhere.  Squeals of delight meet us. 

The mom and baby are welcomed, hugged, prayed with, hugged again and mom is swept off her feet as she is ushered into the house, be it a tiny cinder block house or bigger house. Grandma grabs and inspects the baby and declares the child perfect. Siblings grab at the baby while they ooh and aah.  There is delight all around.  Recently one crowd [even] erupted in worship.

I am seeing this over and over again.  Post postpartum depression doesn't have a chance  
Jeanette holding friend's baby
in these neighborhoods.  Women like each other, they support each other, and they watch each other's kids. Family is extended and they raise each other's children. Relationships are close.  They fight, sure, but all families do.

Yesterday we drove a bunch of ladies home who live in the same neighborhood.  The ambulance, the all-important somber ER on wheels, was transformed by a howling, laughing, joking group of silly women. We drove from house to house, had to get out, take photos, meet the family and the onlookers and then move on.  Each lady was gracious and proud to have us.  Poverty lost its power to joy and community.  Love pulsated in the air. Our differences melted away."

A baby does change things.  Each time a new life comes into our world we are reminded of God's awesome power and magnificent love and especially so in this season of Advent as we focus on the coming birth of God's own Son, Jesus.  "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us" (Matthew 1: 23).  Halleluia and halleluia.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pumpkin Faces and Wondrous Places

It's that time of year again.  Friends and family have been sending us fall photos from the U.S. which include brightly colored scenery and creative, carved pumpkins.  They have also sent pictures of little ones in their
different costumes and we have even received some sharings from friends living in other parts of the world.  We have chuckled over “Mario” of the Mario Brothers video game, Angry Birds, and Jake and the Never Land pirates and "ooohed" and "ahhhed" over Renaissance princesses, fairy princesses, and Little Kitty characters.

Today and tomorrow are holidays for us as Haitians, too, celebrate their particular “fall festivals”.  November 1st is for the Catholic community All Saints Day or All Souls Day and is a day of alms giving and prayers for the dead; the belief is that such offerings from the living help to assist those in purgatory. While their focus is not on the dead, members of Protestant churches attend all night prayer vigils, sing traditional hymns and offer thanksgiving for the Lord's blessings and goodness. Festivities continue through November 2nd which is the Day of the Dead for those who practice vodou with followers going to grave sites to light candles and pray with food and drinks.  Traditional offerings at cemeteries include coffee, candles, bread, alcohol, corn, printed paper and fresh flowers.

Remembering loved ones who have passed on is also a part of life in Asia and one of the most memorable holidays is the “Hungry Ghost Festival” which our Chinese friends celebrate as a day dedicated to their ancestors.  It is usually held in August and families travel to ancestral burial sites where they lay out a wide range of food and drinks for their deceased relatives.  It has an almost picnic-like atmosphere as people sit on blankets near the graves and talk, socialize and reminisce.  Wondering what would become of the meal offerings, we asked some of our colleagues, “What do you do with the food when you go home?  Do you leave it at the grave?” and they responded with laughter, “We are Chinese and we waste nothing!  We take the food home and eat it!”

In more recent years, we learned of the St. Joseph Festival while living in New Orleans and working with the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.  Sicilian immigrants brought the tradition to the Crescent City during the 19th century as they sought to honor St. Joseph to whom they had prayed when drought nearly destroyed their homeland.  Tradition says the rains came and the people were saved and their elaborate offerings of food on the altars in their churches are a remembrance of answered prayer.  The variety and presentation of the various foods, breads, desserts and such are truly a sight to behold!
Haitian hand-crafted metal cross

Multitudes of practices, traditions, beliefs and superstitions abound in the world and are indeed fascinating.  Observing other practices also serves as a reminder to us as Christians to examine our own faith traditions and in doing so we are grateful for the message of the Gospel which reveals how love came down to set us free.

Jeremiah 31: 3 – “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.”