Monday, July 25, 2011

Learning to Breathe in Haiti

After every trip, I usually find myself overwhelmed by a number of things; the experience, the stark difference between how we live in America and how they live and the daunting falling back into the rhythm of normal life when nothing feels normal. There’s usually this part of you that longs to hold on to the experience no matter how difficult it was. Worse yet, you feel this pressure of having to report of how your trip was in five minutes or less when words can’t even describe the depth of the experience. This is my attempt at sharing with you some of what we experienced.

We served a group of children in a camp called Camp de la Grace in Pignon Haiti, these children came from a neighboring town. We paid for their feeding and their lodging for the week of camp. We taught them that God loves them so much that He is WILD and CRAZY about them. We taught them these lessons through games, arts and crafts, times of reflection, snacks and bible stories. For these groups of children, I suspect this was a message they desperately needed to hear. Especially when the highest level of education is maybe 6th grade and if they’re lucky high school. When poverty is something they are quite familiar with. When all of what they own can fit into one small backpack. When many of them have never had their pictures taken. When death is something they see every day. And in the midst of all of that to hear a message that God is WILD and CRAZY about you, how does one respond? These children went wild and crazy! They sang the songs we taught them from sun up to sun down. They laughed, played and danced.

I know what many of you are thinking, if God is WILD and CRAZY about these children why doesn’t He do something to get them out of these deplorable conditions?

I have also asked this question of God and the more I ask it, the more I sense God telling me not only are we a part of the problem, we are also a part of the solution.

Here’s a quote about the income of churchgoers alone, if you’re not a churchgoer multiply these numbers by three because the world consist of only 30% Christians: “The total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion. (That’s more than $5,000 billion.) It would take just a little over 1 percent of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest 1 billion people out of extreme poverty. Said another way, American Christians, who make up about 5 percent of the church worldwide, control about half of global Christian wealth; a lack of money is not our problem”. (The Hole in our Gospel, p. 216 Rich Stearns)

I was convicted by that as well; a lack of money is not our problem! If money is not our problem then what is it?

I really don’t know but I suspect it has something to do with: selfishness, lack of compassion, envy, greed, laziness, fight for control, wanting to be the best, the richest, discontentment and not wanting to see ourselves as equals. The truth is every time I go on these trips, these things seem to surface to the top because I’m always struggling with how impractical it is to do more and I feel my grip on my things get a little tighter. I sometimes feel like the 2-year old screaming “mine, mine, mine!”

I am even more convinced now than before that part of the solution lies when we are able to say: “yours, yours, yours!” and surrender it ALL! I know it scares me too!
When we are able to do this only then will we be able to have impact on those we serve. Only then will we be able to see them as equals and breathe dignity and messages of worthiness into their souls. We won’t measure our work by how much we did for them but the time we spent laughing, dancing, playing with them and working alongside them as brothers and sisters. We will no longer look at them as these poor defenseless people in desperate need of American saviors but we will look at all of our own levels of brokenness and we will repent. You will no longer look at them as unclean, filthy and without hope but as brothers and sisters in the human race.

A short term mission trip’s success cannot be measured by how many homes one builds or how many bowls of food you served or the numbers of medical patients you saw but only when you see those you serve as an equal and you breathe dignity into the lives you serve.

This week’s message for me was dignity and worthiness. Are these people worth your treasures; time and money? Are they worth interacting with your children? Are they worth the effort to fight alongside them?

You can learn a lot by observing children. This week I observed how my children interacted with the children in the camp. They played alongside them. It was a reciprocal relationship. Our children taught them arts and crafts, dodge ball and they even lent a hand in serving meals and in return the children in camp taught them techniques in soccer and helped sharpen their kreol skills. They were running around camp together as if they’d know each other for ages, they became friends! There was something healing and human about watching that interaction throughout the week. This is the kind of interaction that’s needed to end poverty and to fight for justice. You must first see those you serve as worthy, you must be willing to breathe dignity into their souls and only then are you ready to join the fight.

Bob Pierce said "Don't fail to do something just because you can't do everything." How about we start with sharpening our breathing techniques!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Haiti Day 2: Where are God's Image bearers?

Day 2: Reflections!

Entered Haiti once again under dark and gloomy skies, kind of strange but the skies seems to mirror what I felt and sensed my Haitian people also felt: we’re tired! Why hasn’t change come already? Where are my people? Where is the world to help make our dreams come true? Where is humanity to help me use my God given talents? Where is humanity to help my children receive an education? Where are my brothers and sisters to help me find dignity? Where are the ones God said were born of his image? Can I look in your eyes and see God? Can I look in your eyes and see me? My potential? My depth? My worth?

My people, my brothers, my sisters, humanity, God’s image bearers, will you join us in the fight for our freedom! Freedom to be all God intended for us! That’s what it means to bare the image of God, to join the fight for one another, for our hearts to break like God’s over the injustices done to another human being, to keep our eyes open and take interest over the degradation of another. That’s what it means to bare the image of God.

Haiti Day 1: Lost Bags-No problem

For everyone keeping up with our trip, you should know by now we were not able to find our children's bag carrying the twins entire wardrobe for the week. At first the thought to panic came to mind; I'm a mom! Naturally I'm thinking "what will they wear for the week?" You do realize that there's no Walmart anywhere in Haiti. I can't just run to the store and replace their clothes as I would if I were back home.

The first plan failed: My optimistic plan of going to a clothing store once we get off the plane. I wasn't anticipating traffic and not being able to sit down for dinner until 8pm.

Our second plan: go through the bag of clothes you brought for your family, let's see how many of our children's "worn out" clothes we can score. Yes we "stole" from our own family. I know you don't see it as stealing but that's exactly what we did.

Here's God's plan: Open your eyes! I want you and your children to see and experience what my children in Haiti go through everyday. Ouch!! Heart Break!! Repent!! If you were one of these families and your children simply had the clothes on their backs, what would you do?

I knew what I was getting into when I decided to take our children to Haiti but I didn't think the lessons would begin so soon.

I don't know if I'll be able to blog again for the rest of the week but It's going to be an Amazing, God moving week!

See you all back home!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Haiti, Limitless God, My Insignificance

Ok, I must admit, when God placed on my heart to take our entire family to Haiti for the very first time, I wasn't fully convinced it would happen. I had two concerns; the first one was: how would we pay for this trip? It's kind of funny how God works; he tells you to do something but rarely showing you the how. By now you all should know that I'm a Christian and Christians read the Bible (Duh) and in the bible God makes some pretty bold promises. One of the most prominent promises is found in Matthew when Jesus says don't worry about what you will eat or drink because if I can take care of birds how much more will I take care of you as my children? That’s bold but we rarely believe this to be true.

Well in these past few months of planning to enter Haiti with the entire family, I saw the hands of the God of limitless resources provide for our family and our team. He used the hands of our family and friends to meet our needs. When we would try talking ourselves out of going, these gifts encouraged us to keep going. From our first gift by our Puerto Rican friends to the most exotic gift, a marimba sold in support of the trip; our children's school principal and friends whom we knew were financially struggling were all givers. We received big gifts and small ones; all of which were blessings to remind me that God is a God of limitless resources. Psalms 50:10 Says “For every beast in the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills”. Whenever I read this verse I secretly wish I was a cattle herder to fully understand this analogy of God’s character, power and limitlessness but I’m learning through different experiences like this one that this verse means everything in heaven and earth is his and we should not worry.

The other apprehension I always have about going is: what good is it going to do to bring a team for a week when the problems in Haiti are so big and so many? I mean really, you go for a week and do a VBS (vacation bible school-church language) for some 400 students and come back home to our well manicured homes and they go back to living in deplorable conditions? I can't tell you how often I've had this conversation with Jesus and the more I have it, the more I seem drawn to going back. Whenever discouragement of this sort overwhelms me the famous words of Mahatma Ghandi always puts things in perspective: "whatever you do will be insignificant but it's important that you do it".

Yup in 50 years, what I do in this world will be forgotten…But when I look at the state of Haiti, I can't get stuck in philosophical debates. When I look at children going hungry, I have no time to wonder whether one week's worth of help is significant enough. When I look at women being abused and dying emotional and spiritual deaths, there's no time to ask what good is it? When I look at men who were created to work and feed their family with no meaningful work losing their joy for living, there is no time to sit in board rooms looking for best strategies. What we will do in Haiti may be of little significance but it is imperative that we do it! I may not change the world but I pray my presence alone may bring hope. I pray that another Haitian girl can look at me as a Haitian woman and dream of better tomorrows.

When I look at people who have had great influence and significance in this world, they never did think about the great significance they were making. In fact when you look at their "production" numbers, they're not very impressive; they simply saw a need and allowed God to use their talents to meet them, one person at a time. Many know of the famous Harriet Tubman but did you know her mission to free slaves was over a 10 year span, taking around 20 trips freeing only about 300 slaves. That's only 15 slaves per year! You mean out of millions she only freed 300? But she was known as "Moses"!

So we're going to Haiti to contribute our insignificant efforts. We're going to sing, dance and play. Hopefully we'll laugh a lot and cry a lot! While we look at their poverty may we look at our own poverty and grieve not just for their living conditions but for us as well.

Keep us in your prayers! Send Blessings our way! I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Muslim School in our Neighborhood

Before I start this blog, I want to put a disclaimer out there. I love Jesus with all my heart and soul; I believe the bible to be the inerrant words of God even the parts I don’t fully understand.

Now that we all know where I stand, let’s talk for a minute. A few years ago a new charter school came into our neighborhood, charter schools are the new trends for many communities. It’s another option from public school especially for parents who are dissatisfied with the level of education their children are receiving from public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded and many are of private school quality. Their emphasis is on academic. This particular charter school has an emphasis on Math and science.

A couple of years ago when my oldest was ready for middle school, I did some research and was contemplating sending him to that very charter school. The application was done, he was accepted, I met the principal, fees were paid but he begged us to go to the school his friends were going to. As a parent who chose my battles carefully, I decided to send him to the public middle school. Two years later, my son who never cared about what he was learning in school came up to me and said “I want to go to the charter now”, “why?” “I’m not learning enough…” This is the moment moms pray about, the day their children can take ownership and responsibility to discern the good, the bad and the ugly…ok I’m getting ahead of myself he’s only 12.

Don’t worry I’m getting to the title of the blog. During my initial meeting with the principal, I noticed he was Middle Eastern. We shared a few pleasant words in conversation, when he found out I was from Haiti, he showed a genuine concern and asked about my family. He asked a few questions about my child's interest in the school and so on. The meeting went as well as expected for a parent/administrative meeting. We never got into his religion or mine.

That's why I was surprised when I heard of several parents' objection to the school, "the principal's Muslim"! The most recent critique I heard was on Sunday when a parent said the entire school was a Muslim school. If I’m not mistaken all of the critique came from well intended Christian parents. It's funny but I have never heard a parent threaten to not send their children to a school run by liars, thieves or adulterers. One of the parents even said "morally I don't know what they'll be teaching my children!" I wonder if its morals we're really concerned about. Just to be clear on something, these critics are coming from white and black Christian parents alike. I wonder if the Muslims living amongst us are as concern about sending their children to schools where they know the predominant culture is Christian. I think they are but they seem to do a pretty good job teaching their children about their religion. When I taught in NJ, some of my Muslim students would often share with me about observing Ramadan and all that it entails.

I'm sorry if my questions offend you or stir up anger in you but I'm a Haitian woman. When I moved to NJ from Haiti in 1987, we were spat on, mocked, ridiculed, my sister was suspended from school, I was beat up on; my mother would have to come out with a baseball bat to protect us. So my perspective is more of grace for this Muslim principal. We haven’t even taken the time to know his name, whether he’s married or if he has any children; we know nothing about him but we do know he’s a Muslim. Isn’t it odd that we would know that piece of information about him and not his arrest record or if he’s on the child sexual offender’s list?

I think Jesus was aware that we would be living amongst those of different cultures and religions. He knew that our children would come in contact with them, after all he told us to go and be witnesses (Acts 1:8). How are we supposed to be witnesses if we create communities where there are no interactions? No opportunities for this principal to meet Christian parents?
C.S. Lewis says “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”. That’s also my affirmation. I believe that Christ was and is truly divine not just a prophet; I’m willing to put everything on that belief. I think several other Christians would say the same. If as Christians we believe that to be true, shouldn’t we be trying to engage instead of disengaging?

Where do we begin? How about a good slice of American Christian apple pie?! I'm serious! Don't run from these children of God! Be kind and strike a conversation over apple pie. Try to discern whether they want peace or war, I’ve found that most want to live in peace like the rest of us. They don’t want to convert our children; they simply want their children and our children to play together on the playground. By the way, many of them are as afraid of us as we are of them.

As far as our children, what are doing to teach them to enter the world? Are we exposing them to the message of Christ? To love God with all their hearts, mind and soul; and to love others as themselves? When our children learn to truly love, and learn that Christ was the God/Man and we are to live, love and serve like he did, they will then be ready to engage those of different cultures and religions. I know in this blog I'm omitting the "how". How to love? Should we or should we not send our children to a school where the principal or a teacher's of a different background or religion? Those questions are for you to discuss with Jesus in your own time of prayer. And as for prayer, let’s teach our children to pray for the lost and how to love.

I don’t have answers, I’m still in process but let’s not run. Let’s stop and love the Muslim or the “others” in our neighborhoods.

Send me your thoughts, concerns or questions!