Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Free Advent Devotional

Two people suggested the same link yesterday, so I thought I would share with you a free treasure...

A Holy Experience (a beautiful blog) is offering a free Advent Devotion.  For those of you who mentioned you use a Jesse Tree, this study goes along with that idea.  I've always wanted to have a Jesse Tree but didn't want to go to all the work to make the little ornaments.  Now I have no excuse.

If you're still unsure about advent, for samples of what a day in the life of an advent study would look like,  check out this post.  I'm a person who has to see it to wrap my brain around it.  If that's you, maybe her samples in the post will be helpful.

We are incredibly grateful for this resource this year.  Looking forward to giving this study a whirl.

Thanks Aimee and Lynsey for passing on this amazing link.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas, Christmas Time is Here

How have we been alive for thirty something years and still don't get that Christmas comes right after Thanksgiving?

Last night was the first night of advent.  As usual, we realized it mid morning and did our traditional, "oh crap.  Advent starts tonight."

Nothing was ready.  No wreath.  No candles.  Nothing.

We're slowly learning that we don't have to have all the decorations, cute calendars, or a ton of Christmas decorations to celebrate our favorite holiday of the year.  Good thing right?  Because this year in Haiti we don't hardly have any of those things.  Last night we found our trusty advent study online, and Aaron made a makeshift candle holder out of a potato and candles we bought off the street.  We've taken ghetto to a whole new level.

Even with a potato sitting on my coffee table, I'm super excited about the start of this season.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving in Haiti

As much as I wanted to open my eyes on Thanksgiving Day, look outside, see the intense need right around our house, and let that suffering completely rid me of my need for a Thanksgiving feast, what I found myself wanting on Thanksgiving Day was a piece of home.  Something familiar...like mashed potatoes. 

We live in Haiti.  I thought I would have sat in this country on Thanksgiving Day and replayed the list of all the one million things I'm thankful for, things I didn't even know to be thankful for a few short months ago.  I did think about those things.  How can I not?  But what I really wanted was some gravy and pecan pie. I'm not sure what to do with those truths, or what I think about them, or what you'll think about them.  But there they are. 

I was surprised by how much I wanted turkey. How much I wanted family.  How much I wanted tradition.  How I longed for excessive things while people right outside my gate may be wondering if they will get to eat at all on Thanksgiving Day, much less gorge themselves into a tryptophan induced coma.

It felt odd to know the sadness that surrounds me and yet to still really want a traditional Thanksgiving.  That's a new part of our life...this friction we carry in our souls every time we look around this country and then still do things like treat ourselves to an occasional, expensive ice cream, or spend a big chunk of our grocery budget on a tiny cup of real milk.

Friction.  It's our new, intimate friend in Haiti.  It walks with us down the road as we pass hungry people on the way to go buy our groceries.  It sits in our pockets.  It is constantly holding our hands.  It won't let go.

On the drive over to Beth's house, we rode through streets filled with trash, shacks, tents, naked children, the every day Haiti.  There was this sweet moment as I sat in the van, smelling cakes and green bean casserole where I tried to reconcile these hard things.  "Should I feel guilty about this, Lord?  I'm having a hard time not feeling guilty."

I didn't know what to do with all my thoughts.  Ten years from now, I still might not know what to do with them.  But there they sat.  I held my pile of feelings and my cupcakes in my lap.  Unsure how to feel or think about any of it.

Friction.  Frustration.  Guilt.  And yet looking forward to the banquet...the feast awaiting us at the end of our long, bumpy van ride...thinking of the Kingdom, and how heaven will be a time of celebration where we'll gather with friends, loved ones, for worship and a feast that will rival any American Thanksgiving. 

Walking into Beth's house on Thanksgiving Day was therapeutic.  It was a beautiful thing to see people gathered around tables of food.  Men sucking the grease and juice off turkey bones.  So normal in a country that is never normal.

Meat.  Piles of it.  Meat as the main dish is rare for our family in Haiti.  This was such a delicious treat.

Food and cooking in this country are major headaches for me.  Seeing this table was extremely exciting.  I've never been more thankful for food in my life. This took a lot of effort for everyone who cooked.  We savored every bite.

I made these little turkey cupcakes for the kids.  So fun.

They are smiling, but really they are irritated with me because I made them quit eating the turkey off the bone for one second while I took a picture.   After the camera flashed, they dug back into the bird like Vikings.

Beth's table.  It seats about 500 (mild exaggeration).  She teaches me so much about hospitality.  I want to be her when I grow up.

Gravy in a pitcher.  I thought we only did that in Texas.

It was also my birthday on Thursday.  Thanks for all the sweet comments.  It was a sweet, sweet day.  Good to meet all you lurkers!  What a fun gift.

This is me trying to not look awkward while everyone sang Happy Birthday.  I totally failed.

This is a butt-ugly picture, but I'm including it for the people back home.  Unfortunately this is what my face does when I'm really laughing hard.  Hideous.  The horse laugh face.  Kirby will see this picture, and probably say, "Aw...I miss that terrible face she makes."  I'm only posting it because Kirby was so nice to me on my birthday.  If someone posted this picture on facebook I would immediately untag myself.

I shared my birthday with Esther...the cutie in the pink dress.  How adorable is she?  I love her and her mother. Esther turned one on Thursday.

Brittany made the cake, but everyone already had a Thanksgiving baby so we sent the cake home with Esther to destroy.  You're only one once.

After we ate I told Beth how grateful I am for her.  It doesn't feel like Fall here.  The weather has not really changed.  None of the normal cues occurred to make me start longing for the Thanksgiving holiday.   Yet I woke up Thursday morning with a deep desire for family, friends, and familiarity.  Apart from Beth making those things happen for us, I would not have known how to make a traditional Thanksgiving happen for my family in Haiti.  We all had such a beautiful time.  Great food, sweet friends that feel like family, and all the gravy we could have ever wanted.

I missed my family and our friends, but I had a wonderful birthday, and our family had a perfect Thanksgiving.  The boys loved every minute of the day and are still talking about the meat.  I'm raising a house full of carnivores.

So thankful for such a great day.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, our sweet Heather!!

We've hijacked the blog in lieu of Heather's birthday and have a fun cyber birthday party game for everyone to play along with us.

(Since we can't quite be there to celebrate you on your birthday, Heather, we're taking advantage of this virtual world and celebrating cyber style.  We wish we could take you out to eat and shower you with presents, but this will have to do until you come back to see us in just 3 short weeks...and then we will make it up to you!)

The following video is super long...but feel free to join in and answer any of the questions we answered in the video...or just leave our girl some birthday love! If you've never introduced yourself before and you've been a long time lurker or even short term stalker...now's the time to out yourself (don't be too embarrassed....there are probably like 2,837 of you who come here to read everyday and still have never commented) and wish Heather a Happy Birthday or...in the spirit of thanksgiving, tell her why you're thankful for her blog.  You've got lots of options, people, so let's get rolling. Let's set a new comment record!

We love you, Heather!  And wish you the happiest of birthdays in Haiti!  Happy 34th!

(And thanks for all your help, Aaron! ;)

Happy 34th Birthday, Heather! from Charlie Apel on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Franshwa Meets Heartline

I loaded up Franshwa and the babies and took them to the best place I could think to take them...

To Heartline with me for the day.

When I met Franshwa she was sitting near her home...a crude frame wrapped with tarps.  I found her "home" behind a red gate.  So typical of Haiti.  It seems all the gates are red.  Behind the gate we found a little plot of land where a big, nice house should stand.  Instead the lot is empty, except for the few families who have constructed make-shift houses and are trying their hardest to get by with very little food and no access to clean water.

Franshwa's babies were asleep in the tent.  She was sitting outside.  We asked to see her babies.  I took one look at the tiny creatures and thought we had arrived to watch them breathe their last breaths.

When I first moved here I would have seen a situation like this one and started to cry.  Instead, I stood in that moment and thought about how frustrating it is to see sad story after sad story and not have any idea what to do to make the sad story stop or go away. When does a new story begin?  One that is happy and everything works out in the end?  I stood there thinking, "Great.  Just great.  Another situation that is horrific, and here I stand...having no idea what to do.  Waiting for the calvary to ride in with all the answers and and a rolodex of resources.  Oh wait.  What's that I hear?  Nothing.  No one is coming.  No sound of horse hooves.  No rumble that means rescue.  No sounds of a rolodex flipping.  It's just us.  Her. Dying babies.  The heat.  The smells.  The sadness.  Haiti.  No answers.  The sound of babies barely breathing."

There were several mothers living behind the red gate.  Several pregnant.  A few with toddlers.  How many were breastfeeding?  None of them, except for Franshwa. 
What a joy it was to take this mother and her tiny, weak sons on the long drive to Heartline with me today.  When we arrived she was greeted by Beth, Joanna, and Cookie...women who will love and respect her.  I pray Franshwa felt encouraged and supported by us.  But mostly, as Franshwa sat in a room filled with Haitian mothers and their fat babies, I could literally see Franshwa's spirit lift.

This is where the magic happened.  Franshwa, looking around the room, watching baby after fat baby placed on a scale and weighed.  Watching Cooking and I squeal as we noted how much weight each of "our babies" gained this week.  I say "our babies" because that's what they are.  You know how moms are ridiculous and semi-psychotic about their own children?  How we look at other babies that are not ours and think, "What a brat," or "Look how tacky that kid is dressed" or "too bad you're ugly and my kid is so cute?"  You know how we do that?  It's probably wrong and a little sick.  Well we admit..we love the babies in our program in that crazy, possessive, borderline sinful kind of way.    Everyone who has ever been a part of this program probably feels this way about these infants.  Don't judge us, okay?  We're a little insane about our babies...all thirty of them.

Franshwa got to see a room filled with "our babies" and "our moms"...women who are exclusively breastfeeding.  She saw happy, chubby babies. 
She saw happy moms.  She watched babies cry and mom's respond to their babies by offering them their breast.  Franshwa heard truth.  She was loved.  She was encouraged.  We told her we're proud of her for nursing her babies, that we want to help her sons grow big and strong by helping their mother make more milk.  We reminded her of God's perfect design.  Her body has exactly what these babies need to grow.   She met many women with similar stories.  "My baby weighed four pounds.  Now look at him.  He's huge!"  I was so proud of the Haitian moms who noticed the small babies and immediately came to share their stories of success with Franshwa.  Beauty.  It was turned up nice and loud today at Heartline.

Teaching women to love God, to love their babies, and love each other.  That's what Heartline is all about.

6 weeks.  3 pounds.

Big brother, weighing in at a mere 5 pounds.

I pulled out the handy, dandy supplementer system that I used when I nursed Hudson.  Did you know you can nurse adopted kids?  Franshwa was able to nurse her babies all afternoon.  They got breastmilk and formula, without ever having to use a bottle.  Praise God for some smart person who invented this wonderful contraption, right?  It's totally going to save these baby's lives.

Please continue to pray for this mom and her babies.  We have a long road ahead of us.  It will take many of us here on the ground...the women (and John Ackerman) at Heartline, the American sponsor, plus the people at Child Hope to come alongside this mother and under-gird her during this time.  Not to mention God's grace, mercy, and healing.  The end result?  We're praying for a healthy family that's been restored.  Some times restoring a family is a lot harder than taking babies away from their mothers.  It makes things a lot more complex and tricky.  We will walk a fine line as we try to increase this mom's milk supply and keep the babies alive while we do so.  It will take time to educate her, get to know her, and understand the best way to support and encourage her family.  I'm thankful to be surrounded by people who value family like God values family.  So thankful.

Sitting at HL today holding a three pound baby in a room full of fat, healthy babies I was reminded once again how valuable Heartline's work is in Haiti.  "Our babies" will never ever be six weeks old and weigh three pounds.  Never.  Our moms are educated about breastfeeding, and they know we are there for them the moment there is the slightest bump in the road.  

Heartline is saving the lives of babies.  It's saving the lives of mothers.  Heartline is strengthening families.  Heartline is strengthening Haiti.  God is using this program to do incredible work in this country.

A few weeks ago the Houston News let us brag about the work that Heartline is doing: 

I wish every baby in Haiti could be a Heartline baby.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Living Skeletons

Through a series of fortunate events, I met this mother yesterday.  Her name is Franshwa.  She has twin boys.  Five weeks old.  On the brink of death.

I walked into her tent yesterday, took one look at the babies and thought, "We're too late.  They are about to die."

My gut reaction:  take the babies.  She had tried to give her babies away the day before. 

After talking to the mother, she wants her sons.  She wants them to live.  She just doesn't have enough milk to feed them.  Tragically, she would have given her babies away to save their lives.

Franshwa doesn't have enough milk to sustain her babies for several reasons.  This mother doesn't get to eat every day.  I found her in a tent with her two sons who look like tiny, lethargic, skeletons.  The mother doesn't have access to clean water and with the cholera scare Haitians are not taking any chances with dirty water.  Franshwa also doesn't have any knowledge about breastfeeding.  No one has ever taught her that babies need to eat every two-three hours.  No one has ever taught her that she has to feed her babies, even if they are tired and weak and don't wake up to cry.  No one has ever told her how long a feeding should last.  No one told her that if she doesn't eat food or drink a lot of liquid, she isn't going to make enough milk to feed her children.  As a matter of fact, very few poor Haitian moms know these simple truths and as a result...babies suffer, starve, and die.  Needlessly, these babies die.

Ellizay, who looked a little better than his brother

Elli.  This baby broke my heart.  Shattered it.

I have never held living skeletons.  These babies are extremely weak and skinny.  There were several times yesterday as I held Elli that he would close his little eyes, and I would gently shake him because I thought he died.

My heart hurt for this mother.  She wants to parent her children.  She lost her eight year old son a year ago.  "What happened to him?," we asked.  "He got sick and he quickly died."  That was her answer.

These babies are this mother's only living children.  She's married.  She doesn't have a job and neither does her husband.  They love Jesus.  Her husband preaches some times at the church in the ravine.

How do we increase this mother's milk supply when she doesn't have water or any food to eat?  How do we help her keep her babies where they belong...with her.  How do we keep these babies alive until Franshwa is making enough milk to sustain her babies?

Thankfully the Lord immediately provided a sponsor for this mother.  She's been adopted, if you will.  For three months this mom will come to Child Hope, a children's home nearby and eat two large meals a day.  She'll get a prenatal vitamin and enough water to take home every day to keep her thoroughly hydrated.  We'll weigh her babies and make sure they are growing.  Her babies will be supplemented, after two feedings with formula that is prepared and served at Child Hope.  We can't send formula home with mom.  She has no way to keep bottles clean, and she must make milk.  We will never give her formula for her babies, because formula will not sustain these children in the long run.  Either this mom's milk supply increases or these babies will die, or she'll have to surrender them to an orphanage. Until she's making more milk, the babies will get a little formula after two feedings every day.

We took this mother to Child Hope yesterday.  She was fed.  She nursed her babies.  They did really well.  A nurse looked the babies over.  I did a one-on-one breastfeeding class with this mother.  Such simple things, and yet you could feel the darkness slipping away, and the light creeping in.  After a couple hours with this mom and these babies the lady we returned to her home was smiling.  Her babies were awake.  Wide eyed.  I'd go so far as to even say this mom was...excited.  Hope looks beautiful on a woman.  Beautiful.

I asked her if she had been praying that God would help her babies.  She replied with a forceful, "wi."  What a sweet moment to look my sister in Christ in the eyes and tell her through teary eyes that God has heard her prayers.  He listens.  He is watching.  He has provided for her.  Not me.  Not the American in the States.  GOD has provided today.  He sent me here.  He told the American to give.  He put Child Hope in just the right neighborhood.  God has heard her cry for help.

Moms, as you nurse your babies will you pray for Franshwa, Elli, and Elliswa?  We have three months.  Three months to turn these babies around.  Three months to seek the Lord for a way to help this family generate income in their home.  Three months to see God heal this mother and restore these babies and this family.

I've never helped a mom try to increase her milk supply as her babies are near death.  Will you pray for me?  As with almost everything here in Haiti, this is yet another moment when I've had to admit that I am not equipped for the task at hand.

There is a recurring scene that happens in this country.   Me.  Hearing a tragic story.  Shaking my head.  Admitting I have no clue what to do.  Getting a little frustrated that God has put me in this position.  Life or death situations.  I feel incredibly inept.  Like a disrespectful butt-head, I snap at God..."why didn't you send someone down here who actually knows something?  I thought you were a genius.  This doesn't feel very smart."  That scene played yesterday as I sat with this mother and her babies.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Heading Towards the Cholera

Will you check out Aaron's post on the Mosaic Village site?  He's heading to Real Hope for Haiti tomorrow to help serve cholera patients.  Please continue to pray for Real Hope for Haiti, their staff, their volunteers, and the patients.  They are doing beautiful work caring for people who are extremely sick.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cereal Boxes = Hope

It's an amazing thing to watch a cereal box...

become a beautiful piece of art.

What was meant for the trash pile and deemed worthless...

repurposed and given new life.

The first time I made the short drive down the road to visit The Apparent Project, I was not expecting to see my own story, your story, and creation's story, through the process of making jewelry.

At The Apparent Project cereal boxes are transformed into treasure, and the lives of Haitian families are restored and redeemed.

"The Apparent Project was birthed out of a desire to see impoverished Haitian men and women be able to raise their children with dignity and not have to consider giving their children to orphanages because of poverty.  It can cost as little as $50 a month to keep a family intact.

The Apparent Project exists to provide creative means for families to earn a living.  Our jewelry program started as a small operation of four women making simple earrings from native seeds in Haiti.  Today it is a full scale operation employing approximately 50 men and women." (from the Apparent Project)

The number of orphans in Haiti has been labeled an "Orphan Crisis."  Oftentimes, mothers do not want to give their babies away to orphanages.  What they need are jobs, education, and skills so that they can provide for their children's basic needs.  Places like The Apparent Project and Haitian Creations are giving families the skills they need to be able to keep their children.  Organizations like these are fighting the orphan crisis at its most foundational level.  They are preventing children from becoming orphans.

The Apparent Project considers itself an "Un-Orphanage."  Isn't that beautiful?

Each woman and each man employed by The Apparent Project is working to learn a trade and create a quality product in order to help their families escape the brutal poverty that sits on this country like a thick, heavy blanket.

Each artist has a story.

Over the next few days I'll be talking about The Apparent Project.  I'll let you know how you can buy jewelry, have a jewelry party, and how you can turn your empty cereal boxes into a way to help Haitian families.

Will you start saving cereal boxes?  This is one of the easiest ways you can help the orphan crisis in Haiti by working to prevent orphans by supporting organizations like these who offer support to families.  Will you dream big dreams with me for these families?

Will you spread the word for this organization, and ask your friends, your schools, college campuses, churches, soccer teams, and neighbors to start saving their cereal boxes?

I won't lie.  I get a little excited when I think of all the cereal boxes that will be recycled and repurposed.  Isn't it always a joy to be a part of something redemptive?

How to Ship Cereal Boxes to Haiti

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Got Cereal?

If you've got cereal, you've got cereal boxes which means YOU can help families in Haiti.

Don't throw out your cereal boxes, okay?

How exciting to look at an empty cardboard box and instead of thinking, "Trash" thinking..."HOPE."

Sounds a lot like redemption, doesn't it?

More to come tomorrow....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Are Short-Term Mission Trips the Answer?

Americans spent $1,600,000,000 on short-term missions (STMs) in 2006 alone.  The phenomenal growth of STMs over the past decade is accompanied, or fueled, by much positive press.  Reports claim that STMs accomplish much in the host community and have a positive impact on those who go, especially in terms of their becoming further engaged in missions through giving and becoming long-term missionaries.  While there may be some truth in these reports, a different story line is also emerging, one that is questioning whether STMs are as good as advertised.  (When Helping Hurts, 161)

A few years ago, if you would have asked us, "Can mission trips be a bad thing?" our church-going, party-line answer would have been, "No.  Never ever.  Mission trip, good.  Grunt.  Grunt."  We may have even talked about what a jerk you were to raise such a ridiculous question.  Now, we're always a little leery of people who are threatened by questions, and our thoughts on mission trips have morphed a bit.

When Helping Hurts and living in Haiti have both caused us to rethink short term mission trips.  We read When Helping Hurts before moving to Haiti so it has also been a great resource for us as we seek God about what ministries to serve alongside and advocate for in this country.  The ideas we learned from this book, and several other resources have erased the happy go lucky thoughts we had about missions, and in their place, a lot of fear of God, and humility now reside in our souls as we consider the topic of mission work.

When Helping Hurts does not advocate that all short term mission trips are unhealthy or hurtful.  Living in Haiti we see where teams come in and do a lot of good alongside healthy, gospel-centered ministries in this country.  Many people who live in Haiti long-term will admit that a short-term trip to Haiti was part of their story that God used to move them to Haiti full-time.  Lots of long standing, incredible missions organizations  have seen some people come, serve, and then become strong advocates for ministries here, and the first ones to send money or raise it when there is a great need.  Not all short term mission trips are bad. 

However, we also have a front row seat to a lot of possibly harmful things done in the name of Jesus in this country we love.

With all of those thoughts swimming around in our mind, here's where we have personally landed as a couple:

Do we think STMs are bad?  No.  But sometimes they are.

Do we think STMs are good?  Sure.  But not always.

Do STMs need to be rethought?  Definitely.

Do we think churches should be better informed and more cautious about how trips are planned, what the goals are, and who they are partnering with when they travel?  A very emphatic yes.

We love missions, we believe God's people need to cherish the Great Commission, be willing to go, and that we all need to be better aware of how other people are living (maybe surviving is a better word) in other countries.

But here's what has changed for us...if we lived in the States, and our church was planning a short-term mission trip, we'd definitely not feel bad for approaching the mission trip issue with a lot more caution and prayer.  Gone are the days when we'd be guilted into signing up for a mission trip, because gone are the days when we hear the words "mission trip" and immediately assume that means something healthy is automatically about to go down.

"...defenders of STMs argue that such trips should be seen as an investment that yields large returns for the kingdom by producing increased missions giving, more long-term missionaries, and profound, cross-cultural relationships.  At first glance this argument seems plausible.  Many returning STM team members declare:  "My life has been changed, and I will become an active participant in God's mission movement.!"  Indeed, it is common to hear long-term missionaries report that an STM experience was part of what led them to pursue a longer commitment.  And many STM teams report that the deep relationships they formed with people in the recipient communities were the most significant part of the trip.  While no doubt these statements are sincerely made, there is growing evidence that these reports seriously overestimate the long-run impacts of the trips on those who go.

   Kurt Ver Beek, an assistant professor of sociology at Calvin College with more than twenty years of experience in Honduras, has conducted research into the long-run impacts of STM trips on team members looking beyond their initial statements to their actual behaviors.  Ver Beek's data indicates that there simply is not a significant increase in long-term missions giving for either the team members of the sending churches.  It is also hard to support the claim of increase in number of long-term missionaries, given that the number of long-term missionaries is fairly stable despite the explosion of STMs.  And as for all those great relationships that get developed, the reality is that only a small percentage of STM team members ever have any contact - at all - with their new "friends" after the trip ends (When Helping Hurts)."  

Obviously, we don't think that churches or God's people mean to do harm in the countries where they go to serve and share the gospel.  We don't think that churches want to use money to fund a trip or experience, instead of using that money in a more positive, useful, long-reaching, Kingdom building way.   After living in Haiti, we simply recognize that serving a country like this is complex.  People who have lived here for 20 years are still struggling to understand how best to love and care for the people of Haiti.  So obviously, planning a healthy, short-term mission trip, from the States, thinking through all the ramifications, and making sure the trip's end result (for the Americans going, and the people in the country they are serving) is beneficial is also going to be complex.  Probably more complex.

Lots of ministries in Haiti need money.  Orphanages need generators.  Children's homes need new roofs.  So, sending a team of people to play with orphans, instead of sending money for a generator is a hard call to make.  If two team members stayed home and sent the money it would cost them to actually go, an orphanage could have a generator.  Complex issues to think through.  Sending a team to build a roof on a children's home in a country where local men are in desperate need for work, is again...a hard call to make.  How can a short term team pour into Haiti in a sustainable, healthy way?

We believe it's a legitimate question to ask..."Should we send money, or people or both?"  We believe STMs should be approached as complex, and that through prayer and information gathering, churches can ask for wisdom from God to know how to wisely lead their congregations to be a part of missions, by either going or sending money.  Maybe a short term trip will be the answer to do something like construction work for a missions organization.  Or maybe a church will access the situation and decide it would be best to send a foreman and enough cash to employ and train a handful of Haitian men for an entire year while that foreman also disciples Haiti's husbands and fathers as he works alongside them on projects. 

We agree that traveling to a third world country (like Haiti) has a way of opening up our eyes to the poor and to issues related to poverty.  But after our eyes have been opened, do we always need to sign up for another trip every time the church pulls out a sign-up sheet?  Instead, after we've already been on a short-term trip, do we need to ask God to help us to live faithfully and wisely in the States so that we can send more money to organizations already on the ground fighting spiritual and physical poverty?  Do we need to become better advocates in our own sphere of influence for ministries that God is using in other countries?  Sometimes going on a mission trip is admittedly about us.  I don't think that's necessarily bad.  Sometimes the person who got the most benefit out of a trip is the person who went, whose eyes were opened.  We get on a plane thinking we're going to serve a country and yet we come home realizing the opposite happened.  We learned so much from the people we went to serve.

But on the other hand, perhaps becoming a "short term mission trip junky" is a little silly and possibly even detrimental.

When it comes to orphans, I'll get a little more strong in my language.  Please forgive me ahead of time.  I'm not always sure it's healthiest for team after team to come in, hold babies, semi-connect with children who are living in an orphanage, and then leave.  Yes, the American holding the baby may be changed by the experience.  The baby or child left in the orphanage?  Another rip.  Another tear.  Another moment when connection was jump-started, only to have the kill switch pulled.  Healthy?  I'm having a hard time seeing how that could be good for a child.  This is a tough situation, because we want hearts to hurt for the orphan, and seeing a child in an orphanage is a sobering moment.  But I find myself asking, "Would it be better for churches to fund higher ratios of native nannies in orphanages who will love the kids, every single day, and connect deeply to each child?"  Connection. A sense of belonging.  Consistency.  These are things an orphan is longing to have.  So I wonder if it would be better for churches to spend time at an orphanage training nannies about the importance of bonding and child development?  To find ways to help orphanages stay small, well-run, and equipped with the tangible items they need to care for Haiti's orphans?

We want hearts to be broken for the orphan, but never at the expense of the orphan.

To sum it up, we think When Helping Hurts is a must-read for church leaders and/or people who plan mission trips.  It won't give all the answers, but it raises great questions, and in the least helps churches think through the idea of short term missions with a lot of seriousness, weight, and dependence upon the Lord for wisdom and vision.

After raising some valid concerns, the authors of the book go on to give practical ways to make sure a short term mission trip is healthy and doesn't harm the people being served.  They give tangible, clear advice for planning a trip that will be a blessing instead of a burden.

If you are planning to come to Haiti specifically, the authors of When Helping Hurts have made available a webinar about serving in this country. You can access that information here.

Desiring God has an entire series on Rethinking Short-Term Missions.  Very helpful and very practical.

We echo what Bill Walsh says in the introduction to the series:

"Please don’t receive these challenging articles as admonitions to drop short-term missions as a strategy. Rather, use them to think carefully and prayerfully about how your team should approach this task in a way that will honor the Lord and serve the cause of expanding the Kingdom."

Since many of you are involved in church leadership, and many more of you are involved in churches, as we continue to humbly and fearfully think through the idea of short term missions as a couple, we'd love for you to share any ideas, approaches, or screening processes your church uses as they make decisions about how and where to lead God's people to be involved in mission trips.

Related Posts:

Short Term Missions

When It's About Us


Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-term Mission Trip

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Better is One Day

Church in Haiti is always emotional.

It's hard to pinpoint why.

All I know is there are many days when I leave the building with a headache from constantly blinking back the tears.

There are some days when I am so overwhelmed by emotion I want to run out of the room, across the yard, into my house, throw myself on my bed, and cry.

Maybe I'm moved by the beauty of the church, that we're gathered here and you're gathered there.  God's people, together, all over the world, in every culture, worshiping God.  I look around the room.  I think of my church back home. So different, and yet this day binds us together.

Everything is so different in this country.  So alive. So vibrant.  Every word in every song I've sung for years means something hard and deep to me here.  I can't get through the simplest song or a verse I've heard a thousand times without my eyes filling up with tears.

I've always prayed in church, but today we spent time praying for all of the people in our church on the front lines of serving those with cholera.  When a fourth of our congregation stood up...a fourth of them caring for cholera patients...the tears...oh the tears.  I was overcome with thankfulness, that God lets us be a part of this church body.  Zach, with Real Hope for Haiti led us in prayer for this country, begging God to intervene.

How gracious the Lord is to allow us to be around people who love God enough to risk disease, and care for people who are losing 10 liters of bodily fluid a day.  Jesus.  Washing feet.  Serving sinful man.  I was overcome with gratitude that we get to know people like this, that we get to watch them, and learn from their lives.

The prayer time was loud and ferocious.  Like thunder.  I've never heard people pray like that. But I've also never heard people praying who are watching other people die in front of their very eyes.  I've never heard people so desperate for God's mercy and deliverance from sickness and death.

There's always been singing at my churches back home, but there's nothing more moving than listening to a room full of Haitians sing I'll fly Away.

They sing it loudly.  Their hands reaching towards the sky.

Even the babies and the children.

Just a few more weary days and then...

This is when you put your face in your hands and you sob.

Because you know they mean what they sing.

And because there's nothing you want more for them, for all of us, than for Jesus to come and redeem this mess.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Photo

We realized something really cool today...

Hudson matches our couch.

We haven't told him yet, because he'd use his new camouflage super power for evil after he has done something no good with markers and needs to hide.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Land of Contrast

How can Haiti be one of the ugliest places on earth, and yet one of the most beautiful?

I'm a Texas girl.  Born and raised.

If I close my eyes and think of home, images of land...lots of land...wide open pastures flood my mind.

Even if you live in a big city in Texas, it's funny how a pasture isn't far away.

I'd pass cows grazing on vast, open fields on my way to the grocery store or the library.

One of the first memories I have of elementary school was being indoctrinated with the "Don't Mess with Texas Campaign."  We colored posters and wore buttons, ingraining into our young minds that littering, and making Texas ugly would probably send a person straight to hell.  To this day, I probably rank litterers right up there with ax murderers.  If you know the people who came up with the "Don't Mess with Texas Campaign," you can let them know that their efforts were wildly successful.  25 years later, when I see a person drop trash on the ground, I am still appalled.  I shake my head and think, "You are a terrible, terrible person and it's highly debatable whether you deserve to live."

What was God thinking bringing me to Haiti?  I'm a Texan.  Much like the Darma Initiative, the "Don't Mess with Texas Campaign" programmed me to detest littering.  And yet here I am in Haiti where (gasp) people throw trash on the street right in broad daylight, and don't even fear for their soul.

What was God thinking bringing a Texas girl to Haiti and plopping her down right in the middle of Port-au-Prince?  It's like living in New York City, except with no rules, organization, or Broadway Shows.  I live in a concrete city full of noise, people, and trash.

A few weeks ago we spent some time up the mountain.  I had no idea how much I missed beauty until I got out of the car and was taken aback by the scene before my eyes.  Green mountains.  Lush farmland.  Rows and rows of food growing from the ground.  Before I knew what was happening, or knew why it was happening, my eyes filled up with tears.

Beauty.  Land.  Green grass.  Clean earth.  My soul had obviously been missing those elements of my former life.

A few weeks ago, we decided it was time to get away from the ugly and go to the beach for the day.

We drove through this broken city, the trash, the sadness, and arrived in one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

I will never get over how strange it is to drive through complete devastation and arrive at a place of such shocking beauty.

I will also never get over how God can use something as simple as a Saturday drive and His creation to bring me hope and teach me lessons I could have never learned with words or a sermon.

Driving from Port-au-Prince to the beach may be like taking a living tour through the process of sanctification and the struggles of life on earth and what awaits the children of God.

Yes.  He's doing what it looks like he's doing.

Too bad there's no audio, or you would hear him singing, "Look at my coconuts, my coconuts, my coconuts."

Hayden acted like a missionary kid way before he was one.  Nothing new.

It will be hard for you all to not be jealous of how smokin' hot we are.  Sorry.  It's true.  We're wickedly sexy.

Note to self:  If you wear a shirt over your bathing suit, that cute tie in the back makes it look like you are the Hunchback of Notre Dame.