Tropical storm Erika made her way through Haiti late into the night last night. Although the wind wasn’t as strong as we expected, it is still always hard to sleep in my queen-sized bed when it rains. I picture the faces of the struggling moms instead of counting sheep. You pray their tarps will hold and the sticks will stay, but are those prayers even enough? Do they really mean much as I snuggle up next to my husband and eventually fall sound asleep?
I think of the families who have been blessed with new homes. How foundations were poured, cement blocks were stacked and a steel roof was put over their beds because we chose to do something about it. I think about them and peace runs through my veins.
Yet, so many, many more are waiting.
Early July a team from Sunnybrook Community Church from Sioux City, Iowa visited us. During their stay we delivered bunk beds to five of the families, who had received new homes. (click here on their stories) While it was fun to rejoice and pray with these mommas and their children, it was hard to look their neighbors in the eye. Because, their neighbors are still waiting.
We visited a single mother of two, while we were out installing bunk beds. She, too, has been living in a makeshift house made of weathered cardboard and dirt for over five years. She has two beautiful daughters, Roseberline and Roseline, who go to our school. She shared her story of struggle with Webert and we decided if there was money to build one more, we would build for her.
After the team visited her and returned back to the States, they were moved to donate.
Today, after a large tropical storm passed, I went to their house in confidence. We stood on their new porch – which was completely dry – and I looked the oldest daughter in the eyes and asked, “What do you think about this new house of yours?”
She replied, “I thank Jesus for it.”
I smiled, and asked, “What did you think when it rained so hard last night?”
She replied, with an even bigger smile, “I was so happy!”
Most people living in these conditions fear the rain. This little one now faces it with courage!
And while this is a heartwarming story and I’m truly grateful to the people who made this house become a reality, I unfortunately didn’t leave their home comforted. Several other neighbors were watching. One asked me to come inside her house and sit on her bed.
These people, these Haitians, are so gracious and always offer you a chair to sit on when you visit their homes. But, actually sitting on their beds and having them point out where the roof leaks rain is hard. She pulled back a piece of cloth and showed the very large tear in the tarp. She explained how she lays out a dozen cups to catch all the rain. Her bed, by the way, is a piece of cardboard stacked on cement blocks. I’m so uncomfortable; I can barely put together my Creole sentences.
Because, how do you respond to people who don’t get to sleep when it rains for fear of their entire house falling over? How do you react when they pull the sheets away and show you how their house is, in fact, just a tarp? How do you fake a smile when they joke and laugh about waking up to puddles on their floor? How do you give encouragement when they say they’re tired and have nothing for their kids?
I met a woman today. Her name was Lumine and before showing me her own house, she showed me her neighbor’s home. Tytoo staff recently repaired the neighbor’s home and we came looking specifically for the neighbor. I asked her about her living situation and she slowly directed me to her house. Inside her five children were sharing a single avocado and a few pieces of bread. It was quarter to noon and this was their breakfast and their lunch. A divided avocado and three pieces of bread, for five children. For both breakfast and lunch.
Can we let that sink in for just a moment?
One of the daughters bravely divided the avocado as the mother showed me a broken twig holding the peak of their house together. Bless them, Lord. As she showed me the broken twig, I asked her what they did last night as the storm passed through. Her response:
“Someone let my children and I hide under their shelter while it rained. We sat and waited for it to stop raining. This morning, I had to give them all of my sugar. We didn’t sleep last night.”
My guess is she had a larger sack of sugar she was using to sell to make a little income and she had to give it to the people who let her stay dry during the rain.
Ben, a major rock star and a new staff member at Tytoo Gardens, went on to tell me this story, as we stared grimly at their house:
When we first met Lumine, she introduced them to Andrelise, the neighbor. She made a way for the neighbor to find help before her. When Ali (another major rock star from Tytoo, who leads the Starfish Program) found out her specific living situation, Ali asked her why she had introduced her to her neighbor before asking for help. Her answer, “I see you pass on the road, but I didn’t want to run up to you like everyone else does. I knew if you were suppose to help me, God would show you me.”
People, there are good people in this world. There are good people. There are people who are feeding their children only an avocado a day, because that’s all they can do, but put their neighbor before themselves. And it is because they have a faith that calls them to. They don’t know where their food or shelter will come from, but they remain good. They die to self.
I stood in front of this woman – who was no more than 100 pounds, had a half braided head of hair, a ragged shirt but carried a message that really could change the world – and felt utterly hopeful. Although I could guarantee her no immediate shelter, her message brought me hope. I like being reminded that there really are still good people in the world.
All I could think of was, what if we chose to die to self and care for our neighbor first. It would be so different. We would stop building mansions and start housing our neighbors. We would build less for us and build more for the poor. We would stop indulging and start feeding the little ones going on only an avocado. Or worse, even less.
But, it’s not like this is anything new. After all, this character named Jesus came to earth to teach these exact ways. There’s this book, the Bible, that teaches us all about it. It’s been around for a couple millenniums.
And, I guess, if we really believed in this Jesus and took this Bible seriously we would be a lot more like Lumine and a lot less like our self. Oh, how the world would look if we started caring for our neighbor first.
I could do nothing more but pray for Lumine in that moment. I held her hand, it was awkward and spontaneous, but I could see how the clouds were still hovering and the potential in another sleepless night lingered. So, I prayed.
God, hear us cry. We are tired and the rain makes us restless. We long for rest in your arms. Make a way. Make a way for a house and for the children to sleep in peace. We are waiting for a miracle. We anticipate a miracle. Make a way.
So, it’s that time again.
Yup, I’m going to ask again.
Can we build another house?
Our neighbors need us.
Donations can be sent to
Touch of Hope
205 Old Mill Lane
Rock Rapids, Iowa 51246