{rice, beans & love}

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet" – Frederick Buechner

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let this be the year you get off the mat!

Hands down, one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard live was by Christine Caine at the Heaven Come conference I attended in May 2018. It was based off the verses in John 5:1-7 about the man who was healed at the pool of Bethesda. She nailed the topics of people being identified by their issues and how the church enables people to stay a victim. She highlights our responsibility to walk in our freedom and in choosing to walk with Jesus, we are offered healing, wholeness, victory and redemption. Christine highlights how most of us choose to remain in our circumstances because we don’t want to leave the comfort we find in being a victim.

With healing comes responsibility.

I listened to the message again two days ago as I felt it was her message and my taking on it was what I needed to share on this last day of the year. Heck, the last day of this decade! I remember leaving the conference that night after her message literally do karate kicks. I was so fired up! The image of the man who had been laying by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years was exactly how I find so many people in Haiti. Jesus offered this man by the pool healing, but he came up with an excuse as to why he was such a victim. He was unable to see Jesus in front of him and the gift of healing Jesus was offering him. Not that I’m Jesus, but every time someone comes to me looking for help, one hundred percent of the conversations start with, “mwen genyen yon ti pwoblem” – I have a small problem. What’s always most frustrating about these conversations is that no one ever comes to me with the solution to their problems. They expect me to solve them. And, disappointing to them, I don’t have that power.

What woke me up that night, after hearing Christine’s message, was the realization that we N E E D to stop feeding the victim mentality to Haitians as well. We need to stop showing up on their door fronts just to sit with them and pray with them. There’s a nearby organization to where I live that a few years ago was constantly sending their short term mission groups into our village of Simonette. I was working full-time on the balcony with artisans, so I had a front row seat to their walking around the village. There’s an elderly, blind woman who lives nearby and she spends most all of her days sitting on her front porch. I’ve only had a few interactions with her, but according to Webert, she’s a very strong Christian. But, these short term missionaries, who were obviously there to bring Jesus and change Haiti in a week, would always end up on her porch, praying over her. Knowing she was a strong Christian, with the ability to teach us more than we could probably teach her, kind of left the joke on them.

The point being, our mindset in short term missions is poor them and blessed us. By just walking by, maybe saying a cliche prayer, and maybe leaving a hand-out of a gift as we leave, does no help. All we do is keep the poor on their mat. We keep them paralyzed in the same position. We’ve done nothing to actually bring change to their positions or livelihoods.

I’ve seen short term missions come in and paint houses. These white saviors will paint so sacrificially, while the people who inhabit the home, sit there watching. Let’s just reinforce how poor and unable they are. The missionaries come in to pick up garbage and plant trees. What message are we really relaying when we do this? You’re dirty. You’re incapable of cleaning up after yourselves. I think it’s one of the least dignifying acts.

Do you know that the whole community comes together before big holidays to sweep the streets, trim the trees and clean their community up together? Those are my favorite days, seeing how these poor people are in fact not unable or paralyzed or incapable like we make them out to be.

There’s so many aspects in the way I’ve seen the North American church do short term missions that keeps the people we came to serve left only more handicapped. Our well-intended actions actually end up creating a culture of dependency, holding them to their mats.

We have just got to do better. It starts at home. The plague of being a victim and being identified by our issues reigns in the American church, too. Lets first deal with our issues before we go to the field. The most toxic of situations are when unhealthy people end up on the field; everyone ends up hurt in those situations. Let’s stop using the poor as a cover-up to our problems. Let’s be brave enough to say, “I’ve got my own issues that I need to deal with before I get into serving others.” Let’s stop the exploiting. Let’s stop capitalizing off their poverty for our own gains.

But, please, when it comes to missions, God show us ways for us to offer opportunity and healing and wholeness and prosperity to the ones we serve. Give us the ability to get over our selfish selves and bless us with the strength, energy and wisdom to best serve the ones you call us to love. May our actions leave them equipped, dignified and standing stronger. May our actions reflect who Jesus is. May our work point towards You. May our decisions mirror Your heart and compassion. May we create cultures of people relying on You, turning from their sinful ways, keeping each other accountable, and being authentic in who You created us to be.

May this be the year – the decade – we see captives set free and people healed from all of their issues. May we see you work miracles, believing whole-heartedly, that You are a God who reigns. A God who sees the suffering, injustice and corruption of the world and is working all things out for good. May we never lose sight of eternity.

Lord Jesus, give us the courage to make this year – this decade – the one that’s set apart from all the others. Humble us and give us the audacity to admit where we’ve gone wrong. Break the chains, God, for there are so many. Bless the seeds we are planting, blow us away with Your works and provisions. May we always give You the glory.

May this be the year – the decade – that vicious cycles are broken. Generational curses are crippled. Periods of corruption and oppression are ended.

May this be the year – the decade – that we finally choose to accept our invitation to a life of healing, victory, wholeness and redemption. May our eyes be opened to all that You are, to all that You did, and to all that You promise.

Go and listen to Christine’s message, it is so powerful.

love

My last firm belief is all about love. Kind of cliche? Maybe.

Out of my love for God, this whole life has happened. Had it not been for that, I never would have had the faith to adopt my kids, start a business in Haiti, run Starfish, and a million other daily acts that simply get me through my days.

Since God asks us to love others, I try to keep all that I do focused around that one simple command. Simple command, yes. Much harder to walk and live out. There’s been a lot of hard lessons, as I’ve shared many over these last few weeks, but somehow God’s been gracious enough to keep my heart open to still loving others.

I always joke that ministry would be a lot easier if it didn’t involve people. And, the reality is, some people are just really hard to love. And, I definitely know I haven’t been the most lovable person along the way, either. It’s hard to keep trusting people, when it seems all they do is take advantage of you. It’s hard to keep letting people into your life, when it seems all they do is leave. It’s hard to keep loving people, when you always seem to be left disappointed.

But, God calls us to love others, so no matter how hard that plays out to be, it’s a belief and lifestyle I try to always live by.

Lastly, loving myself and taking care of myself has been one of the hardest things to learn. I think most all people in ministry would agree with me, self-care is hard to navigate when you’re called to a life of ministry and serving.

I think it would be safe to say that 99% of the people I know, who are working and serving full-time on the field in Haiti, are burnt out for more than one reason. Most of us are working 40+ hours a week. A lot of people live in confined compounds, never being able to really separate themselves from their work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a home that allows me to be separated from my work, but the constant knocking on our gate, with people asking for help, reminds me we are always within arms length of unmet needs. Most of us are either being under compensated for our work or living under the stress of having to raise our own funds. The money stuff alone will burn you out. Most people go months without taking a day off. Most of us are responsible for more than we signed up for, navigating issues we’ve never been trained to deal with and make life or death decisions for people. Trauma is a normal part of our life, with no one there to properly debrief us. There’s so many unhealthy situations, with people operating under unhealthy people, situations and boards.

So, with all that to say, self-care is a weird conversation. It occupies space that we are led to believe shouldn’t ever be a priority. It kind of goes along with the theme of the good things blog I wrote earlier this month. There’s this weird lie we believe that taking care of ourselves and being the best version of ourselves is out of reach.

People keep asking, “when are you going back to Haiti?” And, the answer I honestly, truthfully want to give, “when my soul is healed and the fibers in my body are ready to get back on a plane.” And these days, it feels like it may take all my children graduating from high school and becoming an empty nester before I’m ready to serve full-time again. I don’t know. I do know, I’m still in need of God to do a big work in my heart and soul before I get back to my best self.

Loving God and loving others end up being the easy parts, loving oneself usually ends up being the last priority. So, while education and job creation and our work in Haiti will forever be my heart’s beat, my heart just may have to beat outside of Haiti for a while. In saying that, I’m so grateful that God has sent people our way that can keep our operations running in Haiti, plus opened up doors for us to further invest in Rosie’s and Touch of Hope stateside. All along He’s still teaching me and showing me that He’ll be taking care of us through all the seasons. So, here’s to a season of transition, limbo, and finding a way to best love oneself again.

job creation

Job creation. Obviously, you knew this was going to be one of my firm beliefs. Running Rosie’s has been my biggest adventure so far, with so many learning curves along the way. It’s crazy to look back and see how the Lord was preparing me as a business owner. My degree in graphic design gave me the skills to design and market our products. At one point in my college career, I had a hunch I would be an entrepreneur some day and started pursuing a certificate in entrepreneurship, but ended up being one class short to earn the certificate. Regardless, in pursuit of that certificate, I took classes in economics and marketing, which are classes I wouldn’t have taken otherwise. At the end of the day, I actually believe running your own business is more about guts and audacity, but my college education and everything I took away from those four years is something I’ll always be grateful for.

I’ve had the opportunity to work for several different companies within Haiti as well. They prepared my managerial skills, communication skills, and helped me realize the type of company I wanted to run. I’ve been able to witness the inner workings of a stable, healthy company and also a very unstable, poorly run company. Through these experiences I was able to learn importing and exporting within Haiti, sourcing products within Haiti, forecasting sales, pricing products and so many other things that have made me into the business woman I am today.

Most importantly, I’ve learned so many cultural lessons and how to best communicate with Haitians within the work force. Expectations, as I wrote about a few days ago, play a huge role and I’ve learned some of my hardest lessons not setting clear boundaries with people and also being beyond disappointed in other situations.

I’m constantly posting and writing about the importance of job creation and keeping families together, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Most all of the people I’ve ever worked with and employed are working for the first time and some even uneducated, so things like showing up on time, knowing how to use a scissors and managing their incomes are initial barriers to overcome. We are always trying to educate our employees on how to save and manage their money, but it always feels like someone is in crisis mode. From medical emergencies to family deaths, someone is always in need of money being loaned to them. So with that, I’ve had to define other boundaries and learned many other hard lessons when loaning people money. Things like contracts and Haitian employment laws and severance pay are things I never knew anything about but can now speak fluently about.

Even when a mama is given a job for the first time, she’s still more than likely living in a vulnerable situation. It’s gratifying knowing we are paying our greeting card mamas three times the minimum wage in Haiti, but their wages still end up only being $160/month and how can we actually expect them to thrive off of that? They’re all a part of a “jackpot” savings group. How it works is each time they’re all paid, they put a set amount of money into a “pot” and on week one, Susie gets the pot; on week two, Pam gets the pot; and on week three, Sally gets the pot. Since their access to banks are minimal, they use this “jackpot” system as a way to set money aside. Typically, they’ll use their “jackpots” to buy furniture for their homes or pay school fees or maybe start a small business in front of their homes. It’s also important to say that most of the Haitian economy is run off of a batering/open market system, so having small businesses – commerce they call them – in front of your home is very normal. Their commerces will more than likely be little stands full of candies or crackers; or maybe it will be a big bag of rice and beans that they’ll divide into small bags and sell for a profit; or a stand that’s full of cleaning and laundry supplies; or maybe it will be second hand clothing they’re reselling; or one of the most popular commerces is a charcoal stand. Nonetheless, learning about commerces and how they work are very important if you’re going to get into the job creation sector in Haiti.

But, back to the “jackpots” – which are called sols. My least favorite conversations are when an employee comes to me with a need and ends with, “I’ll pay you back when I get my sol money.” There’s this vicious part in the cycle, when they know their sol is coming, so they get themselves into a ton of debt and can’t use their savings for anything beneficial.

All that to say, it takes a lot of work – much more than just giving a person a job – to see a family empowered. It’s really a wholistic approach and there’s definitely ways we could be improving when it comes to serving our employees. But thinking about that all, stresses me out and quite frankly leads me down a road believing we will never be doing enough. But, the important work to recognize is all that we are doing, by the grace of God.

When I started Rosie’s, the whole model was to just buy wholesale from companies already doing all the hard work, employ a few boutique employees and use our profits to support my family and put money back into our non-profit ministry. I never wanted to be a person who was just reinventing something. That initial model was also the easiest as it didn’t require me overseeing many employees. But, God had much different plans and as I wrote above, He prepared me all the way through, even when I didn’t realize it.

Today, Rosie’s employs thirty-six people. We have six full-time boutique staff, four of which are our Salsa Sisters. Salsa Sisters is a small business we run under Rosie’s, where we make homemade salsa. We showcase the salsa on our cafe menu at the boutique, plus wholesale the salsa to several other cafes in Haiti. We have twenty-six mamas who stitch, tape and finish our greeting cards. These greeting cards provide superior wages and I’m still astonished by all the ways God has worked and provided in the lives of our mamas through this simple product. Additionally, we have one kick-ass manager, Hermanie, and three security guards we employ.

Jokes on me when I said I didn’t want to oversee nor be responsible to a lot of employees!

On top of our operations in Haiti, we have a bustling brick and mortar in Iowa, which has done much better than we ever expected (there’s that expectations theme again!) We also started our online platform almost two years ago and in the last three months, God has provided in BIG ways through this platform as our doors have been closed in Haiti.

All of our efforts through Rosie’s is run under our non-profit, Touch of Hope. I love the way the Lord has setup our business and allowed us to be sustainable, especially during these extremely difficult times in Haiti.

I say all of that because it’s more of a reminder to myself that good things are happening through Rosie’s. It’s always hard to see the good, when there’s so much chaos circling around your every effort. The phrase one step forward, two steps back is essentially Haiti’s entire mantra when it comes to doing business there. Nothing is simple. Even getting your business access to a clean water source, having 24/7 electricity and reliable internet is usually part of the daily struggle. Then there’s usually at least one major crisis to help an employee solve, plus two, three, or four other people coming to ask for work.

No matter how hard it all is, job creation, in my opinion, is the answer to the alleviation of poverty. Empowering a parent and providing a job does so many things: keeps families together, keeps kids off the streets, keeps kids in school, keeps women from prostituting themselves, keeps young men from joining gangs. With little to no opportunity, people become desperate and do desperate things. With little to no opportunity, violence becomes the lifestyle.

Fighting for family preservation and creating jobs is a life-long commitment and I think that’s why most people back away. Showing up, giving out some free gifts, taking a selfie with a cute kid for a new profile picture and walking away feeling blessed  is the easy way to loving the poor. And, it’s what most short-term mission trips look like. But, job creation and investing in the family unit and fighting for sustainability looks a lot different. It requires a lot more of ourselves, plus a lot more from the people we serve as well. One of the most powerful ideas I ever read concerning job creation was the idea of making the parents the superheroes of the story.

How would you feel as a parent if in every aspect of your child’s life, someone else showed up to sponsor your child? Your child went to school because of a sponsor. Your child received a Christmas present because of a sponsor. Your child has shoes on his feet because of a sponsor. That’s the type of culture we live in in Haiti. But, for every job we create, means another parent who becomes the hero in his or her child’s story. A job means paid school fees, Christmas presents and shoes…all given by a mama or papa. It’s a picture of dignity, it’s a picture of empowered families and it’s also a picture of how I believe God intended things to be. He asks us to take care of the poor, but He also asks us to be tentmakers.

In the end, job creation is the hardest of work, but I also believe it’s the holiest of work.

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education

Going off of yesterday’s blog, one of my strongest beliefs is the importance of education.

I grew up with access to free, public education. I had teachers who were professionally trained, motivated and invested. I had access to resources to learn, discover what I was interested in and figure out what I wasn’t interested in. My senior year I was the editor of the newspaper and I can remember how much I enjoyed writing my own articles, probably goes to show why I also love to blog. I had the opportunity to take marketing classes and also design my classes’ yearbook; those two things also sparked my love for design, which helped me decide to pursue a college degree in graphic design. I had opportunities to play sports, be in choir, participate in speech and be on the dance team. My high school years were full of activity and opportunity…and I had no idea how fortunate I was. It’s probably safe to say that we have all taken for granted our access to education here in the States.

The reality in Haiti is that there is minimal public education. Schools that are run by the government are beyond underfunded and most teachers don’t show up to work because they are underpaid, possibly not paid at all. I can remember a time when a group of students were holding protests on the main road that I take to get into Port-au-Prince. Their teachers were on a strike from working themselves because they hadn’t been paid, but the students were still showing up to school. When the teachers’ strike continued, the students began barricading the roads, making a statement for their teachers’ pay, because all they wanted was to be in the classroom learning. Public schools make up 10% of the schools in the nation and ultimately are providing the worst quality of education.

Since the public schools aren’t good, most of the schools are private and should be seen more as a business. People are operating the schools to make money. I can remember a time when a local school director was sending threats to us because so many of his students were leaving his school to come to ours. We obviously never had any intentions to “steal” students away, but the point being, students are seen as cash flow, not as actual students.

With most of the schools being private, school fees can be extremely expensive for families. The average cost in the area we live in is around $60 for child, plus the expenses of buying materials for uniforms, having the uniforms sewn, buying shoes, back packs, books and supplies. By the time it’s all said and done, it probably costs the parent around $150 to get his or her child ready for the school year. Also consider the fact that most families have 4 or 5 or 6 children. Also remember that 85% of people are unemployed and when given the opportunity to have an income, most people make around $2/day. Like I’ve said before, I’ll never know how they actually survive, let alone thrive.

Most families either get themselves into a ton of debt trying to keep their kids in school or ultimately the children just don’t go to school. Just to give you an example, last year when we started a new year of Starfish, I asked all 35 participants how many of them had unpaid school fees. Thirty-three out of thirty-five raised their hand. The two that didn’t raise their hands were the only two who didn’t have school-aged children.

Webert’s entire vision for our school is to make sure parents never have to carry the burden of paying school fees. If you haven’t heard Webert’s testimony before, it’s important to know that as a child, Webert was given opportunities to a free education all the way through his high school education. By the time he graduated from college, he saw a large amount of kids not going to school in his own community because their parents couldn’t afford the fees. So, he started a simple mission: provide free education to the children in his community.

When we founded Touch of Hope, our goal was to have a small sponsorship program as a means to fund the school and build one school building for the students. Today, we serve over 1,200 students, employ 85 people and our campus has four school buildings, a cafeteria, a computer lab and an office building.

I love writing out that paragraph. I’m so proud of the work that happens on our mountaintop and it’s such an honor to be a part of Webert’s dreams coming to fruition for the children in the community he grew up in. Webert estimates that 80% of our students would not be in school, if it weren’t for the fact that we were providing them with a free education.

But, did you know that none of this would be possible without sponsorship? Our sponsorship program is what funds our school and keeps the doors open. Your $35/month commitment ensures our staff is getting paid fair wages, our students are eating hot meals every day they attend school and most importantly, children in our community are being provided a free education.

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We truly do believe that an educated generation will be what changes Haiti. We believe there are future leaders, doctors, teachers, politicians and maybe even a future president at our school. With the opportunity to educate and invest in these students, we are molding a future generation that will hopefully be the change that Haiti needs.

A vivid memory of Webert sitting with students on a day when there was a countrywide lockdown has come to mind. There was suppose to be school that day, but the protests kept most students at home. I remember I had plans to work at Rosie’s that day, but kept the doors closed due to the violence in the streets. I ended up at the school that day and found Webert and twenty-some students all sitting together in the cafeteria. I walked in on a heated discussion, as Webert was asking questions like, “Who is to blame for the violence? How will our country ever change? What can we do today to be a part of the change?” And the answers and dialogue that was happening between the students were eye-opening to me and I remember thinking in that moment, “surely, these are the moments; these are the conversations; this work of education is the biggest work we can be doing to change Haiti.”

There’s not a doubt in my mind that education is the most important. If there’s one way you’d like to partner and know your money is making a long-term impact, sponsorship is where it’s at. Your $35/month allows all the above magic to happen. In order for our 2020 budget to be completely and fully-funded, we are in need of 50 more sponsorships. Would you consider being one of the fifty? I guarantee it’s an investment that won’t be wasted!

Click here to sign up today! Email me at touchofhopehaiti@gmail.com if you have any further questions!

young & naive

I think about the person I was wayyyyy back when. Back in the days when I was brave enough to take in a dying baby while I planned my wedding, not to mention having already taken in two little mischievous boys. I mean, really, what was I thinking? How did I even have the energy, let alone the audacity to make those type of decisions?

Yet, I can remember the days very clearly, when Webert and I had those three life-changing conversations. You know, the ones where we decided we’d commit to a lifetime of raising three beautiful kiddos, before even standing on an altar and making vows to each other. It’s bizarre to think about, but those three leading me down the aisle on our wedding day was a dream come true; a dream I never even knew I held nor could have ever dreamt up had I tried.

wedding

We took them in not knowing if we would ever be able to legally adopt or travel with them. I lived in that reality for several years: never knowing when I would be able to travel Stateside with my family. What brave things you do when you’re young and naive. Today, though, if someone reaches out to me about adopting from Haiti or legal advice, I’m super hesitant to respond. Had I known wayyyyy back then all we would have to endure to get to where we are today, I might not have been so brave.

There were lots of other things I got my hands into back in those naive, young days. Once, Webert and I tried saving a little girl from an abusive situation. She was living in the slums of the local market and her blind dad would take her into the streets each day to beg. At one point, we earned his trust, told him we could admit her into the orphanage and give her an education. We promised to help him as well, since he was blind and unable to work. After a few weeks of her living at the orphanage, he came back to get her, having realized he made more money using her to beg on the streets. We tried reporting the situation to social services, but nothing ever came of that. There was nothing we could do to fight for her nor get her out of the abusive situation. To this day, we don’t know where she is, but Webert still sees dad in the market from time to time.

Back then, I was young and naive enough to believe that justice prevailed. Hard lessons were learned to realize the world didn’t always operate in ways I wanted to believe it did.

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There was a time I loaned personal money to a group of five mamas who had all sought me out together. Most of them were young mamas with babies and all of them were living in desperate situations, residing in tarp tents. They all agreed to pay back their loans together, making payments towards their loans on a monthly basis. You want to know how many dollars were repaid by this group of mamas? Zero dollars. After a few months of no payments being made, Webert and I went to visit them. When asked why they hadn’t made any payments, one actually laughed in our faces. Another sly comment was made, “it’s white people money anyways.” I’ve done small business loans a lot differently since then. Young and naive me had to learn that giving wasn’t always the answer when it came to helping. I also had to learn what it meant to say no, a hard one for most of us to practice.

The first time we were taken to court was after a young man had the tip of his pinky torn off while painting the orphanage’s vehicle. We paid for all of his medical bills and made sure he was well taken care of. A few months after the accident, he was caught lying about his schooling and asking people for money to pay school fees that he didn’t even have. We let him go from his part-time position at the orphanage and he then tried taking us to court, saying he would never be able to work again because of his damaged pinky. Side note: the pinky could still bend and had completely healed. He tried suing us for $30,000. We were able to work out a solution and resolve the situation without having to pay any money to the courts. But to this day, I know this young man still lies and sends messages to innocent, well-intended, kind people. They don’t know what he had done to try and ruin our ministry or the lies he told. Young and naive me had to learn more hard lessons on how to communicate to well-intended goers and donors without sounding like a bitter b*tch. Actually, that’s something I’m constantly working on.

We once had a house built for a family in order to reunite the son who was living at Tytoo with his family. We then hired his mama at Rosie’s as our cleaning lady. A year or so passed with the family living in their home; boy was also reunited with his family. It felt like a success story worth writing about. Mom was doing a superb job for me at Rosie’s and all seemed well. Then, people came and showed proof that they didn’t actually own the land we had built the house on. The house had been built without proof of ownership and with lots of chaos, a very violent and scary episode and then a few thousand dollars later, we learned our lesson to never build a home for a family without proper proof of land ownership.

One of my first Christmases in Haiti I did a fundraising campaign with a friend. The money would be used to build five homes for five families. At the time, a woman was constantly showing up at our house, asking for help. Her living situation was horrific and she was raising a handful of kids while also surviving an abusive relationship. We decided she would be one of the five to receive a new house. Once the house was built and the keys were handed over, people started taunting her and throwing rocks at the house, ruining the new tin roof. People believed she was too dirty and too stupid to deserve such a gift. My young and naive heart broke as I learned hard lessons of greed, jealousy and strife.

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old sitting next to the new

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Nata, I love your smile.

There’s been so many hard lessons along the way. There’s been so many shifts in theology. So been walls built up from a whole wad of messy situations. There’s been a revolving door of people coming in and out of Haiti; some of those people will never know the impact they had on my life.

I think about who I am today and a big part of myself just feels like a big grey cloud. Young and energetic people come onto the field and inside I just feel sorry for them. I once admitted to someone that I didn’t want them to come and serve with us, because I didn’t want Haiti to ruin who they were: young, positive and energetic. I’ve also told close friends who have felt called to  serve at the orphanage that they just shouldn’t. They talk and talk about how much they love Haiti and I’ve responded to their admiration by saying, “if you want to always love Haiti, never move there full-time.”

Most days, I have more bad things to say than good. Have an idea about ways to change Haiti? I’ll probably be able to give you a dozen reasons why your ideas won’t work. Some days, I don’t even know if I believe in the work I’m even doing. Which makes it extra fun to raise funds for things I’m constantly doubting. The doubting is a double-edged sword. Some days it feels like God’s leading to a better way; His promptings and fresh ideas in my little ol’ brain reminding me there’s some fight left in me. But, there’s also the side of things where Satan plays a good game of making me doubt; making me angry; making my soul somewhat paralyzed.

There’s also this space where I want to educate people on how to do things differently. Not that I’m doing things perfectly, but I’ve just learned a thing or two over the years. Along with other people who have served on the field, we’ve concluded that things just shouldn’t be done certain ways. You’d think it’d be easier to paint this picture, but it’s just not with so many factors at play. I’ll just say this, if you find yourself in Haiti and your time is spent walking around aimlessly, “loving people,” you’re more than likely do much more harm than you are good. Sorry, but that’s the hard truth.

And, that’s what usually stops me from getting into the education part of things: people don’t want to hear it. We want a quick trip that leaves us feeing good about ourselves, without having to make a long-term sacrifice. We don’t want to hear about the harm, when it leaves us feeling so blessed. And the last thing we’d want to do is offend a goer or donor at the risk of losing their support. What a stupid cycle that at the end of the day only exploits the poor all the more.

Before I get into full-on rant mode, I’ll just stop and say, there’s still, miraculously, a handful of things I firmly do believe in. All those naive years at least established a few firm beliefs. My last three days of the year, I’ll share what they are and give you an opportunity to partner with us, with the intention to open your eyes to old ways that maybe, just maybe, were doing more harm than good.

one week left : expectations

I know I said I was going to write every day this month, but this past week-end arrived and the intensity of Christmas and my desire to be present overwhelmed me, so I decided to wait until after Christmas day to get back to writing.

My parents gifted my siblings and I, with all of our children, a night at a hotel with an indoor water park this past week-end. I think Rubie and Wishla went down the water slide at least 100 times. Loveson and Jephte made new friends as they played basketball in the pool.

This is my first Christmas stateside in seven years. The last five years my sister has been working at Sunnybrook Community Church in Sioux City, Iowa and on Christmas Eve their church holds a beautiful worship service downtown at their Orpheum theatre. It was a dream come true to finally be able to go there with my family. Zion slept like a little old man in Webert’s arms and Rubie passed out in mine half way through the service, too. With our caramel babies keeping our arms full and our chocolate babies filling the seats on both sides of us – their eyes captivated by the theatre and its majesty – I sat back captivated by the gift of just being. That was Monday night as the church held extra services this year.

We spent Christmas Eve making treats, watching a holiday movie and attending another candle light Christmas Eve service. We made a meal together once we got home and cheered our holiday thrifted glasses, which were filled with sparkling juice (Rubie thought it was so fun to drink “wine”) We opened presents after dinner and I personally went to bed very exhausted as I could hear the boys still belly laughing downstairs to some weird television show.

Christmas day was filled with organizing and rearranging the toy room, doing laundry and picking up the last pieces of wrapping paper. We ended it at my parents’ new place, where another movie marathon took place and the girls beat the boys in Pegs & Jokers (our family’s favorite homemade board game!)

There’s never been a Christmas in Haiti that I can remember loving. Last year felt especially overwhelming as I spent Christmas Eve hosting the orphanage’s Christmas party, which I then cleaned up and immediately began decorating for our Starfish wedding. On Christmas Day, we married six couples and I ran around like a crazy woman from sun up to sun down making sure it all went off without a hitch! The following day was a beach party with our school staff, where Webert and I were responsible for feeding and hosting 80+ people.

I can remember feeling proud of what we accomplished by marrying six couples and honored to serve the school staff to recognize their hard hard work. But, I can also remember feeling super bitter. I hated that Christmas was really just full of work for us. Leading up to all the events was so much shopping, planning and making sure all the funds were in place so that all of these things could happen in the first place. I remember being homesick. I remember being crabby towards my husband. I remember complaining, wishing away all the parties and wanting a slower paced, family-orientated Christmas.

Then, this year came and as I rushed my family to get out the door for the candle light service I still felt like the grinch. Jephte had pushed Wishla out the door, so I scolded him for always pushing and rudely rushing past people. Webert had made a comment to me about gifts, which left me feeling unappreciated. I mean, I did manage to get presents bought and packaged to sent to Haiti and then managed to get presents bought and wrapped for all of our kids and then managed to get the groceries for a nice meal and all the extra ingredients so we could make fun Christmas treats together. I felt like my expectations for what I wanted Christmas to be just wasn’t turning out my way!

And, aren’t we maybe all doing that in one way or another? Creating these expectations that are far beyond the point of the season? Striving to create some picture-perfect, Instagram-worthy picture to prove just how put together we are? And, when things don’t go our way, all the feelings start to get concocted and confused, turning us into real life grinches. I literally despise myself when I turn into grinch mode, but it happens way more than I wish. Blame it on the kids. Blame it on the husband. Blame it on the hundred other excuses I can come up with. But, what it really needs to be blamed on is expectations.

It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my last few years…expectations.

I know that I’ve personally disappointed and failed people because I couldn’t live up to their expectations. I know that I’ve also damaged other relationships because I didn’t set clear boundaries and expectations from the start, either. I know that I’ve set high expectations for things just to happen – our adoptions’ completion being one of the biggest things – only to be left disappointed and left in a place where I doubted my faith. Haiti has a way of teaching you just not set expectations at all, because you’ll more than likely end up disappointed anyways. Whether it be a canceled beach day because of protests or a ruined afternoon plan because of a traffic jam, it’s hard to explain all the ways I’ve been disappointed.

Expectations are a funny thing. We set them and hold them without even recognizing it.

Just by being a white person in Haiti, you’re expected to be a certain type of person in their culture. It’s taken me years to break down walls with people, just for them to see me as an actual person. It has taken an entirely different type of strength to deal with people who will never see me as a normal person, but more or less a means to an end.

Being a “missionary” comes with other expectations, most of which I’ll never live up to as well. Figuring out a life with a blended family, multi-cultural marriage and a heart that’s torn between two worlds, will more than likely always hold unrealistic expectations as well. It’s funny, because I’m now realizing how many unrealistic expectations I hold while simultaneously realizing how mad I am at the unrealistic expectations people sometimes hold me up to.

So, how do we do it? How do we enter into a new year with minimal expectations? How do we take up a space where we are content no matter what? How do we be kinder to ourselves and to those around us, especially our loved ones, when things don’t live up to our expectations? How do we begin to create boundaries to keep ourselves from being damaged by other’s unrealistic expectations?

How does our faith live up to all of these crazy, human expectations? How will God ever live up to them all? With all the waiting and things not going our way and our human, sinful natures getting in the way? How does God still reign in and through it all?

The thing I love most about the Christmas story and Jesus being born in a manger is just how unexpected it all was. From the virgin having the baby, to who the virgin was and the scandal it turned out to be. From the lineage Jesus was born into, to the fact that the prophesied Messiah was born into such poverty. I mean, no wonder the Jews and Pharisees had such a hard time believing Jesus was the true Messiah. Can you imagine what type of expectations were held for the coming of the Prince of Peace?

We all hold these expectations and are probably more ashamed than not to admit how often we are disappointed in God. I know that I’m guilty of this all the time. But, hey, that’s what makes me human and a sinner.

It wasn’t until I realized just how scandalous the Christmas story was and how rebellious Jesus was that my faith journey really began to change. Once I was able to recognize that God doesn’t compare, hold grudges or set expectations for me, I could finally breathe. I forget these truths sometimes, because I still catch myself finding my worth in the financial reports from Rosie’s or the number of likes on an Instagram post. But, what a relief, when I’m kind enough to myself and allow my soul to bask in the grace that God so lavishly pours out to me. How freeing it is to lay down all the expectations I hold and all the other ones I feel people hold upon me.

How beautiful it all can be. If only we were more willing to live in that truth.

God doesn’t hold expectations for you, your life, your work, your experiences, your family. All He desires is you, your heart. He holds you, lovingly, knowingly, having sent His son Jesus to die for you. For us. What a story. What a gift. What grace.

when it all seems like too much

I came across this article last night and boy did these statistics overwhelm me.

With mounting violent unrest and pressure for President Jovenel Moïse to step down, 35 percent of the Haitian population – 3.67 million people – is now in urgent need of emergency food assistance.

In a statement, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Haiti, Cedric Piriou said:

“Our teams are committed to reaching those struggling to survive, but roads are often closed, essential commodities are scarce, and the threat of violence permeates our lives every day.

We are witnessing a political hunger crisis that grows by the day. The world cannot continue to stand by – we must respond to the complex ins and outs of this multifaceted emergency, which includes addressing a major food crisis and a crippling lack of access to basic services like clean water, health care, education, and safe sanitation.

Haiti entered these most recent months of political unrest as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with more than six million people living on less than $2.41 a day. Now, food insecurity has reached crisis levels. The humanitarian community is sounding the alarm, but once again, the world is not responding to a crisis in Haiti fast enough – if at all.”

The most vulnerable populations are particularly hard-hit by security issues, inflation and severe shortages in gas, food, and essential medicines. With fewer employment opportunities in rural areas, many men are moving to urban areas, leaving vulnerable women, children, and the elderly behind and at risk of exploitation and gender-based violence. Many mothers are struggling to support their households by working long hours in addition to childcare and household responsibilities.

Without immediate action, an anticipated 1.2 million people will be one step away from famine between March and June 2020. Overall, the number of Haitians facing serious food insecurity is expected to increase to 4.1 million in the coming months, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis. Rural areas in the North West, Artibonite, Nippes, and Grand’Anse are among the most affected, and have the highest percentage of people in need of immediate assistance. Their needs are compounded by a drop in agricultural production following the 2018 drought.

As a result of economic, social, and political instability, malnutrition has reached alarming levels and is expected to worsen in the months ahead. In some communities, such as Thiotte and Belle-Anse, the rate of acute malnutrition exceeds 10 percent, a serious emergency by World Health Organization (WHO) standards. Chronic malnutrition affects more than 30% of the population in Thiotte and more than half of the population in Belle-Anse.

The additional burden facing women is one of the causes of increased malnutrition rates in children under five, according to a survey conducted by Action Against Hunger in Grand’Anse in September. This deterioration in nutritional status may be due to a number of factors, including a reduction in mothers’ breastmilk due to extreme stress, mothers not having enough time to breastfed, and mothers lacking the time or resources to adequately care for their children.

Concern for the worsening crisis led the U.S. Congressional House Foreign Affairs Committee to hold its first hearing on Haiti in six years. During the meeting on December 10, witnesses and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle discussed the crucial need for local, sustainable solutions created and led by Haitians.

Written by Action Against Hunger on actionagainsthunger.org

I think the issue with Haiti and extreme poverty on a global scale is that we don’t know what to do with it. When we read that we have the money, resources and knowledge to end extreme poverty, curable diseases and provide clean water to the world’s population, we still don’t know what to do with that. As Haiti’s economic and political issues continue to go on, I think we continue just turning a blind eye to the small nation because it’s a nation that has kind of become like the little boy who cried wolf plus how would we ever begin making an impact?

I feel this overwhelming sense of defeat all the time, especially within the Starfish program. Are we really making a longterm difference? Is it worth it to invest all these resources? Should we be doing things differently? It’s hard to sort out what direction God is leading us in and what are actually just lies from Satan. God says, “nothing is impossible for me” and Satan screams just a bit louder, “you won’t ever be able to make a difference.”

Webert’s theme verse for the school since the day he started is, “With God all things are possible,” and who would have ever imagined we would have gone from a palette and tarp structure with 60-some children to a beautiful mountaintop campus with five school buildings, a cafeteria, computer lab and office building serving our 1,200+ students. Only God. When we read statistics that less than 5% of students will ever graduate from high school and still less than 50% of children attend school in Haiti, we naturally become overwhelmed and think we won’t ever be able to beat those odds; but then you visit our mountaintop, it is obvious God is in the works of beating odds.

When I think about Rosie’s and the expectations I had for the business when I first opened the doors in 2014, I never would have imagined that today we would be employing 34 people full-time through our efforts and buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of inventory for our stores, empowering 10+ partnering businesses in Haiti as well. I could have never dreamt up the expansion, the greeting card ministry or the people God has sent to help me make it all become a reality. I also never would have guessed my own mama would be my business partner. But, God did, He saw it and brought it all to life.

When I’m overwhelmed by Starfish, I need to remember why the program was started to begin with: to bring change to just one family, one by one. It’s named after the parable of the man with the starfish on the beach. If you’re not familiar with the parable, it’s a story about a shoreline that is covered in starfish as they’ve been washed onto shore. A man is there throwing them back in, one by one. Another man comes up and asks the man what he’s doing, mentioning he would never be able to throw them all back in because there were so many of them. The man picks up another starfish, throws it back in the ocean, and replied, “it made a difference for that one.” The moral being, we won’t be able to help them all, but one by one, we can make an impact on many.

We have a choice to either be paralyzed by the overwhelming statistics, allowing ourselves to believe Satan’s lies that we will never make a difference or we can start investing in small ways towards things that are making a direct impact on the lives who are bombarded by these statistics.

With Touch of Hope & Rosie’s, there’s a few ways you can make an investment this holiday season, helping us break these barriers and statistics in the community we serve in Haiti.

1.) Sponsor a child at our school.  Even though our school has been closed the last two months due to the countrywide lockdown, our commitment to our staff still stands. We have been paying their salaries regardless of our doors being opened or closed. Sponsorship allows to meet our monthly budget of $13,500. The budget pays the salaries of our 85 employees, buys all textbooks and supplies, provides all students with their uniform material and feeds our 1,200+ students a hot meal each day at school. We estimate that 80% of our students would not be in school at all. A $35 monthly commitment can make the biggest of impact for the children in our area to be provided a free education. In order to have our monthly budget fully covered for the year 2020, we are need of 50 more sponsors. Click here to sign up and start sponsoring a child today!

2.) Make a one-time donation of $111.41 to ensure our Starfish families go home with food each week. It is probably safe to say that if some of the women who are in our program weren’t in the program right now, they would be the ones facing the food insecurity mentioned in the article above. Your donation makes an impact todayfighting the statistics. We need fifteen more people to rally together for this need to be met. Make your donation here.

3.) Lastly, shop at Rosie’s. It’s not a marketing scheme when I say your purchases make a difference. The more we sell, the more we get to buy. The more PO’s we make with our partnering companies means more money pouring into the hands of their artisans. The more greeting cards we sell means more work for our mamas. No matter which angle you look at it, a purchase at Rosie’s is a win-win-win. Also, did you know that boutique profits are also put back into the Starfish program and our longterm goal is to be able to fully support the program through our profits?! Start your shopping here.