{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

A significant need has been brought to my attention in the last week and so I figured I would give you all a chance to rally together and help me ensure this need is met.

A commitment we make to our Starfish families is sending them home with dry food each week. We do this for a number of reasons, but the biggest is making sure their families are well taken care of during the year they participate in our program. Another big reason I believe in this act is because I want to do whatever we can to help them get as far ahead as they can in this short year we have with them. Most of the women will be starting small businesses through our loan program, so helping them with food throughout the week, allows them to invest more into their businesses instead of taking some of the profit for food. That may seem weird to you and maybe this sounds hypocritical since I’m such a firm believer in not giving hand-outs. But, if you look at the bigger picture, their loans start at $100 – $150, so they’re still just working with minimal resources. Why don’t we give bigger loans, you ask? Because we want to make sure they have the skills to run a business with a small amount first. Once their first loan is repaid, we add to their amount.

The point is, we do all we can through this program to make sure these families stay together, pouring all of our resources into them. At the end of the day the resources still seem so small in comparison to the big, complex problems they have. It’s a double-edged sword, but I still have faith in the program. I truly believe it paves a way to women realizing who they are in Christ, to families being equipped to stay together and to children having a brighter future by their mamas participating in the program.

The goal of the program is to see women standing firmly on their own two feet, having been given opportunities to learn and grow in who they are as an individual, mother and member of society. Also realize this, these women’s reality is choosing if they can keep their children or would it be better to put them into an orphanage. Our families have gone days without food prior to our program and most of them are living in severely critical conditions.

With that as my opening argument, our funds to buy food and send our families home with food each week has run out. For a time, I was able to source free food from Kids Against Hunger, but they’ve been unable to import food to Haiti so that door has closed. We had a few churches raise money specifically for this need, but those resources have dried up as well. The cost of food has gotten significantly more expensive due to the failing economy and inflation. For example, a large 55-pound bag of rice use to cost $15, today it’s costing about $23. We divide these large bags into smaller bags to send home with the families each week and simply put, it’s costing more and more to do so.

Our budget today is around $300/week to ensure all of our families go home with food for the week. What that boils down to is $8.57/person as we have 35 participants. With 12 weeks left in our Starfish year, I’m looking for 35 one-time donations of $111.41 which would mean a fully-funded program that is sending food home and keeping all of our families fed. Due to the recent unrest in Haiti, I also believe going back to the basics and making sure people are fed is more important than ever.

So in the spirit of giving and in the spirit of changing the world and making a direct impact on families in need, who is in?

Drop a comment on my Facebook shares so I can keep track and I will know when we get to 35 donations!

to make a one-time donation via PayPal, click here

or send a check to

Touch of Hope   PO Box 230   Rock Rapids, IA 51246

Mesi anpil! Thank you so much!

dead bodies

As the tour of my heart’s graveyard comes to an end, I must also acknowledge the trauma that also holds space in my heart from all the dead bodies I’ve witnessed in Haiti. Such a weird sentence to type there, but it’s true, I’ve seen an obnoxious amount of dead bodies on the roads in Haiti; even my Haitian husband says I have a credible amount of experiences when it comes to this.

There were the first few incidents back in my early years where they were at least covered by while linens when I saw them. But, I can remember the first time I really saw something tragic. I was driving into Port for the day to meet up with a girlfriend and her young son. We were going to take our three boys horseback riding at a place where they were doing free lessons. We were about to turn right off the main highway to head into the city when there was a broken down dump truck. And then there it was, a decapitated person lying underneath the vehicle.

Then there was the horrific accident I witnessed just after bringing Rubie to Haiti. I was headed to the metal market with a few ladies who were visiting and we came upon a rolled over vehicle that had been transporting many people with a large amount of market goods. There were four or five bodies sprawled across the scene with several others severely injured.

Since the women who were with me were medically trained, we stopped to see if we could help. The one friend, an EMT, rushed to the vehicle to help the driver find a way out as the door was smashed in on him. I knelt down in the dirt, holding a piece of dirty rags wrapped around a man with a severe head laceration. As I asked the man a few questions I could feel someone hovering over me. When I looked up, I was shocked to see a police officer. He wasn’t there to help though, mostly just there for crowd control. The worst was when we were getting ready to leave the scene, we found a man lying in the back of my truck bed. I informed the police officer I wouldn’t be able to transport anyone to the hospital and he simply replied, “okay, just set him off to the side of the road.”

The anxiety that followed that accident was the worst I’ve ever experienced. I remember a day I was driving, Rubie was in the back seat. I had to pull over to catch my breath because all I could envision was us getting into a car accident and the police coming to simply hover over our bodies. There was no ambulance to rush us to the hospital. No hospital to treat our injured bodies.

This past spring Wishla had a day off from school and I was needing to run some errands in the city. I had this marvelous idea to take my two girls out on the town for a day with me. This is something I’d never done before and the thought of buying groceries, having a fun lunch and spending the day together seemed so wonderful, so normal. The last stop I needed to make for Rosie’s was at a store with some kids’ toys, so I let the girls both pick out a small toy. I buckled them into the back seat, knowing they’d stay busy for the drive home with their new toys.

This was during a time when gas was becoming scarce, so the last thing on my to-do list was to find gas as we left the city. I was zooming down a curvy road, about to take a right turn, and there, right in front of me, stood a group of civilians and police officers with a dead body in the middle of the crowd. I assumed there had been an accident and the man had been hit. I went two blocks further down the road where there was a gas station, also noticing another large crowd across the street. And then there it was, another dead body, this one though with a mangled body and head.

I left the gas station quickly, not wanting my girls to see the tragic sight. Thankfully the new toys still had their full attention. Later that evening I was writing a friend who lived in the area where I saw this horrific scene, asking her if she knew what had happened. She informed me that the two men had robbed a local business. The first man I saw was taken down by police officers; the second man had been taken down by the civilians. I guess I can now say I’ve seen a man who has been stoned to death.

I was obviously shook up that night and cried to Webert, saying, “I just want to take my girls shopping and end up putting them in harms way! I JUST WANT TO BE NORMAL!” Who knows, if we hadn’t stopped at that last store and spent an extra five minutes picking out a new toy, we could have been coming down the road when the shootings and murders were taking place.

I guess this is all to say, life in limbo carries more trauma than what you may want to know. People may think I’m crazy when they see me out with all my kids grocery shopping, but what they don’t realize is how healing the act of driving to the store, with them all in tote, just to buy a loaf of bread and a bundle of bananas can be.

I can’t explain why God has protected me from so much, yet allowed me to see so much tragedy as well. I also question why my graveyard is so full. Yet, I still have this strange peace, I mean I’m able to sleep at night. I think of certain friends I have and if they would see just one of the scenes above, they’d be medicated and unable to sleep. That’s nothing against them, it’s just their personalities and I wonder why God would allow me to have a personality that can see and bear so much?

From deaths and trauma, to injustice and incomplete adoptions, to ministry and business, to managing people and have people steal, lie, cheat and betray, to somehow still have motivation and compassion and fire in my soul. Just thinking about it all makes me want to take a very, very long nap, yet somehow, God wakes me up every day with energy and equips me. He also just keeps giving me ridiculous ideas, some creative, some simple, some requiring a lot more work than I maybe want to do. But, even after all of the crud, I still find myself ready to fight for mamas and their families. I still find myself dreaming up marketing campaigns and ways to make sales so we can continue providing life-changing jobs. I still find myself madly in love with my husband and our kids. I still find myself awake and fully present and what a gift that is.

But, still having all of those things, doesn’t mean I’m not a disheveled mess on the inside. And just to keep the theme going, life in limbo is just that: moving forward, yet standing still; sleeping peacefully, yet wrestling with so many questions; reshaping your trust in all things, yet able to recognize exactly in Whom your trust lies in; reevaluating all you’ve ever believed in, yet knowing exactly What you believe in. Life in limbo is a discombobulation of one million feelings fed by a million different lies, yet a whole and pure understanding of who you are, knowing you are called Beloved by a God who reigns.

on a tuesday

So, the worst part about Olnite and Carmesuze (click on their names to read their stories) dying was probably what happened after they died. Since both of them had been a part of the Starfish program so long plus were both actively still repaying loans, there was clearly still a relationship we held with them.

Relationships can be a beautiful thing, right? But with them come a responsibility, right? In Haiti those responsibilities are kind of to the extreme, especially for the Starfish participants. Think about the last time you felt responsible for a friend’s health issues. Probably never. Of course if said friend had received a severe diagnosis you’d come alongside to support, pray and encourage your friend. You may put together a meal for the family or start a fundraiser on the internet. But, would you carry the responsibility to find the doctors; find the right hospital that even has the resources to care for your friend; pay for the transportation to make sure the friend gets to hospital; pay for the medication and/or treatment? You simply wouldn’t, because that’s not our reality here. Our healthcare has some pretty big flaws, I get that, but its availability and our access to it is something so profound. For my friends in Haiti, it’s a miracle just to find a doctor and a hospital that can treat you. For my friends, it’s another miracle to find the resources to pay for the medication and/or treatments as well. Sometimes my friends don’t even go to the hospital because they simply can’t afford paying public transportation $5 to get to the hospital. So, if I really care about my friends, or literally anyone who asks for help, I basically become responsible for everything.

So, with all of that information as the back story, let me tell you about a Tuesday.

It was this past summer. A few weeks have passed since both Olnite and Carmesuze have passed away. I’m pregnant and it’s a victory for me to be up and out of my house; the Haitian summer heat was my biggest foe. It’s Tuesday, which means it’s Starfish day.  The thirty-five women in the program meet together to share worship, a lesson and a hot meal together. We have great Haitian leaders in place to take care of mostly everything, so I’m around just to help with whatever. Beljoy artisans are working on the balcony and so I’m also interacting with them. The Starfish meeting is held inside the adjoining room to the balcony. It’s a hot, busy morning.

To get to the balcony, you walk up a staircase and turn a corner to a small hallway before walking into the spacious balcony. People who “need” me are usually found in the hallway, waiting for my attention. This particular Tuesday morning the hallway seemed especially busy.

First I remember Marjori’s teenage daughter. Marjori has severe diabetes, also a graduate from our Starfish program, and she conveniently sent her daughter to remind me that their rent is up and they really want us to build them a new home. Yup, got it.

Two more women come in to make a payment on their small business loans. I can clearly remember the one talking to me about school fees and how she’s still in need of help. Yup, got it. “We will just continue doing everything for you for the rest of your life,”  were my thoughts.

Then came Olnite’s eighteen-year-old daughter. Now that her mom was gone she became the adult of the house. She’s come looking for all the answers. Answers I simply do not have for her. Olnite still had over $200 saved up from her business loan, but I wanted to be cautious on how I gave her daughter the money, wanting to make it last as long as possible. The reality being that this 18-year-old was now responsible for her three younger siblings at home and how were we to ensure they would have full bellies at night and the opportunity to go to school without their mama around? We made the decision that day that she could come every Tuesday to get dry food to take home for the family; it’s something we give to all the Starfish participants, so what’s one more family? We would give her $20 a month from her mom’s savings to help her buy whatever else they needed; this would last her ten months, after that, I have no idea what we will do. We also paid the school fees for the three younger siblings, what will happen next year, again I have no idea.

But, the problems weren’t over yet, because next up was Carmesuze’s two daughters with their aunt. We sat in the small room where I store all the supplies for Beljoy. The four of us sat on plastic chairs and I had a small towel in my hand to wipe the sweat from my brow. I offered them a glass of water, so I could catch my breath before hearing all the problems.

That’s the biggest thing to recognize, they’re never there with a good report. If they’re standing in the hallway, needing your attention, it’s never for anything easy.

The aunt began to tell me about all the debt the family was now in due to Carmesuze’s medical treatments and funeral. She informed me of their decision to sell her house in order to pay off all the debt and that was the last thing I wanted to happen, because what happens to the girls in a few years when they become adults and need a house of their own? I asked how much the debt was exactly and after a few calculations on my phone, it was a bit over $250 American.

It’s kind of mind-blowing, isn’t it? That $250 worth of debt can be so destructive. I conveniently had had a friend visiting me the week before this nightmare of a Tuesday. When she left for the airport, she handed me an envelope with cash inside and told me to use it for whatever I needed. I received it with a grateful heart, but never took the time to count how much money was exactly in the envelope. Well, as I sat there facing these two young girls who just had their world shattered by the loss of their mama, I knew the money in the envelope would have the power to fix so many things for them.

The envelope ended up having $400 in it, so we paid off the funeral debt and the aunt promised me she would not sell the house. I tried to explain as best as I could how important that house was to Carmesuze when she received it and how important it will be to the girls as they grow. Please God, please, do not let them sell that house! We gave them the remaining $150 to help prepare for school. Up to that point, the girls had been going to a rather expensive school in Minoterie, our neighboring village. I told them I would be unable to pay those fees since their mom was no longer a part of our program, but I invited them to start coming to school in Simonette at our own community school. The aunt was concerned at first because that would mean a two-mile roundtrip walk for the girls each day to get to and from school, but the younger of the daughters perked up and started naming her friends she could walk with!

I write this blog because this day just stands out to me as one of the hardest days this year. The dying part is hard; the overcoming part is even harder. I feel like when I write I sometimes just sound like a broken record, writing things like “I’m constantly problem solving; the problems are so complex; it’s been a hard day” and this is me trying to explain those phrases. It’s still hard to paint the whole picture, because nothing is an easy fix. How do we overcome the lack of resources, the lack of knowledge, the lack of understanding, the lack of…every. damn. thing? The lack of everything makes it all seem so hopeless. Man, I just seem so hopeless, don’t I?

What I’m really trying to get at is I have this excessive amount of information from my experiences. The stories I’ve been told, the problems people have presented to me. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time someone came to me and said “I have a problem,” I’d be well on my way to being a millionaire. I’ve seen the hundreds of ways short-term missions, hand-out mentalities and people with white-savior complexes have come in and done so much damage – all with good intentions, of course. I know the ways I’ve done more harm than good, too.

But, what do we do with that? When we realize that stuffing shoe boxes full of cheap crap and spending billions of dollars to ship the crap around the world just so the “poor” can have a Christmas gift is doing more harm than good, how do we stop and educate people on that? When we realize hundreds of thousands of children are living in institutions because their parents are so poor they believe it is better for the children to be there and the American church is funding the orphanages instead of investing in the families, how do we call them out and turn them towards a better solution? How do we stop the exploitation, when it’s all for the sake of the poor? How do we shift from the mindset of “I’m so blessed” and “poor them” to waking up and realizing Jesus didn’t die on a cross for there to be this dramatic margin between “me” and them”? How do we actually change the world when our society tells us to buy, buy, buy and materials, sex and booze are the only things that will bring true happiness? Jesus? He’s always second best.

How do we break these walls and allow the children of Olnite and Carmesuze to actually have a shot at making it? And not making it by our American standards, you know the ones with white picket fences, fancy cars and closets filled with expensive clothes. But making it meaning they have access to clean water, good education, maybe a job that pays them more than $2/day, safe shelter and food in their bellies at the end of the day. How do we stop Olnite’s kids from the facing the reality of cancer bursting out of their skin and Carmesuze’s kids from the reality of Tuberculosis, a very treatable disease, from killing them?

How do we take all of our knowledge, our resources, our wealth and share it with those who have none? How do we become Christians that radically change the world?

Malite & her baby

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This story is going to be hard to tell as we have lost Malite while I’ve been Stateside these last few months. Her story is one of overcoming the impossible, so that’s why my heart just doesn’t sit right knowing she’s now gone; her babies without a mom.

I met Malite the spring of 2016. She had been a part of the Starfish program and had gotten severely ill with HIV. She was admitted into a long-term care facility, where they serve those battling HIV/AIDS. When she came back to Tytoo, I can remember our staff acting as if they were seeing a ghost. They couldn’t believe she was first and foremost even alive, but more than that they couldn’t believe how great she looked. She had gained back much weight and according to them, was a new person.

At that time, we were really starting to expand our greeting card line so she was one of the first five women trained to stitch our greeting cards. She soon fell in love with Sylvio and they had twins together. I can remember the day I went to visit her and met those little babes for the first time.

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As you can see in the photo, the clothes were hanging on a piece of wire and the only bed was the single one I was sitting on here. She had a tiny box in the corner with baby powder, lotion and all things baby lined up all neatly. She had the two little babes sleeping in an aluminum tub – known as a kivet in Creole – as their bed. Their lack of material possessions overwhelmed me as I set in that tiny little room they were renting. However, I can remember how proud Malite was of her babies. She was hopeful for a healthy, bright future.

We were able to hire Sylvio as our day-time security guard late 2018 and build them a new home in early 2019. Their story had my entire heart earlier this year as Malite gave birth to another healthy baby. With both parents working and the family living in their new home, I knew the future for this little babe would also be bright. The little one already had more than most babes are born into in Haiti: working parents and safe shelter. Their story was a picture of all my hard work coming to fruition, because at the end of the day, that’s my dream for families in Haiti: parents working, families living in safe places and kids being raised in a family unit – a lot harder said than done. My guess would be that less than 5% of families have both parents living together, have safe shelter and both parents have stable incomes. Less than five percent, and that’s me being generous.

I was their biggest cheerleader; they were beating the odds.

This past summer, I had a friend to come and do new headshots of all the employees at Rosie’s. We had a fun photoshoot and cheered on Malite and Sylvio as they took this beautiful picture in front of Rosie’s with their new baby. We later made a quick trip to their home and got stunning photos of all the kids together. I snapped another quick photo with one of the twins because he also has my heart. That photoshoot was probably one of the last times I saw Malite. These are photos I’ll cherish forever.

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Malite passed away early November. I don’t know what happened except she got sick. It happened when Haiti was in the weeks of being intensely shut down; maybe all of that played a role in it. Maybe she couldn’t get to a clinic for her HIV meds. Maybe she couldn’t get to a hospital and it had nothing to do with her HIV. Her newborn baby passed away two weeks later. I know the baby was HIV negative, so it wasn’t that. Maybe it was the same infection Malite had. Maybe they couldn’t find milk for the babe once Malite passed. The odds are there wasn’t a clinic open that day either to serve babe due to the lockdown. I don’t know. I could ask more questions to find out, but I’m not sure my heart could even face the reality to the answers I’d find.

Because, how do we? How do we swallow the death and the heartbreak? How did their story go from bright & healthy to suddenly gone? How do we move forward when even the ones who are beating all the odds end up in the grave?

How do I go back and face it? How do I even go back and feel safe again when the streets are now controlled by gangs, people are hungrier than ever and the country is the worse its been in decades?

This life in limbo ain’t pretty. My heart’s graveyard bears so much. So, how do we keep going? Keep fighting? Keep hanging on?

Somehow faith still reigns, even though there’s been so much pain. I still hold on to the story of a baby being born in a barn. I hold on to the gift of Jesus. I cling to the promise of eternity. The retelling and reliving of these stories these last ten days have been far from easy, but maybe now you’ll understand why my heart is so weary. And when you ask, “how long are you here for?” and I stutter looking for the appropriate answer, you’ll see what I’m navigating and decide to just let us be here – in the limbo, in the unknown, in the grieving and in the healing – for just a bit longer.

 

the cutest ever, Esther

Little Esther, I really don’t know where to start with you. You’ve been gone a year now and it still doesn’t seem real. It really just shouldn’t be.

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I can remember taking this picture of you. I was running around, chasing down the dozen kids who still needed their sponsorship photo taken. You were the last on my list. We walked around the back of the preschool building where there was some shade to take the picture. Sarah was with us, I can remember it like it was yesterday. You wouldn’t smile, but you were kind of always like that. Deep down you had a bubbly spirit, but it took some warming up to get that smile to come out.

Now that I think about it, this interaction was probably one of our last and I can’t articulate how glad I am to have this photo of you.

Esther’s story goes back to her mom’s story. I was pregnant with Rubie when I first met Marie Maude. She was just as pregnant as I was, but was homeless and sleeping wherever she could find shelter. An employee at the orphanage had told me about her, asking if we could admit her into the Starfish program. I promised to visit her, but couldn’t make any promises on admittance, but my heart broke when I met her. I can remember Marie Maude sitting on a piece of plywood held up by cement blocks as she told me about her situation. She had slept there the night before and my mind couldn’t fathom what that must have been like with our matching rounded bellies. We quickly admitted her into the program and rented her a small room in Simonette. The first thing I did was make sure she had a good bed to sleep on, too.

She had shared that her two little girls were living in the mountains with her mother and she wanted them to be back with her. Since we rented her the room, she was able to go and get them. The oldest, Nedgie, was no doubt her daughter as she looks exactly like her mama. But, Esther, my gosh, she was the cutest child I had ever met. Her chubby cheeks about killed me. I also remember one of those first Tuesday’s when she brought the girls to Starfish with her and Esther fell asleep on my lap. She ended up wetting herself, making my lap wet as well, but I just let her stay there until the end of the program. I didn’t want mom to be distracted. When Marie Maude realized what had happened, she was so embarrassed but I just laughed, telling her it wasn’t the first time I had been peed on!

After taking that last sponsorship photo of her, I shared her picture above on social media and wrote: “This little one above is one of our few hundred students that are sponsored. Her story beats the odds and it’s a privilege to watch her grow. Plus she’s the cutest thing ever!”

And truly it was a privilege to have been a part of her life. She passed away not two weeks later. She had come home from school on a Friday afternoon with a fever and started throwing up on Saturday. Very early Sunday morning, Marie Maude realized she was doing much worse and found a motorcycle driver to rush them to a nearby nurse. They were unable to find the nurse at such early hours and Esther ended up in Jesus’s arms shortly after.

As I was waking up and starting to prepare for church, there was a knock on the gate, with the messenger telling me the awful news. I rushed to Simonette to find a hysteric Marie Maude outside the small room we had rented her – a room that was suppose to hold hope and a new future for her and her daughters. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, she lost the baby boy she was pregnant with when I first met her and had it not been for our Tytoo staff rushing her to the hospital, we may have lost Marie Maude as well. Anyways, I learned what had happened and then ask her what she needed, and her answer will always remain with me, “help me bury her.”

So, that’s what we did. I went and found Gerard, a friend whose trade is wood working. He build the casket. I then went and found Filane, one of my best friends and also the woman who runs Starfish with me. We drove to the far edge of the village and found the guy who is known for preparing the bodies. He came to wash little Esther and wrap her in cloths. Then we went and found the guy who could dig the hole for her casket. Lastly we went and found a pastor who could perform a quick funeral. By 2:00 p.m., there were plastic chairs set up in the small dirt yard, a small wooden table at the front with a white cloth and a Bible set on top.

Marie Maude is one of the women who makes greeting cards at Rosie’s, so a few other employees were there with us and I can remember Hermanie, my manager at Rosie’s, combing back her hair. I was completely taken aback by the scene. The community that has been created through Rosie’s is more than just co-workers and this humbling scene of my manager combing the hair of a young mama who just lost her little one about did me in.

A quick service was held and together, Webert and I, carried her casket to the hole that had been prepared.

For some reason as I reflect on this day, a sermon I heard when I was in college keeps coming to mind. The pastor was talking about what it meant to be “all in” and what that means in terms of serving others. He used an illustration of a friend asking him to help jumpstart his car in the dead of winter. He explained how being “all in” meant running to his office, putting on his coat and gloves, so that when it came time to serve his friend in need, he wouldn’t have the excuse of being too cold. He went further and asked, how many times do we keep ourselves from being “all in” by not going in prepared? How many times do we intentionally go in unprepared, just so we have an excuse to get out of serving? How easy it would have been for him to get out of helping his friend with his car had he not gone out prepared with his coat and gloves on.

As we arrived to the gravesite, Webert realized the hole was not deep and wide enough, so we set the casket down, took off his nice dress shirt and handed it to me, then jumped down into the hole and began shoveling. Surely, that’s what it meant to be all in.

The last thing I wanted to do that day was plan a funeral for the cutest little girl I’d ever met, but it was how I could best serve Marie Maude. I know the last thing Webert wanted to do was get dirty and dig a gravesite that day, but it’s what we are called to do some days. And to go even further, just to paint a full picture of Haiti for you, the man who was hired to dig the hole asked me for twice as much money than the original price and admitted out loud in front of me, “well, it’s white money paying for this all.” So, even on the most tragic of days, when I’m just trying my best to serve those I care for, people are still trying to rip me off!

Whenever I think about Esther, I think I actually just stop. It still seems surreal that she’s gone. I try not to play favorites, but dang it, she sure was one of them. She made me work for her love, most days I could barely get a smile to crack. She will always be the cutest in my opinion.

Marie Maude still makes greeting cards for us at Rosie’s. I’m so glad she’s a part of our family there. Even though she’s lost so much, she still carries forth. Man, it’s a privilege to know these people and love them. And even if we have to dig another hundred graves, I hope that’s something I never lose sight of.

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Pretty sure Esther was wearing that same white dress when she peed on me, ha!

tender Carmesuze

Carmesuze was also part of the Starfish program when I took it over in the spring of 2016. Her and Olnite (whose story I told yesterday) were both from the same village, Minoterie. It is Simonette’s neighbor to the east and has a completely different feel than our small, family-orientated, safe-feeling village. Minoterie is a lot more rough around the edges; a couple gangs control the streets and brothels are found on many corners. It’s a much larger population, with most people living in beyond poor conditions. Most of the Starfish participants actually come from Minoterie. We also have a couple hundred students that walk the two mile roundtrip walk to our school from this neighboring village as well.

Anyways, Carmesuze’s demeanor and story is a lot different than Olnite’s. I mentioned yesterday that Olnite never had a victim mentality. Carmesuze, however, kind of did. We loaned her money to buy and resell used clothing; pepe being the Creole word for this type of business.Ever wonder what happens to all the clothes that don’t sell at thrift stores here in America? They end up on the streets in Haiti and make up a huge part of the economy. It’s super common for the open markets to have large areas of pepe clothing. In Carmesuze’s case, she would have gone to a large market in the city, bought a gigantic bag of pepe clothing, and brought it back to her village to resell. I can remember the conversation we had after weeks had passed without her making any payments towards her loan. She explained how none of the clothes she had gotten were selling and she didn’t have the strength to carry them around. That was the first of many more excuses.

I graduated Carmesuze from the program the same time I had graduated Olnite for the first time. Two months passed after the graduation and we were preparing for a new year and a fresh beginning to the program. This would have been the same time we were coming up with the part that would strictly be for business loans. I was doing house visits in Minoterie with Filane, the Haitian woman who leads Starfish with me, and ran into Carmesuze. I could see in her face that she had lost weight as she explained how much her situation had worsened since graduating. She was a single mama to three girls, all middle school ages. Their father did not support them in any way. Anything she had left from her pepe business was finished and she had not been able to save up anything to reinvest in another gigantic bag of clothes. I remember her sharing how scarce the food was and she had no idea how she’d be able to pay for the next year’s school fees (we had paid for the year past since that’s a part of our commitment to the participants in the program).

I can remember the exact dirt path I was standing on as we had this conversation. I can remember the sun scorching my back as sweat dripped down. I can remember feeling defeated. I can remember feeling in over my head. I can remember the thoughts, “this must be what hell looks and feels like.” The face of suffering right there in front of me.

I crumbled and told Carmesuze she could come back and be a part of the program. Filane just shook her head at me as we both knew our program was filled for the new year.

Carmesuze came back and we talked about her pepe business again. She told me all the things she had learned and what she needed to do differently. She also mentioned the demand she saw for infant clothing and I had a lightbulb moment as she explained it all to me. We had an excess of donated baby clothing in our container at Tytoo, so I gave her two large tubs full of baby clothing and we made a plan that she would use all the money she earned off those two tubs to reinvest in buying more. There would be no loan nor debt. It would be a new start.

The second time around went a lot more successfully and by the end of that year, I firmly believed we had her standing back on her own two feet. She was also given a new home by a neighboring ministry, which was a huge blessing and game-changer for her and her daughters.

But, of course this story doesn’t end well, hence her being a part of my graveyard tour. Late this spring she came to me at Tytoo and she had an awful cough. She was still making payments towards a second loan we had given her as she graduated from the program, so I was still seeing her regularly, but this time she just looked different. She visited our clinic and at that point I just assumed it was a really bad cough. But, about a month later, we had a second meeting in the office at Tytoo and this time I knew it was bad. She asked for the money she had given to pay for her loan so she could go be by her mom, who was several hours away from us. It felt like deja vu from Olnite’s decision to go be by her mom just a couple weeks before. She ended up passing away by her mom as well and my guess would be that she died from Tuberculosis, just from her inability to take deep breaths, the cough and even how hard it was for her to talk in the last meeting we had together.

Her death just felt different than Olnite’s. With Tuberculosis, there is treatment and clinics who serve people fighting the disease. With Olnite’s cancer, there wasn’t that. But Carmesuze’s death felt more like her just giving up and who I am to judge if that’s what it really was? Life was so hard on her, but now it is her girls that my heart aches for. I’ll share what happened with them in a blog to come.

For today, I feel like it is just necessary to sit in the grief. The weight. The heaviness.

I’m reminded of Dani, a friend in our expat community, who also lost her life in Haiti this last year. I didn’t know Dani well, but she was a young mom to two little boys and a wife to Kyle. They had lived in Haiti for nearly a decade and she co-founded Petite Palm, a company we carry at Rosie’s. All of those facts – mom, wife, business owner, fighting for family preservation and justice, foreigner yet resident to a small Caribbean island – were all things we had in common. The last couple months of her life, she actually stepped away from work to focus on her family. She was in the process of building a new website, where she held dreams to write and create. A season I feel the Lord calling me to as well. Her courage to step away from busyness and work to focus on family inspires me.

Dani passed away on the Saturday before Easter and the last words she wrote on social media were on Good Friday.

It’s Friday.
Most of us will gloss this day over. We will look to Sunday. But, can I confess? Good Friday is one of my favorite days of the church year. It’s our invitation to sit in the grief, in the fear, in the doubt, to let them take up space.
Because, Mary, the first preacher of the resurrection, she didn’t know about Sunday. She only knew Friday when she watched her friend being murdered.
John, the one who knew Jesus loved him so, he didn’t know for sure if Sunday would come. Instead, he stood under the weight of grief on Friday.
Everyone, the whole crowd who’d begun to believe this revolutionary Rabbi, they felt it all crash to the ground on Friday. They didn’t know about the rolled away stone yet. They couldn’t see what was coming.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. So, we get to live with Sunday, with the hope and joy. But, maybe it would do us all a bit of good to sit in Friday’s grief.
Because, without Friday, we don’t get to be Sunday people, Resurrection people. Without the grief, we don’t get the restoration.

brave Olnite

Olnite was part of the Starfish program when I took over leadership of the program in the spring of 2016. She was one of the first women to successfully start a business with our small business loan program, She had used her loan to buy a large cooler so she could buy fresh fish from the fishermen early in the morning. The cooler allowed the fish to stay on ice and last longer into the day. She also had another side hustle selling special oil they use in their hair. She had repaid her loan three different times and kept investing her earnings back into her businesses.

She was tall and skinny, always sporting some funky hair style. She was older and more mature, but so grounded and confidant. I graduated her from the program, but later brought her back to participate in a program we ran for awhile where the only aid we provided were small business loans to the participants. She was to be more of a mentor for the rest of the women, but still participated in the program. We gave her additional funding for a larger loan to purchase a second cooler. She graduated fully at the end of 2018.

Towards the end of 2018, she had a strange bump in the armpit. I can remember us sending her to get labs done, as the doctor who serves at Tytoo thought maybe it was some strange infection or boil. The labs were inconclusive and we guessed it would either come to a head or go away after a while.

She graduated from the program and I didn’t see her for a few months. I remember running into her one day in the village where she lived and she showed me how the bump had not gone away, but had actually grown in size. I had our doctor write another reference and we sent her to a hospital in Port-au-Prince that time. Her visits there were also inconclusive as the doctors told her there was nothing they could do for her.

Another month or so passed and the next time I saw her the bump had grown so big, she could no longer keep her arm down. She held it up constantly, resting it on her head. At that point, we gave her money to go to a hospital much further away. By this point, I was guessing it was cancer and her visit to this last hospital concluded just that. Unfortunately, they told her they would be unable to operate and there was nothing they could do for her.

Early summer arrived and she came to me in so much pain. She had lost a lot of weight by that point, not that she even had much to lose in the first place. She told me she wanted to go and be by her mom, who lived three hours away in the southern peninsula. We looked at her finances, because she had yet again saved up quite a bit of money through our small loan program. She decided she needed $50 to travel to her mom’s, but she wanted to save the rest of the money for her children. I agreed with her decisions, hoping she would come back miraculously healed, but knowing deep down that that was probably going to be the last time I saw her.

A few weeks passed and her daughter, who I would guess to be 16 or 17, tracked me down during a Starfish meeting one Tuesday. She passed her phone to me and all my fears came true. A video played of Olnite lying on the ground, screaming in pain. Her tumor had busted open and her entire armpit was one massive wound. I could only watch for one second. My heart shattered for her.

The only hospitals we knew of that deal with cancer had already turned her away and now she was so far away from us, there was nothing we could do. The lack of resources ran me over like a train that day, as I sat there knowing that there was nothing we could do to help her. We gave her daughter money that day so that her and her two other siblings could travel and be with her. Two short weeks later they returned to tell us she had passed away.

I was somewhat relieved to hear the news, because I knew the amount of pain she was suffering from. But that holy anger sure did roar inside. Why cancer? Why Olnite? Why does Haiti have to be so damn hard? How can we be only 800 miles from Florida, where there’s revolutionary, state of the art medical facilities and world class doctors? How is it possible that in today’s world, with all the technology and medicine, people are still dying in such agonizing ways?

Her cancer literally broke out of her skin and there was nothing we could do to save her, all because of where she was born. I hate that reality so much. Sometimes I think we paint this picture of poor people and bottle it all up into a definition of them lacking material possessions, but it’s so much more than that. The reality of the poverty we face in Haiti means we don’t even have hospitals with oxygen sometimes. The countrywide lockdown these last several months resulted in several hospitals closing altogether due to lack of resources.

The thing I loved most about Olnite was that she never played victim. She was an entrepreneur and seemed so determined; so fearless. We were able to help her and her family in many ways through our Starfish program, but she always carried this spirit that made me believe she would make it with or without us.

Sometimes there will be participants in the program who just expect you to do everything for them, but she was never, ever that way. That’s actually probably why I was always so drawn to her; plus, I always felt like there was something I could learn from her. I think that’s the hardest part about her death, knowing the type of person she was and then knowing that her suffering and ultimately her death took away all that she was: strong, resilient, brave.