Post Haiti Thoughts: People are Not Projects

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Every time I am in the Ft. Lauderdale or Port au Prince airport, I see a flood of short term mission groups with matching Tshirts. Yes, we have them too because quite honestly, it is the easiest way to keep track of people. But what people will print on their Tshirts baffles me. I can usually filter out the “Bringing Hope to Haiti” and “Jesus is the Answer for Haiti” but yesterday I was stopped in my tracks. I literally came to a halt in the flow of airport traffic of people hustling and bustling and could not move. A lady was sporting a hot pink Tshirt that adorned the words “Heaven’s Helpers 4 Haiti.” WOW.

I need to back up a little here before you think I am hating on the “missionaries.” I am sure that sounds very cute and sweet that she felt she was dropped from heaven to work with the poor people but I want to look at it from the perspective of a Haitian.

First, many Haitians in the city who have gone to high school can read English. They know enough to put  it all together and realize that Haiti has a problem and the person who is wearing the Tshirt has the solution. When did we become so arrogant that we think we even know what the problem in Haiti is in the first place? After 6 years and about 20 trips to Haiti, I don’t know what the problems are and I KNOW for sure that I am not the answer.

Haitians in the village where we work know way more about Jesus and worship than I will ever comprehend. They bring the hope of Jesus to me with their steadfast faith and unrelenting worship. I would never, ever presume that when I am there I am bringing more of Jesus than they already have. If I do offer something of value, GREAT. God had a purpose but not because I have any idea what it means to depend on Him for the rain for my crops so my family can eat or a raging fever to break when there is no doctor or medicine. That kind of perseverance I know nothing about. My Tshirt would read “Thank you, Haiti, for showing me your BIG faith. I now know mine is very small.” Period.

I wonder how Americans would feel if troops of bandana wearing, hair braided, boot sporting Haitians got off the plane wearing shirts that said “Heaven’s Helpers 4 America.” What would be your first reaction? Would you think how arrogant it sounded that Haitians would have any idea where to start to help America? I would.

Short term mission trips are very controversial in fact. There is a growing trend of Americans paying large amounts of money to fly into poor areas and do work that honestly, the locals could easily do themselves. Many of those trips are planned where the group stays in a hotel with running water, electricity, Wifi, hot meals, etc. while the area where they are serving have none of the above. Many organizations include excursions, shopping trips, and extravagant meals so that people will be enticed to come. I have to ask if these trips are really helping anyone. Is the country where they are serving different because the group came and did the group really sacrifice to come besides maybe giving up a little vacay time?

Our organization is in fact asking these very pertinent questions. We don’t have any luxuries and the ride/walk to our village is brutal, but we are pondering if Haiti is changed by our visits. No conclusions yet but we need to continue to ask ourselves if short term mission trips are producing long term change in the country where we serve and in the country in which we live because of what we are doing.

When we first started working in Chauffard, Haiti no one who lived there trusted Americans so we were in for a long road of building bridges with them. We were told by the leaders in the community that Haitians were jaded because most of the time foreigners came in, started a project, went back to their first world problems, and never returned.  The people in the country felt they were projects and when the trip was over so was the help. Haiti is full of half built structures that foreigners never completed because life got in the way.

I think the answer to some (not all) of these problems is that our work needs to be LONG TERM and RELATIONAL. Poor people can paint a building and swing a hammer way better than you and I can. It is insulting that we come in and start fixing things that, with the resources provided, they could do themselves and in turn have dignity and  ownership in their community.  Every single time we have made a plan for clean water, buildings, etc. the Haitians have shown us a better, more effective way to go about it than any of us “professionals” have found. We should find ourselves humbled by the locals’ ingenuity and resourcefulness. We have learned this lesson the hard way.  When we come in and do the work as the “Savior foreigners,” they sit and watch us waste resources and do things inefficiently and inside they begin to resent us. Why? Because we never even asked them how to do what they know in their own country. How sad.

When we go on a trip to a third world country, we need to come home CHANGED. The work when we get home is ever present. Local opportunities to serve are everywhere and contributing to a global organization for education, clean water, and basic necessities is a command God gives us that we cannot ignore. I have to say that I see this kind of external change in people very rarely. They often return to the lives they had before they left and have a few cute Facebook posts and photos but evident life change is a rarity.

My friend from Togo, West Africa came to Haiti with me for 11 days. She said that when missionaries came to her village when she was a little girl and stared at them in their bare feet and filthy clothes, they were ashamed. They felt like a project because the people would see their poverty and begin to hand out “stuff” without knowing anything about them except that they were poor.

When we get to know our friends in poor countries, hear their stories, and offer them our shoes, we are giving because we love. Not because we pity.  How we offer things to people needs to be done in a way that empowers people. Our organization gives backpacks to students who have earned them- so they feel proud to have received something, not ashamed that because they had nothing, we had to come in and “save” them.

We are called to love because He first loved us. Jesus never made us a project. He laid down His life for us and said it was finished. Let’s love like that.

Confessions from an American to the Third World

As I was working out at the gym today, I thought how absurd it would be to tell someone in a third world country that I pay money to sit on a bike in an air conditioned room (after I explained what A/C is) and pedal to nowhere because I am trying to lose weight. That would be confusing on so many levels! So I then began to think of some of the other ways I live my life  that I would be ashamed to admit to someone living in third world poverty.  Here are my confessions…..

When I get up in the morning, I flip on a light, flush the toilet, turn on a coffee maker, watch the news on my big TV, take clothes out of the dryer, and start my dishwasher.

I know you get up in the dark, go to the bathroom in the woods, make coffee by hand over an open fire, walk 2 hours to get 5 gallons of water and wash clothes in the same stream (which will take all day) and come home to cook for 4-5 hours and wash the dishes in the little bit of the 5 gallons you got early this morning. What took me 10 minutes will take you 10 hours. I get that.

Making coffee

Getting water from the water source

Washing dishes
Washing clothes

I drive my kids to school (we live about 2 miles from their schools) and pick them up in the afternoons.

I know you send your kids walking to school usually around sunrise and they might walk 2-3 hours. I get that.

 

Walking to school

My kids get a hot lunch in the school cafeteria every day and have many choices of different fresh fruits and vegetables. They also get real milk every single day.

I know your kids are fed beans and rice almost every day in school, except for those days when the school cannot afford to feed them. I get that.

Eating lunch
Cooking for the 300 students in a Haitian school

When my kids don’t like what is on their plate for dinner we usually throw it away. America wastes 34.7 million tons of food a year.

I know you waste nothing. You probably have never thrown food away. I get that.

Eating every last bite
Americans spend an average of $765 a year at Christmas, which is about what my family spent this year. Christmas is that holiday that you only know as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but we go blow a bunch of money on people who don’t usually NEED anything. 

I know you have never been able to buy your child a toy.  I get that.

                Toy made by a child              Playing with blocks
With my husband’s job, I have something we call health insurance which helps pay for me to go to the doctor. If people in America have an emergency and do not have insurance they can go the hospital and the doctor will see them.
I know that before you are seen by a doctor, you pay first. If you cannot pay they turn you away at most hospitals and clinics. I get that.
Thyroid condition gone untreated
 If you had a condition that needed treatment like orthopedics, burn care, spinal cord injury, or cleft palate in the US, we have organizations like the Shriners who see you, regardless of your ability to pay.
I know that both of you just recently saw a doctor for the first time and have lived with your conditions, wondering why you were different from everyone else you knew. I get that.
Jean Marc, 22 years old                  Saintelise, 14 years old

In America, 27.7% of the people are obese, which means very fat. The weight loss industry is worth 20 billion dollars and we are still fat. Me included.

I know your biggest concern is being malnourished and underweight. I get that.

Food scarcity
In America, we have laws that require children to get schooling and prohibits them from working until they are a certain age.

 

Working to help the family
I know that your children learn to work at a very young age in order to survive and sometimes they don’t go to school because your spouse died and you cannot feed the family on your own. I get that.
And why do I say all this? To make Americans feel bad for all they have and to make the third world feel that they have been given a bad deal in life? Not at all.
What I do want to say to America is….you need to know how the rest of the world lives. Period. You need to see it, experience the joys and the pain of it and then let God do the work in you. I have no idea what that will be for your life but once you have witnessed it, you will be different. I am suggesting that you consider making your world bigger……that you increase the borders of your life. Maybe you have reduced your world to just your family, or just your city or country. There is room in your life for the rest of the world too. I promise. God will not call you to everyone all over the world but I am confident he will call you SOMEWHERE. The confessions in this blog are about my own life- not yours. So don’t get all hot and bothered that I made you feel bad. I was only stating the truth and hopefully that got you thinking. That is my only hope for writing to you.
What I want to say to the third world is….you need to know that we are really working hard here in America to be more compassionate and less judgmental of your circumstances. We say things like “We take care of our own” and that is pure ignorance but we are asking God to give us new eyes to see beyond ourselves. Please be patient with us.  Also, when we see you work tirelessly to survive we don’t really understand how hard it is but we are trying to “walk a mile in your shoes.”  I know this sounds crazy, but we are actually very jealous of the simplicity of your lives and the character that you exhibit. Because we don’t have to overcome as many obstacles, we don’t learn lessons about perseverance, dependence on God for everything, and sacrifice the way you do. We want kids who are hard workers, not entitled, and dedicated the way yours are but the bottom line is that most of our kids are nowhere close to that. We try so hard to teach these lessons but we get caught up in making our kids “happy” and not “holy” so we miss the mark. Please pray for us and our children. Finally, the the most important point I want to make is this….YOU make me brave. You teach me every time I see you and I strive to be more courageous because I know you. Thank you for that gift.

Bring on the rain…..

I have complained at least 10 times a day for the past few weeks about the constant rain.  The pool is overflowing, our road is flooded, the grass is growing too fast, baseball games cancelled, and my hair turns into a frizzy hot mess!  
Then this morning it hit me….

Water.  A necessity but a scarcity for so many.  Walking hours just to fetch water.
And then only having the amount that you can carry on your head.

Contaminated water.
Sometimes just a trickle of water coming out of the source.

Most not having a simple rain barrel.

Washing clothes and dishes conserving every drop of water.


In Haiti we have a school that has grown from 40 students 5 years ago to 300 children currently and there was not a way to catch the rain until recently.  We had a cistern built but no gutters.

Then we built a gutter system.

The cistern had been empty for months but we waited and prayed for rain.
The team was ecstatic about the new gutters but still no rain.  We waited and prayed for rain.

Then it came and it did not stop.  And we hoped it wouldn’t.  In that moment, we knew the importance of the rain.  That is sustains life.  That it is essential to living.  We were not thinking about the inconveniences of the rain or the slippery mountain mud that we would have to endure after the storm.  We were only grateful for the fresh drops of cool rain that poured from the sky.  We were content and not complaining.  
We knew the blessing of the rain.
And the next day the community had water in the cistern that saved them a 3 hour round trip hike to the water source.
So today I have a new attitude about the rain.  As I see it come down, I think about my friends in Haiti who count on it to survive. To boil their rice, to drink a few sips, and wash their few bowls and forks.
I pray one day every single person in our village in Haiti has a rain barrel.
I am hopeful that my inconveniences won’t consume my thoughts but that I would be radically changed because I have seen the need.  Once you have seen you can’t stay the same.  I slip into my little pity parties and God drags me out and reminds me that there is work to be done and there is no time for being consumed with what does not matter for eternity.
Bring on the rain.