Processing:  Little by little

During our last few days in Haiti my roommate said that she felt like she was in some kind of suspended state, like when you’re waiting for a webpage to load and just watching that annoying circle go around and around.  There’s never much time to think or process while we are there and actually in it.  But we know that the emotions, the changes in our perspective, the shades of grey that start to cover over what was once black and white are all there, just waiting to download.  I have been home for about a week now, and the download is still trickling in, little by little, in between the busyness of family life.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sit in a decompression chamber for 24 hours after my trip, which would have been really helpful.  I was just thrown right back into life and work and parenting and all that craziness.

This daily meditation popped into my inbox the other day from Richard Rohr, who is a Franciscan monk and one of my favorite teachers right now.  It seemed fitting for me, pondering the issues of social justice within the larger framework of my faith:

Francis of Assisi taught us the importance of living close to the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts in society. The outer poverty, injustice, and absurdity around us mirror our own inner poverty, injustice, and absurdity. The poor man or woman outside is an invitation to the poor man or woman inside. As you nurture compassion and sympathy for the brokenness of things, encounter the visible icon of the painful mystery in “the little ones,” build bridges between the inner and outer, learn to move between action and contemplation, then you’ll find compassion and sympathy for the brokenness within yourself.

Each time I was recovering from cancer, I had to sit with my own broken absurdity as I’ve done with others at the jail or hospital or sick bed. The suffering person’s poverty is visible and extraverted; mine is invisible and interior, but just as real. I think that’s why Jesus said we have to recognize Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. It was for our redemption, our liberation, our healing—not just to “help” others and put a check on our spiritual resume.

I can’t hate the person on welfare when I realize I’m on God’s welfare. It all becomes one truth; the inner and the outer reflect one another. As compassion and sympathy flow out of us to any marginalized person for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 108-110.

In Haiti, it’s not hard to find brokenness.  There is greed, there is violence, there is darkness, there is homelessness, hunger, sickness, and pain.  Not so different from my own country.  As privileged as we are, we don’t get to escape the human condition.  It is a different flavor, but it is the same brew.  As Mama T said, “Calcutta is everywhere, if only we have eyes to see”.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the social, economic, and cultural nuances at play in Haiti.  I have so much to learn.  But mostly I am learning more about my own self.  Every time I see something that looks broken, regardless of whether I stand in the dusty streets of Port-au-Prince or on my own green lawn which is slowly being overtaken by crabgrass, I am learning to look inward first–to hold up the mirror.  I’m not good at it yet.  I would rather turn the mirror the other way and spout my opinion about what others (be it government, society, institutions, or individuals) need to change, than to stare hard at what is looking at me right in the face.

The processing is going to take a while.  It’s almost too much to do all at once, like staring directly into the sun.  I take one piece out at a time and turn it over a few times, carry it around in my pocket, then look at it again later.  Each time I see something new.  Or something really old, but in a new way.

Photo credit: Amanda Ellison

I haven’t been able to answer very well when people ask me, “how was your trip?”.  It was a lot of things, but it’s not easy to sum up in a few neat sentences.  I’m just going to carry it around in my pocket for a bit longer and let it all percolate, little by little.

4/12/16-Burn clinic, sports ministry, and a visit with the pantless fisherman

Another very full day here in Haiti!  After breakfast today, we headed out in the big truck just north of Port-Au-Prince, to the village of Titanyen.  We visited Global Outreach, which is a 66-acre compound with a variety of ministries.  They have been able to drill almost 350 wells in the surrounding area since starting their ministry in 1993.  In addition, they offer youth programs, a camp, and a burn clinic, among other things.

While there, we had the opportunity to visit Sheryl, who is the RN who runs the burn clinic.  Burns are unfortunately very common in Haiti.  Few people have electricity, so it is very common for people to have an open flame or fire for cooking, as a light source, or for burning trash.  Sheryl also sees many leg burns from motorcycles, since heat guards are not required over mufflers in Haiti.  We were amazed to learn the extent of what she does to care for these people, with limited resources.  In North America, burn treatments are usually performed after a generous dose of narcotics to treat pain, since debriding and treating burns is so incredibly painful.  As you can imagine, it is difficult in Haiti to obtain morphine or other narcotics for such purposes, so many patients are under-medicated for their treatments.


The well-stocked pharmacy at the burn clinic


The soaking tubs for the burn patients


Sheryl showing us one of the treatment rooms

We spent the afternoon helping with a very unique ministry called Sport Disciple.  This is a way of reaching out to the kids in the area through soccer!  The program currently serves about 800 children and so far has had an enormous impact on the surrounding community.  The children are split into soccer teams based on age and gender.  Each time they attend practice or game (one practice and one game per week), they are fed a nutritious meal upon arrival.  Then they play soccer, learning all of the great things that sports teaches like character, teamwork, perseverance, friendship, and not getting hit in the face with a ball (or maybe that was just what I learned?).  After they play, they sit to hear a short bible story or gospel message and pray before heading home. Their cleats and uniforms are provided.  Each team also adopts an elderly person in their community, and once per month they go with their coach to perform chores, cooking, and other acts of community service for them.  The program is lead by a missionary couple but staffed and coached by Hatians, which provides jobs and income for them.


Serving up food



Washing dishes

Our role at Sport Discipile was to help with serving food and washing dishes.  It was a very organized affair.  The kids ate in shifts.  The first team would line up to receive their food.  As they finished eating, the dishes would get passed back to us for washing.  The clean dishes were then given to the servers to dish up for the next team.  We fed and cleaned up after 200 kids!  Then we got to “play soccer” with the smallest group of girls (about 5-6 years old).  And by “play soccer”, I mean we got hugged and climbed on in excess, and gave a ridiculous number of piggy-back rides.  The girls were hungry for affection and so full of love.


One of the highlights of our day was meeting a fisherman named Tege (pronounced Tee-gay).  Tege has the good fortune of living right on the white sandy beach. Our leader, Frank, has become friends with Tege over the last few years, and since he is a fun person to visit, we had the chance to drop in.  As we headed out to see him, Frank said, “Let’s go see Tege….hopefully he’ll be wearing pants today!”  Apparently if you are a fisherman in Haiti, pants are optional!


Tege’s strong boys


Tege with his starfish


Thankfully, Tege was fully clothed today!  He was a gracious host.  He took us out for a ride in his boat, which he made himself by hand.  His two sons did the rowing.  They were super strong and lean.  We watched as Tege dove off the side of the boat to catch 2 huge red starfish.  He was so proud!  We then enjoyed visiting with his family after our boat ride.


Tege’s hand-made boat

What I would say so far about my trip overall is that it has been eye-opening, life-changing, humbling, and exciting.  I have been battling with some disappointment over not getting to do as much medical or nursing activities as I had originally hoped.  However, the things that we have had the opportunity to be involved in have been awesome, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss them!

4/11/16-A country of “unlimited impossibilities”

We did so much today, and learned so many things, that I barely know where to start to tell you about it.  First, I have to tell you that being here is so much different than reading about it, seeing pictures, or even hearing someone talk about it.  I think that coming here, being in the culture, meeting the people, and seeing with my own eyes has given me a much greater perspective, one I will reflect on more in the coming weeks.  For now, I will tell you as much as I can about our comings and goings.

After battling the normal morning traffic, we started our day with a tour of the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, also known as MUPANAH.  There, we learned about the history of Haiti.  Our guide gave us a very detailed tour through Haiti’s difficult struggle for political independence and freedom from slavery, all the way back to Columbus.  The museum actually has the anchor of the Santa Maria displayed, which was just mind-blowing!

After our history lesson, we headed to one of Heartline’s properties, which they affectionately call the “OK ranch”.  We had lunch and got a tour around the property, so we could see all of the different ministries that take place there.  We had the pleasure of meeting with a small group of young men who had just graduated from the men’s discipleship program, and got to hear about how the program had impacted their lives.  One of the men, in speaking of the more difficult aspects of his culture, described Haiti as a country of “unlimited impossibilities”.  I can’t stop thinking about that.

We visited the bakery, which was much busier than I expected.  The bakery at Heartline uses 1000 pounds of flour per day!  They mostly make bread, but also make pizza and some pastries as well.  Some of the bread is sold to street vendors to sell, and some is sold out of Heartline’s store-front.  The bakery also provides food for the guest house and the maternity center,  and any leftover bread is donated.  The bakery has created jobs for local Haitians, and Heartline also uses it to teach men in the discipleship program job skills that they can use to make themselves more marketable after graduation.



Bread from the bakery is baked fresh all throughout the day. This shape of bread is called “digicell”, though no one knows where that name came from.


Some of the men making turnovers for the bakery.

The Women’s Education Center (WEC) is also on this property.  When it first opened, Heartline offered the educational programs at no cost.  They found that in doing this, the people did not perceive the program as valuable, because it was free and the students did not hold any stake in their success.  So they now charge tuition, but it costs slightly less than comparable programs in the area.  The women all take literacy first, and then can also choose to do their 9-month certificate program in either cooking, artisan crafts, or sewing.  This gives the women the marketable skills they need to take care of their families.  The women who graduate can go on to take the nationally accredited exams in their field.  The passing rate for the graduates of the WEC is  >99%!


The Women’s Education Center.


Some of the ladies from the advanced sewing class, their work is hanging up.

Apparently it is very common in Haiti for women to be unmarried with many children (often of different fathers).  Having no skills or education means that they, of course, have no way to support their children.   Haitian fathers are typically uninvolved with raising and supporting their children, even though it is a source of pride for a man to say that he has fathered many children.  I learned today that it is relatively uncommon for couples to get married, because prior to marrying a couple is required by law to own a headboard (yes, as in a headboard on a bed!) and a home.  As this is financially unattainable for so many young people, marriage is not the norm.    Bottom line: women need to have ways to support themselves and their families!


The women learn to sew on these older style of sewing machines. Since they don’t require electricity, this is the type of machine they would most likely use in the Hatian marketplaces after graduation.

The OK ranch was peppered with livestock, which are mostly kept as “pets”.  There is a sizable tilapia farm which is completely self-sustainable.  The tilapia are farmed onsite in large barrels, and once the fish are fully grown they are used to feed the women in the maternity center program, who receive a meal each time they visit the MC for the prenatal program.  The fish provide valuable nutrients for their growing babies.  The nutrient-rich water that comes out of the tilapia tanks is then used to water the adjacent garden, which provides another source of nutrition for the MC women, as well as for the Heartline missionaries and staff.


Delcie checking out the tilapia tanks.

Our last major stop was to the Ryan Epps Home for Children.  We had an opportunity to spend time with the children, hand out some hygiene items, kick a ball around,  and give lots of hugs.  These were probably the most well-behaved children I have seen in a long time.  Such sweethearts– it was a joy to meet them.  It was heartbreaking to find out that none of these children can be adopted, because they don’t have the proper papers.  So, Haiti won’t let them out, and no other country will let them in without a parent signing a formal relinquishment of parental rights, or documented proof that both of the parents are deceased.  I met the most beautiful little girl with pink ribbons in her hair.  Her name was Ange, and she was 3 years old.  She locked eyes with me the whole time but was too shy to talk much.  We also met a little one with a severe developmental delay and obvious medical problems.  She was very hypotonic and globally delayed.  Health care resources in Haiti are limited, and her medical history is unknown, so the staff did not know her underlying diagnosis.  They loved her dearly and were taking excellent care of her with the resources they did have.  I thought about all of the disciplines that would be involved with her care if she lived in North America–PT, OT, speech, nutrition, orthotics, neurology, genetics, to name a few.

We then got stuck in traffic for about 2 hours on the way to dinner, a common occurrence here.  I feel like a lot of the traffic issues in Port-Au-Prince would improve if more people rode bicycles.  That said, the road conditions and terrain being what they are in PAP, I can’t imagine anyone surviving very long on a bicycle!  Sorry Jeff honey, not a good place for your bike!