When we started telling people that we were going to move our family to Haiti, we received an array of reactions. Some actually were angry at us, while others simply did not understand. We thankfully also had many who were completely supportive and encouraging.
One person (with great wisdom) told us to be sure this is where God is calling us.
"Haiti is a missionary graveyard," he warned.
We took his advice and prayed considerably more over this decision. God confirmed numerous times (and continues to do so today) that His plan was definitely for us to move our family to Haiti. That being confirmed, we still wanted to know more about why Haiti is a missionary graveyard, and how we could ensure that it did not "chew us up and spit us back out," like it does/has done with so many missionaries!
We read lots of books, blogs, and articles about Haiti and missions in Haiti. We talked with anyone who was willing, and sought their insight and wisdom. The reality is, there are many reasons that pile up to lead to the burn out and sometimes near destruction of missionaries who flock to this country. There is the day-to-day frustration of living in a developing world, where the conveniences of "modern living" are not so easily found. There is the racism that any light-skinned person will face while living there. There is damage done by decades of well-intentioned (most of the time) people/organizations, leaving a wave of distrust and dissension behind. There is the constant coming and going of internationals, which leaves most missionaries living with one foot in each world. There is the overwhelming loss that is felt as people die of preventable causes, adults flee the country for hopes of a better job somewhere else, and fellow missionaries pack up and move back home. There is the battle against what has become "normal" in the churches: a mix of superstition, legalism, and religion with so little heart change. There is the constant rebuttal that we, as foreigners, simply do not understand because we are privileged (some truth here, but it is a true hindrance to furthering the gospel!).
One thing that so often adds a sore in addition to all the rest - the reality that all you have to do is book a one-way flight, and within hours you could be on American soil. You can drive for hours to get to a store that does not have what you need, but you know that one 2-hour flight back to the USA and you'll find it at a handful of places. This ease of access to our passport country is challenging in many ways. It allows us to run back anytime something goes wrong, and still prioritize our medical care in the states as well. It keeps us from completely doing life in Haiti, and thus holds us back as "outsiders." It tempts us with such strong urging on the really hard days - "Just pack a bag and jump on a plane; leave this all behind. You can forget it and move on and have a "normal" life."
Yet, we fight through the urge to run, and we choose to stay in the muck of it all. When we sit with a mother who lost yet another infant for unknown reasons, when we counsel a woman whose lifelong "mate" is never faithful, when a child is sick and there are hospitals within one flight that could save them, when violence soars and hatred rages, when evil rules and it seems like it will never end...we stay. We choose hope; we HAVE to choose hope. Hope is the ONLY way to combat the overwhelming life we live. There is hope that one day God will redeem His people, one day evil will be eradicated, one day there will be no sickness or death, one day we will be reunited with the many who have gone way too early. There is hope that God is still reigning, even today. There is hope that He has the power to heal every wound - physical, emotional, mental - He is the Great Physician. There is hope because we can still sit in His presence in the middle of what many consider one of the darkest places on earth. There is hope because He is still victorious, even when we cannot make sense of the battle around us.
So we hope, and we stand. We know that this place has wrecked us...life will never be "normal" or "simple" again. No, it will always look different and there is no "forgetting." It reminds me of a song that Gami and I sang so often with the youth years before we went to the mission field: Ruin My Life.
We sang this song with such fervor...God, ruin my life and my plans! Ruin desires for my own selfish gain...until it's you alone I live for!
Now we look back and see how He answered that prayer - that cry - that we sang out in worship so many times together. Truly, He has ruined our lives in what we thought they would look like. He has wrecked every desire for the American dream and worldly success. He has broken our hearts for what breaks His, and we will never be the same. Praise God, we will never be the same!
So, yes, Haiti is a missionary graveyard. We have seen many come and go, and the damage that living in such a hard place has caused on them and their families. Still, this is where God has us, and we will continue to stand, and hope, and be faithful. We rely on the prayers of many to carry us through. We praise God for the encouragement He sends us through caring people - encouragement that comes at just the right moment to remind us that we can do this. We seek God and His people, for there is truly strength in numbers. And we thank God for you - the one who takes the time to read our ramblings, to pray for us, to send us a note, to care, and to remember us even when we are a world away.
We enjoyed celebrating Mirlanda's birthday in November. Mirlanda had never been able to celebrate her birthday - this was the first time she even really knew that it was her birthday. Out of all the Gracia children that we help with, Mirlanda is the "newest" to our family. She had lived with a godparent until this last summer. Thus, we have only gotten to know her since September when we returned from furlough. She is a sweet, quiet girl.
In preparing for Mirlanda's birthday, I asked her what she wanted. In Haiti, this question always refers to food. Since I usually make spaghetti on Sunday after church, she asked for rice instead. I asked if she wanted beans in the rice. "Yes," she said.
"And sauce, do you want sauce to go on the rice?" (a Haitian staple)
"Yes," she said.
That was it...I asked her what else she wanted and she stopped there. I asked if she wanted juice or pop, and she said juice. When I asked what kind, she gave me a brand name instead of a flavor.
I asked about dessert, and we agreed on a chocolate cake (brownies) like I had made for another recent birthday, after I suggested it.
As I asked her about her birthday meal, I was struck by how little she asked for. When I ask my own children what they want, they can give me a menu for the day - sometimes even down to the snacks! Yet, Mirlanda could only think in terms of rice versus spaghetti.
This being her first birthday celebration, I realized that she had no idea what the limits were, or where she could begin. She could not even fathom what a feast she could ask for. She had never been asked what type of juice she wanted, so all that she knew was the brand. She did not even know she could ask for a specific flavor.
This reminded me of the Sripture, Ephesians 3:20, "to him who is able to do
immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine..."
Eight years ago today, our lives were forever changed when a 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti. At the time, I was much like many people today - I knew next to nothing about the poorest country in our hemisphere. I knew it was a Caribbean island, and that it was poor. I don't know that I understood much more than that.
When the earthquake hit, I was a stay-at-home mom of 4, our youngest being almost one year old. I so desperately wanted to jump on an airplane and go to Haiti - I would have done nearly anything to help. I just wanted to take action. I watched the news and followed what different ministries were doing in response to the devastation. My eyes were opened to the world of Haiti, and God continued to pull our family towards this country in the coming years.
Our oldest daughter did a fundraiser in the spring of 2010 to help with earthquake relief efforts. Gami and I led our youth group in the World Vision 30 hour famine in 2010 and 2011. Each year we focused on Haiti, and designated our funds to go to Haiti relief efforts. Indeed, God was opening our minds and hearts to this land. Gami and I had heard a clear call to missions as early as 2008, but still did not know where God would lead us - or when.
Fast forward to 2012 and I was honored to lead a group from our church to Haiti to serve for one week. Our family on both sides, well aware of our prep work to go into missions, asked if this was it - would we be moving to Haiti? We assured them that Haiti was not a place we felt called to, and that it was merely an opportunity to expose our two oldest children (accompanying us on this trip) to missions and the reality of poverty. In that week here in Haiti, God grabbed hold of Gami and I both, convicting us of the fact that we had never sought Him in relation to Haiti.
Only nine months later, we were moving our family of 6 to Haiti to do long-term missions work. That was May, 2013. We were beyond the relief efforts of the earthquake, and felt God was opening doors for us to do missions work in a place where so many are hurting and need His grace, hope, peace, and love.
I never would have thought, back on January 12, 2010, that I would move my family to this place. As I think back to that day - watching the news, listening to the horrors of all that was happening, and feeling so helpless - I realize that God directly intervened in my life and the lives of our family. There is no other way to explain it. Haiti was not on our radar at all - and yet, today Haiti is home.
We have a saying here - "TIH" - which means, "This is Haiti." Most often, this phrase is used to excuse away what we cannot explain. It is used in moments where we recognize culture is definitely at play, but we will never understand the reasoning behind something. It is used in times of humor, and in times of deep despair. There is so much that encompasses this country and our hearts for it. Yet, my son took this phrase and made a piece of artwork for Gami. He wrote about how people use the phrase "TIH," and said, "But it also means This Is Home."
We do not pretend to understand it all, or have it all figured out. But we do know that God called us here. We are one family of many whose eyes were opened to all that goes on so close to our borders of the USA, and we knew God wanted us to do something big. So, here we are, coming up on 5 years in Haiti, and not regretting a minute of it!
I love a good cup of coffee. I have a few large mugs that I greatly appreciate. I am not a 6-8 ounces of coffee type of person. I prefer to get it all in one cup and make it just the way I like it, enjoying 10-12 ounces in one mug. I would be so irritated if I only had a small teacup to make my coffee in. I do not enjoy my coffee black, so I would make multiple teacups of coffee in order to enjoy the amount I like to have. A small teacup just would not be satisfactory; it wouldn't be enough. It would be extra work to prepare each little cup, but I know that eventually I could still drink enough to be satisfied.
The simplicity of a large cup of coffee is a luxury to me. This idea of drinking out of a teacup is kind of like a missionary going on furlough. You thirst for so much, and it comes in such little pieces that it seems it may never satisfy. You have a lengthy to-do list, along with a dreams and wishes list. You have favorite foods to enjoy, doctors to visit, old memories to relive, places to go, and so many people to see. With each item checked off the list, you are filled a little more, and yet that much closer to leaving again.
We spent four months on furlough this year - a much needed time to refuel, reconnect as a family, and build new memories with those we love. For those four months, we constantly felt like we were saying hello to friends and family for the first time in years - all while making new friends. Within days, we would say good-bye to this group of beloved people, and move on again. The only thing softening the sting of the constant good-bye was the anticipation of the next hello.
In four months time, we traveled through 22 different states in order to visit each of our support churches and see all of our immediate family. It was a tiring adventure, with segments of rest interspersed. We were intentional to carve out time as a family all throughout, and can truly say we enjoyed furlough. Still, it was like the teacup approach - small refreshing moments that were never quite enough. It left us longing for more.
As we returned to Haiti, we spent days - even weeks - talking about all of the fun things we did and the people we saw. We met precious babies of close friends for the first time. We quickly recognized how much you miss in 4 years away. Yet, here we are, back in Haiti, recognizing that we are missing so much. The teacup is never quite enough. There is always a longing for more, a yearning to go back to the teacup again and fill it back up. At some point, you have to walk away from the teacup and get back to work. Yes, drinking from a teacup is much like furlough.
So, here we are - back to work - and missing our friends and family. Our friends here are our teacup now...filling as much as they can while we hope we do the same for them. For you see, all we have as missionaries are teacups.
Have you ever wondered what it is like to live on the mission field? There are so many reasons people become missionaries. The life of a missionary is often admired and praised, regardless of the knowledge of day-to-day activities.
When we told J.L. Williams that we were going to move to Haiti to be missionaries, he told us, "If it is within your power, don't do it."
Of course, we were taken aback. J.L. is known for being all about missions - his life poured missions into every aspect of it, touching everyone with a glimpse of his passion. He explained to us that if it was within our power to NOT go, then it was not truly God calling us. Within our own power, we can keep ourselves from doing it. When God is truly calling us, we have a leading and urgency that cannot be calmed or quieted.
We have been in Haiti for nearly 4 years now. In this time we have met so many people who have come to Haiti for varying lengths of time for vastly different reasons. If you are contemplating going into missions - regardless of length of time - here are 10 reasons you should NOT go.
1. Missions is exciting!
While there are many things in missions that are exciting, this is not a good reason to pack your bags. Daily life in missions can often feel mundane. Once the newness wears off, you will find yourself in a new rhythm. In this stage, life goes on as "usual." Though there are new aspects to this "usual," it still can feel mundane and lack the special awe you had imagined. For example, my days are about like this:
wake up and ensure kids are eating a healthy breakfast
start school with kids
quiet time while kids are working
continue helping kids with school
check kids' school
The afternoon is usually spent either getting groceries (a LENGTHY process), taking a child to an activity, or preparing for Bible study.
There is not much that feels out-of-the-ordinary for me in my regularly scheduled activities. My exciting God moments are probably as frequent as what I could experience in my home culture.
3. I will feel closer to God.
Regardless of where you live and what your "job" is, your relationship with God - and with others - requires dedication and time. Living on the mission field does not always help with this. There are new stressors and things demanding your time and attention. Things that are often a "quick-fix" in the states can take much longer on the mission field. Be accountable for your relationship with God and the time you spend with Him, no matter where you live. There are times on the mission field that you can feel like you are in a spiritual desert...missions does not equal better relationship with God.
4. People will respect me more if I am a missionary.
People will choose how they feel. Some will respect you for who you are, regardless of where you live. Others will find something that they don't like about you regardless of who you are. Strive to be a respectable person wherever you are. Missionaries do not win popularity contests...and they often feel ostracized and/or lonely. If you're looking for respect, live a life of respect. Ultimately, seek your image in who God is and who He says you are!
5. I want to live in a foreign country.
There are much easier ways to live in a foreign country besides being a missionary. Some countries welcome missionaries gladly, and expect great things (which is exhausting). Other countries do not welcome missionaries, and may even despise them (which is exhausting). If you want to live in a foreign country, do it! Fulfill that dream - but do it on your time and on your dollar unless you know missions is right for you!
6. It's on my bucket-list.
Bucket-lists are great. They help us dream big and focus on meeting some of our big goals. There are so many things on bucket lists. If being a missionary is one of them, make sure you have reason for it. Simply doing it to say, "I did that once," will not end well. Being a missionary is not easy, so take the time to ensure you're ready! Otherwise you could go home worse-off than you started.
7. I want to start over (don't like home; run from my past; don't want to face hardships at home).
My daughter reminded me that the book Christy was about a young lady who really didn't want to be at home anymore. She thought missions would be a good alternative. She struggled throughout her time and learned a lot. There are so many ways to run from life...I think most missionaries want to run from life at some point. If your purpose in becoming a missionary is to start over, you will meet that goal. However, you will suffer for it in the long run. As is so often said, stay and work through problems first. Then go as God leads.
8. My friend (or family/parents) was a missionary. I feel like I should do the same.
It would be a lot of fun to join friends on the mission field. It could feel like the honorable thing to do - become a missionary since your parents/grandparents were missionaries. I think (and hope) they would be honest with you to tell you that they don't want you to go just because they did. Think about it - do you want someone to say they are a Christian just because you say you are? I certainly do not - not even with my own children! Because as soon as the world comes crashing down around them, they will not be able to stand. I want people to choose Christianity because they see how much they need and want it for themselves! The same is true of being a missionary - to go because someone else did will set you up for failure when the world comes crashing down...and trust me, it will.
9. Being a missionary will make me special.
My youngest felt this should be on the list of 10 reasons. His answer? "You shouldn't go be a missionary to make you special. God says your special already!"
So there you have it - out of the mouth of an 8-year old. If you are struggling with your self-image, seek your Creator who will remind you of who you truly are. Let Him show you how special you are. Don't pack your bags just to find that!
10. I went with a group on a short-term trip, and it was incredible! I want to go back and live that way all the time.
Throughout the past 4 years, this may be the most commonly stated reason for wanting to become a missionary. We have worked with a LOT of short-term groups. Nearly every group has at least one person who says they want to come back and "live like this all the time." I'm going to let you in on a secret - short-term trips are NOTHING like LIVING on the mission field. They are designed to give you as much positive interaction as can be crammed into your time. They are designed to scratch your itch and help you feel connected. They are designed to educate and inform you so that you can go home and be an advocate for help and change.
As a missionary, you are not on a sprint. You are on a super-marathon. You are not trying to cram everything in, and it is not all positive. You are working on learning language and culture, building relationships with all new people, and mourning the life you sacrificed in order to come.
So there are 10 reasons...and I am sure there are many more. If you are not sure when to go, or how you know for sure, ask a missionary!
The reality is that there is only ONE reason for why you should become a missionary - being called.
So ask yourself, "Am I being called?" If you do not know that God clearly said to you individually, "Go," you could be walking into suffering that is unnecessary. When the uncalled go to the mission field, they suffer...but they also can cause others to suffer. Too many times, people are sent out and those who receive them are distracted from their ministry because they are trying to help someone survive. All missionaries can go through this. What gets them through? Knowing they are called. Without that clear conviction to stand on, people can be nearly destroyed.
At the end of the day, when I want to throw in the towel and pack it all up to go back to running water, 24/7 electricity, family and friends, English language, restaurants and nearby groceries (that, by the way, have everything!), I am reminded that God called me here. If He called me, He has a reason. I do not want to leave too early and prevent His complete plan from taking place in me. I want to be faithful to wherever He calls me, and I know He will provide all I need while I surrender daily.
These last three days in Haiti are known as "Kanaval" which coincides with Mardi Gras everywhere else. In Mardi Gras, people indulge the flesh right before the 40-day lent season of repentance and fasting. Kanaval is no different in essence, though it is heavily influenced by vodou traditions and rituals. That typically means that vodou and "mystic" activity increases during this time and continues to be at a heightened level up through Resurrection Sunday. Here in Haiti, the Lenten season—Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday—is filled with Haitian vodou ceremonies and practices. Particularly on Holy Week, the most significant of these is the rara. Very plainly, a rara is a long procession with loud music that is steeped in idolatry and spiritual symbolism. On the surface, they seem like such a fun and harmless piece of Haitian culture, with the colorful dress and upbeat music. Underneath, the full picture cannot be divorced from the worship of voodoo gods. A quick Google search for "Haiti Carnival" shows this, among other things: "Rara is called "Vodou taken on the road" by Haitians. Processions of female dancers follow male Vodou religious leaders, accompanied by drummers and vaksen bands, stopping at crossroads, cemeteries, and the homes of community leaders. Rara rituals are public acknowledgements of the power of local "big men" in the communities. Money is given to the leaders of rara organizations and communities during processions. The incorporation of military costumes and dance steps in rara processions is also an acknowledgement of the community hierarchy, and the folk belief that Vodou rituals, including rara, supported the success of the Haitian Revolution, and the continued well-being of Haiti. Rara band members believe that they have made a contract with spirits, and must perform for seven years, otherwise adversity will result."
For the last week or so, we've heard some new sounds coming from the neighborhood. Now, it's typical for loud speakers to be doing political propaganda into all hours of the night. We experienced that leading up to the elections and even the inauguration. However, with all of that behind us, the loud speakers seemed oddly out of place. In the middle of the day, we'd hear bull horns, broadcasting people speaking, but we couldn't make out what they were saying. Last week, we were walking to another missionary's house and realized we were passing right next to where the speakers were located. When we asked the other missionary about it, he said it was a vodou community that had recently sprung up in our neighborhood and they were (obviously) being very vocal.
Cathi commented later that when we were living in Chambrun, people would tell us all the time that the village was deep into vodou and that it just wasn't that common in other places. Given Kanaval and the occurrences like this one in other communities, that is not the case. What was encouraging was that the missionary told us that several church leaders were getting together often to pray against this. I plan on linking up with that group and join in the prayers against the encroaching darkness here.
During this Kanaval season, much of this week is a holiday, which means no work and no school. Many churches send their youth on retreat, hold outreach events, crusades, etc. I was invited to do a 3-day conference in Pernier, at a church atop the mountain village. We started on Sunday afternoon and finished at noon today. During the three days, we took a deeper look into Scripture at what God has revealed about Himself for us and how that should impact our lives. In contrast to the bright lights, loud music, and colorful celebration of Mardi Gras, this was a very simple conference. But it was a great few days, digging into God's Word and worshiping together. They asked some tough questions as they genuinely wanted to grasp more of God. Our motto for the three days was that we didn't want to just fill our heads with knowledge, but fill our hearts with a deeper appreciation for the God we serve and worship. This was also in stark contrast to the spirit of Kanaval which glorifies selfish desires. Instead, people were gathered to deny themselves and glorify the only One worthy of worship.
Yesterday, as I was preparing to teach this weekend, a friend of mine stopped by the house. He appeared to have been crying and was clearly shaken up. I followed him out to the porch to talk. A few days ago, he had stopped by with his little girl, Spendie, to show us some sores that had developed on her body, particularly on her backside. At that point, he'd been to a clinic, which had given him an ointment and sent him to a hospital that could do further testing. He told me that after that day, he'd taken Spendie to two hospitals and they both told him the same thing: "This isn't a sickness medicine can fix. If you're a Christian, pray; if you're not, take her to a witch doctor." He continued to tell me about heightened voodoo activity in our area (he is one of our neighbors) but that he doesn't know who would put a curse on his little girl. In tears, he told me he didn't want to take her to the voodoo temple, because he doesn't believe in that stuff. He's a Christian and goes to the same church we do. At the same time, he was at whit's end and desperate to help his little girl.
I told him I wanted to go pray for her, so we left my house and walked down the street to his house. There she was, lying on a mat on the floor, visibly uncomfortable. After greeting his wife and others in the house, I talked with them, sympathizing with their situation of watching their child suffer without being able to truly help. I assured them that God sympathized with them too, as he watched Jesus suffer for us. We prayed together, for Spendie, for the family, over the house. When I left, their spirits seemed to have been lifted in our time of prayer. After calling them this morning, they're still holding on and doing better as a family, so I praise God for that.
Unfortunately, this kind of situation is not all that uncommon. When a sickness or misfortune can't be explained, the default assumption is that it was a witch doctor that cast a curse or one of the lwa (spirits) were upset with the individual or family. The Western concept of free will is almost non-existent in this context. People strive to appease the spirits around them so that no harm or sickness will befall them. Some refuse medical treatment in the belief that what is going on is purely spiritual.
Here is where two worlds collide: The Western tendency is to deny the reality of the spiritual realm. In doing so, everything is reduced to purely materialistic explanations - science. The other extreme, as exemplified by animistic cultures, is to explain everything through spirits and magic. The spirits dominate reality and humans must constantly fight to appease them in order to survive. Or through magic, people can control supernatural powers in order to achieve their desires. In the Western world, science deals with the empirical world and leaves religion to handle the other-worldly stuff. But as scientific knowledge expands, the need for religion decreases.
But what about the "excluded middle"? If on one end we have the world as experienced by our senses and on the other we have beings and forces that cannot be directly perceived, then what about that middle ground where these two collide? In this culture it's ghosts, spirits, ancestors, demons, gods and goddesses that live in trees, rivers, etc. These aren't part of another time and place, but in our world and time. And what about the questions that arise when doctors have done all they can and a child continues to get sick? In the Western world, many situations are chalked up to accidents, luck, or unforeseeable events and we just shrug it off. But many people, such as in this society, are not content to leave such important matters unanswered. So, often times, the answers are in the form of ancestors, demons, witches, local spirits, or magic. These are the questions of the "excluded middle" level. When Christian missionaries dismiss these questions or fail to give definite answers, people return to the witch doctors and the mystics who have answers.
A missionary must have a theology of these things; theologies of divine guidance, provision, and healing; a theology of ancestors, spirits, and invisible powers of this world; a theology of suffering, misfortune, and death. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Scripture offers us this third worldview. Our central message needs to focus on who God is - His greatness, holiness, and His power, and His work in humanity. We need to not just sing these words, but make them personal:
"Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God You are higher than any other. Our God is Healer. Awesome in power our God. Our God..." It is He who delivers us from evil and empowers us to live in freedom!
The last two weeks we have been in transition. After living on the NVM campus for 3 and half years, we moved to a house (not far) off-campus, in the community. As we transitioned, I couldn’t help but remember the transition from the US to Haiti. We were selling what we had, fundraising, learning a new language, and preparing to go overseas. There was some anxiety over leaving behind the familiar for the unknown, but also a lot of excitement for the realization of the mission for which God had called us. All those anxieties were appeased as we learned the language, learned some of the culture, made friends, and began figuring out what ministry looked like in this context. It isn’t unlike that at all this time around. We left behind the familiarity of living on campus, with security, 24-hour electricity (most of the time), running water, and other expats as neighbors. Now, we’ve moved into a house where electricity is supposed to be on half the time, but we realistically get it at most 8 hours a day – and which 8 hours is anybody’s guess! During that time of power, a water pump fills our storage tank on our roof, so that we have water during the times of no power. When that runs out, we can go to the well directly and pump water out for what we need. Simple tasks, like doing laundry, can’t even be planned anymore, but are more of a reaction to the accessibility of power and water. When the time allows, we wash by hand, so that we can get by, but if we did everything by hand and went to the market every day to get our food, all our time would be consumed in those things, rather than allowing us to do ministry. Just as before, we’re figuring out a new normal; trying to get into a new rhythm of life.
We are fortunate enough to have found a house large enough (and affordable) to accommodate our family, plus have extra space to have guests and even groups come visit and work with us here (more to come on that later!). What that means is that we are primarily occupying the upstairs of this new house, so that we can later use the downstairs as the hosting space. The stairs leading up to that second floor is very narrow and not conducive to carrying pieces of furniture… or a fridge… or a stove up them. However, we have a nice balcony from that second floor. On moving day, we backed up the truck to that balcony and literally lifted everything straight from the truck up onto the balcony to carry into the upstairs. No ramp, no problem! I sat on the ledge of the balcony, bending down and hoisting things up. My body reminded me later that I’m not as young as I used to be, though. It was quite a different moving experience!
One of the things we have noticed is that relationships seem to be easier in this context. Where people (locals) used to be apprehensive of visiting us on campus, we have people stop by all the time to see us at our new house. This is exactly one of the things we were hoping for to give us the opportunity to become even more immersed in the culture. We don’t know all that God has planned for us in this season. But we can look back on the last season with gratefulness at all that we learned, all that we experienced, and all the ways that God showed us His provision, protection, and guidance. It was clear He was calling us to a different chapter in our ministry here in Haiti, so we’re jumping forward, knowing He’s already taking care of the anticipated challenges and using the difficulties to continue to mold us in the image of His Son, Jesus. To Him be the glory.
"I don't remember where I am from."
Sometimes it is a simple question, like "Where are you guys from?" Other times it is the obvious moment when your 7-year old still won't eat with utensils, because none of his friends eat with a spoon or fork. And then there are the even more obvious moments when he carries a bowling ball on his head when his aunt takes him bowling "for the first time" because he could not remember what bowling is. And why wouldn't he carry the ball on his head? Everything is carried on the head in Haiti, and it really improves posture and allows you to carry even more weight...this is his world.
Each of these moments make us chuckle, but they tell a much deeper story. While enjoying a day at the beach here in Haiti, a gentleman struck up conversation with our family. The very typical first question was, "Where are you from?" Our youngest paused and then replied, "I don't remember where I am from." Our friend explained that she is from Oklahoma, and then informed the gentleman that we live here in Haiti. Without missing a beat our youngest said, "Oh yea! I've been to Oklahoma before!" We all chuckled and reminded him that is where we lived - and he was born - before moving to Haiti.
In the moment I handle these moments pretty well - at least I feel like I do. But later they come rushing back to me and I think through all the blogs and books I keep reading (or have on my to-read list) about third-culture kids (TCKs). Our youngest was just 4 when we moved to Haiti, so he will adopt more of the TCK posture than our older kids. Reflecting on this moment though - the moment of not remembering where he was from - I had to surrender it to God. American culture says so much about the foundation we give our kids, putting down our roots, and them knowing where they come from. All the parenting books I read before missions were completely focused on life in America. I often find myself out of my element and the enemy knows just where to attack. He likes to take these simple moments and innocent conversations and use them to tell me that I am a failure; surely I must be ruining my children. Yet, I look at the photo below and see a fun-loving, enjoyable young boy who loves life. So I cry out to God once again and ask that He guide us in this often lonely road of raising children on mission in a developing world.
So, when you find that your child cannot remember where he is from, or eats with his hands when clearly he is old enough to remember a utensil, focus on this: are you teaching them to "act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8)" Because in the end, that is what God requires of us...that we live in this way, and that we teach our children to do the same (Deut. 6). So let go of the little things, don't give the enemy any foothold, and keep on pointing your children back to the One who holds them closer than you imagine.
Celebrating his 7th birthday with ice cream sundaes - thanks Aunt Shari for the ice cream machine!!
"Don't touch your face!"
"You can't play in the dirt!"
"No running while in the village!"
"Please don't share your water!"
These are phrases that we have consistently said to our children. None of these are things we ever thought we would say - definitely not with the frequency we now say them. My six-year old is a typical boy and he loves to run and play in the dirt. He has probably scared more than his fair-share of women in the community by running around and playing in the dirt. He simply does not understand their concern. They see a boy running and their memory jumps back to some child who ran and fell, and the scratch got terribly infected, causing amputation or worse - death. They see a child playing in the dirt and remember a young child who played in the dirt and ended up with a serious infection or worms - perhaps this too resulted in death in the story that replays in their minds.
Parenting on the mission field just is not the same as parenting in your passport culture. You have to adapt to your surroundings, learn new cultural "no-no's," keep kids safe from totally new things that are often just as foreign to the parent! While you work to raise respectful young adults, you suddenly find yourself balancing and teetering between two worlds. It seems your family is always one step away from offending someone.
It is in these moments that you start to observe how others parent their children. Maybe you are blessed with a more experienced "veteran" missionary family to watch and model. Maybe you have met an incredible family on the mission field in your new home culture, and you can learn from them what is acceptable or not. Maybe you're pulling your hair out because you feel completely lost in this adventure and it is not quite what you imagined it would be. Praise God for His grace!
I remember in our first months in Haiti that I would change my responses to my children to match what the culture did. I realized this was not productive, as my kids did not know what was expected of them. We began to have lots of conversations about what is acceptable in each culture. Our kids will one day be masters at fitting into the crowd anywhere they go, because they can assess the situation and adapt to what is expected of them in order to avoid cultural mishaps. I pray that God uses this for His glory one day! Parents - it does not matter where you are raising your children - do not underestimate the importance of talking with them and sharing with them what your expectations are and why! If you do not have a good reason, you may want to re-think your expectations.
If you are at the beginning of your adventure, trust in God's Word! His Word will guide you, even if you have nobody else around you to tell you what to do.
Teach your children to love unconditionally, to be gracious and kind, to care about and for others, to respect their elders, and to listen well.
Teach your children to pray about everything, without ceasing.
Teach them to follow your example by being a good enough example for them to follow!
Teach your children to seek God's will first in their lives by modeling it for them, even on the hardest days.
Lastly - but definitely not least! - teach your children to be humble and ask forgiveness when they blunder, because they most definitely will.
Raising your children in a foreign culture is not an easy task, but God is faithful and will equip you. He will walk with you as you try to guide your children closer to Him.
This, my friends, is what parenting is all about.