Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No Other Place on Earth I'd Rather Be

The sun that had been hiding the past 3 days was ready to show her face again Saturday morning. It slipped through the screened windows of the guest house and danced around the room cheerfully waking us up. 

Stretching in the narrow single bed I feel a small body beside me. Sure enough, it's Jayden. He must have crept in some time during the night. Checking the time I realize breakfast will be ready in less than 10 minutes so as quickly as I can I get my two sleepy boys ready.

Breakfast consists of fried egg on toasted Haitian bread and it hits the spot. Right after breakfast it's time for meetings to begin between UCI and our visitors so I walk back to the guesthouse. Jayden soon finds some friends to sing and play with and it's fun to watch him interact.

It's Justin's nap time, so once he's resting in the pack and play, I get comfortable on the guesthouse veranda. The next few house I have some spare time to enjoy the sun and catch up on some writing.

Meetings last from 8:00 a.m. till noon when there's a break for lunch. After lunch they begin again till there's a break at 3:00. At this point we organize a spelunking expedition to the Voodoo caves. 

5:30 p.m. dinner is served again at the university cafeteria.

In the open field around the cafeteria a couple of boys are playing in the tall grass. They are very excited about seeing their pictures on my camera so I take a few and then show them.  

More meetings are planned after supper and they finally disband when it's very dark out.

Inside the guesthouse we wind down together by sitting at a long table eating peanuts, reading books, writing, working on building plans and sharing thoughts about our day and stories about our lives.

The fluorescent light bulbs flicker dimly overhead, the chairs aren't comfortable, the cement floor is muddy and the mosquitoes are biting, but right now, at this very moment, there is no other place in this world I'd rather be.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Complications

November 26, 2:00 a.m.

I sleepily roll over and open my eyes. The night is dark and between the steady drumming of rain on our tin roof I can detect the rustling sound of the curtains in the breeze.

Hurricane Sandy sweeping by west of us has been showering Haiti with residual rain since early Wednesday morning. 

The temperature, dropping down to a record low of 23 degrees had us scrambling for coats and sweatshirts. The excess moisture in the air gave everything a damp, musty feel; our bedsheets felt wet, our clothes were clammy, Jayden's homework papers lay limply on his desk, while the three words written on our kitchen white board smudged all on their own. Even our wooden doors became water logged and difficult to open.

Schools and businesses had been closed since early Thursday morning with no signs of reopening yet. It wasn't the winds that were really the problem since the hurricane was far enough away, but the nonstop rain just wasn't letting up. With the mountains' lack of tree cover, rain water just washed down dirt slopes unimpeded causing the rivers to rise and cities to flood.

After a silent prayer for any and all affected by the rain I doze off again; morning is still several hours away.

5:45 a.m.
The cell phone alarm hasn't gone off yet but both Jason and I are wide awake. Today is the day we hope to fly into Pignon but with this inclement weather the possibility of that actually happening is slim to none. Nevertheless we both get up and get the boys ready.

An hour later we drive down the quiet streets to the airport. Looking out the window I watch the rain continue to drizzle down, futilely trying to rid the capital of her filth.

Inside the vehicle, the two brothers hold hands. Whatever adventures awaits, they are in it together.

When we reach the domestic terminal a line up of people are waiting outside. We unload our backpacks in the rain and then wait under the overhang for the terminal doors to be unlocked. Once inside, I watch as two airport workers try to operate the X-ray scanner but to no avail. Finally they sheepishly wave the pilots through and somewhat reluctantly begin to search passengers and luggage.

Although the process is slow going, at this point I'm just thankful they showed up for work at all.

As Jason heads out through the tarmac to the MAF office, I wait in the terminal for our flight to Pignon with the two boys and Edith, a HFL (Hungry for Life) project manager who had arrived on an American Airlines flight the day before.

Looking through the glass doors of the terminal I notice the drizzling cloud layer is not lifting. "I hope the Westeringhs will be able to land with American Airlines," I say to Edith and she nods. I pull out Jayden's practice math and reading notebooks and pass them to him; might as well give him something to do while we wait. Justin is hungry so once Jayden is working on his school work, I get busy mixing formula, cereal, fruit and water for his breakfast.

Two hours later the weather still isn't looking any better. IFR (Instrument Flight Regulation) flights like American Airlines are able to land, but at this point it's not safe for any VFR (Visual Flight Regulation) flights to come or go. When Jason's cell phone data shows that American Airlines has landed he heads over to the international terminal to pick up the Westeringhs. It's a relief to know they've landed safe and sound.

A half an hour later, after getting reacquainted, the question pressing on all our minds is raised. Since it's unsafe to fly, what do we do now? Should we hope the weather clears and wait for a later flight or should we attempt the 4 hour drive to Pignon instead?

"Our vehicle has four wheel drive, so let's try to drive there," Jason decides. "We're kind of pressed for time and to get all our meetings finished it would be beneficial if we could get there sooner than later. Who knows how long this weather will last?"

We all agree that this is the best option and head to our home so the Westeringhs can drop of their suitcases. The weather hasn't gotten any better but there are more people out and about now. The drive that took us 10 minutes this morning takes 35 minutes now.

Once at home we quickly get organized. It takes a bit of skillful maneuvering to fit nine of us and our personal belongings in our 8 passenger vehicle but we make it work. With a quick stop at Eagle Market for snacks and drinks we are on our way. Traffic on Delmas is even busier now.

"Where are all these people going when schools and businesses are closed?" I wonder out loud.

As we reach the outskirts of the city, traffic thins. 

The dirt and grime of the rambling city disappears, replaced by small bushes and rugged mountains. 

Leaning forward I do my best to photograph the changing landscape.

An hour later when we reach a look out area we pull over for a quick break. The scenery is beautiful, a breath of fresh air in comparison to the crowded capital we left behind.

 This section of the road between Port au Prince and Hinche is paved and the going is smooth. The final stretch from Hinche to Pignon is a different story though. The section has been worked on, but is not paved yet. With the heavy rains in the last few days it's become one giant mud run.

 Pushing a few buttons Jason switches to four wheel drive and we start plowing through. 

We watch in amazement at the motorcycles slipping their way past us. All pedestrians on this stretch are holding their shoes in their hands and making their way barefoot through the mud.

Two hours later after motoring through 15 miles of mud we reach our destination; the mission outpost of United Christians International (UCI).

Jean Jean and Kristie the founders of UCI are there to welcome us and we quickly unload. Once we've had a quick snack we get ready for the tour. In the five years they've been in Haiti they've set up a church, a school, an agriculture program and most recently a university. 

It's incredible to see the progress they've made since the last time we've visited. It's also exciting to introduce Hungry for Life an organization based out of Canada that comes along side mission groups in other parts of the world and introduces and connects them to churches and individuals in Canada.

A traditional meal of rice and bean sauce and red onion sauce is served at 5:00 p.m. which we all enjoy. 
After dinner the ladies in the neighborhood take turns holding my very white skinned, blue eyed baby. 

Walking back to the guesthouse the sun begins to lower in the still cloudy sky.

Right before it sets, it glows once more.  A final burst of red and orange splendor.

I sit and watch till the night grows dark. Then tired from the days events I slowly get ready for bed.

Just as I'm dozing off I notice a cockroach running over my pillow. Without any ado, I sleepily brush him off. These past four years have changed me I think.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sunday School

 I had already made up my mind that I wasn’t going to teach Sunday school classes this year and I had my excuses all in a row; I have a baby; who is going to look after him? 8:20 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. is a long time to be at church every Sunday morning, especially with two little kids. I’ve already done it last year; I should give someone else the opportunity. 

So when the email came asking me to volunteer again I wrote a sweet but simple, “Can’t do it this year. Sorry.”

God however had different plans. Proverbs 16:9 reads, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps,” and I was soon to find out how true that was.

It started with a reply from the Sunday School Director that child care would be provided during the Sunday school sessions.

Then one of the blogs I follow, written by a friend of ours, had a post about how valuable teaching Sunday school really was.

I read the below post:
The Right Honourable Sunday School Teacher
Psalm 34:11
       Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Some say you are a mere Sabbath-School teacher, but you are a noble personage, holding an honourable office, and having illustrious predecessors…He who teaches a class in a Sabbath-School has earned a good degree. I had rather receive the title of S.S.T. than M.A., B.A., or any other honour that ever was conferred. Let me beg of you then to take heart, because your duties are so honourable. Let the royal example of David, let the noble, the godlike example of Jesus Christ inspire you with fresh diligence and increasing ardour, with confident and enduring perseverance, still to go on in your mighty work, saying, as David did, Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD. If you want, however, a higher example, even than that of David, hear the Son of David while from his lips the sweet words flow, Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 19:14.

C. H. MACKINTOSH (1820-1896): The longer we live, the more highly we prize the blessed work of Sunday School teaching…We have the fullest assurance that such work will meet its rich reward in the day of the Lord, even though present appearances may be discouraging.

C. H. SPURGEON: Let us be encouraged to sow the good seed in evil times. Let us not despair. If there were no more mustard seed in the world, and I had only one grain of it, I should be all the more anxious to sow it. You can produce any quantity if only one seed will grow…It is always an act of faith to sow seed; because you have, for the time, to give it up, and receive nothing in return. The farmer takes his choice seed-corn, and throws it into the soil of his field. He might have made many a loaf of bread with it; but he casts it away. Only his faith saves him from being judged a maniac: he expects it to return to him fifty-fold. If you had never seen a harvest, you would think that a man burying good wheat under the clods had gone mad; and if you had never seen conversions, it might seem an absurd thing to be constantly teaching to boys and girls the story of the Man who was nailed to the tree. We preach and teach as a work of faith; and, remember, it is only as an act of faith that it will answer its purpose. The rule of the harvest is, According to thy faith, be it unto thee.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Many a Sunday-School teacher comes home on Sunday night with a heavy heart, and fancies that his or her labour is all in vain―But all this is disgraceful unbelief. There is often far more going on in hearts and consciences than we see. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bring his sheaves with him,” Psalm 126:6. There are more being converted and saved than we suppose. “Many shall sit down in the kingdom of heaven” whom we never expected to see there when we died.

C. H. SPURGEON: Teachers of the children in the Sunday-Schools, it may be years hence, but if you have taught a child really to know something, that knowledge may be the beginning of his salvation.

C. H. MACKINTOSH: It may be that the Sunday School pupil will grow up a wicked youth―a wicked man; he may seem to have forgotten everything good, holy, and true―to have worn out, by his sinful practises, every sacred impression; and yet, nothwithstanding all, some precious clause of Holy Scripture, or some sweet hymn, remains buried in the depths of memory, beneath a mass of folly and profanity; and this Scripture, or this hymn, may come to mind in some quiet moment, or it may be on a dying bed, and be used by the Holy Ghost for the quickening and saving of the soul. Who can attempt to define the importance of getting hold of the mind when it is young, fresh, and plastic, and seeking to impress it with heavenly things?

C. H. SPURGEON: You are not sowing, as some say, on virgin soil, for it has long been occupied by the devil; but you are sowing on a soil more fertile now than it ever will be―that will produce fruit now for better than it will do in after days; you are sowing on a young heart, and what you sow will be pretty sure to abide there.

CHARLES BRIDGES (1794-1869): In after years, smothered convictions will bring back the power of early impressions. These seeds of instruction will burst forth into life. He will find it “hard’ in a course of sin “to kick against the pricks,” Acts 9:5. The Scriptures, fastened on his memory, will force themselves upon him with many a sharp and painful struggle. Conscience will disturb his pleasures, and embitter the sweetness, and which he had found, or fancied that he had found, in his sins.

BROWNLOW NORTH (1810-1875): And if you, oh reader, have the care of children, teach them to commit to memory large portions of Scripture. It may come back to them with blessing when you are in your grave.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): My mother died before I was seven years of age―she stored my memory, which was then very retentive, with many valuable pieces, chapters, and portions of Scripture, catechism, hymns and poems…Though in the process of time I sinned away all the advantages of these early impressions, yet they were for a great while a restraint upon me. They returned again and again, and it was very long before I could wholly shake them off. When the Lord at length opened my eyes, I found a great benefit from the recollection of them.

C. H. MACKINTOSH: It is impossible to tell where and when the fruit of a Sunday School teacher’s work may turn up. It may be on the burning sands of Africa, or amid the frozen regions of the North, in the depths of the forest, or on the ocean’s wave; it may be at the present time, or it may be years after the workman has gone to his eternal rest. But, let it be when or where it may, the fruit will assuredly be found, when the seed has been sown in faith and watered by prayer.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): Dr. Morrison, missionary to China, who translated the whole Bible into Chinese, became pious at a Sabbath-school.

ROBERT MURRAY M’CHEYNE (1813-1843): May we not learn from this to be more earnest, both in prayers and labours, in seeking the salvation of little children?

D. L. MOODY (1837-1899): One afternoon, I noticed a young lady at the service, whom I knew to be a Sunday School teacher. After the service, I asked her where her class was. “Oh,” said she, “I went to the school, and found only a little boy, and so I came away.” “Only a little boy!” said I, “think of the value of one such soul! the fires of a reformation may be slumbering in that tow-headed boy; there may be a young Knox, or a Wesley, or a Whitefield in your class.”

C. H. SPURGEON: There may seem no connection between teaching that boy and the reclaiming of cannibals in New Guinea; but I can see a very possible connection. Tribes in Central Africa may have their destiny shaped by your instruction of a tiny child.

RICHARD CECIL (1748-1810): The duty of a Christian is never to despair. The seed may be buried and seem lost, but it will spring up. The privileged child cannot un-know what it has heard.

WILLIAM SPURSTOWE (1605-1666): The promise, and the word that goes from God’s mouth, shall not return to Him void, but shall accomplish that which He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto He sent it, Isaiah 55:11. The manner of the fulfilling of it may be various, but the performance of it is most certain.

C. H. SPURGEON: Dear Sunday-school teacher, do not become weary of your humble work, for none can measure its importance―recollect that you are teaching for God―Believe, dear teacher, believe in the gospel. Believe in what you are doing when you tell it. Believe that great results from slender causes spring. Go on sowing your mustard seed of salvation by faith, expecting and believing that fruit will come thereof.

SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (1600-1661): God’s time will bring God’s harvest.

And still I hesitated. By now, I’m sure they’ve found someone else, I reasoned.

When we came to church on September 2 however, there was no teacher for the middle school class; five students eager to learn but no one to teach them.

Right there and then I volunteered for the position that God had been gently urging me to take all along.

In the following week I looked through old Sunday school curriculums and found one on Joshua. Reading through it I was struck by how much there was to learn from his life. There were so many lessons regarding obedience and trust in God. About believing God’s promises rather than looking at our circumstances. About the joy that would result in obedience and the painful consequences that so often came hand in hand with disobedience. About God’s promise that Joshua would be successful if he meditated on and obeyed God’s Word.  And about God’s encouragement to Joshua that he should be strong and courageous and not be afraid because God would always be with him.
Awed, I couldn’t put the book down. How was it that I knew all these stories, but yet had never seen the significance of them in my own life?   

So the next Sunday I sat down with my five students and we read the first story about Joshua in Exodus 17:8-16.

Then we discussed what it meant and how it applied to our lives. What could we learn from the words we read? There was a lot! Joshua obeyed Moses’ instructions and learned from him how to love and obey God. Now we needed to do the same.

After discussion time I gave each student a memorization notebook but I did not assign a verse. “Read your Bible, listen to your Bible lessons in school, pay attention in church. Then chose one or more verses to memorize for next week and write it in your notebook.  Next Sunday I want to hear you recite your verse and explain what it means to you." I encouraged them.

The following week we studied Number 13-14 and learned how Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies that trusted God and what it cost them. The rest of the Israelites became so angry they were ready to kill them. Yet, because of their faith in God’s promises God protected and blessed them, and although God did forgive the Israelites sin of unbelief they had to wander in the desert for 40 more years till all the adults died. Only Joshua and Caleb would be allowed to enter the Promised Land.

There was a lot there to talk about as well. How often in our lives do we look at the circumstances rather than at God’s promises? What are the consequences? How does trusting God and His Word change everything? What kind of opposition can we expect to face when we trust God?

After discussing these important concepts we each shared our verses. Some of the verses the students shared were these:

Matthew 6:27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

Joshua 1:9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

Isaiah 40:30-31 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Exodus 14:14 The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.

Proverbs 3:5-6  Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Psalm30:4-5 Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

There was so much there. Together we soaked it in; God’s word, His promises, what we could learn from Joshua. That hour each Sunday morning before the service became a time I looked forward to all week. 

God had a better plan than mine. Without Him directing my steps I would have missed out on this most blessed opportunity to share His Word with five young, receptive hearts.