Confession #124: Blood is Blood

IMG_3015I miss my first mommy.

This is something I frequently hear from my six-year-old daughter. Considering Dalencia was only four months old when her mother passed away, her cry often catches me off guard. She has no real memories of her mother, not even a picture. Yet she misses her.

My two oldest children are biological brother and sister, but their stories are very different. One was a sick little baby who grew up in an orphanage, never getting the chance to know her family. And one lived with his father until he was almost six.

Tying to make sense of their first family vs. their “forever family” (common adoption term) has been tricky for my little ones, especially since Baby Jake entered the scene. Dalencia has now created all sorts of fantasy memories of being a baby with her first mommy. Listening to her stories breaks my heart.

If only she had a picture…

Recently we have been working on some paperwork in preparation for our adoption. In doing so we had to meet with our kids’ biological father last week. We do this at least twice a year. He lives pretty far away and we try to be strategic with the timing for our kids. Nalandson, who lived with his father until he was five, has had a difficult time with these visits, mostly with the goodbyes. Dalencia, on the other hand, has no recollection of her father and simply follows Nalandson’s lead on being excited for their biannual reunions.

No matter how difficult the visits can be, however, we want our kids to remain connected to their first family. We want Nalandson to have some sort of relationship with the man who he will grow up to look exactly like. And we want Dalencia to remember her story and where she came from.

This past visit went pretty well. I think they enjoyed their time. Communication is becoming more difficult as they are slowly losing their Creole- something I am not proud to admit. But for the first time there were no tears. Maybe time is healing all wounds. Then again I think it is opening up hidden scars as well.

Adoption is beautiful, but it is also hard. As Nalandson and Dalencia’s father said last week, “Blood is blood”. His blood runs through our children’s veins. They will always be connected. Always. And I am glad for that. I pray for that. But it is still hard.

Dalencia often tells me that if God told her she could pick any white mommy in the world then she would always pick me. I put the emphasis on white because so does she. I used to correct her. Dalencia, you mean if God said you could have any mommy, right? She nods, but I know what she means. She loves me and she knows I love her, but she misses her first mommy- the mommy who carried her in her belly, the mommy who gave her her big, brown eyes, and the mommy she will never know…

~ Jillian

Confession #123: Church, Voodoo, Expectations & Hope: An Interview With Gerome

IMG_9638I met Gerome when I was a young college student visiting Haiti on a short-term mission trip. I don’t remember a lot about our first interactions, but I do remember thinking he was an extremely genuine guy.

Today I consider Gerome to be one of my closest friends. I am often asked if there is anyone in Haiti I can fully trust and without hesitation I always give Gerome’s name. It is for this reason that we brought Gerome on as our Haitian Administrator at Emmaus House.

But it isn’t just his genuine, trustworthy character that makes Gerome such a vital member of Emmaus House. His faith, past experiences, and true desire to see his country grow make him irreplaceable.

This weekend I asked Gerome if he would be willing to share his faith, story, and dreams for Haiti and Emmaus House with you guys. Here is what he had to say….

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Me: Tell me your story. Not necessarily about your childhood, but about how you came to know Jesus and how you became the man you are today.

Gerome: I grew up with my mom. My father was the chief of police and had an affair with my mom. He paid for me to go to school. I saw him often but we didn’t have a very good relationship. He liked me but he didn’t have a lot of time for me. But I was very close with my mom.

Me: You said your father paid for your school, but you never finished school. Why?

Gerome: When I was 18 I lived on the street- 21st street. My father died and I could no longer go to school. I was 17 when I finished the 10th grade. I left my mom’s house to live with friends. I learned how to do A/C work from my brother and cousin. For a year I went to A/C school. I couldn’t pay for it so I traded my services for a cut on my tuition.

Me: Tell me about your life on the street.

Gerome: Life was very difficult because I had to take care of everything on my own. I never knew where I was going to sleep or what I was going to eat. I learned to make contacts with people. There is a saying down here that goes, “If you know 1 word of English that is $1.00.” So I started listening to English music.

Me: How did you end up leaving the street?

Gerome: I met a man named Dan. He was an American mechanic who was working downtown. He offered me a job to work with him and he let me move in with him. Then Dan became friends with Ron and Diane (previous orphanage directors). They invited him to come live at the orphanage and after a while I moved there too.

Me: Were you a Christian when you moved to the orphanage?

Gerome: No. But once I moved to the orphanage I started seeing a new life. I started noticing the difference between Ron and Diane and Dan. They were Christians and he was not.

Me: What differences did you see?

Gerome: My time with Ron and Diane was when I met love for the first time. They talked with me and treated me with such love. They were such an example for me. It was amazing being with him. I would sit outside in the mornings with Rob and Diane would serve us coffee and we would just talk. I started wondering what made them different so one Sunday instead of going to the beach with Dan I went to church. I hadn’t been to church in 10 years. After that Sunday Ron and Diane gave me a Bible. I started studying everything and after a few months I gave my life to Jesus.

Me: How did that change you- becoming a Christian?

Gerome: I finally had hope. I didn’t have hope in the street. On the street I was always thinking about where I was going to sleep or what I was going to eat. But I learned that God is faithful and never lets us down.

Me: What did you do at the orphanage?

Gerome: Ron hired me to do mechanical work for the truck, generator, inverter, and water pump. He couldn’t pay me much. I could have gone back to the streets and made more money, but I stayed because I knew God was choosing me for something greater. And I stayed for the relationships too. They were my family.

Me: Tell me about being a father in Haiti. You had your first daughter when you were young. Many men under your circumstance in Haiti would choose to leave the mother and child. Why didn’t you?

Gerome: The way I am, when I commit to something I keep it. It wasn’t easy when my daughter was born. Down here in Haiti, abortion happens every day. But this was not an option for me. When she (Gerome’s now wife) told me she was pregnant it was like I had a bullet hit my heart. I kept thinking about how I didn’t have the resources to take care of a child. I knew abortion was a crime. So I said that no matter what I would stay for my child. I would work harder, make more contacts, and keep my child. I had to make a lot of sacrifices. Sometimes we went to bed hungry but I stayed strong. My daughter was now my job. When I had my second daughter my mom wanted to take her but I told her no. When I was a child I was my mom’s responsibility. Now is it my turn to take my responsibility with my kids.

Me: Let’s fast-forward to your life now, specifically your work at Emmaus House. The teens you work with are the same age you were when you began living and working on the streets. What differences do you see between you as a young adult and them?

Gerome: The biggest difference has to with expectations vs. hope. Expectations are different than hope. You can hope something will come. You wake up one day and you can hope that the sun will shine, but at 12:00 you may see that the sky is cloudy. Expectations are different. Sometimes you expect something to come because you know it is going to come. You plan for it. The youth at Emmaus expect things because they have what they need. But when I was their age I couldn’t have expectations. I had to live day-by-day and survive on my hope. I had to live by hope, not expectations. I never knew what was coming. I just hoped everyday that the sun would one day shine on me, but I never could expect it.

Me: So the youth at Emmaus House are different because they have always had their basic needs met? But one day they will leave our program and have to learn to take care of themselves like you did. How can we prepare them for this?

Gerome: For our youth they need to be in the field. They need to keep moving. Like a waterfall, they need to keep moving. We need to help them get attracted to the field, attracted to work, and hopeful that good will come in their life. They need to get familiar with the street, with the people, and interact with business and life in Haiti. When I was there age money wasn’t my priority. Knowing people was my priority- getting to know them and making friendships. You need people and you need to make them need you. We need to push our youth. There will be a time when they grow up. They already have in many ways. But soon they will be on their own and they need to learn to do things by themselves.

Me: How can churches and people in America help us prepare our teens for life as an adult in Haiti?

Gerome: We need help to educate them and to help them reach their goals. We need people to be godly examples for them and help them become men and women of God that can serve others in Haiti.

Me: What about sponsors? How can they help our teens?

Gerome: A sponsor is someone who can encourage our teens. Just like a parent doesn’t stop supporting their kid once they are no longer a child, our teens need sponsors to help them until they are ready to leave the home. And even when they leave then still you are there to support them with your words and prayers for life. Our teens do not have parents, but when you choose to sponsor them, you show them love. They need people to commit to encourage them in their dreams. They need hope even though they don’t have parents. They need people to stay close to them. At their age there are many temptations. It is important for them to have people to show them love, a good example, and encouragement.

Me: What about the local church? How can they help our youth and/or how can our youth help the local church?

Gerome: In order for the church to grow we need more Haitian leaders. For example, there is a preacher who I recently spoke with who had a lot of help in his church. But because the church members struggled financially they all moved away to find jobs. Now the church suffers for leaders. This happens in many churches. Potential leaders leave because there are no jobs and then the church responsibilities fall only on the pastor.

Me: So the church needs good leaders. Do you think our youth could be these leaders?

Gerome: One thing I have been thinking about is when we write goals with our teens none of them have goals for leading in the church. All their spiritual goals are individual. 

Me: Why do you think that is?

Gerome: Our teens, from the beginning, have never had a good experience with the church. They have lacked a good example of what a good leader looks like and what the church should look like. So many of them struggle to love the church. We need to help them love the church first then teach them to be leaders. But first they have to love the church. Then they will want to lead.

Me: So obviously the church here struggles. What do you believe is the greatest problem our teens face in Haiti?

Gerome: This is a big question that I don’t’ know how to get into. The problem is not the county. It is not the land. It is the people. If you read our history we have never had a good, Christian leader for Haiti. Politics in our country is always about dark stuff, about Voodoo. And it is the same with the people. All of our faith is being tested all the time. For us, we can say we are Christian. But most people down here can’t stand problems. So when problems hit they turn to Voodoo. And education- people here aren’t educated. They don’t know God or anything so they just do whatever they want. Voodoo and education are big problems in Haiti.

Me: What potential do you see in Haiti?

Gerome: The greatest potential is unity and being of one mind and one spirit with each other under one God. We need to be willing to help others and focus more on people’s lives. If we can change the mentality of hatefulness and pride, then together as one nation we can change. The change needs to start from within. Then our youth will want to stay and serve their families and country. We have the strength to change this country. I don’t see it. But I know we can.

Me: Let’s think about the future for a minute. In five years where do you see Emmaus House?

Gerome: In 5 years I want Emmaus House to grow in a way where we can see progress in our youth. I want the progress to be an example for our future. I want a program where we can assist the youth in need. I would like for us to own our organization. I want a property where the youth can be divided girls and boys. I want a place to teach them professionally. I would like to see us have a church building so the youth grow spiritually with others. I want them to have a place where people can care for them and love them. My dream is to see Emmaus House grow into a beautiful program.

Me: With that dream in mind, what motivates you to keep going? And what fears do you have about your dream?

Gerome: What keeps me motivated is that I know God cares about His people. I trust Him that He will take care of us. I trust He will help us find help for our teenagers. And I know He will help lead them. I know the work is not only on me. All God’s people can put their hands together for those who are in need at Emmaus House. I want their success. I want to see them to become people of God that want to help Haiti. Giving a chunk of money to them is not the answer for them. But the lessons we are trying to teach them at Emmaus will stay with them forever. And that desire keeps me motivated. 

What keeps me up at night and makes me think harder is my dream for Emmaus. I want us to become more independent. I think of all the things I want for Emmaus- own property, education opportunities, a church. I don’t know where that is going to come from. I can only hope. I hope one day God will bring this all together. My fear that keeps me up is that we won’t have finances to continue or to grow into what I want us to become. But we know our God is a faithful God and He has us here for a reason. Only God can lead us to where Emmaus needs to be. 

Me: Any final words to share with readers?

Gerome: In the church we are one body and we are all supposed to work together. I want to thank everyone who is a part of our body and who works together to help us in Haiti. What we need to do here is a big work, but as one body we all have our own work and at the end we will glorify God.

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Thanks Gerome for taking the time to share. Your dream for the future is my dream too. May God continue to bless us and guide us!

~ Jillian 

Have more questions or comments for Gerome? Post below and he will get back with you soon!

Confession #122: Babies Should Wear Socks at The Beach (& other advices)

selfieI once referred to the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” about my (now previous) life at the orphanage. The friend who I was speaking to, however, interrupted me just before I was about to compliment the thought: “You know the Bible never said that,” she said. “It was Hillary Clinton. It takes parents to raise a child.”

At first I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and pretended I already knew that. (I had no idea who actually said the phrase first.) But it did get me thinking, especially as I became a parent myself. Villages are nice to have, but my kids need me.

Raising kids in a culture that is not your own has its challenges. Some of the challenges are obvious like language barriers, where to send them to school, fitting in with other kids, church, and helping them discover their own unique identity between cultures.

I’ve been a mom for almost four years now. Raising Haitian children in Haiti, I have learned to be a humble parent- meaning I have had to learn to accept constant advice and criticisms from my Haitian neighbors. I went through a phase of daily critiques on how I styled (or didn’t) Dalencia’s hair. My approach to health care (meaning I don’t send my kids to the doctor every time they have a runny nose or fever) has raised many of eyebrows. Barely anyone agrees with my approach towards punishment. And don’t even get me started on the days when I homeschooled!

In my early parenting years, I was often offended by others telling me how to do my job as a mom. I thought the people here were rude and had no place to openly share their opinions on how I was choosing to raise my kids. But slowly I came to accept the fact that this was just life in Haiti. It wasn’t personal; it was culture.

Then came Jake. And although he has a Haitian birth certificate, he is currently the whitest baby in town. I already get called “blan” multiple times wherever I go. Now put a white baby boy in my arms and I am like a freakin’ circus act walking down the street.

And although that is super annoying and all, it’s all the critiquing, especially from complete strangers, that gets me the most.

For example…

After being put on bed rest for 48 hours following delivery, the first two women who came to visit told me I needed to get out of bed and start working again or I would get sick.

At the beach the man cleaning out the fish tank told me Jake should never go barefoot and I needed to put socks on him.

Twice in the grocery store someone told me it was not okay to bring Jake into the A/C.

On the street I have been laughed at for using a baby carrier.

A woman told me I needed to care for Jake better when she saw his clogged eye-duct.

I’ve been instructed to never let Jake outside without a hat.

I’ve been told he cries too much which is a sign I don’t feed him enough.

And when someone caught me drinking an ice-cold beverage the other day, I was criticized for not taking care of my post-pregnancy body. (What?!?)

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Now, I’ve never raised a baby in America before, but from what I recall people don’t just walk around giving their unsolicited advice and critiques to new mothers. But in Haiti it is a totally different game. The people here aren’t trying to be rude or anything; they are just treating me as their own. And I know that. But still…socks at the beach? Come on!

In Haiti, villages really do raise children. Grandparents, extended families, neighbors, schools, churches, and orphanages all pitch in to raise the children of this country. So when a random man in the grocery store offers me parenting advice, he is just doing his part. And instead of getting offended, I now thank him and then look at Hunter and laugh. I mean, what else am I supposed to do?

Being a mom in a culture that is not your own is difficult. You have to be confident and strong or you can easily break. Often I am neither- confident or strong. But by the grace of God I am getting there…

How about you other missionary mamas? Does this happen to you?

~ Jillian

Confession #121: Where Are The Men?


Not gold but only man can make a people great and strong; men who for the truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long. Brave men who work while others sleep, who dare while others fly…They build a nation’s pillars deep and lift them to the sky.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

This week I chose to be extra observant, but look around on any given Sunday and you will see that our church building is mainly filled with women. Women both young and old, accompanied by their children, fill the pews. Sitting as close to the front as they can, they give their all to the service- singing, clapping, and raising their hands in prayer. The men are typically dispersed in the back. Less engaged, they are usually lower in numbers. With the exception of a few, most of the men in our church sit through the service arms crossed, silent, playing on their cell phones, and occasionally even asleep. Over a few years of watching the women to men ratio in our church I have come to wonder: Where are the men?

Haiti is often referred to as the NGO Republic- meaning we are packed full of non-government organizations here to aid the poor in their own given way. And many of these NGOs, rightfully so, focus on women. Maternity centers, education programs, micro financing companies, fair-trade artisan groups- we have them all. There is a reason for it. The United Nations Develpoment Programme is correct when they say, “Women’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduces infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation.” Give a mama here in Haiti a loan and she will use it to start a business to support her family and send her kids to school. Give a man here a loan and he will more than likely go upgrade his telephone, build an addition to his house, or spend it on booze.

This is not just true of Haiti either. Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn speak of this worldwide problem in their book Half the Sky. Based on their research, in the most impoverished areas of the world where the poorest of the poor call home, an average of 20% of a family’s income is spent on alcohol, prostitution, candy, and soft drinks. According to them, “some of the wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes, but also by unwise spending- by men. It is not uncommon to stumble across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net and then find the child’s father at a bar, where he spends $5 each week. Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses.” Although that sounds rather discriminatory, it is true. And it is the reason why so many organizations invest in women. Given opportunity and inspiration, women have the ability to create long-term change.

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The central problem of every society is to define appropriate roles for the men.

Margaret Mead, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World

Understanding the gender dynamics in Haiti is rather difficult. In many ways I applaud Haiti. Unlike most under developed countries, education is equally available (although not free) to both boys and girls. Many well-achieving businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and stores are run and managed by women entrepreneurs. Many women fill positions in the government. And many Haitian homes are run by the woman (as the breadwinner, the mother, and the financial manager). On the flip side, however, it is a rarity to see a woman driving her own vehicle. A husband beating his wife is still considered acceptable by roughly 31% of the population. It is the norm for a woman to have multiple children from multiple fathers. And a majority of women still do not wear pants.

But enough about the women. This blog is about the men. You see, I am worried for the men in Haiti. I am concerned for the examples (or lack there of) that are being provided to the young men I work with. I’m concerned as I watch men step away from their God given responsibilities as fathers, husbands, providers, and church leaders. And more than anything, I worry for this country, which seems to not only accept but also excuse the absent man.

Spurred by observing Hunter through my pregnancy, I recently had two conversations about such concerns- one with a co-worker and one with a young gentleman in our program. Amazed at how present and active Hunter was while I was pregnant my co-worker laughed when I told him Hunter was by my side during the labor process. A devoted father himself, I asked him why Haitian men aren’t more involved with their babies. “If a man was present for the birth of their baby then they may feel obligated to help financially with the baby. So it is easier for them to not be present at all. If they don’t see the baby then they won’t feel guilty,” he replied. This wasn’t a shocking statement. I realize absentee fathers are a universal problem, not just a Haitian one. But it was the way he said it so matter-of-factly that caught me off guard, as if it was a common and acceptable choice.

A few days later I found myself in a rather extensive conversation with one of our students about dating in Haiti. “It’s so hard to find a good Christian girl to date,” he said. “Even the ones at our church aren’t really that good. Most girls my age are the matrons of their families. They don’t have a father in their home and they have many brothers and sisters (not all from the same dad) that they need to care for.” “So what makes them not good?” I asked. “Girls in Haiti are desperate. Most of the girls I know never knew a father’s love, so when they get my age they go chasing a lot of boys. Most girls I know have multiple boyfriends and they have sex with all of them,” he replied. “I’ve heard in America that it is the boy who is supposed to pursue the girl, but in Haiti the boys can just sit back and wait because the girls here just come to us,” he said with a smirk.

Whether he meant to or not, my young friend diagnosed one of the hugest issues in Haiti to its core: Where are the men?

The teens I work with have all been affected by this manless epidemic. A handful of them have no record of who their father is, even on their birth certificates. Some know a name, but as soon as their mom passed away their father brought them to the orphanage, believing it was not his responsibility to care for a motherless child. A couple of them were born out of their father’s affairs, making them illegitimate, making them fit for an orphanage- a place where the product of an embarrassing affair can be hidden. But no matter what their story, all of them have been abandoned by a man.

*   *   *   *   *

So who’s at fault? What’s the problem? Where are the men?

I think there are a few reasons why so many men are falling short in Haiti. You can blame poverty and desperation if you want, but in the end I don’t think those cut it. Poor men can be strong men. Just see the Bible for a multitude of examples. No, I believe so many men are struggling to be men in Haiti due to three underlying problems: lack of expectation, tampered dignity, and minimal accountability. Let me take a minute to explain each one further:

Lack of expectations: A young boy grows up unable to finish school, so we don’t expect him to find a good job. He can’t find a job, so we don’t expect him to make much money. He doesn’t make much money, so we don’t expect him to be able to provide for his family or contribute a whole lot to society in general. (After all it is the ones with the most money that have the most influence.) And the list goes on. In general, Haiti doesn’t expect a lot from its men. Poverty is too often the excuse as to why men have no obligation to rise up in this society. And when they don’t it is widely accepted as norm.

Tampered dignity: Dignity is valuable. Dignity in one’ s self, one’s family, one’s culture, one’s community, and one’s county is what motives people to help themselves and to help their own neighbors in need. When that dignity is comprised, however, people can easily accept being a charity case.

Now I’m going to try and say this as nicely as I can, but I must be honest. We (the foreigners) who come to aid the people of Haiti too often tamper with the average man’s dignity. We come in and provide for their families for them, we build their homes for them, we pay for their kids’ school for them, we build orphanages and take care of their kids for them, and we come lead in their churches for them. We do these things because we see the need and we care, but behind the scenes we are taking away the responsibilities of the local man.

Minimal accountability: Being accountable to your neighbor is difficult no matter where you live in the world, but it is a rare practice here in Haiti. A few years back I caught a former employee stealing money out of our office. The evidence was clear and even the local authorities agreed she was guilty. However the other employees and children I worked with excused her behaviors. Believing she was cursed to do these things and therefore was not in control over her behaviors, no one held her accountable.

I see this a lot in my teenagers as well. One boy recently lost something of value to my husband. When I approached him about it, I asked him what a mature man should do in this case (hinting that he should replace the lost item). “Well, I didn’t mean to lose it. It was just an accident. So it isn’t my fault,” he replied. And surprisingly enough, the others teens around him agreed. No accountability.

And this lack of accountability translates into a society of unaccountable men. A man here can easily walk away from a child, not work, and have multiple affairs. No one scorns him. Most people here just look the other way, put the blame elsewhere (i.e. lack of money), or contribute it to Voodoo.

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The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Lack of expectations, tampered dignity, and minimal accountability are all contributors to the manless epidemic in so many Haitian homes. But what about the church? Where does it fall into place?

Well, if a man can’t fulfill his God given duty to lead in his own home how can he lead in the church? In 1 Timothy 3:4 Paul says that an overseer of the church must first be able to oversee the affairs in his own home respectfully. For “if anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”

And this perfectly explains the scene I described above from our church. The men aren’t stepping up and leading in the church, barely even participating, because many of them have no practice even stepping it up in their own homes.

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Working with teenage boys here in Haiti, I have often struggled as I watch the lack of strong male influences in their lives. What kind of men will they grow up to be? Will they provide for their families? Will they commit to their wives? Will they raise their own children? Will they be leaders in their church or just join the other men in the back pew? Can our boys help break the cycle of absent men in Haiti. I pray so. Everyday, I pray so.

~ Jillian

Confession #120: Welcome 2015- Praises & Prayers

untitled-1760Can I use being a mother to a newborn as an excuse?

Multiple visits from family members?

The holidays?

I haven’t blogged in a while, have barely even checked Facebook. Time, well, I can’t seem to find a whole lot of it these days.

Time and sleep. WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?

For all of you who have ever doubted, sleep deprivation is a real thing. And yes, you can actually function daily (although not well) on < 3 hours of sleep.

(Insert yawn)

Despite how busy and exhausted I am, the New Year is going to hit me whether I have energy for it or not. Reflecting back on 2014 and looking forward to 2015 I thought it would be appropriate to share my top praises for this year and my prayers for the next.

2014 Praises

– God provided our monthly needs for our family and Emmaus House. No matter how tight our budget was, He never let us down. He always provided. Sometimes at the very last minute, but always.

– Nalandson and Dalencia successfully transitioned into Cowman International School. They are enjoying the 1st grade and have made a lot of much needed friends.

– Merly successfully transitioned from the CHCH to Emmaus House.

– The tremendous growth of our teens at Emmaus House. They are all maturing into beautiful young adults and we are so grateful to be a part of their lives here in Haiti.

– We hosted four groups at Emmaus House who helped with Emmaus Works, professional trainings, devotionals, community service projects, and building relationships with our young adults and staff.

– Our family came to visit us for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Living oversees, especially with two kids who cannot yet travel, time with family does not happen often and every moment is priceless and precious.

– God blessed us with a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery in Haiti, and beautiful little baby boy. Jake joined our family on November 26th and is the perfect addition to our family.

– Hunter was given several local photography jobs which provided for our personal rent and other family needs.

2015 Prayers

– We pray that God would help move things at the port so our truck can be released and that His justice will be over those who have been negligent and corrupt for the past year regarding our shipment. Please join us in prayer as we are currently trying to decide how to proceed and for our ability to be mobile as a family without transportation.

– We pray for wisdom for the board and staff of Emmaus House as we prayerfully seek God’s will for our future. Please join us in prayer that God will provide us with direction and the finances to build and become a more sustainable program.

– We pray for Djooly and Merly as they plan to graduate this year. Both have the potential and desire to attend college. Merly wants to attend a school in Port-au-Prince to become a Physical Therapist and Djooly wants to attend school in the states. With many interests in mind, his major is not yet decided. Please join us in prayer as they take exams this year, begin applying for schools and scholarships, and seek sponsors to assist with their education.

– We pray for our adoption. Hunter turns 30 in October meaning we will finally be eligible to begin the adoption process for Nalandson and Dalencia. It will be a long and expensive process once we begin, but we are more than anxious to get started. Please join us in prayer as we begin looking for agencies to assist us.

– We pray for blessings over Hunter’s photography. Living on support can be difficult, especially with a growing family. Through Hunter’s photography, God has blessed us with a way to help make ends meet. Please join us in prayer that He would continue to open doors for Hunter in Haiti.

*   *   *   *   *

This year has truly been both a time of blessing and a time of challenge for our family. As always, though, God used both to bring us closer to Him.

We are excited to see what God has in store for us in 2015. From (hopefully) being able to start the adoption process to watching Djooly and Merly graduate we pray for God’s will and purpose to direct our every step.

We want to thank each and every one of you for joining us on our journey in Haiti. We are truly blessed to have you in our lives. May God bless you and keep you in 2015.

~ The Kittrells

Confession #119: Birth Story, Reflections & Photos

My favorite!

Hunter being handed Jake for the first time.

I’ve never automatically loved someone. I guess as a newborn baby you “love” your parents, but as a baby you don’t know that.

As a wife and as an adoptive mama of two, I have “fallen in love” with each member of my family. But never have I loved someone, head over heals loved someone, simply after hearing their first cry for air.

It’s an exhilarating feeling- the rush of that kind of love. And last Wednesday at 7:42 pm I experienced it for the first time.

*   *   *   *   *

I had previously pulled an all-nighter. Anxious about just passing my due date and experiencing hours worth of inconsistent contractions, I nervously paced our house for most of the night. Thanks be to God my good friend Erin came over to keep me company and tried her best to call my nerves.

Believing no progress had been made, I was able to catch an hour of rest after the sun rose. The morning continued with our normal routine- sending the kids off to school, eating breakfast, and catching up on emails. At round 9:30 Erin and I went for a walk around the neighborhood and my midwife, Sandi, came over around 10:00.

At that point I was already 4 centimeters dilated and over 50% effaced. Happy, but still not satisfied, Sandi sent me to my room with a few strategies to try to induce the labor process. (I’m keeping my blog PG rated so I’ll pass here on the details.) By 11:00 I was able to time my contractions. Active labor had begun.

At first things weren’t bad. I spent the first few hours sitting on my yoga ball, chatting with Hunter and Erin, listening to music, eating between contractions, and I even watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Looking back, those first few hours were bliss. A little uncomfortable, yes, but fairly easy and exciting.


Hunter helping me through the pain. He was my rock.

I lost all concept of time as the contractions picked up. But as they grew longer and closer together I started to develop rather intense lower back pain. I have pinched my sciatic nerve before on multiple occasions. From bending over to pick up a child to shaving my legs, it’s pathetic what has triggered such surges of pain. In my 2nd and early 3rd trimesters I experienced a lot of lower back pain as well. I survived many of days thanks to an abundant supply of disposable heating pads left behind from a medical missions team. All that to say, my lower back has always been rather sensitive. And labor, apparently, was not going to agree with it AT ALL.

With every contraction my lower back literally felt like it was breaking apart. I found it hard to concentrate on all my breathing and relaxation strategies because I was so distracted by the paralyzing pain swelling in my spine. Erin, Hunter, and Sandi all took turns massaging it the best they could. And as helpful as that was, nothing really helped.

I tried different positions- in the pool, in the chair, in the bed, and even on the toilet. Nothing would give me relief. I felt like a hopeless mess. With tears streaming down my face I remember sitting in the pool and telling everyone I couldn’t do this anymore. My back hurt too much and I didn’t believe I had what it took to survive. As the sun started setting (which is around 5:00 here in Haiti) I looked out the window and prayed to God that the end would soon be near.

At some point, I don’t know when, Sandi broke my water. From there my memory is a bit blurry. And although I fully intended on doing a water birth, by 7:00 I was so tired and the cold water in the pool just made my back muscles more tense. It took Hunter, Erin, Sandi, and Hope (a visiting nurse) to transition me to my bed. Hunter put two heating pads on my back (Why had I not thought of that sooner?) and he held me as I crumbled to my side.

I vaguely remember Hunter asking Sandi when I should start pushing. And I remember her saying that it would just come naturally when my body was ready. I don’t know if that was the permission I needed to hear or if I was just desperate, but a few minutes later the urge to push consumed me.


Our first look at Jake just a minute after giving birth.

By 7:42 pm Jake let out his first cry. True love. Sandi guided Erin, who is currently in midwifery school, to catch him. That wasn’t planned, but I love that is what God worked into the story. I mean, how many people can say a good friend delivered their baby in their home? Not many I imagine.

As Sandi placed Jake on my chest I looked over at Hunter. He was sobbing. Never have I seen him cry so much. A bit delirious, and quite frankly out of tears, I remember looking down at this new baby and thinking, “You are a real person. Like, no longer a moving being in my belly, but a real, live, person.” I held him close. I still have no idea what words I conjured up. I just remember being so in awe of the moment, constantly exchanging glances between Jake and Hunter, and thanking God for seeing me through the day.

*   *   *   *   *


Nalandson and Dalencia meeting their new brother. This was a priceless moment.

All this happened a week ago, which is crazy. It seems like forever and like yesterday all at the same time. Things have been going well. I am taking a bit longer than I’d like to recover. A UTI and a slow-to-recover back can do that to you. But I’m coming around.

My parents arrived over the weekend and that has been a huge help. Honestly, I’m not sure how our family would have survived the past few days otherwise. Cooking us meals, entertaining Nalandson and Dalencia, and helping Hunter and I navigate through our first few weeks with Jake has been a blessing.

*   *   *   *   *


Trying to figure each other out the morning after.

I’ve tried reflecting a lot these past few days on my previous hesitancies towards pregnancy, my fear of all things baby, and on my decision to deliver naturally in Haiti. One natural birth abroad and one week of parenting a newborn down, here is what I now think…

Pregnancy- I once told my mom I didn’t want an alien growing inside my body and that is why I didn’t want to get pregnant. She laughed, but I was totally being honest. Sharing my body with someone for nine months and allowing them to take so much from me really freaked me out. Having to watch my body change for the benefit of another- I’ll admit was a selfish thought- but it just never seemed enticing.

I know women who love being pregnant- say they would be pregnant all the time if they could. Now, God blessed me with such an easy pregnancy. Really, other than some lovely hormonal acne and back pain here and there I had zero complications. I didn’t gain a whole lot of weight and my migraines practically disappeared for nine months straight. But I don’t think I LOVED being pregnant.

I think there are few reasons for this. Not being surrounded by friends and family through the exciting stages of the process made me feel someone alone as my body changed and time grew near. And Hunter, bless him, didn’t always notice. And being pregnant, in our situation down here, really disabled me. I spent more time at home over the past nine months than I like to admit. Without personal transportation and trying to avoid public transportation (Because let’s face it, a white pregnant woman on a tap-tap full of people with no personal boundaries is just not ideal.) I just couldn’t go anywhere. And so for most of my pregnancy I felt alone and isolated.

On the other hand, I no longer have the fears towards pregnancy like I once did. It honestly was a beautiful thing. Creating a life with Hunter and then being responsible for growing and nurturing it was exhilarating. And all my fears about alien babies and the sharing of my body completely disappeared once I found out I was pregnant. I was still nervous for the unknown, but never fearful.

Babies- I’ve never been one to want to hold someone else’s baby. No offence, your babies are super cute and I have spent my life admiring them from a far. But I have always felt a little awkward around babies. Maybe just because I didn’t know what to do with them. But then Jake entered my arms and now I can’t seem to get enough of him. He’s so tiny. So cute. Currently so squirmy. And he’s mine.

I still have no idea what I am doing with him. Baby books aside, Hunter and I are simply learning as we go. And ladies, let me just be honest, watching your man love on and bond with your baby is kinda the greatest thing in the world.

Birth- Even before getting pregnant I made the decision that I would give birth in Haiti. To me, this was non-negotiable. I wasn’t going to break up our family. I would only do this if it could include Nalandson and Dalencia.

That decision also meant I needed to do it naturally. So I began doing my research and the more I watched, read, and discovered, the more passionate I became about that as well.

Even though I was completely confident in my two decisions I was still completely terrified of birth up till the very end. But that fear had nothing to do with Haiti and nothing to do with being natural. There was just no way to prep me for what was coming- what contractions would be like, how I would feel emotionally, what energy pushing a baby out would take. I read books, watched countless documentaries and YouTube videos (Ya’ll there are some scary things out there on YouTube about birth.), and listened to my friends’ personal stories. And although it was all  helpful, no two births are alike. Pregnancy could be semi predicted, but birth was the big unknown.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my birth story. The pain was intense, yes, but what came from the pain was worth it. And I am not just talking about Jake, but also the experience, the memories, and the strength and confidence it gave me.

* * * * *


5 days old.

Jake has only been around for a week and he has already been such a blessing for our family. Nalandson and Dalencia, as predicted, are the best big brother and sister. Dalencia, especially, has taken on a very motherly role around the house. Our lives have now become that much busier, but we will learn to manage in time.

The teens at Emmaus House are precious. Most were too scared at first to touch him, but I didn’t really give any of them the option. A newborn baby in the arms is good medicine for anyone’s soul. So far, Jake has taken a particular liking to Manno, which was completely unpredicted, but I am tending to think God has something up his sleeve with that one. We’ll see.

*   *   *   *   *

Before I go, I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us as we prepared for Baby Jake. We were so overwhelmed and grateful for you prayers, words of encouragement, and gifts.

A special THANK YOU to Sandi who took time out of her crazy, busy schedule to come to Haiti to help us deliver Jake. Your wisdom and guidance was priceless.

A very special THANK YOU to Erin who not only gave me the confidence I needed to embark on this whole journey to begin with, but also guided me through so much of it. Thank you for staying up all night with me for never leaving my side. You are going to make a rockin’ midwife.

And lastly, THANK YOU to everyone at Emmaus House who has been so patient with me during my pregnancy. Thank you for caring for me so much and for being my family away from home. I love each of you dearly.

*   *   *   *   *

So welcome to the world Baby Jake. You are loved.

~ Jillian

Oh yeah…almost forgot these adorable shots. I like to look at them and try to create their captions. What do you think they are saying to each other?

Baby Jake Photos-1693

The Kittrell kids all together. What do you think made Baby Jake cry?


Baby Jake Photos-1698


My favorite!

My favorite!


Confession #117: From Skeptic to Leader


A guest post:

It’s important that you understand my place with Emmaus House. I am a bit of a follower.  Thanks to a TED Talk I recently saw about creating movements, I was described as a “first follower”.  Basically, I’m the one who does a lot of work but the “lone nut” receives the credit.  Tanya Pirtle, visionary & Emmaus House Board member, pulled me in and I was mildly involved during Emmaus House’s infancy.  I had known the youth from the Cap-Haitien Children’s Home when I was a part of a short-term mission trip in 2011.  It was a positive experience for me and it fundamentally changed me.  I fell in love with the younger kids.  I mean, who doesn’t?  The teens were withdrawn, if they came out it was to sit around and fix each other’s hair. They made communicating with them difficult for many reasons.  They didn’t appear grateful, they stayed in their rooms, and overall were just plain lazy. I had to put forth all of the effort and in return felt disrespected. My interaction with them was unsavory.

So when Tanya approached me about this new adventure, I wasn’t completely on-board.  Which is where I feel like a lot of you might be. Not all of you, but a skeptic doesn’t really understand the need for Emmaus House.  Emmaus House is for the 18+ year old that has aged out of the orphanage system.  That right there stops you.  You think, “Duh. They’re 18.  They need to get a job, be out of their own and support themselves.”  It’s what I did. It’s what is expected of them. This is ridiculous!”  If you’ve experienced their behavior like I did, you probably didn’t fall all over yourself to help them either.

We expect more of them because that is what we expect of ourselves. What we don’t put together, which should be obvious, is that they aren’t us.  They’re not Americans.  They’re Haitian; an entirely different culture. Their economy is not up to our standards. Their education system is warped. Most importantly, they are in an orphanage because they lack what I believe is the only thing we should feel entitled to- parents.  They are hurt.

The Emmaus House youth were not 100% on board at the beginning. They were scared of the change and didn’t understand accountability, hard work, what a family looks like, and they didn’t know much about God. I had the opportunity to get to know these kids from a different perspective from people that love them. Over time, I was asked to join the Board. I was hesitant because I knew how much time and work it would take away from my family.  Tanya had a trip planned for Haiti and with two weeks before she was leaving I decided that I wanted to go to connect with the Emmaus House kids, physically see Emmaus House, meet our Haitian staff, learn more about Haiti, and experience Haiti.

Upon arriving at the house I was floored by the youth coming to me, someone they didn’t really know, and greeting me.  It wasn’t just a quick “Hi” and a small wave. They gave me a solid handshake, looked me in the eye, asked me my name, asked me about my trip, and asked me about my family.  That was just day one!  That right there, has me impressed.  This was a complete turn-around.  On their own, they were studying, doing chores, cooking, and doing laundry.  There was no complaining.  They were smiling, laughing, and overall appeared happy to be there. The girls baked with me.  We made donuts one day, and cookies another.  I got them to loosen up around me and talk with me.  The boys walked with me and talked with me.  They shared some of their struggles and the shared their dreams too.  I know there’s more inside, but I could tell they weren’t as guarded as they were.  They knew I cared.

They’ve been living as a family with Jonathan and Vivian as their house parents.  It was a struggle to get used to, but they are grateful to be together and have learned to function as a family.  They didn’t get that at the orphanage.  They had no one to guide them on this personal level their now accustomed to.  They are slowly healing from the trauma they’ve experienced.  They are growing.  They have the opportunity for a bright future and they know it.  They are gaining confidence and experience. They are different.

I’m thankful that I was a “follower” to a “lone nut” because my labor and investment in Emmaus House has been returned three times over.  It will be exciting to see what the future has in store for Emmaus House and the youth that have been a part of it.  Haiti will be blessed by them and I can’t imagine what beautiful fruit they will bear!

~ Susan Bryner

Confession #116: What They Have to Say

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 10.42.56 AM

Want to learn more about Emmaus House? Who better to hear from than Jonathan and our youth?

Check out what they are saying about the program and how they need you to get involved.

Confession #115: I am Terrified

Jillians Maternity Photo-0777

Jillians Maternity Photo-0777

Today I am confessing something that has nothing to do with being a missionary in Haiti but about being a woman. So all you men out there who read my blog, I apologize in advance.

3 weeks and 1 day. According to my What to Expect app that is my official countdown until Benjamin “Jake” Kittrell makes his grand entrance.

And ya’ll…I must confess…I’m terrified.

Since the announcement of our pregnancy I have been asked tons of different questions:

Will you have the baby in Haiti or in America?

Will your baby be an American citizen?

Are your parents nervous for you? I bet they are.

If your baby is born in Haiti will it be black? (This was my all time favorite.)

Will you have access to an epidural?

What if you need a C-section?

Do you trust the doctors in Haiti?

What if there is an emergency with the baby?

Will you have air conditioning? 

Choosing to have our son in Haiti isn’t exactly what most people expected us to do. Heck, a few years ago, it wasn’t what I expected us to do either. And doing it all natural, without even the option of an epidural, has made us sound even crazier.

I’ve gotten a lot of you’re so brave comments and I hope Hunter is prepared. I smile and go along with it. I mean, what exactly am I supposed to say?

(I am) more than a conqueror through Him who loved (me). (Romans 8:37) 

I’ll confess- I’m terrified of labor. TERRIFIED.

But it has nothing to do with delivering in Haiti or even the pain for that matter. Choosing to do this the all-natural way is something I believe I would do even if I had access to the typical American luxuries. I’m not a “granola” type person by any means. After all, I could live off of Double Stuffed Oreos and Peanut M&Ms. But there is something appealing about trusting my body and God’s design without the assist of medical interventions.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, 

I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14)

What terrifies me (And please forgive me if this is TMI) is all the other stuff like…

  • Not being in control of my body
  • Bodily functions in general
  • Afterbirth (come on, that’s just gross)
  • Blood (I can’t even pull my kids’ teeth because the blood freaks me out so much.)
  • And having to be vulnerable enough to share all these fun/gross things with those assisting me…including my husband

I realize all women who deliver babies deal with these things. I realize this is normal, natural, and how God designed it to be. And I realize in the moment I probably won’t care as much as I fear I will. But today, this is how I am feeling.

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

I have been trying to learn to relax and meditate lately- two things I have never been able to do really well. Breathing techniques, massage, soothing music, and scripture affirmations have become my tools. And bless Hunter who has become my ultimate support. I’m thinking he should be a doula in his next life.

For real though, I have no idea if any of these methods are going to work come game day, but for now they are at least helping me to mentally prepare. With God as my strength, I am daily trying to trust that He is going to carry me past my fears and help me deliver a healthy baby boy.

 May God strengthen you with power though his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 4:16)

There you have it- my pregnancy confession- I am terrified of labor. So much about it just goes against my normal character: always wanting to be in control, modest with my body, a fan of cleanliness, and not always the most vulnerable with others. But in 3 weeks in 1 day (maybe) I will be forced to put those characteristics aside. And that, my friends, terrifies me.

So maybe you can pray for me. Or, perhaps send me some reassuring and encouraging thoughts. All you mamas out there who can relate, please tell me I’m not crazy. Please tell me that my fears are normal and that it is going to be alright. And tell me…please…that all this gross stuff that is about to happen to me isn’t as terrifying as I am making it out to be. Please.

3 weeks and 1 day…deep breaths…deep breaths…


Confession #114: Maybe It Is Because I Still Stink (short story by Papouch)


The creativity of our teens never ceases to amaze me. From drawing to sewing, jewelry making to photography, singing to writing, many of them are discovering some sort of outlet to express their feelings artistically. And I love, so love, when they let me share.

Today, I am sharing a short story by Papouch. As I was walking around the house yesterday he asked me to sit and listen. Then out of nowhere he started sharing these words- almost like it was open mic night at the local coffee shop. His story is raw, beautiful, and from the heart. Hope you enjoy!

~ Jillian


My name is Papouch.

I live on the street, behind a trashcan.

When I am hungry I try to get food out of the trash.

Sometimes I find food. Sometimes I don’t.


One time a rich man saw me.

He asked if he could take a picture of me because he thought he cared for me.

I didn’t know what a picture was so I let him take it.

Then he showed me the picture.

I couldn’t smile because I had never seen my face on a piece of paper before.

I didn’t know what to think.


He told me about his life.

I told him about mine.

He said, “What do you want to do?”

I said, “I want to fix shoes for people to make money.”

I saw people on the street do that once, but I didn’t know.


He gave me a little paper.

I didn’t know what it meant.

Later I learned it was called “money”.

Someone told me I could use it to buy something.


But then some tough guy saw me with the money.

He said, “I saw that rich man give you money.”

I lied and told him no.

We argued.

He beat me up and took my paper money.


Another man saw me and picked me up off the street.

He asked me what was wrong and gave me a bowl of soup.

I couldn’t drink it very well because my face was so beaten.

But I was so hungry so I tried the best I could.


He asked me again what was wrong and I told him.

Turns out he fixed shoes too.

He said he wanted to teach me.

I said okay because I thought this was a big thing – fixing shoes- but I didn’t know.


Three months ago I tried to make myself a business.

I made a little money.

One day a boy came to me to fix his shoes.

He wore a uniform.

I had never seen such nice clothes before.

So I asked him about his clothes.

He told me about school.

“What is school,” I asked.

“School is a good place where you can learn a lot of new things,” he said.

I went back to the man who taught me to fix shoes and I continued to work hard.

Then one day I finally had enough money in my pocket- enough to go to school.


Now I go to school.

Now I have a uniform.

But at school the kids look at me the same way the rich man looked at me- like a boy who lives behind a trashcan.

Maybe it is because I still stink…

~ Papouch


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