Confession #136: A Season of Dependency: Velvet Ashes

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Today I have the honor of sharing on Velvet Ashes. So many feelings bundled up in this post. As a missionary, learning to be dependent on others has been hard, especially when I spend my days preaching the value of independence to my youth. As the years pass and my family grows, somedays I wonder: Will I ever be able to not have to ask for help? 

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Confession #135: Mackendy Shares His Story

I had been meaning to talk with him all week. Something inside me kept telling me it was important. His story IMG_2202 copy 2needed to be heard. And my listening was long overdue.

I’ve known Mackendy for a long time. One of my first memories in Haiti is of him carting little kids around on his bike at the orphanage back in 2005. He was quiet and reserved, not as outgoing as some of the other boys. But he was always there- watching, listening, and helping those around him.

Until this week, I had never asked Mackendy about his story. I think I always feared he wouldn’t want to share, that perhaps he didn’t trust me yet with the details of his life. And I think in some ways I was right. We’ve never been super close. But this week I knew it was time.

When I asked Mackendy if he would be willing to share his story, not only with me, but with my blog readers he was very willing. “I knew I needed to share my story,” he said. “I remember you telling us in devotional that our stories can help other people. I have wanted to share, but I just didn’t know how.”

So today, with his blessing, I am going to share Mackendy’s story with you. May it encourage and bless you as much as it has me…

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Born in the town of Milot just outside of Cap Haitien, Makendy’s mom died a few years after he was born. “Sometimes I get really sad because I try to think of her but I never even knew what she looked liked,” he told me. The sixth out of seven siblings, he was never raised by his mom. Shortly after being born he was given to his grandmother and was later joined by his younger brother.

Mackendy vividly remembers growing up with his grandma. He remembers working in the fields with his grandpa, playing with his brother, and living in their tiny house. They didn’t have much, but he was happy with his family.

When Mackendy was eight or nine years old he broke his arm. Living so far in the country and with minimal resources, his grandmother was not able to take him to a hospital for proper treatment. For close to a year his arm was kept wrapped in sling made from a towel. Mackendy remembers that year as being a very painful one. He knew his arm wasn’t healing, but there was nothing he could do.

A year after his accident a medical mission team came to visit his town. Hopeful they could help his arm, Mackendy’s grandmother took him to the team’s clinic at a local church. The team helped Mackendy get to a hospital and he was able to receive surgery to correct his break.

Shortly after his surgery Mackendy remembers overhearing a conversation between his grandmother and his uncle. His uncle wanted Mackendy to go to the orphanage recommended by the team. Financially, things were difficult. Mackendy’s grandmother could not send him to school, didn’t always have proper food to feed him, and was not able to afford medical care. But she loved him and wanted to keep him. They argued for a while, but eventually Mackendy’s grandmother took the advice of her son and brought Mackendy to the Cap Haitien Children’s Home.

Adjusting to life at the orphanage was a little tricky at first. At his grandmother’s home he slept on the floor, so when he was given a top bunk his first night at the orphanage he was a little nervous. That first night, after tossing and turning, he fell out of the bed and hit his head on the concrete floor. He called for Sadie, one of the older girls, to come help him. She walked him to the director’s house and his head was cleaned and bandaged up.

Never attending school before, Mackendy started the 1st grade when he was eleven years old. At an age when most boys in the states are entering middle school and trying out for sports teams, Mackendy was learning the alphabet for the first time. He remembers school being really difficult, but he was determined to learn.

In January 2010 an earthquake hit Haiti killing nearly a quarter of a million people. Although the devastation did not reach Cap Haitien, Mackendy realized that God must have a plan for him because his life was spared. So the Sunday morning following the earthquake, Mackendy went forward and gave his life to God.

After becoming a Christian, Mackendy knew he needed to develop a trusting relationship with God. He remembers not knowing how to pray. For the first week after he was baptized he would just say, “I am yours now. Help me walk in your way.” And slowly God began answering his prayer. After a week of reciting that simple prayer, Mackendy heard a voice in his head telling him it was time to read the Bible. So he did.

The first passage he read was Jeremiah 29:11-13.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

After reading this, Mackendy knew, without a doubt, that God had a plan for him. He just needed to seek him with all his heart. So he did.

Now if you know Mackendy at all, you know that he is very talented with computers. For him, this interest started when he was young. While at the orphanage a visitor named Drew came to help install computers for a new computer lab. Mackendy, not knowing anything about computers at the time, was very intrigued. So as Drew worked, Mackendy watched and learned. Once Drew left, the older teens started using the computers. As problems would occur or as things would break, Mackendy was the first to volunteer to try to fix them. He would sit at the computers, take them apart, learn their parts, clean them, and teach himself how to reassemble them again. He still remembers how great he felt the first time he turned on a computer that he fixed. After that, he knew this was what he was he was supposed to do.

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10557484_884247821585936_7204756915324089178_oAfter listening to his story, I had to ask Mackendy one more question: As a young leader, what do you think Haiti needs the most? I expected a few different answers. Education and job opportunities are the most common responses I receive. But not for Mackendy. His answer was quick. He didn’t even have to think about it. “Haiti needs more Christians,” he said. “God is the only one who can provide real help. If more people in Haiti believed in Him than this would be a better place. God is the most important thing Haiti needs.”

Being helped all throughout his life, first by his grandmother, then the medical team, then the orphanage, his sponsors, and now Emmaus House, Mackendy knows that God is preparing him to live a life of service. He wants to help others the same way he, too, has been helped. He wants to use his abilities and his resources to serve in Haiti and to bring people to Christ.

Because he started school late, Mackendy is older than most of the young men at Emmaus House. He has two more years left in secondary school and then dreams of going to university to obtain a degree in computer engineering. He is a hard worker and has been a leader in our Emmaus Works program designing and printing t-shirts. And he continues to develop his computer and English skills by taking professional classes in town.

Mackendy is the future of Haiti. He is a future husband, father, worker, and church leader. Mackendy is what Emmaus House is all about. He is a young man with dreams, not only for himself, not only for his country, but most importantly for the kingdom of God.

I am so thankful Mackendy chose to share his story with me, and you. His bravery truly inspires me. His life story is one of healing and redemption. Although he has had struggles, God has been with Mackendy every step of the way…preparing him…leading him…molding him.

As Mackendy is about to start the 12th grade, please pray for him. Please pray for his school, for university opportunities, and for God to continue preparing him to grow the church in Haiti. Mackendy knows his story is meant to be heard, so please help in sharing. May God use Mackendy as a witness that he has plans for all his children, both great and small, all over the world!

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Confession #134: I was kind of a loser…

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 12.04.22 PMPerhaps you won’t believe me, but I was kind of a loser back in middle school. I tried to be cool, truly, but I always just missed the mark.

Let me give you a visual…

During my preteen years I had a slight, okay fine, major obsession with the boy band Hanson. (MMMBop anyone?) Like wallpapered walls, memorabilia wearing, don’t ever tell me they look like girls or else kind of obsession. I didn’t play sports with all the cool girls but instead was the solo clarinet player for our lousy middle school band. I also sang, mostly Hanson songs, like all the time- in the bathroom, down the hall, during gym. And this was pre High School Musical, so really there was just no excuse.

It wouldn’t be until 9th grade until I would discover the magical styling’s of a flat iron. My multi-colored braces were just that- multi-colored braces. And then there were my eyebrows- so thick and wild you could get lost in them for days.

At the wise age of 12, I was like a walking motivational speaker. I wrote poetry in my spare time, carried around the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book as if it was the Bible, and was equipped and ready to offer anyone my inspirational advice for their lives (made entirely from song lyrics or one-liners from my poetry journal, of course).

None of the kids understood me in middle school. Heck, let’s face it, I didn’t really understand myself either. I was a hot mess of pre-teen emotions and was oh-so dramatic about life. I can remember sitting in the back of my classroom just watching all the other kids, almost in slow motion, like a scene from a movie. How did they do it? How did they all know what to wear, how to act, what to like and what not to like? How did they all know how to be just like the other?  

It wasn’t that I wanted to be like them, really. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my originality, because I did. But being different was lonely. I eventually became tired of observing and overthinking and being “wise beyond my years” as my English teacher said. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to blend in with the rest of them. I wanted a boyfriend for crying out loud!

I transferred schools right before high school. Being with new kids inside new hallways, I had the chance to transform myself, to become normal, at least on the surface. I strategically observed my peers and learned how to act and how to dress. I learned what music was appropriate to like (aka- not Hanson) and I even tried my hand at sports, just because. I hid my poetry journal under my bed and with it my love of reading and writing. I suppressed my feelings and originality and went after more superficial things like boys and fashion. I finally tweezed those eyebrows, straightened and highlighted my hair, and began shopping at Express and Gap.

I wasn’t super popular by any means, but considering where I came from in middle school, I played the act pretty well in high school. By the time I graduated I was a cheerleader, on homecoming court (twice), and prom queen. Now let’s just ignore the fact that it was a pretty small high school. My street cred sounds much better without that minor detail.

I know middle school wasn’t a bright and shining moment in most people’s timelines. I get that my story isn’t anything original. Puberty probably made all of us a little weirder than we’d like to admit. But I often wonder how much the insecurities I developed during those three years impacted the trajectory of my life.

What I mean is this…

As a child, I was pretty confident in who I was and who I wanted to be. I knew my talents and I wasn’t afraid to share them. But then came middle school and I began to second-guess everything. The opinions of others trumped my own heart and slowly I began to conform, losing myself along the way.

I often wonder how different I would have turned out had I kept my childhood passions alive, had I not let peer pressure and culture taint them. Would I be braver now, willing to take more risks, be more confident in who God made me to be?

I am finally at a place now where I am trying to revisit my childhood dreams and passions, trying to embrace the gifts God gave me. Getting over my fear of rejection has been challenging, but God is faithfully leading me.

What about you? Who were you as a child- pre-middle school? Did you become who you always wanted to be? Or is it time to revisit your childhood dreams along with me?

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P.S. Since we are on the topic of school…how about you go check out our Amazon Wish List and consider helping some deserving Haitian teens with school supplies this year. Thanks!

Confession #133: Date Night Fail

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Just a few minutes before the fever hit. Sigh…

Yesterday Hunter and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary.

I realize that isn’t a monumental number. It isn’t as cool as- say- a 10-year anniversary. Still, this year felt worth celebrating. Worth remembering. Worth an actual date. Worth actual babysitters and actual food (aka: not rice and beans).

We treated ourselves to a fancy dinner, which doesn’t seem like a huge deal, I know. But you must remember where we live. We dressed up and tried to look our best for each other despite the heat. I straightened my hair and put on lip-gloss. Hunter ironed an outfit and wore cologne. We looked- almost- half way normal.

After dropping off our kiddos at our friends’ house we headed downtown to one of our new favorite spots, Cap20. It’s a new little restaurant ran by a former New York model and personal chef to the rich and famous. This place is super chill and relaxing and the food is super delicious.

The owner knew we were coming in advance and prepared a special three-course menu just for us: mango salad, fish and shrimp, grilled veggies and mashed potatoes. We arrived a little giddy. A night out ALONE. A fancy dinner to enjoy and talk over and one that did not include a high chair.

All was great. We started doing cheesy things like sharing “7 things I love about you most”. I went first, over the mango salad. As we waited for our second course it was Hunter’s turn. I looked at him and noticed he was sweating down his brow. Hunter and sweat isn’t an abnormal pair, especially in July. But this was different. He leaned against the tree truck beside him and told me he didn’t feel ok. The poor man all of a sudden spiked a 102-degree fever.

We boxed up our food and I drove home, trying not to cry. We finally got a night out to ourselves and STILL sometime got in the way. I tried to be considerate and caring, but I mean, for the love!

Anyhoo…another time, right?

I hope it wasn’t ironic that Hunter suddenly got sick while telling me how much he loved me on our anniversary. I hope that wasn’t a reflection on our seven years of marriage thus far. Ha! But seriously…the worst of timing.

No, being for real now. I’m super sad Hunter got/is sick. I’m super sad we didn’t get our fancy date. Nevertheless, I am oh-so grateful to have spent the past seven years married to this man. Growing, serving, worshiping, and parenting along side of him has been such a gift. Now on to seven more!

(Side note: Hunter, by no means, got sick because of the food. He started getting a chest cold earlier that day and it just escalated over dinner. Thought I should clear that up, just in case.)

Please say a little pray for Hunter if you don’t mind. We have a team heading down on Wednesday and he needs to get healthy as soon as he possible. Thanks!

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Confession #132: When it rains…Sometimes it just rains

dalen rain 1I love when it rains in Haiti.

Not like the flooding kind of rain, but the peaceful evening kind of rain.

The kind of rain that covers my steamy, oven-like house with grey puffy clouds, shielding us from the hot Haitian sun.

The kind of rain that brings the children inside, puts all the moto taxis at ease, and creates quiet in the streets.

The kind of rain that makes me grab a blanket, brew a cup of coffee, and relax.

It’s been raining a lot in the evenings lately, and I am loving it.

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There is a saying that goes: When it rains, it pours.

I used to say it all the time. In years past I often felt like I was drowning in floodwaters. With rain boots permanently buckled on my feet, I daily weathered storm after storm. Thus was life my first years oversees.

For a long time, I feared the rain, always terrified that it would eventually turn into a storm. But now, I have come to embrace the rain. Again, not the flooding type, but the kind of rain that keeps me humble and reminds me that I still occasionally need to step inside for shelter.

Here is what I have learned overtime: You can’t stop the rain. It will come and go as it pleases. But you can choose how you are going to react to it. You can try to fight it, but you are only going to end up soaking wet and with a cold. You can hide from it, but that can become rather depressing. Or, you can take refuge in God’s shelter and ask Him to make the most of your time inside.

Sometimes, the rain really does pour. Trust me, my rain boots are always on standby. But sometimes, it just rains. Just enough to keep me grounded and relying on Him. Just enough to remind me I am not in control. Just enough to make me stronger, wiser, and more prepared for the next storm.

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As I sit here in my bed, I can hear the rain slowly falling outside my window. I have laundry hanging on the line. Oh well. The sun will come out in the morning and I know within hours they will dry. I’m staying inside. All will be well.

~ Jillian

Jillian 

Confession #131: Next time you ask a missionary what their greatest challenge is…

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I often get asked what the most challenging part of being a missionary is.

It’s a weighty question, mainly because where do I start? And do you really care to hear my monologue?

I have a collection of responses stored away for questions like these. If I don’t really know you and you are asking me about my challenges only in part of a series of questions, I will probably tell you something like: lack of choices, freedom, food, or air conditioning. And I wouldn’t be lying to you. Those are all challenges in my everyday. Living without Blue Bell ice cream is something nobody should have to endure.

But if you are really asking, really asking because you genuinely care and sincerely want to encourage me, I will tell you the truth.

The most challenging thing about living oversees as a missionary is watching others move on without you. It’s knowing that while you work in a far off distant land your friends and family are still back home living lives you long to still be a part of.

It’s missing the weddings of close friends.

Or missing your friend become a mother.

It’s missing graduations, family reunions, and even funerals.

It’s not being there when someone you love is going through a difficult time.

Or not being there when someone you love is going through a time worth celebrating.

It’s missing coffee dates, football games, and going out to eat after church.

It’s missing birthdays and anniversaries, homecomings and deployments, engagements and breakups.

Really, the most challenging thing about being a missionary is missing the ability to make memories with those you love.

At first it’s not so bad. The first few years can feel like an overextended vacation. You’ll be home soon you think. But as time progresses, it gets more difficult.

Skype calls and visits home are all about catching up, but you never really can. You’ve missed too much. Facebook, although a blessing, can often be burdensome as you watch your wall fill up with pictures that you never seem to be in anymore.

So yeah, the “living without ___________” is a good answer as to what is difficult about being a missionary, but it’s not the whole truth.

I think about the man whom Jesus told to leave his father’s burial behind in order to follow him (Mark 8: 18-22). Until now, I have never really understood the gravity of that sacrifice. But now I feel its weight. Now I understand what it means to leave behind your family and friends for the sake of following Christ. And let me tell you, there is nothing easy about it.

So next time you speak with a missionary and want to ask them about their challenges, know that underneath the stereotypical responses of missing Starbucks and paved roads, they are really just missing their people back home. So please offer them a hug and a listening ear. They will be so grateful.

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Confession #130: Five Misconceptions About Missionaries

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If you were raised in a church, chances are you have a pretty narrow (yet slightly accurate) missionary stereotype etched into your brain.

It’s okay. You can admit it, because before becoming a missionary, I did too.

As a child, missionaries were the ones who came to church once a year on Sunday nights (a time when I would rather have been watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and Rescue 911). Their clothing was typically a little outdated, the man’s beard a little too long, and the kids a little too unsocial. The man usually gave a presentation using some not-so-good pictures from a slideshow and spoke about things far above my head- things like underground churches, persecution, and unreached people. I was from the south, ya’ll. The Bible Belt. What did he mean “unreached people”?

I remember being told once by a short-term visitor that I was “more normal” than they expected for a missionary. “You wear cute earrings and watch the same TV shows as me,” she said. Perhaps being told you are “more normal” than one anticipated wouldn’t be an amazing compliment to you. After all, it does imply that you were previously assumed to not be normal. But for me, all I wanted to do was hug this young lady and thank her.

There are a lot of misconceptions about missionaries out there. Some are true. Some are not. But today I hope to set the record straight on at least a few:

1. We are not super Christians

Just because we live oversees “doing the Lord’s work” does not make us super Christians. We are just normal people following our calling probably just like you are following yours. We are tempted just as much as you. Sin just as much as you. Struggle just as much as you. Missionaries are simply Christians trying to be faithful, and that does not make us more super than you.

2. We don’t all live in grass huts

Not all of us live in some remote village in a grass hut without running water or electricity. Some of us do, this is true. But most of us live in fairly decent homes. Maybe our water isn’t necessarily clean and maybe our electricity is scarce, but we live rather comfortably.

3. We don’t spend all day everyday evangelizing

Just because we are “missionaries” does not mean we walk around 24/7 with a Bible in hand. Our work comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are nurses, doctors, or midwives. Some of us work in businesses, are administrators, or social workers. Some of us work in gardens, run schools, and teach trades. Some of us spend our days changing diapers and loving on babies while others manage community sport programs. And the list goes on.

4. We don’t all live exotic and dangerous lives alone

I realize it wasn’t a blockbuster, but have you ever seen the movie The Other Side of Heaven? It’s a Disney movie about a Mormon missionary featuring Anne Hathaway. Weird combo, huh? Based on a true story, a young man serves as the only missionary on a remote island in the middle of nowhere. He gets deathly ill, eats bugs, and faces tropical storms. It made for a good movie, but realistically most of our lives don’t like that at all. We get up, get our kids ready for school, go to work, eat spaghetti dinners, hang out with friends, and go to sleep watching Netflix.

5. We aren’t all happy all the time

We are living out our callings, yes, but that doesn’t make us happy all the time. Some days we are outright angry, frustrated, and ready to call it quits. We aren’t happy when we miss family, friends and the weddings, graduations, and funerals of people we love. We aren’t happy when the heat index is 115 degrees and our one lousy fan cuts off for the night. We aren’t happy when locals try to take advantage of us just because of our skin color. But we continue on and learn that if we ask, God can supply joy no matter what the circumstance.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Missionaries are normal people often living fairly normal lives. We may spend our days speaking a different language and eat differing foods than you, but when it all comes down to it, most of us are “more normal” than you would think. At least I hope we are…

What about you? What misconceptions do you have about missionaries? Don’t be shy. Share!

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Confession REPOST: When In Haiti Bring Your Camera, But Also Bring Your Respect

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While at the beach the other day, Dalencia and I were approached by a complete stranger and his camera. Sitting on my lap and enjoying the relaxing waves of the ocean, me and my girl were minding our own business when a young gentleman came and stood no further than two feet away from my face. He smiled, tilted his head to the side as if to show us he thought we looked cute together, and stood there admiring us for a minute, camera prepped and ready to shoot.

Unsure of his next move, I began to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and degraded, because now I had at least a dozen new eyes starring at me- for we were causing quite the scene. I felt insecure, unsafe, and pressured. And those were just the feelings I felt about me. You should have seen how tight I was holding on to Dalencia. Knowing full well he was going to take a picture of us, my mind began to race. I never knew so many thoughts could run through my head so quickly. How dare this stranger take a picture of my daughter? What will he do when he looks at this picture later? Will he print it and hang it up in his room? Will he fantasize about me? About Dalencia? After all, she is in her bathing suit. Oh God, how can I protect her? Should I run? Where is Hunter?

Then without permission this perfect stranger leaned in even closer and snapped our picture.

“Excuse me,” I yelled in Creole, “Why are you taking my picture?”

“Because you and the girl are pretty,” he replied in perfect English.

Relieved that I could battle this ordeal in my own language I looked him straight in the eye, “But you don’t know us, so why do you think you have the right to take our picture?” I asked now slightly flustered.

“Well, you Americans are always doing that to us. You come here to visit and “help us” (using finger quotes) and you guys are always taking pictures of us with our kids in our homes, in our streets, and in our poverty, and you don’t know us either. And you all NEVER ask us if it is okay to take our picture. No, you just take it. So I thought I would try doing the same to you.”

I sighed. I smiled. I relaxed and I put my guard back down. This young gentleman was no threat at all, actually he was was a breath of fresh air. What he said was true and his little social experiment- to attempt to teach the nearest blan (white person) how it feels to be on the other side of the lens- intrigued me.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Jephte,” he replied.

“Jephte, I like you,” I told him.

Confused, he sat down beside me. I guess after his previous statement, my befriending was not what had he anticipated. Perhaps he expected me to tell him to get lost, not sit down for a chat.

I went on to explain how I live in Haiti, how I wasn’t one of the visitors he was referring to, and how I was actually on his side of the issue. These facts alone surprised him and led him to a dozen apologies- none of which I would accept. I then thanked him for helping me to feel, first hand, what a Haitian mother might feel like when a short-term visitor approaches her and her child with a mere smile and a camera for a photo op. The only reason these feelings quickly subsided for me was because I, unlike a majority of Haitian mothers, had the ability and know-how to stand up for myself. And quite frankly, I also knew I had the “right” to my privacy. If I didn’t want my photo taken, he couldn’t take my photo. Most Haitian mothers do not know they have that “right”- unfortunately because us visitors with the cameras have done a poor job of ever really giving them that right in the first place.

Jephte, feeling rather guilty, looked at me and said, “If I knew who you were, I would not have done this to do you. But this was my intention, to make you feel embarrassed, because that is how visitors make us feel when they take pictures of us. I know you know that. But earlier when I saw you, I just wanted one of you to feel what we feel for a change.”

“And I did,” I replied. “Even though I am not a visitor, I felt it. And I am really glad I did.”

We talked for a little while longer, Jephte and I. We did end up taking a few more pictures together, just to remember our time with one another. And before we parted ways I made him a promise. I promised him that I would share his message with you:

Jephte’s Message

If you ever come to Haiti, which someday I do hope you do, bring your camera. This country and its people are beautiful. But also bring some respect. You aren’t here as tourist; you are here to help. And we aren’t aren’t animals in a zoo; we are people. Our suffering isn’t free for all to capture on film. It is real and it is hard and it is personal. Bring your camera, and if you see something or someone you want to take a picture of, just ask. Ask because it is respectful and because if you were on the other side of the camera, you would want us to ask you too.

For more reading on this subject, check out one of my favorite blog posts on the topic by Tara Livesay.

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Confession #129: Life is Like a Moldy Loaf of Bread

11185775_887793209609_1210339260_nIn town there is one main bakery called Croissant D’Or- meaning the golden croissant.

The bread there is mediocre, but since I am not much of a baker I can’t complain…too much.

The bread is without preservatives. A plus to our health, I realize. This, however, means its shelf life is minimal. By the time we purchase the bread from the store we have at least two- three days tops- to finish the loaf before mold starts to overtake each slice.

At first we thought the heat may be a contributor, so we tried storing it in our refrigerator. But since our limited electricity only allows us 6-8 hours a day to run our fridge, it wasn’t much of a solution. The mold still came, sometimes even quicker.

So now our bread sits on the countertop, and it’s a daily race to see how quickly we can consume it before the mold- or the ants- take over.

Perhaps this metaphor is a stretch, but sometimes I feel as if life down here is like my quickly molding Croissant D’Or bread. In other words, if I’m not careful, I can quickly let the mold and ants take me over. And too often, I have not had what was needed to preserve me.

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About a year after Hunter and I moved to Haiti, my heart turned as quickly as our bad bread. Like, bread of the worst kind- sour, moldy, and infected with all sorts of critters.

A lot of things were at play in contributing to my heart’s downfall. There is really no need to get into them…I’ve ranted and raved enough before. I’m still trying to move past many of such events/people/circumstances, forgiving them one by one.

Regardless, I let the bad, the dirty, and the evil around me seep into the pours of my heart- places which used to be filled by grace, love, patience, and a general optimistic outlook on life. I chose anger over peace, bitterness over forgiveness, fear over trust. And.It.Ate.Me.Alive.

We are told in Proverbs to guard our hearts for “everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4: 23). This ain’t a joke. I know because for a good year or so, I strayed from this wisdom, and I suffered for it.

But not only me. I think I also hurt a lot of people in the midst of my suffering. I took my problems and often threw them back at people. Possibly even you.

And so all excuses aside, I just want to confess today. I want to say I’m sorry. Sorry because I let my heart sit out on the countertop for too long and I didn’t guard it. Sorry for my angry words. Sorry for pointing the finger and casting blame. Sorry for being mean, not kind, and standoffish. Sorry for not being stronger.

 *   *   *   *   *

When I lived the states my life was fairly easy and my problems were extremely minimal. Moving here, I didn’t know how to struggle well, mainly because I never had to before. I didn’t know what it really meant to have to persevere. I never had an enemy and my only experience with spiritual warfare was what I read in the Bible. In other words, my heart wasn’t prepared for life in Haiti.

I recently read this blog post about missionary burnout. It had a lot of great points, but one statistics she quoted threw me for a loop:

The statistics are scary: 80% of missionaries burn out and don’t finish their term. 46% of missionaries have been diagnosed with a psychological issue, and of those 87% are diagnosed with depression. 

There are many dynamics to these numbers, I am sure. But the underlying truth is evident: If you are somewhere in the world working to advance the kingdom of God, Satan is going to try to pull you down. He is going to bring the mold, the ants, and the heat. He is going to try to make you feel alone and make you feel anger and resentment. He is going to try and prevent you from seeing the good so that the bad will make you feel too burdened to continue. He is going to tempt you beyond belief. And he will never stop….

Satan’s destructive ways were in abundance shortly after I moved to Haiti. My heart crumbled with every stab. I was made weak.

So what has changed?

One of my absolute favorite scriptures is from Psalms 51: 10-12. After a while, I got tired of my sick heart. It had contaminated my whole life and I needed a change. So I sang these words, everyday. And slowly but surely God restored in me what was previously broken.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence

Or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

God is daily cleaning out my heart and renewing my spirit. He is teaching me to be joyful even when difficulties surround me. And He is daily giving me a willing spirit to sustain me.

How about you? Maybe you aren’t a “missionary” oversees per say, but I have a feeling many of you know and understand what I am talking about. All of our hearts are at risk. How do you preserve yours?

~ Jillian

Confession #128: They laughed at him…an orphan…

Holding-Hands-Haiti

Written by: Tanya Pirtle 

We are trying to teach our young men to be independent, so while on my last trip to Haiti, when he asked me if Jonathan could go with him to the hospital to retrieve his medical test results, I said, “No, you need to learn to do this on your own, you can do it. Go first thing in the morning and bring me the results when you get home.”

I arrived at Emmaus House late that morning expecting to see him. I didn’t. About 6:00 that evening, he hunted me down so we could talk. He explained that they said he had an allergy. “What took you so long?” I said. He got quiet and explained to me how he woke up at 6:00 AM to be the first one there and he just arrived home an hour ago- almost 12 hours later. They did wait on him first and asked him some questions about a possible allergic reaction he was having.

“Who washes your clothes?”

“Who takes care of you?”

“Who washes your sheets?”

“I do it myself. I live in an orphanage,” he replied. The entire group burst into laughter.

In Haiti, laundry is considered women’s work, something his mother would typically do for him.

They sent him to go sit back down. He was humiliated. He explained to me how this group of professionals sat and talked, ate lunch, talked and laughed some more, helped other patients who came, and placed him on the back burner until they were ready to close at 4:00 at which point they abruptly gave him his paperwork and asked him to leave. Hungry, tired, and ashamed, he finally headed home.

This is why he wanted Jonathan to go with him.

He was, as orphans in Haiti often are, cast aside like garbage that nobody cares about until it becomes a stench and demands to be taken care of.

A fought back tear may sneak by, but it isn’t very often one sees a Haitian man cry. But he cried that day. He was deeply wounded. At almost 20 years old, this experience cut to the heart of this young man’s identity. This is how his culture sees him and the 14 others he lives with at Emmaus House. The battle they fight to see themselves as overcomers rather than as abandoned, thrown away, and bereft is one they will fight every day.

During a seminar I taught on attachment issues in Haiti last month, I relayed this scenario to the participants of orphanage caregivers. Did they see this injustice as a possibility in their culture? They all quietly agreed that this was a very likely scenario as they hung their heads in shame for how their countrymen sometimes treat the ones they are trying to help.

Rejection of the orphan in Haiti is a societal survival tactic in a way. An orphan is seen as a threat to future economic development. They, for the most part, are not educated and grow to become a further burden to a society already in distress. They are not seen as contributing to progress. And why not? Most of the time this is the case. They often lack access to proper medical care and are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Many end up on the streets, increasing crime dramatically. In a culture where so many are simply trying to survive, one is not always afforded the luxury of caring for those in distress. How will the aunt who can barely care for her own children care for her dead sister’s child?

How will these young people make their way in a culture who sees them as nothing more than a burden? The fact that they have inherent value as a creation of God is not enough. At Emmaus House, we are spending a great deal of resources and time on the preparation and education of our youth. We are working to create an identity within them that defies what their culture says they are. We will show Haiti that these young people can and will serve and contribute not only to their country’s economic development and to their churches, but they will break the cycle of creating more orphans. Our standards for our youth at Emmaus House are very high and with good reason. Their culture will not (as America sometimes does) cater to them in any way based on the challenges they face, and their time spent at Emmaus House must prepare them to live in a society unsympathetic to their plight.

As we sat together on that chair and I helplessly watched him hurt, I placed my hand on his arm and we discussed how he is fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator who has a purpose for his life. He has a great deal to overcome and his story is wrought with loss and pain. My prayer is that he will not let those around him choose his identity. I pray he will own his identity as a child of God. As we continued to talk, I remembered that this young man is indeed an “orphan.” I forgot. I’ve known these young people for 5 years, and I forget sometimes that they don’t have a family and that others see them not as typical people, but as orphans. I forget that they are bereft. I forget because I see this young man as one who has a sensitive heart that knows how to serve others. He knows how to love despite his loss. He makes himself vulnerable and knows how to make others feel special. He is truly a remarkable young man who is loved by many. Unlike these hospital workers, I see him through the lens of what he has to offer the world, not what he will take from it.

Tanya Pirtle
Secretary of the Board
Emmaus House
Tanya_pirtle@comcast.net

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