You can hear the rain in Haiti

20731486_10100232212762039_2095417539_nIt rained last night over our neighborhood in Cap Haitien. My family sat gathered around our tattered couch reading books when it started. First a few drops on the tin slab covering the entrance way to our roof. Then a downpour.

We all smiled. Rejoiced. Rain means cool breezes, and our house was hot.

It also means we have to scatter buckets and towels around the house, but mainly it means a cooler night’s sleep.

It rained earlier in the day as well, when the sun was still out. I was sitting on the second story porch of Emmaus House and Nalandson and Dalencia were in the street playing with friends.

The rain was brief. Ten minutes tops. But in those ten minutes life went on hold. From the porch I watched street venders huddle under the protection of trees. People walking in the streets ran into their homes. Women hurried to get their drying clothes off the line. Kids laughed and screamed as their parents called them inside.

Life paused. Noise ceased. Here was the rain.

Sitting on the pouch overlooking the street, I was so entranced by rain I didn’t even notice it was spraying straight on my back. “Jillian!” Gerome called my attention and grabbed the arm of my chair to pull me forward. Realizing my soaked shirt I squirmed. “But the rain feels too good to move,” I laughed and protested to move out of its way.

And in that moment I thanked God for the rain. A little gift in the blistering hot afternoon. A refresh. A pause.

*          *          *

It rained last week in Tennessee too. My family was indoors watching TV. We didn’t even notice.

*          *          *

Two months is the longest I have ever been away from Haiti in seven years. And I’ll be honest, retuning here was much harder than I thought it would be. I fought back tears as we boarded the plane out of Miami this past Sunday. I felt exhausted. Broken. Torn into two places. A little homeless even. Where do I belong?

And within 24 hours God brought the rain. And it soaked into my pours as if I were a dry sponge. For two months I hadn’t noticed the rain. In America I was just too busy.

Too comfortable.

Too distracted to see the droplets, to soak in its nourishment, to feel the breeze, to find joy in such a small thing, to pause, to rest, to take a deep breath, stop, and just let the rain fall.

Here in Haiti, you can always hear the rain. Hear it because it is falling into your house half the time. But also because life is lived outdoors for most Haitians: Selling goods on the side of the road, driving open aired transportation vehicles, working in the fields, walking from one place to another. When the rain comes, work for many must stop. All one can really do is sit back, wait for it to finish, and enjoy the cool breeze.

This is only one reason I love this little country. One of many. A simple rainy day. And I am so thankful God gave me one as a welcome gift home. A reminder to rest.

~ Jillian

Nalandson and Dalencia’s Questions About America: 2 Weeks Out

The countdown is on! Two weeks until our family heads to the States for two whole months! This will be the longest break we’ve had from Haiti since we moved here in 2011, and the first we’ve had altogether. To say we are excited would be an understatement. Even Jake is waking up every morning calling out for “Poppy’s boat” and “Airplane.”

While in the States we will be spending a lot of time with family and friends, introducing Nalandson and Dalencia to all the grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and close friends of ours they have never met. A huge chunk of our time will also be spent meeting with churches and individuals about Emmaus House. We are greatly looking forward to meeting with supporters face to face, for this is something we don’t often get to do.

As our departure date get closer and closer, Nalandson and Dalencia have been overflowing with questions about what America will be like. It’s been fun to watch their imaginations run wild. Although they are excited to be going in the summer, they are pretty disappointed they still will have to hold off a while before experiencing their first snow.

Anyway, I have been trying my best to keep a running record of some of N and D’s funniest questions so I could share with you. Maybe you can help my kiddos out and answers a few of them of them 😉

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Will we be able to drink juice and milk everyday?

Will there be trash on the ground?

Is church going to be 4 hours long there too?

Are things in American expensive?

Will there be lizards and frogs inside of Gran’s house?

Will we need to bring our mosquito zapper?

Can I try cotton candy in America?

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The pilot who will fly our airplane from Haiti to America, can we trust him?

Will there be people walking in the street with the big baskets on their heads selling things?

Do dogs bark loud there, or only in Haiti?

Will I have to go buy the drinking water everyday?

Can we walk on a sidewalk one day?

Do they have Moana in America?

Will Daddy always walk around without a shirt on like he does here?

Got an answers?!?

~ Jillian

How to know who to give to (Part 2)

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Didn’t read Part 1? Here’s the LINK.

Yesterday I went out on a limb and decided it was time to open the discussion about money and who we should give to. As a fellow worker in Haiti reminded me, this is an age-old issue. One that has long proceeded my time in Haiti, and one that will (unfortunately) continue on when my time comes to an end.

It is hard to know which happened first: the chicken or the egg? Was the preacher who worked alongside the boy in prison corrupt from the beginning, or did years of financial gifts with minimal accountability from Americans create his corruption? Probably a mixture of both.

So what do we do? How can we become wise givers, while also helping our Haitian brothers and sisters be honest receivers as well? Here are a few of my suggestions, based on years of experiences, observations, and multiple personal failures.

No hand outs- I’m starting with this one because I feel like this is what does the most damage in Haiti, yet it never seems to stop. Refusing to give handouts on your short-term mission trip is not only better for Haiti, but it is also better for you. Better for Haiti because it helps prevent unsustainable dependency on foreigners. Better for you because it will help your work in Haiti be based on relationships and not just money. If you are on a mission trip and are presented with the opportunity to give to a specific need, like help someone repair their leaky roof or pay for medical treatment for a child, here is what I suggest: Giving the money straight to the local is a hand-out. If you do that then you set the precedent that every mission team comes with money to give away. What is better is to connect with an organization on ground who is familiar with the person in need and their situation. Give them the donation and let them follow through with the need. They will be able to oversee that the money is used correctly and will be able to report back with the results. When it comes down to it, hand-outs aren’t long-term solutions. But often times they create long-term problems. So it really is best if we stop this practice all around.

Do your research – This could be a blog post in and of itself, but there are a few suggestions I want to cover today. First, if you are being asked to help with (fill in the blank) there is a good chance you aren’t the only one being asked. Chances are the local has sent the request to 10 other people, hoping at least one person will agree to help, but would also gladly accept all 10. Try your best to find this out. I’ve seen too many cases where two or three people are sending funds to someone for the exact same thing and have no idea there are other donors involved. Second, learn how much things really cost. Just last week I had someone in the States message me to ask about school and transportation prices. The person they sponsor was asking for an increase in support and it didn’t sound reasonable to them. Once she told me the prices being communicated with her, it was clear the student in Haiti was exaggerating his needs. Before you agree to any amount, do your research. Reach out to expats on the ground who can check on the situation for you and validate prices. Know that I will gladly be this person for you if needed.

Doing your research is also important when deciding to support an organization. My first suggestion is to take the time to see whether they actually do what they claim. For example, if an organization says they take care of children, look at the quality of care they provide. If they are a school, research how many kids actually pass their government exams. Again, take your time. Know any organization can put on a good show when you come to visit. Any orphanage can make their kids appear clean and happy for one week. Any church can fill its pews for one Sunday. I’ve seen both happen more than once. What you need to find out is how things operate when potential donors aren’t around. But how do you do this? Research guided by patience and prayer. Invest in relationships with the leaders of the organization, stateside and/or on the ground. Get to know the people they serve. Speak with current or past donors. Communicate with other well-known organizations or leaders in Haiti and learn the reputation of the organization you are interested in supporting. If the locals don’t have respect for the organization, that is often a clear sign.

Know who you are giving to- Whether you are giving to an organization or an individual, make every effort to get to know them. Without a relationship in place, it is hard to determine how best to give. This was difficult for me when I first moved to Haiti. After years of short-term trips I believed I was coming to a place where I already had a lot of friends. It didn’t take long to realize that many of those friendships had been solely based on money. They were my friends because of the money I gave them. So when the money stopped, so did the friendships. It is always best to establish true relationships with people long before money is exchanged. I realize this takes a lot of time, and often isn’t possible. But when it is, always choose meaningful relationships first.

Set clear boundaries- This one is mainly for incidences where you may give to someone outside of an organization (something I beg of you to proceed with great caution). If you choose to do this, please set clear boundaries up front. Make sure the receiver knows exactly how much you will give them and how often. Unless the need is valid, don’t go outside of that boundary. The last thing you want is to become the fairy godmother/father of the person you support. And please trust me when I say most locals will test this out on you if you open that door. If you help them with one thing then they will ask you to help them with a hundred others, unless you set clear boundaries in place from the get-go.

Expect accountability- Always expect accountability. Always. From both individuals and from organizations. As far as organizations are concerned, there is really no excuse for a lack of accountability. Don’t even bother with those who fail in this matter. There is always a reason why they aren’t transparent, and you don’t want to get caught in that. When giving to an individual, don’t lower your standards on this either. Expect them to be accountable as well. One of my good Haitian friends understands the value of being accountable. After receiving a large donation from a group of Americans to build his house he knew he needed to show his gratitude and also how the money was spent. When the Americans came on their next trip he hosted the whole team over to his house for a tour, and then served them dinner straight from his grill as a thank you. My friend is one of a kind, however. This kind of accountability is not the norm in Haiti. And to get it, you often have to go out of your way, which is why I will end with my last suggestion.

Give through trustworthy organizations- There are so many amazing organizations in Haiti doing amazing things. There is no need to reinvent the wheel on giving down here. Find an organization that you are passionate about and partner with them. Give through them. Trust their expertise on ground. Follow their advice. And don’t overstep where they already serve. For example, there are plenty of organizations who focus on community development, job creation, and empowering locals. There is nothing more harmful to these organizations than when teams come down, enter their communities, and start giving hand-outs. Why would anyone want to learn how to work if someone will come give them what they need for free? Before you go anywhere and do anything, check so see who is already working there and how you can partner with them rather than going at it alone.

Again, this list isn’t exhaustive. My suggestions by no means fix the problem, but they are at least a good place for all of us to start. There will always be people like the boy I visited in the prison and the pastor he worked with. As long as foreigners continue to come to Haiti, people like this will continue to try to take advantage. Am I saying to stop coming? By no means. But by refusing to give hand-outs, doing your research, expecting accountability, and working through trustworthy organizations, we can stop giving people like this leverage.

If you have any other suggestions or protocols that you follow when giving in Haiti, I’d love to hear. Please share in the comments below.

~ Jillian

How do you know who to give to (& not)? Part 1

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A few weeks ago I went to the prison in town to visit someone I know. Although I have served at prisons before, even took a class inside of one my senior year of college, I have never gone for a personal visit.

It took a few connections to make it happen, and I only had five minutes to speak with the boy who stood behind a metal screen. He has been there for almost a year, but this was the first time I have gone to seen him. I realize I should have gone sooner. I know Jesus was serious when he said we should visit the prisoner. I have no real excuse.

I am not going to reveal the boy’s name, or even those involved in his story. The point of my post isn’t to tattle and point fingers. Rather, I want to use this story as a means to enter a much larger conversation.

The boy in the prison- we’ve had our issues. At the orphanage we caught him aiding a security guard to steal thousands of dollars from our office. Although the judge said we were ridiculous, we didn’t press charges against him, convinced we could help him change. He was a kid, and we knew prison would forever change the trajectory of his future. So we gave him grace and a second chance.

But he didn’t change. Two months later he was found breaking into our apartment searching for our personal money. He was dismissed from the orphanage within the day.

Out in the streets he joined a gang and continued to get into more trouble. His specialty was scamming Americans. Growing up in the orphanage all his life he learned how to speak English pretty well…and also how to ask for money. This made him a wanted asset for many Haitians.

It didn’t take long before he started his own underground business. His operation was simple. People would “hire” him to create fake identities and with it set up fake Facebook pages and emails. Using all of the connections he had to Americans he would scam people for thousands of dollars. When money was sent to him, it was all under the impression that it would be going to help some cause in Haiti. Some orphanage. Some kid in need. Some church. But the reality was that it would go into the pockets of his local clients and he would take a cut.

He was reported to the police and put into prison a year go after one of his clients caught him breaking their arrangement and keeping the money to himself. Taking advantage of the situation, another client quickly visited him at his cell, telling the guards he intended to make money off of the boy’s circumstance. After taking pictures and videos of the boy behind bars, the client sent them to people in America asking for money to release him, naming a much higher price than the actual truth. The client is a well-known preacher.

Because the boy didn’t steal anything from his Haitian clients, and because there was no formal contract proving their agreement, he doesn’t actually owe anything to be released. All that stands between him and freedom is less than $75 US to cover legal fees. Until then, he sits in cell #9.

Standing across from him and his Marilyn Monroe t-shirt, I realized I had just enough cash crumpled up in my wallet to get him out. My purse felt unusually heavy and I wrestled with the thought for half a second.

I set a bag of toiletries on the counter for the police to check and give to him. A fresh stick of deodorant would do him some good. I expected a “thank you” for the bag and the visit. Instead, while the policeman escorted him out, he looked back and asked if Gerome and I were going to help him get out, then followed up by asking us to loan him some cash for something he wanted.

I didn’t answer. It was apparent he still hasn’t changed.

Although I could segue here to talk about orphanages and how kids raised in them are 40x more likely to become criminals than kids raised in a home, I’m not. Instead, I want to talk to you about money.

You want to know the hardest part about living in Haiti? It isn’t the heat or the mosquitos. Isn’t even missing family back in the States. It is the knowing. Knowing about scams like these. Knowing whose stories are honest and whose are fake. Knowing which pastors preach on Sunday but practice Voodoo during the week. Knowing which organizations are run by corrupt leaders. Knowing that the money you sent to pay that kid’s school tuition went to purchasing a smart phone instead.

And I have always struggled with how to handle this knowing. I am not the favorite among many Haitians because I have been known to tell their foreign donors the truth. I often feel like I walk a fine line: tell the Americans or save myself from another local enemy. If the opportunity presents itself I always choose the prior. That choice of mine has come with the price of losing many local friends.

I don’t want to sound discouraging. After all, for every corrupt person in Haiti you can give to, there is someone honest and sincere. For every dishonest organization here, there is a good and truthful one. As someone who is on the ground, I want to help guide you to the later.

Which is why I will be posting my list of suggestions tomorrow. How does one navigate financial giving in foreign countries? How do you determine who and who not to give to? What questions should you ask? What signs should you look for? What are the qualities of a trustworthy organization?

I hope you check back in tomorrow. My suggestions will not be a one-size-fits-all. But my hope is that my experiences can help you as you seek to help others in Haiti and around the world. If you have specific questions you would like me to address, please comment below.

See you tomorrow.

– Jillian

At Emmaus House: Gregory’s Story

Last month I attended the funeral of a young man I never knew. To be exact, I think we had met a screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-9-43-40-pmtime or two, but to say I knew him would be far from the truth. Still, I went to watch him be buried into the ground. To honor his short life. To mourn his death. To stand by our youth as they said goodbye to a friend, a brother. To remember the reality of what could be for this group of people I so dearly love.

His name was Gregory, and I have promised his friends I would tell his story well.

*** Today I am sharing this story over on Emmaus House’s blog. Gregory’s story is a tragic one and why I am so passionate about what we do at Emmaus House. If you are interested in orphan care please take a few minutes to READ MORE.

~ Jillian

Six Years in Haiti & What I Have Learned

 

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Twenty-six.

Somehow this number keeps coming up in our family.

On the twenty-sixth of July Hunter and I became husband and wife.

On the twenty-sixth of November we welcomed Jake into the world.

I was twenty-six years old when we started Emmaus House.

And today, the twenty-sixth of January, marks six years living in Haiti.

Six years!

How in the world?

It feels like one and twenty-six all in the same.

I thought about writing something clever for this day. Something like: Top Six Lessons I’ve Learned in Haiti or Six Best Memories or Six Reasons I Still Live in Haiti.

But…

I just couldn’t.

Trying to keep it cutesy while summing up my life since 2011 seems all but impossible. Because I can’t narrow it down to only six lessons, six best memories, or six reasons why I still live here. To say that I could would make for a nifty sixth anniversary blog, but it wouldn’t be completely real.

Looking back at who I was when I moved to Haiti- a motherless young woman, married only a few years, way too confident, a know-it-all, rather impatient, and a self proclaimed savior for orphaned children- I can’t believe how gracious God has been and how far I have come. If I met my former self today I would roll my eyes to her face, pack her bags, and send her back to Nashville. I was so unprepared.

But six years later and all has changed.

Now I am a mother of three.

Married for almost nine years.

No longer confident in myself (at all) but instead in Christ who lives and breaths and moves inside of me.

I am now convinced I know nothing. If I know anything at all it is simply because God is lending me snippets of his own wisdom to use along the way.

Patience is still my least favorite virtue of all, but I have come miles ya’ll. Embracing island time has been good for my fast-paced soul.

And somehow or another, God has transformed me from a heroic savior into a lowly servant. And I never want to go back.

Six years in Haiti has taught me a lot. And although I could try to pass down some of these lessons, they really all boil down to one simple truth. One that is quite ironic because it is one of the most common sayings you will hear in Haiti. One day I will get it tattooed on my skin so as never to forget. You’re curious now, aren’t you? Well, here it is. Here is the most valuable truth I have learned after six years living in Haiti:

Bondye konnen. God knows.

Said by the locals when circumstances can’t be explained, when life is too difficult, or simply when you don’t know the answer to a question such as, “What’s for dinner?”, Bondye konnen is the Haitian go to for admitting you have no idea but God, in fact, does.

Perhaps this might sound “unchristian” of me, but for a long while I loathed the Bondye konnen phrase. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe it. Of course God knows. But after listening to so many people use it as an excuse to not be proactive in their lives, for a long time I all but rolled my eyes when someone told me about the All-Knowing God.

Yes God knows, but what are YOU going to do?

Meaning, I knew God knew, but I still didn’t trust to lend Him the control.

But now, I get it. These two little words, Bondye konnen, are the new anthem of my soul. They flow from my heart as if they are the only truth I need to survive. Bondye konnen. My God knows.

They seem so simple, these two little words. But they aren’t. Because to say them means to surrender, means to trust, means to admit your brokenness and inability to know (or control) what’s ahead. To proclaim Bondye konnen means you don’t konnen. And who wants to admit that?

But friends…oh the freedom!

To live a life encompassed in the fact that God knows is to live a life of freedom.

Free from fear.

Free from worry.

Free from trying to have it all together all the time.

Freedom.

This is what six years in Haiti has taught me: That I, in fact, know nothing. And that is okay. The pressure is off, because God knows.

And He has never, ever let me down. Never led me astray. Never let me wander too far. Never let me drown in deep waters (and boy have I faced some storms). He has been faithful to me even when I wasn’t faithful to Him, because He knew that I would eventually come around.

Oh, how He knows. And it is there I find my rest, in His knowing. My peace. My freedom. He knows and so I don’t have to. Not always, just as long as I trust Him. 

Six years in Haiti. It’s changed me. And I will be forever in debt to the many Haitians who have taught me what it truly means to trust in the freeing power of Bondye konnen.

Bondye konnen, my friends, Bondye konnen. 

~ Jillian

A Year of Being Willing

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I can’t begin to tell you how many times well meaning people have told me, “I could never do what you do.”

Each time I smile, knowing they mean well, knowing they say this as some sort of compliment.

I have a standard response. Standard because I have said it so many times:

“That’s not true. If this was what God called you to do with your life, you could.”

They smile back. “True,” they say. And it is here where the conversation normally takes a turn, long before one has the chance to delve deep into that truth: What if God DID call me to do what you do? 

And then the other day it happened. On cue, without a split second between thought and word. As I watched dear friends of mine from afar, fellow workers in Haiti, friends who foster multiple children all under the age of five round the clock in their own home, I found myself echoing those words underneath my breath: God, I could never do what they do.

No one heard me. Still guilt washed over me like the splashing of a wave. And I could hear the Spirit repeating my own words back to me. That’s not true. If this was what I called you to do with your life, you could.

But isn’t that the truth though?

Too often we limit ourselves- what we are capable of and what we are qualified to do in the kingdom of God. We live in constant comparison, and somehow always place our selves on the “less than” side of the equation.

“I could never teach like her.”

“I could never adopt like that family.”

“I could never live overseas like those missionaries.”

“I could never pray as well as him.”

“I could never lead a Bible study as well as her.”

And we go on and on and on. Doubting our abilities. Doubting what we are capable of as children of God.

You see, when we doubt ourselves, we are in effect, doubting God.

Doubt your ability to serve, then you are doubting God to make you able.

Doubt your calling, then you doubt that God gave you that calling in the first place.

Doubt your purpose, then you doubt your Creator.

When I was 17 I made my first trip to Haiti and met an elderly couple that oversaw an orphanage. Jean jumper, overalls, and all, I remember looking at them and knowing, with out a doubt, I could never do what they do. I even remember thanking God for not calling me to such a life.

And I believe in that moment, that very moment of me believing I never could __________, God chose to teach me about his power within me. A power that makes all of us capable of doing anything he calls us to do.

Seven years later I moved to that exact same orphanage to do the exact same job as that elderly couple who wore jean jumpers and overalls. Still not at all able, but at least fully willing.

And that’s where it all begins, really. Being willing.

Willing to trust God with your life, completely.

Willing to believe his strength inside of you can overpower any of your weaknesses.

Willing to embrace your calling.

Willing to stop comparing.

Willing to let go of doubt.

Willing to surrender all.

Not everyone should do what I do in Haiti because not everyone was called to do what I do in Haiti. And not everyone should do what you do where you are because not everyone was called to do that either.

But if you were called to, you could.

If I was called to, I could.

See where I’m going?

This year, let’s stop undermining the power of God within us. Let’s stop thinking we could never do ____________, but rather have faith that God can equip us all if we are called and willing. And let’s stop comparing our gifts and our callings. Instead, let’s work on building each other up so that the whole body can become stronger.

Let us all make 2017 a year of being willing. Willing to take on whatever God may call us to do. And trust him, no matter how inadequate we may be, that he will supply all we need to be faithful.

Oh yeah, and be careful with voicing your doubts. Because God may just take that one thing you believe you could never, ever do, and make that your thing to do forever. Personal (& yet best ever) experience.

~ Jillian

Grace, Church & Being the Solution

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Every Monday we gather around the living room. Eight young women trying our best to share the gospel over broken languages. The light above hasn’t worked for months, but we don’t care. We huddle close, leaning in to gather the light from the kitchen, basking in our own light we give off when we are together in the Word.

Jenny, exhausted from school but present, searching for truth.

Arianne, hunched over and shy, yet completely engaged.

Myriam with her pocket size Bible and mind full of questions.

Kencia, brave and loud, seizing every moment to make a statement.

Josie, beautiful and scarred, looking for her One True Love.

Guerdine with her notebook and pen, taking notes as if one day she will be given a final exam.

Marjorie, a foster mom of six young women, in need of wisdom and strength.

And me, stumbling over my Creole, pink leather Bible held firm in my grasp, praying for the Spirit to breath truth into a dozen hungry ears.

This is my favorite evening of the week.

It all started after one of them confessed their fear. Fear of being unforgivable. Fear of being too broken. Fear that she was unworthy of the grace offered in communion.

“No one is worthy,” I cupped her hands into mine. “No one is worth of the wine and the bread. But that’s what makes it so beautiful. He gives us his body because his brokenness can fix ours.”

She looked back, unsure. I could tell she still did not believe. Believe that such a grace was made for her.

It was then I knew it was time, past time really. Although the girls participate in devotionals every evening with the boys, it was time to personally walk them through the grace found in scriptures.

We started in 1 Corinthians. A letter to a broken church full of broken people. It is here , in Chapter 11, where they often get stuck in fear. Literal fear that something bad might happen to them if they take the Lord’s Supper in vain.

For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 11: 29-30).

Their fear is deeply rooted in their society, in the blood of their Haitian veins. Wrong someone and you will pay. There are witchdoctors in every community.

Just the same, wrongly take communion and you may also pay a price.

It’s a fear taken out of context, yet implanted in their souls. They’ve heard these words repeated every Sunday since they can remember. How could they not believe it to be true?

Which is why they struggle with grace.

With forgiveness.

With believing God always loves them in spite of ________________.

Because if you could get sick and die for simply taking the Lord’s Supper in vain, just imagine what would happen if you did much worse?

Last week Myriam seemed distraught as we read through Paul’s words. I could tell her mind was brewing and I lent her space to formulate her thoughts into words.

“The Bible is supposed to change people, yes?” she looked my way, pocket size Bible pointed straight at me.

I nodded, curious.

“This letter (1 Corinthians) was written to correct the church thousands of years ago. So why is it 2016 and the church hasn’t changed a bit?” she continued on.

Her Bible dropped to the floor. Accident or coincidence, I’m not sure.

I wanted to tell her that wasn’t true. That we have grown. That we have changed. That we have taken Paul’s words to heart and become a stronger body.

But she was right. If Paul was alive and well today he would be writing us the same words. Almost 2,000 years later and we are still a bunch of divided, sinful people.

The girls looked to me in unison, waiting for my response. I took a moment to breathe. A split second to beg the Spirit for words.

“You’re right, Myriam. We are the same church. And that is why God made sure this letter would be in Bible, because every generation would need it.”

She wasn’t satisfied.

“But why haven’t we changed?” she persisted, picking the Bible off the floor beneath her.

“I don’t know. Because Satan hasn’t changed either. Because we still live in a sinful world.”

That sounded hopeless and I knew it.

“Listen,” I continued on, setting my Bible on the armrest. “The church is still the same, and that is what makes God’s grace so amazing. That he would choose to still make us his bride even though we never seem to grow up.”

Myriam gave a smirk. Still not sold.

“Hey,” I looked her right in the eyes. “If you see the church needs to change, be the change.”

With that she smiled. “Okay, Jillian.”

She was done, although my heart knew she had so much more to say.

It’s been days now and the Spirit isn’t letting this one go. I think he is asking me to connect the dots. To see that in order for our girls to truly love the church, brokenness and all, they first need to grasp the truth that God loves them, brokenness and all.

It’s a lesson all of us need to learn, really. That his grace is sufficient. That his broken body makes us whole. That communion isn’t about who is worthy and who is not, because none of us ever are.

Myriam is right, the church hasn’t changed a whole lot since Paul wrote his letters to Corinth. This has caused many people to give up on the church all together. But it shouldn’t. Because we were never expected to be perfect. We have been made up of flawed people since the book of Acts and will continue to be flawed until Jesus returns. But just like I told Myriam: If you see the church needs to change, be the change!

Last night as I swatted a half million mosquitos off my bare legs, I sat on our porch and Skyped with a friend. We spoke about various things, one of which led her to say, “At some point we have to stop complaining unless we are willing to be a part of the solution.” And she was right.

Be a part of the solution.

The Spirit continued to connect the dots.

Next Monday night, as Marjorie passes around a bag of hard candies for us all to enjoy as we open up the Word, I think I am going to tell Myriam that. And Josie. And Kencia. And all the other girls who see the problems.

Be a part of the solution.

Maybe together they can work to grow and mature the church in Haiti. And you and I can do the same in our little areas of the world as well.

You in?

~ Jillian

If I Had Sent You A Christmas Card…

Last December I was awesome.

I mean, seriously, I had my stuff together, and early might I add.

Thinking ahead, I had Hunter take pictures of our kids in October – for cards I would design and print in November – to be mailed to us in Haiti by early December – so I could get all 100+ of them back out into the mail to make it to the States before Christmas.

I wrote letters updating family, friends, and supporters about our work in Haiti. I wrote an end of the year blog. I made picture books of the kids for our parents. Made a wedding book for my brother and sister-in-law as a gift. I even sent out an end-of-the-year letter via Mail Chimp just because I didn’t want to leave anybody out.

In the area of communication and Christmas gifts (despite my one typo on our Christmas cards), last year I received a solid A+.

This year… sigh…

I haven’t mailed out a single thing.

Haven’t sent any picture books.

Didn’t even get around to take our kids’ picture until two weeks ago, thinking perhaps we could pull the whole Christmas card shenanigan off in time.

But alas, we didn’t.

I kept thinking about it. Really, I did. But the task just seemed so daunting. And I never could seem to commit.

So this year, please accept my sincere apologies. Notify your refrigerator that my kids can grace their doors in 2017.

Now, if I had sent you a Christmas card this month it would have looked something like this:

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My kids are pretty cute, don’t ya think?

This year, 2016, was a year of growth for our family.

Jake grew from a baby into a little boy. How he turned 2 so fast I have no idea. He’s obsessed with all things dinosaurs, animals, and super heroes. The typical little boy.

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Nalandson and Dalencia officially became Kittrells through a national adoption.

*** See my ADOPTION page for our full adoption story. ***

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Nalandson turned 10 and is really getting into building Lego models and reading Goosebumps. Both have made Hunter extremely happy considering they were his own childhood favorites.

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Dalencia is now 8 and sassier than ever. She still dances all day long and loves taking care of Addy, her American Girl doll. (She still has yet to master hair care, but we’ll get there, hopefully.)

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Hunter’s photography continues to gain recognition and has helped support our lives here in Haiti. His work is currently displayed at the Haitian Embassy in Washington, DC, and he provides regular photography services to various businesses in our city.

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Beyond our own little home, Emmaus House is growing. We now have youth in two different homes rather than one. We have hired more staff, brought in more student, sent students off to university both in the States and in Haiti, and are now looking to purchase land and build.

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Growth. Growth. Growth.

Everywhere I look seeds are growing into trees.

I keep telling my kids to stop. I sometimes joke about no longer wanting to feed them, hoping that time will slow down, that their legs will stop spouting up, and that they would at least fit into the same pair of pants for more than a month.

But they seem to be eating Miracle Grow by the handful or something. And so I keep on having to buy new pants.

As for me, I’ve grown a lot this year too. Grown as I’ve daily witnessed the growth in others. Every year here in Haiti has been drastically different. Each one lending it’s own sort of challenges. Each year full of lessons, lessons that gifted me wisdom to welcome in the next year to come.

This year, as I said, has been mostly about growth. Not so much of my own, but watching those around me grow. Tasting the fruit of my work. Seeing seeds sprout forth from the ground. Embracing the joy that comes when you realize your labor in those you love has not been in vain.

Watching my kids grow.

Hunter’s photography grow.

The youth I have so dearly loved since I was a youth myself grow.

Emmaus House grow.

My friend and co-worker Gerome grow.

Our board of directors grow.

Our future plans grow.

Being in the midst of so much growth has been infectious for my soul. It’s taught me to stop and trust in the ways of God. Because all this growing are gifts from Him. Gifts because He loves us. Gifts because His plans are always greater than my own. Gifts because He extends us grace even when we forget to give Him the praise.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught abounding in thanksgiving.

Colossians 2: 6-7

This has been my year. A year rooted in Him. A year watching Him build up those I love, including myself. And a year abounding in thanksgiving after thanksgiving.

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Our family is both excited and anxious to welcome in 2017. There are so many unknowns ahead, but I take comfort in knowing God is in control. As He reveals His plans for us, I promise I will keep you posted.

On the adoption front: this time last year we had just deposited our adoption dossier to IBESR and had no idea how long our national adoption would take us. 1 year and 1 day later we held a completed adoption decree in our hands. We jumped. Danced. Cried. Hugged our paperwork as if they were gold that day. Now we are working on our application to USCIS for certificates of citizenship. We expect this to take somewhere between 5-6 months once we submit our application in mid January. Prayers, as always, would be much appreciated.

To all of you who support us in Haiti, continually blessing us with your encouragement and prayers, thank you! We love the work God has called us to and can’t wait to see what God has planned next for our family and Emmaus House in 2017.

May God bless you this coming new year- bless you with abounding faith, mounds of thanksgiving, and overflowing joy. Love and peace to you all!

~ Jillian

True Light is Already Shining

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It’s been raining for days in northern Haiti. We are talking over 40 inches of rain in the past few weeks, which is more than the annual average put together. Neighborhoods have flooded, business put on hold, crops destroyed, farm animals swallowed up by the water, roads submerged, homes ruined, a handful of people have even died. It’s been devastating. And yet the rain keeps on falling.

Even now, as I sit here in the darkness of my room, I can hear the rain fall heavily outside. Slow drops drip into the multiple buckets around my house. The cracks in our cement roof are plenty, and weeks of rain have made our home’s imperfections painfully obvious. Our solar panels are thirsting for sunlight. Furniture is covered in wet laundry attempting to dry. And every room has this underlying smell of mold.

Despite the major inconveniences, our neighborhood has been mostly spared from damage. Communities around us have not been so lucky. You can head on over to Hunter’s photography site to see pictures of nearby flooding and how Emmaus House has stepped up to help our neighbors.

With constant clouds looming overhead, it is been darker than normal here in our city. Our days, which are normally bright and hot from a sun that feels so close you can touch it, are now grey and gloomy. Although we are enjoying the cooler temperatures (my bedroom hit an all time low of 72 degrees last night), so many people around us are suffering, and still the rain keeps falling. And we can’t help but to wonder when it all will end.

*     *     *     *     *

The later part of 1 John 1:8 is highlighted bright yellow in my Bible. It reads: the darkness is passing away and THE TRUE LIGHT IS ALREADY SHINING.

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For so many, darkness seems to be all around. For some, that darkness is figurative, representing the evil, pain, and sickness that sin has brought into this world. For some, the darkness is literal. Either way, there is hope. For the darkness that so often tries to consume us IS ALREADY PASSING AWAY! Perhaps it doesn’t feel that way today. Perhaps you are lost in the darkness around you. Perhaps it seems impossible to find the light. But don’t lose hope, for it is there.

THE TRUE LIGHT IS ALREADY SHINING.

True light doesn’t come at the end of some imaginary dark tunnel. It doesn’t set and rise with the passing of days. It doesn’t fade away and reappear with coming and going of presidents. It can’t stay hidden behind rain clouds. It doesn’t shy away from evil, hatred, natural disasters, and death. No. True light is not something that we must wait for or even search for. It is not something that is coming, one day. It is here now. Right in the midst of  the passing darkness, IT IS ALREADY SHINING.

 Today it is dark. Even still, I am confident the true light is already shining. Tomorrow the sun may break through the clouds. Then again, it may not. Regardless, my God is in control. And His light is there, here, with me, with you, always.

~ Jillian

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