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

A Confession from Hunter

10679_693189730758737_6631710102079297085_nGuest post by my one and only hubby, Hunter:

Henry was at church yesterday, and as soon as I saw him he hunched over in the corner trying to hide from me. Seeing him, I felt a restlessness inside of me. I sat a few rows in front of him and began to struggle with this feeling that I should say something to him. My whole being did not want to, but I knew I needed to.

Trying to shrug the feelings of discomfort off, I began to read the book that Jillian recently got me, “Finding God in the Waves” by Mike McHargue. I read this passage: In many ways, our pain and our way of coping with it define who we are. These experiences shape us and mold us, for better and for worse. They can compel us to help others or drive us to numb the pain in whatever way we can.

 The words were like a shot to my heart. I read those few sentences several times over and decided I needed to apologize for the way I acted with Henry; for my numbness.

*          *          *

Henry was a boy that grew up at the orphanage where Jillian and I previously worked. He was a likable kid, but had a bit of a rowdy side. He was one of the teams’ favorites because he was outgoing and could speak English well. Just as most children who grow up in institutionalized orphanages, Henry became 100% dependent on the handouts and care given by the Americans rather than being taught to make it on his own.

This system worked in his favor for a time, but inevitably he got too old to live at the orphanage. He turned 18 years old and had to go. But where would he go? What would he do? How would he make it on his own? He did not know anything of living in his own country on his own. Until he next team came to translate for, how would he survive?

He turned to the only way that you can get rich quick in Haiti: crime, drugs, and human trafficking. He made wrong decision after wrong decision in his life. By the time we moved to Haiti, he had built a quite a nasty reputation for himself. We were warned about him and told not to trust him.

To make a long story short, we kept Henry at arms length, but even still he burned us: lies, stealing, and plotting against us and the orphanage. We even had him arrested one time for breaking into the property and stealing electronics.

Soon after, Henry got in trouble with the police again, and there had been a shoot out. No one had seen him after that. Friends and family all thought maybe he had died. A few years passed. No one had thought of him in a long time, and one day he just showed up again. We learned that he had left the country and worked to help smuggle Haitians into Turks and Caicos. He got in to problems with the law there, and decided he could hide out in Haiti for a while.

I found out he was back recently because he had come to my home a couple of times asking for financial help and even once for some cream for a rash on his hands. Both times I was less than friendly to him. Well to put it kindly, I was pretty nasty to him. I had history with this guy, bad history. The last person I wanted to open my door to was Henry. I kept him on the street as I yelled through my screen door to him. I told him that I did not want to help and that he could go talk to someone else about his problems.   As I said, I was numb.

*          *          *

This brings us to church yesterday.

God, in His own way, convicted me to speak to Henry. Even though I didn’t want to, I knew God was calling me out on on my anger and rudeness.

Henry could not keep eye contact with me as I spoke to him after church, but he accepted my apology. He said that people don’t trust him because sometimes he lies and so even when he comes with honest needs, people don’t want to help him. I told him that despite the problems we had in the past, I was still sorry for treating him poorly.

I asked him if he ever got the treatment he needed with the cream, and he said no. As I looked closely at his hands, he told me it is all around his waist and in his pants. I told him that my creams won’t help him. It may be some kind of parasite, but most likely is some kind of STD. I did not tell him that, but we agreed that he would wait and see what he could find out next week when a medical mission’s team came to visit our church.

As we came to an awkward silence at the end of our conversation, I started to say goodbye to him, and he stopped me. He said, “Hunter, I know what you and Jillian are doing for the youth in your program. You all are really doing good work with them.” His eyes still looking way from me, he confessed that he wish we had been living in Haiti when it was his time to leave the orphanage. If he had aged out of the orphanage and come directly to Emmaus House, his life would be completely different.

I could see how broken he was. He was clearly lost and I had no idea what to say to him next. In that moment, I had planned to say sorry to him and then head on home and make lunch for my kids. I had not planned on trying to console him there in the middle of the street.

I don’t even remember what I said next. Something along the lines of if he wants to turn his life around, he is making the right steps by getting back into church.

I don’t know if he will take my words to heart, but I hope he does. This week my children have a memory verse from 1 Peter that could not be more perfect.

1 Peter 8-11 says: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

I hope Henry is able to turn his life around. I am not ready to trust him or even be his friend, but I am ready to show him love when he comes to me again.

Just to save on his true identity I did use a false name for this post. Even though Henry is not his real name, I would love for you all to keep him in your prayers.

Just like so many in Haiti, Henry did not have the opportunity to transition out of orphanage life successfully. Fortunately, the youth in Emmaus House do have such opportunities. Maybe at Emmaus House we can help prevent future orphaned youth from ending up like Henry. Please continue to pray for us as we try to stand in the gap!

– Hunter

The Day I Lost My Wedding Rings

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It was a Thursday night. It was hot and the air in my house with thick, as always. I was exhausted. Not that I had done much that day, but the Haitian heat has this way of stealing your energy just for fun. I had just finished my shower and was climbing into bed when I first noticed it. My wedding ring was gone.

At first, this didn’t freak me out. I am known for taking it off here in there. When I am cooking in the kitchen. Sometimes when I take a shower. Often in the summer months when my fingers swell and I don’t want them to get stuck.

I went searching in my normal places. On top the silverware container in the kitchen. Not there. On a shelf in my bathroom. Not there. On my bookshelf. Not there.

At this point, I was a little nervous. Mainly to tell Hunter, who is always lecturing me about keeping my rings on. In his mind, I put them on July 26, 2008 at 6:30 p.m. and I should have worn them every minute since. Bless him.

So I told him. “Ugh, Hunter, I, maybe, uh, well, you see, um, I kinda don’t know where my rings are.”

He looked up at me through the holes of the mosquito net. “You kinda don’t know? Or you don’t know?” he asked.

Annoyed, I crossed my arms. “Hunter, can you please get up and help me look for them?”
He did. We did. For hours. In the dark. By the limited light of Hunter’s cell phone flashlight. Nada.
The next morning I put an award on the table for anyone who could find my ring. The kids searched everywhere. Hunter, bless him again, went through all the trash. We turned our house upside down all day long. Nada.

I cried a lot that day.

By the next morning I had given up hope and was now under the assumption that perhaps they had been stolen. People had been in our house earlier that week, and it wouldn’t have been the first time something of ours had been stolen in Haiti.

Although I was heartbroken, I wasn’t angry. I expected myself to be, but I wasn’t. Instead I often found myself praying. “God, if someone has my rings, may it be a blessing to them.” I wasn’t praying, mind you, that God would bless someone for stealing my rings. Instead, I asked God that if my rings were in the hands of another, that they could bless them with whatever needs they have. If they sold them, that they could now put food on the table, purchase books for school, buy medicine prescribed from a doctor. Anything. Just something good. If they were no longer with me, may they bless someone else.

I grieved for weeks. Constantly found myself rubbing my empty ring finger. And when the sadness started to creep in, I’d pray.

Let them be a blessing. Let them be a blessing. Let them be a blessing.

 
Fast forward to last Friday. The kids and I were doing school at the table when I told them to reach inside their book boxes for their reading books. Emptying out his box to reach for his book ON THE VERY BOTTOM, Nalandson cried out. “MOM! Your rings!”

 
The tears started of rolling down my cheeks. I kissed my rings like a long lost love. And the kids and me happy danced for a good ten minutes. Needless to say, I haven’t taken my rings off since. Not to cook. Not to shower. Not even in reaction to swelling fingers. If they get stuck, whatever. At least I won’t lose them.

How they ended up in my son’s school box, at the bottom, stuck between some crayons and a reading book he uses five days a week. I HAVE NO IDEA. How he didn’t notice my rings for weeks, since I tell him to get out that reading book every day. I HAVE NO IDEA. How? Why? When? They are all questions besides the point. Because I will never know. And I don’t care. I am a married woman, once again.

So why am I telling you this? What does it matter that I lost my rings and then found them again?

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t. But there was a lesson I learned.

God cares about the little details of our life.

The weeks while my rings were missing I couldn’t help but think about how small they were. Expensive, yes. But small. How could something so small mean so much to me? How could something so small leave such a big hole in my heart?

It felt silly, to mourn over something so small. But God didn’t find it silly. He let me cry. Gave me peace to accept they were gone. He gave me grace as they consumed my mind. And when I least expected it, he gifted me with their return. Just because he loves me. Just because he can. Just because he cares about the little details of my life, what makes me happy and what makes me sad.

And I love that. Don’t you? God cares that I care about my wedding rings. If he cares about something so small, just think how much he cares about what’s big…like presidential elections or poverty.

So today, think on that. God cares about both the big and little in your life. What a blessing!

~ Jillian

 

Family Adventures Around Haiti

I had every intention of blogging my way through our trip through Haiti…but thank you lack of WiFi and 3G…it was just not possible.

So here I am, back in Cap Haitien, exhausted and trying to catch up on laundry. This country is beautiful, but I have to say I am partial to my city and I am glad to be home.

Instead of writing a long blog about every single thing we did, every single person we met, and every single place we visiting (because boring and quite frankly, who has time to read that?) I thought I would simply share our adventures in pictures. I will include a list of names and links below to the various businesses and organizations we visited along the way. They were all awesome and you should totally check them out.

So, thanks be to a photographer for a husband, for otherwise I may never have visual proof of the life I live….

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These are the winding mountain roads we had the pleasure of driving for six hours each way.

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Welcome to Jacmel – a city full of beautiful mosaics! 

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Jamel from the air.

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Walking the mosaic boardwalk.

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Playing soccer.

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Still walking…

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You can be jealous if you want- we called this place home for two days. Pretty amazing, huh?

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Hello from our tree house.

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Jake appreciated his precious time with his dinosaurs. 

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They weren’t so happy for this photo op. They wanted to be outside exploring. Which we let them do after right after this picture, don’t worry.

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Even though we skipped school for the week, we still had daily reading time. They thought I was a super awesome mom for this…ha!

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Just swimming in an icy cold basin. Seriously, Haiti is hot, but that water was freezing!

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Chilling on the rock watching dad jump the waterfall. 

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Family photo at Basin Bleu.

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Me talking with Maria from Jasper House about how to encourage leadership.

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The Haiti Made workshop. LOVED!

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Respire Haiti from the sky.

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Chatting with Megan from Respire about the (not so) fun world of the adoption process in Haiti, I’m sure.

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A must “let’s get out of the car and cross the dangerous street to take a picture with this view” picture. Because my mom used to make me do this as a child on family road trips, so now I shall also make my children.

 

People and places we visited…

Help One Now

Jasper House

Surf Haiti Guest House

Hands and Feet

Haiti Made

Respire Haiti

Haiti Made Cafe

Ayiti Ink

Global Orphan Project

Haiti Design Co.

Quisqueya University

~ Jillian

Family Trip Through Haiti Day #1

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Seven hours in the truck, driving up and down crazy mountains without guardrails, and an evening full of flooding rains. This has been our day.

But I’m not complaining. No. Not in the least bit.

Because we are all safe. Our bellies are full. And Hunter is a rockstar driver.

This morning we left Cap Haitien and headed to Port au Prince for the first night of our trip. Being a Sunday morning the traffic was minimal, which was wonderful. We took a couple of stops on the side of the road so Hunter could fly his drone. The kids took long naps. And the rain held off until we reached the outskirts of the city.

Tonight we are staying at Lakay Pozè, a guesthouse operated by Empower Haiti Together. Right beside the airport, if you are ever in need of a place to stay in Port au Prince, you should really check it out. It’s super cute and in the perfect location. Also, their pool is in the shape of a guitar, I kid you not, so why wouldn’t you want to stay here?

We arrived at Lakay Pozè in the early afternoon. Our kids spent a majority of the next few hours playing in the rain and jumping/rolling around in muddy puddles. I should have stopped them. They ruined a day’s worth of clean clothing. But goodness they were cute and happy. So I just let them have it.

We later met a guy from Help One Now for dinner at Pizza Amore, which was super yummy. Help One Now is a great organization that strives to empower local leaders to care for their communities. Check out the links to learn more about their work.

Alright, time for bed. We are getting up early tomorrow morning to head down to Jacmel and this mama is tired. Stay tuned!

~ Jillian

The Purpose of Missions is Not to “Fix” or “Save”

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Summer is coming to a close. And the crowded city streets packed by oversized trucks with short-term mission teams in the bed are staring to slow down. Although teams come to Haiti year round, summer is by far our country’s busiest season to host foreigners who come to serve.

And that’s great.

And it’s not.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

There’s been a significant amount of open dialogue lately concerning the efficiency of short-term missions. Which is wonderful and much needed. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you know I teeter the fence. I am a product of short-term missions. Years of coming to serve in Haiti for a week or two out of my summers was what cultivated my love for this country and my calling to live here full time. If it weren’t for those visits, I may have never moved to the orphanage. Never have met my oldest two children. Never helped to start Emmaus House.

But…

I’ve also seen a lot of harm done in Haiti by the constant ins and outs of mission teams. A country now rooted in dependency is just the heart of the issue. Teams come and give. Haitians take and wait for the next team to arrive. Over and over again.

One of the greatest advices someone ever gave me concerning short-term missions offended me for quite sometime. As a young college student I didn’t understand the wisdom behind the words and stewed over them for years.

It was the night before our flight to Haiti and my co-leader took time to share his final thoughts to our team before we dispersed to bed.

“I know some of you have been to Haiti before,” he said. “But for most of you, this will be your first time. Regardless, I want you all to remember something.”

Everyone leaned it, certain his words would inspire us all.

“We will get to help a lot of people on this trip,” he continued. “But we will only be here for ten days. The people we meet will be poor when we get there, and they will be poor when we leave. In ten days we will not be able to change that. And that is okay.”

He went on, but I didn’t pay him a bit of attention. I couldn’t. I was too flustered. What does he mean we can’t solve poverty? If we can’t go and fix people’s problems, then what’s the point in going at all?

As you can tell, however, his words stuck with me. Stuck because although I refused to admit it for a long time, deep down I knew he was right.

Haiti is going to be Haiti when we arrive. And Haiti will be Haiti when we leave. There is nothing I can do about that. And that is okay.

Okay because it is not my job to “fix” Haiti.

Okay because it is not my job to “save” people.

Okay because this world is broken and only Jesus can make right of all the wrong.

I remember one time a visitor asked Hunter what it would take to change Haiti. Hunter knew what they were expecting. They wanted a tangible response that could fit into their mission’s budget at church. A project they could commit to. Maybe more orphanages or water wells or schools.

“You want my honest answer?” Hunter probed them.

“Sure,” they replied.

“The only thing that will change Haiti completely will be Christ’s return,” he said honestly.

And that isn’t just true of Haiti. It is truth for the whole world full of problems. Jesus is our only true hope at fixing it all.

Until then, people will be poor when you come and people will be poor when you leave.

So what’s the point?

Where’s the hope?

It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. (Ephesians 2: 10, TLB)

This.

The purpose of missions isn’t to “fix” or “save”. The purpose is to use the new lives we have received in Christ Jesus to help others. Helping others responsibly. Guided by wisdom. Full of love. Without hurting. With Jesus as the Savior, not us.

It’s that simple.

And it’s also that complicated.

But so worth it if we learn to do it right.

~ Jillian

 

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