5 Pounds of Change

A couple years ago, a good friend of mine from St. Petersburg, FL texted me a photo she snapped of a book she saw in the store.  The book summed up many conversations she and I had had over the course of our friendship and perfectly defined a lofty fear that went before us as young married women.  It was titled 100 Reasons to Panic About Having a Baby.

So here I sit, with my baby sleeping sweetly on the bed, toys haloed around her and her pacifier next to her head, having recently fallen out of her mouth.  As I sit and watch her, I can say that I still have fears, but they our outweighed by an indescribable peace that came with motherhood.  Even as I’m writing these words though, I have a hard time believing that they are coming from me.  I mean, for me even to describe myself as a mother still seems strange.

But nonetheless, it is a reality.  After leaving Paul in Haiti and moving stateside in mid-February – much earlier than planned due to the outbreak of the Zika virus, I spent about 6 weeks working at my old ophthalmology job in St. Pete and living with our Pastor and family, to whom we owe so much.  I felt healthy and enjoyed participating in a faux life that mirrored my life prior to Haiti, all except not having Paul by my side.

I flew up to South Dakota for a benefit we were having for Mission-Haiti at the beginning of April, where Paul and some of our Haiti staff joined us for a celebration of what God is doing in Ti Rivye.  As planned, Paul and I went for an obstetrician appointment and it was then that I realized my blood pressure was sky-rocketing.  I was told I had preeclampsia and was put on what I called “medical house arrest” and was not allowed to return to Florida and continue working.

Despite seven weeks of sitting on the couch, getting bigger, having two sonograms a week, taking and recording my blood pressure 5x a day, and watching my stomach do the wave from a tumbling baby inside, I still didn’t even try to process or grasp the reality of how my life was about to change.

While I laid on my left side on the couch in my parent’s basement watching endless hours of Family Feud and Parks and Recreation, Paul was in Haiti just rocking the job he was made to do.  He and the two teachers on the ground, with the help of our US Director from time-to-time, ran team after team in addition to keeping the Christian Academy and the sponsorship program running beautifully.  Not to mention the millions of other decisions and responsibilities that come along with being the Haiti Director of the mission.  I’m so proud of him.  Although he won’t hesitate to say that his heart was in the states with me.

At the beginning of May, the rest of him joined me in South Dakota as we prepared for my 37-week induction.  Even that Monday morning, with a bag packed, walking into hospital and being fitted with a plastic bracelet that would be on me for almost a week, it still wasn’t real.

Even through the 40-hour labor it wasn’t real (which a friend pointed out, is a full week’s worth of work.)

In all truth, I can’t even tell you it felt real when they placed little Tiona Jwa on my chest in the middle of the night on May 11th.  I looked at Paul and said, “I don’t know who they just put on my chest, but I think she might be ours.”

Five days after we walked in those doors, we walked out with a 5-pound human being.  It is just a crazy experience.  Paul was so cautious he had me sit in the back of the car with her on the trip home!

Before we knew it, it was 2 ½ weeks later and Paul was getting on a plane to head back to Haiti.  I was to wait 6 weeks until I joined him.  It’s unnatural and painful.  My heart broke for him to miss that much of her first couple months.

I joke that my “surrogate husband” was my mother in that time.  She, recently having had shoulder surgery, was off of work.  I would be her hands sometime and she would be my emotional support others.  And, not to mention, willing to just be there to watch baby girl while I jumped in the shower.  Although it was not an ideal situation, being away from Paul, not being at my home, it was the best situation it could be.  It was a real growing time for Mom and I.  And she didn’t mind cuddling a new grandbaby for as many hours as she could before I took her away.

Which I did.  I met Paul in Florida at the beginning of July and after a baby dedication, showing her off to friends and Paul’s family, we made the trip HOME to Haiti.  Tiona’s been a champ through it all.  I’m excited for her life here, as long as the Lord wills it.  I’m happy she will have a bi-cultural experience, get to meet many different team members who come down, and hopefully grow to see where she can meet needs of others.  But more than anything, we’re praying that she Jesus captivates the heart and determines her footsteps, the ones she has yet to take.  All other hopes and dreams for her pale in comparison.

For now, every smile is an adventure.  Even today, she grabbed a rattle for the first time.  As I watch her, I think of Jesus.  I think about Jesus, the one who created all matter, knowledge, and truth.  I think about how he became a baby, like Tiona.  Completely dependent.  To see that kind of humanity and humility makes his journey through life to bring life to us so much more tangible, incredible, and almost unbelievable.  Praise Jesus for his sacrifice of power to bring us to eternity.  May we all think about that the next time we hold a helpless little one.  

Paul and I would like to say thank you for those of you who have sent prayers, support, and even gifts to us in the last 5 months.  Please know your encouragement is a blessing beyond words.  We covet continue prayers for health, development, and protection for Tiona, as well as continued unity and strength of relationship for Paul and me as it will be a bedrock for her.


You know, all my life, I fought growing up.  I drug my feet through each graduation stage: from starting to wear a training bra, to graduating high school, to paying my own bills, and so-on-and-so-forth.  But the idea of having a child of my own was the final chapter in adolescence.  But as Paul and I have used so many times in our relationship the phrase “Mwen Pap Tounen” (No Turning Back) has rung true.  Here’s to so many adventures, responsibilities, joys, sorrows, decisions, giggles, and dreams ahead…Cheers!

















Deet & Departing

Well...

It is with a heavy heart that I sit at the hotel in Port-au-Prince in preparation for leaving Haiti tomorrow.  We have been advised and after praying about it, have decided it is the best decision for me to return to the states for the remainder of my pregnancy due to the continued increasing risk of the Zika virus in Haiti.  Such decision was hard to come by because, in doing so, I must leave my Paul behind to continue to run things.

We covet your prayers in this time of separation.  We feel peace about the situation, but are just sad to spend over 3 months apart.

Thank you again for all the support you all have given us and continue to give us, especially in this time.

Late Delivery



So… as I attempt to start this blog, the only thing I can do is hang my head in shame.  I am more aware than you know that it has been over 6 months since my last blog.  While Paul and I were home for Christmas, I would try to divert any questions or references about the blog that would come from those we were visiting with, just because I couldn’t even make a defense to Paul’s gloating eyes.  So please consider this a public apology.  Now down to business.

 We have had a great last 6 months in Haiti.  The majority of our effort and time has been poured into the new Jean Alexis Kuislin Christian Academy that Mission-Haiti has opened this year, that Paul is director of.  As with any pilot year, there have been a lot of learning and mistakes made but we are so excited about the progress of this school.  What makes this school different from the other schools Mission-Haiti is involved in is that opportunities given to these children, some of them very rare for Haiti.  We felt to start this school off on the right foot, we had to start young to create a new culture of education for these students, one that would be very difficult for older students to succumb to.  For example, the expectation of attendance and promptness is higher than most schools in the area.  We have three grades (Pre-Kin 1, Pre-Kin 2, and Kindergarten) with 72 students in all.  The children are taught in both French and English. They are fed twice a day and have opportunities of crafts, play time with toys, and even learning with iPads!  Because of the higher-lever of education and investment we have in this school, sponsorship of students in the JAK Academy is $35 a month, as opposed to $100 a year for elementary students in other schools within the program.  If you are interested in sponsoring a student, please contact Mission-Haiti at info@mission-haiti.org, we have plenty that need to be sponsored!  Anyway, we have 4 excellent Haitian teachers, two in Pre-K 1, one in Pre-K 2 and Kin – both of whom are team-teaching with our missionary teachers from Canada, Cassie and Kristen.  Cassie and Kristen are sisters that come from Canada and have been such a blessing to our team here in Haiti.  They get the joy of living right next door to Paul and I, and are fun to have around.  Feel free to check their blog out too: twoheartsforhaiti.blogspot.com (They blog more than I do, that’s for sure!)
So while Paul isn’t pouring his heart and soul into the new school, he’s running around the rest of the mission making sure things are running smoothly.  He certainly fits the role of Executive Director: Haiti like a hand-in-glove.  Being so personable and likeable, the village loves him; but yet he can command respect and the village responds to that too.  He sure does a great job of bridging the gap between the states and Haiti.  I get so proud when I watch him.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that he’s mine, forever.  He was certainly put in this position as part of a greater plan we did not foresee when we first arrived here.

So needless to say, we are happy here.  A while back, I was sitting up on my rocking chair – working on the seemingly never-ending Master List of sponsors for the student sponsorship program.  Below the balcony I was working on, I hear the sounds of the compound below.  Emmanuel playing early 2000’s worship music and singing at the top of  his lungs in impressive English, Kenold cooking on the gas burner and laughing so hard at the banter going on, he’s reminiscent of Betty Rubble from the Flintstones, and it was then that I realize that my cheeks hurt and realize I’ve been smiling at my life.  Now, I don’t want to give you all any false idea that life is is all roses and Betty Rubble-laughs, sometimes it is hard, many times it is frustrating.  But over all, it is where we are supposed to be.  But it must be a calling to be here.  And we feel, as one of our board members wrote in an email this week, that we are called “for such a time as this.”
Anyway, looking forward we have a very busy spring ahead.  This past fall we haven’t hosted any short-term teams due to the contested election process that has been going on in Haiti this fall, which can cause unrest and unpredictability with traveling to and from Port-au-Prince.  However, things haven’t quite worked out yet, as they still haven’t elected a new president.  The law states the current president needs to be out of office by November 7th.  So as for now it looks like Haiti may be lead by the parliament.  Could make for an interesting time.  Please be in prayer for this country during this time of transition and uncertainty.

But nonetheless, we are going to start bringing teams back to Mission-Haiti and sure do have quite the schedule set up for February and March especially.  This will be the first time we will be hosting teams, while still having the new school going, and Paul and I the only missionary-leaders on the ground here.  You couple that with being mid-term pregnant (and, yes, for those that are wondering, we plan to deliver back in the states), and it could be a very tiring time for us.  But we’re excited to welcome teams back to share in our life for a week at a time, to see what we are doing, to partner with us, and to return to the states and tell the Mission-Haiti story.

One of the recent excitements I’ve had here in Haiti is just starting to get the vision clinic off the ground.  I hope to grow it into something a little more structured, but for now, I’ve gotten to fit a few people with glasses.  Like last Friday, a lady came in our compound seeking help with vision.  Using a hand-held auto-refractor (fundraised and donated with the help of Shalom Christian Reformed Church and Dr. Jeff Sayler) I found her a pair of glasses (donated by Dr. Jeff Sayler and the Lyons Club of Sioux Falls along with my old stomping ground of the Eye Institute of West Florida) that took her from 20/70 to 20/20!  She was ecstatic.  At her age, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be able to see well for the first time in her life.  And, needless to say, it pumped me up quite a bit too.  I don’t expect 20/20 for these people, I just want to help improve as much as I can, so this was an unexpected slam dunk!

Other than that, not a whole lot has been going on lately.  I feel like I’ve spent more time stateside than in Haiti recently as my whole month of November was spent in the states, starting out as a little vacation which turned into the passing of my grandmother.  And then again another month from Mid-Decemeber to Mid-January.  It was sweet time getting to spend with some family and even friends I haven’t seen in many years.  But much of this time Paul and I were apart.  I tell you, long-distance marriage is not for us.  On the sweet occasion that the Internet would permit Skyping, Paul and I would just giggle like teenagers when we got to see one another’s faces.  We know that we have another episode of long-distance marriage coming up for us later this spring, so we are trying to enjoy the moments we have together now.

Well… I think that’s all I’ve got for now.  Thanks for taking the time to read, support, and pray for us.  Again, we can’t do any of this without you.  I’ll try to do a better job of keeping you all in the loop as you all are a big part of this.
Thanks and we love you all. 

Defense



Hey there, everyone

Once again it’s amazing how much time has passed since I last wrote an entry.  I almost feel justified in my tardiness.  Many events have passed by in order to warrant this very appropriate phrase by Sara “We are playing defense, not offense.”  Although I sit and write this on a word document as I watch Paul take on a neighboring village in basketball, that comment is not describing any sporting, but rather the nature of our life and ministry right now.

First, the Mulder’s urged Paul and I to take a vacation after our very busy spring season of teams before the early summer teams started to come, especially because the Mulders were planning on moving stateside this summer to work for Mission-Haiti there.  So, Paul and I headed to South Florida to leave on a cruise, taking our honeymoon two-and-a-half years late.  Our decision on a cruise was not for the normal purposes that people take a cruise, it was almost solely based on the question, “How can we take a vacation and get the most food for our dollar?”  A cruise was the clear answer.  We truthfully didn’t even care if it rained the whole time, which it did the first two days.  But we were content to eat, sleep, not answer to anyone, and sit on soft furniture and watch movies that are constantly streaming into our cabins.  We got off the ship in Nassau for about two hours and walked around, but then got back on.  It’s funny how living on a Caribbean island, given it’s not a resort, changes your perspective on island travel. Prior to our trip, I had a tooth pulled in Florida that had a massive abscess (thanks to Irene Brasington for being a awesome-fill-in-Mom, setting that up for me) so I was on a pretty high dose of antibiotics throughout the trip.  Even so, the last night of our cruise, I started to experience some of the old health symptoms I’ve been struggling with last fall and winter.  Paul and I didn’t have a peace about me going back to Haiti while still having this issue, especially since I would have treated it with antibiotics.  Therefore, I headed to South Dakota to get some medical attention and Paul headed back to Haiti to continue taking care of business there.

Within two days of being in South Dakota, I was in the ER undergoing a battery of tests and truly got what I needed, a doctor to really hear my saga of a medical history with these issues and put the pieces where they belonged.  We were so grateful for that!  They found something near my ovary that they couldn’t know for-sure what it was until they took a look inside.  A few days later I underwent a laparoscopic surgery in which they found and removed an abdominal ectopic pregnancy.  What they had confirmed later was the ectopic pregnancy that I apparently had last August, one of the reasons I was hospitalized in Haiti, was a true tubal pregnancy.  That little embryo slipped out from the tube and decided to take up residence-and-die in my abdomen for 9 months, making some scar tissue from an old appendectomy it’s hammock.  So that little bugger has caused a good amount of problems for me in the past year and I am so grateful for an answer regarding that.  However, even though I had great post-operative care (which just happens to by my Mom’s floor), the anesthesia didn’t set well with me.  As I’ve told a few people, they broke it like it was terrible news to me that they’d like to keep me overnight.  I was ecstatic, actually!  Are you kidding me?  After 3 days in a Haitian hospital, an overnight session at Sanford Hospital in South Dakota would be like a night in the Hilton!  And it was.  A nurse checking up on my pain every few hours, room service, little leg-pump-massagers to prevent blood clotting, and the biggest heat-pad I’ve ever seen – man, I couldn’t complain about anything!  Except that I wished my husband was there.

Meanwhile, Paul was in Haiti, handling the day-to-day.  We get near a hundred requests a week from anything from bags of cement to suitcases to houses.  The hard part is discerning the need from the request.  It can be an emotionally draining job filtering all those requests, looking to the resources we having, and discerning which needs to meet.  It was a difficult time for Paul and he wished he could have been there with me during that time.

All at the same time, we received word from Pam, our founder-and-director, who was on a sabbatical in Africa that she would not be returning to Haiti and would be resigning completely from the ministry.  That was big news to process and took a lot of prayer and meetings to game-plan as to how to move forward.  The Mulders had already felt lead and planned to move stateside, so they continued on with that plan, while our supportive Board of Directors named Tim as the US Director of Mission-Haiti while Paul was named the Haiti Director of Mission-Haiti. 

After about a month in South Dakota, in which I recovered, spent time with family and friends, had many meetings and – yes – I did do my share of working too, I was cleared by my doctors to go back to Haiti.  I returned in the beginning of June and joined my husband and the Mulders for a last month of running teams and tying up loose ends before they left.

But, as it always happens, you wake up one day and realize, no matter how much effort you put in denying the day would ever come, it was here.  We said goodbye to the other half of our team as they left to fill a very important roll stateside.  The support and friendship we had with the Mulders will be one that’s very hard to replace.  Paul and Tim were a dream team, always in cahoots of how to handle this situation and that.  Sara and I would dump on each other emotionally so we wouldn’t drive our husbands crazy.  And Paul and I can say, the 3 Mulder girls are truly special and we feel honored to have shared a year of our lives with them.  When it comes to communal living, I like to remind people to think of the people they work with, all the personalities and quirks.  Then think about never going home at night and having their job 24-hours-a-day: living, working, eating, playing with these people.  You see the best and worst of these people, nothing is hidden from the others.  And, after a year with the Mulders, living as closely as we did with them, we still think the world of them.  Well, actually, probably even more.

So that pretty much sums it up.  I’ve said more times than I can count: It’s a good thing I like change.  June 17th Paul and I recognized the 1-year-anniversary of our move here.  It has been anything but dull, that’s for sure.  We covet your prayers as we continue on in another year here.  Paul’s job is one that comes with an incredible responsibility.  Pray for wisdom, discernment, and discipline as he deals with hundreds of requests a week and is learning how to be the director of a mission organization.  We’ve all said at different times, we didn’t ask for this.  But Jesus isn’t our waiter- he doesn’t take our order.  As long as I’ve known Paul, he’s been presented with different ministry opportunities.  They started small, but have continued to grow (sometimes it feels exponentially).  And every time this has happened, I’ve watched Paul step up to the plate and grow into the position and thrive within it.  I believe this new job will be no different.

We want to thank you all for your prayers this last year in times of fear, change, excitement, and joy.  It is not just words when I say that we couldn’t do any of this without your prayers.


With much love.

Not So Far



Well, hello there

It’s about time I write you all again and give you a little glimpse as to what we’ve been up to this past month.  Well, we ran two more teams, both were a lot of fun.  One of the teams being the high school I used to go to.  One night, I took a moment to call my sister for her 30th birthday.  During the phone call, I let her know that the team on site was our old high school and our old principal was sitting no more than 10 yards from me and our old English teacher was downstairs with the high-schoolers; after which I commented, “Sometimes I look at my life and find how funny it has turned out.”  I left Sioux Falls ten years ago, went off to find my own path (as most people would say – I’ve always colored outside the lines, sometimes not even using crayons).  The world I grew up in, the church and the school I was a part of, always greeted me when I would make visits back, but for the most part, I was off the grid.  But I find my life now being more intertwined with the old one I used to wear, and although it’s weird, I enjoy it.  Even though I’ve been gone for so long, when we get teams in from my hometown, Haiti doesn’t feel so far away.

If I was feeling that way with the first team, the one that came right on its heels amped it up tenfold.  The following team was from the church I grew up in, the Mulder’s sending church.  And just so happened that my dad, mom, brother, and sister-in-law were a part of that team.  It was a truly special week to share with my family the ins-and-outs of our life here.  It is one thing to hear stories, to see pictures, but then for them to experience the mountain hikes, to get to know the people, to haul water for a bucket shower – made our life a little more of a reality for them.  And it made us grateful to have their support.

So now here we sit.  Without a team for a month!  What are we going to do with ourselves?  Oh that’s right, get stuff done!  When you run teams, it’s amazing how many other things get neglected.  So I think we all are still on catch-up duty.   Paul and I working extra hard to get as much done before next week, when we head out on a much-needed vacation.

So for now, I am working on team schedules and getting sponsorship things in line.  Paul is still rockin’ his duties, as usual.  He just started registering students for our new school.  Other exciting news along that line is we have two teachers committed to coming and teaching for our first year!  This idea of the new Christian Academy has been talked about, prayed about, and in the plans for many years – and it’s truly now starting to feel like a reality. Paul is starting to see how much work he has ahead of him; however, we’re excited.  That is why Mission-Haiti brought us here.  He’s excited to tackle the new challenge.


I can’t say I have too many exciting things to write about this update.  But I do want to say again how much we appreciate all your support.  As the reality of our next year is facing us, we know we cannot do it without your prayers, encouragement, and support.  So thank you from the bottom of our hearts.  May the Lord bless and keep you all.