Matthew 25

I’d like to think it wouldn’t take a major catastrophic event in order to prompt a blog update, but I suppose I’m wrong.

First and foremost, Paul and I would like to thank each and every one of you for your prayers and support over the last week and a half as we were preparing for, enduring, and now recovering from Hurricane Matthew.  We wish we could thank you all individually, but please accept this as a sincere thank you.  It is no lie or sugar-coated exaggeration to say that we could feel all of your prayers through this time.

I would just like to fill in a few of the blanks some of you all may be missing to understand the make-up of our mission and community, to help you understand the impact of this hurricane.  Paul, Tiona, and I are three of the eight North American missionaries on the ground here.  We have another couple serving as a support role, as well as the husband teaching 1st grade at the JAK Christian Academy.  We also have three other young women serving as teachers here: two of them sisters from Canada and the other a recent college grad from Sioux Falls.  We all live on a compound that is broken up into two yards, ours housing us along with three of our Haitian staff and the other yard housing our orphanage.  Our orphanage is home to eight boys and five girls as well as four staff members and two children of the staff.  We are located in a small village in South-Western Haiti called Petit Rivière or Ti Rivye (depending on whether you are pronouncing it in French or Creole, respectively).  If you were to google map this village, you will most likely not find it, or find one of the other Petit Rivières in the country (I’m pretty sure there are at least three of them).  We are in a district called St. Jean du Sud, about 45 minutes along the coast past the larger city of Les Cayes (that one you will find on a map!)  I am unable to tell you how many people there are living in our village because village lines are hard to assess and measurements are hard to qualify here.  Our village is a coastal village, sitting right on the ocean, with many of the people in the community relying on it for their livelihood.  The fingers of our ministry spread quite far throughout this area reaching several different mountains in our area, including running five schools.

Alright, now that we are all on the same page, we’ll get back to business.  So, we had been watching this hurricane develop for a while.  Originally, it looked like it was maybe going to head toward Jamaica and we would just get some outer rim effect, however as Matthew continued on, he started to turn toward a more direct hit upon Western Haiti – and with a Category 4 classification.  A blessing and curse of this particular storm was the fact that it was an incredibly slow-moving storm.  We used that time to spread the news of the impending storm and prep our own yard: moving motorcycles indoors, relocating different outdoor furniture, and even cutting down a few trees we were pretty sure wouldn’t survive.  We also made a game-plan for where we were to go as missionaries.  Paul and the baby and I would pass the hurricane with the teachers in their house, the newest building on our yard, on the lower level for fear of losing the roof in 130 mph winds.

Then we waited.

We played Monopoly.  We made cookies.  We made jokes about what a tease Matthew was and how he is never punctual (“so classic Matthew”).  We all went to bed fairly early, knowing that when he did show up it was going to be in spectacular fashion.  And he did.

It seemed starting at around midnight, the top of every hour came with new sounds and chaos going on outside, sometimes maybe heightened by not being able to see anything.  Sleep was not much of an option for me.  Plus, Tiona was wide awake for most of it, naïve to the severity of things, she was just excited to have three of her babysitters to dote on her!

Around 5:00 on Tuesday morning, October the 4th, Hurricane Matthew proved his incredible power as an incredibly large mango tree sitting just adjacent to the building we were in cracked in half and smashed through our compound wall.  Matthew built into a crescendo through that hour as it felt like we were sitting on a runway with jet engines roaring around us.  But one of the strangest experiences, I have to say, was feeling my ears pop from the changing of pressure.  We did our best to close up the house, but it is still an open-air system with no glass for the windows.  We started to fight some water coming through the windows and before long the kitchen floor was sitting under water.

Around 6:00 we open the window shutters to watch the immense power of the hurricane, the sunrise had given light to see.  It didn’t take long to realize that this was going to leave a monstrous wake of damage.  Seeing from where we were, how much was destroyed on our own compound, the implication for this community was going to be epic.  Knowing there were families sitting in palm-frond huts, all huddled together, bracing against wind that cracks 100-year-old mango trees.  And these aren’t just “families.”  These are people we know, people we live in community with, people we work with, people we care about.

After watching it for a while, the teachers and I sat on the bed and listened to Jesus music, with the whipping wind, cracking of trees, and flapping of tin provided a background orchestra to Peyton’s iPod.  A song came on that we were all very familiar with.  Words we have sung probably hundreds of times before hit us in a way we’ve never heard them before.  The song is called 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.  The first verse and chorus go as follows:
            The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
            It’s time to sing Your Song again
            Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
            Let me be singing when the evening comes
            Bless the Lord, oh my soul
            Worship His Holy Name
            Sing like never before, oh my soul
            I’ll worship Your Holy Name
There we were.  Four girls sitting on the bed.  Savoring the words and, truthfully, singing like never before.  We all were offering tears of worship.  It was a crazy moment, but one I don’t think I will ever forget.

I think this section is the hardest to write, because words just don’t seem to be enough.  I don’t know how to convey to you all what this community looked like the next morning other than to say, after living here for nearly two-and-a-half years, I didn’t recognize it.

The destruction is great.  But our God is greater.  No one in our community lost their lives at the hand of Hurricane Matthew.  For that we will continue to praise Him.

As for our compound, we lost a few roofs, tents, and trees.  Half of our missionaries are displaced due to roof damage.  Our boys’ house in the orphanage also suffered a roof loss and their whole eating area essentially caved in.  And our compound wall was broken down in a few spots.

Many people, however, have lost their homes and even all their earthly possessions.  Maudelaine is one such person.  She is our Pre-Kindergarten 1 teacher.  She is a beautiful spirit, always smiling, and truly a joy to work with and know.  That night her house came crashing down.  She and her two children ran out in the storm to her mother’s house, probably 50 yards away.  The next morning ventured out to see what used to be her home as just a concrete slab of foundation.  She lost all important documentation, all possessions, saving only the clothes on her back.

Emmanuel is the young man who is in charge of our gate.  He has grown up with the Mission.  He lives up the hill from us.  He and his family were in their home for the hurricane.  He said their roof flew off already at 1:00 in the morning.  They passed the rest of the hurricane huddled under a bedsheet.  He said his hands were cramping from clinging to the sheet so tightly.

These stories are not uncommon.  And these are people we know and care about and live life with.  To you all, they are just names.  To us, they are friends.  Neighbors.  Brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our time since the hurricane has been spent cleaning up, venturing out to the community and mountains to hand out food and clothing and sheets.  And more than anything, trying to make a game plan.  The need in Haiti has always been great; now it seems suffocating.

Where do we go from here?  I asked Paul that before the storm was even over.  I think I’ve asked it a hundred times since.  Paul, having visited the mountains yesterday, came back with this comment, “People are living the way that is not human.  They have lost everything they can’t afford to lose.  And their only hope is on people who are asking whether an organization is credible or not or if they have already donated to a charity this year.”

This rebuilding process isn’t just about rebuilding people’s physical homes, although if that were the only thing to do, we’d have plenty to keep us busy, it’s about rebuilding a hope.  They didn’t just lose their homes, they may have lost all of their mango trees which provide much needed nourishment and income.  It will be years until we see another mango season.  It will be years before some of these schools are rebuilt and students can sit in classrooms, on benches, and learn to hope for a better future.

We must rebuild the homes.  So at the next rainfall, parents can rest in the security knowing their children are not sleeping damp on some molding foam mattress.  So they can have a place of rest to come after a long day fishing on the water.  So they can have shade from a merciless sun.

And soon the hunger will set in.  The food they have saved up will be gone.  Their children will be hungry; the parents will be desperate.  We must feed them.

But we need help to make these very simple things possible.  We need wood and tin and food, which means we need money to purchase them.  Please consider donating to the relief fund by visiting to find out how.  Or for more information and pictures, ceck out Mission Haiti’s Facebook page.  Now, I challenge you to stay home from your next dinner out and use that $75 or whatever it would be to help put food on someone’s table, clothes on someone’s back, or cover someone’s head while they sleep.

I feel as if I have many more things to say, but I think I will just stop here.  Thank you so much for your prayers and support.  Please continue to pray.  Not just for our community here, but other communities in Haiti that have suffered even worse than we have.  We are hearing of some that have had mudslides and flooding that has cut them off from all aide.  Jesus hasn’t forgotten them, nor have we.

God bless you all.

“‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’… The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
–Matthew 25:34-36,40

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!