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Honoring the Caregivers of Haiti

I have a few friends from home who are currently serving in Haiti to help with the relief effort. Today I received a glorious message from one of them about an amazing way they have shown God’s love to the women caregivers of an orphanage in Haiti where they are staying. While most relief teams who visit would be first and foremost thinking of the children at the orphanage, they felt the need to share some compassion with the orphanage staff, who many lost their own homes and loved ones as a result of the earthquake.

It comes out of little surprise that their minds were centered on these women. Many of them help serve locally in the states in a ministry called The Oak Project, which aims to serve widows and mothers in the poorer urban areas of town.  This is a great example of how people can use the gifts the Lord has provided to serve others in need. Be sure to also check out their most recent video from their trip as well.

Here’s their response to the Lord’s call. Read More…

The Logo Sums It Up

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I thought I’d share a little about our logo.

On one end it’s about receiving.  It’s standing in front of our omnipresent God and Father with our arms open wide in humility, praise, worship, prayer, and emptiness. It’s about keeping ourselves low in order that He may be lifted higher. It’s also about the global community of believers gathering together to bring glory to the one who made it all (God), the one who paid it all (Jesus) and the one who guides it all  (the Holy Spirit).  And it’s about faithfully and fervently seeking His will for our lives. His call.

On another end it’s about serving. It’s placing ourselves, our interests, our comforts and our desires under the needs of others. It’s about lifting  others up and helping them draw closer to the Father by pointing them to Jesus.  It’s about sacrifice. It’s about doing this all over the world. It’s about responding in obedience to His call. It’s about being a bondservant to only Him. Our response.

Thoughts on Haiti

I apologize for the length, but I want to paint an accurate picture of my trip, and that takes a lot of background. Thanks for your patience in reading this. Also I included this same post on my Facebook profile.

Romans 15:1-17 (The Message)

1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
3-6That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

7So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!

Many of you have asked about my recent trip to Haiti. It has been a little difficult to put in words all of the thoughts that continue to swim around in my head regarding the trip. I wanted to try to relay some of those though since so many of you supported me on my trip. You deserve the feedback.

Let me first say that none of the words and thoughts below can accurately depict my deepest thoughts or portray true life on the streets in Haiti. You’d have to see that with your own eyes…something I encourage you each to pray about and consider.

Most of you all know the reason why I went to Haiti. I HAD to go. I didn’t even have to flinch for a second in thinking about whether or if I was going to go to Haiti. It was a matter of when. As soon as I heard about the earthquake hitting Haiti, I knew I’d be going. Gabe and Addie, my two oldest children, are from the Port au Prince area in Haiti. It was my natural reaction I think to respond as any father would and to try to help those of my “extended family” in any way I could. Plus it was important for me to show my kids that we cannot and will not forget about or neglect their birth country. We want it to remain a very important part of their background and our family makeup.

We have various contacts in Haiti through our short term mission work in the Dominican Republic. Some of them also have a hand in mission work in Haiti. So I first tried to link up to go with them, but all of those doors closed. So next I sought out missions organizations and heard that Score International, a missions organization based here in Chattanooga, was facilitating groups (thanks to my friends Joe and Abbey Smith). So I signed up to go on their first trip. For a reason only the Lord knows, that trip didn’t work out, but I was placed on the their second trip. And I’m glad as this gave the Lord the opportunity to work on the heart of a friend of mine, who out of the blue decided to join me. He had no reason to go to Haiti. He didn’t have a huge connection. But something ate at his heart to sign up. The extra time helped him (and me) make our plans. And I’m glad, as looking back, I relied on his fellowship and support. Thanks John.

Let me jump ahead and skip over the travel, which is a story of its own. We arrived in Haiti by bus (via an 8-hour ride on the back roads over the mountains from the D.R.) and as soon as we crossed the border I knew something was different. The Haiti that I had seen was still present. Huge mountains in the background, as if created as a backdrop on a Bob Ross painting. Treeless landscapes. Tap tap trucks, with their fun Christian phrases and vibrant colors, carrying loads of people to/from various destinations. Children running around the streets half clothed but smiles aplenty. Old women selling their vegetables and fruits. The sweet smell of fruit mixed with the smell of trash. Trash lining the street sides. All of that remained the same. But what changed were the faces of the people I saw. There was desperation, despair and anxiety.

And of course, right away, you saw the effects of the destruction. We first visited a rural missions hospital that upon arriving had an ocean of tents filled with displaced and injured Haitian families. Then as we drove closer into Port au Prince, we started to see the buildings flattened and turned to rubble. And what was more present was the abnormal fog, which we later realized wasn’t actually fog, it was the dust from destroyed concrete buildings floating in the air which never fully settled.

Life in Port au Prince was surprisingly the same as before. Bustling with people trying to make a living and survive, but like I mentioned earlier now their faces were showing different expressions. We ended up arriving at what would soon be our base camp, New Life Orphanage, located on the other side of a wall from the Port au Prince airport. I was a little surprised to see that within the orphanage and school’s compound was an overflowing crowd of people on hand for a church service. We were paraded through the crowd, probably around 400 people thick, to the back of the compound. I can only imagine what these people were thinking. Probably something to the extent of “Those crazy Americans are here to ‘help.’ Let’s see if they do.” But nonetheless it was a joy to see and hear them worship in the midst of the chaos of life. And it was a good reminder that we entered into something far greater than ourselves.

After the church service, we ended up setting up “camp.” We set up our tents on the concrete porches of the school buildings. The entire complex was concrete. NO grass in site (I expected this though as I remembered from my past visits to Haiti – it’s a huge city of concrete). But we were safe and our belongings were secure.

And we felt blessed to be in an orphanage where we could also interact with the children, something each of the team members relied on I think to help fill our spirits and give us strength. Amazing how the Lord uses children, even when you can’t speak the same language.

Our work consisted of mainly food distributions in various areas in and around Port au Prince. Pastor Edmond, who owns the orphanage, also oversees a network of 22 churches and schools. His network would be our platform for distribution. He knew the areas that needed the food the most; the areas where many of the relief organizations just hadn’t reached. Places where food was hard to come by. It was such a blessing to have Pastor Edmond and his son Wesley and their hands-on connection with the villages and neighborhoods we visited. I think it is vital that aid relief is distributed by way of the local church, who knows best the makeup of their community.

To be honest, there was a part of me that didn’t like the size of our relief team, which consisted of many people from all over North America, but a large majority who came from a church in Woodstock, Georgia. There was something irritating and internally obnoxious with a group so large we had to drive around in two large tourist buses. Again, I just had to imagine what these poor Haitian people were thinking as we drove by in our huge air conditioned buses with a sea of cameras taking pictures at their “situation.” It was a challenge that I had to overcome throughout the trip, as I had envisioned that I would possibly have the opportunity to travel with a small team deeper in the city, and possibly search out people I had in my heart (Addie’s birth family and the missionary friends). But there was a huge blessing with the size of the group as well. It allowed for better and safer protection of the team and it also allowed us to set up a very well run distribution process.

We ended up giving over 2,400 bags of food to people in about six rural villages around the outskirts of the city and one neighborhood closer in. I wish we could have made 10,000 bags. We still wouldn’t have had enough to feed the people who came out in total. At one rural village, where there was no relief until we came, we ended up having to deal with a mob. Not an angry mob, but a hungry mob. Although mostly polite, this particular school/church compound just didn’t have the proper boundaries and people snuck in from all sides which forced us to lock ourselves in the church until our security team could disperse the tension. But what can you expect? These people were hungry and needed help. The risk in that situation was so worth it knowing that we helped feed those who were hungry. Especially the children, the elderly and the widows. And despite the tension of the mob and the ever present anxiety of another aftershock to occur at any moment, the people were always kind and always thankful.

The biggest challenge for me personally was the day we drove by Cite Soleil (the capital’s slum) and inside Port au Prince and Petionville, where the destruction hit hard. Every ounce of “green space,” the parks and squares scattered throughout the city, was being utilized as makeshift tent cities. And I don’t mean a tent campground like you’d see at an American state park. I mean tarps and tents, one on top of the other lined up as far as the eye could see. Tents and tarps were EVERYwhere. But not enough of them to help all of the people.

It was the only home left for over 1 million people who lost their homes. The destruction was massive.

And to imagine that these displaced people lost not only their houses and the little amount of personal belongings they cherished, so many also lost family members and friends. And at that moment is when I thought of Addie’s family. It was at that moment when I lost it the most, when I broke down and sobbed. I couldn’t help to think that somewhere in this ocean of mixed destruction and displacement were her birth parents and siblings. It was also at that moment when I prayed the most. It was at that moment that I longed to hold my kids and not let go. And it was the time when I realized that the Lord sent John to be with me through this. I don’t know how I would have been able to think of their faces and not see them and come out unscathed. I guess in many ways I didn’t. I still think of her family. We never were able to find any info about them (but hope isn’t lost).

The Haiti that I had visited and had so many memories was in despair…and still is in despair. But the hope of a new life, both physically and spiritually, provides enough hope that there’s the potential for a great movement to take place in Haiti. If the leadership, the churches and even the everyday Haitian people themselves would place their hope in the guidance of the Lord they could completely turn this destruction into an avenue for positive change. That’s the biggest prayer I have. I pray that the people see beyond the destroyed buildings and grasp onto the love of the Lord that is so evidently present all around them. I believe these prayers can be answered.

While I went to Haiti with some preconceived plans and expectations, I left with many of those unattained. But I also left with a better grasp of the situation, one that calls for a response.

So, what now? What do I do with what I experienced and saw? I call upon the Lord to help me know what to do next. I continue to pray for His calling. And I wait patiently for the avenues to use to respond. One way I have already done that is by initiating something that has been on my heart That is to showcase how people are already responding, not just to the situation in Haiti, but to the Lord’s call in their lives. To do this, I have launched a new blog that I will use to show how people are responding to Jesus’s love. Check it out at www.respondinternational.org (this site). Or follow us on Twitter at @respondtochrist.

I also commit to moving forward with plans to deepen my family’s involvement in the mission work we have already begun to do on Hispaniola (on the northern coast of the D.R. but also in Haiti). Learn more about our interest by reading the About Us section of this blog.

Mostly, I pray. I know in my heart that the Lord allowed this destruction to occur for a reason. I have to let go of any doubt I have and put my complete trust in Him and His plan. And when I do, that is the time I find peace despite what I saw and experienced.

Will I return? Most likely, but I don’t know when. But my heart will be there always, just like a part has always been there long before the quake ever shook their ground.

______________________
For those interested in going to Haiti, please consider a missions trip with one of the following organizations:

For those interested in supporting Haiti financially, please consider giving to one of the following organizations:

Thoughts on Orphanages

There has been a LOT of debate about the use and support of orphanages, especially American run orphanages, for the care of displaced children.  This has especially become a popular topic in light of the recent tragedy in Haiti and the large number of children without family. Naturally, caring Christians from around the world, not just the United States, have extended their desire to adopt an orphaned child from Haiti. There’s nothing wrong with that response.  But let me stress one point…NOW (February, 2010) is not the time for adoptions to proceed for NEW orphans from the result of the earthquake. There are still far too many holes in the process of trying to identify displaced family members for the parentless children effected.  For now, orphaned children should if possible be kept in Haiti but only if there are proper avenues of care to support them. And that is where we run into some trouble.

Because the vast devastation and loss of life from the quake, there is a large population of displaced children who have nowhere to go to get the basic support they need to survive. Naturally, the orphanages, whether Haitian run or run by foreigners, have stepped in to serve as a safe place for children to live while the search continues to find living relatives. Every child has the right to have food, shelter and love. This is a huge task that will take many months.  Many of these orphanages, who also have adoption programs, have been under attack by several social service agencies (namely UNICEF) for facilitating, in their eyes, a child trafficking scheme.  And so they have turned away from placing children in the care of the orphanages. Of course the situation with the misguided Idaho church members didn’t help, even if their hearts were in the right place (which is beside the point). But these same orphanages have been one of the greatest, if not the greatest, assets in Haiti to ensure children are being cared for appropriately.

I have two Haitian born children who we adopted from an American run orphanage which is one program of larger ministry. Before they even began their adoption program, this same ministry was facilitating, and continues to do so, programs to help malnourished infants and services for new mothers and mothers in distressed situations.  But over time it became drastically apparent that there were too many orphaned and abandoned children that were not getting basic care from anyone. The ministry kept seeing too many infants and children dying on the streets. And so they determined to do the right thing by starting an adoption program, under the approval of the Haitian government.  And they have been facilitating the adoption program ever since.

Adoption does NOT equal child trafficking despite what many claim. Adoption is a way for truly abandoned children to find loving parents who will care for them for life. Would it be best if they could stay with their birth parents? Of course, if their parents have the ability to provide basic needs for life. Many just don’t have that ability. In our experience, the orphanage we went through does everything in their power to try to have relatives and parents maintain their role as the primary care givers of their children. We were there when a new child was being placed in the orphanage by her parents. The director of the orphanage met with them for HOURS and would not allow them to drop their child off, until that is it became apparent that the parents just did not have the ability to continue to care for her.  What should be done in that situation?  Should they have allowed that child to just live on the street and ultimately face death, all too often the case for many children in Haiti. No, they did the right thing. They took the child in and promised to find someone who would be able to provide care for the child for life. And they went through the proper channels in the Haitian government to identify the child as truly abandoned.

Yes, it is unfortunate that Haiti does not have a suitable system of programs, whether run by the government and/or by private organizations, that offers help for the desperate people who face moments of crises in their lives.  Those “moments” aren’t short periods for most Haitians. For many, their crises are ones they cannot overcome in their lifetime, which is truly saddening. That is the cause of many internal and external issues in Haiti that have roots from decades of poverty and political uprising (among others). There are many organizations who are out there trying to change that course as we speak. If successful, children may not have to be abandoned and placed in the care of orphanages. Their parents would have the resources to find help to get them through life’s short-term crises. There are great models out there. Programs that could be a step before adoption – an internally based crises care program – much like ones being suggested and facilitated by organizations like Compassion International, World Orphans, Hands and Feet Project and Safe Families for Children (in the United States). But at this point of time this internal support network just doesn’t exist to meet the huge demand of those in need of help. The network has to be strengthened.

And so, until that time comes, it is important for orphanages to continue to be of service in helping children survive.  Yes, this needs to be done with the intent to do what is humanly possible and with the resources available to support methods for children to remain in their biological families. But when those resources are not available, it is the ethical and moral commandment for Christians to care for those in need. And if that means to help them have life by means of adoption, then that is what is best.

As I walked the streets of Haiti during my visit this past February my heart was filled with incredible sadness for the loss of life, lack of food and water, displacement of family and desperate situation of the people dealing with the destruction all around them.  I can only imagine that over time we will see a huge increase of truly abandoned and orphaned children in Haiti. And eventually, they will have nowhere to turn BUT to the orphanages to have the chance to live.  And I hope the world will open their hearts to support and care for them because, to put it plainly, they deserve the chance.

Music as a Response

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I just discovered a local (Chattanooga, TN) singer/songwriter named Eric Parker who started his own record label called Music for Missions.  The title of the label caught my eye and then when I read their heart behind the label it got me even more excited as I once again discovered a different avenue that someone took to respond to Christ’s call.

Here’s a little snippet of what they proclaim on their “About Me” page:

Music for Missions is an independent record label that donates 2/3 of all CD and Music Download profits to various mission organizations.  Founded in 2002 by recording artist Eric Parker, Music for Missions produces albums for independent artists who want to use a portion of their CD revenues to support Christian missions across the globe and at home.

I love it.  The artists on this label have every right to collect all the profits for their own good. They could use those profits to push out more promotion of their own music. They could in all essence use it for themselves. But they don’t. They give a huge portion of it (the majority) to others.  And they give it to people who are trying to advance something greater themselves…the love of Christ.

What an awesome example of someone using their gifts and talents to “further the Kingdom.”  I write this not even fully knowing much about their music, or even if they’re any good. But it doesn’t matter. It’s their heart behind their music that draws me in.  I’m going to have to spend some time learning a bit more about the artists. Maybe I’ll even get the opportunity to interview Eric and find out what prompted him to start the label in the first place. I bet there’s a good story behind it.

For now, go check it out. And better, go purchase one of their albums resting assure that your money is helping someone else be the Lord’s hands and feet. Awesome!

Help a Haiti Pastor

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With the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in February, and the continuing aftershocks still occurring (a 4.7 aftershock hit Port au Prince yesterday), there is much to be done to help the people in Haiti. One of the best ways is by partnering with an indigenous church whose pastors have a direct link and relationship with the people in their communities.

Below is a link to a video interview conducted by an American photographer who was talking with a Haitian pastor who operates 22 churches and schools and one orphanage in and around Port au Prince, Haiti’s capital. In it he discusses possible opportunities in which the Lord may be calling you to respond to action in His name.

http://tinyurl.com/ykqpfl9

If you are actively involved in a local church and would like to partner with a church in Haiti, consider getting in touch with World Orphans. They have a proven system at establishing quality church-to-church partnerships.

Welcome!

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There’s an eternal “conversation” going on all around us. It’s between God and you (and me). Often we are the complacent recipients of His Words of Wisdom. In other times we only offer him praise through song on Sunday mornings or shout out desperate pleas for His graceful intervention.

But if you dig deeper into His Word, the Lord is asking for us to be way more engaged in His conversation.  He asks that we not be passive listeners, but that we become passionate doers. When we act on His behalf and with His guidance, we join in on His conversation as active participants.  Our action is our response to His call.

I am excited that we have started this website (and ministry) to illustrate how those around us (and hopefully my family as well) are responding in faithful obedience to the calling of our Father through His Spirit and with the love exhibited through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Down the road, we wish to exhibit the avenues of faithful ministry He has called us to do as a family as well. You will find those on our Ministries page.

In the meantime, enjoy the stories we find and retell of others responding to the Lord.  Be sure to spend a good amount of quality time in conversation with the Lord about how you should respond to His call for your life as well.  When you hear it and begin to walk faithfully down that path, let us know. We’d love to include your story here as well.