On Friday Chris and Ryan loaded up a bunch of trees and took them out to the new land to plant. This may seem like a small thing, but for us it’s not. For Chris it’s not. Our journey to the new land has been one that’s taken over three years, and it’s one that I’m so thankful for. Chris has been planting trees and nurturing them, giving some away, and starting others during this time. The whole time he has been thinking about the future of the mission and the fact that these trees would eventually go to the new site – wherever that was!
Now we have a place to put them and I can’t even really describe how that feels. Probably surreal at best.
On Friday he planted an assortment of fruit trees along the back fence line, and Saturday morning we took the kids out and planted the last two that didn’t go in the ground on Friday. It was early and we visited with neighbors that walked by on their way to their fields down the path from the land. It was nice to hear how happy everyone was that we were planting more trees. I think farmers have more of an appreciation for this kind of thing than those that don’t farm.
Michelet has slowly been clearing out the brush on the land and we have a massive “compost” pile. The first time I saw it, it was about 12 feet high. Now that the leaves have compacted it’s shrunk down and the branches are left. Chris told Michelet to take stuff out of the pile that he could use for making charcoal and to cut down any other brush to do the same. Normally we don’t encourage people making charcoal, but that’s because they usually cut down a perfectly good tree to do it. In our case he’s using stuff that would otherwise get burned because there’s no where to haul it off to. It’s good for him and it’s good for us. I remember looking at the land the first few times we visited. it was so overgrown with grass and garden type things that you couldn’t see from one corner to the next. Now that it’s dry and Michelet has been clearing things we can get a vision for what can be.
Aside from the buildings, Chris and I are already dreaming about things like grass and plants. Getting all of the plants and flowers that we have from Cory in the past month has just opened up this excitement in us to make the place beautiful. It’s so fun to have a blank canvas to work with too!
I know that some people might think it frivolous for us to be thinking about this. Some people might think that we should focus more attention on ministry type things. Some might feel like having a nice property isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I beg to differ.
After living here for as long as we have we’ve come to learn a few things. Mostly, we know we’re in this for the long haul. Chris has already been here for over 11 years, and I’ll be celebrating my 8 year anniversary in the fall. That seems crazy! I remember when I thought 3 or 4 years was long-term, but now we find ourselves in the category of people who are already defined as long-termers. We regularly find ourselves passing along lessons learned to new people on the ground, hoping they’ll be able to avoid some of the hard things we had to go through. That feels strange in the sense that it hasn’t felt like that long. After being here as long as we have, thinking 20 years down the road doesn’t seem so scary anymore. In reality Alex will maybe be a year into college or university.
We’ve learned that balance is a much needed thing with living here. When we were newer on the ground, and young newlyweds, it was easier to spend more time focused on ministry stuff. Now that we have kids and we’ve been married for almost 7 years we realize that those things (marriage and kids) need as much, or sometimes more, of our attention if we want to be here for the long term. We’ve seen a lot of people let things get out of proportion and their marriages and family relationships suffer, and in return their ministry suffers. They burn out and don’t know how to recover. We came close to that because of some of the things we’ve been through, but thankfully were able to step back and get help. Since then we’ve recognized we’re of better use in the calling God has placed on us if we are nurturing our relationships with each other and taking care of ourselves.
One thing I’ve noticed is how few missionaries and expats have hobbies outside of their ministries or jobs. Yes, it’s hard to do certain things, but I think a larger part of it is that they either feel guilty for wanting to do those things, or have a hard time setting boundaries around their personal time. I think we need to be sensitive to the extra things God puts on our hearts, like helping out in times of need for example, but we also need to remember that Jesus set the example of getting away and doing things that were healthy so he could better minister.
For Chris and I, getting out and working in the garden is something that nurtures our souls. I, admittedly, haven’t done much around our current place in a while, but Chris has actively been working on his roof garden for years. Recently I’ve taken on some of the yard work for exercise, and I’ve been enjoying it again. Working in a garden gives us a front row seat to see God’s creation and a life cycle. It’s fun to step back and see that work leads to something beautiful that everyone can enjoy. God created plants to nourish our bodies, both nutritionally, but also at a soul level. That beauty was created for us. He created the relationship between man and plants, because it was good.
There are other things that we see too.
First, I want our workers to have a place to relax on their breaks. They work hard, all day long. Where we are now most of them can go home for half an hour if they want. In Kan Marie they won’t be able to do that, so they’ll most likely hang out at the mission. We’re strategically creating places that are shady and nice where they can relax and rest and I like that. We want that for them in the same way that we want better bathroom and shower facilities than what we can give them now. We want them to know that they are appreciated and that we put thought into things, with them specifically in mind.
Secondly, when we host training classes we welcome students from all over Haiti. They get to take one week away from the lives they live to learn something that could be life changing for them and their communities. They get a break from things, in a life that can only be described as hard in most cases. They get to sleep on a comfy bed (most Haitians sleep on the floor), eat three meals per day and visit with other Haitians. We want a place where our students can not only learn and work, but also relax and enjoy their time away. Haitians hardly ever get to take “vacations” so any chance to travel through the country is a big deal. We see that, and want an environment that is nice for them to be in.
Thirdly, when friends and family or Vision Trippers come see us we know they aren’t just coming to learn about Clean Water for Haiti. Most are taking time off work or school, using their vacation days, to come be with us and learn. We don’t take that lightly. Haiti can be overwhelming and a lot to process. We want a place where our visitors can relax and rest and process, all while learning about what we do. We don’t want the place to look like a resort, but we want them to see what Haiti can look like. It’s not all muddy water and poverty. God has created a lot of beautiful things that can exist here. We want them to see that side of Haiti too.
Fourthly, we’re excited about trying new plants and trees. We don’t really have any space at our current place to plant new fruit trees without having to take something else out. Some of the varieties that Cory gave us have never been grown in our area before. We love the idea that we might be able to grow things and introduce them to the community. Chris is especially hoping that his dragon fruit plants will start to give fruit because it’s something that would be ideally suited for Haiti’s climate and dry seasons. One fruit that we tried at Cory and Kris’ last weekend is a cousin to star fruit, but is really sour just eaten off the tree. Ryan liked the flavor and brought home a ziploc bag of them. Afraid they would go bad, we asked if Yonese could make juice out of most of them. When she did, and sweetened it, it tasted like green apple juice! It was a total surprise to all of us and Yonese asked if she could take seeds because she liked it so much! She said it was something that people would be really interested in if they could buy it in the market.
Lastly, over the years we’ve seen how some of the things that we love to do, like cooking and gardening, have blessed others that are serving and working here. Most of the foreigners we know are living in more urban settings, and don’t have green space like we do. Time and time again friends have thanked us for the time they get to spend at the mission, whether it’s for a meal or staying overnight to get away for rest, because it gives them a break from being in the grind of ministry and community. Haiti is a hard place to live and work, and it can be hard to find places where one can go to really rest. Our board has recognized that this is part of our unintentional personal ministry to others here, and they strongly encourage us to do that for others, which we love. We want to be able to continue that at our new place.
Yesterday I was feeling a bit sick, so I spent most of the day on Pinterest looking at “tropical gardening” and getting inspiration for what can be. Isn’t this amazing???
I call that our 15 year plan! The thing is, I know that grass can grow quickly if you do it right, and I know that most of those plants become large fast. That’s what’s fun about gardening here. What you grow back home as a tropical house plant becomes this large, amazing plant here in it’s natural climate. A philodendron, for example, as a houseplant has leaves that are a few inches long. Here in Haiti we’ve had them grow a foot and a half or bigger. It’s amazing!
Something else that Chris said on the weekend struck me. He pointed out the fact that we aren’t as young as we used to be, and that reality was settling in for him. He’s going to be 40 next year, and this year I’ll be 35. He admitted he doesn’t have the same energy he had 10 years ago and that he doesn’t want to spend his time on the same things. He wants to think about what we’ll enjoy doing for fun 10 years from now. Having a garden that we can work at is fun. Over time we can plant things that will require less and less maintenance, rather than more. Also, as our kids get older they can help with the process. Olivia has recently decided that she likes helping tidy up the house. As I’ve been mowing the lawn the past few weeks the thought occurred to me that in the next few years Olivia will be older and able to start helping with things around the yard more. My mom, and her mom before her, helped to establish a love for gardening and I want my kids to have that same experience. They already like to muck around outside!
I’m just so excited about this next phase and about the challenge of making something beautiful.