A Pain In the Gum.

I won’t lie. I was feeling a bit anxious going into yesterday morning.

About two weeks ago my wisdom teeth started giving me problems, at least the two I still had. It started with pressure on my jaw and then the whole left side of my face feeling pressure, a headache and an aching neck. We went to our dentist in Gonaives last Monday, hoping he would be able to pull them out there, but without x-rays he didn’t want to go ahead because it’s an invasive surgery.

I should stop here and just mention something that some of you might not know – white people and black people’s jaws form differently. I don’t know about other races, so someone can feel free to chime in down in the comments if they want. People from African descent tend to have jaws that are larger, and therefore it’s very normal for wisdom teeth, or the third molar, to come down or in normally. Us white people, not so lucky.

Now, let’s put this in the context of Haiti. I am a white girl in a black culture. Going into to dentist office to explain that I have teeth that just never came in is stressful enough. I was worried that I would get resistance from our dentist simply because it’s not a common problem with 99.5% of his patients that he sees. Thankfully Dr. Miguel was great and completely understood. He has big posters of teeth and jaws on his wall and we were able to talk about everything with those. I’m also thankful that he knows his limits and had no problem telling us that he would rather refer us to a colleague in Port than do it himself. A quick phone call later and things were all set up for me to see his friend at the Dental University in Port au Prince yesterday.

I had been there before, last summer, to get x-rays on my front tooth so Dr. Miguel could do a crown for me (which turned out so well!), so there was some level of familiarity. But, I knew this would be different.

The university, like most places in Haiti, is not what you or I might expect. Some of the teaching areas are very basic and open air. The equipment might be older, but it still does the job. Despite appearances, they’re doing good work there. Upper level students must have been working on dental castings yesterday because repeatedly they came in to where I was having my work done to get Dr. Phillogene’s approval on things.

We waited in the waiting area, which is a nice deck lined with chairs. When it was time for the consultation part of things Chris and I went in and sat with Dr. Phillogene to start my file. We met his colleage, Dr. Felix (I think!). We discussed the issues I’d been having and then headed back for x-rays.

The x-ray room is about 5×10. The walls are nicely installed wood panels, I think plywood, with finishing. The window has re-bar bars on it with a screen. There’s no light bulb in the socket on the ceiling, but that makes sense if you consider it’s an x-ray room with a window. The darker the better. There is a chair to the left of the door, an x-ray chair. I sit down and there’s a piece of pvc pipe coming out of the floor that’s just the right height to use as a foot rest. I think it might have been there to allow for a drain of some sort, assuming that they were maybe going to use the room for something else other than an x-ray room at some point. On the wall to the left of my chair is a very old x-ray machine. It only gets plugged in when they need to use it, because this is Haiti, and power is crazy here and it would probably get fried if it was left plugged in. There’s another, slightly newer x-ray machine in there, but they aren’t using it for some reason. Maybe it’s the back up? Over in the corner to the right is a basic table with a portable “dark room” unit on top. Inside is a cup of solution to develop the x-ray films and the doctor or tech just pulls everything apart inside and then dips the films in the cup to expose them. After a minute, they get pulled out and the window is used to check out the contents.

We do my x-rays. It’s obvious that the top tooth is pushing into the roots on the one before it. I’ve felt the pressure for a while now and am looking forward to getting it out. We redo the bottom x-rays 4 times because the bottom tooth is so close to the surface that it looks like one of my regular molars. Initially it was so confusing that everyone thought the pain I had was from just the top and that I didn’t actually have a bottom one, but after some closer looking the dental work in my last molar showed that the wisdom tooth was right there, and explained why my gum was getting soft in that place. It was trying to push up, but giving me a lot of pain in the process.

X-rays are done and I get settled in for the work.

I should back track here and tell you that the last time I had this procedure on my right side wisdom teeth, the top one had already pushed down, and the bottom one was a challenge. It had grown too close to the bone and they had to grind off some of my jaw bone to get it out. I didn’t get put under, but rather had local anesthesia for all of it. Yes, I hurt after, but it wasn’t terrible and within 24 hours I was eating soft foods. I didn’t swell up too badly and I didn’t bruise at all.

I got frozen and they went to work. They were doing the removals in their teaching room where they have 8 chairs set up in one big room. I’m guessing, from our previous visit, that they have days where they accept patients and upper level dental students get to work on teeth with supervision. We were the only ones in the room yesterday. Yes, their equipment might have been a bit older, but everything was clean and sterile and they were diligent about all of that through everything. I lost track of how many glove changes happened.

I would really love to say that things went smoothly and it was easy, especially with the location of my teeth, but I can’t do that. Nope. Apparently another 18 years actually makes things more difficult. It gives your teeth more time to grow closer to your jaw bones and to grow into the roots of your other teeth. No, there was nothing easy about yesterday.

I did end up getting some of my left jaw bone ground off. I guess it’s good to keep things equal, right? I wish I was exaggerating when I say that they had my mouth open for about 3 hours. Not just me laying there with them looking at things. That was 3 hours of grinding, digging and prying. My mouth has been contorted in ways I didn’t know was possible. Eventually my very obstinate teeth gave up and let go, but they did not do it happily.

Now, I know that some of you might be thinking something along the lines of this whole thing taking a long time because of ill experienced dentists. I’m going to shut that down right now. Yes, they may have not had extensive hands on practice with wisdom teeth (even the poster in the room showed all molars in place, none impacted) but they were very thorough every step of the way. They didn’t do anything until they were satisfied with the x-rays, and they deliberated over every step for best practice options. They worked hard. They listened when I told them I needed to be shot with more freezing. They did a good job. At one point I thought about asking for my phone so I could get a picture of their two heads bending over me with the concentration I was seeing, but I thought that might be a tad distracting and weird :)

No, I very much appreciate Doc Phillogene and Doc Felix for what they did for me yesterday. They earned every Gourde we paid. I wasn’t an easy patient in the sense that things were straight forward. In fact, on the way home Chris and I were laughing (as much as I could laugh) at the fact that they were kind of on a high because of the procedure they’d just done. I can’t imagine they get many opportunities, if any, to do it, so it was that high of having accomplished something and helping someone at the same time. It made me happy to have provided them with the experience. When I gave birth to Alex I was asked if it would be okay for a second year med student to observe the birth. By the end of it she was taking pictures for our family, and the next morning my delivery doc thanked me for allowing her to be there because my birth had been completely natural, and Alex was a big baby. She was happy that this med student got to see that so early in her studies, but also to see that as a woman. I felt thankful that I got to be part of that, and I felt the same way yesterday. Maybe I provided an opportunity to learn. Maybe those dentists will be able to teach others and help others because of that experience.

I realized a lot of other things while lying on the chair yesterday.

Our society likes to soften the blows of reality. We like to remove the hard stuff whenever we can. I’m not being critical, just stating a fact. We avoid pain, and we avoid even knowing the details sometimes. In this specific example, it’s common practice to be put under rather than have local anesthesia so that you not only don’t feel anything, but also don’t remember it. I get it, oh boy, do I get it! There were times yesterday where I thought, “This is why. This is why they knock you out. They do it so you don’t have to feel the insane amount of pressure put on your mouth from them trying to get leverage. They do it so you don’t hear the tools grinding against your teeth. They do it so you don’t have to watch them trying to figure out what to do next. You just get to wake up being sore and thinking this is just what it is.”

And then I would think about all the Haitians that might never get to go to a dentist in the first place. And then about those that might and wondered what quality of care they would get. I thought about all the people I’ve met here with missing teeth, knowing that many of those probably came out with no anesthetic. And I felt grateful that there is a teaching university in Haiti with guys like this leading the way. Aside from doing a job I could tell they cared about doing it well. It wasn’t a show for me. I was just a patient with a problem.

I thought about the fact that being awake for the whole procedure helped me appreciate all the work that went into helping me feel better, and how grateful I was to be able to actually get this taken care of. Often we get asked about the hardest things here, and I frequently tell people my biggest fear is that our family wouldn’t get the medical care we needed in an emergency. Yet, time and time again God has provided access when we need it. I couldn’t imagine having to live with wisdom tooth pain until we came home next summer, and we can’t afford to pay for dental in Canada or the US anyway. Having Dr. Miguel in Gonaives has been a huge blessing to our family. When he did my crown, he only charged us $350 US for the entire procedure, including the root canal, the form work, ordering the crown from the Dominican Republic, a temp crown and then the final work. Chris just had a root canal finished up for $150. My wisdom teeth? $220 for the whole thing. Such a blessing! God provides.

I also thought about the people that God has made Chris and I to be. I fully realize that this life we live is not for everyone. There are many that, just reading this, would feel stressed out. But, we wake up each day knowing this is where God wants us to be, and because of that I can push aside any of those feelings that I might have over any given situation and know that it’s all going to be okay. Is it stressful to go into a medical facility and think that it’s definitely below what my North American standards might be? Yes. But, I can do it. And I can be okay doing it. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that God knew we could do this.

So, here I sit, taking tons of Ibuprofen and Tylenol looking like I got in a bar fight and wishing I could eat everything in sight but sipping on chicken broth. And I am thankful. Yes, it hurts, but I know that is now temporary and that in about a week I’ll feel mostly normal. There won’t be any more pain and I can move on.

~Leslie

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Getting to Start Over

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the kind. You wake up having an idea of how you plan to use your time and what’s on the “to do” list for the day, but then you hear the record scratch of things taking a completely different direction. The train has basically derailed and you just get to go for the ride.

As I went into the day I had plans to finish taking certain things off my old computer and then cleaning it off so we could use it for other things. One of the things that I really wanted off of it was all my autofill contacts from Outlook. Let me put it this way – five years is a long time to be using autofill and not entering addresses in your contact base. 

Apparently there are ways to transfer the old files to a new Outlook version, but after fighting with it all morning not a single one wanted to work for me. Beyond frustrating. 

After fighting with that for way too long I decided to switch gears. Somewhere in the midst of that stuff the old laptop shut down. I was working unplugged, and it did what it normally does when the battery dies, so I didn’t think anything of it and just plugged it in to charge. A few hours later I went to start it up again and couldn’t get past the Lenovo screen. It just sat there. Chris mucked around with it for a bit then took the hard drive out to put into an external drive and the drive worked fine. I can plug it in to my new computer and see and access everything on it. We decided that it was best to just put the old one a way for a bit. We may try to see if we can get it to boot sometime down the road, but not now. It’s not a priority. It was frustrating because we were excited about having a spare computer that we could use for non-essential things like watching movies.

So, it was one of those days where I felt like I was getting nowhere. Nothing was working. In fact, things were doing quite the opposite. 

It was one of those days where I just had to let go of some stuff because I couldn’t do anything about it.

I wasn’t making headway with importing addresses, so I had to walk away. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out, and maybe I won’t. If we’ve emailed in the last 5 years and you want to hear from me it might be a good idea to send me an email… ;)

Maybe one day we’ll be able to boot the old computer and use it again, but not this week. There are other things to do. 

When Peggy arrived and we were talking about what a typical day looks like here I said, “You know how it is, you can go into a day with a list of things you want to do, but then 5 other things pop up that take priority, because this is Haiti.” 

You don’t get to pick and choose. Just just have to go with it. 

And then you remember that tomorrow is another day.

As I was venting and saying choice words yesterday afternoon just out of sheer frustration Peggy gently reminded me that everything happens when it’s supposed to, if it’s supposed to. Yes, so true. 

Tomorrow is another day, and each day has enough trouble of its own. But, even with trouble, we get to wake up each day and start over. 

Whatever bogged me down yesterday, doesn’t have to bog me down today. I’m not saying that there won’t be stuff that I have to continue to deal with, but rather that sometimes having a night of rest and fresh perspective helps me to see things through different eyes.

Is it annoying that I now have to rebuild my contacts one by one. Yep. But, not the end of the world. 

Is it annoying that the old laptop doesn’t want to work right now. Yep. But, we can’t and don’t want to do anything about it right now. 

When I woke up this morning I tried to come into the day with a fresh start in mind. I have a list, I’m crossing things off. Something that I was thinking was going to take a few more days is now done. Other things, I’m doing what I can but I can only do so much when I’m waiting on others to do their part. And the rest? It’ll happen when it happens. 

I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned since moving to Haiti is what flexibility really looks like. 

Flexibility isn’t adjusting your calendar when you have all the options to do so. Flexibility is rolling with things when you have zero choice in the matter, and trying to do what you can, then leave the rest. It’s seeing the advantages in the situation when it seems like none are there. It means learning what you can and being grateful. 

What am I grateful for?

I’m grateful that we took the steps to get me a new computer when we did. Like I said a couple posts ago, there was no crisis this time, so it felt weird. And, here we are two weeks later with the crisis completely avoided. I feel really grateful for that! Aside from a few bumps, it’s no big deal. I had already done all the work for the most part, it was just a couple little things that we can do without. 

I’m grateful for my husband and the fact that we balance each other out and carry the load when the other is having a hard time. When I was having a minor meltdown yesterday he just went to work on what he could do, and let me feel frustrated. No telling me to suck it up, and lots of sharing in the frustration where he could. 

I’m thankful for Peggy, who gently spoke words of wisdom, encouraged, and then helped Olivia with her homework when I was trying to get dinner ready so I didn’t feel burned out. Such a sweet blessing. 

I’m thankful for a comfy bed and good rest. For many years I’ve struggled with back and joint pain that would leave me feeling exhausted in the morning and it’s dissipated a lot in the last year. I sleep more soundly now than I have since we started our family, which I think is mostly because there are a lot of nights where neither kid is waking up anymore. Being able to sleep through the night…priceless!

I’m grateful for coffee. Not in the “I need it to give me a jolt” kind of way, but in the way where I fully appreciate the work that goes into it. Yonese buys our coffee green in the market, then hand sorts it and roasts it. The smell of freshly roasted coffee is amazing. Getting to drink her coffee every morning is such a gift. We. Are. Spoiled. I also have a fun wood plate on my counter that holds shakers or cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice mix, yummy Coffee mate from Chris’ Mum, and a couple bottles of homemade flavor syrup. With my microwave and a cheap $10 battery operated milk frother I get to have lattes every morning. It’s my special little thing. My morning treat. And after almost 9 years of being here I savor it not only for the deliciousness, but also for the little bit of normality it brings.

I hope that if this finds you struggling today that it might be a reminder that tomorrow is a new day. You can wake up and start all over tomorrow. And, you might be able to see things more clearly or differently. And, maybe things will still be just as hard, or harder tomorrow. But, at some point they will get better. Keep moving forward. Tomorrow is coming.

~Leslie

Frustrated Gratitude

I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned while living here in Haiti is how to have gratitude in the midst of frustration.

I’m sure any Haiti peeps reading this probably either just head nodded or snickered in agreement. This. Is. Haiti. The place where the most frustrating experiences happen, where everyday things take so much more energy and time, and somewhere in there you realize that it’ll eventually all be okay if you only exercise extreme amounts of patience and maybe cry a little to let the pressure off. 

Yesterday was just one of those days for me. It was the collision of what we might call “first world problems” colliding with triggers here in real world Haiti.

I’m going to be transitioning the type of work I do here at the mission over the next few months as we welcome Peggy on staff. She’ll be taking over a bunch of my every day admin stuff (and there were angels singing…) and it’ll mean I can transition to doing more creative work like website stuff, photography and the like. I’m really excited about it. While we were home I had a good visit with one of our board members who’s been doing the website stuff and he let me know what I needed to get as far as programs in order to take that over from him well. It’s all new and crazy and kind of overwhelming to me, but I’m excited about the challenge and the learning because it’s been a while since I’ve been in that frame of mind.

This week was our first week back at work and it felt really good to plug through a bunch of stuff that was productive. We have a friend in the states who has taken on the gigantic task of grant writing for the mission. Chris and I have literally been giddy about this because she works in the non-profit sector and knows the funding battle we’re always facing, and also has experience with grant writing. She’ll be partnering with that same board member I mentioned because that’s where his heart is at (thus me taking over the web stuff = freeing up more of his time). 

It was so encouraging to sit down with the two of them this summer and to go over where we were at and what we needed to do in order to be ready for bigger funding. The time was informative. We’ve spent the past few years at an organizational level, as well as at the on the ground level here in Haiti doing a lot of hard work to build up our overall foundation. We’ve really felt that while our funding has been slower, that God has used this time in the life of our organization to do some important work that is laying a foundation for the next phase. 

And I feel it. We went into this year and after several years of slugging through and pushing and just trying to keep our heads above water I felt this sense of hope that hadn’t been there for a long time. Deep in my heart, and with every other part of my being, I know we’re on the edge of something bigger. Something more. I feel like we’re doing the prep work for a big growth spurt that will mean we can do more of what we do at a higher capacity and help more people. 

There are so many good things that Chris and I can see and I won’t lie, it’s so hard to be patient with this process. In the past few months we’ve just been so blessed by our staff. They’ve really come into this new place of, well, so many things. We’re so proud of them and we’re so loving this amazing team that we have here right now. 

We’ve been blessed with this wonderful new property and we’re just waiting for funding to come in so we can break ground on the house/office space. When we started this process we wondered if it would be hard to leave our current location when all was said and done, and what we’re realizing is that because this process is long, God’s doing so much of that transition work in us now. We’re attaching to the new community in so many ways, and emotionally we’re letting go of our current place. 

We’re welcoming a new, long term volunteer, and I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we all are about what this is going to be and mean for the mission. So. Excited. 

As a development organization it can be so hard to dig in for the long term. The “results” often aren’t measurable like everyone would like to see. They’re in the relationships, the baby steps and the small victories. We don’t get to see quick fixes and people praising us for the work we’re doing (and we’re great with that, btw.)The good news for us is that after over a decade of hard work, we’re starting to see some big things. I can’t go into any detail right now, but in the coming months we’re looking forward to having access to hard info that shows that what and how we’re doing it is working. It’s the validity for certain groups of people that our model is effective not only in quality, but in methodology. 

So, this stuff is always rolling around in my head and my heart and just there. So many things.

Because it is always there, when I dive into working on a project or task, and things don’t go well, it heaps frustration on top of stress. Does that make sense?

Yesterday, after plowing through budgets and other stuff like that I decided I would work on downloading Photoshop, one of the new programs I need going forward.

FYI – to those of you working with US registered non-profits, churches or schools – Adobe, as well as several other big software companies, provide deeply discounted licences – that numbered key that allows you to use the program – for people like us. Just Google “program name for non-profits” (ie “Photoshop for non-profits”) then click on the “Shopping” tab at the top of the results page. You should find several options through different companies to buy the license. You pay the company and they send you an email requesting a copy of your 501(c)3 tax exemption letter, you reply with it attached and they forward it to the company, who then responds with an email providing you access to your account with your codes and download links. In the past month we’ve saved probably $1000 or more with licenses. I used Tech Crawl when I bought ours. Such a blessing! 

Back to my story…

So, I start downloading. But the instructions tell me that I need a special download manager program to not only make the download go faster, but to also extract the zip/compressed files. I spend an hour fighting with websites trying to find a download link for this free program. I finally download it and try to install, but get a message that the installation couldn’t be completed. In the mean time the stupid thing dumped stuff on my computer that was giving me delightful pop-ups everywhere. Gar!

I fight with it. I decide to attempt another download through other methods to see if the file will be different that way, only after another hour of hunting for solutions online. 

We get our internet through hotspotting, or connecting our computers to our phones, and using our phone data plan. It’s pretty handy most of the time, until you’re working on something and you get a phone call. Phone calls disconnect the internet – period. Yeah, you can see where this is going. I was minutes away from being done a 1+G download when my phone rang. It was Chris, and it wasn’t pressing and I may have had a crying meltdown on the phone. It wasn’t Chris’ fault by any means, there was no way for him to know. I was just so done at that point. I’m grateful that he’s patient with me. I had to run virus scans on my computer twice to get rid of everything, and it still didn’t work completely. 

I stepped away from things a bit then decided to once again attempt to download this stupid file. All in all I used up about 5G of data yesterday, every bit of which we pay for, trying to download this thing. I put it on, walked away, took a shower to wash away the hot, sweaty yuck that was also not helping my coping skills, and sat down to read with an ice cold Coke. 

The download eventually worked. I eventually found another program that was a free extractor that didn’t come with junk files. I eventually got it all extracted, loaded and serial numbers in it and ready to use. I eventually downloaded Spybot again and ran it on my computer to clean up the mess. That had been another several days of fighting before which had also left me in tears so I had just walked away. 

Long story short, I did it. It was frustrating. I cried a couple times because it was so frustrating. And then it was done.

And I realized that it wasn’t just the frustration about none of it working and the fact that I spent an entire day trying to download and install a computer program. 

It was frustration that we have basically one option for internet in our area. There are other options, if you live elsewhere. Most of them don’t work in our area because there are no towers or the service is incredibly slow.

I was frustrated that the internet we do have cuts out when the phone rings.

I was frustrated that the internet we have frequently cuts out and gives me “This web page is not available” messages, and that it’s always in the middle of trying to do the most important part of whatever I’m doing.

I was frustrated with the fact that our office is in our living room and that it’s school break and that my kids are always under our elbows and making noise and that it’s hot and it feels like trying to do anything productive is like slugging through mud most days.

I felt frustrated that I’m the tech person. The IT girl. The on-site expert. That calling anyone means broken phone lines and frustrating connections. That if this didn’t work it would be money wasted and more frustrations with trying to find solutions. 

I was frustrated that once again, an entire day of my time was eaten up with something that should be easy. That should take less than an hour to do.

I was frustrated that my time and my computer was so consumed with this one particular thing that I couldn’t interrupt in fear of once again losing the download and used up gigs of data that I couldn’t get other things done that our staff needed yesterday.

I was frustrated with all the things.

But, hovering in the back of my mind is also the gratitude.

I’m grateful that we DO have internet. Even though the system is frustrating at times, it’s so much better than it used to be. And, we actually have pretty decent plans for phone and data time here.

I’m grateful for companies that want to help non-profits like us. It’s HARD to try to do everything that we want to do, well, and to do it on such a tight budget. In the past we’ve had people volunteer to do things like promotional materials, and while it was appreciated, it was just hard because it didn’t quite meet the vision we had. We believe in doing things really well, and I’m the visionary behind all this (just ask Chris and our board – I’ve learned to just show them the finished product :)) so having the possibility to do things in house means we can do better than what we would probably get if we were trying to communicate things through email to someone else who’s never been here, etc. Getting top notch software at drastically reduced costs is a gigantic blessing. I’m a nerd when it comes to graphic design and the like and seriously, all of this is making me giddy. Tools! Pretty things! Yay!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to transition to something new for me. To be challenged. To be overwhelmed. To be excited about it. And to have a team cheering me on because they’re all excited about what this is going to mean for our organization. People, this is getting real for all of us in a whole new way!

I’m grateful for land. For land that is the next step for this whole thing we’re doing. Land that is going to give us the space to do more. To be more effective in how we do it. To have an actual office. Chris and I have worked on house and office plans for over a year, and really he’s let me do the work and just signed off on things with input where needed because he knows me. In my mind I see it, and it’s just the process of working it out, hashing through it and then putting something down on paper that will become reality. 

I’m grateful that one day I’ll have a real office. With a door that closes between our work space and home space and yet still allows for flow between the two. I dream about the space and having all the supplies and tools we need in any given day in one room. Of having a place that’s set up efficiently with each of us having enough elbow room to really work rather than pushing things across our shared 6 foot table. 

I’m grateful that we DO work and live in a situation where our kids can be under our elbows and we’re both accessible during the day to them. So many never have that option. It’s truly a blessing to us.

I’m grateful that God has made both of us resourceful and stubborn enough to push through situations we encounter on any given day, whether it’s fighting with a computer program or solving some greater issue. When you literally don’t have the default option to seek help from somewhere or someone else you take on the role of the learner and step into arena’s that you would never have been in before. 

So yes, in the midst of the frustration it is also possible to be simultaneously grateful. In the midst of the groaning and anger and choice words. In the midst of the tears and the wanting to throw something and the exasperation that comes from feeling powerless. In the midst there can be more.

In the middle of all that there can still be that still, small voice whispering, “It’s okay. It’ll be okay. Breathe. Step back. Remember I’ve already got this figured out. I just need you to be willing to keep walking forward. I’ve got it covered. Just rest.”

And I remember that it is okay. And I go and take a shower and sit on the couch and unwind a bit. I snuggle my babies and thank God that each of them are who they are even when it drives me crazy. And I thank God for this life that he’s led us to and brought us into and is taking us through because we as people are so much more than we were before. I thank him for the vision to see that there is more. To be excited about it. To know that it is coming. That it is good. 

So very good. 

And then I rally up and go again. 

~Leslie

Chikungunya – 4, Rollings – 0, And We’re Thrilled!

That’s right folks, the Chicken fever has taken down all of us!

Why on earth would we be so happy about that?

Well, because we’ve been holding our breath this week waiting for Alex to get it. I mean, this kid is outside every day in the work yard with the guys. One of our guards had it, another worker had it, family members of workers had it. If anyone was going to get it in our family, it would be Alex. And yet, he wasn’t going down…

Yesterday as we drove to visit friends Chris and I were talking about how thankful we were that this thing has run through our home in such a mild way. Olivia had the typical case – fever, aches and rash all in that order. But, a couple days later she was up and around again. Chris and I have each basically bypassed the fever, had fairly minor aches and just mostly felt tired. I hardly had any rash to speak of and Chris still has some, but it hasn’t been terrible. The worst of it for me was two nights ago when an aching leg was really uncomfortable and it made it hard to sleep. Since then we’ve both just been taking it easy and resting when needed, but going about our day mostly normally.

In the course of our conversation we wondered about all things viral and if our bodies have maybe, because of past viruses, had some sort of resistance. A major study would need to happen to verify anything like that, and we have zero scientific experience so really it was one of those “I wonder if…” conversations.

As we chatted we kept wondering why Alex hadn’t gone down yet. And then the pieces came together…

A couple weeks ago both kids had boils (yes, lovely sharing time we’re having here…) It was weird that they both got them at the same time, but it’s Haiti and all it takes is an open pore and some nasty water or sweat, so we just dealt with it by giving them both a run of antibiotics. Olivia was better in about 48 hours, Alex took a couple more days. Just after his cleared up he got another one on his leg, and this time it was much worse than the previous one. We started the antibiotics again.

A day or so into the antibiotics Alex was really tired, feverish and just cranky. It lasted about a day. Chris, Yonese and I all chalked it up to the infection in his leg and his little body trying to fight it off. About the same time he would randomly complain about his limbs hurting. In all honesty we dismissed it because he’s been doing this thing where when he gets in trouble he starts telling us about all his body parts that are hurting. In the time out chair for a couple minutes we’ll hear, “My head hurts, my arm hurts, my leg hurts…” The complaints about hurting limbs would be mentioned once and then it was a different body part. And the whole time he was up and playing.

Because this has been going on for the last couple of months his complaints about a constant headache during the same time had me baffled. Was it real? When I asked him where exactly it hurt he would point to the same place. I literally told Chris at one point that I was wondering if we should talk to a doctor friend because I didn’t want to be one of those parents that missed all the signs of their kid having a brain tumor or some major thing like that. Then, the next day the complaints were gone and things were fine.

A day or so after the on and off fever and fatigue there was a bit of rash on random parts of Alex’s body, but in areas like his arms close to his elbows and parts of his back. It didn’t last for more than a day, and last summer he battled heat rash for several months which is the reason he still doesn’t wear more than a diaper on most days. This boy can sweat! We just assumed it was spots of heat rash because things had been warming up again after a nice couple weeks of cool weather.

So, if you’re tracking with me we’ve had fever, fatigue, bone aches, headache, rash and crankiness – and we missed it because we were so concerned about the brutal abscesses on his arm and leg. We missed the symptoms because they matched up to something else that was already going on in his little body.

The Chikun got us all, just not in the order that we thought! I can’t tell you how relieved we are to know that we won’t be facing this stuff as we’re getting ready to hop on a plane. Wahoo! I feel like a quiet stress that’s been hanging in the air, the waiting and wondering has been lifted off of us.

Thank you SO much for all of your prayers and well wishes in the past week. I know this could have hit our home so much harder than it has and we’re grateful that we’ve only had mild cases with all the stuff that’s going on this week.

Please continue to pray for Haiti. Aside from the things I requested prayer for last time, pray that people are given the opportunity to truly be educated about their bodies and how things like this virus spread. I had a really interesting conversation with one of our employees this past week about whether or not the virus was dropped on Haiti for scientific or political reasons. There are a lot of people talking about things like this right now. We had a great chat about natural disasters, like the earthquake, and natural transmission of illnesses like this. Coming from the first world we can so easily take basic education that we receive even as children about how the earth functions and medical things for granted, and it can be easy to forget that many in the world don’t have that same starting place. When you don’t have that basic education, or very little access to it, and lots of natural disasters and epidemics it can be easy to start wondering if there’s some sort of conspiracy going on. Pray that people’s hearts and minds will be opened to hearing the truth of how illnesses like Chikungunya are transmitted and can then learn how to care for and protect themselves, and that those educational opportunities will be available.

Grateful from Haiti,

Leslie

That Chicken Thing

If you follow Haiti news at all you’ve probably heard about the “Chicken thing” that has been spreading through the island rapidly in the past month. Chikungunya (chick-uhn-guhn-yah) is a mosquito carried virus that can result in fever, rash, headaches and severe joint pain as well as other symptoms.

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I hadn’t posted anything about this previously because until about a week ago it was predominantly running wild in the major cities, especially the capital – Port au Prince. I didn’t want to sound like someone who knew anything when we hadn’t really seen much of it in our area. At first people were a bit hesitant to call it what it was because it’s symptoms are very similar to Dengue fever, and it seemed to be moving like a hurricane. Literally entire neighborhoods were falling ill with it. Since the first cases hit Haiti early last month it’s literally become an epidemic here. People live in close quarters, most without screens or the money to buy any kind of mosquito repellent. It’s the daytime mosquitoes that get you, so even if you use repellent, sweat and what not cause it to drip off leaving you exposed.

In the past couple of weeks it’s moved out into the rest of the country, including our area. About a week and a half ago our employees started requesting Tylenol for family members, and one of our guards came up one morning looking pretty beat. I asked him about his symptoms – tired and had a fever over the weekend, but no rash. By the end of the day he was in so much pain that he couldn’t come down from the guard tower to open the gate when I was leaving. At the end of his shift he made it down the tower into a chair waiting at the bottom, and Chris pulled the car up to the chair so he basically only had to stand and shift his body weight to fall into the car so Chris could drive him home. A week later he was back at work and looking and acting completely normal. We just found out at the end of last week that one of our employees had it but still managed to come to work every day. How, I have no idea!

I’m part of a Facebook group of expats here in country and the cases of symptoms reported have been in the hundreds. What I’ve learned from those comments is that while there are the typical cases where the fever comes on, followed by extreme joint pain and the rash, there are also milder cases where there may be a very low grade fever to the point that it is almost missed, mild joint pain and other symptoms like headaches and low energy. A couple of our friends have had it and the symptoms like pain and rash came before the fever, or were mild enough that they were up and about after a day of laying low from fatigue.

Anyone living here long term has basically adopted the “when” rather than “if” attitude about when they’ll get it. In some ways it’s almost become a new badge to add to our list of “done that” items – “Have you had the fever yet?”

We were pretty sure that if any of our family got it that Alex would be the first to fall. He runs around in nothing more than a diaper every day and he spends hours at a time out in the work yard with our staff. Chris and I were honestly just bracing ourselves for it. But, Olivia was the first to go down. Midway through last week she started to feel tired, then on Wednesday morning she woke up with a fever and slept on and off for the day. Thursday she seemed a bit better, but had a bit of a rash on her face and complained of achy joints. She was hobbling around here like an old woman and sometimes it was just easier to carry her from point A to B.

Thursday evening I started to feel run down, but needed to go to Port au Prince on Friday. Thankfully I woke up the next morning feeling fine and went on my way. On the way home I started to feel overly tired. Got home, unpacked everything and then gave in. Saturday I just felt beat and spent half the day in bed sleeping. The kind of sleep that feels like an hour but is really four. I didn’t feel feverish at all, but I could have easily had a low grade fever, we just didn’t check. On Friday night my hands and feet started swelling and it brought back memories of months of fat feet while pregnant with Alex. The worst part so far for me has been the headache that settled in Friday evening and was relentless until about yesterday afternoon. I was taking Tylenol and Ibuprofen alternately and it seemed to help a bit, but not completely. Thankfully that combo has helped with joint pain. I was expecting it, so was paying attention and while it hasn’t been horrible, it’s been very much there. It feels random though, like the shin on one leg aching for a bit, then the ankle on my other foot. As I type this my left wrist is aching while everything else seems fine. I was starting to wonder if I was getting sympathy Chicken fever, but today I’ve been itchy all over and a rash has started to show up in various places.

Yesterday Chris started to feel a bit tired, and a bit achy. Yesterday evening a rash started showing up on his back, but we weren’t sure if it was ChickV (as everyone here has started calling it) or heat rash that he often gets in the summer. Today it’s definitely ChickV as he’s feeling more achy and run down, but still able to be up and around doing stuff like normal.

So, Alex wasn’t the first to go down, and so far is showing no signs of it. We’re hoping and praying that remains the case, or that if he is going to get it he gets it in the next 24 hours. Our family is gearing up to travel this weekend on our annual summer vacation and we’re hoping and praying that we’re all through the worst of it (fever stage) before we need to leave.

The good news is that once you get it, you get it once. Basically everyone is just riding the wave, enduring the pain (really!) and knowing that after this first major sweep in the country that cases will drastically diminish and it will be harder to catch because there will be fewer carriers.

We would love it if you would keep Haiti in your prayers, especially the young, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and women in the early stages of pregnancy or about to deliver. Studies have show that there is vertical transmission with this, which means that expectant mothers can transmit it to their babies if they’re in the labor stage, and those littles can fall ill with it in the first few days of their lives because of that. That can cause complications and possibly even things like cebral palsy. Any fever in an expectant mom in the early stages of pregnancy is danger as well.

If you want to pray for our family, pray that those of us with it recover quickly and that if Alex doesn’t get it before we leave that it stays that way. We are VERY grateful that our cases so far seem to be mild compared to what we’ve heard and we would love for it to stay that way. Some cases, especially in women, show relapses with fever and fatigue, so that’s a concern too especially because we’re traveling.

We’re going to try and rest up this week as much as we can. Thankfully we don’t have a ton of work to do before we leave and we’re not feeling stressed. We just have a few things to wrap up and packing to do, but that’s not even extensive because our kids have pretty much outgrown everything they would wear back in North America and we try to travel back light so there’s more room for stuff on the return.

We’ll keep you posted, and thank you for your prayers for our staff and family!

~Leslie

Scary Good

Do you ever have those moments where you have a realization that you’re stepping deep into something new, and you might be kind of terrified, but in a good way? That feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing, or how to do it, you just know that it’s going to get done?

I’ve been coming to that realization over the past few days. In hindsight I can see that it’s something that’s been brewing in me for a while. Maybe years even, but it’s just now that the pieces come together. I love how God is so patient as we go through this slow process of seeing things in ourselves – things he’s planted there that he wants to use for his purposes, but things that we might not be ready to face yet.

In this post I shared a bit about this lovely lady joining our staff in August:

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You guys, there are so many moments these days where I find myself thinking things like, “This is the second to last time I have to do this before Peggy comes!” I’m so excited that Peggy will be part of our staff because I already love her. She’s a complete sweetheart with a giant heart, and I think she’s going to add so much to our team. I’m also excited because I’m realizing that those thoughts are coming from a place of me outgrowing the place God first put me in when he brought me to Haiti, and that in that process, in his perfect timing, he’s filled that hole to enable me to move into new groanings.

I know the word “groanings” might seem like a strange choice, but isn’t that what it is? When we truly look back on the process of God taking us from one thing to the next we can see times where our very being was groaning.

Maybe it’s a frustration with something.

Maybe it’s wishing that someone, anyone, could fill a particular need that we see.

Maybe it’s just recognizing that we are in need.

It’s those internal conversations we have. It’s the waning of energy or enthusiasm for something that we previously had excitement for or were enthusiastic about. It’s the questioning if something is wrong with us because we no longer get excited about those things. Is there something wrong with me? Am I not wanting to serve any more? I thought this was where I was supposed to be…

When I was going through the process of realizing God was calling me into missions, something I thought I would never do, there was so much groaning. Two years of groaning. Lots of “Yes, but…” conversations in my heart and head. And yet, when I finally said, “Okay God, I’m jumping in,” the peace was overwhelming and I can look back and see that all those groanings were part of the process. It was me coming to terms with the change in direction, the change in calling, the change of heart. Deep down my heart was yearning for something more, and the rest of me had to come on board.

As we get closer to Peggy’s arrival I feel like my eyes are being opened to the groanings that I didn’t know were actually that. In so many ways I see now that my very core has been yearning for something different, and that it was God working in me to show me that it was time to start focusing on something different than what I have been. There are reasons why what used to get me excited and what challenged me no longer does. I’ve outgrown those things.

When I first started with the mission I got excited about taking on big projects like revamping or designing something that would help our programs. I still love that aspect of things, but I haven’t needed to do much of that in the last few years. We’ve got some well running things in place, and while there might be tweaks here and there, nothing has needed to be completely revamped or started fresh. I’ve wondered why I feel like a bunch of my work is boring and hard slogging. In reality, it hasn’t been challenging or new for me. And that’s not a bad thing.

There have been times where a frustration, even in circumstances with the best of intentions, have pushed me to be more active. For many years we had people back home get graphic designers to volunteer their time in designing promotional materials for the mission. In every situation, while we appreciated the time and effort, something was just not hitting where we wanted or needed it to hit. I realized it was because Chris and I have very strong feelings about how we represent the people of Haiti and the work we do as an organization. Trying to communicate our vision and reasons over email and going back and forth about details is hard. Deep down I knew I could design our materials to send the message that we strive to communicate, so I did the work. I learned a program and now whenever we need new materials I can pull those together and get them done in a way that pulls everything together and consistently represents what we do.

And you know what? I love doing it.

I can literally spend days pouring over every detail of a brochure. A nudge here. A shrink there. It fuels a level of creativity in me that God has put there.

I love to write. That’s why we have this little blog here. And apparently you enjoy reading it because, well, you’re reading it! I like the opportunity to take all those things rolling around in my head and heart, and to put them out there. Most of the time I write because I just need to process what’s going on for me. The fact that others can read it and get something out of it too is just a bonus. Sometimes I realize I can be a voice in a situation that maybe wouldn’t otherwise get shared. Being in the mission field in a country like Haiti and having that opportunity is not something I take lightly. It’s something that weighs heavy on me. How do I share things in a way that respect and honor the people we’re called to serve? If any of them read what I write, how would they feel? Sometimes it means pushing my feelings and opinions aside and choosing not to share certain things, even though it might make a great story.

My heart has been groaning in the past few years over words. Wanting to write more, but feeling that there isn’t the time or head space. I think there are writers who like the idea of it, and do it, and then there are those who need to do it to release certain things. I’m learning there are definite times where I fall into the later category.

I love taking pictures. This past weekend I had the chance to do something that has been so much more than what I thought it would be. It kind of has me reeling.

Some friends here are running a beading project, which was started to help some local families earn money to cover their rent. The beaders roll paper beads, then the ladies running the project bead them into a variety of items. They’re in the process of ramping things up and trying to develop their website and sales portal. They asked if I would be willing to take some product shots for them for the website. I thought it would be fun, and felt honored that they’d asked. I’ve been playing around with my camera that I got in January and have had fun with it at get togethers and have just shared those pictures with friends here.

I wanted to do this for them, knowing how much good pictures can draw people in, especially when you’re trying to sell something that will have a greater impact. I had some ideas, and on Saturday as we were at a local resort for a ladies day, we took about an hour and did the pictures.

You guys, this was SO fun for me! And eye opening.

We had spent a bit of time talking about ideas, so I had some things rolling around in my head. The picture taking was fun, but taking it from that through the editing to end product made me see that I could take that idea or vision in my head, and make it a reality. When I showed our friend Maggie the early edits she said, “I want to buy all of this stuff, and I make it!!!”

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A sneak peek! To learn more about Mowi Beads go to www.mowibeads.com. New pictures coming soon!

I’ve always had a love of photography. I literally had an entire Rubbermaid container of pictures in storage at my parents house from just my teen years. No exaggeration. The hang up for me was getting the ideas in my head to become reality. I can read and read and read, but technical stuff like users manuals doesn’t sink in. I’m a hands on learner. I need to hear and see and touch to fully comprehend something. I need to be able to talk through things with someone to pull it all together in my brain. My frustration with photography was the technical side – how to get from shooting in basic automatic, to manual where there’s much more creative control.

This weekend it came together, and this week because my work load has been lightened up I’ve had the time to be pouring over online photography lessons and practicing with my camera. And it’s exciting!

I feel like something has unlocked in my brain and heart. I can actually do this.

It’s gotten me thinking about all those groanings. What was it about the work that I was initially doing for the mission that left me feeling fulfilled and excited, and what’s changed about that since?

It’s the creativity.

When I was first here, no one else could do it. Chris didn’t think on that level. We could talk about a problem and he would say, “I have no idea what to do with this,” and I would find myself already running ahead designing a program or system or form to make it work. This is why we’re a good team.

Since then, those systems have continued to work well for us, with tweaking here and there. The work involved now is maintenance for me. It’s not creative, but routine. There isn’t much new involved. Yet it takes up my time. So much time that the other things that I see as issues and frustrations get put on the back burner. Over the years I’ve found myself slugging through things because there is nothing new under the sun. I loathe certain jobs because to me they feel mundane, yet they fall onto my desk because they’re admin related. I get frustrated with some of those things hovering in the background because I see the need, but there hasn’t been someone to fill that need over the long term. I have ideas and plans, but haven’t had the time to implement them or to learn how to do something. We kind of keep hobbling along when I know it could be so much more, if only we had the right person to take it on.

Just yesterday it all came together for me.

I am that person.

I’m the person that will be filling that need. Not because there is no other solution, but because that’s the best solution. It’s the solution that God has been pushing us towards for a long time. That he’s been putting pieces in place to prepare us for, for a long time. I just didn’t see it.

Track with me here.

Those groanings have purpose. They are the process of God showing us that what we are in is not where we’re meant to stay. When we move to that next place it’s fulfilling and we feel we’re making great contributions, that our gifts and skills are being used. When we outgrow those things they are hard to get excited about. It’s not that we don’t see the need or want to help, we just don’t feel as enthusiastic about it as we once did. This has been me to a “t” for the last couple of years. I knew it needed to be done and I was it, so I’ve been doing it, but I haven’t been really excited about any of it for a while. It’s shown in my attitude and enthusiasm. I haven’t been great in the “joy” department, if you get my drift. But, I’ve needed to go through this process so I could see the next step, to fully appreciate God’s timing and his preparation. I’ve also needed to go through it so I would be able to fully release some of the control over these things.

When Peggy joins our staff she’ll be taking over the things that have become the day to day “maintenance” type jobs I do. Not because I hate them, but because my time needs to be focused on other projects that are big needs for the mission. In the past, handing over any of these tasks has been hard for me. Sometimes it’s been because I know I’m just going to have to take it back in a few months. At other times it’s because I wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t lead to more work for me in the long run between the training and follow up.

In the past couple of months as we’ve started moving towards Peggy’s arrival I’ve been really thinking about what this will be like for me personally. It’s a lot of transition to go from my entire work day looking like one thing to it looking like something completely different that we’ve never done before. It’s kind of scary. Scary good. 

I have never had someone specifically here to help me. This means I need to be intentional about figuring out what tasks and jobs to hand off. I need to be okay giving direction in this area. Kind of scary. Scary good.

I need to think about what other things I haven’t been able to do and would like to. How do I arrange my day going forward? If I don’t need to be sitting in front of my computer doing accounting or general admin stuff, what does that look like? I literally need to revamp my entire definition of “work”. A lot of scary. Scary good.

What if I can actually be creative in my work again? What if that creativity can meet other needs for the mission? What if pouring over website design, rather than accounting is exactly what God has in mind now? What if spending days, weeks, months, years learning my camera means that you can see more of what we do? That you’ll engage more and know better what the needs are? What if it’s a way of sharing a different side of Haiti and her people than what typically gets seen in promoting support for aid organizations? What if having more time to write means I might be able to say things that others aren’t, things that challenge or get conversation started?

Realizing that I’m the person that God has had in mind all this time to fill these needs is scary. I’ve been looking for other sources. Someone back home that can do the web design and maintenance to relieve our board member that’s doing it right now so he can do other things for the organization. Someone else that could take beautiful images of what we do. Thoughts of “I wish…”

But then I do this…

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And this…

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And the pieces fall together that I’m that person. That God has stirred up those groanings in me with a purpose – because it was me all along that he wanted for this. To serve the mission this way. I needed to get unsettled and frustrated so I would be completely ready to hand things over when he brought the right person along. I needed to feel that I needed something more, because I do. I need to feel more because he’s put things inside of me that I’m not fully using, that are wanting out and wanting to be used so he can do more with this whole ministry he’s called us to.

I needed to come to terms with the fact that I am a creative person who needs to have that be part of my every day work, not just for things like crafts. In the past I’ve compartmentalized it. It’s something I do, not something I am. I have thought I had to put it aside or put it away to do my “real” work. And yet, as I step back I realize so clearly that when the opportunity for creativity isn’t there I push and shove against it and I’m pretty darn cranky. I wonder why my brain tells me I have to do one thing while my heart and everything in my being is wanting to go another direction. Realizing all this I kind of feel like this giant light bulb has gone off above my head.

In the past I’ve been happiest when my work has a balance of creativity and me using my gifts and skills in the areas of administration and leadership to work towards something bigger than myself. Until today I’ve identified myself as an administrative person, but I’m realizing that’s not who I am. I’m actually a creative person with high administrative skills. The administrative skills are a means to an end for me, not the thing I LOVE to do. They’re a tool for taking a vision and making it reality, whether it’s figuring out how to plan and coordinate a conference for 600 students, or designing brochures. There is administration involved in both of those things, but there is also a high level of creativity. It’s the creativity and challenge that I crave, that keeps me engaged and excited.

Being able to use all of it in ministry is when I feel the most fulfilled and in my “sweet spot”, and doesn’t God want all of us in that sweet spot where we can see more clearly the people that he’s created each of us to be? He’s put all of these things in us, don’t you think it makes him so happy when we realize that and want to use those things for him? Sigh.

You know what is great about connecting with those groanings? It’s that when you do, and you see the pieces coming together, what you thought might be hard often isn’t. I know that going into this whole new stage with Peggy being here is going to mean a lot of transition for not just me, but also Chris. I’m not the only one that needs to rewrite my definition of work. As I’ve been mulling this over I was wondering what the conversation was going to be like when I told him what’s been rolling around in my head and heart. In the past it’s come out as frustration, thinking that I needed to do more of one thing and less of something else, of blaming anything and everything for why I was frustrated and unhappy. Oh, the groaning. His response when I shared all of this? “There’s so much to be said for loving your work.” He knows. He’s been on the receiving end of the frustration and me pushing against and around. He’s been here for the tears and the confusion, and I think maybe there was some sweet relief to hear my words, “I’m excited to see what it feels like to be happy doing what I do again.”

Funny how we can learn the same lessons over and over in life, isn’t it?

This is all so exciting to me. And scary. Scary good. 

As a fellow missionary here in Haiti regularly says, “We’re going to do it afraid!”

~Leslie

 

Supporting Missions Well: The Changing Definition of “Helping”

I’m continuing on this week with a few more posts in the series of how to support missions well. The whole hope of these posts is to open the door for conversation. Or, even just to get us all thinking about what missions looks like today, no matter whether you fall on the side of being the missionary in the field, or whether you’re a supporter of missions in general or a specific missionary or missionary family.

In the past week we’ve looked at Calling, Grief and Defining Home, Raising Support and “Going”, Being A Good Support, Care and Expectations and Where the Money Goes.

Today we’re going to take a little side trip and talk about the actual “mission” part of things.

For many of us, our whole purpose of being involved in missions in any way, whether we’re the ones “going” or we’re the ones “sending” is that we want to help people. We want to help with physical needs. We want to help with emotional needs. We want to help with spiritual needs.

What happens though when our definition of “helping” and what is really most helpful when we get into the field aren’t the same things?

What if our definition of “helping” can actually lead to doing long term damage to those we’ve intended to serve?

How do we process through those things and adjust our sails?

I think if you took the time to ask a missionary if their definition of helping has changed since they’ve gone into the field, especially those who have served for several years, you would get “yes” as an answer. At some point most of us have had to come face to face with what we perceived as helpful and realize that maybe we needed to change our definition a bit. Or, a lot.

Coming from North America, or any developed country (I’ve gotten to meet a variety of people from various places in Europe who have shared the same insights) it is natural to think that we have the “right” way of doing things, that our methodology is supreme and that we can find solutions to the worlds problems. We have access to so much, at any time that we want it, so we expect solutions to come quickly and problems to be resolved in a short period of time if we only provide the resources. Generally speaking we live in material wealth, whether it’s personally, or as a nation. We might believe that our form of government should be modeled and that the social resources we have should be the norm world wide. Think schools, medical facilities, government resources, etc. Coming from the Church perspective, it’s normal for us to think that we have things figured out and that our methods of evangelism and teaching are spot on.

Coming from this mindset, with so much of it being deeply ingrained to the point that we aren’t even aware of it, can cause a huge culture shock when a missionary starts working in the field. Time and time again I’ve personally been challenged through my experiences here in Haiti to step back and reassess what I’ve believe to be the “right” way, and admit that maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought or that there was maybe a different way of doing things.

I’m going to share a bunch of Haiti specific examples here, but I’m hoping that you’ll understand that on a general level you could change the country and the characters and closely substitute context and probably end up in a similar place if talking to missionaries serving in other parts of the world.

Here we go!

My home culture in Canada has taught me that there are systems and order to doing things like applying for documents and taking care of business. Because those systems are in place things are very “service oriented” whereby I can go in to a particular office, stand in line and when it’s my turn, expect to receive a certain level of service from the person helping me. If I don’t believe that I’ve received that level of service, there is a manager or superior that I can file a complaint with. If it’s a transaction where the goods that I purchased are not up to par, broken or in the end just aren’t what I want, I can return them for a refund. Basically, this whole cultural system exists on a basis of providing service. In Haiti, it’s been a very slow process and one that is still developing to receive customer service. In many cases, simply expecting to be treated a certain way or that one will receive a certain level of customer satisfaction is pretty much where it stops, and can actually cause problems because it changes the way we go into and interact in any given situation. Customer service places me in the position of expecting respect and assistance.

In Haiti everything is relational. Coming from a culture where customer service is an expectation paired with the access to anything I want at almost any time of the day gives me the false sense of importance. Time and time again I’ve rushed into situations, whether it’s running errands, or asking for help. And time and time again I’ve had reminders that there is a different process here and unless I’m willing to step back from what I know and readjust, I’m not going to accomplish much.

In almost any given situation there is a social protocol to follow. You go into the situation and greet everyone there. This may involve just saying hello, but in many cases means shaking hands and cheek kissing when necessary. Then you ask how people are doing. If you haven’t seen them in a while you ask how their family are doing. Not doing so is rude. You chat for a few minutes, or 15, before you get around to talking about any business. This might be a bit different if you’re just going into a store situation where you’re buying goods. If you’re in a store and need help, being demanding on any level here – no matter how justified – will probably see fewer results than if you take a few minutes to be polite and kind and act like the person helping you is doing you a great favor by giving you their time. Even after all these years I sometimes forget to account for the social time when running errands, while at other times I plan for it because I want to make sure I have a few minutes to chat with the cashier at the grocery store.

One time I was getting ready to leave a touristy spot that had a nursery/bakery on site, and since we had arrived really early they had put out new items since I got there, and I ran in to quickly ask about a plant I saw in the window. I ran in , asked the man at the counter what it was and how much. You know what he did? He smiled a big smile and said, “Good morning madame, how are you?” I didn’t hear him clearly because I was so focused on the plant and my questions, but he graciously made eye contact with me, and again asked me how I was doing. I stopped dead in my tracks, exhaled and apologized for my hurry and took a moment to chat with him. In the end I got all of the information I wanted, but I was reminded that I wasn’t in Canada and that I needed to take those few seconds to be social.

You might wonder what this has to do with a changing definition of “helping”. It has everything to do with it. If we don’t take the time to recognize what is important in the culture that we’re there to serve, we will only get so far before doors and opportunities close in front of us. If we don’t take the time to be socially gracious where expected it might mean a government official choosing not to help us, even if that is their job. It might mean that one person feeling offended cut a whole group of people off from receiving the assistance they need. That said, we always have to weigh social custom with what is right and ethical. If it’s a situation of ethics, we might have to find another way to accomplish something.

Coming from a culture of material wealth where we have the funding to “fix” almost every problem if we chose to can lead to expectations in another country. Haiti has been a huge recipient of aid over the years, and a large percentage of it has done a lot of damage. It’s been given with the expectations that money and stuff can fix a problem that might have very deep roots. Bringing in bags of shoes for kids that seem to not have shoes might only put a band-aid on a much bigger problem. Why can’t their parents afford to buy them shoes in the first place? Is it more effective to meet what seems like an immediate need, when maybe focusing on the bigger issue of employment would be a better solution and a better investment of funding? What if there isn’t a cultural expectation that kids wear shoes every second of the day in the first place? If I look at that little boy with no shoes, am I seeing a problem or am I seeing a problem that would be a problem in my own culture because kids are expected to wear shoes every second of the day outside their home. We see that as a sign of being provided for. What if the very act of bringing in gifts of shoes cuts hurts the economic cycle because there are people selling shoes in the market that are reliant on those sales to feed their own children.

The greater issue here is being able to step back and admit that our limited understanding is just that – limited. What we see on the surface might only be a snapshot of the greater picture. Going back to the shoe example (and please know it’s just an example and not me pointing at anyone or any organization in particular) maybe the child does have shoes, but they’re saved for going to school, church and other more special things. Mom doesn’t want him to ruin them by running down to the river to get water and potentially getting them muddy or wet in the same way that I would put aside certain clothes or shoes for my kids.

The bottom line is that unless we spend time in a culture and are intentional about learning, we will only ever be able to see the surface and that surface picture will limit our idea of what “helping” should look like. If you talk to any long term missionary in Haiti and ask them what they know now that they didn’t know when they first arrived most will probably say that they know less now that they did when they first arrived. You see, we’ve all learned what we thought we knew, and can now admit that maybe we didn’t know as much as we thought we did in the first place. Cultures are very different, and what might work at home probably won’t work in the field.

I’m sharing this so that you can work at having reasonable expectations of what you think a missionary or organization should accomplish. Do you know that many organizations feel that they’re under a lot of pressure to provide results so they don’t lose donors, even when they know that a slower pace would be better for everyone involved?

Think about that for a second.

An organization that feels they need to provide some sort of measurable results to their donors may be doing more damage than good. It might look like any one of these things, or none of them:

  • A visitor comes to the mission on a missions trip and feels a special burden, so they go home and contact the organization about making a donation to start a specific project. What if that project doesn’t really line up with the overall mission purpose? What if the logistics of starting that project cause more financial strain on the organization? What if the very project causes more dependence on the organization when the organization is diligently working to create independence?
  • Donors may expect that simply giving means a problem can be solved quickly. If it’s a case of buying a certain piece of equipment that may be the case, but then again maybe that item isn’t in stock and it needs to be shipped in or it involves doing a lot of leg work to have it delivered, installed, etc. Maybe implementing a program means going very slowly so that the right people who can take on leadership roles can be located and trained, and that relationships can be properly built within the community or group that will benefit.
  • What about community involvement? While it might feel like we can offer all kinds of solutions and answers, sometimes the main reason that assistance doesn’t solve a problem is because the community or those directly involved don’t have any investment in the solution. Maybe they feel like what is important to the organization isn’t what is really important to them. Maybe they feel like they’re having a technology forced on them when they would really have a much simpler option that they’re familiar with. Maybe the solution doesn’t line up with cultural values. Maybe by not having direct investment in the solution, the community doesn’t feel any sense of obligation to maintain it or actually use it, wasting donor funding. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen community projects abandoned because of all these reasons.
  • Perhaps the solution to the perceived problem really isn’t the best option for that situation. While there are a variety of water treatment solutions and options, they aren’t all the best option for Haiti. Maybe they’re a good solution for other countries, but we need to work in a case by case basis in these situations. Does it require resources like power that might be irregular or limited? What about maintenance? Can a person with limited education understand how to use and look after this particular thing? Do they have ongoing expenses for replacement parts in order to continue using this item? Where do they get these consumables? What about user friendliness? Will it actually provide what they need in a way that will make them want to continue using it, or will it just be frustrating so they feel like it’s not worth their time or it’s more work than other options?

Most of the frustrations that we as missionaries encounter (and I think aid and development workers in general) stem from trying to push developed nation ideas and ideals into and onto situations that aren’t at the same level. The cultural differences are too vast. The resources and infrastructure aren’t there. Maybe it’s just not the right solution for that particular setting. We all have to recognize that we’re coming from the outside and we need to place ourselves in the position of the learner.

Chris and I have been here in Haiti for 12 and 8 years respectively. We are still daily required to place ourselves in the position of the learner because there is so much we don’t know. It’s not that we don’t have good ideas and good intentions, it’s they might not be the best solutions for Haiti for any variety of reasons. Maybe it goes against culture. Maybe there needs to be education done before the people we’re serving are ready for that particular part. Maybe it’s simply that people need to be involved in helping get to the solution rather than us being the bull in the china shop and telling them what they need. Just last Friday we gave our staff homework to do over the weekend where they had to answer a few questions about what they think we could do better at the mission, what they think are good things and how they think we could save some money. We did it because we know they can offer a lot of insight and because we want them to take ownership of this whole thing by being invested in it. We’ve done things like this in the past and time and time again we’re reminded that what we think might be a priority, isn’t even on the radar. And, the things that they do bring up are things we might never have thought of.

Whatever we’re doing, and however we’re involved, we need to consider how we define “helping” and be willing to ask ourselves some hard questions.

Is this something that I think I know the solution to, or have I taken the time to ask questions and learn about other ideas and options that might be better?

What IS my definition of “helping”, and where did that come from? Am I willing to adjust that or is it firm?

What to I hope to gain from my efforts to help others? (We all have some motivation, we often don’t ask ourselves what it is)

What is the most effective way for me to participate in helping when it concerns issues that I feel passionate about?

Do I trust this organization or person to make decisions on my behalf as a donor that will result in truly helping, or do I have concerns?

They’re all important questions. The last one is a BIG one because I think that there’s a lot in there. If I give to an organization because I feel passionate about something, do I really trust that my donor dollars will be spent effectively? Do I believe that they will have the insight to learn what the best solutions are and invest their time and resources into making lasting change, or do I feel I need to dictate what that might look like because I’m not really sure? Am I willing to listen if they share with me why my understanding of an issue might be different from the best solutions in that situation based on their cultural knowledge and experience?

When we “help” we need to be invested in the process in the right ways. Sometimes that means being more involved, and sometimes I think that means entrusting those that God has called into roles of leadership to discern the best ways of doing things. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had conversations with people both in the missions community and the development world who are frustrated because their on the ground experience has taught them that one solution is the best way to go, while their home culture support is dictating another way. In some cases those directives are causing more problems than good, and those staff members have had to physically remove themselves from being associated with the organization because they don’t want to be part of the damage.

We have to be educated. We have to be intentional. And we have to be willing to admit that maybe we don’t know the best way sometimes. We need to be learners.

A lot of people are willing to step into the role of the learner and they ask us where they should start because this is so different from what our culture teaches us. We love to recommend that people read “When Helping Hurts”. It’s a great book that was intended for the North American Church at large, and was written to challenge us all in what we see as missions work and how that’s changed in recent decades. That said, I recommend it to anyone that is coming from a developed country, whether they’re affiliated with a church or not because the principles are great. Mostly it just asks the question of whether we’re doing more harm than good. And if so, what can we do differently to stop that cycle?

Prayer:

  • Pray for the organizations and missionaries that you may already be supporting. Pray for all the day to day decisions in the cultures where they’re serving. Pray for those in leadership as they balance in-country relationships and needs with home country and organizational relationships and needs.
  • Pray that God would use these organizations and people to be truly effective where they are serving, and to not do more harm. Pray that he will reveal areas where this might be a problem to their leadership and that their leadership would have soft and obedient hearts that will change direction if needed.
  • Ask God to show you any ways that you as a supporter might have expectations that aren’t reasonable or in the best interest of the people being served, and then ask him to change those things in you.
  • Ask for wisdom in knowing how to best invest in those that are serving on your behalf as a donor around the world.

Thanks for continuing on this journey with me!

~Leslie