Sweet November

It’s been a while. Again. I thought I would pop in and make my presence known so no one thinks I’ve disappeared or don’t care.

I find myself sitting here and looking at the calendar and it seems crazy that we’re already into the middle of November this week. This time last year I was well into getting excited for Christmas and the holidays. I think, looking back, I was really struggling with having a sense of contentment. I was having a hard time with my work load because I just wasn’t excited or engaged, and yet knew I should be. I was missing family and really excited that my parents were coming (hi parents!) for Christmas, their first visit in about 5 years. I think I just needed something to be looking forward to because I felt like I was just plugging along.

This year though, is very different. It was baking hot here until the middle of last week. I was posting on Facebook later in the week that I had to wear a long sleeved shirt for the first time in a VERY long time and people we’re laughing at me. I know it seems strange when I say that I was chilly and the thermometer still read 80*, but that’s what happens when you’re acclimated! It would probably also help to mention that the last part of last week, and still this week has been regularly overcast. The temps have dropped to the lower 80’s but the most significant change is that the humidity has dropped. Where we were regularly seeing it hover between 75-85%, last week on the coolest day it was down to the high 50’s. That’s a huge change in how the air feels!

Yesterday I was at a local resort exercising in the pool with a friend (some sweet friends blessed her with their passes when they left the country so we get to go for free!!!) and as we walked in there were crunch leaves under our feet that hadn’t been swept up, and the sky was grey, and the air was cool. It felt like fall! And we noticed it and it made us both exhale a bit and be so thankful for that sweet moment. Later, after swimming for about an hour, a breeze started to blow. Just a light one. But, it was enough that I had to keep my wet self under the surface of the water and Olivia’s teeth were literally chattering. I got out to towel off and got excited to see goose bumps on my legs. I don’t think I’ve every had goose bumps on my legs in Haiti! It’s just been such a nice weather treat, especially because last winter didn’t seem to cool off much. The rain stopped, but the temps stayed in the high 80’s and so did the humidity. When it cools off it literally feels like the cogs in our brains start to turn again, things get clearer, we’re more alert, and just function better.

So, as we move through November, I keep feeling grateful that we’re actually getting some kind of fall, and remembering that this is how it usually feels (funny how one year can make a person forget!) and my heart feels really calm right now. Which, when I look at everything going on around me, seems kind of funny.

I am thinking about the holidays, but I don’t feel the need to dive all the way in yet. Last year was really busy once the end of November hit, again, I think because I was searching for some kind of normalcy and wanted to do all the things! This year I just feel like I want to slow down, step back, and enjoy. Chris’ parents are coming for Christmas this year and we’re so excited, and very much looking forward to a relaxed couple of weeks with them. Chris turns 40 at the beginning of December and I’m looking forward to celebrating him with our friends here. We also have some plans for fun things with our staff and our missionary community, but none of it feels pressing or overwhelming.

Perhaps part of it is that things have just gotten busy around here. Rather than just plugging away we’re in full on management mode, which requires more of my time and brain power, and it feels like things are getting accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, things were getting accomplished before, but they had become routine. Chris and I both do really well with managing things. Where I am organized he is logical and methodical. Those things compliment one another so well. Add Peggy to the mix and we now have someone that can come behind us and fill the holes and I can’t tell you how much that helps. Rather than feeling frazzled because I might be forgetting something she’s right there asking about those things and then taking care of them. Such a blessing!

It’s very normal for things to take a couple of months to pick up speed after we get back from our summer vacation. We’re still in the rainy season, so deliveries to some areas can be difficult just because of mud. When September comes people start preparing for school fees and aren’t putting their money anywhere else. For the past few years school has actually started in October, but a week beforehand the government announced an earlier start that had everyone scurrying for things like uniforms and books.

Our filter installations have taken off in the past month and a half. Last month we were up almost 50% from months previous, and here we are mid-month and already at the 100 filter mark as of tomorrows delivery. That feels really good!

Earlier this year we were approached about receiving a Rotary grant for filters and since then have been in discussion and planning with the club in the US and the local club that would host it. We love Rotary and feel really blessed that they approached us. Those conversations stalled out for several reasons over the summer, but in the past 6 weeks have resumed and things are moving forward, and it’s exciting. This week Chris had a meeting here with some of the key local club members, and several members from the US who were in Haiti to discuss the next steps. The grant would mean filters for a lot of families!

We hired 3 new employees in the past two weeks as well. We haven’t hired new staff in a long time, and it feels really good to do so. We really sought our staff input this time around because everything is so communal here. They know the people in the community who have submitted applications, and can give character feedback. A while back they asked to be involved in the process because any time there are issues with an employee it affects everyone, not just us as leaders. The guys we hired came highly recommended by the staff that knew them, and we’re excited they’re part of our team now.

There are some other exciting things going on, and I’m itching to share, but not just yet. I promise I will as soon as I can! In the meantime, please be praying for Chris and I as we manage everything in front of us. Our workload has literally doubled in the past week, so it’s a lot to be thinking about and taking care of, and we just want to do it well.

Until next time,

~Leslie

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

God Only Knows

I’ll be the first to admit that I can be one cranky bear, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed or just “off”. Typically it’s triggered by tiredness or something like that. Ahem, 91 and your humid friend, I see you both lurking there in the corner…

I’m a huge advocate for doing what you love, because I believe that God has created us, and that he’s made each of us with unique gifts and skills and that it brings him great happiness to see those things that he’s planted in us being used in many ways. Helping people. Loving others. Creating things. I could go on. I think you get my drift.

Coming from that place it’s hysterical to me that I’m sometimes the last to figure some of this stuff out in regards to myself. I can have conversations with friends and family and point out things in them and encourage them to run with it, knowing it’ll be an amazing thing, and yet I can have all those things in front of me and have a hard time putting the pieces together. 

Or, maybe it’s not that I can’t always see them, but that I can see those pieces and just feel like I can’t do anything about it.

That’s where I’ve been sitting for the last few years. I know I’ve talked about this in some detail in the past few months, but it’s a process and I’m processing right now, so this is what you get.

Here’s the thing. I think that I’ve always been a creative. A person who needs to be making and dreaming and doing. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized little quirky things about myself that I now see are all glaring indications that I’m a creative type, but I’ve just dismissed them as quirks and never put them in the context that I’m putting them in now. Things like loving texture and always having to touch things. Looking at scenery and getting more excited about the way a sun beam is shining down than about the whole scene. Collecting stationary, not because I actually want to use it but because I love the feel of it and the graphics and all the things. Being a mixed bag when it comes to narrowing down any kind of “style” because one minute I love things that are bright and bold and the next I want wood grain and rusty metal. I’m the one that has sun patterned floor tiles at my husband’s suggestion – but am totally fine with it for this house – and baby blue cupboards. I’m not afraid of color. 

And I’ve been stuck at a desk doing admin work for the past, well, my whole working life pretty much. 

I remember the day a few months ago as I was processing through Peggy arriving on staff (which is tomorrow, by the way, and IT’S TOMORROW!) and what that would mean for things here going forward. As I was thinking about it, it was like scales were peeled off my eyes and all of the sudden I saw it. 

I saw all the pieces of this giant puzzle that is me come together and I finally stepped back to see the bigger picture. All these needs that the mission had, it was me  that was supposed to fill them. Until we had Peggy lined up I wasn’t in a place to even think it was possible. I had been creeping in that direction and loved it, but never thought it would be me.

And now, fast forward a few months, and I’m sitting here settling into this new phase and it feels like coming alive. I didn’t realize how much I’d stagnated in the past few years. It’s not that I wasn’t doing something good, because I was. I was doing a lot of really good things for the mission that needed to be done and I needed to be the one to do them. It was just time to step forward and bring all of these pieces together for something more.

You see, as long as I can think back in my adult life I’ve been hovering around things like graphic design and photography and visual arts in general, as well as writing. I know what I like. I have visions for end products, but haven’t had the time or the tools to do any of it. Programs were too expensive. I couldn’t take time away from a “real” job to go to school for specific training. I like to write, and do it as a side gig here on the blog. I just wasn’t in a position to pursue any of it in any seriousness. And, I’ll admit it, there has been a part of me that has thought some of that was frivolous because I had all this “important” work to do. 

But now here I am. 

This past January I got my new to me camera, and while not every picture is amazing (talk to any photographer and they’ll tell you this is actually the norm) there are many times where I load stuff into my computer and I get giddy because some of my stuff is good. I’m proud of it. And I realize I might actually be able to do this. 

As we transition Peggy to taking over a lot of the admin stuff my desk has been cleared of so many of the mundane tasks I’ve been bogged down with and in the past two weeks I’ve been pouring over things like learning Photoshop and everything that goes with it.

And you know what? I love it

I am absolutely in my element. Chris keeps finding me at my desk working through tutorials and watching videos and playing around. He keeps commenting on my dedication to wanting to learn all of this because we both know that it’s going to lead to a giant step forward for the mission in everything from our print materials (already been working on these over the past couple years) to our website to video and social media – all major needs. 

The thing is, I find myself thinking, “I’ve gotten through everything else. Now I get to go play with Photoshop. I get to do…” And I have to be honest with him about the fact that it doesn’t feel like work. That I’m excited to get at it and pour over it for hours on end. I’m giddy about it because it’s unlocked this world for me that I’ve been hovering on the outside of for so long. It’s bringing all these parts of myself together. 

I think a big part of not exploring some of this stuff sooner was just plain fear. It all seemed so complicated and overwhelming. I could never figure all of that out. But, I can, and I am. And it feels amazing. It’s amazing because in the process of engaging my brain, my spirit is coming alive. This is part of who God has made me to be, and he loves that I’m figuring it out. He loves that this creativity that he’s planted in me is being woken up and that I can use that to love his people. I can use the love of beautiful things and communicating that to people to honor him. 

Does it get any better than that?

And, why did it take me so long to get here.

Well, I actually know the answer to that. It just wasn’t time. I needed to be doing other things, good thing, before this so that when it was time to be here I could see God’s hand in the whole plan and I could more deeply appreciate arriving here. And I do. It’s so beautiful and I love how he orchestrates things. Bringing details together to make something even better. 

God hears the whispers and hopes of our hearts. He feels our groanings when we know we’re in process. All those years of being crabby and overwhelmed were my spirit saying, “This isn’t it. I’m here, and I’m doing it, but this isn’t it.” The process has allowed me the time to learn more about who I am, and it’s allowed Chris the time to learn who I am and what I need. He sees how happy I’ve been in the past few weeks and he loves it. He just keeps telling me how happy he is to see me so engaged and excited. My brain has been in high gear again. It feels amazing.

I share all this with you because I know we all go through periods where we get stuck and it feels like we’re slugging through mud. I want to encourage you, keep slugging. It’s especially hard when you know that there’s nothing bad about the place you’re in. Even harder when you know what you’re doing has a lot of value to it. God wants to take each of us to the place where we can fully be the people he’s created us to be. He hears the small whispers of our hearts, wanting something more, even if we don’t know we’ve whispered them. He cares about those things. 

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I’ve lost track of how often God has provided for those small whispers. Things that I never utter out loud to another human soul. And it’s always so humbling when he does provide and I see it. I feel so cared for. Sometimes the reason things never get spoken is because they feel silly or frivolous, but he cares. 

Olivia Faces-1

I’m learning to own this new phase and that’s hard at times, but in other ways it feels like coming into my own. 

It’s hard to wake up in the morning and change my internal conversation and to remind myself that what I considered “fun” and things to do when all my other work was done, now get to be my work. Daily I’m having to remind myself that this is what it’s going to look like going forward. That’s not to say that I won’t have other admin stuff do, I will. It’s just that this is going to be what I get to do for work! Seriously?!? 

 

This summer when we were at my parents house, one of the first things my dad said to me within hours of arriving at their house was, “So kid, when are you going to write a book?” And for the first time I actually said, out loud, “I really want to, I just know that while the kids are small I just don’t have the time, but I really want to one day.” And then I realized that I had just owned that for the first time.

It’s not just that I want to write, I need to. It’s part of me. It’s not just that I want to take pictures, I need to. It’s part of me. It’s not just that I want to do visual design work, I need to. It’s part of me. All of it is how I see the world and how I communicate and I’m finally in a place where I know I can own that.

I have a huge learning curve ahead. A lot of work ahead of me. But, it’s so exciting and freeing to be in a place where I finally have the tools and the time and the opportunity to explore than in depth. 

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

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

Supporting Missions Well: Where the Money Goes

We’re well into our series now. If you want to catch up you can read the previous posts by clicking the following links:

Calling, Grief and Defining Home  ~ Raising Support and “Going”  ~ Being a Good Support

Care & Expectations

I hope these posts are informative at the very least. There’s so much involved in this missionary life that we lead, just like any other kind of life. I think that not always being present means that it can be hard to delve in to any major degree and the questions that often come up might not have opportunity to be answered.

Today I want to talk about all of this support we’ve been focusing on. In particular, the financial side of things. More specifically, where does the money go?

Missionaries raise financial support, but where does it go exactly? What are the real life expenses of a missionary? I think sometimes we might be afraid to ask because money tends to be a taboo subject, but I think a lot of missionaries would like for you to ask simply because the knowledge lets you better know what their needs are and how their life is so different than if they were in the home country, and yet not.

Ready? Okay, here we go!

Housing:

In some cases housing is provided by the organization either as part of a stipend, or because the organization has facilities available. If they do provide housing there may still be some cost to the missionary in the form of a monthly contribution to the organization to help offset some of the costs of maintenance and utilities. Our organization provides on site housing, but any newer volunteers have to pay a monthly staff fee that contributes towards housing. We paid this for many years, but our board waived this fee after several years as a sort of stipend for us because of our long term commitment to the organization. Missionaries that don’t have housing provided will have to take care of this expense themselves, and let me tell you, it can be a big expense. The reason it can be big is that in many situations there isn’t the option to pay rent on a monthly basis. This means the missionary will have to have an entire years rent available at once. Think of how this would affect you even back in North America. If your rent is as low as $700/month, that’s still $8400 due in one fell swoop. Ouch! Depending on where the missionary is living, rent can be on par with what they would pay back home, or it might be quite a bit higher or lower. This may also vary depending on what part of any given country they’re working in and how much they want to negotiate, if negotiation is an option.

Utilities:

There will most likely be some utilities expenses, whether it’s just basic services that you pay for monthly, like water and power, or whether the missionary is fully responsible for providing these things. In some countries there is infrastructure and these services are provided by the city. In Haiti, while there is country power in many places, it’s irregular and can’t be counted on, so we have to have a means to generate our own power. This means having a generator and/or solar system (usually both because there will be times when solar doesn’t charge enough), a bank of batteries and an inverter to take the power from the generator or solar system and convert the power to be useable. Depending on power needs, this can set a missionary in Haiti back by $5-15,000 or more. The low end set up would provide enough power to use a fridge, lights (with energy efficient bulbs), a fan or two and a few electronic devices like a laptop. Water? If there isn’t a system provided, again there will need to be something put in place by the missionary that usually involves pumping water from a storage system (either a reservoir on property or a well) into storage tanks that can gravity feed water into the home for use. The water pump will need to be powered – enter the generator or solar system… And, I would love to say that this is a one time investment, but it’s not. Batteries have a life span, and depending on the type used, they need to be replaced from time to time. There’s also equipment repairs on things like the generator and inverters, as well as regular maintenance on batteries. Obviously I’m talking about what I know, but it’s not so far off for a lot of people serving in off the grid places.

Phone and Internet:

Depending on country this may be expensive or it may be cheap. There may be a variety of services available and the quality might be good or really poor. In Haiti we’ve seen a lot of improvement in the past 5-6 years in this department. When I first arrived cell service was patchy, and there were no land lines. “Home phones” were actually phones connected to a booster that ran off cell towers. There were several companies providing coverage and we would have to take two different phones with us every time we left the house because the coverage would change just minutes down the road. It was expensive. Now we have a few new companies, the coverage is country wide, phones are cheap and so is the phone time, meaning almost everyone has a phone now. It’s less expensive for us to phone internationally than it is for our families to phone us – more than a dollar cheaper. But, we can do it for free too because those same phone companies also have data service for smart phones that we can use to hotspot and get our internet access from. We can call on Skype and other free services whenever we want. The cost? $50/month will get you 15GB data. In this department, we get a better deal than you do! But, that’s Haiti and it will be very different for each missionary.

Transportation:

Vehicles abroad can be really expensive, especially used vehicles. Buying a used, basic model vehicle in Haiti can be more expensive than buying a compact car back home. Models sold abroad are often not North American models because they’re built for rougher terrain, so parts are only available in country and can get expensive because there may be few resources, which gives business owners the opportunity to price gouge. Here, some people choose to ship vehicles in but that may cause higher parts expenses down the road, as well as down time, when the vehicle breaks down and they can’t get parts in country because the model isn’t sold here. In Haiti we pay insurance, but it doesn’t really benefit us because the times where it actually pays out are few and far between, and when it does it doesn’t get anywhere near covering the damage. Breakdowns and accident repairs are paid out of pocket because warranties are rarely offered past the first year, if at all, and that’s only when you buy from a dealership. If a vehicle isn’t available then a missionary is reliant on public transit, so that needs to get factored in to things.

Setting Up a Household:

When a missionary goes into the field they’ll have some expenses in some way for setting up home. If their living accommodations aren’t furnished, they need to furnish them. That means beds, furniture, appliances etc. Everything you would need to establish any kind of living space. In Haiti appliances and furnishings are expensive, at least 50% more than what we would pay back home, if not more. Household items can also be expensive. An average place setting for four, of every day dishes that you could find at Walmart for example, might cost $75. A lot of missionaries choose to bring things in their luggage or ship them in when setting up house. Many go without certain things like a washing machine, simply because they’re so expensive, or the needed items (like power and water) can be expensive. (Don’t worry, our clothes still get washed, it just gets done by hand!)

Documents:

You can’t just go and live somewhere outside of your home country without some sort of documentation in most cases. There may be a grace period, but eventually you may need to get some sort of residency permit or visa. These processes and documents can be expensive to get in the first place, and often need to be renewed annually. This would also include things like drivers licenses, any paperwork for bank accounts, etc.To get these documents might also mean getting other documents. In Haiti, we have to pay income tax, even though we don’t have any kind of income here in Haiti and we pay our taxes back in Canada or the US. If we don’t pay our income tax we can’t renew certain other documents annually.

Schooling:

If your missionaries have families this may be one of their larger expenses. You see, public schooling is a luxury and the majority of countries don’t have that option. In many cases missionaries are serving either in remote places or in areas where the schooling options may be on a lower level than what their children would have access to back home. We all want to give our children the best opportunities for the future, and this includes making sure they get an education on par with what they would have back home. For many this means homeschooling their kids. While there are a lot of resources available, and people who can donate curriculum, not all curriculum is free and can get expensive if schooling multiple children of different levels. Maybe the parents don’t have the time or the gifting to be effective homeschoolers. I know that if I had to I could, but it’s not where my heart is at nor is it what I’m gifted in. In those situations it may be private school or even boarding schools, depending on what the options are. In our area we’re so thankful that we have an option that’s a pretty good one for our kids. We’ll still have to augment with some things because it’s an American curriculum, but that’s okay. We still have to pay for this though and between school fees, uniforms and transportation every day it’s a significant expense, and we only have one child in school at this point. (And she’s doing fabulously!)

Food:

Oh food. The majority of missionaries that I know say this is one of their greatest, unexpected expenses. I say unexpected because the areas that they’re serving in are what would be classified as developing nations, so the idea is that food, even local food, would be less expensive, but it’s not true. And while well intended, most missionaries find that trying to only eat the local diet, which can be less expensive, can lead to health issues. In Haiti, if we ate Haitian food exclusively we would be eating high amounts of MSG, oil and a lot of fried stuff, not to mention mounds and mounds of rice and few fresh, raw veggies. Those things are all okay in moderation, but not over the long term. Most people we know try to have a balance by using locally available ingredients and finding some middle ground between what is familiar and the food in their adopted culture. In many cases though we all need to buy certain items, whether household goods like dish soap or toilet paper and food items that we’re familiar with. Many of those things are imported and come with a price tag. Most of the people we know, and our family included, choose to forego certain items and splurge on others. In Haiti, cheese for example, is about $8-10/lb. We still buy it, but choose not to buy other things like ice cream and apples. We buy a certain amount each month, then it’s gone, and when possible we bring cheese in our luggage with us in vast quantities (10 lbs anyone???). We buy local produce, eggs and many staples like flour, sugar, coffee etc from the local market, and try to stick to local products as much as possible even if they are a bit more expensive simply because we want to promote the local economy. I meal plan to be more focused when shopping. That said, we still pay about double what we would back home, and this is normal for missionaries in Haiti, no matter how much they work at reducing their food expenses. It’s just the way it is. Food, will most likely be one of the larger ongoing expenses for many missionaries. And, it’s good to know that this doesn’t include eating out, just basic groceries and household items.

Medical & Dental:

Most of us don’t have great options for insurance when we live abroad for a long time, and many places don’t have the means to process insurance funding. That means that most medical expenses that might be covered under a group or government plan back home – aren’t. It’s all out of pocket. There may be medical insurance programs available for citizens, but not for residents, which would be where most missionaries find themselves. The level of healthcare and dental care available might be mediocre at best, so we hope and pray we don’t have medical emergencies, and take care of any routine check-ups while back home. But, even then – we’re no longer considered “residents” in our home countries so we’re not eligible for most medical or dental programs and have to pay those costs out of pocket. If you want to use your medical or dental skills in the mission field in a way that will help people and be VERY appreciated, be intentional about setting aside some time during a trip to minister to missionaries this way. Missionaries are often the ones coordinating medical and dental opportunities for the people we’re serving, but are also in need ourselves.

Travel:

We have to plan for travel. Depending on where we are from and how often we go on home visits this may be a high expense. For our family of four, with all four of us now being on full fare tickets, one trip home per year – just the airfare – is is equivalent to about 1/5th of our annual support raised. Add any needed hotel stays, gas and other expenses that arise with moving a family around for a month or more, and it adds up.

Emergencies, Savings, and Retirement:

What do we do in emergencies where we might have to pay medical or travel expenses that weren’t planned for? What about putting something away in savings for these times? And, what about retirement? This is one that some people get a bit funny about. They feel uncomfortable with, and that is fine, but I will admit that I don’t understand it. Walk with me here…

If we were working back home in ANY kind of job, after we took care of bills, responsibilities and any tithing that we felt led to do, it would be considered responsible for us to put some sort of savings away either just into a savings account, or to put towards our retirement fund – or both. Not doing so would be considered irresponsible. I even had a retirement plan that I contributed to when I worked at the church. As in, I was saving for retirement while working in ministry. Now, we remove North America from the picture and provide “income” in the form of donations and all of the sudden it is no longer okay for an individual to put away funding into savings or a retirement plan, even though that’s where my income was coming from when I was working at the church – from donations to the church to cover it’s operating expenses. As missionaries, we work very hard at being good stewards of what we’re given, trying to make that go as far as possible, including thinking about emergencies and caring for our future after we know our time of service is finished.

If a missionary isn’t supposed to use their financial support to plan for retirement, what are they supposed to live off of when they do finally retire? Did you know that while we pay taxes as citizens of our home countries on any donations and gifts received, as it’s our main source of income, we may or may not be allowed to pay into retirement services provided by our governments? Our family has two citizenships represented. Chris files taxes in the US on income received there, and we’re obligated to pay into Social Security, yet we may or may not benefit from that one day. I pay taxes on our Canadian income – but because we are not in residence full time in Canada we are literally not allowed to pay into the Canada Pension Plan. Because we both moved to the mission field in our 20’s we don’t exactly have a lot stocked away in those contributions. So, what do we do?

Again, if we go back to the principle of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, wouldn’t we want for our missionaries what we want for ourselves? In the same way that we would want to know that there were emergency funds available to help cover expenses, especially if we didn’t have medical insurance or other resources available and had to literally pay out of pocket at the time, shouldn’t we want that for our missionaries? In the same way that we want to be wise and put away for retirement when we’re able, shouldn’t we want the same thing for our missionaries? We, personally, are so incredibly grateful for supporters who approached us and asked what our plans were in this department, and who have earmarked their donations very specifically for these needs. So thankful.

Rest and Respite:

This one is a hard one for most missionaries, but so very needed. And I think it can be a touchy one to talk about because we all come from different income brackets, and we all have different ideas about what is considered a “valid” expense in this area. Perhaps your family lives on a tight budget but you make an effort to give to missions because you believe it’s something God wants you to be doing, but you learn that the missionary your supporting took their family to the beach for the day when a vacation might not be a financial expense you can afford right now. How do you feel about that?

Let’s unpack this a bit.

I want to start by letting you know that the majority of missionaries we know do not make those decisions lightly. We are all VERY aware of the costs, as well as the perception and we think about all of it and in no way want to offend anyone. That said, we also believe that sometimes God provides to meet some very specific needs.

The need is not that one might need to go to the beach. The need is that the missionary or missionary family needs respite and rest.

Back in North America we have different social boundaries and cultural expectations. We have a different understanding of what personal space looks like, the things that are appropriate to ask for help with, when to do that, etc. When a missionary is in a cross-cultural setting those things look very different. The culture may be very communal so there is a completely different understanding of what privacy looks like, and a whole set of expectations to go with it. In Haiti, everyone always knows what’s going on. If something happens at the mission, the whole community will know. Personal space… we have unspoken boundaries in North America. When those are different it means that everywhere you go people are rubbing and bumping against you and people fill any space available within a confined area because there might be room for just one more. Often these cultures, while having some beautiful benefits, can also be very intense. In Haiti, because of some of the social things, as well as the heat, people can be very verbally aggressive and you have to get used to participating in that or you get nothing done. Add to all of this the expectations and needs of ministry. When people arrive in the field they have to go through a process of finding a balance with how they use their time, as well as what they will participate in. When you’re surrounded by real, deep, physical needs all the time it can be very difficult to say no even if you know that is the right thing in any particular situation. There’s not only a physical separation but also an emotional one that needs to happen, and when you know you’re called there to “help” there can be a lot of stuff you have to work through while you figure out what the best way to do that is. It is anything but simple.

Are you feeling worn out yet? Welcome to life as a missionary. Basically, it feels like you’re always “on” and in many cases, there can be few outlets for rest where a missionary or their family can truly step away for a little while – even a day. But, that one day might mean another few months of effective ministry. In Haiti there are very few things to do for entertainment or rest value. Going some place, even for a hike, to try and get a bit of peace often results in having a trail of children and onlookers following you, and that isn’t restful. So, in Haiti, many people bite the expense and occasionally take a day at one of the local resorts because it’s one of the few places where they can just go and not have people needing them or in their space. No one knocking at their gate, no one getting in their face, being able to spend time with their family and not having any responsibilities. Maybe it’s a nice dinner out for a couple who finally gets to take a “date” night for the first time in 6 months. Or, a weekend away to celebrate a milestone birthday or anniversary, or simply because they’re just trying to push through and know that if they don’t take the time something is going to crack.

When we’re in these places of making the decision to spend the generously donated funding we have on a day or weekend away in country it can be hard. We feel guilty and we often have to go through the cycle of reminding ourselves that Jesus set the example of taking time away to regroup. He spent specific time with just his disciples away from the crowds so they could rest. He went away on his own to sleep and pray and I think, to just step back a bit. He did that because it was needed in the midst of ministering. Anyone that work in full time ministry knows the drains along with the blessings, and missionaries are right there. Aside from being okay with your missionaries using funding for respite days or treats like a meal out, I would ask you to encourage them to do so. Let them know it’s okay and that you see it as a health issue – mentally, physically and spiritually.

This list of expenses isn’t exhaustive, and as I mentioned before, will be different for each missionary depending on the organization that they’re working with, the type of ministry they’re involved in and where they’re serving. Some organizations require a set amount of funds raised before a missionary can even go into the field, and they help take care of some of these expenses and assist the missionary with a lot of planning and processing of documents, insurance etc, so there may be fees that the missionary is required to pay to their organization for those expenses, or a percentage of their overall funds raised is directed to the organization for this purpose. In most cases, just ask what the picture looks like and I bet you’ll find people that are happy to share because they want you to give confidently, knowing what your donations are helping them to do.

One thing that I want to take a second to address too, is looking at supporting missions financially as an investment. Many times we grab on to a cause and we want to support the organization, which is great and needed. But, when you can commit to regularly supporting a missionary that works with the organization you’re also investing in the organization, and this is why…

Because most missions organizations are relying on staff that raise their own support the terms that a missionary serves in the field might be varied if they don’t have consistent, reliable financial assistance. Aside from it being difficult for the missionary to plan for expenses in the same way it would be for you to know that your power, rent and phone bills were covered without a consistent income source, it can also lead to instability and a lot of changeover in staff for organizations themselves. I’m sure we can all think of a time where we were either part of a staff who went through a significant staff change over or know of situations where that’s happened, and can think of the effects of that on the work that was being done. Many missionaries serve in key leadership roles, so having regular staffing change overs can mean a disruption in what the organization is able to do and a completely different direction if the new staff leader thinks it necessary. It can be hard for an organization to be really effective over the long term if they have frequent staffing changes. When you choose to invest in the long term by supporting a missionary, you are actually investing in the life of the organization. We are so grateful for the people that see this with our financial support. They know that by helping to support us they are helping to support the overall work and ministry of Clean Water for Haiti. The consistency that our organization has experienced because our leadership has been consistent has helped us to accomplish a lot more than if we had experienced frequent staff change overs, resulting in more Haitian families having access to clean water in their homes.

I think a lot of people also feel that if they can’t make a larger regular donation that there is no point, but we’ve had donors that have given $10/month for years. Looking at it as a stand alone donation it doesn’t seem like much, but add that up over the years and that one donor gives $120/year. That’s adds up to more than a one time $50 donation. Most missionaries we know would love to have a bunch of small donations committed each month, because it becomes reliable income. We know it will be there and we can plan our budgeting with that. Don’t get me wrong, we love one time donations too, but I think you understand what I’m saying – there’s a place for both, but consistency is a huge gift!

I hope this has been informative, at the very least, and helpful in some degree. If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments!

Prayer:

  • Ask God to show you how you can be actively supporting a missionary or missions in general if you aren’t already.
  • Pray for missionaries and the organizations they work with, that they would have strong, long term leadership teams that enable to organization to be incredibly effective.

~Leslie