Frustrated Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to my story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was frustrated with all the things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So very good. 

And then I rally up and go again. 

~Leslie

That time the airline changed our flights and didn’t tell us.

We’re back from our vacation, and one day earlier than planned!

We were sitting around visiting with friends on Tuesday evening and got into talking about about what time we needed to be at the airport the following day. Because I’d been slack at checking email on vacation I got this nagging feeling that I should go and confirm our departure time while we were talking about it so that we were all on the same page for the next day.

It was a good thing I checked, because we got a BIG surprise.

Back before we left in June we’d gotten an email from the airline letting us know of a slight schedule change. It was literally minutes on our trip back to the US. That was the copy of our itinerary I had printed out and was referring to. Never heard anything after that, so assumed all was good. According to that we were leaving at 1:00 pm on July 30th, with an overnight in Atlanta, then arriving in Haiti on the 31st around 2:00 pm. We had a hotel reservation all set up, we were ready!

As I was going through my email I saw the one from the airline telling me it was time to check in online if we wanted. We don’t do that typically so I almost dismissed it, but scanned through it. That’s when something hit me. It looked different. I muttered something along the lines of “um, what the heck is this???” and Chris asked what was up.

Instead of leaving at 1:00 pm like we were supposed to, our reservation info said we were leaving at 12:45 AM on the 30th.

What?!?!?

That was more than 12 hours ahead of when we were supposed to leave. 

That’s not slight. That’s HUGE.

I quickly went online and entered our confirmation code to see what the info in the system said and it was a match with the new info. Somewhere along the line the airline had done a complete schedule change, bumping up our trip by over 12 hours, and we didn’t get the notice. I checked my folders in all of my email accounts this morning just to confirm that it wasn’t my error, and nope, nothing!

So, we realized we were leaving a lot sooner than we had planned. It was 9:00 pm when we found this out. We needed to be at the airport checking in at around 10:45 pm. We still had to finish packing, and we had about an hour drive to the airport.

I ran upstairs and starting the process of throwing things in bags. Chris put the kids in their pj’s, because we sadly wouldn’t be getting a full nights sleep before we left. Our friend that was visiting was thankfully driving his van, and lives just 10 minutes away from the airport so it was a no brainer to throw stuff in his car and have him drop us off.

We got everything and everyone packed up and hit the road, and arrived with plenty of time to check in.

The big issue wasn’t so much the traveling as it was going to be the landing. When we leave for our summer vacation we leave a vehicle at a friends house in Port au Prince, and he meets us at the airport, we load up and head home. That’s what we did this time too, except the problem was that he was out of the country and he’d made arrangements with his driver to come get us. When Chris last talked to him the connection was so bad they were yelling at each other and Chris wasn’t able to get the drivers number, so we had NO way of getting in touch with him to let him know we were arriving literally a day early.

How on earth were we going to figure out a ride from the airport to where our van was without a US cell phone and no time to be making arrangements before we hit the airport?

Well, here’s a fabulous example of the type of friends and community we have in Haiti. Thanks to Sea-Tac’s free wi-fi I was able to get on facebook and send a group message to three couples that would be the most likely to help problem solve. We’re in this summer pocket where a lot of people go back to their stateside or Canadian homes to visit and fundraise and there weren’t a ton of people that we know around right now.

I let everyone know what was going on and that we were about to board, but that I would check back when we landed for connections. By the time we landed in Atlanta, two flights later, all of them had responded and though they couldn’t help out themselves, a plan was formed through their connections with confirmation when we landed in Haiti.

After we landed, we booted up our cell phones, I called our friend Sarah as we were walking off the plane, she texted me the number of the guy that was going to set up a ride for us, Chris called him, he was already waiting outside. When we finally got out of the airport with all our bags (always thankful for this!) Wilbur was waiting outside. He walked us to the taxi he had arranged, we agreed on a price with the driver and were on our way.

We had to push through a giant traffic jam right around the airport, and once through that it was just a short drive to our vehicle. I was worried that our friends driver wouldn’t be there and we’d be stuck while someone went to look for him and we could get our keys, etc, but no. When he saw us he was all, “What are you doing here! You’re supposed to be here tomorrow!?! You don’t have my number!!” :) We quickly loaded up and headed home.

We literally arrived home at the same time that we were supposed to be boarding our first flight in Seattle.

People are always asking us what things we like about our life here in Haiti and how we feel we’ve changed. This was a perfect example of one of those things – the ability to be incredibly flexible and quick decision makers.

The longer we’re away the more glaring certain things are to us when we come home, and none of them are bad things, they’re just different ways of doing life in the cultures we live in. When we lived back in North America we could be more rigid in things because there are systems set up that allow us to expect that. We could be less decisive because there is more time to make decisions and culturally speaking, we look at that as being thorough and courteous when it’s involving something like making plans with a group. Have you ever noticed how long it can take to make plans with people and how much back and forth there is before anyone settles on something? Again, not bad, just different from how we have to operate in Haiti.

In Haiti we have to make fast decisions. We make those decisions quickly because we’re always in this state of assessing our surroundings and trying to keep up with needed info. We have triggers to look for, signals and warnings that we pay attention to. We’ve learned things about culture, whether it’s how people interact, or what isn’t normal, and we adjust accordingly.

I love that we’re at this stage in our Haiti life and our marriage and our family life where we can see how our responses to situations show growth. If this exact situation had popped up a few years ago we would have been frantic. Instead, as I was quickly packing things up I found myself saying, “Slow down. Be calculated. Be calm. Think this through.” It allowed me to be organized, but fast. We weren’t frantic, we basically went into “Let’s do this mode”. And we did.

I kind of felt like the whole trip was this thing happening in a dream state and several times caught myself thinking, “Is this real? Did we get it right? Maybe I misread that and we showed up too early.” But it was real and we were right and we were already halfway home.

All in all it was literally the fastest trip we’ve every had back into Haiti. The last bit of prep time happened fast, we got to the airport, checked in, went to our gate and boarded after only sitting for about 30 minutes. We didn’t ever feel rushed or frantic once we got in the airport, which is a surreal feeling because traveling with kids and bags and all the things usually leaves me feeling that way. We usually end up barking at each other, but we didn’t this time. The airline, in a meager effort to apologize for the email of the major schedule change not getting to us offered a $25 voucher for our next flight. We suggested that instead of that they check our 4 planned checked bags as well as our 4 bulky carry-ons for free. They agreed, so it left us with our two back packs and a rolling back pack with the kids stuff in it. It was so nice to travel so light! I’m sure that eliminated a ton of stress right there.

We flew from Seattle to Minneapolis. We got some sleep on the red-eye flight. It was shorter than our typical red eye. We got off the plane, moved from one gate to our departure gate and basically walked right into the boarding line. We flew from there to Atlanta. We got off our flight in Atlanta, traversed the airport concourses, got to our gate, contacted our friends in Haiti, brushed our teeth, changed clothes, and got on the plane. We landed in Haiti, got the info for our contact outside, went through immigration, got our bags, loaded up and were gone. We spent less than 3 hours on the ground with all of our connections, something that’s never happened before.

When we got in our van and started to drive away I made Chris high five me. He thought I was a bit crazy until I said, “Do you realize that we did that entire trip without freaking out and didn’t argue or anything. We were calm and cool like cucumbers the whole time!” We had supper on Tuesday night, then went into “go” mode and didn’t have time to eat anything during any of our connections, so we stuck with the peanuts and pretzles on the plane, as well as some Handi-Snacks I’d packed. For the record, we are not nice people or easy to deal with when we’re hungry. I’m sure it was some heavenly holding off of the hangry monster that got us through because it just didn’t hit.  If there was any way to rock that situation, we did it with grace and a whole lot of moxy yesterday. I’m proud of us, because wow, that could have been bad.

We got home, I made supper from some well planned pantry items, which just further impressed my husband. We bathed. We tucked in and went to bed. Then we tossed and turned and watched shows until what was a normal west coast bed time. And then we slept. And we slept and slept and slept until about 9:15 am Haiti time. I didn’t know that was possible, but apparently it is because we did it.

Today I became the whirling dervish of unpacking. Chris used to HATE the way I unpacked. I would open a bag and pull everything out onto the table or some surface, then open another one and keep going until everything was everywhere and there would be piles for a few days because I would get distracted. At one point he may have said, “Open one bag. Put everything away. Then open the next bag. Put everything away!” I cave, he *may* be right on this one. It feels really good to get it all out, and put away, and the bags back in storage the day after we get back. I’ve wondered why my “spring” cleaning tends to happen in the fall and realized it’s because we come back and I unpack and clean and re-organize things in the process. It’s that time of the year when things feel fresh for me. Today was no different.

One of the advantages of being back a day early is that I was able to call Yonese this morning to see if she wanted to go to the market for us so we could have some fresh veggies and fruit, eggs, etc in the house rather than looking at an empty fridge. It was really good to see her when she got here, and in true Yonese style not only did she go to the market but she’s proceeded to tidy the whole house, and I have no complaints :)

We’re back to work on Monday and we’re happy to be home!

~Leslie

Vacation Log 2014: Two

Yesterday was the day set aside for my birthday date with Chris.

When we got into the van Chris told me what we were going to be doing, and it was so sweet because he really had thought about what would be fun for me. The plan? Food trucks and a walking tour of downtown Portland!

Chris had downloaded maps and info for some of the top rated trucks around the city, knowing how much I love food and the whole concept of food trucks being able to deliver top quality to the man on the street. Sadly, the breakfast truck we’d picked out was not open, but we quickly found a family diner and had a delicious hot breakfast that hit the spot. I love breakfast, and I love breakfast dates with Chris. It was also drizzling so the inside hot meal was exactly what I was craving.

From there we headed downtown to meet our guide and then did a two hour walking tour. It was really fun and our little group had a lot of time to ask questions and learn more about Portland. Would definitely recommend it.

The end of our tour back in "Portland's Livingroom" - the square where we started.

The end of our tour back in “Portland’s Livingroom” – the square where we started.

After the tour we headed to Yelp’s top rated food truck in the city – Chez Dodo. The Indian food was really good. The samosa’s are HUGE, and the noodles and curry were delish. There are food trucks all over the downtown area. Definitely worth checking out. Apparently there are 3 culinary institutes in the city and it’s normal for students to graduate and start food trucks rather than opening their own restaurants or working under someone else.

I didn't get a picture of the samosas because they didn't stick around long...

I didn’t get a picture of the samosas because they didn’t stick around long…

We wandered back to the parking garage and headed back over the river to Vancouver again. We’re both still adjusting to the time difference and were tired after the two hours plus of walking, so the only thing I really wanted to do was nap, so I did! Chris and I both went down for a few hours while Mum and Dad kept an eye on the kids. It was bliss! We enjoyed dinner out with the family and then back home for a relaxing evening of playing games and eating left over birthday cake :)

~Leslie

Vacation Log 2014: One

We are here in the Pacific Northwest!!!

In true Haiti form, leaving was not necessarily simple, yet it could have been much more complicated. On Thursday evening the car developed a rod knock in the engine, and because we rely on it so much Chris wanted to get it to the mechanic so he could be working on it while we’re away. He made arrangements and the tow truck came from Port au Prince on Friday evening to get it and take it to town for us. Friday was also our last day of work, so after wrapping things up in the work yard we took all the staff to Kaliko, a nearby resort where we get free entrance, for a fun afternoon.

Saturday we got up, finished packing up, closed up the house and headed to Port. We called the mechanic to see if we could stop by and found out that our car hadn’t arrived yet even though it was supposed to be dropped off the night before. Not gonna lie – we wondered if we had just paid $300 for someone to steal our car. After calling the tow truck we found out they were on their way there and had just gotten back late. We got everything squared away there, told Alex that, no, he couldn’t take the cat that was there with us on vacation and then went to a different mechanic to get our blue truck, as we call it. Got some lunch and then headed to the airport.

From that point on everything was easy. I think when you’re a parent with young kids, and you have to travel internationally you worry about the entire experience. No one wants to be that family on the plane with the annoying kids, the whole time knowing that you’re trying your best and are exhausted and that their ears feel like they’re going to explode and they’re overtired and hungry… Chris and I are SO thankful that our kids are traveling rock stars. They both did so well in all of the airports and on the planes. We flew Delta, so it definitely helped that there were personal tvs in every seat.

More than anything though, our family is just in this really fun stage where Olivia is old enough to do certain things, and Alex is the most enthusiastic kid you’ve ever met. Olivia was like a boss pulling her own carry on like she’s been doing it for years. Alex is so excited about everything. Seeing the world through his eyes is amazing and so fun. We have enjoyed the trip so much so far simply because of our kids. In the past few years it’s felt like a circus, but this year has just been sweet and easy so far, and restful and fun.

We overnighted in New York and of course the hotel was amazing for the kids. We got a pretty good deal on Hotwire that ended up being a Sheraton within minutes of the airport. It really was nice and the service was great. We only got about 6 hours of sleep because we needed to be up at 4 am to catch our 7 am flight to Seattle. So thankful we were still in our time zone because it was only 40 minutes earlier than Chris’ alarm goes off most mornings, so not a huge blow to the system.

The kids were again amazing on our flight to Seattle, and our family was fabulous at being pack mules to get stuff from baggage claim to the curb so our friend Paul didn’t need to pay for parking. We got 4 suitcases, 4 carry ons, 3 backpacks, 2 kids in carseats and 3 adults into a Subaru Outback. Good thing we’re used to being in Haiti where there’s always room for one more!

After the hour drive to our friends house we had a quick lunch, then Chris went to work at tightening things up and connecting others to get the van running for another season while I sorted through the luggage to repack backs for the next six weeks and loading stuff into the van. We also had stuff that was ordered ahead of time to go through and put aside for the trip back. Chris was anticipating it could take us several hours, but our flight landed at a little before 10 am, and by 1:30 pm we were on the road heading to his Mum and Dad’s. We arrived late afternoon with lots of time to settle in.

As we drove here I couldn’t help but think about how much the places we come from are ingrained in us, a part of us. I know some people are more nomadic and flexible and shift and change to their surroundings like a chameleon, but I’m one of those people that has roots. I didn’t grow up in the US, but I grew up in a similar climate, and every time I come back to this part of the world, whether it’s British Columbia or Washington state, it feels like home. It’s the same for Chris. It’s deep in us. Haiti is home now, but we will always come home here too. Many people comment on how much we must love the heat and the Caribbean to live in Haiti, and the truth is, while it’s beautiful we will both feel more at home in places with mountains, pine trees, and weather that shifts and changes even in the summer to the point that you can wear jeans and sweaters. We love the cooler weather and look forward to wearing layers. And no, we don’t love the heat in Haiti. The past week before leaving was miserably hot. It’s nice to snuggle under down blankets while having the window cracked and fresh cool air coming in.

Being here is so good. It’s wonderful.

This morning I woke up and turned another year older, and while I have a lot of thoughts about that that are probably better in another post, I will say that I’m so thankful for today and this week. For many of the past 8+ years of birthdays I’ve either been in Haiti away from the rest of our family with few options for birthday fun, or been in Canada or the US but busy with other things, missing family or any other random assortment of not super fun birthday options. Being here, on vacation, with family is great. This is the first year I’ve celebrated my birthday with Chris’ family and it’s fun to share this with them too. I got to snuggle with my littles today, which is a great way to get the morning going. Mum, Olivia and I went shopping and knocked some things off my list. This will sound completely weird to anyone who doesn’t live in Haiti, but one of my favorite stops today was a new store where 1/3 of it is produce. Again, a show of my BC roots is how excited I get about produce. Apples, berries, veggies… when you come from a fabulous growing pocket in the earth, seeing so many beautiful veggies and fruit just makes a girl want to buy it all and then cook like a crazy person. Sigh. I am home!

I was actually really looking forward to this week and it was the main reason I so badly wanted all of us to be feeling better – which we are, by the way – because there are so many exciting things happening.

Today is a day to just sort of putter around and do what we want and settle in. A few weeks ago as Chris and I were working one day I noticed he was madly printing off maps and other things, and when I asked I was told to mind my own business because he was planning my birthday. Um, okay…

For anyone that knows my husband well, you’ll know that gift buying completely stresses him out. Every single birthday and every single Christmas for the entire time we’ve been married has led to some comment along the line of, “You need to just tell me what you want for your birthday/Christmas,” with lots of exasperated sighing and what not. This year though, I was informed that the day after my birthday was to be set aside on our schedule for a day of just Chris and Leslie time because he has a whole day planned for us. He didn’t want to do it on my birthday because he knew we would both be recovering from jet lag and a three hour time difference. I was shocked that he’d planned an entire day, and I’ve made myself not ask any questions because I want to be as surprised as possible. The only things I know are that it’s an all day deal, and that we’ll be doing a bunch of walking in and around Portland. He asked this morning if I wanted to know what we were doing and I said no so I could savor the surprise :)

Wednesday Mum is treating me to a much needed hair cut, lunch and a pedicure for my very sad toes. They will be very happy toes though! On Thursday we’re heading to the coast for a few days to one of Mum and Dad’s favorite get away places. Basically, rather than that having a birthDAY, I get a birthWEEK!!! And then I get to celebrate all over again in a couple weeks when I see my family in BC. Turning 36 is pretty darn good if you ask me!

So, here we are. Happy, wearing layers and feeling restful and excited for the next 6 weeks. Thank you so much for praying for our family in the past week or so as we’ve battled the chicken fever. We’ve been feeling very blessed.

Oh, and I can’t leave this without sharing a few kid highlights from the trip…

IMG_2292[1]

Over the hills and through the woods to grandmothers house we go…

IMG_2295[1]

Me and my little cheeseballs on the plane from Port to New York.

IMG_2297[2]

The train was SO fun. Before my phone powered up Alex had his nose glued to the window and there were a lot of “Yook! A airplane! We on the train!!!”

 

IMG_2298[1]

Bedtime story in the hotel.

IMG_2300[1]

Circling New York City yesterday morning. The rectangle of green next to the river is Central Park. We got to see the Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building from the air, which was really cool.

IMG_2301[1]

Any Haiti person will understand why this is exciting…

When we were driving here yesterday we stopped at a gas station to fill up. While Chris was inside buying a quart of oil I decided to wash the windows on the van, starting with the one that Alex was sitting next to. I wish I would have gotten a video of him watching. Apparently when you raise your kids cross culturally where window squeegees are not available it makes the whole process that much more amazing. At one point he was getting ready to beat Olivia on the head to wake her up so she could watch the show. Have I mentioned how fun this trip is going to be with the kids this year??? :)

IMG_2306[1]

The rain that just came pouring down as I was writing this.

In case you didn’t know it, we own a ’69 Volkswagen van here in the US that we drive in the summers when home. The kids think it’s awesome, and so do we. Mum and Dad have a little wind up one that was on a wedding cake from our reception here back in 2006 that they just held onto, which Alex has now found. He’s been packing it around and even tried to take a nap with it. About 5 minutes ago he asked me where it was, while carrying it around… I guess he’s just gotten so attached to it that it’s now become an extension of his arm.

Have a great week!

~Leslie

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

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

Why on earth would we be so happy about that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful from Haiti,

Leslie

That Chicken Thing

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

images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Leslie

Where Things Have Landed

The last post was a big brain and heart dump for me. Of the best kind though. It’s been fun to see the conversations it’s started just with friends here in Haiti, either from just sharing the same things or because they read the blog and started talking about it. I love that kind of exchange after we share our stories. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? That connectedness.

Diving in to all of this has been kind of crazy. Chris and I spent more time chatting about all of it on Friday night after I posted and it was just so refreshing to be able to see where I’m really at with all of this, and I love that he’s so supportive of it. I think it helps that he’s seen how unhappy I’ve been in the work sense, so in a way I think there’s some level of relief there :) I think more than any of that though, it was exciting to look back over the past 10 years of the missions history and to see how God has walked beside us and transitioned us through things, even before I actually joined the staff here in Haiti. The process of him bringing Chris into a leadership role, then bringing me into the picture as his help meet and seeing how our gifts, skills and abilities have complemented each other over the years and moved so many things forward has been amazing. As we look at the future we’re both excited about the next stages. We and our board have done so much foundational work in the past few years and it really feels like we’re moving into that stage where God is putting the meat on the bones in a new way, so we can do more. Having Peggy here is a huge step forward, one that we’re really excited about.

I can’t tell you how fun it’s been in the past couple of days to feel the freedom to pour myself into learning. Yesterday I had some admin stuff that Chris needed help with, and once I got it out of the way I spent the rest of the day pouring over the user guide for Lightroom 5, a photo editing program by Adobe that is so much more than any of the free stuff I’ve been using. I haven’t been this challenged in a while and it feels good. My head is tired, and so is my body. I think I need to stop letting myself scroll through Pinterest until midnight looking at pins of photography tutorials…

It feels good to learn and to practice new skills. To think of all the ways that I’ll be able to incorporate this into what I do at the mission – new things that will just add more to what we’re already doing.

So that’s been me, personally, in the past few days.

Today is Olivia’s last day of school. I’ll be honest, it’s a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement because it’s summer vacation! Yes, we still have to get up early and do the work day, but it means less stuff happening in the morning.

No more homework!!! Oh my word, this is the thing I’m most excited about. Seriously. Homework has been a battlefield and I wasn’t sure we were going to make it out alive. This weekend we needed to push through Olivia’s last book, her math, to get it finished so it could count on her report card. We managed to do it, but it wasn’t pretty. The kid has been working on grade two stuff, so it’s just naturally getting harder for her, but now she can take a break! We do have books for her to work on over the summer so she has something to do, but we’re going to take a little break…

Dread… yeah, I love my kids and I love the break from the school routine, but it takes about a day and a half before boredom sets in and they’re going crazy. Alex is at a better age and they play together really well now. Yesterday I was stifling laughter when they said, “Okay, let’s fight,” and then proceeded to have a mock kungfu type throw down. Think of the worst fight scene you’ve ever watched in any movie and replace the main characters with a 6 and almost 3 year old. Slow motion, holding hands and lots of grunting and turning in circles… yeah, that went down in our kitchen yesterday and it was hysterical. I love that they have such huge imaginations. I love it even more when they aren’t really fighting and screaming at each other in the process.

To counter the boredom and real fighting I’ve been building up an arsenal. Last August after we got back from our summer trip and had almost 6 weeks of down time before school started we almost didn’t make it. This year, I promised myself it would be different. Thanks to some generous friends we have a bunch of work books to just reinforce stuff Olivia learned, but that are more fun looking and a variety of stuff that she’ll enjoy. We have craft supplies. We have new books. Sidewalk chalk. Bubbles. So many things! My plan is to be more intentional about doing stuff with the kids between now and when school starts again. Just to save my own sanity.

Not sure if I mentioned it on here but Olivia is changing schools next year. She’ll be going to one that offers the same curriculum, but is only 5 minutes from our house. When we first looked at starting school they weren’t at the stage where it would have been a good fit for her, but now they are. We’re SO looking forward to not having to drive as far. Right now we’re driving at least an hour per day between the two trips to drop her off and pick her up. Her new school starts later in the morning, and because it’s closer we just don’t have to be ready to go out the door before 7 am. She also starts about 3 weeks sooner, so less down time in the summer where we have to keep her busy. Very excited!

The other big excitement around these parts is that we’re within the 3 week window of our summer vacation. It’s always nice to get away, but I think we’re really looking forward to this year more than most. Last summer was full of great opportunities to see so many friends and family, but it was also so much driving. So much. A lot of stops and a day here and a few days there. It was fun, but not very relaxing.

This summer we basically land in Seattle and then after reorganizing some things we’re hoping in the van and driving down to Chris’ Mum and Dad’s. We don’t need to worry about getting the van all outfitted, etc because we left it almost ready to go, and we can do any needed things once we get to their house. We’ll be there for almost two weeks, and we’re all really excited about it! From there we’re heading up to Canada with a couple stops to visit people on the way, but the trip will be nicely broken up. We’ll be in Canada for the rest of our trip doing a variety of things. One of Chris’ sisters lives in Canada, and his brother who is down in California, are both flying in to spend some time with us there which we’re excited about. We’ll have time to go camping and visit with family. My dad is back in British Columbia after working out of province for two years, and I’m so looking forward to spending more than a couple days with him as has been the case when he’s whipped into town for a weekend while we’ve been there. Mostly we’re just looking forward to relaxing and having a good time.

Well, time to go organize some craft stuff and then I get to hunker down and read some more users manuals. Sounds SOOO fun, doesn’t it. I guess when you enjoy something it is fun, even if it seems like a mundane task.

Here are a few of the pictures I was playing around with in Light room yesterday. The fun thing is that they didn’t need a ton of adjustment. These will probably be more exciting for the grandparents :)

May 2014-3

May 2014-7

 

May 2014-9

Have a great week!

~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:

1235966_10151832586109583_600471849_n

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!!!”

IMG_4925 (2)

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…

_MG_5366

And this…

_MG_5423

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