the million dollar question

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My recent flood of activity has brought the million dollar question(s) front and center again.

“Are you back?”,  “Are you better?”,  “What ARE you doing now?”

All great questions… that I have tried hard to not answer over the last six months.  I have struggled HARD with my health and with understanding that my life is just different now.  For almost a year after getting so sick with Hep A, typhoid fever and all the other “fun” things that kicked my butt, I tried to do just that… get better.  I fought through poor health while in Haiti and was sure that I just needed to be strong, patient and obedient.

It wasn’t until December of last year… after ten months of waiting to get “better” that I was finally diagnosed with Chrohn’s disease.  Apparently kicked into action by the typhoid fever because I was already prone to it.  Add in a bunch of very strange health symptoms and flaring fibromyalgia and arthritis and it’s been a rollercoaster of fun.  I still truly believed that I could just “man up” and be stronger than what was happening to my body.  I prayed and prayed that God would just HEAL me.  A period of pretty nasty depression (that I am not proud of!) followed as I struggled with trying to understand WHY God would keep me from the people and place that have become my heart.

Fast forward.  Through many medication changes and many more dietary restrictions I have come to a place of starting to understand how to live with my “new” body.  I am starting to understand that God has been trying to tell me that I need to be home more for quite some time.  I still have monthly doctors appointments and those are not negotiable… that means my traveling days are limited.  Now don’t get me wrong… I am SO grateful for doctors who continue to be supportive of this crazy missionary girl wanting to be in Haiti even though it goes against EVERYTHING they believe to be right for me.  That being said… it’s still frustrating, painful and hard much of the time.

I am blessed to work for an organization that loves me and supports me unconditionally.  Yes… I am still a missionary.  Yes… I still work to promote and support my ministries every day.  Yes… I am still madly in love with NWHCM.

That just looks a little different now.  My schedule has basically flip flopped.  I am spending most of the year stateside and plan to travel into Haiti at least four times a year… the total opposite of the last several years when I would just come home four times a year.   A huge adjustment for me… and for those I work with and for my Haiti loves.   I am no longer working in the travel department of the mission.  My time in Haiti (and at home!) can now be spent entirely on my ministries…  outreach ministries, the brothels, the prison and Redeeming Gifts… one change that I really, really LOVE.

My sweet hubby is thrilled to have me home more.  Of course, my being sick all of the time has been no fun, but just being together has been wonderful.  Especially since, for the first time, we are empty nesters!  With the kids all moved out and Katelyn off at college it is truly just us for the first time in our adult lives.  Crazy!  God’s timing…

As I’ve kept silent over the last six months of waiting for clearance to head back in, I lost a lot of followers and a huge amount of support.  My support needs haven’t changed a bit so this has been a big blow.  I am praying that as we are moving forward with Redeeming Gifts and things have been SO incredible with the brothel girls, that I will be able to pick some of that support back up.  My travel costs are exactly the same as I will still be traveling in/out the same amount of times.   I am still responsible for paying my monthly rent to the mission as I keep my home there.  I am still fully supporting both the prison and the brothel ministries.   Please. Please. Please.  Don’t think that because I cannot actually LIVE in Haiti full time right now that I am not still fully invested and in need of your help and support.

I realize that is was my own silence, as I struggled with my “new reality” that put me in the position of losing support and excitement.  I promise to do a better job of telling the stories… of sharing the victories and the struggles.  Caitlin and Kelly are doing an AMAZING job juggling everything I have thrown at them on top of their own jobs and ministries.  They have embraced the brothel girls with their whole hearts and I am beyond blessed to have such beautiful women of God in my corner.  Those two girls are truly the only reason that I haven’t completely lost my mind at being home and away from the prison and my brothel girls.

God has blessed me with some amazing ministry opportunities stateside as well.  He has had to remind me (because I am a spoiled baby who just wants what I want when I want it) that we are expected to be missionaries every single day of our lives.  No matter where we are or who we are with.  This might be shocking… but there are lost people right here in Florida that need to hear about Jesus too…  Lol.  PRAISE JESUS that He is still willing to use this silly, pig headed girl.

So hopefully that answers the million dollar question… for now.

We have so many things happening!   With the launch of our Redeeming Gifts store getting closer and closer we are working hard to make contacts in the states of stores, organizations, groups and churches that would also like to carry our product.  I am MOSTLY excited about getting to tell the stories…  Over the next few weeks I will be highlighting one girl at a time… introducing you to her… allowing you to know her and fall in love with her.   Stories of the other programs will follow… I want you to know them and love them ALL just as we do!

I am excited about the next step of this journey and am SO grateful that you are on this bumpy road with me!

here’s to new beginnings…

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Praise Jesus!  We were able to rent the first of four homes for the brothel girls today!  What an unbelievable gift to witness the pure joy (and absolute wonder!) as we handed the rent money over to the landlord!   The money is still coming in so we are incredibly hopeful that we will have all sixteen of the girls in our program and their children OUT OF THE BROTHEL by next week!!!   This is a dream come true! 

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At class this afternoon we were able to tell the girls everything we have planned for them… but emphasized that this is a GIFT… a gift that they could accept or refuse.  Just as they needed to decide on their own about joining the bead making ministry, they need to decide on this next step as well.  All but the three girls we had already talked to about moving out will give their formal acceptance on Friday.  They have a few days to pray about it, decide who will be living with who in the four homes, and also tell us if they have a home in mind.  We have people scouring the area for decent homes in our price range but thought it would be fun for them to be part of this process as well.    We will have contracts for the girls to sign with our expectations as well as what they can expect from us.

We have committed to pay the first 6 months rent up front for them.  That will give them the next 6 months to save money from their paychecks each week (making the paper bead jewelry) to save towards the next 6 months rent.  The girls will all be getting raises in January as we will hopefully be increasing our orders each week with the upcoming launch of the Redeeming Gifts website.  My hope is that they will save enough to pay the next 6 months rent and we can also give them a bonus that will cover another 6 months rent… giving them another whole year before they would need to pay again.  By then the girls may want to leave the group homes and venture out on their own… it’s all up to them! 

This is the first time that they will have true FREEDOM.  To not have to worry about the next beating… or “job”… or what their babies are seeing and hearing on a daily basis…  what a gift!!!

Please let me know if you would like to help!  We are still in need of donations to cover the rent.  Any money that comes in over the money needed to secure the four homes will be spent on household items for the girls.  Most of them are walking away with nothing so will be starting from scratch.  This is part of the reason we are grouping the girls together in the homes… they can share what they do have and help each other out.  We would love to provide them with cooking utensils, linens, etc. 

We are absolutely trusting God that the timing is RIGHT for this dream to be made into a reality for these sweet girls.  They have been so faithful and have grown so much over the last few years and especially in the last 6 months that they have been a part of the bead making ministry.  Life changing… for all of us.

slow down!!!!

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Goodness!  Things are happening so fast I can barely keep up!

This week has been flying by!  I have shed many a tear (shocking, I know…) during what can only be the inevitable grieving process.

Ain’t nobody got time for that! ;)

As hard as it has been to realize that this week is just that… a week… the blessings have far outweighed the heaviness.  I am still having a hard time putting my feelings into words but I have so many EXCITING things to share!!!!

1.  There were 95 baptisms at the prison on Saturday… NINETY-FIVE!!!!  And 70 more to come!  Can I get an AMEN?!?

2.  My sweet love, Maeka, has committed to the huge responsibility of a new business that will hopefully give her the financial freedom she needs to take care of her baby girl.  Caitlin, Ashley and I have come up with the money to pay for this new beginning and I am SO happy for her!!!  She has come SUCH a long way from that girl I met at Papa Yo’s so long  ago!

3.  Three of the brothel girls that are a part of the bead making ministry came today and are ready to move out of the brothel and start fresh!  What?!?  My heart is so full!!!!   As they came and met with Kelly, Caitlin and me this afternoon I felt God nudging me (kicking me in the pants is more like it…) to do MORE.  We decided to offer to pay for 4 group homes so that all 16 girls and their children can have the opportunity to begin new lives.  They have been so faithful over the last six months and I really feel like they have earned this… the next step in walking away from the brothel for good.

4.  Caitlin has graciously agreed to teach the women at the PdP prison to make the same headbands that she has been making with the older orphanage girls here on campus.  The overhead is next to nothing as they really just need scraps of fabric, elastic and thread.  Time to put three years of sewing classes to the test!  This will be their contribution to the Redeeming Gifts program.

5.  Which leads to my last note for tonight…  Tomorrow we plan on showing the girls what the new Redeeming Gifts online store looks like… and then we launch!!!  This is the beginning!  Six months of hard work and love by these women led by Caitlin and Kelly in my absence.  It has been a dream come true to watch them from afar and now to be here as they are ready to take their business to the next level.

There is so much more I want to say… so many stories to tell…

For now I just ask that you join me in prayer.

new project for the prison gals :)

new project for the prison gals :)

just one of the ninety-five baptisms that day!

just one of the ninety-five baptisms that day!

Maeka today... from prostitute to business woman!

Maeka today… from prostitute to business woman!

Maeka... the beginning (I am so madly in love with her!)

Maeka… the beginning (I am so madly in love with her!)

Maeka the proud mommy!

Maeka the proud mommy!

home again… for now

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It has been WONDERFUL to be back in Haiti this week!  I’ve been able to work with the brothel girls on their jewelry making, visit with the prisoners and Papa Yo and be a part of 95 baptisms at the prison yesterday!  So so much in such a short time!  So many emotions…  So much to write about but I cannot even form words to describe what I am seeing, feeling, experiencing…

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Redeeming Gifts

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I have some very exciting news to share!  Many of you know that I have spent the last three months teaching myself to make paper beads to start a new ministry with the brothel girls.  Ashley spent that same time learning to make hand sewn coin purses with her nutritional program moms.  We had ideas and dreams of how to market and sell these items to help the women we love so much better their lives with these new “jobs”.

Apparently God thought that our ideas and dreams were not even close to big enough!

In the last two weeks, God has taken our tiny idea and exploded it into a full blown women’s ministry that encompasses all of who and what NWHCM is!  As we continue to Rescue, Restore and Redeem here in the Northwest zone of Haiti, God is telling us that the time is now to refine some of our thoughts on the Redeem aspect.  Using mostly recycled products, Redeeming Gifts was born through much prayer and excitement.  We will be able to use this new ministry to start redeeming these women in their own eyes, the eyes of the community and allow them to fully understand who our Lord and Savior is through in depth Bibles lessons and “Life lessons” as well.

Here is a breakdown of what we are looking to do:  We have invited the women and girls in our programs in ministries to participate in, not only earning an income, but in the classes we will teach during their “work” time, the opportunity to bless the ministries at NWHCM through their tithes, the chance to pay for their college educations or start businesses of their own.  Our plan is to sell each of the items here in Haiti on our campuses, online on a new website dedicated to this project and in stores in the states along with christian conferences, church bookstores, etc.

The programs should be fully self sustainable after our initial “start up” investment as we are paying the girls all of the profit on each item, only holding back what we need to replace the supplies used.  They will then tithe a portion of their earnings back to the ministries of NWHCM.  We will offer savings accounts and finance/budget lessons and help with business plans to help them achieve their goals.

Each program involved has in Redeeming Gifts has chosen a scripture and a word, in Hebrew or Creole, to call our section of the ministry.  For example the ones chosen for the brothel girls:

Leviticus 26:13  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be slaves.  I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high.

ga’al:  redeem.  to reclaim a person or a thing.  often an economic transaction such as buying property back from a creditor or purchasing freedom for an enslaved family member.

Before I get all excited and start rambling about the brothel girls, let me tell you who we have involved and what they will be making so you can start joining us in prayer.

Brothel girls:  hand made paper bead jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, earrings)

Prison women:  patchwork hand sewn coin purses (using scraps of fabric left from other projects)

Nutritional Program moms:  hand sewn and decorated coin purses

Orphanage teen girls:  hand made, fabric covered journals made with homemade recycled paper

Miriam Center outreach moms:  two styles of beautiful fabric tote bags

Granmoun women:  weaving projects (mats, baskets, etc)

Jody is getting her women in the Mole involved too so our product list will be growing as will the different ministries involved.  I love it!  This has really become an “entire staff” project as we all work, dream, pray together towards making this successful.  Please pray along with us as we seek the Lord’s vision in this whole thing and that we are able to use Redeeming Gifts to honor and glorify Him above all else.

Sixteen of the brothel girls have committed to the program and to seeking change in their lives and hearts through a relationship with Christ.  We have had several meetings and classes so far and they have picked it up faster than I thought was possible!  These sweet girls have the opportunity to go from being prostitutes to being missionaries to their own community through their tithes and offerings to the ministries here at NWHCM.  Can you even imagine a more powerful sentence?!?  As we invited them into the mission family, and have brought as many of our Haitian staff in to help and just love on these ladies, I have watched them lose the look of doubt and fear that always seems to be present.  Just giving them their lanyards and name tags the other day filled them with beautiful pride and they all seemed to sit up inches taller in their seats!

We have already begun selling, and taking orders for their beautiful jewelry.  I am so excited for what this could mean for them and their children!  More than the financial freedom this will bring them, I am desperate for them to see themselves the way God does.  Worthy.  Beautiful.  Daughters.  Chosen.  Covered by Grace.  Redeemed.  What a powerful testimony these sweet women could be!  To turn from the live they felt forced into and trapped in… and, God willing, become passionate followers of Him… sharing that love and grace with everyone they know!  I am covered with goosebumps and have tears in my eyes just even imagining the day we are all celebrating in Heaven together.

Here are some pictures of what the girls have been up to.   If you have any questions about how you can help get involved, if you know of any store stateside that might be interested in carrying our products or you just want to offer up prayers on our behalf, please let me know!

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mother of them all…

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Goodness.  Today was beautiful and hard.  It is the first time I have been able to be back in the PdP prison in 3 months.  I have never gone that long without seeing my friends there for the last 3 years!  But God is good.  He broke my heart and warmed my heart, over and over today.  I was able to spend as much time as I needed to with each cell, explaining where I have been and what the next year will look like for all of us.

Most of you know that I have struggled with all kinds of crazy illnesses this past year.  God has brought me through each of them without any lasting damage.  I have recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.  Not a huge surprise as it runs in my family and also the answer to what I thought were leftover symptoms from the Hep A and typhoid fever.  This is totally not the end of the world but it does mean that I will be stateside much more this year than in the past.

God has shown me that He had this all planned out and covered before I ever knew it would be a “problem”.  As much as I want to stomp my feet and complain He has taken that right away from me by showing me that this is His perfect plan.

Last summer one of my long term interns spoke to me about working with for me this year, coming in right after Christmas.  We had no idea at the time that she would be covering for me not only with the groups and travel team, but that she would be stepping up to lead the brothel and prison ministries as well.  God knew.  He also knew that Caitlin would need help.  Bring in my sweet friend Kelly.  Kelly and her husband are missionaries here on the main campus as well.  She has slowly gotten more and more comfortable in very uncomfortable places.  Like the prisons and the brothels.  Somehow this week I went from being one girl to a team of three.  So beautiful.

I came back into Haiti with some big dreams and plans for those ministries and both Caitlin and Kelly have selflessly and lovingly agreed to take on some pretty big and time consuming projects.  I have watched as the rest of the staff here has circled around us, joined in and fallen in love with some of our ideas and have been our biggest prayer warriors and helping hands.  I have so much more to blog about this later when can  I tell you about some of our upcoming plans, but believe me when I tell you that our entire mission family is operating as one body with one vision and

it. is. beautiful.

All of this to get back to today…  I went from cell to cell explaining what has been going on with my health and that Kelly and Caitlin would be standing in the gap for me.  They were precious and sweet and has questions but were clearly glad that they weren’t forgotten about and that they could still get me messages each week through the girls.  I have said many times that I have 400 children in a Haitian prison.  They call me the mother of the prison… silly since they are almost all WAY to old to be my kids.  But I totally get it.  I love them.  They are my family and they know it.

I had a pocket full of notes and letters by the time we got to the last cell.  It’s what I call the little boys cell.  They are the hardest to be away from because my heart truly aches for them as if they were my own flesh and blood locked behind those bars.  They are scared little boys who are grateful to not have to act so tough for the few minutes that we are there to mommy them.   As I explained everything to them and they asked Kervens questions about my illness my heart was breaking.

Then the most beautiful thing happened.

I told them that Kelly is a mom too and that she was going to love them and mother them just as much as I do.  She spent time praying for them and I watched her put her hands in between the bars and grab onto their sweet hands.  This is a bigger deal than I can begin to tell you but my heart almost burst out of my chest.   When we finished, one of the boys looked at Kelly and asked her “am I allowed to call you my mother?”.  She of course said yes and that was it, she is now his mom.  It was the hand off.  The thing that broke me and bolstered me all at the same time.

I managed to get all the way outside before I totally broke down and had a good cry.  I was weeping tears of sadness mingled with tears of absolute perfect joy and thanksgiving.  My God loves me so so much and He has proven it to me over and over again this week.  Today it was God’s face shining out of my sweet friends at the prison and His love pouring out of two beautiful ladies who are allowing God to use them in such a special way.

Friends, please continue to pray for all of the staff here at NWHCM.  God is moving in a big way here.  It is beautiful, overwhelming, unbelievable, inspiring and we are being challenged to be ready.  To be able to run fast enough to keep up with His desires for us.  He is here.  And He loves us.

Greater than…

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I was lucky enough to be in the states for most of the “Greater than” series preached at my church.  Each week, I would walk out of the service and wonder how it was that Drew knew exactly what I needed to hear.  The congregation was all given these bracelets to wear to remind us that in every situation or struggle or fear… God is SO MUCH bigger than whatever we are up against.  And that God’s desires are so much bigger than my own selfish ones.  What an awesome reminder for me this past couple of weeks  back in Haiti.    

It’s so hard to not get caught up in the frustrations here and the helpless feelings that can come when faced with some of the hard stories.  Immediately upon return I met a tiny baby we’ve named Moses who is living in the orphanage here on campus.  Moses was found lying by the river about 4 weeks ago.  He was one day old, naked, and his wrists, feet and legs had been sliced open with a knife.  Left to die.   Anyone else feeling my pain and frustration with that situation???  Ok.  God is greater than that.  Today I sat next to Magdala in church as she lovingly held this sweet baby boy.  Healthy.  Safe.  Loved.

I met a 14 year old boy in the local jail a few days ago.  He was there because he had been caught stealing.  Again.  I sat on the floor of that jail with him for over an hour, separated only by the bars on his cell.  His story was heartbreaking in that this little boy is living on the streets.  He is alone.  His mom lives in PAP.  He does not know his father.  The family that had taken him and his little sister in kicked him out after only a short time of his staying there.  He was stealing to eat.  To survive.  Again…. anyone feeling that same pain and frustration?  I know that God is greater than that too…  Magdala is trying to line up a home for him when he is released.  We actually know the woman who was taking care of him and Magdala has asked her to give the boy another chance.  If not, he will be placed with a family from our congregation.

As I write I have that familiar pit in my stomach… the pain in my heart that comes with feeling the pain of those we are serving.  How wonderful to just look down and be reminded over and over again… God is greater than…  fill in the blank.  Because He truly is.  In order to know the beauty of the mountain you must have first experienced the low of the valley.  Here in Haiti they are sometime simultaneous.

During the greater than series Drew preached about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fact that they were kept safe while actually IN THE FIRE…  not kept from it.  Why should we expect any different?  God is here with us… with a baby left to die… with a little boy locked in a cell… with my sweet brothel girls and prisoners…  with the people struggling to just make it another day…  with the mission staff here as we face our own fires…  Can we learn to be grateful for the fire?  To realize that it’s only when we are truly broken and at His mercy that He can really show His glory?  I think we can.  God is greater than any of our fears, desires, our comfort, our hurts.  Mesi Jezi.