walking in someone elses shoes

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I never do this… especially not here but today I need to share about a family, not in Haiti, but right in my back yard in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

First an update as I have been stubbornly silent over the last year.  I have refused to believe that my Haiti days are over… and I still don’t believe that.  But they will be different.  Most of you know that over the past few years (three years in February!!) my already beat up body was hit by malaria, Hepatitis A, pneumonia,  typhoid fever and dengue fever… sometimes dealing with several of those at once.  I continued to fight hard for the next year to get my health under control and was finally diagnose with Crohn’s Disease and a very compromised immune system.  My doctors have been mostly supportive but one.  My last trip into Haiti was an entire year ago in October 2013.  How strange…  This past year has been the craziest.  I started dealing with what would end up being cervical cancer back in February of this year and am finally now 8 weeks post op and cancer free.  Thank you Jesus!

Over the last year especially, I have been angry and depressed and incredibly childish about missing my sweet friends at the mission, the brothels and the prison.  I miss my little Haiti house… bucket baths… spotty generator and all.  But I have also been blessed.  In so many ways.  Spending every day and night with my hubby instead of just texting and voxing our goodnights…  Being able to be a daily part of my families lives…  The many new friends I have made and the opportunities that we have had to help.

This is Rylee’s story.  A little girl I have never met before but feel completely linked to through her illness.  As missionaries in Haiti we all know the dangers of a mosquito bite…  but here in the US?  This story and family has captured my heart and I know they will touch yours as well.

12 year old Rylee Kinnett was diagnosed with West Nile Virus and is in the pediatric ICU at Shands hospital in Gainesville, Florida. Her mother, Shara, is by her side and has been since October 2nd.

Rylee was admitted to Halifax on Oct. 2nd for a fever. After 3 days she started having debilitating headaches and a severe stiff neck. She was transferred to Shands Childrens Hospital in Gainesville on Oct. 7th where she had a seizure like episode, then began to lose use of her legs and became incontinent. The paralysis ascended up to her chest. She was placed on a ventilator on Oct. 10th and was unresponsive for 8 days. She was diagnosed with West Nile Virus, Encephalitis, and Spinal Meningitis on Oct. 15th. She has Flacid paralysis from her neck down and she may or may not regain use of her extremities.

Rylee was born with SCIDS (Severe Combined Immune Deficiency) which is making her recovery even more complicated. Doctors have said to expect the recovery process to take up to 2 years. She will eventually be transferred to Atlanta to an inpatient therapy facility, but won’t go there until she is still stable enough. She is now having problems with Tachycardia (high heart rate) and Hypertension. Rylee does have some brain damage in her thalamus and frontal lobe, but doctors feel she will recover mentally. She is completely unable to move her arms or legs and she is unable to talk. She had a tracheostomy on 10/23. She can lightly squeeze her left hand and push down with her left foot, she can barely wiggle her toes and fingers on the right side. She does respond to her mom sometimes (when not heavily medicated) by raising her eyebrows for yes and squinting them down for no).

This has blown Rylee’s entire families world apart.  Her mother has been unable to work throughout the past month as the hospital Rylee is in is 2 hours away and Shara hardly leaves her side.  Rylee’s three brothers are staying with different relatives.  There are payments that need to be made regardless of the fact that Rylee is fighting for her life.  Rent..  Truck payment… Electricity… Phone bills… on and on the list goes.   Thousands of dollars a month that needs to go out with nothing coming in.

I can’t help but put myself in this mothers shoes.  It’s only by the grace of God that I have never been in this situation myself.  My children are grown and healthy.  I can’t imagine the fear.  Not only of losing her daughter but of losing her LIFE as she and her family knew it.  This is a family that needs to be surrounded with love and support from her community.  We are holding a poker run and benefit for Rylee this weekend but it seems like such a drop in the bucket.  My fear is that we will forget.  This family has a LONG road ahead of them. Shara feels supported as we rally around her to put this thing together… but then what?

Please lift them up in prayer.  Pray for Rylee’s healing.  Pray for strength and peace for her mother and family.  Pray for wisdom for the doctors caring for this sweet girl.  Pray that the right person(s) hear her story and find a way to lift some of the heavy financial burdens.

As for Haiti…  it’s one day at a time for me.  I am determined to get back down there soon.  Pray for that too!  :)

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.