Friday, February 22

We're Home!

After over 13 hours of transit, we've returned home. As we settle in to the familiar rhythm of life here, we know that our routines will be picked back up quickly. However, we know that we are not the same people we were when we left last Saturday. Each one of us has been changed by this experience. It's amazing what a difference a week can make!

We appreciate everything each one of you has done to support us on our mission, whether it be providing donations or praying for us. Thank you for following the blog - we hope you enjoyed it. We can't wait to share our photos and more stories with you!

God bless!

Your 2013 Joyful Spirit Haiti Team

From Left: Steve, Gina, Gene, Cheryl, Josh, Chuck, Jessica, Stevo, Herb, and Patrick

Thursday, February 21


Dégagé is a word you hear a lot in Haiti.  It means "to make due."

In Haiti you don't have 24 hour grocery stores around the corner to get eggs at any hour. Sometimes you need to make due. Dégagé.

Though mangoes grow all over Haiti, today there may not be mangoes readily available. Tomorrow milk may be hard to come by. You must make due. Dégagé.

Home Depot might not be a few miles down for you to get all your home improvement needs provided for. You must improvise. You must make due. Dégagé.

In Haiti this word is commonplace. Today our group spent about 30 or 45 minutes - between the first shift and second shift of volunteering - at tin shops in Haiti.  What is this uniquely Haitian art made from? It is made by someone adopting the attitude of dégagé. Make due. Improvise.  Using 55 gal drums to make this fantastically beautiful, intricate art. Dégagé.

- Stevo

God's Love is Powerful and Transforms

Sadly, today was our last day of work. We had an early start like all of our other days. Most of us awaken with the generator start. It tends to make a pretty loud humming sound and cools down the room, which makes it so comfy in the bed and a little hard to get up. But once up, we're usually refreshed! Sandwich-making and breakfast started at around 6:30. After a delicious breakfast of pancakes (smeared with peanut butter and nutella in some cases) and yogurt, one group hopped onto the pickup to head to Little Children of Jesus orphanage. Gene, Chuck, and Steve stayed at the Hope House to complete their project of building support beams for an outdoor workshop area.

We took a 14 block ride along Santo to the orphanage - the Hope House is at Santo 3 and LCJ is at Santo 17. We had 3 more join us in our visit to the orphanage: Jessica, Herb, and Patrick. I was really excited to witness Jessica and Herb's first full day experience with the kids as I knew they would really enjoy it. We spent the day feeding, playing with, and generally loving on these kids, and they loved on us just the same. It's hard to explain how it feels to be around them. The best way to say it is that they radiate joy and love. As they hug you, as they look into your eyes, as they prepare to throw a ball to you, as they motion to you to push their wheelchair, as you watch each one sharing his or her gifts with the others... you can't help but feel a warm, glowing joy from deep within you. This love is powerful. There is no resisting it.

Stevo recalled during tonight's devotion that during the church service on Sunday, Josh used the word "power" to describe God not once, but twice. We, in the US, don't often talk about God as a God of power as often as we talk about he being a God of love. Today we also had the activity of noting bible verses as so many tap-taps(the creatively decorated taxi trucks) and businesses are covered with them. As we read through those verses tonight, we noted that most all of these verses spoke of our God as a God of power, a God that will protect us and fight off those people and things that may try to harm us. God's love is powerful.

I can't help but think about how the kids' love toward each other and toward us is also powerful. And this love has a power to transform. In these children's eyes, they see me for a person much better than the real me; the person I have the potential to be. This is power; this type of love can transform. This sort of power can only come from God.

After saying sad, tear-filled goodbyes to the kids, we went to the metal workers district. This district is packed with so many shops and workshops where they transform a simple oil drum to gorgeous art. As you enter the area, you hear loud tapping of hammers against the metal as the artists create their works. You never know what creative ways these talented individuals will find to put together an amazing piece of wall art or household pieces. You can see the pride that they have of their work and it is a joy to have the opportunity to support them and their gifts. The simple transaction of giving a bill to an artist for work you both appreciate deeply is such a wonderful experience. And this talent and hard work allows them to generate a cash flow, which provides the opportunity to transform their family's life.

Once back at the Hope House, Chuck, Gene, and Steve went right back to work as they wanted to get more beams completed. Their dedication motivated them to work straight through to 6pm. We finished the night with a hearty bowl of traditional Haitian pumpkin soup, salad, and succulent, sweet mangoes and oat bars for dessert. Bert explained that pumpkin soup used to be only for the elite, such as wealthy slave owners. Once the people were freed, they were motivated to celebrate their independence day with pumpkin soup. The tradition includes visiting neighbors, friends, and family's homes for a sampling of their pumpkin soup. This soup represents a freeing, a transformation of how the people see their place in this world.

We wrapped up our night with our evening devotion. Through our worship and sharing, I felt God's love radiate through the group. Each of us has been touched by this experience in a very personal way. I know that we have all been transformed by this trip, through God's love, which is more powerful than we can fathom. And we trust that as God works in this place, that Haiti will also be transformed. We're excited to play a part in it and watch as God does his work.


Wednesday, February 20

Joy is the Theme

Joy is likely to be a theme of this trip for me and at least for a few others.

Our first day we heard 120 kindergartners sing to us:

I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Down in my heart

Down in my heart...

There was joy in that song. Their principal clapped along. Their teachers clapped along. We, their visitors, clapped along as they assembled to start their week of school.

Step it up a notch and you have a different environment all the more joyous.

At first sight, any orphanage may seem like a dreary place. Any place where children with disabilities gather is likely to be a dreary place.

Some of my fellow visitors on the trip had long faces as they went to the orphanage the first time. They clearly felt terrible looking at all these orphaned handicapped children stuck in one place. It's a very difficult sight.

I too may have worn a long face. After visiting the orphanage for 20 minutes, I vowed to myself not to return to that orphanage. It felt like a hopeless place.

That night during our bible study that decision changed. Going to the orphanage was presented to me, lovingly, as something that would make me stronger. The next morning my perception of that orphanage would change.

D.H. Lawrence wrote in his poem "Self-Pity"

 I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Humans uniquely tend to feel self-pity. The children at Little Children of Jesus do not seem to exhibit any such sense of self-pity about their station in life. I initially looked at them and felt pity, which is what made that orphanage such a terrible place for me.

By the time my first morning at that orphanage had come to an end, that sense of pity I felt for those children had disappeared.

They felt no pity for themselves - quite to the contrary, they often felt a very strong sense of joy. So why should I feel pity for them when joy is what they feel for themselves. Why not just leave the mental pity party I was at and go across the street to the rocking party where everyone is smiling?

I did that and that orphanage was a different place immediately.

Tonight we're reading the following at our bible study:

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Tomorrow, I'm going back to the orphanage with some of my long faced co-travelers. Something tells me they will experience a change of heart much like mine where a sense of pity and sadness around these profoundly handicapped orphans will turn to joy and love.

Joy is the theme of this trip. Joy is the thesis. Every night before we go to bed, we share the bitter and the sweet of the day. Without the bitter, the sweet never feels so sweet. Even when life is very bitter it tends to have much sweet as long as you look around for the sweet. I thought I was the ultimate optimist able to spot the joy in any situation. A group of Haitian orphans are teaching me there's a lot of joy to life that I'm pretty casually overlooking.


Raising the Roof

Our group is separated into three teams. One team goes to the school - Village of Hope, another team to the orphanage - Little Children of Jesus, a third does work at Hope House. I'm on the third team at Hope House.

We are repairing and fixing an existing structure that was damaged in the earthquake. In the process, we are making the structure of the building more efficient for other teams that come here.

We are rebuilding a workshop. It's a workshop that many volunteers in the past have worked in. Volunteers at the workshop build lots of what the kids use - such as chalkboards, desks, and so many of the items used here that can't be imported easily and need to be built here in Haiti by volunteers.

Because of the work our team is doing this week, future volunteers will get a fixed place to work without moving the 300 lb table saw back and forth. When the weather is bad outside none of that work can be done. When this current construction is complete, work in that workshop will again be ready to resume.

I was with four guys cutting wood all day. It's a joy to be out in the warm sunshine. We were working on the rafters. To take down a rundown storage space and make a new workshop. We are building the framework of the roof of the workshop. The next group will come along and finish it off - sort of like building a prefab house. We measure, cut, and build the frames and beams, the next group will assemble it all.

Additionally, the idea here is to make it more comfortable for volunteers to show up and have a place with a few creature comforts to call home after a hard day's work.


A Little Paradise of Happiness

In some faith traditions, it brings you closer to heaven if you have a monk in a monastery praying for you or a priest saying mass for you.

Almost like cloistered monks there are a few dozen children in a Haitian orphanage called Little Children of Jesus.

As difficult as things seem to be for some of these children, there's always a certain 'default attitude' among them. That default attitude is joy. If nothing else is happening, if nothing else is going on, the emotion you are most likely to see flash across one of these orphan's faces is joy.

I still have no idea why this is the default emotion that is found at this orphanage, but it is. The workers and the children alike seem to exhibit pure joy so often. It lifts the heart to be with some of these children as they smile greater smiles than any I've ever seen.

Just yesterday a worker pointed out that he likes this sense of joy from the children as much as me. It's not just us, the out of town visitors, who can appreciate it. It's the "mamas" and "papas" (the workers) who are in the orphanage day in and day out who appreciate these little joy-filled monks as well.

In some faith traditions, you might pay a monk to pray when you feel like you aren't praying enough. Any day of the week when you aren't having that great of a day and aren't really feeling like smiling, I can guarantee that in a hidden corner of Haiti in an orphanage called Little Children of Jesus - there are dozens of handicapped Haitian orphans putting joy out there into the world to replace the joy you aren't feeling like putting out there today.

Having a nice time on our behalf, like little cloistered monks, there are a few dozen children at a Haitian orphanage smiling right now.


Comment, Please!

We miss you and would love to hear from you, so please comment on our posts! Thanks!

Your Haiti Team Loved One(s)

Tuesday, February 19

Benny Swallowed a Toenail

"When you speak a person's language, you speak to their heart," a wise man once told me. A few of us on the trip have been trying to throw around a few French and Creole phrases in order to get around a bit better.

Humorously, a gentlemen who runs the show at the guest house here mentioned to me that in Creole, what sounds like "Benny swallowed a toenail" is "Blessed be The Lord" You just need to use a French accent for that ridiculous English phrase to turn into a soulful Haitian profession.

If you say what sounds like "Now we Pita!" in a French accent then you are saying "See you later!"

Even if it means relying on these unusual mnemonics, a lot of Haitians really appreciate hearing us use our meager vocabulary in French and Creole to express a few ideas.

No matter what the actual words we are using mean, when we boldly stumble through those languages the idea we express most prominently is something like this - "Thank you for having us as guests in your culture." In most countries around the world a few broken words from a foreigner almost always is understood as a thank you and a show of appreciation and respect for the local culture.

Little did I know that today, in Haiti, at a tiny isolated orphanage my heart would be warmed not once but twice by the most unlikely of people speaking to me in my native language.

One is named Linda and the other David. Each with their own handicaps that create limits in their lives, these two so prominently had converstaions with me in English today.

Communicating with me in English today were joyful, Haitian orphans with disabilities so profound that they will likely spend their entire lives in an institution.

How am I using the gifts God has given me? If an orphaned adolescent with significant developmental disabilities can spend her entire day with a wide grin on her face as she communicates with visitors effectively in her third language - English - then I can certainly step up my game a bit and learn a few Creole and French phrases to extend to my hosts.

"When you speak a person's language, you speak to their heart." Linda and David spoke to my heart today and without them knowing it they issued me that challenge to be better, to up my game, to use the gifts God has given me.

Three days into this trip, I'm learning lessons that I would never have dreamed from people who I didn't expect to hear them from.


Day Four: Update Team Haiti

Dear Diary,

Today, our team of 10 split into three groups. One of the teams went to the Little Children of Jesus orphanage and spent the day with the kids. They participated in a water-color painting activity and general play time. The next group went to Village of Hope school and repainted the depot to match the newly painted high school; white walls with electric blue trim. It looks fantastic! The third and final group stayed at the Village of Hope compound and made support beams for the overhang roof extension and may or may not have fried the microwave at lunch time....Regardless, they made enough support to extend the overhang 28 feet! Tomorrow will include more interaction at the orphanage, painting the Chapel at VOH, and continuing of the overhang project at the compound. All three groups had different experiences today, but we all came to the same conclusion: our time sent in Haiti thus far has opened our eyes and our hearts to the joy this country shows and will continue to show us each day of our stay here.

- Herb and Jessica

Monday, February 18

The Haiti Mission Trip Weight Loss Plan

We've long understood that man cannot live on bread alone. Bread can feed the body AND there's a spiritual component to our lives that must be fulfilled as well. Without that spiritual component man is lost. No amount of food will change that.

On a trip like this to Haiti, it's fascinating to watch how little nourishment the body needs despite what can be a very active day.

With the mind busy with the tasks of the day, eager to engage in the next spiritually uplifting task, euphoric about the work being done - in that environment the need for a meal can slip away.

The body is forced into a different routine and though that may, at first, be uncomfortable, it ultimately feels very good to be reminded how unimportant bread can be, especially when the soul is feeling nourished.

Perhaps one of the Joyful Spirit marketing geniuses will stumble upon this blog this evening and will invent the next great diet crazy - the Haiti Mission Trip Weight Loss Plan - where feeding the spirit, makes you too full of joy to want to eat much else.


Filled with Joy

My third day on this adventure was filled with all different kind of experiences. While a full range of experiences, there was one common theme: the joy of the Haitian people.

Our day started with a trip out to Village of Hope for the start of the school day. I stood amazed by the group of 120 kids, 3, 4 and 5 years old singing and dancing as they started their day. They welcomed us with the biggest smiles and it was really moving to see these kids who walked miles to school smiling, singing and thanking God for all that they have.

After a tour of the school and the medical center we went to work. Some of the team painted a storage building and I helped put a door on the incinerator for the medical center. It took a few hours and several drill bits, but we got the job done.

We then headed to the Little Children of Jesus orphanage and spent some time visiting with the kids. It really makes me stop and think about life. As everyday life tends to get us down, we whine and complain about the smallest things; yet here are these kids, with nothing, some severely disabled, but yet so full of joy. They just look at you and smile and you can't help to be moved.

Next we went to visit the earthquake memorial. On our way there, we were stuck in traffic behind a former school bus carrying probably 70 plus people on board; in the back window, was a little girl smiling and waving at us as we sat in traffic.

Finally, we returned Hope House and cut lumber to make beams to expand the roof over a workshop area.

For me, it really makes me stop and think how backwards this is. Here I am, an American: with a job, a house, and a great family; then there are these kids, and people here who have literally nothing, but have more joy, more smiles and more love than anyone can imagine. It really puts things in perspective and makes me wonder why I allow the little things to steal my joy. If the people here can be full of joy, why can't I?

I have learned a lot about myself in these 3 days. I am glad that i came on this adventure and look forward to what the next few days will bring.

Time to get some sleep, before we start it all over tomorrow.


Sunday, February 17

Your Daily Reflection from Stevo

Dear Diary,

The things I learned today in Haiti are as follows:

Soldiers lined some of the areas we travelled today.  They had uniforms, guns, and motorcycles. The road signs said that the Annual Summit de la Caricom will be held February 18-19 in Port-au-Prince. Regional leaders are coming to town for the meeting, which is likely the reason for the beefed up security. Five shotgun carrying soldiers watched the parking lot of the grocery store we ate in today.

On the road to church, we crossed National Route 9. National Route 9 has a place called City de Sole down the way. It is one of the worst slums in Haiti.  During Aristide's reign National Route 9 was blocked off at both ends and the planes were landed on it with cocaine so the customs at the airport could be avoided.

A sign appeared on the side of the road, painted on concrete:  "Got Karizma?"  Haiti has lots of 'Karizma' especially on Saturdays and Sundays as people on the streets are dressed in their 'Sunday best' on their way to and from church.  Not an hour later, I learned first hand that the Haitian religious tradition tends to be charismatic with lots of singing, dancing, impassioned speaking - including speaking in tongues.  We went to church as the guests of a Haitian man who works with the ministry here connected to the orphanage. The passionate and powerful nature of the service seems to be standard for Haitian churches. Pastor Josh, in line with this, gave a talk at church sighting the simultaneous love and power of God.

After Sandy a road was washed out, and it felt like it would never be repaired.  The locals wanting to be able to use their local road, decided to get their government's attention by barricading the road to the Dominican Republic using burning tires.  DR shares the island with Haiti. The government in Port-au-Prince, unhappy with the trade disruption quickly turned their attention to repairing the road. In this country where the people seem so powerless and impoverished, it's easy to forget how much power an organized group actually has. No matter how dire a situation, it's important to ask What do you have at your disposal that you can leverage? What are your burning tires?

In 1804 there was a revolution in Haiti. As a result, Haiti became the first black republic in the world and the second independent republic in this hemisphere (after the US). Interestingly color-based-discrimination still existed and until the 1950s, Haitians made each other prove some amount of white ancestry in order to hold certain civil sector jobs. Haiti's identity, even today, seems strongly shaped by freeing itself from a system of slavery so early in history.

January 12, 2010 - an earthquake hit Haiti, with an epicenter in Port-au-Prince. The effects are still very much felt. Anywhere we drive the signs of the earthquake are very present.

Here there is so much joy in the midst of poverty. This was especially highlighted in the example of the church service today, packed with young and old.

By the end of the day after a powerful service in a packed church, filled with people in a poor country, I had a question in mind.

Is poverty a prerequisite for knowing Christ? The early church fathers certainly thought so. The closer you get to the Holy Land and the older the images, the more gaunt the early church fathers were, likely as a result of their asceticism, their forced poverty. Is Haiti closer to Christ because of its poverty?

About half a dozen years ago Time magazine ran a graph that had a list of countries that formed a pretty consistent trend - the poorer the country, the higher rates of church attendance. Only two countries didn't fit that trend. They were the Czech Republic (a poor country with little church attendance) and USA (a rich country with a high level of church attendance).

The US is an anomaly with its high GDP and high church attendance. Church attendance doesn't necessarily bring us closer to God. However it does show that with wealth Americans have, almost uniquely, not given up on religion. Haitians have lessons to teach us about being a good Christian, lessons which I might, admittedly, feel slightly uncomfortable learning.

Ultimately Im left with a reminder about how easily material possessions can leave us isolated and how easily wealth can leave us feeling no need for a relationship with God. Today left me pushing to want to be better and to not use wealth as a barrier but to use the gift of wealth as a greater burden of responsibility to make my light shine before others. Twenty eight hours into this, without having yet picked up a hammer, I feel Haiti challenging me to be better.


love is love & joy is joy

Wow, what a day!
Hi Gina, here

Our day started at a local church for Sunday worship, and what a worship service it was.  It was one of the most joyful worships I've had in a long time. 
despite the language barrier, Christ's love was being celebrated.  I can't find the words to describe the feeling.
For me every worship service, comes with it's own amusing distractions.  Today, it was the 2 little boys sitting in front of me, One was poking the other one and playing with his ears.  Me being me, I poked the first boy back.  He definitely was not accepting it. So when he turned in surprise and I gave him a big smile.  That started it all, we began smiling and winking at each other.  After the service, each of the boys, shook my hand and gave me a kiss.  It was a moment for me when love was being shared, but not only with boys, but with their parents, and almost everyone in church.  Everyone made a point of shaking our hands, giving us a hug or a kiss.  I felt so loved and connected to this community.

So, when God fills your day with joy and tops it off with a extra helping of love, you know you are exactly where you are suppose to be.  This really confirms for me that our God is the God of all, not just at Joyful Spirit or at any American church on any given Sunday, but here in Haiti and among all Christians sharing God's joy and love.

Tonight, our devotional was the passage in John, he said, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  I can say today, I have truly seen the light of the world, here in Haiti.  Now it is up to me to take on the awesome responsibility of sharing this great light.  I hope that hearing from me or maybe someone on our team, you will take on this responsibility with me.

Thanks for listening and God bless you.
PS: To our families, we are all safe and enjoying our time here with one another.

Saturday, February 16

Highlights From Day 1

Thanks to God for a great first day:
- We were blessed with safe travels with no delays or issues
- We were welcomed to a renovated airport arrival area, which made it easier than in the past to get our bags and get to our transportation
- We drove through the Saturday market which gave a great look into Haitian culture for our new team members
- We got to meet the new missionary, Marshall Dixon, who we didn't know would be here yet
- We got to meet Fan Fan, the new Haitian team coordinator
- We enjoyed a delicious dinner of beef bouillion soup with sweet potatoes, fresh avocado salad, and fresh pineapple and Haitian treats for dessert
- We had a devotion where we talked about humbly approaching our role this week of pointing to Christ and his love

We leave you with some reflections from one of our first-timers, Stevo:

Today we ate Haitian sweet potatoes - not to be confused with the American sweet potato. Much like Haiti the sweet potatoes are deceptively pleasant. They are white instead of orange, unexpectedly sweet. The stressful and crowded bustle of the Port-au-prince airport, opens into a wide open tropical landscape - a place where life is challenged by the difficulties of poverty yet clearly filled with kind hearted people. From the presence of UN 'soldiers,' to the clear cut teak forests, to the houses, to the Creole spoken on the streets - the history of Haiti remains an apparent part of life here.

On the plane today, I sat next to a kind Haitian refugee seeking to return home to Haiti. He took the time to teach me a little French, a little Creole and a lot about Haiti. The plane was filled with some combination of aid workers and Haitians living in America. Perhaps as many as 50% of the passengers on our plane were aid workers - which perhaps says something about the situation in Haiti today.

We were welcomed with a meal tonight. In addition to the Haitian sweet potatoes, dinner included a delicious beef stew and a salad with fresh local avocados - less strongly flavored than the haas avocados we have at home and slightly sweet. We are sleeping in Croix-de-bouquet tonight, which happens to be where singer Wyclef Jean was born.

The next six days will offer much learning and growth. After a 3am start today in Chicago it's time for an early bedtime so we can get an early start tomorrow at 6am. We are planning on beginning our day at a local church service.

There's a great team. Half of us are here our first time. It would be hard to come up with a more pleasant and lighthearted group of people to share this experience with.

We've Arrived!

After two flights and a bumpy trip on the back of a pickup, we are here!  We just got our orientation of the Hope House, and are now resting and cleaning up for dinner. Check back for more a bit later!

Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, February 5

11 Days Out!

We are only 11 days out from our departure date! As we wait anxiously, we are keeping busy wrapping up our lives at home, getting in some last minute vaccinations, and starting our anti-malarial pills.

On the 16th, we will join together as one team, made up of 10 individuals from diverse backgrounds and gifts. We know that God will use us and the gifts he's given us to bless the people of Haiti, and we can't wait to see how this story unfolds...

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."

~1 Corinthians 12:7

We are still in need of donations for the ministries we support: Little Children of Jesus Orphanage, Village of Hope School, and Health Center. If you would like to donate any of the below items, please contact the team member of your choice or drop off at Joyful Spirit Church

Children's chewable vitamins (no gummies)
Adult diapers - size small and medium
Children diapers - size medium, large, XL
B&D Ointment (or equivalent for diaper rash)
Disposable exam gloves - size small, medium, large
Hand sanitizer

School + Health Center
Chalk - white (boxes of 100)
Construction paper 8 ½ x 11 (packages of one color-primary colors including white)
Computer paper - 8 ½ x 11 white (7 reams)
Glitter 3 bottles assorted
Glue (like Elmer’s) in bottle (8 oz size)
Manila file folders assorted tabs (8 1/2 x 11)
White out-3 bottles
Soap antibacterial (like Dial)
Soap moisturizing (like Dove)
Soap unscented (like Ivory)
Instant ice compress (the kind that don’t need refrigeration)
Disposable exam gloves-size small
Dell print cartridge #21 black
Dell print cartridge #21 color

We thank you for your generosity and support! We would appreciate your prayers as we prepare for the adventure, as well as for our health and safety while we are in Haiti.

If you'd like to learn more about the ministries we support in Haiti, please visit the Village of Hope Lazarus Project website.