This January, my biggest prayer for my program was to have a safe classroom space.
Over the past two years, my new special needs program has been incredibly blessed. We have come to know great families, and churches and teams have filled our classroom with an abundance of resources. However, our classroom was not finished. The walls were open studs, the floor was rough concrete, and the room was not sealed. This left us with a very unsanitary play space. When children had accidents on the floor, they were not easily cleaned up. The amount of dust was intense! No matter how much we swept and dusted, a layer of dust would quickly cover every surface. The most disgusting problem – The RATS! Each day before class I would walk over to clean the classroom before students arrived. Every day without fail, in our absence, the rats made a home on our shelves. I would not only find their droppings and urine, but the remnants of whatever they snacked on the night before. This was so often an issue, that even little Hannah from our orphanage picked up on my cleaning system. When she would come to help with the kids, she would first grab a Lysol wipe and clean off everything she could think of before starting to play.
As of this week, these problems are no more! I am overjoyed to announce that thanks to a handful of generous donors and Nene’s handiwork, our play space is only that – a safe place to play! From the Fowler team clearing the room, to Miss Beth relaying all my messages while I was stateside, to Nene’s crew renovating , to our kids stocking the new shelves – God never ceases to show me how many people he can put together to pull off my prayers!
Check out our new digs: Finished walls and ceiling. Fresh paint. New shelves. A screen door. Windows that open in with screens. Coming soon – tiled floor!
Our old classroom:
Our new classroom:
The move-in crew:
Thank you Nene!
The set-up help:
The not-so-much help:
The finished product:
Breaking in the classroom with some impromptu library time. Never before have I put all the books in the classroom – too worried about the rats and dust!
When Michigan friends come to visit, my two lives collide. Right before their arrival I’m always anxious. I feel like I need to prove myself and that I’m responsible for the enjoyment of their trip. These thoughts however wash away about 30 seconds after their arrival, and I spend the rest of the week overwhelmed by the beauty and love that can only come from God.
The week included everything that my week typically includes, BUT BETTER! Sometimes when it is raining, I cancel activities – these guys did not! In the pouring rain, they visited each of my families. After this past year, rain is a scary thing in the Mole. To see a group of drenched missionaries show up to play despit
e the rain replaced the fear with laughter. Not only did the group attend Special Needs School, but they brought along tons of new supplies and toys. The Youth Group completed their first study and celebrated with a bingo day complete with snacks and prizes. The team even helped out in the clinic where they did everything from taking blood pressures and counting pills to cleaning out ears and holding babies! Bethany held the second annual sign language class for David and his family, where David signed his first word! For a whole week, my families were poured into by someone other than me, the kids in the orphanage had extra arms to run into, and Malaya and I had more people to beat at cards.
Every free minute they had they spent loving on those who call NWHCM home. I sat back and watched as they held and played with those I love, as their hearts broke for those mine breaks for, and as they encouraged not just those I serve, but me as well. And the best part – I got to go around campus and town introducing these awesome people as “my friends.”
Thank you Lisa, Rob, Emma, Jamie, Michael, Bethany, Abbey, Taylor, and Addison for loving me so well!
Lordjina is two years old and first came to our clinic in October. This child is super sassy, and I fell in love with her instantly. Lordjina could not flex her feet and could not stand. Not knowing how to best help her, we kept her information and she left our clinic.
I showed her photo to Autumn, an occupational therapist who works alongside the mission, and she encouraged me to bring her to STAND in Port-de-Paix. However, I would have to wait until January!
January finally came. I worked with Autumn to set up the appointment and made all the travel arrangements before presenting the idea to Lordjina’s mother. I did not want to get her hopes up in case we could not work it out or find funding. So many people came together to make the trip possible – Autumn made the appointment, Jody helped arrange a truck, Caitlin helped me plan finances, and Fresnel gave us a place to sleep! When I finally sat down with Lordjina and her mother again to present my idea one week before planned departure, her mother cried. She was so overwhelmed that so many people who do not even know her came together for her child. She has gone to many clinics, asked many people for help, and said that she ran out of people to ask. Of course she agreed to the travel and we planned to go together the next week.
When we finally were ready to leave and sat waiting for the truck, both of us were pretty anxious. We hardly knew each other, were about to travel together, and there were no promises of how STAND would be able to help. We made small talk and loved on Lordjina together to pass the time.
Did I mention Tom Snivley was here? He was, and not really knowing what he was getting into, he was about to travel with us!
We made the four hour tap-tap ride to Port-de-Paix, with Tom and Lordjina in the front and me and her mother in the back. By the time we got there, I made a new friend and so did Tom! Lordjina absolutely LOVES him.
That night while Lordjina’s mother and I talked before bed, she made a comment. She looked at me and said, “You love people a lot. You love all people.” I was caught off guard. I told her that I love all people because that is what Jesus did. She just shook her head and said that not everyone is like that. She explained that after Lordjina was born, her father left them because the child was not normal. Lordjina’s mother has been left raising 3 girls alone.
My prayer for this trip then changed. I was no longer praying for Lordjina to get help to be able to stand, but for God’s love to be shown to this family.
The next day we went to STAND. We were all shocked when within the first 20 minutes after arrival we were told Lordjina’s feet could be fixed with a simple surgery that next morning at the mission. We spent the rest of the day making equipment and fitting braces to her legs to be used after surgery. (Not to brag, but it turns out I have some duct tape skills.) The family was educated and given so many resources!
The next morning at the mission, the family met the visiting surgery team. They were cared for and prayed over as they got ready for surgery. Autumn performed a Achilies tendon release, and they received excellent loving care. Tom and I stayed with them every step of the way!
When we were getting ready for them to leave, Tom was playing with Lordjina, a nurse was double checking they had what they needed, and Lordjina’s mom looked at me and said, “You are not the only one who loves like Jesus.” SCORE – Prayer answered!!
Saying goodbye to this family, not knowing when I will see them again was very hard. Pretty sure Tom would have kept this little girl if he could have! Hopefully when they come back to St. Louis for therapy I will be able to visit. I cannot wait to see this girl walk!!!
This trip could not have been possible without God. He got so many people working together. Each staff member, the STAND employees, the surgery team at NWHCM, and the generous ones who donated to make this trip possible. What are the chances that the day we plan to go to STAND, Tom is here to make Lordjina laugh and take away her fear, and there is currently a team in St. Louis allowing us to do surgery the very next day? Only with God!
STAND Haiti Project – http://www.standhaitiproject.org/
Not going to lie, November was a hard month for the Mole. With all of the rain, came even more destruction. Homes were constantly wet and in need of repair. The roads were so bad, there was a time it was impossible to get goods in and out of the town. Resources were hard to come by, and food was expensive. On top of it all, there was a somewhat unspoken fear. My friends would smile and remind me that everything is in God’s hands. Yet, every time the rain started to fall, you could see their fear. What would it be this time?
My families who once prayed for education and possibilities for their children, started to only pray for the necessities – feeding their family, a roof over their heads, and clean water.
For me, December usually marks the beginning of the Christmas season. This year, I was looking at the beginning of December as something entirely different – The end of the rainy season.
Desperate to help spread a little comfort, lend a little help, and to steer thoughts away from the last month and onto some Christmas Joy, I decided to give gifts early to the outreach program. The plan was to purchase a large bag of groceries for each family in the program, top it off with a few small toys for the kids, and deliver it unexpectedly to each door.
What I thought would be just sharing a little joy with my families turned out to involve so many others!
First the kitchen ladies helped me come up with a grocery list. They were extra helpful and even tailored each list to match the dietary needs of the individual kids.
Then Mama Gigi went out and found me nice market bags to deliver the food in!
I knew we could never carry all of this food by ourselves, so I asked Jose to help by driving the Polaris – and of course, the Castillo kids never miss out on a car ride. We were quite the sight pulling up to Vanise’s little store with a car full of kids. The boys and Rosie helped read off the list and carry everything to the car. They even ran back and forth across the street picking up extra things from neighboring businesses.
After we had everything we needed, we returned home to sort everything out. Then Malaya stepped in to help because hardly an organizational task happens on campus that she’s not apart of!
Then the fun part of delivering! It took the whole week, some by hand and some by car. Just when I thought everyone possible had helped me, Doumy, Isebelle, and Asher helped with the last two bags.
I absolutely loved giving each bag away. Without even knowing what was in them – JOY & THANKSGIVING beamed from their faces. It was exactly what I hoped for – a positive moment – a tangible reminder of God’s goodness – something small to snap each family away from the harsh reality that was last month.
I knew it would mean a lot to me & these precious families God has placed me in. What I didn’t expect, was how God would take such a simple plan and use it to bring so many people together…..the joy of giving….
After being in the states for two months, I was eager to get back to the Mole and reconnect with the people I have come to love. I was especially longing to see my buddy, Mack-Edens. Friends and family in the states have heard his name and care about him as well, so I was able to bring back diapers, food, toys and clothes all with him in mind. However, within the first few days of being back, I went to his house only to be told by a neighbor that his family had gone to Port au Prince two months prior and had not returned. Not going to lie – I was bummed.
Not knowing whether or not Mack-Edens would return, I stored his new things safely in my room in the hopes that he would one day use them.
Then, after the hurricane as I was visiting all the families in my program to check that they were okay, I received word that Mack-Edens had died. I did not want to believe it. I also know that you cannot always trust what you hear and went to another source who reported that she too heard it was true. I spent the remainder of the afternoon being led all over the mountain side to home after home – all significantly damaged. People everywhere wanted me to pray with them. I did the best I could, but all I could think about was Mack-Edens. Still not wanting to believe he was truly gone, I asked to visit the home of Mack’s grandmother.
Having never met his grandma before, it was a little odd showing up at her door, offering my sympathies for the hurricane’s destruction, and asking if what I heard was true. To my relief, she too had heard from people in town that Mack-Edens was dead, HOWEVER, she informed me that she herself did not know the rumor to be true because Mack-Edens parents do not have a phone and she had not heard from them directly. Part of me was ecstatic for this change in information, yet I was afraid to get my hopes up.
Three weeks passed of me praying for Mack-Edens, with no real information about his wellness. I kept my fears to myself as I did not want to upset anyone. I felt like I could not talk to anyone about it because so many of my friends and even my mom have come to know Mack. It would have been too horrible to upset them for only a rumor.
I was helping a friend wash clothes in the river last week, and out of the blue someone approached me with a huge smile. I had to do a double-take as I hardly recognized Mack’s mother! She informed me that her, her husband, AND MACK-EDENS arrived back in the Mole the previous day!
I am happy to report that my little buddy is alive and well! He spent close to 3 months sick in PAP but is back, healthy, and living with his grandmother (his own home was taken away by the hurricane while they were away).
We received word Saturday night that Hurricane Matthew was on its way. On Sunday morning, most of the congregation had no idea what was coming! After informing our church, we sent people out into town and to the fishing villages to warn everybody and give them time to prepare. We even paid for an announcement to be made on the radio.
Then the preparations began. This included brining inside anything that could blow away, buying extra food, and filling all our containers with drinking water. We picked things up off the floor in case of flooding and boarded windows. We even moved our kids to the dorm above the clinic thinking it would be drier. Then there was nothing left to do but wait. We were confident that we were as prepared as we could be. Waiting for the storm to hit seemed to drag for days on end. An overwhelming amount of messages were coming in from concerned family and friends, but we had no news to share. To try and keep busy, some friends and I ran around campus in the pouring rain to get everything needed to show the kids a movie. That joy only lasted about 10 minutes as the power kept cutting in and out. Just when I started thinking that maybe the worst missed us and we were going to get away with just some rain, the hurricane rolled in.
I sat cooped up inside, as it was not safe to be out, and again waited. I waited while listening to the rain pound on the roof and the wind tearing through campus. It was such a helpless feeling. Just sitting and praying for my tiny town as the hurricane ripped through it – realizing that all the preparations in the world would not be enough for many of my Haitian friends and families. I passed the time trying not to dwell on the disaster happening outside. I played cards, napped, and wore a fake smile to not scare the kids around me, all while praying that the super slow storm would pick up and leave us alone. Many times throughout the night, I thought the storm was letting up, only to have it come raging back again.
When the storm finally passed, we went into town to assess the damages along with many others in the community. This is how I spent the next few days. I walked all over town and into the mountain checking on friends. Some people lost animals and belongings while others lost walls and roofs. Some families returned home to find their home was no longer there, and some only flooded. As I visited each home, I thought that I could pray with them and offer some kind of encouragement. What I soon realized is that I was learning more from them than they were from me. My friends are resilient! My friends persevere! My friends trust in the lord! This is the way it is here. Disaster struck and as soon as it was over, everyone started putting their lives back together. If you didn’t stop by within those first two days after the storm, you would have no idea the damage left behind. They already cleaned it up. They are already rebuilding.
One family I visited had all the debris and ruin piled up to burn in the corner of the yard only two days after the storm. Their home flooded and they had everything washed and hung up to dry. The family wasn’t sitting there angry or upset but instead said they prayed as a family and got to work.
I came across another friend sitting on a porch. I had just come from seeing her own house that sits right on the bay. When the water raised, it took out her walls and the roof came crashing in. I had heard that she lost all of her documents and most of her belongings out to sea. I asked her what her plan was from here. She preceded to tell me of her various options, yet ended saying she will go wherever the Lord wants her to.
In one more instance, we were on our way to visit a friend and she greeted us on the way to what was once her house. When she saw me she threw her arms around me and gave me the biggest hug. Then she pulled back and said, “We can go to my house, but it is all broken.” Then she smiled wide. I was taken aback and couldn’t help but ask her why she seemed happy and her response was so simple. “Because I’m not dead!” I laughed with her and she explained that during the storm, she was sure God was going to take her and her family then and there, but her whole family is alive and for that she is thankful.
We are still dealing with the effects of hurricane Matthew, and I imagine it will take a bit to get everyone back on their feet. However, we can put our trust in our God, and we know he will provide. Many families will be able to help themselves, and others will do their best. If you would like to help a family here in the Mole recover from storm, please click the link below.
Mack-Edens is a two year old boy with special needs living in the Mole. Upon my return this summer, I learned that our staff was concerned for his life. He wasn’t sick, his condition wasn’t getting any worse, his mother was just exhausted. I struggled to wrap my head around how you can be too tired and worn out to care for your child – to a point that you are asking others to take him away.
I went to visit him and his family. When there, his mother could not look me in the eye. She was clearly embarrassed and stressed. On my way home, I decided that the best way I could help at this time would be to give his mother a break. Throughout the next week, Tezzie helped me get all the information and supplies I would need to take Mack-Edens overnight. We found out what he eats and how he sleeps, and we found diapers and formula. By the time I was ready to present my idea to his mom, I was super excited. Who doesn’t want to keep an adorable baby overnight?!
When I went to ask permission from Mack-Edens’s parents, it could not have gone better. His mother actually looked me in the eye and smiled hearing that I wanted to help her in this way. She practically ran to tell her husband, and they both thanked me repeatedly.
When Mack-Edens arrived for his first sleepover, our kitchen staff loved all over him. They made sure to make food his mom said he could eat, and even took turns holding him. When dinner was ready, they served him is own portion of rice and went out of their way to find the smallest spoon we have.
From that point, the sleepover went downhill. Feeding Mack-Edens was far more challenging than I thought it would be. I ended up feeding him with my fingers a few grains of rice at a time. Then the generator decided that this would be a lovely time to catch on fire, leaving us all in the dark. And if you’ve ever seen rural Haiti at night with no power, you know it is as dark as dark can get! We relocated to my room where I finished feeding him by lantern light. It took two hours to feed him that night, a few grains of rice at a time, and I do not even think he actually ate that much.
I started to get a little grumpy. It was clearly the worse night ever to offer a sleepover! We were in the dark, the fans were not running so it was super hot, and I didn’t have any batteries charged! Then I remembered. At Mack-Edens’s house there is no power. They have no fans. They have no lights. His mom cares for him in the dark and in the Haiti heat EVERY NIGHT! Mack-Edens has all kinds of muscle spasms and struggles to stay comfortable. His mom warned me that sometimes she has to hold him all night long. This was one of those nights. He woke up every few hours – if he even lasted that long – and we would reposition and try to sleep more. The power eventually came on again, and I was more comfortable, but I could not stop thinking of Mack-Edens’s parents and how they care for this child every day.
When I dropped off Mack-Edens the next morning, I was not planning on offering again. His mom clearly cares for him better than me. Then, as I gave him back, his mother thanked me and smiled. She already seemed so much more relaxed than before. I bet that was the first full night of sleep she has had since he was born! How could I not help this lady out?! I offered again, and vowed to be better prepared the next week.
The day of the next sleepover I was prepared. I found a blender for his food, had everything I needed sitting out, and made sure to charge my batteries (just in case of another fire).
This time, so much help showed up at my door. Rosie came to hold him. Miss Beth stopped by with a baby bottle, cute onesies, and all kinds of advice!
For dinner, we put his rice and fish sauce and some water into the blender and made a lovely substance Rosie and I like to call “fishy-rice-goo.” It smelled horrible, but Mack-Edens ate this drinkable dinner far better than the week before! We gave him a bath, and were all set for what I thought would be a far better night. The easy evening ended there. Mack-Edens did not feel so great that night, and only slept for 4 hours. We spent the night pacing, singing, humming, and praying for dear Jesus to put the kid asleep!
Sleepovers are not super easy, but they are doable. I take a whole day to recover after one, but I am well aware that his mom does not have that option. I had Rosie, Miss Beth, and the kitchen staff, but I know his parents are on their own with no help from neighbors or family. His mother is exhausted, and I now understand! She is raising a severely handicapped child in a village with little to no resources. More than that, she is lacking encouragement! Not again, will I let a day go by without praying for this family. These parents are rockstars!
This first month back in Haiti has flown by! It started with intern training at our St. Louis campus. This year instead of participating I was able to lead. They put me in charge of the games and fun, so you can just imagine how crazy it got. I loved getting to know the 6 ladies who are dedicating their summer to ministry in Haiti. It’s hard to not be inspired by their passion and energy. Although it was a blast, I was just dying to get back to my Mole home!
I thought that when I got back to the Mole I would just pick up where I left off and that it would be easy to jump back into the swing of things. It’s actually been pretty hard. When I got back, I received news that one of my students was at the hospital and not doing well. I was also sad to hear that another student’s care had declined so much and the mom was tired & giving up.
In moments like these, when I feel completely helpless and unprepared, God always makes Himself known. I am so thankful for all the little moments that have popped up and encouraged me along the way. It is truly God’s hand at work and not my own.
– I did not have to ask, but three of our core staff women went with me to visit Elveson when he was at his worst.
– I was overwhelmed at hearing the concern for Mack-Edens, yet it showed me how invested our staff is to take notice and address it.
-When I worried whether I could find the needed meds quick enough, I found a whole box that had come in while I was out.
-When it was so hot I wondered if anyone valued class enough to venture out, God blessed us with the best class period yet.
-When I felt like crying and when I wondered why I’m here AND what on earth God was thinking, I got random messages of encouragement from home.
Some days I may be weak, but our God is not! He continues to be my source of strength. Though at times I may doubt – He constantly shows me that He has me right where He needs me.
Please pray that the mothers in our program learn to trust God and find encouragement in His truths, for the safety and health of our children, and that by pouring into these families the community will see God’s hand at work.