Saturday, June 22, 2013

First off – I know it’s been awhile.  We’re not sure if this blog will continue or not but either way wanted to have some sort of closure on our official site with regards to our time in Haiti and now new beginning back here in the states.

Today is my 33rd birthday (Chris) and I wanted to thank everyone for your kind messages on facebook and other means.  For anyone living in the twin cities you know the past few days have been interesting in terms of weather including last nights huge storm which came quickly and has left us along with about 300,000 other people without power.  Driving around Minneapolis today has been a series of detours around downed trees:

And avoiding pot holes:

Anyway, I wanted to give a quick update on where we are now after a series of moves and unexpected changes.

After we resigned from ReachGlobal in early February we returned to Haiti to try to see where God would have us next.  We spent some time with a few other organization we thought about joining, but ended up making the difficult choice to come back here to Minnesota.  We then spent the past few months staying with different folks (thanks Millers, Ehlebrachts and my parents!) looking for housing, jobs and some stability.  

By God’s grace and the help and prayers from you all we have landed very close to where we used to live.  We got an apartment in a building two blocks from our old house and I just signed a contract to teach science at Hope Academy next year.  We have had lots of random connections to Hope throughout our life here in Minneapolis beginning with our very first apartment we had after getting married over on 13th and Lake – the old Hope school location.  Needless to say we are excited about not only teaching there but having at least one of our kids go to school there (Luke started in April – the girls aren’t sure if they want to stay in homeschool or not).

Sara has resumed her consultant work and is helping us get settled in our new place, and the girls continue in their constantly moving home school.  Luke is enjoying his new school and making new friends as he reconnects with old ones.  

Finally, we wanted to say again how grateful we are to all of you for your prayers and support for us during not only our initial transition but this very unexpected one in the past months.  We thank God daily for you and all that you have done.  We hope to connect in person with you in the coming months as we continue to settle in and see what God has in store for us in Minneapolis.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lifrane and Cinderella: Hope for Restaveks

  Restavek is the Haitian culturally acceptable solution to child welfare.  It means literally "to live with" and ranges anywhere from benevolent foster care to child slavery.  Generally restaveks fall somewhere in the middle, finding themselves in an indentured servitude situation.

A while back I blogged about Lifrane a child I knew from several years back.  At the time that I blogged Lifrane was living as a restavek.  However, currently, he is back with his parents in Seguin.  Praise the Lord they are reunited.  Here is updates my sister wrote about on her blog regarding his sister Moudline and the resolution of the story.

Also a while back I blogged about Cinderella, our neighbor girl. I've never given an update on her story on my blog.  Living next to Cinderella was extremely difficult. Chris and I struggled with knowing the best way to care for her.  We decided the most effective approach would be to draw closer to her guardians, allow our home to be a safe haven for her, if only for an hour a day, and try to learn as much as we could about her situation.  There were a few very difficult days when we walked the fine moral line of neighborly care vs. intervention.  I cared for her deeply and only through constant prayer was I able to love her without "rescuing" her prematurely.  At some point in late November Cinderella was simply gone.  The story we were told was that her mother had died and she had traveled to Cap Haitian to be with her family for the funeral.  We kept hearing she would return but as of early March she hadn't returned.  We weren't given sufficient time to learn more of her story.  But we were given sufficient time for our hearts to swell with care and concern for her.

The restavek situation in Haiti is complex but we were given the privilege to build a relationship with an organization addressing the complex problem in a culturally sensitive and effective manner.
Respire Haiti
Here's an excerpt from their website:

Respire Haiti’s route for ending the Restavek crisis is through education and relationship.  The reality that Respire Haiti has faced is that if we try to immediately remove every child from the situation they are in, we are just increasing the problem.  The families and caregivers with Restaveks will just find another child to serve them.  Instead, we have chosen to raise awareness about the Restavek situation in Haiti and the United States and have chosen to educate our community about this situation.  Through educating Gressier about the Restavek Situation and using scripture and God’s love for children, we are able to create a better awareness of equality for these children and essentially CHANGE the mentality of our community.  Through establishing a relationship with the people in Gressier who are involved in the culturally accepted practice of Restavek we are given a voice that is heard.

Many of our supporters have expressed interest in how they can effectively help end child slavery in Haiti.  Many supporters have also expressed interest in supporting a child.  I would highly recommend Respire Haiti as a place to donate funds or sponsor a child.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Maria's Story - Are Good Intentions Enough?

I want to be very clear in saying that Maria is a fictional character.  She is the combination of countless Haitian girls, not based on one single story.  I want to be sure to protect the identity of all those involved by telling this story through a fictional character.  Because, again, I believe that the motivations of all involved may be quite pure, yet I believe that great injustice is being done to the thousands of Maria's in Haiti and to their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers.

Maria was born just days before the earthquake of 2010.  She was a healthy infant born into a loving family with a loving mother and father, sister and brother, living in poverty in Gressier, Haiti.  The earthquake stripped her family of their home.  Maria's parents attempted to find shelter anywhere they could.  Tents hadn't arrived in Gressier yet with the main road from Port au Prince to Gressier being impassable.  Maria's parents had moved to Gressier a few years before the quake in search of work in a city center and didn't live near their families in the rural areas anymore. They were alone, homeless, and struggling to survive.  Maria's parents built a stick shelter with a tin roof and sheets hung for walls.

Maria's mother, Linda was struggling.  After the trauma of the earthquake, with little access to water or enough calories, and no support from family and friends, Linda's milk dried up.  With no breast milk and insufficient money for formula, Linda could no longer provide Maria with nourishment.  Maria, within a few days became critically malnourished.  Maria's mother heard of an orphanage in the area.  It had also been effected by the earthquake and was struggling with sub-par shelters for the children.  However, the orphanage did have funds for formula and Maria's mother knew giving her child to the orphanage would mean saving her life.  In the trauma and confusion in the days and weeks after the earthquake Maria was given to the orphanage. The orphanage offered no counseling, no needs assessment, no support for Linda to keep her own child, no connections to other organizations that could meet Linda's needs in the community.  Linda believed giving Maria to the orphanage was her only option and a temporary solution.

Just a few weeks after the earthquake the country was flooded with short-term teams of individuals coming to provide relief.  For many of the short-term team members it was their first experience in Haiti.  Not knowing the country before the earthquake made the devastation after the quake seem even far greater than the atrocity that it was. Hearts were stirred. Cynthia from a southern state in the US visited the orphanage where Maria's was being cared for.  She held baby Maria just 4 weeks after her birth.

She fell in love.  The orphanage director told Cynthia she was welcome to start the adoption process with any child she wanted from her orphanage.  Cynthia chose Maria.  As Cynthia started the long and extremely expensive process of international adoption in the states, a different group of short term team members helped Linda and her family to rebuild their lives.  They provided the family with a new home and soon after Maria's father found work.

Linda loves Maria.  Cynthia loves Maria.

Linda's hears of the adoption and starts to comprehend the paperwork she's done has allowed for Maria to be adopted out of the country.  Linda's heart breaks with the realization of what she has done.
Cynthia longs to bring Maria home.  She yearns for the moment they will be reunited again.  She believes she is doing the will of the Lord.  But sometimes she wonders if this is really what is best for Maria and for Linda.  The doubts are quickly squelched realizing the $16,000 she has already sunk into the process.  And she loves Maria.  She will provide her with a home not riddled by the uncertainty of poverty.

It happens everyday in countries all over the world.
I pray for family reconciliation for all the Maria's of the world, for empowerment of all the Linda's of the world.  I pray for courage for the Cynthia's of the world.
Sometimes I simply do not think good intentions are enough.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Baby Levi - Son of a Voodoo Priest

My last post wasn't received altogether very well, as I assumed would be the case.  So I take a break from highlighting the harm of some foreign-run orphanages to highlighting the safe haven some can be.  Baby Levi's story shows the need for such a safe haven.

Baby Levi was first introduced to the foreign community at a health care clinic.  He was a few months old and very malnourished.  Baby Levi's mother had passed away and his father brought him to the American run clinic occasionally for formula.  However, baby Levi didn't gain sufficient weight, grew very weak, and was near death at his 8-month appointment.  He only weighed 8 pounds and was suffering from pneumonia.  The clinic staff suggested that baby Levi stay in the care of a small, American-run orphan care home for a few months, to gain strength.  The staff suggested that baby Levi stay just long enough to thrive and then be returned to his family.

Baby Levi's father showed up at the orphan care home with not only Levi but also his 6 year old sister Beth and 11 year old brother Philip.  Edith, the home director, spoke with the father, explaining that she was only to care for Levi for a short time.  The father insisted on her taking all 3 children.  Edith simply didn't have room for Philip, realized Beth looked quite malnourished herself, and so made the decision to take Levi and Beth into the home.  However she stressed she wanted the father to visit weekly and that the intent was still to reunite the family after a few months.

The Haitian staff were quite leery of the father visiting.  They were actually quite leery of Edith keeping Levi and Beth in her care.  After much conversation the horrific story was revealed.  Apparently, Levi's father was suspected of murdering his wife shortly after Levi's birth and then subsequently murdering his oldest daughter after discovering she was pregnant.  The community is terrified of this man as he is regarded as a very powerful Voodoo witch doctor in the area.  The community, crippled by fear, chose not to turn the man over to the police. 

Edith and the other foreigners in her circle of friends grieved, and still do grieve for poor Philip.  We all pray that he is safe.  That God is protecting him from physical harm as well as spiritual harm.  We pray that he is protected from becoming the next witch doctor in the community as will probably be expected of him.  I still cry interceding tears on his behalf, though I've never met him. 

There is good news in all this.  Baby Levi and his sister Beth have found a safe haven.  Baby Levi, after months of one-on-one care with a Haitian nanny and plenty of medical exams is doing well.  I'm not certain how much he weighs now.  But I held him last week and he is a strong guy.  He's about 13 months now and cruising around.  He's so strong, and he's safe, and he's loved.  Levi and Beth aren't safe in their biological home and culturally their father is so feared that the community won't care for them.  They need a forever family.  Now's not the time for Haitian adoptions.  But one day, it is my prayer that they will be adopted into a forever family.  And I'm so thankful for Edith, her commitment to promoting attachment between nannies and children, and her commitment to Levi and Beth and the other 20 children in her care.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ezra's Story - Twice Abandoned

Names are changed in this story of baby Ezra.  And to be quite fair to those reading, I don't know all the details of this story.  I'm quite certain I do not have them all correct.  Furthermore, I am quite certain the intentions of all involved were good or at least not malicious.  

Baby Ezra is the third child born to his mother, Sophie.  I'm not sure of the details of Sophie's life, where she lives, if she's married, etc.  But at the time of Ezra's birth Sophie was taking care of her older two children in her home. Sophie had heard of an orphanage in her area run by foreigners.  After meeting with the orphanage director Sophie chose to give birth to her third child at the orphanage.  Sophie didn't receive any crisis pregnancy counseling, parenting classes, or official intake procedure.  Sophie gave birth to her third child at the orphanage without trained medical professionals or midwifes present.  Baby Ezra entered into the world, healthy and strong.  After spending a couple days at the orphanage Sophie chose to head home to care for her older two girls, leaving baby Ezra in the care of the orphanage.

The orphanage owner, short on staff and potentially short on funding chose not to hire a Haitian nanny for baby Ezra but instead put him in the care of an American volunteer in her 20's, Leila.  Leila quickly bonded with sweet baby Ezra and after a few months decided she wanted to adopt him.  However, according to the current Haitian adoption laws she wouldn't be eligible to adopt Ezra for another decade, until turning 35.  However, she kept him in her care.

After some time went by Sophie came to check on baby Ezra.  He had bonded with Leila and was doing well.  As Leila chatted with Sophie she was annoyed by Sophie's immaturity, indecisive nature, and seemingly careless parenting of Ezra's sister, Sara.  Leila chatted with Sophie and they decided to have Leila take legal guardianship of both Ezra and Sara.  Ezra was no longer in the guardianship of the orphanage and Sara was no longer with her mother.  Leila took both in her care and planned and hoped to adopt both.

Several months later, 10 months after Ezra's birth, Leila was worn down.  She had very little funding from donors stateside, was single parenting two young children, and was living in a foreign country filled with daily frustrations.  She got very ill with a tropical infection and decided to fly to the states to recover at home, leaving Sara and Ezra in the care of her friends. While stateside she decided that though she felt God had called her to care for those children that God was calling her now to return to the states without them.  Once she felt a bit better Leila returned to Haiti for a brief few day visit to find homes for Ezra and Sara.  Sara went home with Sophie and Ezra returned to the orphanage.  Leila returned to the States.  Ezra and Sara were twice abandoned.

Months later Sophie stopped by the orphanage to check on baby Ezra.  After discussions with the orphanage director Sophie took Ezra home.  Ezra currently is living with his mother and two sisters.  For now.  In times of trouble, that are certain to come, Sophie knows the ease of abandoning her children for a time, just to fetch them later.  Without counseling and parenting skills she may choose that option later.  Without orphanage directors with clear intake procedures, policies, and discernment that may continue to be an option for Sophie.

Unfortunately this situation is not unique.  Orphanages all over the world operate separate from the social services departments in their country.  Here is an interesting article that pulls together a lot of information in one place on different countries and is worth the read.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Least of These

We are back in Minneapolis.  I (Sara) am having a particularly difficult time reentering society here.  There are many unknowns ahead of us, including housing, vehicles, schools, jobs, most things really.  But my reentry difficulties stem from something quite different.  My heart is shattered by what I experienced in Haiti.  Shattered by the injustice, harm, and exploitation of Haitian children.

I am broken. I am an imperfect person, a sinner, and currently an emotional disaster.  This following series of posts is my current reflections and processing of what I've seen and experienced. And I am fully aware that my emotions are raw and my perceptions may need altered as I move through this transitional time.  It is my intent to simply tell the stories of children that I encountered in Haiti.  Some wounded by fellow Haitians, some cast aside by their culture, some harmed by well-intentioned Americans, and some harmed by ill-intentioned Americans.  
But the common theme is stories of vulnerable children.

I am fully aware that blogs with pictures are attractive to readers.  There will be no pictures in this current series of posts.  Why?  Because I want to do all I can to protect vulnerable children. In an age of digital permanence I want to be very careful to not have pictures, names, and stories posted of the children already in such vulnerable positions.  I plan to change the names of those involved as well.

The Least of These
Matthew 25:34-40
"The the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the LEAST OF THESE brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

I'm not a theologian.  And I suppose I need to do a lot more study on this passage before making too many conclusions.  I think this is a powerful passage and I also think this is a passage, when taken out of context, that can cause quite a bit of harm.  I think a lot of well-intentioned Americans with good motivations seek to 1) identify the "least of these", 2) identify what "they" need, 3) fulfill that need.  The danger lies in arrogance and pride, that I myself and most Americans struggle with.  The arrogance to believe we can identify "others" as the "least of these".  The arrogance to believe we can identify what "they" need.  The arrogance to believe we can fulfill that need by the simplest of means without seeking true understanding.

So in these following posts I am not questioning the motives of those involved.  And I am aware, that I too, at many times in my life may have caused harm when my intentions were good.  My heart just aches for the children who are so deeply hurt by misinformed people.  My heart hurts for those wee ones and I just want to give them a voice.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Breaking the Silence

We've been pretty quiet lately, purposefully.  Yet that is not our common state.

We value authenticity and yet we also value reconciliation, harmony, and respectful communication.

January was month full of prayer, counsel, and communication while we sought wisdom as to how to proceed with our relationship with ReachGlobal.  After much reflection and wise counsel we chose to resign from our position as missionaries with ReachGlobal Haiti.

We recently spend a week interviewing with a few different organizations in Haiti that we admire and respect.  While we received a couple offers, after more reflection we felt the Lord leading us back to Minneapolis.  And so we will return on March 5th.

Our hearts our heavy.  We love Haiti.  We love Haitians.  We love Haitian Creole and our ability to learn language (especially Luke's!).  We love this place and will miss it very, very much.

What's next?  We don't know.  But there are a few things that we do know, that we cling to...

Our God is Good
Our God Sovereign
Our Family is Missional

We have no clue what that looks like a few months from now, or really even next week for that matter.
We value your prayers.  And your encouraging words sustain us.
Thank you for continuing on this crazy journey with us.