Monday, January 23, 2017

Catch Up! (Not our choice)

We apologize for the hiatus that our blog was on for the last few days.  We had no choice in the matter - we were without internet.  We had wifi from Hope House but no Internet coming in.  But while we had no internet, we had a lot of electricity so we've realized we can't have it all in Haiti.

Reflecting back to Friday, we started the morning with the kindergarten classes during their morning opening.  This is always a highlight for the servant teams.  They were dressed in their gym uniforms and ready to play!  Following the school opening, we literally trekked out into the country for our first VBS of this trip.  Those riding in the van had to walk a quarter mile to the village church and leave the van behind because there was a stream that could be passed in the truck, not the van.  It would have bottomed out the van.  Those of us in the truck (Pat, Sarah, Sarah, and Dave) went for a rollercoaster ride as we forded the stream that had been filled in with branches to make a path for us.  Once again, VBS was a huge success.  We shared the Word of God through the story of the Good Samaritan, acting it out for the children and then having them act it out.  We shared crafts, as well as sports ministry with a parachute, soccer, and wiffle ball.  The highlight of the VBS was to see the kids act out the same story that we acted out.  The good news is that the kids were familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan.  We were joined by Pierre, Benson, Wesley, Cherie, and Jennifer who acted as our translators.  They are amazing!  We then returned to Hope House for a significant amount of work, continuing to assemble the cabinets and painting the dining room and kitchen.

Saturday we headed to Little Children of Jesus which is always an emotional visit with highs and lows.  It's never easy but always a blessing.  During this visit, we were able to not only experience time with the kids but we also helped with feeding the kids, cutting their nails, cleaning, mopping, changing sheets, and picking up trash on the grounds.  The culmination of our visit was a vigorous balloon volleyball game in the dining area.  Some of our team members tried their hand at making balloon animals.  The quality of our animals was not a key to having fun (sorry, Paul, we didn't live up to your standards).  Following our visit to LCJ, we headed back to Hope House for lunch and then went to the metal works village.  It's an adventurous visit with haggling with the artisans for artwork.  We always manage to leave with many treasures.  And yes, we returned back to Hope House to do more work on our cabinets and a second coat on the kitchen/dining room.  The night ended with a rousing game of Spoons played by Sarah F., Sarah M., Chris, Greer, Pat, and Dave.  Dave quickly got out of the game and after a few more rounds, Chris and Sarah F. tied as the winners.  Then we moved on to Uno.  We played 3 games - Dave won the first two and we didn't want to end on that note so we decided to play one more round.  Two hours later, Sarah F. was the victor.  We knew that we hadn't been playing with a full deck (so true on many levels) but didn't realize we were 28 cards short!  We have since remedied the situation!

Sunday we were able to experience the church that Rob and Trish go to in Port-au-Prince.  It's a Haitian church but the service is in English.  Many of us have enjoyed the services of Haitian churches in the past but this year we were able to participate more since it was in English.  As always, the singing was outstanding.  It's our Joy Service on steroids.  :)  Following church we the privilege to ride up the mountain and have lunch at the Observatorie restaurant which provides a panoramic view of Port-au-Prince.  Besides being at least 10 degrees cooler, the views at 3500 feet were magnificent.  The meals were pretty good but we were definitely on Haitian time.  No hurry... We were there at least three hours.  We were thankful for the fellowship during lunch but we are very aware that 99% of Haitians will never enjoy what we experienced.  We continue to pray for opportunity and prosperity for Haiti.  On our way back to Hope House we stopped at Giant Foods - not "our" Giant like in Northern Virginia.  We stocked up on coffee, vanilla, rum, and other goodies.  And yes, we returned to Hope House where some worked until 10 p.m. and others worked til midnight.  The goal was to have at least two cabinets completed so we could deliver them to the school on Monday.

TODAY!  We went for our second VBS this morning and it happened to be one that we went to last year.  The good news is that the fields we used last year for sports ministry are now fields of beans.  The bad news is that sports ministry did not take place.  We did manage to do the parachute game, play London Bridges, and Duck Duck Goose which for some of the team hadn't been played in 40 years.  We won't name names!  But again, we had the same wonderful experience this time as we did on Friday with a lot of enthusiasm, participation, and a lot of sharing.  Some of us even got to hold some babies!  Following VBS we returned to Village of Hope School where we enjoyed a lunch of beans and rice or rice and beans.  All the men in this group were extremely happy to have six strapping young men to carry the cabinets from the truck up to the school classrooms.  A huge disappointment is that no one except Sarah F. was able to meet with the students that are sponsored by members of our group.  She passed him on the walk up to the school and recognized him. Thanks to Pierre, they were able to chat for a few minutes.  We returned to Hope House with Richard, Dave, Greer, and Scott in the back of the truck, singing and playing instruments with our translators.  The rest of us were jealous we had stayed in the van!  When we got back to the compound, the rest of the doors were put on the cabinets.

As always, our team has been amazing this week.  We have gelled really well and had fun together along with doing excellent work.  We are all thankful for these experiences and can't wait to share our experiences with others.  We are especially grateful to Rob and Trish for their leadership and guidance.  They are truly amazing, humble servants.

For anyone following the blog, we encourage you to consider joining us on our servant trip in the future or joining another opportunity to serve.  You will get back more than you give!  "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"  Acts 20:35


VBS this morning - Pat surrounded by friends

Kindergarten Opening on Friday

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hit the Wall!

Today was a full day of servant tasks primarily building cabinets for the teachers at Village of Hope School and painting the dining room and kitchen (a task unknown to us prior to arriving) at Hope House.  We split into teams with seven folks doing cabinets and five folks doing the painting.  As usual, the teams were fluid and many of us did several different tasks throughout the day.  We started the work day at 9:00 a.m. and finished at 5:30.  The plan is to complete seven cabinet assemblies.  We were able to accomplish building two full cabinets outfitted with shelves and have varnished both along with 3/4 of the shelves.  A few people are building the outer shells of the cabinets, some are making the centers, and others did the bases on which the cabinets sit.  We came up with a creative way to varnish the shelves for the cabinets by hanging them from the clothesline (the Haitians were perplexed by this and probably thinking, "what are these Americans doing?")

The painting crew completed the dining room - tearing it down, painting it a beautiful turquoise, and putting it back together.  As of the end of the day, the painting crew had primed and put the first coat of a bright yellow on the dining room.  We are always amazed at how much endurance and strength God gives us allowing us to get more done than we think we will.  And of course, Dave photographed every moment of the day.  He says he still has room for 7500 more pictures!

Following dinner, we made 125 peanut butter sandwiches for tomorrow's VBS and 250 goodie bags - 125 of which will be shared tomorrow at VBS with the remainder to be used on Monday.  Toro, the dog, really enjoyed cleaning out the peanut butter jars!

Our first stop tomorrow morning will be the Village of Hope School to see the kindergarten opening.  It's always a highlight of our trip.  And based on last year, we have high expectations for VBS tomorrow as well. Enjoy the pictures - more to come tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Where's My ______________?" -Dave Siebert

Our team for our 9th SJLC Servant Trip to Haiti includes Greer Putnam, Jim Lofgren, Sarah Finger, Sarah Meehan, Don Pape, Dave Siebert, Christine Payne, Scott Putnam, Chris Brody, Ken Lorang, Richard Finger, and Pat Eichhorst.  We are representing three different states - VA, NC, and MN, and six different churches.

We arrived safely in Haiti and Dave certainly made it interesting. He started at 5:00 this morning with "Where's my keys?" (he had given them to Greer but it took him 15 minutes to realize it despite several of us telling him).  That was followed by "where's my passport" and was found after ripping his suitcase apart.  He wasn't done.  We had to check our carry-ons in DC because there was no more overhead space and the bags were checked through to Port-au-Prince.  As we got ready to board in Miami, they asked for his passport and he realized it was in his checked bag.  Needless to say, that resulted in the airline having to find his bag that had already been loaded into the plane, to retrieve his passport.  We told them they could just keep Dave in Miami, but they got his bag immediately.  We know this blog isn't supposed to be just about Dave but he gave us some great material to work with!  The attached picture is his victorious boarding of the plane with passport in hand!

The logistic of the airport all went well and we only needed to bribe two people.  Luckily it only cost us $10 to get our 33 suitcases through without being checked by customs - being in Haiti is an adventure.  Traffic was light and we made it to Hope House in record time (40 minutes).

We spent the afternoon decompressing, unpacking suitcases, and enjoying our first Prestige!  We are impressed with all the improvements that have been made to Hope House since we were here a year ago.

One of the highlights of our trips to Haiti is our devotional time.  Pat wrote our devotions for this year and Dave has prepared our music.  Pat gets the rookie of the year award for taking on that big task on her first trip with us!

The plan for tomorrow is working here at Hope House on building cabinets for teacher storage at Village of Hope and painting the kitchen and dining room.  We are all thankful being in Haiti with the opportunity to serve others and glorify God's name.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Kid Central

This morning, we went to Village of Hope School, and Little Children of Jesus Orphanage.  We had another inspirational experience at the school starting with the kindergarten classes participating in the opening and raising the Haitian flag.  It's very amazing to see these 3, 4, and 5 year olds line up in a straight line (mostly) and be able to sing praises to God and to welcome their American visitors to the Village of Hope.  They have some amazing voices for being so young.  Once again, it was a picture perfect day. As you watched the flag wave, you could look out at the mountains in the background.  Following the kindergarten opening, we walked up to the chapel and participated in the opening session for the secondary school.  As this is a faith-based school, the opening includes devotions, prayers, and lots of beautiful singing.  For both openings, we had the opportunity to be introduced as a visiting servant team from Virginia.  We received a very warm reception.  It was cool to see them open up the school in song and prayer.  We were also very fortunate to have our translators, Jennifer and Pierre, with us so that they could share with us what was being said.  

Then we toured the secondary school which is where we painted on Saturday.  VoH has about 35 acres of land but only takes up about 5 acres so there is a lot of land to work with.  We were able to visit the classrooms where we were able to do all the cleaning and painting which was very noticeable and appreciated.  Those of us that sponsor children were able to meet/see their children.  Jim, Greer, Sarah F., Chris and Diane, and Paul took a picture with their children and were able to chat a bit, thanks to the help of the translators.  We also received a tour of the health center, including the dental suite which opened this year.  It was nice for the new people to see the property (Pastor, Sarah M., and Tim).  The whole time we were there, the health center was filled with patients.  It's easy to see the benefit this facility is bringing to this area of Haiti.  Before leaving, we ate in the dining room with the children.  For many of these children, it's the only meal they have.  So not only are they receiving an education, they are also receiving their daily bread.  Following lunch, many of the team walked up to the cistern that overlooks the school.  It provides a spectacular view of the valley below and the mountains and lake in the distance.  It's hard to remember that in that valley lies so much poverty.  

Our next stop was Little Children of Jesus.  It took us quite a while to get there as we were stuck in a traffic jam due to an accident.  It took us about an hour to go about a quarter mile.  Note, the traffic in Haiti, on a good day, is miserable.  Our experience today was the worst we've seen in eight years.  We finally arrived at LCJ where we spent a couple hours interacting with the orphans, all of whom are mentally or physically incapacitated in one way or the other.  It's hard to describe how emotional  it is visiting this orphanage.  We keep in mind what we were told on our first visit to Haiti - while the bodies of the children might be broken, their spirits are not.  The group is very thankful that these children are so well taken care of on a beautiful property with care givers who provide love and the necessities of life - food, shelter, and clothing.  

We returned to Hope House late in the afternoon and spent the afternoon in fellowship, reflecting on the day and relaxing.  We also had a chance to thank our interpreters for being with us.  For dinner, we had a special treat - Lucien and his family joined us for dinner.  His children ranging in age from three to 21 are well-known to our team, especially Greer, who provided a home for them.  Our devotional time ended strongly tonight with reflections on the week, as well as Holy Communion lead by Pastor Meehan.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday in Haiti

We experienced church in Haiti this morning.  We went to Lucien's church (Lucien is the driver for VoH).  It would be safe to say we were amazed by the length of the service, the amazing singing by the congregations, and how many people, lay leaders, and musicians in a 400 square foot room.  We could feel and hear the passion that this Haitian church had for God.  We were welcomed and introduced during the service and at the conclusion of the service, many of the congregants shared the peace with us.  We recognized some of the liturgy and the doxology, even though we did not know the language.  Another interesting part of the church experience was the route we took to the church on some unbelievably narrow Haitian back roads that literally had us squeezing between houses.  No GPS could have found the church using that route.  

Following church we headed back to Hope House where we had a hot dog cookout with baked beans, salads, and chips.  After a brief respite, we took the opportunity to see a little bit of Haiti.  This year we drove up the coast and stopped in two places.  The first was driving out to the bay where we got out and dipped our feet in the Caribbean Sea. Then we stopped at the Earthquake Memorial.  The 6th anniversary of the earthquake was last week on the 12th of January.  The memorial is about 70% complete.  At this particular memorial, there are approximately 250,000 Haitians buried in a rock quarry.  Many of us were glad to see that the memorial continues to be worked on and is no longer just the frame it was on past visits.  

Then we returned to Hope House and started working on packaging more medicines.  We packaged tens of thousands of pills and cough drops for upcoming mobile med teams to use.  The team is really excited that we have set the next team up to begin serving as soon as they arrive.

Tomorrow we will be going to Village of Hope School and Little Children of Jesus - two of our favorite places.  We look forward to seeing the kindergarten students' opening, seeing the children we sponsor, and then interacting with those at LCJ.  

(L-R) Paul, Jim, Tim, Richard, Sarah F., Pastor Meehan, Ken, Greer, Chris, Saron, Diane
(L-R, kneeling) Sarah M., Scott

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Project Day

Today, the team was totally immersed in projects at Village of Hope School.  We completely cleaned and painted three super-large classrooms - an art room, 6th grade room, and 2nd grade room.  As is common with the team, we separated into teams - those who removed furniture, those who wiped down dust and grime, those who cut in, and those who did the rolling and we alternated as we went from room to room.  Everyone had the chance to experience the whole project.  In addition, we had another team, Paul, Scott, and Ken, put in 12 new "guts" of a toilet.  They used supplies we brought with us from VA.  It was a beautiful day out at the school.  The sun was shining and there was a nice breeze.  It was a great day to be doing a service project.  From every vantage point, we could see the beauty of Haiti - the lake, the mountains, and the countryside.

While at the school, Rob gave us a tour of the new computer room.  What an exciting addition to the school.  Envision a clean, cool computer room in dusty, hot Haiti.  They've done a good job converting one of the administration rooms.  They've installed windows, an air conditioner, and electrical power to run the server and the 24 independent computer stations.  The electricity is all powered from solar power.  It's very exciting to see the Village of Hope moving into the 20th century.  The room is not quite done.  They are still in need of about $30,000 to finish the project.  So if you're interested in donating, let us know.  

There has been a few firsts associated with this trip.  The first, as we've mentioned, was VBS.  The second, was, this was the first time any of us have traveled in Haiti at night.  We left the school later than expected and saw the beautiful sunset as we drove home.  Not all drivers believe in, or have, lights.  The dust creates a nice haze across the roads as people, animals, and motorcycles dart through traffic.  

By the time we returned to Hope House, we were dusty, grimy, and colored in paint - white and Caribbean Blue.  Luckily it's acrylic this time - not oil!  We shared a lot of really good fellowship and had some great sing-along opportunities.  

Tomorrow we will be going to Lucien's church which is always an interesting experience to attend a Haitian church.  We have known Lucien for years and he is currently the driver for VoH.  After that, we will have lunch at Hope House and then head up the coast to see a different part of Haiti.  At some point when we return, there are about 8,000 medicines to be packaged.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

Follow on Success

The SJLC Servant Team followed up with what was another terrific servant experience conducting VBS.  Our team traveled to a village near where we were yesterday.  Saron again told the story of David and Goliath with the help of Jennifer, our translator, but unlike yesterday, the children were familiar with the story.  Following the Bible story time, we split into two groups - boys and girls.  The boys went outside and split into three groups, playing whiffle ball, soccer, and parachute games.  The interesting part of the whiffle ball, was not only were the kids involved with doing something new, but the parents standing alongside where we were playing, also participated.  They swung the bat, hit the ball, and did a lot of smiling.  The baseball field also came with three goats, tied up in various parts of the field.  The soccer and parachute games were once again a big success.  The girls stayed in the church and colored and did a craft.  They were great about sharing the crayons and helping one another which was somewhat different than yesterday.  One of the biggest things that hit us was that there was a girl with Down's Syndrome who was a part of the activities.  This was remarkable because she was part of the activities, whereas usually those with disabilities in Haiti are shunned or discarded as babies.  Sarah's "teacher look" emerged a few times when some of the other girls were laughing at her coloring.  She had some great hits on the whiffle ball field and yet, when she made contact and hit the ball, the same people who were laughing at her coloring, cheered her on.  Following the different activities, we again handed out the lunches (pb sandwiches and kool-aid) and a goody bag before saying "good-bye!"

After refueling our bodies, we headed to the infamous tin shops.  It was a great opportunity to put money into the Haitian economy.  We purchased many different tin products for families, friends, and churches.  It's always an experience to see these entrepreneurs apply their trade.  Saron was again our biggest spender!  While there we ran into some other Americans from Colorado and Ohio.  

We got back to Hope House around 3:30 and spent some quality time reflecting with one another and having some prime fellowship time.  We concluded the evening with devotions, which lead to some very insightful conversation by everyone relative to the assigned readings and what we're experiencing in Haiti.  The veterans on the team, Jim, Sarah, Greer, Richard, and Paul, have concluded that this new aspect of serving in Haiti, doing VBS out in the community, is an insightful experience and is an important part of what our mission is in Haiti.  It's a great balance between service projects and reaching out and connecting with Haitian families which is something we haven't done before.  

We look forward to more serving tomorrow through painting and fixing toilets!