How Can A Short-term Mission Team Help?

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Our 2015 mission team on Taino beach with Haitian vendors.

When I went on my first short-term mission trip with The Hands & Feet Project to Haiti three years ago, I had a pretty limited, naive notion of what I was going there to do. Honestly, I had no idea. I had, however, decided that whatever I was asked to do, I would take on as a task worth doing as a small step in helping the mission to develop and progress in caring for orphans, regardless of how big or small. To this day, I think that is a pretty solid perspective to go with.

That said, my family and I are now in the process of preparing a second team to go with the Hands & Feet Project to Haiti, and I feel like I’ve developed a clearer understanding of how we can be most helpful:

  1. Serve and honor the American missionaries who are there full-time and the Haitian staff of The Hands & Feet Project (this could mean anything from delivering needed supplies and comfort foods from home to tackling to-do list items listed by mission staff) while making a concerted effort to not add extra burdens to their load while we’re there
  2. Engage in a kind and respectful manner with all we come into contact with, whether locals in the community (a great opportunity to share the gospel) or kids at the Children’s Village
  3. Honor the long-term livelihood of those in the local community by engaging in dignified business transactions and, in doing so, directly confront the number one reason that children are orphaned in Haiti: lack of employment and the resources to care for a growing family.

As the blog post (from the Christian Alliance For Orphans) attached below explains, it is very rare that a short-term team of missionaries is going to change lives or conditions in a dramatic fashion over the course of one or two weeks. But, support given to full-time missionaries to meet their needs and refresh their spirits, while also engaging in dignified exchanges with local people, can have a very positive long-term impact on all involved.

It’s mid-summer in the US, and that means hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians are departing and returning from short-term missions around the world. Many of these teams visit orphans in developing nations, conduct Vacation Bible Schools, assist with building projects, and share the love of Christ with everyone they come to meet. For many…

via Building Local Capacity through Short Term Missions — Christian Alliance for Orphans

Our family has been saving for this trip to go serve, support, and encourage missionaries, the kids and staff of the Hands & Feet Project, and the local community of Grand Goave  for months and will continue to do so. But, with plane tickets, alone, likely to cost over $3500 for the four of us, we are praying that God will lead others to help us get there by donating directly to our family mission trip fundraising page. Can you help us get there?

Learn more about the work of The Hands & Feet Project.

Learn more about The Hands & Feet Project’s Haiti Made job creation initiative.

We Can’t Make It On Our Own

https://purecharity.com/rockwell-mission-to-haiti-gg170801mr/full_page_embed?utf8=%E2%9C%93&theme_color=%23cc6633&responsive=false&width=900&height=900

A Week in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project (Part 4 of 4)

The fourth of four reflections about my experiences when I spent on a short-term mission in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014: Part 1 click here. Part 2 click here. Part 3 click here. For an afterthought reflection about the topic of heroes in relation to addressing needs in the country of Haiti click here.

With New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson, co-founder of I'm ME. Learn more about his foundation which, like The Hands & Feet Project, cares for Haitian orphans at http://www.imme.org/

With New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson, co-founder of I’m ME

It was our first evening in Haiti. Our team had flown from several different U.S. cities to Miami, boarded one plane together, departed Miami, landed in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, stuffed into a van for a two-hour drive to Grand Goave and then rode up to a mountaintop building that is only accessible with a 4wd vehicle. We’d all traveled hundreds of miles and were finally settling in for dinner on a remote, third-world country mountain when, all of a sudden, in through the front door walks a player from my favorite football team, the New York Jets! Not only that, but, it turns out that this guy has a sincere, true, and rare heart for orphans in Haiti. He and his brothers have started I’m ME, a foundation to care for orphans in Haiti and he’s been getting a lot of good advice, apparently, from The Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart. We chatted for a few minutes during which I was able to share the story of my connection with The Hands & Feet Project, my respect for high-character Jets such as Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin, and my appreciation for his passion for “the least of these,” in Haiti. He shared with me about his faith and how he first became interested and involved with helping to address the the desperate circumstances that exist in Haiti and really came off as being the most authentic person somebody in his shoes could possibly be. With other NFL players, Jets in particular, making headlines for all of the wrong reasons all too often, it is certainly refreshing to have met a pro athlete like him. Check out David’s foundation here: http://www.imme.org/

Loading up shoes in my frigid garage on January 17th.

Loading up shoes in my frigid garage on January 17th.

Two totes (plus half of my suitcase) stuffed with shoes, just off the plane at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

Two totes (plus half of my suitcase) stuffed with shoes, just off the plane at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

I couldn’t end this series of reflections on my week without mentioning one of the biggest parts of preparing for the trip during the last two weeks before my plane was set to depart: gathering shoes. Site co-director Angie Sutton sent me a request for shoes for the boys at Grand Goave (the younger kids) and Ikondo (the older kids) and, thanks to the kindness and compassion of colleagues at school and friends, I boarded the plane in Charlotte with two 20+ gallon totes and half of my suitcase full of shoes ranging from sizes too small for my six-year-old to sizes too big for me – a good variety to help address the needs of the boys of the Hands & Feet Project in Grand Goave.

While this trip itself has blown open my perspective regarding the serious gap between the luxuries that we take for granted in the U.S. and the primitive and unhealthy living conditions of so many in Haiti, it has also affirmed, for me, the power and value that a simple act of kindness can have. Many of my colleagues and friends donated brand new shoes or money to purchase shoes for the boys of The Hands & Feet Project. Because they walk to school each day and the terrain is rocky, they go through them quickly. But, thanks to some generous Americans, the boys of The Hands & Feet Project now have plenty of new shoes!

Sorting and pulling the larger-sized shoes out for the older boys at Ikondo before taking the rest down to Thozin, the other site where the younger kids live. This shot is from inside what will be "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen." Currently, however, it is being used as a bedroom for incoming short-term mission teams until construction at Ikondo progresses a little further.

Sorting and pulling the larger-sized shoes out for the older boys at Ikondo before taking the rest down to Thozin, the other site where the younger kids live. This shot is from inside what will be “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen.” Currently, however, it is being used as a bedroom for incoming short-term mission teams until construction at Ikondo progresses a little further.

I estimate that 40-50 pairs of shoes, the absolute maximum number that I could fit into the two bins and my personal luggage, made the trip with me from my driveway in North Carolina to The Hands & Feet Children’s Village in Grand Goave, Haiti. From the money that was donated to purchase shoes I had $30 left over which I gave to Andrew Sutton, co-director of the Grand Goave Hands & Feet Children’s Village, to use as they see fit.

The majority of the shoes were sorted by size and placed in the storage depot  where the younger kids’ live to be distributed later as needed, but, several pairs were kept on the mountain top at Ikondo for the older boys. I was caught somewhat off guard early in the week when, while having an evening devotional with the other guys on the team, three of the boys came up behind me and hugged me in thanks for the shoes. I told them immediately that the shoes all came from friends in the states, but, that I was certainly happy to see that they liked them so much. I could tell from that moment, and then later on in the week while spending time with the older boys, that they truly appreciated the new footwear.

Sorting shoes by size for the younger kids at the Thozin site in the storage depot

Sorting shoes by size for the younger kids at the Thozin site in the storage depot

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Thanks to each and every person who supported this shoe-collection effort!

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25:34-40

Learn about how being a part of The Hands & Feet Project’s Family Room program can help even more…

…and thanks to everyone who prayed for the team and I as we made the journey. It was an unforgettable week and, God-willing, it won’t be my last visit to Grand Goave, Haiti.

The team (l-r): Greg (rear), Jewel (front), Drex, Wendy, Marian, myself, Jo, James, and April

The team (l-r): Greg (rear), Jewel (front), Drex, Wendy, Marian, myself, Jo, James, and April

Afterthought: Are You Looking For A Hero? I’ve Found Some…

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For reflections about my experiences when I spent a week on a short-term mission trip to Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014:  Part 1 click here.  Part 2 click here.  Part 3 click here. Part 4 click here.

I’m sitting here on a Friday evening at the tail-end of my first full week back at school (since last week was pock-marked with snow days) after returning from a week spent in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project. At this point, the Haitian dust has settled a bit and the black sneakers I wore most of the week are now, almost, black again, as opposed to the tan hue they took on as a result of the dry, dusty conditions in Grand Goave.

The view of the mountains, just to the right, outside "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen"

The view of the mountains, just to the right, outside “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen”

The beautiful view I had when I walked out our bedroom door each morning, just after waking to the sounds of roosters, however, left a huge impression on me. I’ve got photos of Haiti cycling through as a screen saver on my desktop at home and even the computer screen image of those mountains rising up, even further than the height on which the Hands & Feet Project’s Ikondo mission village is being built, makes me pause and sigh whenever I catch it out of the corner of my eye. It is a very, very special place, indeed.

Today as I was working toward the end of a particularly stressful week I made the comment to more than one person that, while I was in Haiti, I worked harder, physically, than I normally do during a day’s work and I ended up falling right to sleep each evening in Haiti, despite the heat, because, quite simply, I was tired. But, throughout that whole week I wasn’t stressed in even the least bit. It was a joy to be there. I knew that, though, my contributions were relatively small, in comparison to most of the other guys who had a good deal more experience with contracting work, every single thing I did was helping to advance the development of the Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village at least a little bit. Having the chance to be there and to contribute, in even the small manner that I did, to the beautiful work that The Hands & Feet Project does in an area where the need is so desperate was a distinct and humbling honor.

Hands & Feet Project co-director Andrew Sutton's shirt: "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." -Acts 20:24

Hands & Feet Project co-director Andrew Sutton’s shirt:
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” -Acts 20:24

Quite honestly, it has been a challenge to make the transition back to working in a public school in the U.S. where even the most economically disadvantaged students have it far better than the average Haitian child. The adults, too, are all too often, too tangled in their own webs of stress, career goals, and politics to stop and realize just how fortunate we really are to live in America. Though, I should say that it isn’t really a matter of realizing how fortunate we are to live here, but, instead, to realize how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to consume here because, really, that is what we do.

The U.S.A., it seems, is much more characteristic of the moniker: United States of Consumerism. Too many of us, because we haven’t had the chance to step out and see the big picture, aren’t really living. As teachers we work so hard to write lesson plans that will “engage students” (teacher-speak for holding the interest of over-stimulated American children for several minutes in a row), employ technology in the classroom as much as possible, raise district test scores, and placate all of the public stake-holders in an increasingly political occupation that we lose touch with the idea of connecting with humanity. Some of us, it seems, don’t even know what it is anymore. I can say this because these are the conditions that I teach in and I feel the pressures each day, hence the stress.

But, the fact that I’ve had a chance, now, to, not just view a news clip or read an article, but, to actually be in the poorest country on this half of the earth and see just how wide the gap is between the haves and have-nots, has made it truly difficult for me to reconcile, not only the luxuries of my daily life with knowing the profound needs in theirs, but, also the disproportionate amount of energy, time, and stress that goes into trying to “race to the top” in public education with the seemingly little good that it actually does for American kids, let alone the ones who really need the most help.

With Angie and Andrew Sutton, long term American missionaries and directors of the Grand Goave/Ikondo Hands & Feet Project Children's Village sites

With Angie and Andrew Sutton, long-term American missionaries and directors of the Grand Goave/Ikondo Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village sites

Don’t get me wrong. I have some wonderful kids in my classroom every day and being there to witness connections being made, goals being achieved, and confidence being built is an awesome privilege and responsibility, but, it really seems like the cost to benefit ratio is becoming more and more expensive when I know that, dollar for dollar, thought for thought, and pound for pound, there is such a serious and desperate need for investment elsewhere.

What this means for me and for my family, only God knows. Maybe not much in terms of any significant shifts. After all, these are just the typed-words of a middle-aged school teacher at the end of a rough week. But, I can say, for sure, that I am truly inspired by and I have the utmost sincere respect for those who drop their own security, get up, and move to where the need is in order to help address it. That, perhaps, is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about who the heroes of this world are: modern missionaries who give it all up and go to be the Hands and Feet of Christ to “the least of these,” where the need is greatest.

If you are the praying kind of person, or even if you’re not for that matter, please prayerfully consider supporting the work of those who don’t just visit for a week and then fly back to the comforts of home in the U.S., but, the ones who picked up and moved everything in order to live and serve where the need is:

The Sutton Family – the directors we worked most closely with while in Grand Goave

The Mulligan Family – the directors we visited for a day while visiting the Children’s Village they oversee in Jacmel

Find out how you can give a gift of support to the Suttons, the Mulligans, the Moores, or Hands & Feet Child Advocate Michelle Meece

“I’m Not Afraid. No, I’m A Believer”

“I just don’t understand why it has to be this way.” Those were the most honest words my dad ever uttered to me with regards to the cancer that was, at the time, just a few short months away from finally robbing him of his life. My dad was a product of his generation: a man who worked hard and didn’t talk about his feelings. It was an extremely difficult pill for him to swallow. He had an amazing track record of getting the short end of the stick. He wouldn’t have been a good poster child for the notion that people get what they deserve. It was a horrible way for his life to end and anyone who reads this blog or who knows me at all, knows that the seventeen month journey that I endured, from the moment my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer until the midnight moment when he passed away as I sat with him in his bed, was a terribly dark, trying, and painful journey for me, too. It was like watching a fatal car crash happen in slow motion over the course of over a year’s time. As his main caretaker, I was there at every turn carrying a progressively heavier load as his condition worsened to the point where he couldn’t talk or do anything for himself. The description of those months as the darkest period in my life is, to say the least, an understatement.

As dark as it was, though, the backdrop of shadows revealed a thread that was just beginning to strengthen and glimmer intermittently, reflecting a faint, still, small hope that peace would be found, at some point, further down the road. It wasn’t, however, a hope that relieved my pain or a miracle that washed all of my stress and fear away. Nor was it a time machine that could beam me to some future point and time in my life when I would be stronger. It was, simply, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). I can’t remember exactly how or when, in the midst of that journey, I came across Psalms 18:16-19, but, when I did, it was immediately relevant and became the main security handle that I have held onto tightly ever since:

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

The identity and timing of “a spacious place,” however, remained a mystery to me until the naming of Kevin Max as the new lead singer of rock outfit Audio Adrenaline.  Heartfelt encouragement from Kevin to consider “the least of these” set off a series of events, one of which was an introduction to the work of The Hands and Feet Project. As described in a prior post titled, “How To Live Life,” I was inspired to step out in faith and commit to donating profit from the sale of my Dad’s house to The Hands and Feet Project. After making the donation and relaying my Dad’s story and an explanation of how the donation came about, Hands and Feet Project director Mark Stuart extended a generous gesture by asking if they could name the kitchen in a new building that is currently under construction in honor of my dad.

Without going into too much detail, the redeeming and burden-lightening effect that his gesture had on my family and I with regards to the memory of my dad, a guy who always worked hard and looked out for others, but, seldom received his due, was nothing short of monumentally life-changing. Almost instantly, the weight of several months of my life characterized by mourning and wondering how to navigate life without the man who was the best man in my wedding, my best friend, my Dad, started to lift and a new and inspired life swelling with purpose and hope began to emerge. With one kind gesture, my Dad’s legacy would be  shifted from one of loss and emptiness to one of eternal hope in a vocational school kitchen from which teenage Haitian orphans would be receiving their daily meals as they developed skills to become productive Haitian citizens.

I know that Audio Adrenaline’s (the band that started The Hands And Feet Project in 2006) new song “Believer” is being explained by the band as the story of blind surfer Derek Rabelo, but, it wasn’t long after the album’s release that I found my own story told in the lyrics of the song. From an adult life characterized at first by complacency, and then by utter darkness, to a life of purpose and meaning, learning how to step into places where Jesus wants those who are His to go,  mine has changed significantly. Now it is I who am finally “giving up, letting go of control,” not only as I make preparations for a January 2014 short term mission trip with The Hands and Feet Project to Haiti, but, also, in my daily life. I’m learning that my personal comfort and convenience are not a priority, but, that loving others as myself, and in doing so, honoring God above all, are the priorities that matter. In fact, I’m learning, now, about what living life more abundantly really feels like. Each moment spent in my classroom teaching fifth graders is more passionately invested. Each hug and kiss from my wife and kids is more distinctly savored.

Like Derek Rubelo, I can’t necessarily see the waves of life coming, but, learning to feel my way through, with faith,  “I can walk on the water with You, Lord.”

I want to live this live unsafe, unsure, but not afraidWhat I want is to give all I got somehow, giving up letting go of control right now‘Cause I’m already out here, blind but I can see, I see the way You’re movingGod how I believe that I can push back the mountains, can stand on the wavesI can see through the darkness, I’ll hold up the flameTake me to the ocean, I want to go deeper, I’m not afraid no, I’m a believerAnd so I lose this life to find my way and come aliveThey can try to deny what’s inside of me, but there is more, can’t ignore all the things unseenOh I believe I can walk on water with You, LordWhen I walk through the valley of the shadows, when I’m trapped in the middle of the battle, I will trust in You‘Cause trouble comes, but you never let it take me, I hold fast ‘cause I know that You will save meI will trust in You, I will trust in YouOh here I stand all alone waiting on you, Lord, waiting on You

Learn more about The Hands & Feet Project at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/