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.

Self-preservation vs. Self-sacrifice

I remember watching a commercial on television around the time that my first child was born. It showed a couple of new parents playing with their newborn baby and it made a simple point: having a baby changes everything. I remember it, I think, because I realized then and there how true it was! As a newborn, our daughter was fully dependent upon us: diapers, feeding, clothing, changing crib linens, bathing, administering medicines, doctor check-ups, etc. Having a third person in our house that was so vulnerable and needed us so much changed everything. But, the fact that everything changed and that we had to establish a completely new way of living each day was a very worthwhile sacrifice for us because we loved our newborn little girl.

Not every newborn child is born into such welcoming families, though. I was born March 7th 1976 to a mother who, I am told, was mentally unfit to care for a child. Just like any other newborn, I was completely dependent and vulnerable. I would need a mother and a father to feed, clothe, bathe, and care for me. But, my biological mother would not be able to do that. For her, my birth didn’t quite change everything.

But, it did for Lorie Naylor. She knew my biological mother and took upon herself the responsibility of temporarily providing the twenty-four hour a day care that I needed as a newborn. For the next several weeks in Mrs. Naylor’s life, everything changed. My arrival, surely, wasn’t convenient for her, but, the preservation of her own comfort was not her top priority.

Finally, in June of 1976, I was permanently adopted by the couple that raised me. Mrs. Naylor, who became my Aunt Lorie, wasn’t able to keep me permanently, but, she was willing to stand in the gap until somebody could and it was her love and self-sacrifice that led to my placement with James and Cecilia Rockwell, sister of Lorie Naylor. Surely, the adoption process, the cost, and my dependency upon Jim and Ceil, my Mom and Dad, to meet all of my typical three-month-old needs were not convenient. But, the preservation of their own comfort and convenience was not their top priority and now, forty years later, I’m extremely grateful for the life they’ve enabled me to have.

Not every child’s story works out so well, though, because not every parent is willing, or sometimes even able, to sacrifice their own priorities and needs for the sake of others. Sometimes their own battle for survival, or at least, there own preference for self-preservation traps them and keeps them from being what the child that they brought into the world needs.

So what happens to those kids who are not cared for? Some do not survive. Some are abandoned. Some grow up just enough to be sold as child slaves into domestic servitude or into sex-trafficking. Some grow up in orphanages that may or may not provide the care that they need and others may end up in foster care. But, because adults have failed to recognize the needs of vulnerable children, or have simply found the prospect of contributing to their care to be too inconvenient or too much of  a threat to their own comfortable lifestyle, many unwanted children are never given the chance they deserve to live and reach their full potential.

The question is: Why in a world with so many Christians are there so many children without families? Why are their so many kids who don’t have adequate care — whether confined to poor-quality orphanages, trapped in abusive circumstances, or simply not ever being able to enjoy and benefit from the blessings of a loving, forever family by the time their childhood years have slipped away?

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A few of the beautiful kids that live at the Grand Goave Children’s Village of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti

Wasn’t it Jesus, himself, who put forth the notion in Galatians 5:14 that we should love our neighbors as ourselves? In Matthew 25, Jesus highlighted multiple caring gestures born out of concern for those in need that touch God’s heart when he said, “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.’ God’s desire that we, as Christians, ditch self-preservation in favor of self-sacrifice is affirmed again in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In far too many parts of scripture to share with you here, the bible states again and again that we should seek out and serve the vulnerable among us. This means the elderly who can’t care for themselves anymore. This means the hungry and the homeless that you see stuck outside with their meager belongings on a cold winter day. This means the kids that walk into public school classrooms each day who come from rough homes with empty stomachs, dirty clothes, and the mental burden of having only broken homes to return to. This means the refugees that enter our country, having lost everything in their war-torn home-countries, hoping and praying for the chance for a new start. This means the children in your home county whose parents have been locked up due to drug deals and use happening in their own living rooms. This also means the orphans that have been abandoned in Haiti because their parents couldn’t afford to feed them.

God, our Father, is their Father, too, and the consistent thread running through his Word is that we need to turn to Him, humbly accept His grace and love, and extend it to others — whether it compromises the preservation of our own possessions , lifestyle, and convenience or not. Which vulnerable God-created person or people in need are you going to step forward and lend a helping hand to?

For more information on how you can help those who are most vulnerable please contact your local church, homeless shelter, department of social services, or one of the following organizations that serve the needs of the orphaned and abandoned:

Christian Alliance For Orphans
The Hands & Feet Project
Show Hope
I’m Me

Orphan Sunday 2016 from Christian Alliance for Orphans on Vimeo.

YOU Can Be HIS Hands And Feet

As I learned from the wonderful woman who would one day become my aunt, I was born to a mother who was mentally unstable and, subsequently, unable to raise me. So, it was my future aunt that cared for me for the first few weeks of my life until I was adopted by the man and woman who I am proud to refer to as my mom and dad to this day. They found me and took me in. And they always told me that because I was adopted, I was special and I believed it.

Well, actually, my dad, with his characteristic sense of humor liked to say, when I was just a toddler, that they just found me under a rock in the garden one day and decided to keep me.

But, I’ve never questioned where I belonged. Being set aside on account of my biological mother’s struggles never phased me. My bond with my family supersedes the technicalities of not being biologically related. In fact, it was my experiences during my Dad’s decline from brain cancer, over the course of about 16 months from October 2010 through February 2012 that helped my middle age perspective to really focus on what is most important.

My dad moved south to North Carolina in 2007 as soon as he received the news that  our second child was on the way so that he could help provide daycare and be close to his grandchildren. So, when the diagnosis of a stage four brain tumor hit, my wife and I were his relatives nearby to care for him. Over the next 16 months of treatments, trips to Duke’s Brain Tumor Center, and various other appointments my wife and I struggled to care for him, meet our work and school obligations and meet the needs of our kids. But it was the last couple of months when he wasn’t able to talk or get dressed or use the bathroom by himself, that pressure from multiple sides started to weigh down on me heavier than anything every had before. I was completely in the dark. It was a time when faith was far less tangible and much more a faint hope that I had to keep trying to remind myself of, just out of reach beyond the chaos. I had a lot of questions for God at the time, like I imagine many people do when in similar circumstances. But, somehow, by His grace and, as my dad would say, by “putting one foot in front of the other,” we made it through.

Such experiences tend to have a profound effect on the way people view what is most important. When I was walking through that darkness I had very little interest or concern about what the most popular songs or movies were or whether Democrats or Republicans had more power in the polls. My concerns were nowhere near even considering how the Jets draft strategy was shaping up for the coming season. No, In those dark times my mind was wrestling with the real and the true struggles of life and death, meeting immediate needs in terms of pain management, and working together with my uncle (who came down from NY to help out) to get my dad successfully through one moment and on to the next with as much peace and as little discomfort as possible. Then on the one night it snowed that winter, I sat with him on his hospice bed in the living room as he lay unconscious, with his heart rate slowing until he breathed his last breath.

Waves of grief from losing my Dad still come at random times, but, I’ve found that, having walked through the darkest period of my life, so far, I have a greater capacity than before to know the pain or at least relate to others who are going through difficult circumstances. This doesn’t mean that I always respond as I should, but, I’ve definitely come to a realization that what really matters in life has a lot more to do with how we relate to others in need and a lot less to do with making more money, earning a new title, or trying to impress others with our accomplishments or the company we keep.;

I have no doubt that it was a convergence of factors in the fall of 2012, allowed by God Himself, in the wake of my dad’s passing, that led me to read James 1:27 with new eyes: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” — and then, at that very same time, to draw a direct connection to an organization that I just learned about, through a friend, called The Hands & Feet Project. I had struggled to understand what was happening, within the context of God’s plan, to say the least. There was a lot that I didn’t understand, but, this verse gave me focus.

He was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

Nickenson was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

The Hands & Feet Project is an organization that was established in Haiti in 2004 whose Christ-centered purpose is to provide family-style, residential care and sustainable solutions that fight against Haiti’s orphan crisis. UNICEF estimated that in 2012 there were 430,000 orphans in the small country of Haiti. Some are orphaned because they’ve lost their parents in the earthquake of 2010 or due to sickness while others have been abandoned via the common practice of leaving newborns on the hospital steps. Others, due to extreme poverty, have sold their children to be child laborers in various lines of work ranging from organized begging to the sex trade.

The vision of the Hands & Feet Project is to work under the guidance of Haiti’s Child Social Services in order to provide holistic residential care for orphans by building and operating Children’s Villages with multiple family-style homes lead by Haitian House Mothers. They strive to create a circle of care around each child with the intent of giving every boy and girl the chance to reach their God-given potential.

Kettia holding the family photo/frame that Julia made for me to give her

Kettia holding the family photo/frame that Julia made for me to give her

They run two Children’s villages. The one in Jacmel is home to 70 children ranging from infants to teenagers. Their Grand Goave Children’s Village cares for another 30 children ranging in age from 10-16. In these villages children live in groups of 8-10 kids in individual houses that are managed by Haitian house mothers. There they are clothed, have comfortable sleeping quarters, playgrounds and soccer fields to play on. Each of the children is well-fed, has their medical needs met, receives bible studies, takes part in worship, and, through a partnership with Mission of Hope International, attends school and church.

In Matthew 25 Jesus teaches that whatever we do to serve those in need, we are doing directly to him. When we clothe children we are clothing him. When we feed the homeless we are feeding him.

The Hands & Feet Project is providing an amazing opportunity to take a meaningful part in the well-being and development of the children cared for in their Children’s Villages through their sponsorship program called the Family Room. My family and I have sponsored two for some time now and I had the privilege of spending time with both of them while in Haiti in January and I look forward to spending another week with Kettia, the girl we sponsor, as well as all of the other children there when I return in July.

Our family has and continues to sponsor kids through worthy organizations like World Vision, Compassion, and Food For The Hungry, but, this sponsorship program is different. Check out this video to find out how you can have a direct impact on the lives of these kids on the ground level while also helping The Hands & Feet Project grow so that they can provide for more children who have been orphaned and abandoned in Haiti – the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Give them a chance and their lives won’t be the only ones being changed.

“If not us, who will be like Jesus to the least of these?”

-Audio Adrenaline

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

A Week in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project (Part 3)

A few of the beautiful kids that live at the Grand Goave Children's Village of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti

A few of the beautiful kids that live at the Grand Goave Children’s Village of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti

One in a series of posts reflecting upon the week I spent on a short-term mission in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014. For Part 1 click here. For Part 2 click here. For Part 3 click here. For Part 4 click here. For an afterthought reflection about the topic of heroes in relation to addressing needs in the country of Haiti click here.

Teammate James Tompkins playing basketball with Chadieu

Teammate James Tompkins playing basketball with Chadieu

The kids. How do I begin to describe them? They are, of course, the main focus of both Children’s Villages of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti. The statistics that are out there indicating the gap that exists between the life of an average child in Haiti and the life an average American child are absolutely staggering. I won’t get into them in this post, but, as I’ve said before, no matter what I write or say, you can’t really understand just how different life in Haiti is, compared to America, unless you go there. Having done so, now, I can speak with full confidence when I say that, thanks to The Hands & Feet Project, these kids are free to be kids. With their basic needs met the kids are free to enjoy many of the things that kids elsewhere do whether dancing to music, playing basketball, playing soccer, or just goofing around with friends.

The kids at Grand Goave, where I spent most of my week, are mostly upper elementary/early middle school-aged

Kettia, one of the kids we sponsor through The Hands & Feet Project

Kettia, one of the kids we sponsor through The Hands & Feet Project

kids and, like any group of kids, they represent a spectrum of personalities ranging from shy and quiet to bubbly and energetic with all types in between. There was one, however, that I was most interested in meeting. Her name is Kettia and my family has been sponsoring her through The Hands & Feet Project’s Family Room monthly sponsorship program for about one year. After site director Angie Sutton introduced us, Kettia went to her room and came back out with a family photo of my wife, my kids, and I that we’d sent her with a Christmas card several weeks ago. Over the course of the next couple of days we played basketball together, chased each other, and spent a good amount of time playing games and looking at photos on my phone.

Kettia holding the family photo/frame that Julia made for me to give her

Kettia holding the family photo/frame that my daughter Julia made for me to give her

It was during the time that she spent looking at photos on my phone, listening as I explained who or what was in each one, that I made a personal commitment to not just be a long distance sponsor for Kettia. She was so interested in the photos of my family and I and my American experiences that I’d documented with images. I had hundreds of photos on there at the time and she went through every single one! We were there just looking at photos together for nearly an hour and I couldn’t help, but, wonder what thoughts were going through her head as she saw photos of my family of four, together, in our house and elsewhere. I want her to know, going forward, that though she won’t see me that often, she is now a part of our family and we will keep in touch with her throughout each year and for years to come. We will pray for her, specifically, as a family each evening and I will go back to visit with her again. In all, the time we spent together was a moving and bond-strengthening confirmation that the monthly sponsorship we’ve maintained through Hands & Feet has made a real, on-the-ground, impact and we, as a family, are so thankful for the opportunity to be involved.

Odlin, one of the boys I battled against in our ocean water fight Sunday afternoon

Odlin, one of the boys I battled against in our ocean water fight Sunday afternoon

Sunday was our first full day in Haiti and, to be honest, I was kind of nervous about how to interact with the kids, but, my concerns were eased during our Sunday afternoon trip to the beach when I was able to engage a couple of the boys in an all-out ocean water fight. That was when I realized that, unlike some in the normal Haitian population, most of the kids at Hands & Feet can speak both Hatian Creole and, to at least some extent, English. Considering this new tidbit of information together with the fact that water fights are fun for kids no matter what part of the world they grow up in, I was able to step into the water with confidence and, literally, get my feet wet with these kids for the first time! Splashing around with them was a blast and it remains one of my favorite memories from the trip.

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Emmanuel was more than happy to demonstrate the proper way to eat a fresh mango in Haiti

Another favorite experience involved eating freshly-picked mangoes that were given to us by the kids. With a handful of large mango trees on site at the Grand Goave Children’s Village they are a common treat for the kids there who get them either by picking them off the ground after they’ve fallen or by throwing rocks and sticks up into the tree to knock them loose. They are absolutely delicious, but, they are also a mess to eat!

Nickenson, and one of his house brothers, looking at the photo/frame my son Jacob made for him

Nickenson, and one of his house brothers, looking at the photo/frame my son Jacob made for him

After working on projects around the Grand Goave Children’s Village on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we took a day trip to visit the Jacmel Children’s Village on Thursday. We packed into the van and saw some amazing views as we drove two hours over the mountains to Jacmel which is on the south coast of Haiti. The site in Jacmel, while continually expanding, is much more developed than the temporary housing that exists in Grand Goave. The population of kids in Jacmel is, on average, much younger than Grand Goave and I learned rather quickly that these younger kids were much more apt to just run to you, jump up, and cling on than their older counterparts in Grand Goave. What a joy it was to be able to hang out with those little bundles of energy! But, the two highlights of our Jacmel visit, undoubtedly, were visiting the other child that we sponsor through Hands & Feet, Nickenson, and, then, meeting the newest resident at the Hands & Feet Children’s Village in Jacmel, Elijah.

He was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

He was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

Nickenson is a toddler who, as soon as walked through the door in his house, had a big smile on his face! He was very appreciative of the family photo/frame that my son Jacob made for him and it didn’t take long before he had both arms around my neck, holding on to me. One of the things he was most fascinated by, though, was my beard. He just kept playing with it while I chatted with him, trying to soak up his joyful wonder for a few minutes. When a teammate came in and informed me that it was time to leave and they were waiting on me, it broke my heart to have to do so. His house mother had to pull him off after he’d had his arms so tight around my neck and his head on my shoulder. My last view of him was as he was walking back to his bedroom with tears welling up, looking down at the photo I’d given him. My tears have welled up several times since then when reflecting back on that moment.

With 7-day old baby Elijah, the newest resident at the Jacmel Children's Village

With 7-day old baby Elijah, the newest resident at the Jacmel Children’s Village

Before spending time with Nickenson, I had the chance to spend some time with Elijah, the newest resident at the Jacmel Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village. I rocked four-pound Elijah for almost a half-hour and what a privilege it was! He had just been abandoned by his mother who couldn’t or didn’t want to take care of him. She’d planned to leave him on the steps of the hospital – an all too common practice in Haiti, often with disheartening results – but, thankfully, The Hands & Feet Project was there to take him in.

These kids are real and they are beautiful. I know, they are hundreds of miles away from anyone that might read this blog, but, they are living and breathing children with personalities, dreams, and emotions. They’re made of God-given flesh and blood, just like your son or daughter, and just as deserving of love. Thank God, they get a good share of it from their house families and the staff of The Hands & Feet Project.

The following video features the children from The Hands & Feet Project

Little hands, shoeless feet, lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent to grieve
On their own, on the run when their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won’t let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these
When we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

If not us who will be like Jesus
To the least of these
If not us tell me who will be like Jesus
Like Jesus to the least of these

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free shout your name in victory
We will love we will love the least of these

Part 4 coming soon…

“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/

How To Thank Him

One of the reasons that the focus of the Hands & Feet Project is so important to me has to do with just how clear and concise the bible is about the need for Christians to care for orphans. Some of you may know that, by the time my senior year of high school came around, I had decided that I would attend a Seventh-Day Adventist college and major in theology in order to become a pastor. Well, adolescent indiscretions carved out a different path for me instead. At least partly as a result of this change of course, my college years, in retrospect, can be characterized mainly by how dark and aimless they were. Like many, though, the birth of my first child, Julia, brought the need for more direction in my life back to the surface.

As somebody who was raised Catholic until the age of nine and converted to Adventism soon after, I had already started out with some identity issues in terms of who I was and what I believed. By the age of 27, when Julia was born and after years of arguing against the notion of God in favor of bad habits from my college years, finding something I could believe to hold onto in, in terms of faith, was critical.

Finally, I came (or perhaps was guided to) the conclusion that, if I focused on Jesus, instead of theological/denominational/peripheral details and distractions, I could move forward. So, I started focusing on the following question to form the foundation of what would be my reformed faith: What are each of the gospels in agreement on with regards to what Jesus did, what he said, and how he treated people?

Once I did this, it was easy to see that the life of Jesus was characterized by breaking form from the religious politics of the day and seeking out those who were most in need of help. He intentionally helped and expressed compassion for those who were at their own breaking points and realized that they deserved nothing. He served the hopeless.

I realized then that Jesus was about to become personal to me. My life was a laundry list of bad decisions and hurt that has levied a vast amount of collateral damage in my wake. Despite the blessings that I’ve been given and despite the fact that I was adopted by two great parents away from my biological mother who couldn’t care for me, my life, up to that point, had been characterized by one word: selfishness. I had earned nothing in my life except a great deal of personal and emotional debt to those around me and spiritual debt to Christ.

With the birth of Julia, the love of my wife, and with the assistance of a book written by Brennan Manning called THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL, though, I learned about grace and, in time, I was able to accept it.

I realize now, just how much I have to be thankful for and just how blessed I am. But, how can I thank Jesus, the God who gave it all to me with unmerited favor?

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

James 1:27

“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.’”

Matthew 25:37-40

It is completely possible that there is no God and that I am just a naive fool with the wool pulled over my eyes, but, even if that were true, the joy and the peace that I have, due to my faith, is worth far more and does far less damage to those around me than did the life that I led when my back was turned on the God who gave me all that I have.

The beard is, in fact, fully funded through the 4/27 Half Marathon, but, the needs of orphans in Haiti and others in need around this world are not.

Please prayerfully consider donating to the Hands & Feet Project or any other organization that you see serving and loving those in need in your neighborhood or around the world. Then, please, go visit your older relatives and neighbors who are alone. There is nothing more valuable that we can do with our time and resources than to share with those in need.

http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/The Official Hands & Feet Project

https://www.facebook.com/BeardsHandsAndFeetProjectThe Beards Hands & Feet Project Facebook Page