A little quiet around here…

I have been busy communicating for JiHM and letting our blog rest for awhile. But I wanted to pop over and share a couple links to stories I’ve written for JiHM newsletters. We were able to return to Haiti in December for a short trip, and at the end of March for a week.

Making All Things News April 16, 2015

I Suspect I Am Seeing The Best View February 24, 2015

If you would like to subscribe to JiHM emails, you can sign up here.

These past several months have been emotionally exhausting. Perhaps we will write about that some time, but probably not. (We’d much more prefer to have a conversation with you over a big mug of coffee, and not on the world wide web.) We are so very hopeful for the future of Jesus in Haiti Ministries and our continued involvement with it, for the long-term. We are grateful for your continuing support.

Carl Eric and Returning Home

A few days before we left Haiti, the government issued the results from the 6th grade state exam every student in Haiti must pass to begin 7th grade. The results happened to come on the same day the students were all at school to register for the coming school year, and there were lots of tears of joy and shouts of excitement as student after student learned they passed.

For one of the sixth graders, the news wasn’t good. Carl Eric missed the passing mark of 700 by 20 points and will be repeating sixth grade next year. Already 19 years old, he bawled in disappointment at falling further behind as the rest of his classmates rejoiced. Nate asked Carl Eric why he thought he hadn’t passed and he said he doesn’t have any opportunities to study, and “all of life is a struggle.”

We have gotten to know many of the students’ stories well over the past couple years, but Carl Eric was someone we just knew by name and some passing conversations. His misery weighed heavy on us that night, so we decided despite the flurry of preparing to leave, we needed to find time to visit him the next day.

Carl Eric lives in Cabaret, a village just north of the school. In the early afternoon, he met us on the side of the national highway to lead us to his home. We turned right after a river, passed a black voodoo cross, and drove down a bumpy, gravel road. We parked the truck and followed Carl along a muddy footpath, skirting a banana grove. Several women and kids shared the path with us, carrying buckets of water from the river to their houses.

Many families served by the school still live in the wood-framed, blue-tarped structures that Samaritan’s Purse donated after the earthquake 4.5 years ago, and we were expecting to see a similar situation for Carl. But after walking about half a mile, Carl stopped in front of what looked like a kid’s makeshift fort.

He lives under pieces of plastic, held up by branches from a Neem tree.

Carl Eric and his grandma in front of their house

His grandma greeted us and welcomed us inside, into the darkness of the structure. The heat from the August sun in Haiti had turned their hut into a greenhouse, and immediately our bodies turned into fountains, sweat dripping from every inch of our skin, a heat beyond anything we had ever experienced. We understood why Carl Eric said he didn’t have any place to study, and why school might be far from his mind when daily living was exhausting.

Carl Eric explained he lives with his grandma because his parents both passed away when he was young. Their house washed away in floods in 2008, and since the earthquake, they have been living in this heat-trapping habitation. And not only the two of them, but two young boys his grandma has taken in because they had nobody to watch over them.

There was no food in the house, just dishes and a bed, stuffed animals and a few other treasured possessions.

In two years, we have stood in several very heartbreaking homes. We had not seen anything like this. We believe the timing of that visit was not a coincidence, that the Lord wanted that image to be one of the last we’d have to reflect on about Haiti, as we headed back to this land of material abundance, unpacked our 1,600 square foot home, put our hundreds of books on our bookshelves, jammed clothes into an overflowing closet, refilled our pantry.

Though our physical address is back in the United States, a large part of our hearts has stayed behind in Haiti. This coming year there will be over 275 Carl Erics at Grace Emmanuel School, and we know it is not our time to walk away from them.We have been given the joy of knowing their faces, the pain of seeing their heartbreak, and the burden of being in a position to do something about it. 

We know that for students like Carl Eric, Grace Emmanuel School is their opportunity to break free from poverty. We know that the 500 gourdes (roughly $12) we left for Carl Eric’s grandma as a handout is not the long-term solution that his family needs. Carl Eric needs both the best possible education and a renewed mind: the best possible education, so he can be equipped to find a job and break out of generational poverty with dignity and not welfare, and a renewed mind, so he won’t be tripped up by the sickness of sin that envelopes and aggravates these villages and imprisons the brightest minds.

As much as we love and celebrate Grace Emmanuel School, there is much work to be done to continue improving the level of education GES provides. GES has an incredible Haitian administrative and teaching staff that we need to continue to equip so they are able to continuing making an impact on the students. In the past two years, we have been blessed beyond measure to be used by God to bless Grace Emmanuel School. We got to be part of fostering relationships that resulted in a beautiful school building out of a dirt hill, fundraising for a wall that now stands complete protecting that school, and doing the administrative work of a sponsorship program that now completely funds the basic operating costs of the school.

Kristi with Novianne and Betchina at picture day

We believe that though we have been called back to live stateside for now, our work continues. From the states, Kristi can continue to manage the sponsorship program, continue communicating on behalf of the school, as well as advocate on behalf of the kids in JiHM’s children’s home, and Nate can continue to strengthen relationships with financial partners for the school so we can find funding to take GES to the next crucial level of providing a trade school and career paths.

For these reasons, we are leaving our support account open with Jesus in Haiti Ministries. We invite you to continue supporting our work with Grace Emmanuel School, so we can continue traveling to Haiti multiple times each year to continue growing relationships and building partnerships to help the school, and also to provide a wage so Kristi can continue working part-time for JiHM to manage the sponsorship program that funds Grace Emmanuel School and communicate on behalf of the mission.

Words cannot express how thankful we are for the support you all have given us over these last two years and the preparation leading up to them. It is a joy to return to living in the same community as many of you. Thank you for following this journey so far and we hope you’ll continue. (And maybe join us on trips back to Haiti!)

We will continue to provide occasional updates here, though for now we will sign them,

Love from Minnesota,
Nate & Kristi

The Story of Two Selfies

When we last wrote in mid-March, construction was about to begin on the school and the security wall was 49% funded. What a joy to be able to report that not only is the wall fully funded, it is now completely built, and so are six classrooms and the director’s building for the new school.

Standing on the classroom porch (the latrines and director’s office are in the distance)

During construction and still now, Nate and I walk up to see the classrooms a couple times each week. We just look at each other in absolute amazement with tears in our eyes over what transpired since January, going from not knowing how our small organization could ever fund a school to standing in front of a beautiful school built for the students and teachers we love.

One day last month when a group was here we went up into the classrooms to pray for the students who will learn in these rooms for several years to come.

Nate and I took a blurry “selfie” in an empty classroom, and after we took it we both immediately remembered another blurry selfie we took two years ago.

We took this photo in our empty family room the night before we moved to Haiti, after we finally had our house packed up. At that time, we were both nervous, exhausted, and overwhelmed at the uncertainty of the next two years.

Standing in that classroom, I began to wonder, What if we hadn’t said yes? What if we had said, It’s too hard, Lord? Don’t ask us to empty out our entire lives like this. 

We would have missed this moment nearly two years later, missed the opportunity to stand in a new classroom, our hearts filled to the brim, standing in a tangible expression of the love of Christ. We would have missed countless moments of feeling the presence of God, knowing even in despair the sweet, sweet love God has for his children.

God has filled our empty places. We feel like we should have it tattooed on us so we never forget. We are forever grateful we were able to play a part in this story. God is good.

Looking ahead

When school opens next year on October 1, 2014, the students of Grace Emmanuel School will not be returning to those ripped tents. Until the rest of the classrooms are finished in 2015, the students will be sharing the 6 newly constructed rooms (split in half, they are still larger than the space the classes shared under the tents!) and still using the two wooden classrooms we had before.

Our two-year commitment with Jesus in Haiti Ministries is complete on August 3 and we will be returning to live in Minnesota in mid-August. We are still working out the details and discerning how both of us can stay involved with Grace Emmanuel School. We don’t yet feel like our story in Haiti is over–it’s just going to look different.

We will share more details in another email soon, but please pray for us as we make this transition soon, and as the grief of goodbyes looms over us. We have made some lasting and very precious friendships with people here and are sad to leave them.

Love and gratitude from Haiti,

Nate and Kristi

Kindergarten graduation last Friday

 

Reasons To Rejoice

In many of our updates we have spoken of struggles, but this update is all about rejoicing. These last few months have been incredible, and we are excited to share all this with you.

Since we arrived in Haiti, we’ve talked in many of our updates about the need for a permanent structure for Grace Emmanuel School (the school where we’ve been working in Haiti). The details have been all over the place and it has seemed like we could never get clarity about what that project was going to look like–when would it happen? What would it cost? How would our small mission fundraise that much money?

In the last few months, God has finally been letting us in on the plans He has for Grace Emmanuel School. We are SO excited to share concrete details with you (no pun intended), about what’s been happening recently and how construction is starting on a school this month!

The school will look similar to this one, built by the same organization in Haiti.

In January, two leaders from two much larger organizations came to JiHM’s board meeting with an awesome offer. To summarize, they are going to provide the funding for up to $500,000 worth of capital projects for our mission over the next 3-5 years. Their first priority? Building a 15-classroom school for Grace Emmanuel.

It is hard to put into words the overwhelming emotion that washed over us as we listened to these organizations offer their resources in such a huge way—and with a much faster time table than we had dared dream about.

Current 1st grade classroom

For months we have watched our students struggle to concentrate under broken tents, and Nate has listened to the teachers ask over and over if we could possibly do anything about the distracting conditions. We have prayed along with so many of you, and now we are seeing God answer this prayer!

Once again we have witnessed how those that the world forgets about are so near to the heart of God. He is more concerned about the precious students at Grace Emmanuel than we could ever be, and completely by His grace He brought about the relationships with these larger organizations that will bring about a school for these students.

Nate and I have felt so blessed to be part of all of this, to watch God write awesome stories that can only be explained in three words: “God did it!”

In the last three weeks we have also got to watch God work bringing the funds tobuild a security wall around the land where the school will go. This is the one thing that our partnering organizations asked our mission to provide, and it’s a crucial part of the project to deter theft, keep animals out of our property, and keep our students safe.

We estimated the wall will cost JiHM just over $100,000 to build, and at the end of February we officially kicked off a fundraising campaign. As part of this, Nate and I had the awesome blessing of traveling to California to speak at and visit a church that sponsors nearly 25% of the students at our school. This church has become like family to us, and it was such a gift to spend time with them as we started to receive first reports of funding for the wall coming in…from 13% to 20% to 31% to 43%…  this wall is going up!

We’d like to also invite you to help build the wall for the school. As of Friday, we’re 49% funded—just about halfway to the fundraising goal of $100,000. 

It costs $70 to build one foot of the 10-foot-high wall, $700 to build 10 feet, and so on. If you’d like to give, please visit www.jesusinhaiti.org/buildGES to find out how. This wall is so important to improving the education we can give the students of Grace Emmanuel School! Thank you!

In Other News

A few other updates as we recap these 3 months since our last email:

  • Our time at home over Christmas was awesome. It is always so good to see all of you face-to-face and get updates on your lives. The time seemed too short again, split between Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, and Florida, and we missed seeing several of you.
  • Over Christmas Nate received a donation to purchase 10 iPads for Grace Emmanuel School. He is training the teachers and hopes to fully roll them out within the next month.
An iPad in use to take attendance
  • We returned back to Haiti to a new member on the JiHM team–Lauren Neal, who arrived from Cincinnati in December with a three-year commitment to work with the Lighthouse Children’s Home. She has been a delightful addition to our team and has become a cherished friend.
  • In January, we hit 100% sponsorship at our school–with a waiting list!
  • The Power Girls performed the story of Esther in church in January, complete with costumes provided by my sister. Every single one of the girls wanted to be part of it, so we had lots of extra roles… including a horse.
Esther (played by Andeline) approaches the king (played by Sandy)
  • Our good friend Dawn visited again in January for one week that always goes by way too fast!
  • Our home church from Becker, MN, sent their second team at the beginning of February. Once again, the Lord’s timing was perfect. They arrived right after a shipment came in from Cincinnati with a pallet full of paint, and the group began a transformation of the Lighthouse Children’s Home. They scrubbed and dusted and scraped and painted with all their energy. They were a huge encouragement not only to us, but to Lauren. The project list accomplished by this group is legendary!

  • We moved! We LOVE our new living arrangements. The house is laid out much better for hosting groups than the old guest house, giving staff a separate floor and kitchen so we can keep some semblance of a normal life even with guests coming and going all the time. Again, the Lord brought that Becker team down at the perfect time as they were instrumental in getting everything moved, and also wired the new house for generator power. They were the last group we hosted in the old house.
  • Our mission hosted another group in February from Austin, MN. A fun addition to the week with this group was Pam, one of my former co-workers from the City of Hopkins. I was so touched by the sheer amount of donated goods she brought with her from other former-coworkers. Thank you, Pam and Hopkins friends!
  • As we said earlier, we just returned Friday morning after just over a week inWoodland, California. We’ve gotten to know many people from their church who have come down on trips, and we felt like we were visiting family. We loved being passed around to different families for dinner every night and sharing life together. We also were given the opportunity to see Muir Woods (the ancient redwoods) and we drove across the Golden Gate bridge! Thank you for that incredible week, Lifepointe Church!

I think that sums it up for us this time. Thank you for all the support and love and prayers! We cannot say thank you enough.

Love from Haiti,
Kristi and Nate

PS. If you’re able to give to the wall for the school, donations are currently being matched by an anonymous donor, so your gift will double.

You Matter To Me and Three Months of Updates

How wonderful it is to be able to write in anticipation of seeing many of you over Christmas time. We know that we have been lacking in updates, but we hope and pray you understand your prayers and giving are so important. So many times we have felt overwhelmed and incapable, but someone is always there with a kind note just when we need it. God’s timing is impeccable.

We wanted to catch you up on some of the things that have been going on since we last talked to you in mid-September. So grab a cup of coffee or hot cocoa, and settle in for a 3-month tour of stories, concerns, and what we’re looking forward to.

from Nate

Before school started in October, Kristi and I were able to take our full-time teaching staff to a beach resort called Indigo for the day. Indigo is really nice and has all the amenities you’d expect at a Caribbean resort. We wanted to take them as an appreciation for their hard work (which they do for around $150 USD a month) and to kick off the new school year with some goal setting.

Teachers at Indigo

This day was made most special by two of our kindergarten teachers (the first two women from the left in the photo above). Maudeline and Marie-Lyne are sisters who live close to Port au Prince and we “carpool” with on our way to school. They are wonderful women and amazing examples of how a Godly, loving father makes such a difference for daughters. They were raised well by an engaged father who has since passed, but whom they both hold as their role model. They live in quite humble conditions but have a joy that can only come from the Lord.

So as we were getting ready to go to the beach, both ladies said they didn’t know how to swim. I told them we’d help them. When we got to the beach, we realized that by not knowing how to swim, they meant this was their first time ever in the ocean. How astounding that was, to think they pass by the ocean a few feet from the shore everyday and have never been in it. For Kristi and I to be able to share this experience with them was a special gift. All the teachers had a great time. We’re so thankful that our supporters made it possible that we could take them. We’re happy to report that by the end of the day, both Maudeline and Marie-Lyne were masters of the back float!

Ismaeline
Ismaeline (left) and her friend Wilshleyka on the first day of school.

School has been running, sometimes it feels like sprinting, since the first of October. I’ve been extremely happy and quite humbled by what we’ve been able to make available to the students and staff already this year. And again, I say thank you to all the sponsors of GES students–we’re almost at full sponsorship. With those extra resources coming in, we can work on improving the environment and quality of education.

Alie and the new stove
Alie and the new stove

The first thing we focused on was our school’s kitchen staff. These eight women prepare and serve lunch each day to our 263 students, a meal that is for some of the students their only reliable daily meal. Our kitchen is a 15’ x 10’ enclosed room that heats up fast and gets very smoky from cooking with charcoal. Last year JiHM installed a roof vent and fans, but this year we were able to buy a propane stove and switch to propane to take away all of the smoke and some of the heat (we can’t do anything about that faithful Haitian sun). Charcoal cooking has long been a reason for much of Haiti’s deforestation. It’s been quite rewarding for us to be able to subtract from one of Haiti’s problems while improving our staff conditions, and to see the relief on the women’s faces.

Another improvement that affects our students is a temporary cafeteria. This may seem like a small thing, but when our school’s biggest downfall is distractions, this relieves a portion of those distractions. We have four classes meeting without substantial classroom partitions under our open air church building PLUS the rest of the students would also use it as a place to eat their meals. You can imagine the disruption this caused. Now our students can dismiss to the cafeteria and our kitchen staff has a shorter walk for serving (and can keep an eye on all of our tableware).

I’ve felt extremely blessed to be a part of bringing more resources to the classroom. We found a great resource here in Haiti that gave us many, many Christian education materials for free. FREE! That never happens here. I took Cadet, the school director, with me to pick out quality material written in Creole. After we placed our order and loaded it in the truck, I asked Cadet if he was ready to go. He looked at me and said, “Mr. Nate, I think we need to pay.” And I said, nope, they said it’s free! He was astonished at the truck full of books we were able to take for our students.

Natalie

Add to this sturdy chairs we were able to purchase for all of our teachers and administrative staff because of donations from teachers in Becker, an improved lunch menu, and a resource room, GES has been very blessed this fall.

Something I’ve been struggling with is the slowness of our progress in building a brick and mortar school. We started working with a couple of other organizations last spring to see this start to come to fruition and it’s been stalled many times working out proposals. Please pray for us for guidance and wisdom on how to move forward to make a better environment for learning. We are moving forward with the first phase, fundraising for a wall to encompass the property JiHM already owns where the school will be placed. Again please pray for wisdom as we continue to talk with these other organizations and can prayerfully come to a conclusion that we’re all happy with.

from Kristi

As our school’s sponsorship program has grown, more and more of my time has been shifting to the management of that. One of my favorite aspects of this is being able to provide a connection between the students and sponsors, which includes translating and handing out the letters that come down each month from sponsors.

I have sponsored a child in the Philippines since I was a teenager and I knew that money made a difference, but I always felt pretty cynical about the relationship aspect of sponsorship programs. I didn’t really believe a long-distance relationship between cultures could have any effect on a kid.

Darlineda
Darlineda, the student we sponsor at GES

Now being on the other end of a sponsorship program, I have seen proof over and over again that the relationship can make a difference – it all depends on the energy that a sponsor puts into prayer and letter-writing for their student.

Because we’re a small mission and our trips are relatively inexpensive compared with bigger organizations, many sponsors have had the opportunity to come and meet the kids they sponsor. One of the highlights of my entire time here was being able to help several people on a recent missions trip from California meet their sponsored students. Their group happened to be here over a school holiday, so we had a whole day to walk in the villages and meet the students in their homes. You would not believe the smiles on the faces of these kids when the reality of the situation dawned on them:

This stranger left their home, took a plane from “the other side of the water,” came to my village, found my house, all just to find ME. 

Poverty tells people that they don’t matter, that their choices don’t matter, that they don’t have worth. Sponsors speak truth into the lives of kids. YOU – specifically YOU – matter to me. Your photo is on my fridge. I’m praying for you by name. I love you. I want you to succeed.

Cassique

One of the students we visited was Cassique, a first grader, sponsored by Diane. He lives with his mother in a window-less room that felt about 6 feet wide and 12 feet deep. He sleeps on the floor. His smile upon realizing that we had come to his house just for him, and that his sponsor had brought him gifts all the way from the US, seemed to light up the village.

Another fun connection was having my mom visit in October. My parents sponsor a kindergartener named Betchina at our school, and I loved seeing the two get to interact and now enjoy having Betchina ask about my mom every time she sees me.

It was such a highlight to have my mom, my aunt Cheryl, and their friend Char spend a week with us in October. Char had raised money for the Power Girls before she came and we were able to use some of that money to take them out to eat (for the first time in most of their lives–we had to give a lesson on how to properly eat at a table before we went) and then to a park about 30 minutes away. The girls had a blast, and so did we.

Power Girls

I’ve spent more time this fall preparing and translating lessons for Power Girls. By last spring, it felt like I was coming up with and leading every lesson and craft and game, and I didn’t want that, yet I did want to make sure we were coming up with a plan to specifically target the lessons these girls most need to hear. I want to equip the other leaders with techniques and ideas for how to plan for meaningful lessons, which has required lots of hours of finding curriculum (most American teenage girl curriculum is way too fluff for what these girls have been through in their young lives) and translating lessons in advance, so that the leader who is in charge of the lesson the next week has a week to read and prepare to teach it. This fall, all our lessons focused on integrity.

With the increased time spent on Power Girls and the sponsorship program, plus other communication and design for JiHM, my gardening time has fallen to zero this fall. My gardening helper at the mission has been out sick for the last couple months, and progress has been limited to watching the moringa and breadfruit trees continue to grow. I do hope to return more actively to this in January, since sponsorship stuff will drop off now that school is well underway, rosters are set, photos are mailed, ID badges are made, and Christmas letters to sponsors will be translated and mailed before Christmas. I’m content with how my time and talents are being used right now, though I greatly miss gardening!

New Housemates

One last bit of news before we wrap up this long-winded and overdue email update,we have new housemates! The Fudge family moved here in October and we’ve loved having a family to share the Guest House with again. The Fudges have 3 kids who have succeeded in taming the wild kittens in our yard and brought much joy with them to Haiti. Brent & Anna Fudge are working with Back2Back Ministries, which is just launching in Haiti and partnering with JiHM’s children home. We’re so glad they’re here.

Looking Ahead

We leave for the states on December 16, where we will split time in Minnesota and Indiana, as well as spend a few days at Disney World with Kristi’s family en route back to Haiti. We are so excited to see you all, share more stories, get updates on your lives, and enjoy the hot showers, cold weather, non-stop electricity, coffee shops, and sane driving.

On January 7, we’ll return to Haiti. We’re excited that another new housemate will be here when we return, our friend Lauren from Cincinnati, who will begin a 3-year commitment to JiHM.

Merry Christmas and see you soon! Love from Haiti,

Nate & Kristi

September 2013 Update

We hope you all had a great summer!

The months of July and August were refueling months for us. We celebrated one year in Haiti and began our second year. We spent three family- and friend-filled weeks in Minnesota and Indiana in July (with an unseasonably cool and wonderful camping trip on the North Shore), and returned to Haiti to several weeks of visiting missions trips – including a group from our home church in Minnesota. We feel encouraged, renewed, and very loved!

Our highlights from August in Haiti {in pictures} have been:

An encouraging week with a returning group from Woodland, California–they have become like family!

 

Kristi, Kimberly, Lovely & Anne-Marie
A fun date-day in Petionville with Anne Marie, Kimberly, and Lovely, the three girls that live at the Lighthouse Children’s Home.

 

Another beautiful mass wedding at our church, with 5 couples (of all ages!) getting married.

 

us with group from BBC
An awesome week with a group from our church in Becker, MN in the middle of August. They even got to do the Haitian Hustle with us!
Jamie and Valerie
Getting to know and serving alongside JiHM interns from Fort Wayne, Jamie and Valerie.
Special time spent with the Power Girls during their summer challenge to copy the entire book of John. They’re doing it!

Looking ahead

A time of transition is happening right now, as a few weeks ago we said goodbye to our housemates of the last year, Dave and Cherie Van Wingerden. Their presence is already missed, but we won’t be alone for too long. As we’ve mentioned before, JiHM is partnering with another ministry called Back2Back, and they have a family of five moving down in mid-October. At the end of August we were able to spend sometime looking for shared housing with them and will probably be moving in the next few months! We are excited to live in community again, and for Back2Back to gear up work in Haiti. Then in January, Lauren Neal will be joining us to work specifically with the kids at the Lighthouse Children’s Home. We can’t wait for her to join the JiHM team!

Tom (director), Lauren (coming in January), Linda (our board chair and Lauren’s mom), me and Nate

At the end of August, we sat down with our board chair, Linda, and mission director, Tom, to review last year and set some goals for the coming year. We thought we would share those with you so you can be praying for us!

for NATE

As we discovered our roles last year, often what we thought we’d be doing was quite different from what roles we were really needed to fill. Nate’s main role has been superintendent of Grace Emmanuel School, with his main goal being to continue to improve the quality of education at Grace Emmanuel School.
Cadet and Nate

As he defined this role, it encompassed a lot of things, all which will be done alongside Cadet, the Haitian director of GES. They’ll be working on staff development, which includes better defining the roles off all who work for the school, continuing to seek training opportunities for them, equipping them with more resources, motivating them to excel and continuing staff evaluations. They’ll be defining school policies in written form, working to create a student handbook, and improving the school’s data collection. Nate and Cadet also will be working on evaluating and strengthening the school’s curriculum, improving the chapel education program, making a plan to implement into our school the child development model created by our friends at Back2Back, and finding a way to aid struggling students who might otherwise just give up on school. Pray for energy and productive time together for Nate and Cadet.

Nate will also be serving as the school building coordinator. As JiHM dreams about how to improve GES, we know the number one improvement will be to have an environment more conducive to learning. Currently, our classes meet throughout our mission property, under tents, under the open air church, and in two wooden shelters. Distraction is high from overcrowding to lack of walls to exposure to all the elements (heat, rain, wind). Due to connections made by our board chair, two larger organizations have come alongside our mission with interest in building the school. However, our mission first needs to come up with about $87,000 to build a wall to protect that school. Nate is going to serve as the liaison for this project, helping to promote and fundraise, and providing feedback on construction plans to make sure the school will be what GES needs long-term. Pray for these funds to come in quickly and the school to be a reality soon!

Finally, Nate will continue to create video and photos to share the story of what God is doing through JiHM, drive when needed, and be more involved with leading groups.

for KRISTI

One of the roles I have taken on here is managing our school sponsorship program. Our school is funded by sponsorships—families in the states choose a student at our school to invest in for $35/month and then have the opportunity to send letters back and forth to them. Last August we had about 68 active sponsors for what ended up being 250 students. As of today, we’re at 210 sponsored students!

You can do the math on what that means for the school. The school budget has gone from draining the mission’s general fund, to actually being self-sustaining, funded, and able to invest in improvements… Praise the Lord! It has been a delight to be involved in this process, and most of its success is due to two churches that held sponsorship drives this year.

For this year, my goal is to continue to make improvements and grow the program so every student is sponsored, both for the financial peace it brings the school and for the praying influence a sponsor brings to each student’s life. (There are still unsponsored students, and our roster will be going up this fall…consider sponsoring one of our students?) This job has been the perfect role for me – I get to organize and use spreadsheets, I get to design the information pieces we need for it, and it’s all for something I believe so strongly in. I love it! Pray for continued growth and committed sponsors.

Another goal for this year is to continue investing in the Power Girls, and especially its leadership so that the program will continue when I’m gone. Last week I had a planning meeting with the other leaders and it was so encouraging to hear their excitement for this year, and their reasons for wanting to continue investing in these girls. On Saturday, we will resume weekly meetings with the girls. Pray for these precious girls and their leadership!
Kristi and moringa

Gardening will be mainly on hold until school kicks off again—there just isn’t time right now. For now, I plan to keep visiting the 4 gardens I planted in the village last spring and equip them for the battle with caterpillars. My goal for this year is to plant gardens with all the ladies that work in our kitchen at school and use it as a tool to also teach good nutrition, which will then hopefully impact our school lunch menu. I also hope to keep trying to find opportunities to “edibly” landscape the mission. I am happy to report that several of the breadfruit trees are still alive, over 20 moringa trees are growing, and many banana and plantains are flourishing in our ravine area. Pray for the growth of gardens and knowledge!

Also on my To-Do list: develop a communications plan for our mission, redesign our mission’s website, and kick off the school fundraising campaign, and teach English every Thursday to 5 kids from our children’s home. Pray for knowing how to prioritize!

Have we said thank you yet?

Looking ahead to this year, we are filled with excitement for the work we get to do because of the awesome people who have supported us and continue to support our lives in Haiti. Yes, there are difficulties to living down here, but they are outweighed by the rewards. Rosena’s smile when she sees us, the boundless energy every Saturday of the Power Girls, the gratitude our friends here show us when we are able to help pay for a funeral or a surgery because people like you have blessed us in our work down here. We can’t say thank you enough!

Love from Haiti,

Kristi & Nate

Kindergarten graduation and encouraged daughters

I’ve been wanting to write about this day for two months, but now I’m glad I didn’t because a couple weeks ago, I discovered more to the story.

On July 5, our school officially ended the 2012-2013 school year with our kindergarten graduation ceremony. This was Nate’s and my first opportunity to see our school’s graduation and it was a really fun morning.

Betchina welcomes the crowd
Betchina welcomes the crowd

Kindergarten graduation is a BIG deal in Haiti. Most kids will never graduate from high school, but parents do their best to make sure their kids have at least gone to kindergarten. Kindergarten in Haiti is 3 years—kids start when they’re about 3 years old and go through first kindergarten, second kindergarten, and third kindergarten. If they pass third kindergarten, they graduate and can begin primary school the following year.

After the ceremony, parents who are able host a party at their home for their child, with fancy food and gifts, just like our graduation open houses in the U.S.

so many hopes for these kids!
so many hopes for these kids!
sitting with the graduates
sitting with the graduates

We had 15 kids graduate this year—our biggest graduating class yet. I was given the honor of being the marenn of the ceremony (this translates godmother, but basically means I was the hostess.) I wasn’t really sure what all this entailed, but I knew I had to give my remarks, bring a little gift for each graduate, and dress my best.

The parenn (my male counterpart host) had the advantage over me in that he had actually been to a graduation before in Haiti and knew what to expect and what was expected of him. He knew that there was a color for this graduating class (lilac) and looked the part. He knew that the gifts would be presented in front of everyone and used fancy gift bags as opposed to my paper bags. He knew a grand speech would be expected from him, so he addressed the crowd in not two, not three, but four different languages (Creole, French, English and Spanish) and spoke for about 15 minutes longer than my 1-minute attempt in only Creole.

The parenn and me.
The parenn and me.

Thankfully, everyone ignored the rookie mistakes of the blan and still wanted photos with me afterwards.

Our second kindergarten teacher, my friend Maudeline
Our second kindergarten teacher, my friend Maudeline
even Nate wants a photo with me :)
even Nate wants a photo with me :)

But this is what I’ll remember from graduation.

Kimberly addresses the crowd
Kimberly addresses the crowd. (Her parents are on the other side of the aisle.)

Our valedictorian, Kimberly. She wore a special color to distinguish her as the head of the class. She memorized a speech and addressed the crowd with eloquence beyond her 6 years.

As I watched her in awe, I noticed something remarkable. Her mom and dad, sitting together in the front row, cheering for her exuberantly every step of the way. The pride on their faces was so evident.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this support and encouragement from both her parents was why little Kimberly was the valedictorian. Her family is a rarity in the village. Of our entire graduating class, only 5 of the students report living with both their mom and dad. And if the statistics are true, 4 of those 5 relationships are abusive.

my gift presentation to Kimberly
my gift presentation to Kimberly

At the end of the school year, Kimberly wrote a thank you letter to our board (she was then unsponsored). In it she wrote, “My family has two children and I am the oldest. I love my family a lot. When the rain is falling, they carry me on their back so that I can go to school.”

A couple weeks ago, I saw Kimberly’s mom at our school inscription day for this school year. She was with her other daughter, who will be in second kindergarten this year. This daughter had received a letter from her sponsor, so I gave it to the mother and asked if she would read it later to her daughter.

She shook her head no. “M’pa ka li.”

I can’t read.

On the verge of tears, I read the translated letter in my own broken Creole. The sponsor had written about how much she loved this little girl and was praying for her. About how she was beautiful, just like this sponsor’s granddaughter. About how important it was for her to work hard in school.

Her mother nodded and beamed through the whole letter.

Because of Grace Emmanuel School, a family who has been illiterate for generations now has two beautiful daughters who will be able to read.

When I get a glimpse of this beautiful work Nate and I get to be a part of here, I am filled with gratitude.

Kimberly receives her diploma
Kimberly receives her diploma

And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’ Revelations 21:5

Where we fall short, He shows up

We hope this finds you all well in the swing of summertime! As we write this we are a few days out from coming back to the states for a few weeks to reenergize and recuperate. We can’t wait to see many of you!

These past 2.5 months have been quite the growing period for us. They say that if you pray for things like patience, courage, and perseverance, God doesn’t just give you those characteristics but instead lets you experience situations where those qualities are necessary and leaves the choice up to you about whether you will develop those qualities. Almost daily in Haiti, we are given those situations. And almost daily, we fail. Yet despite our shortcomings, God stays faithful. Where we fall short, he shows up. We are so grateful for his faithfulness to bring us his encouragement, his provision, and his joy.

Encouragement 

After those weeks when we’re ready to board the next plane to anywhere but here, God has brought us visitors when we most needed their encouragement. My (Nate) parents came at the beginning of May, two great college friends came in June, as well as some friends from Becker, and throughout this spring we have been included in visiting missions groups that started out their weeks here as strangers and quickly became friends.

My parents visiting made a huge impact on us, and I think on them, too. Being able for them to really, REALLY, understand what life was like here makes our conversations so much deeper. It’s funny, but I have the fewest pictures of their visit because I was so inundated with just being with them that I forgot so many times to capture the moment, rather than just live it! I’m sure many of you reading this from Indiana have already spoken with them about their experience, but if you have not, please do, and I’m sure Mom will bring up the awful condition of the road we drive on everyday, multiple times a day to our house…

Two of our college friends that came have been friends with Kristi since our freshman year at Huntington College. Christina was a fellow elementary education major with me and is now a kindergarten teacher, so having someone to see my struggles as an educator and the hopes and dreams I have for Grace Emmanuel School was a blessing. And our dear friend Stace that has been on many adventures with us the past few years in Minnesota brought comfort and poetic beauty to our experiences. She has a way with words that only someone truly gifted by God can have. They both were such joyful additions to our life in Haiti.

Our most recent visitors, the Bengtsons and the Nuests, are from Becker where I taught and we lived for the past 6 years. A few years ago, I had both Julia (Bengtson) and Courtney (Nuest) in my second grade class. Their moms, Dawn and Shannon, who have been here several times, brought them for a week, along with Dawn’s other daughter Hannah. It was pretty neat to be able to watch former students experience Haiti and witness God’s love for all people. It was also so good for us to spend time with their healthy, flourishing families when we are inundated here with so many students and kids we care about who are in very, very broken family situations. To Hoke and Cory—thank you for sharing your girls with us for a week!

Provision

We have to tell you about a couple people who have been hired in the last couple months who have made our lives at the mission property easier and more effective. I am by no means in charge of mission property, but I am there often because of school so by default people have questions for me about upkeep and projects. While it’s been good because most of the time the projects involve making our school environment better, at times it is stressful if I’m the one that has to initiate everything that needs to get done.

Enter Erzon. He has been literally a Godsend. He’s had a relationship with Tom over the past few years and had done some work for him before, so he’s kind of a jack of all trades, mechanic, skilled craftsmen, translator, driver. A great person to be working with. With Erzon, I have been able to tell him my idea, and he makes it happen. He also comes up with great ideas as well, so we make a good team.

Along with Erzon came, ironically, his father, Kanye! (insert your own rapper joke here…) He has been helping fill the void left by Jonas in gardening/landscaping. He’s been diligently working with Kristi planting and caring for the numerous vegetables and trees. He’s a quiet man of few words, but cares for and works hard for the mission. Together, Kanye and Kristi have planted nearly 50 trees at the mission: breadfruit, mango, banana, plantain, moringa, avocado, and grapefruit. (Unfortunately, some have already been lost to flooding, but that’s another story…)

Also, after two months of frustration and disappointment, we found new renters for our home and we could not have been blessed with a better family. We are overwhelmed by how God profoundly answered this prayer and put a family in our home that was as excited about living there as we were to have them live there.

Finally in the provision category, our Creole is progressing well and we love being able to communicate with people here. We’re far from fluent, but we’re conversational, and that’s a huge blessing. Both of us will be speaking at the kindergarten graduation at the school on Friday and attempting to do so in Creole.

Joy

Just last week we were able to visit a family from our church that we talked about in our last update, Rosena’s family, that has had much loss in the last year. (Rosena’s sister Roseberline, a first grader at our school, died on Easter Sunday, and her father died a year ago—both struck by vehicles on the highway that runs through their village). Obviously, we have an extra special love for dear Rosena and her family, which includes a 4-year-old sister, 3-month-old sister, mother, and grandmother.

As we came to visit, we were met by a wide grin from Rosena’s mother at their door and a quiet “bonswa.” Rosena had been upset about something when we arrived, but she was quickly drawn to Kristi’s phone to start a photo shoot of her infant sister. Soon she had every adult in the room smiling and laughing.

Kristi and I talked later about how great it was that we didn’t have to “do” anything but just be there, be present in that moment. I think we often miss out on that because it’s not an “effective” use of our time, but by just letting the time unfold you feel the hearts of those in the room. We have witnessed and felt many emotions in that small house, and what a beautiful thing to experience joy return.

Another huge source of joy for Kristi continues to be the Power Girls. Especially as her Creole has improved, Kristi has really been able to build some great relationships with these girls. In May, 24 Power girls came to the Guest House for a sleepover. Kristi & Iselande also coordinated a graduation ceremony to transition 12 of the older girls into a separate program (Power Girls Plus). It was a beautiful day and the talk of the village! (You can see photos here). The girls are in the middle of a summer challenge—to write out the entire gospel of John. It is a huge joy for Kristi to see these girls, none of whom have a father constructively involved in their lives, come to know more about their heavenly Father.

Kristi has also been able to plant two more gardens in the village with ladies that work in the kitchen at our school: Francia & Odelyne. Besides chickens and goats nibbling away occasionally, the gardens are doing well, and Iselande and Alie’s gardens are still flourishing a few months after planting. There are also many requests from others to plant at their houses this fall. It is fun for both of us to see. It really touched Kristi when a visitor that was here for one of the plantings said “It’s like Kristi is sprinkling magic throughout the village. She is bringing them life.”

 

That’s all for now!

It is fun to count our blessings and recount how God is faithful—thanks for sharing this journey with us. He brings his encouragement, provision and joy in our lives to show us that He is near, no matter where we call home. Thanks for supporting us in all the ways you have while we call Haiti our home.

Keep the prayers coming, especially when you don’t hear from us for a long time!

We pray God’s blessings upon you, and hope to see many of you soon.

Love from Haiti,

Nate and Kristi

Dry Bones

“All that I am is dry bones, without you Lord, a desert soul, I am broken, but running, toward you God, you make whole.” 

This is the chorus to my favorite song right now, by The Rend Collective Experiment. (I’ve mentioned them on Facebook before, and if you haven’t checked them out yet, please do.) It just completely lifts my spirit and resonates with me in this point in my life.

The inspiration for these lyrics come from the vision Ezekiel had in 37:1-14.

“God grabbed me. God’s spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them –a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain — dry bones, bleached by the sun.” (MSG)

We haven’t been very good about communication in the last few months–I think our last blog was in January. And we are quite overdue on our update email. I think these last few months have been a huge growing period for us. It’s been a surreal time in which we have grown deeply aware of our need for God. He is our strength, and without him we could easily become those dry bones, bleached by the sun. There have been days that we were dry bones, when it felt that God could do nothing with us, and all that we were doing was worthless.

But here is the hopeful part.

“God the Master told the dry bones, ‘Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I’m God!'” (MSG)

IMG_5720

Kristi and I have to be faithful to be looking for all the ways that God the Master is breathing life into our dry bones. What a beautiful image–God the Master, breathing life into us when we’ve been bleached by life, when we are an open plain of nothingness. It just humbles me to tears really. There have been days that we’ve been squeezed dry of any life and God has breathed on us to show us He is God, He is here, He is with us. It could be a simple tear-jerking smile of one of the students we are working with. A joy-filled kiss on the cheek from one of the Power Girls. And this last week, it was wonderful, caring, loving friends.

IMG_5684

Right now we’re both in a pretty contemplative mindset with the last of our friends leaving Wednesday morning, tears and discouragement on the edge of our heart. Satan strikes at the most opportune time, and the time is ripe. But we must look to this as a moment of reflection on how God sent these friends to help us come alive and realize He is God. And He is good.

So following suit as one of our friends wrote in a goodbye note, let’s focus on the things that reflect God and his spirit.

IMG_5749

Laughter– What a beautiful reflection of joy. When so many mundane moments can be made into a source of joy just by having loving friends near to make a witty remark, or an off the wall observation to instigate that belly-aching laughter. Then to just dwell in the spirit of joy for moments afterward, with no words, just the quieting of laughter and a feeling of open hearts.

Late night conversations– Those of you who have been able to come down here with JiHM will understand how wonderful it is to have those deep conversations out on the veranda when most of the house is asleep, and it’s just the calm swaying of palms and muffled sounds of bass beating from the highway. Those are moments cherished. Where one can lay it all out, speak from the heart, and know that the people you are talking to care, and really won’t think poorly of you.

Photos–What kind of trip would it be without the occasional photo bomb, again to bring joy into life. And to preserve moments in time that will be shared for a lifetime.

IMG_5410 IMG_5439

Wisdom– Truck rides with friends are sometimes a great time for wisdom to be gained, to be able to step back from the situation you are caught up in, and hear an alternative idea, or explanation. We have been blessed to have wise friends to share the ride with us.

IMG_5699

These thoughts may seem scattered, and that’s probably because they are right now. I want this blog to be a way for you all to peek into our lives and hearts. A missionary friend of ours responded to one of our emails saying that she remembered what it was like putting your heart out there for people to read and having no idea if it made sense or if anyone read it. It is hard sometimes putting it all out there on this wide-open forum of the web.

A friend told me recently when I was being hard on myself, “God doesn’t call us to be perfect or without fail, He just call us to be obedient.”

I’ve been working through that a lot, feeling like those dry bones and feeling like I’m wasting in the desert plain because things may not always go right or advance as quickly as I would like. I hear God say, be obedient and let me breathe life into you. That is why you are here. To be obedient and accept my breath of life.

IMG_5398

Joy and Sorrow

The past several weeks have been filled with joy and some incredible sorrows. It is hard to put the emotions of these weeks into words—which is why our blog has been silent now for awhile. Through it all we know that God has been in control, that He is more than big enough to handle all our tears and frustrations, and that He has wept with us.

Family Portraits & Danielle

At the end of March we had our first official visit from a friend. Danielle came from Indiana ready to share her amazing photography skills with the families of the staff at our mission. She was not just equipped to take the photos—she had raised support to make prints while she was here and was able to give each family multiple prints and a frame.

It was very joyful for us to spend the week with her and a couple very full days going through the village and meeting families in their homes. They had a blast choosing their outfits and poses. Everyone loved their portraits afterwards—especially the school cooks, who danced and sang to show their appreciation.


Two of our favorites from the first day: Jony & Richna, and Chicano, Sandra & Heliab

Roseberline

Spending our days doing this kept our minds focused on life during a very difficult week. On Easter Sunday, Danielle’s second day here, we received a call from the director of our school that Roseberline, one of the first graders at Grace Emmanuel School, had been struck and killed on the highway that runs through the village next to our mission.

Roseberline (left) & Rosena

At the beginning of the school year, we had learned about Roseberline and Rosena, two sisters at our school who lost their dad last June when he was hit by a truck. We had focused on these girls, trying to give them extra love every morning we were at the mission and ask them questions about their mom, who had been only a few weeks pregnant with their fourth daughter when her husband had been killed. The girls had helped Kristi in the garden and always wanted to go see what was growing, pulling weeds without being asked and just being such sweet girls.

The loss of Roseberline is still very hard to wrap our minds around and we definitely have asked Why her? many, many times. The day after her death, we went with all the students from our school to visit her house and pay our respects to the family. We will never forget the grief inside that house, but also the beauty of the community that is a Haitian village, completely surrounding this family in their grief as over 100 kids and all our teachers filed in one-by-one to kiss Roseberline’s mother on her cheek.

Our schoolkids in the funeral procession from the church to Roseberline’s burial site

Roseberline’s funeral was held on the Friday after her death and our church was filled with her family and friends and all the kids from our school in their uniforms (another Haitian tradition). Nathan was asked to speak and we both wept through his entire eulogy.

Rosena has since returned to school and we are giving her extra long hugs and making sure she knows that we loved her sister and we love her too. Please keep this precious family in your prayers.

And to Danielle–thank you for bringing joy during that very difficult week. We know God handpicked that week for you to be here with us.

Learning From Back2Back

In mid-April, we took a much-needed, 10-day break from Haiti with the primary purpose of visiting Back2Back in Monterrey, Mexico for a week. Back2Back is looking at purchasing land adjacent to JiHM here in Haiti and will be partnering with JiHM as they set roots in Haiti. Our mission’s focus syncs well with Back2Back, which is specifically focused on sustainability and the development of the orphan child. Their organization has a lot to offer ours in terms of structure and they will benefit from the groundwork that JiHM has laid in the last 15 years in Haiti. Our week there was full of encouragement and resource-gathering and meeting lots of amazing people, and we left feeling better equipped to continue with the work God has called us to Haiti to do with JiHM.

Spending a day in Monterrey–amazed at the beauty of the city

We are also grateful to the Gregorys in Dallas, Texas, who hosted us for a few days en route back to Haiti as we shopped for supplies and got our “fix” of the beautiful USA. We loved our time there with y’all!

Jonas

The day before we returned back to Haiti, we found out that Jonas had passed away unexpectedly. Jonas has been Kristi’s right-hand man in the mission garden and she is forever indebted to what he taught her about gardening in Haiti. You might remember him from this blog post. Kristi has really relied on him for his fluent English, his agricultural knowledge, his enthusiasm, and how he came to her rescue when she showed up at the mission with a bunch of seedlings to be transplanted and no clue where to put them. Jonas was bent on leaving “a legacy” at the mission property and died before he could truly achieve that goal. He is greatly missed already. It is hard to begin to grieve another loss with Roseberline still weighing heavy on our hearts.

Jonas with Kristi in the mission garden in January

Prayers & Praises

So we continue to ask for your prayers. Prayers for continued strength, for the ability to find peace amidst the chaos of life here, prayers for renewed vision. Pray that we would not harden our hearts to loss but that we would have hearts big enough to handle grief. Pray for the families here grieving their loved ones, that they would know that their lives mattered and each and every life is precious to God.

We also give praise to an awesome God, who continues to go before us into every situation we encounter and holds all things together. He shows up all the time, most recently in answering our prayers for a new renter for our home. He has sustained us and kept our spirits high. There have been many joys: time spent with the Power Girls, another garden planted in the village, a special prayer of blessing for Nate from an awesome group of men, and many more awesome visitors who have encouraged us more than they realize.


Prayer for Nate at the JiHM mission property

Thank you, dear friends, for your prayers and continuing support. We love you! Your notes of encouragement are very welcome :)

Love from Haiti,

Nate & Kristi
PS. We’d also like to ask for some extra prayers for our friend Mezinord (pronounced Mez-now). Mark Murphy, a pastor with JiHM from Fort Wayne, IN, who comes here once each month, befriended Mezinord in the village several months ago and has worked hard to get surgical help for this 12-year-old boy. God has brought everything together—surgeons to perform the operation, people here to make the necessary visas and paperwork happen, and on Wednesday, Mezinord boarded a plane with Murph to head to the USA for surgery and a 6-month recovery. The surgery is not without risks, but without it his expected lifespan is hardly into his 20s. Please pray for Mezinord and for Murph and the families in Indiana who will be taking care of him.