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Today was an incredible and emotional day. We began the day by splitting into three groups and praying over different people in the village of Williamson. It was a blessing to get to know these people, where they came from, and where they are at in life. Most of the families needed prayer for their health, finances, and spirituality. One of the ladies we came in contact with in particular was the infamous “Witchcraft” lady. She came up to us in the middle of the road (which was incredible and shocking) and began asking us to pray for her. She wanted prayer for her family, herself, and an occupation. This was remarkable for us to witness. The majority of the families knew Jesus, and claimed they were Christians. However, we were asked to pray for a specific young man who’s girlfriend (who we talked to) is a Christian. He is pulling her the other way and making it difficult for her to follow Christ. There are so many stories we can tell from our experience in the village, but we will leave that for the team to explain in detail, considering there were three groups (and we were both in the same group).

Once we were back at the orphanage, one group went ahead to head back to Kaliko with a sick team member (who is much better now ☺). The second group was left at OEDWA to wait for the other bus to take them. However, we waited…and waited…and waited. Apparently the bus driver didn’t get the memo to come back to transport us! The bus finally came about an hour later, and we quickly went back to Kaliko to eat. We were anxious to come back to OEDWA and spend the last few hours with our precious children. Once we were all back, many of the children prepared and dressed for the soccer game. It was a fun time for all of us, and the neighboring orphanages got to share a special afternoon together. Before the game, TJ spoke to both orphanages as a group about the importance of sharing, caring for one another, and loving each other as Christ loves us.

After a hot soccer game, we went back to the dreaded last moments together. This past week has been incredible for every team member on this trip. We have all laughed together, worked together, cried together, and loved as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our amazing Savior has a plan for each one of us, and we were so blessed to be able to go on this trip. Even though it was our last day with the children, we can rest in the fact that The Lord has the children in His hands and will take care of them better than any one of us could. It was so difficult to say goodbye to them, and we would be lying if we said there weren’t many tears. However, we like to think of it as a “see you later” rather than a goodbye.

Thank you for reading this blog throughout the week, Thank you for praying for us each day and night as we went through this incredible, exhausting, and rewarding journey. Please continue to pray for us tomorrow as we travel home. Pray for us as we cope with leaving these children behind. They have given us so much more than we have given to them, and we were so blessed to spend this time with them.

We will leave Kaliko around 9 in the morning, and travel to the Haitian museum. Following that, we will head to the airport and begin the journey back to America! Our flight leaves Port Au Prince at 3:50, and we have a layover in Miami. We should return to Nashville about 10:15 tomorrow night. Thank you for your prayers and support during this time! We appreciate it and hope you continue to hear the awesome stories about events that have occurred this week. To God be the glory!

Alex and Breanne

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Haiti Happy- Day 6

Happy Birthday!!

Today was yet another amazing and fun day. This morning, about half of our team traveled to Mission of Hope for church. What an honor to see so many different people from different cultures worship together as a body of Christ. It didn’t matter what language you spoke or where you are from; it was an incredible experience to say the least! We sang “Oh Happy Day!” and “I’ll Fly Away” along with several others in Creole. Although the majority was in Creole, we were still able to worship our God whole-heartedly.

Those who have been to church at Mission of Hope before stayed back to help Mo decorate for the birthday party. We all finished decorating when we returned and the children came running off the bus in no time. They began their afternoon by filling their plates completely full and quickly ate. And they sure did eat a lot. (Every single child has gained weight TWO trips in a row. Praise God for that!!!) When they were done, they were allowed to open their bags full of surprises from their sponsor families. Watching this was an amazing experience seeing how ecstatic they were. They were all truly thankful for each and every thing in their bags. It didn’t matter if it was deodorant or a new swimsuit, they were so appreciative. It was such a humbling experience. After opening their presents, they didn’t waste any time and quickly jumped into the pool. It looked like a wave pool with all the jumping, splashing, and playing. They played hard all afternoon and enjoyed every minute of it. Each and every one of us had such a fun afternoon. It was by far the best afternoon of the trip so far.

Tonight, before dinner, I (Alex Potts), along with Alexandra Richardson and Ashley Faulkner had the privilege of being baptized in the beautiful Sea of Haiti. It was absolutely incredible experiencing this. Having 47 other brothers and sisters in Christ surround you for support and to show their love was so encouraging. In saying all this, today was a big day! A lot happened, and we were so grateful for every second of it.

We are, however, beginning to dread saying goodbye to these precious children. It seems like just yesterday we were coming off of the plane into the Port Au Prince airport. Tomorrow is our last day at OEDWA, our last day in the village, and ultimately our last day in Haiti. Pray that we look past these “last” things and just continue to enjoy our day. Pray that we make a lasting impression on the children, the village people, Pastor, and everyone we come in contact with. Pray for the three girls that got baptized today. Pray that we walk in sync with Christ and that we show light and His love to every person around us. We have absolutely loved the past six days here in Williamson, and are so blessed to have this opportunity to share the love of Christ to everyone we come in contact with.

-Alex and Breanne

Haiti Happy- Day 4

Today was an adventurous day. Today consisted of VBS, playing and loving on children, painting, pouring concrete, pier jumping, hiking and exploring the Haitian market. We started off the day at Mercy and Sharing teaching the children about how Peter denied Jesus three times. We spoke about how God still loved Peter even though he denied Him; nothing we could ever do could make Jesus stop loving us. We taught the lesson like we did yesterday. We had Melissa speaking, Bikenson translating and a drama team acted out the scene. After, we played a game and did crafts. Part of the team rode back to the village and the others, like yesterday, hiked down from Mercy and Sharing. When we all got back to the orphanage, we left to go to lunch.

After lunch, we got back in a bucket line to finish the concrete for the kitchen. We finally got all of the concrete laid and it looks so great. After the concrete was finished, we began painting the bathroom privacy wall. Let’s just talk about this for a minute. The paint was literally water. It took about 15 minutes to FINALLY get the paint stirred up. After that, it still took about 20 coats (not exaggerating) to finish. However, we got it and it now matches the rest of the buildings! Throughout the afternoon, TJ and Bikenson took groups of 5-10 people to the market to see the Haitian culture and what market day is really like. It was a very smelly, busy, exciting and good experience. It is really neat to see first hand how the Haitians live day to day. The majority of our team finished out our hot and busy day with some fun pier jumping in this beautiful ocean.

As this week is quickly coming to an end, please pray that we finish strong. Pray that the birthday party goes well tomorrow and everyone has a great time. Pray that even though we are having fun, we still show the love of God to everyone around us, not just the children. We need to use this fun opportunity to grow God’s kingdom and make disciples of Christ. These precious children mean so much to us, and we want to lead them to be a light in this dark world.

-Alex and Breanne

Day 2

Today was an exhausting, hot and incredible day. We arrived at the orphanage this morning ready to love, work and play with the children. Some of our team quickly began working to hang colorful Christmas lights around the pavilion. TJ’s favorite thing to do this morning was making fun of the “single ladies” on the trip and forcing them to pick a picnic table up with him on it so he was able to hang more lights around the roof; little did he know, he had a lot of strong girls picking him up. He was taken aback when they all picked the picnic table up—he nearly hit his head on the roof. Kristen was able to care for a few of the children that were not feeling well. We prayed over children and asked our great God for healing.
After lunch, we returned to the orphanage; around 12 of our team members went to Mercy and Sharing about 15 minutes away to meet the children and staff. There, they were able to find more details about VBS and just used that time to acquaint with that orphanage. The majority of our children went to Mercy and Sharing to meet the orphans. They were excited to get on the bus and go somewhere new for a fun afternoon. The rest of the team stayed behind at the orphanage to move more sand and rocks to continue to lay the foundation of the kitchen.

It’s so, so incredible seeing firsthand what God has done for this orphanage in Haiti; it is almost unbelievable seeing what God has allowed Fellowship to accomplish. The team is so thankful for the work that has been put into this orphanage and we are carrying on the tradition. It was so, so hot today, but we worked together as brothers and sisters in Christ to shovel up concrete, pass the buckets, and lay it down. In the famous words of TJ, “my sweat is sweating.” Although it was a lot of sweating, we finally got a good bit of concrete laid today! We spent the afternoon working, laughing, sweating and playing with the children.

As Christians, we know how powerful prayer is. Please pray for strength to finish the tasks that we are assigned to do. Pray for those precious children. Pray that they will see our love that we have for them that is given through our Savior. Pray that we will follow God’s will in every situation and that we will maintain unity throughout the week. Pray that we do not underestimate the power of love that God has given us to share with these children.

Alex and Breanne

Day 3

I am sitting in a little cove off of the main patio writing this blog and listening to conversations about our day. “Her laugh makes me so happy.” “I love how the children come up to you with their arms up asking you to hold them.” “It’s so crazy how a child you have never met just grabs your hand and walks with you.” “I’m going to hear car horns in my sleep because the Haitians honk so much.” These are all accurate quotes from the day. After breakfast, we loaded up not go to the orphanage, but to go to Mercy and Sharing to have VBS. Children from our orphanage, the village and Mercy and Sharing all showed up to learn about Jesus. It was so incredible. Melissa spoke about how Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. As she spoke, Bikenson translated in Creole; a drama team also acted out the story. After the lesson, we broke off into groups to do a craft with the children. It was hard communicating, considering there were not enough translators, but as always, our God pulled through and it was a successful time. After the craft, we all went back into the church to play a game all together. It was amazing seeing the passion and love that the children have for Jesus. It was a successful first morning at VBS.

After VBS ended, we had a group load up on the buses with some of our children to head down the rocky, windy road back to the orphanage. The rest of the team walked down the mountain. When we all arrived at the orphanage, we loaded up on the buses. We had a small problem—one of the buses wouldn’t start. We had to make two separate trips from the orphanage to Kaliko. It was unexpected, but everyone cooperated and though lunch was late for some, we all got to eat and rest before heading back to continue the kitchen at the orphanage.

We had another bucket line today. Surprising, right? We were able to move so much rock and sand from one end of the orphanage to the other. After passing roughly 100 buckets, we started to lay more concrete for the kitchen. It was a very effective afternoon in construction. We still have a way to go, but it is definitely coming together. The children were precious, as always today. So many of them were helping while we continued construction with the biggest smile on their face. It is such a blessing that they are willing to help us. We never have to ask; they are always there with a smile on their face ready to work.

Tomorrow, we are headed back to Mercy and Sharing to share the gospel with the precious Haitians. Please pray for our time at VBS. Pray that the children and adults will know the magnitude of God’s love for them. Pray for our team to have safe travels from the orphanage, to Kaliko and to Mercy and Sharing. The bus that quit working is now working again, so pray that it continues to run. Pray for unity, strength, rest and for us to continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus as He sets tasks before us.

-Alex and Breanne

#HaitiHappy- Day 1

Where to begin? Today marked our first full day in Haiti, and it indeed was full. Yesterday was an exhausting day full of traveling and new experiences for many. This morning, all I heard was, “I slept so well last night.” “I never woke up once!” Our team definitely needed the rest we received last night to begin the day. During breakfast, conversation buzzed about how each and every one of us were excited to see the precious children that have stolen our heart. We got on the bus to embark on our bumpy, windy, tilty and HOT drive to the orphanage so dear to our hearts. As we arrived at the orphanage, the children quickly ran to give us hugs that never get old. Clay Pierce passed out animal crackers, which was like watching bees swarming a hive; they could not get enough. “More, more, more” echoed throughout the air and the bag quickly ran out. Some of our team went to touch up the paint on the pavilion, while the others got in a line to move rocks of all sizes to get ready to lay the concrete for the kitchen. We loved, played, sang and talked to the children throughout the morning. We left for lunch, talking about how God worked that morning and how we needed to reenergize for the busy afternoon of construction ahead.

This is my first time in Haiti, and on the first day I realized why we joke about schedules and time while we were here. We got back from lunch and we were ready to start on construction. We played with the children for what seemed like a long time. We waited, and waited, and waited for Boss NoNo to show up to give us the okay for construction. Of course, we didn’t mind spending the afternoon with the children in our arms sleeping, laughing or talking, but we needed to get started on the foundation of the kitchen. Boss NoNo arrived and the beloved bucket line returned. We all lined up to pass buckets filled with the sand required to make the concrete. We passed the buckets for roughly 45 minutes. We took a “shade break” to play with the children because we were quickly becoming tired passing concrete in the hot sun. Time quickly passed, and it was time to go to dinner. We said good-bye to the precious children and told them that we would see them tomorrow. We got on the bus and drove the familiar drive back to the orphanage. After dinner, we worshipped and broke down the busy, exhausting, incredible and emotional day.

I asked some of the team members their favorite memory of today. Here they are:

“I gave Jobenson the letter Lacy had for him. His smile was so big and he would not leave my side after making that connection.”

“Meeting the children for the first time and automatically feeling at home.”

“Being reunited with Stephanie and seeing the smile on her face and hearing that sweet laugh.”

“Seeing how happy the children are and how much they have grown since the previous trip.”

“I sang “Bless The Lord” with a child and I will absolutely never forget that experience.”

“Seeing my little girl run up to me when I step off the bus. She remembers me every trip and it melts my heart.”

“This is my first trip, and none of the children really know me. A child came up to me, hugged me and told me that she loved me. That really showed me God’s love.”

“Santonio said ‘Pastor Randy’ with his arms reaching up and melted in my arms as I picked him up.”

“Gladina was sick this morning. She was running a fever and not feeling well at all. I prayed over her and waited for Kristen to bring her some Ibuprofen. When Kristen came (not knowing I had prayed over Gladina), Kristen asked Gladina if she could pray over her. Kristen then proceeded to pray almost word for word what I had just prayed for Gladina.”

Please pray for our team; pray for our strength to complete the tasks set before us tomorrow. Pray that we will show God’s steadfast love to those wonderful children. Pray that we will show Christ’s love through every action and that we will be willing to do whatever He calls us to do.

-Alex and Breanne

Haiti Day 6, A Big Day

The best way I can describe our last full day in Haiti is to say that it was big. We experienced the spectrum of human emotions as we learned of death, encountered spiritual darkness, led people to Christ, witnessed a marriage proposal, said goodbyes to new family, watched multiple baptisms, and, as with every day this trip, felt the presence of God in very real ways. Such a big day. We got to breakfast this morning and TJ told us that he had learned of the death of his uncle back home in Arkansas, a man who was like a second father to him. Facing death is hard under any circumstances, but it felt especially hard today as we considered the fact that TJ was far from his family and still responsible for the well being of the 29 other people on this trip. And though the initial tone of the early morning was solemn, we were quickly reminded that death has no sting in our lives because we serve the one who defeated death, the one who saw the death of TJ’s uncle coming and the one who knew it was going to be used in an unexpected way in advance. We went right out to the village when we arrived at the orphanage and TJ led three of the four groups up the mountain to cut across to a major road on the far side of Williamson. We didn’t expect to meet anyone along our path, but as we crossed in front of a house in the process of construction, someone called out and we stopped. Six men were working there so we approached them and TJ began to talk to the man who first called out to us. We quickly learned that the man was a voodoo priest in the village, and TJ was able to ask him tough questions about what he believed and why. The man kept saying that he couldn’t follow Christ today but maybe he could tomorrow. My mind went to the parable of the young rich man who wanted to get his affairs in order before following Christ, but thankfully TJ’s went to a different story, a story that was still fresh and heavy on his heart. He shared that his uncle and his father were out in the fields at home yesterday and that his uncle was probably thinking about tomorrow when he took his final breath. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, and he asked why this man would want to wait until tomorrow to start following the Lord of light and King of kings. He let us pray for him and his five companions, one of whom claimed to be a Christian and who Jenny encouraged to be bold in sharing his faith, and I truly believe the Lord will do a mighty work in their lives. The Lord put us on that path, prompted that voodoo priest to call out to us, and used the death of TJ’s uncle to help share the gospel, and I refuse to believe that was all in vain. Nothing done in the name of the Lord is without purpose, and that is something we have been reminded of all week long. It was a big conversation, a big moment. As the groups split and continued along different paths, we gained more brothers and sisters in Christ and experienced God using little details to achieve the works he planned for us in advance. Forty people have trusted Jesus Christ with their lives this week, and all of the Bibles that came here with us have been placed in the hands of excited and thankful recipients of God’s word. There has been an evening revival taking place at Pastor’s throughout the week, and we were told that 300 people came last night, many with their Bib Las in hand. That’s so big.

Then when we returned from the village this morning we got to sing our favorite song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” with our favorite children. After which, Cody Nelson stood up and began talking about how thankful he was for the children at Pastor’s and then seamlessly transitioned into how thankful he was that he has now gotten to experience Haiti twice with his girlfriend, Dawn Tomlinson. Then he said that you know you’ve found the one when you can lead someone to Christ together, and with the help of some of the children closest to them, Cody got down on one knee and said, “Ou pral marye avec m’?” To which Dawn joyfully and tearfully responded, “Wi!” That was big for the two of them, and big for all of us who got to see the initiation of a marriage that will no doubt be honoring to the God Cody and Dawn serve.

After a lunch full of congratulations and ring admiration, we returned to the orphanage for the hardest party of any trip to Haiti, the goodbyes. The children who have accepted Christ as their savior are already family, but all of them become even more like family after six days of endless love and laughter and unexpected lessons. Despite the language barrier and age and cultural differences, I almost feel like I have a deeper relationship with some of these children than I do with some people at home. And I think that comes from the fact that my relationships with the children here are so incredibly simple and Christ-centered, and they are exactly what the Lord intends relationships to be. That’s a big challenge for the rest of my life; form relationships with others in a way that honors my savior who formed a relationship with me. TJ has been obsessed with the idiom “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” this week, and as silly as it may seem, I think that phrase kind of fits the relationships between our team members and the children of Oedwa. The proof of the relationship is in the interaction. It’s in the Crenglish (Creole and English) conversations that happened all week; it’s in the handwritten notes that have been exchanged; it’s in the hugs and holding hands; it’s in the flat soccer balls deflated from constant mini soccer games; it’s in the pictures of sponsors hung on the walls and names of people painted on the concrete; it’s in the tears that were shed and the smiles that were shared as we said goodbye this afternoon. You want proof of the lasting relationships that we say were formed in only six days time? Look at the interactions, whether by scrolling through the hundreds of pictures we will want to show you or listening to the hundreds of stories we will want to tell you. There’s your beautiful, humbling proof. It’s big.

We thought our day couldn’t get any more emotional, and then we walked down to the ocean and got to witness the baptisms of four of our team members. Kara, Sam, Dawn, and Hannah had all already surrendered their lives to Christ, but had never experienced baptism as a means to follow Christ’s example to believers. It was incredible to celebrate obedience in such a beautiful place after an incredible week during which God laid it on these four daughters’ hearts to be baptized as his son was baptized. That was big.

This was a big day and this was a big trip. Tonight after we worshipped together in our team devotional, TJ opened the floor for team members to simply share about what they saw the Lord doing this week. Story after story after story after story of God’s provision and providence, faithfulness and goodness, purpose and planning, knowledge and power, love and peace, greatness and gloriousness. It was humbling and incredible to hear. As one team member said tonight, God is alive. He is alive. The God who people across the earth read about in Bibles in thousands of languages, the God who knows every one of his creations by name, the God who makes the waves crash on the beach and lets the sun set with glorious color, the God who conquered death and evil and darkness forever and ever is alive. That phrase holds so much weight and so much power, and it became incredibly real to us this week. Pray that we never again take that truth for granted.

Tomorrow we will travel to Mission of Hope for church before we leave this beautiful country for the time being. I am leaving it up the members of this team to describe to you what they experience, but I will tell you this: worshipping in English and Creole with a thousand other brothers in sisters in Christ, all of us from different backgrounds with different stories, is the closest thing I can guess worshipping in heaven will be like one day, as it says in Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Mesi Jezi, thank you Jesus. We have experienced incredible unity in Christ this week, we will see it tomorrow in church, and our prayer is that we will continue to see it when we return home and for the rest of our days, for “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). That’s big.

Pray for safety as our team travels home and peace as we process this week over the days to come.

Simply put, today was a great day. All of our days here have been full of joy and laughter, but today that joy just seemed a little freer and that laughter a little louder. And they were flowing from every direction. Our team has watched the pavilion roof taking shape over the past four days, and yesterday and today more than one person stopped to stare at the surprising beauty of wood and metal coming together in a seemingly perfect octagon. I don’t know what it is, but there is just something striking about that pavilion. It might be the way the new metal catches your eye when it reflects the Haitian sunlight as it’s lifted into place, it might be the fact that it provides such a cool and shaded resting place to pile water bottles and hold heavy children, it might be the sheer uniqueness of it’s shape in a village of square and rectangular buildings, or it might be because it’s just another visual reminder of the goodness of the Lord and his faithfulness in growing Oedwa. It truly is stunning, and our prayer is that it will be used to faithfully carry out the Lord’s work in the days to come.

People couldn’t stop for too long to stare at that pavilion, however, because Thong Pham’s remote control drone was busily zipping in and out of the air, up and down and all around the orphanage. Randy and he have been taking aerial pictures of the land all week and that has been attracting the attention of all the kids, but today Thong captivated them to an even greater extent. I was standing between a large rock and the pole of a solar powered light trying my best to keep the soccer ball out of that makeshift goal when I heard a wave of incredibly loud squeals followed closely by the hum of Thong’s soaring drone. He had attached a plastic cup to its base with bright green tape and was trying to figure out how to make the lifesaver candy he had placed in the cup pour out over the giggling children. He moved the drone back and forth in an attempt to tilt the cup, and after a few minutes of testing maneuvers there were lifesavers dropping into excited hands from about 20 feet up. It was such a random, spontaneous moment, but it created some of the loudest laughter and biggest smiles from kids and team members alike that I’ve seen all week. Well, at least until bright orange and white soccer uniforms and brand new cleats were pulled out of dusty duffel bags and handed over to some of Williamson’s brightest rising soccer stars. Fiya and Lulu and Emmanuelson and Jobenson and a dozen others donned those uniforms with the Oedwa logo with pride, and we marched across the street, about fifteen feet, into the orphanage next door to play a soccer game against their blue and black uniformed team. School benches became bleachers, people lined the dusty, uneven field, and cheers erupted when the two teams took the field. Our boys scored first and I only hope one of the many amateur photographers got a picture of their acrobatic celebration worthy of a place on SportsCenter’s top ten. It was awesome. The boys in blue tied it up with an early second half goal and after a competitive overtime we went to penalty kicks where it came down to the last shot, which was rocketed home to land Oedwa the victory. Again we saw ridiculously magnificent smiles and yells of the joyous triumph that will be familiar to anyone who ever had a victory in childhood sports and felt like they just conquered the world. In all my times here, that soccer game was definitely one of my favorite experiences. That game, the drone dropping candy, the construction of the pavilion roof, all the singing and little conversations that happened today and brought so much joy – those things alone are enough to make a day great. But we spent just as much time in the village continuing to share the gospel and deliver Bibles, and that just added to the joy of this day. As with the previous three days, there were countless stories of people coming to know the Lord, notes in Bibles saying exactly what was needed at particular homes, powerful prayers being lifted up, and exciting expressions of gratitude and praise pouring out of individuals our team talked with, among so many other experiences. There was one moment in the village today that demands a detailed account just because of the sheer evidence of God working through this experience:

“Our group got split up and as we were talking to people at separate homes, TJ went ahead and wandered further up the mountain. TJ told us through the walkie talkie to come and meet up with him because he heard singing coming from a structure up the mountain and wanted us to check it out. We finally got to the top and realized that a church service was going on in basically a wall-less structure made up of columns with a tarp roof. The people had marked out the church area with large white stones and filled it with small white ones, and all of them had removed their shoes – that place of worship was special and holy to them. There were about 35 people listening to a pastor passionately preach. We gathered the Bibles we had in our backpacks and TJ told him what we were doing and he invited us to stay and listen until the end of his sermon. We got to listen to end of the sermon while Peterson quietly translated, and I remember him saying ‘Seek the Lord first.’ After the pastor finished, he asked TJ to introduce the team and prayed for us – one of the most powerful prayers I have ever heard. They all received Bibles (we had just enough thanks to the Lord’s providence in prompting Fiya to put a Bible in his otherwise empty backpack), and afterwards they began singing ‘I Surrender All.’ Here they are with barely anything, and they’re surrendering it all. Prayers continued to be lifted up, and eventually the entire church began praying aloud and all I could do was cry and thank the Lord for leading our path to these brothers and sisters in Christ. The view was beautiful, the people were passionate about the word of God, and God was present.”

That is the reason we are here. We are here to spread the gospel to those who do not know the name of Jesus Christ and to encourage fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Beyond that, only the Lord really knows what each of us as individuals are doing here. Thong shared his story tonight, and how a little boy from Vietnam ended up speaking to this Tennessean in Haiti just blows my mind. How all of our stories have been woven over the years and why they are intersecting now is something on most of our minds tonight. Why are we here, what is God doing, what is His plan? I don’t really know those answers for me personally right now, but I do know this: God is doing something. He’s doing everything; everything He always knew would happen at this moment in his plan to reach his glorious purposes is happening right now, and we are simply getting to join Him in what He’s already doing. It has been incredible to see, and I cannot wait to see what’s He has in store for us tomorrow. And what He has in store for us when we return home on Sunday, because he’s working in Jackson too. He’s working everywhere. And that gives me so much hope and so much peace in a world where those can be hard to come by.   But as a man reminded me in the village today, nothing is hard to come by, nothing is impossible, if you have God on your side. Please pray that our team will rest well tonight in preparation for an exciting but difficult day tomorrow as we continue to see God move but are also faced with saying goodbyes to the people we’ve grown to call family.

Over the past three days, we have gained more than 20 new brothers and sisters in Christ in Williamson and have given out around 400 Bibles. But as TJ said tonight, it’s not about the numbers; it’s about God’s glory and the power in the name of Jesus Christ.

This trip has been incredibly unique in that we are not only getting to see God leave a mark on the orphanage, but we’re also getting to see him leave a mark throughout the village. There are Bibles in corners of Williamson that have never seen the light of Christ. I just imagine standing on top of one of the beautiful mountains that rise up behind Williamson and looking down at the irregularly placed rows of houses to see hundreds of beams of glorious light reaching from heaven to earth, with their glow beginning to reach the darkness that is steadily fleeing this place. How amazing is our God who has done all this and who brought all of us together at this time for his purposes.

A lot of conversations about where the orphanage started and where it is today have taken place over the past two days, and that alone is yet another testament to God’s faithfulness in watching over this place. Yesterday all of the children were measured, photographed, and weighed, and every single one of them has gained weight in the past three months. The Lord has taken them from malnourishment to three meals a day. Today all of the children were given letters from their sponsors and team members who have grown to love them over the past few days. The Lord has taken them from the ranks of orphans to the ranks of His children, and to places as family in the lives of all of those who love them so dearly. How good is our God. And oh how His goodness showed up throughout the village today. One group was invited into a schoolroom where the teacher/pastor passionately sang to them and lifted his hands high in prayer for them as his students quietly mumbled prayers across the room.

Another group had a woman following them all day, wanting them to hurry up and get to her house to pray for her and give her a Bible. Her house was their last stop, and when they got there they prayed over her and then started talking to a girl who had been with her during the day. This girl wanted to accept Christ as her savior, and they were able to pray with her and give her a Bible of her own as well.

Yet another group was talking with a young man who talked for a long time with them and wanted to be saved. He spoke about having a nightmare where he was unable to get out of a grave where he had been put even though he was still alive. Someone was able to share that Christ was in a grave too, but he overcame that grave. Then Hannah shared that when she has nightmares she will sit and pray to the Lord and that it is promised that demons will flee from his name of Jesus. His face lit up, and he was all in about a relationship with this powerful God.

Someone else spoke with two women who had actually been praying for a Bible. One of them knew English and was able to read the letter at the front of the Bible herself. Then Dawn and Pypo went off from the group to go to one extra house, and Pypo was able to help her lead someone in that house to Christ as well. It’s amazing to see God use Pastor’s children with us in this ministry outside the orphanage walls. What an incredible picture of the united body of Christ.

It was powerful to see team members listening to urges from God that He placed on their hearts all throughout the day, whether that be pulling a Bible verse out of their back pocket to share with a family, stopping at the beginning of a street that everyone else passed by, leaving a Bible at a door where no one was home, asking to pray for someone else at a house who wasn’t involved in the initial conversation, or turning back to speak to a man who had watched us pass by from a distance, a man who later proclaimed with amazement and joy, “I have a Bible of my very own!” And then tonight TJ called Mark, a man who serves at Kaliko, into our team devotional to be prayed over because the Lord put the staff here on TJ’s heart too. We prayed for Mark and his son Givenson who is in the hospital dealing with typhoid or malaria. I ask that right now you stop and pray for him too. You are a part of God’s work here too. Everyone who has prayed, given financially, written in Bibles, supported team members in their decision to come to Haiti – God has ordained you to be a part of this ministry.   It’s dizzying to think about the beautifully complex way God has weaved together this moment with these people under these circumstances at this time. It’s something that leaves me speechless with just a smile on my face and a shiver in my body. Our God is mighty and faithful, and I can’t get the words Kara and Brianne sang tonight out of my head: The ground began to shake, the stone was rolled away, His perfect love could not be overcome. Now death, where is your sting? Our resurrected king has rendered you defeated! Forever He is glorified, forever He is lifted high, forever He is risen, He is alive, He is alive. God is alive in Williamson tonight. Pray that He will continue His good work tomorrow, and that He will bless our eyes to see it.

Tonight I don’t want you to read about our daily schedule. I don’t want the hugeness of what God is doing here to be missed or overlooked because I’m getting in the way by trying to describe what we did hour to hour throughout the day. I encourage you to ask your friends and family that when they return home – start a continuous dialogue about God’s work in Haiti and what they experienced as individuals with unique experiences. For now, let me tell you about what the Lord did in our day, not what we did in our routine. The Lord gifted Randy and Phillip with carpentry skills so that they could continue work on the roof for the pavilion. They finished the main supports and began hammering the support rafters in place in preparation for the next steps tomorrow. It was so encouraging to be able to see their work rising up and taking shape at Pastor’s whether we were sharing the gospel up the mountain or down the hill towards the market. Our resident dentist Joe was able to use his God-given gifts to good effect today too, pulling around 30 teeth to relieve the pain of some of our children and villagers who lined up and waited even through lunch to see him. His hands were at work for the Lord in a very practical way as he, Jenny, and an interpreter named Dominique examined mouths plagued by abscesses and rotted teeth, all while smiling and sharing the gospel through the gifts of Creole Bibles. Most of our team went back out in the village again, and the Lord was just as much at work today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow:

“I started making small talk with a woman on her porch and asked about the peanut shells I saw on her porch. She had been shelling them and I just mentioned that I loved peanuts. We got to spend some time talking with her and when I reached for my backpack to pull a Bible out, Julie stopped me and said she had one ready. I handed it to our translator Didi and when he opened it and began to read the letter inside, I realized my brother wrote it and that it said exactly what I believe the Lord need this lady and me to hear. Out of 700 Bibles, that was the one Julie handed me. As we left, the lady put her hands in mine and gave me a small bag of peanuts.”

“Everyone was so eager to get a Bible, to get something that could be theirs. They wanted to be able to own that Bible and it reminded me of just how little they have and precious the word of God is.”

“One conversation that stuck out to me was with a lady who was standing in front of us with her child, talking about how her husband beat her so much that she became barren after she had her first child. Kierstie was able to talk to her about God’s unfailing love and how He wants us to never settle for the things of this world, like conditional human love, when He promises so much more.”

“After everything that I’ve seen, I don’t what the kids at Pastor’s would be doing right now if it weren’t for the Lord’s faithfulness in bringing TJ, Fellowship, and this place together.”

“As we were talking with people, Fiyah and Clifton began to take the lead on translating our English into Creole and even asked if they could pray for families instead of us. Even when Fiyah wasn’t speaking he was repeating what Peterson translated as a way to practice. One time he even prayed in English while someone else translated to Creole for me. That was awesome.”

“I met Emmanuelson today and thought, ‘I want to be his friend.’ As the day progressed he played soccer with me, was involved in a matching game I played with other kids, was a leader for our group when we walked around the village, and was holding my hand by mid-afternoon. The precious boy stole my heart and had me in tears.”

“At one point Cody was speaking to a group of around 25 or 30 people about the gospel and when he asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior, 3 people came forward and kneeled to pray and be prayed for, adding to the ranks of God’s faithful in Williamson.”

“Yesterday Clayton talked about being asked, ‘What is your dream for tomorrow?’ I got to talk to Fiyah today and I asked him what his biggest dream was and he said that he wanted to be an engineer. And a pastor. And told him why not do both? Ministry can be in everything.”

“After everything this afternoon it hit me how precious the word of God is. I have probably six Bibles in my room and these people were crowding around us and praising God in the streets for bringing them a Bible of their own. It made me realize how often we take the Bible for granted.”

The Lord is working here. He’s showing himself and his character to everyone, Haitian and American, in very personal ways. For me, this has been through his creation. He sat me down in front of another one of his perfect sunsets, with his golden sunlight shining on water I can only describe as glass-like in color and flawlessness, and streaking through one massive gray-blue cloud that seemed to perfectly mirror the mountains behind me that I cherish so dearly. I see God in his creation. And I saw team members all around me – lying on the pier, resting under a tree, sitting at the water’s edge, swimming in the pool – talking and writing in journals about where they are seeing the Lord. Ask them about how and where they see the Lord. Randy spoke tonight from Luke 9 and following and talked about how this trip, what the Lord is doing here, is “unusual and rare and sweet.” What a precious reminder of the power and extraordinary character of the God that brought us all here at this moment in time. The Lord and his work and his timing and his purposes are anything but ordinary. It’s really indescribable to see Him at work, and I think there’s a beauty and strange peace to be found in the fact that we serve a God who is so vast and so powerful that our limited understanding can’t comprehend his limitless abilities. Pray that He will continue to open his people’s eyes and hearts to anything and everything that is from Him, whether we understand it or not.

Right now I’m sitting under the dining pavilion with a lingering taste of pasta and sour guava fruit in my mouth listening to bits of conversation drifting across the room over the sound of tubadu (Haitian music-the internet can spell check that). “Am I burned?” “Look at this tan line.” “Where did your group walk in the village today?” “What was your favorite part of today?” “Yeah, she fell right asleep in my lap and I couldn’t move. “What kind of sauce is that?” It was our first full day here, and it was indeed full. This morning after breakfast we went straight to the orphanage and instead of forming bucket lines and concrete mixing stations like we have on so many trips before, we spent 20 minutes carrying lumber to the new pavilion area and spent the rest of the morning playing with kids, with the exception of our skilled carpenters Randy and Phillip who began work on the pavilion’s roof. Thus, the morning was full of introductions, full of mixed Creole and English conversations, full of laughter, and full of fun. There’s something incredibly relaxing and restful in chasing a smiling seven year old around in circles until both of you are out breath and don’t think you can run anymore. Until you do five minutes later. Looking across the orphanage I saw the beginnings of dozens of lasting, impactful relationships and it simply made me smile and hug those kids I’m closest to a little tighter.   By mid-morning the orphanage was full of new faces as the mobile clinic from Mission of Hope arrived on property. The church filled with children as MOH staff and volunteers and a visiting pediatric surgeon, whom we met last night at Kaliko, began check-ups and diagnostics. Thanks be to God that there were only minor ailments and injuries that necessitated attention, though our resident team dentist Joe Leonard got to exercise his expertise and pulled two hurting teeth from brave and numb-mouth children. Then we all packed up, headed back to Kaliko for a quick lunch, and loaded up our back packs with three Bibles apiece (which take up more space and are heavier than you might assume) to go back to the village for our first real taste of what was planned months ago with the announcement that our main supplies for this trip were Creole Bibles. Walkie-talkies in hand, we split up into four groups that headed in four different directions and returned with four different sets of experiences, 29 different individual experiences. God is at work in Williamson and we were lucky enough to see that firsthand today:

“I was shocked by how receptive they were. In America most people just shut their doors when unexpected visitors knock. We talked to one older lady whose husband died six years ago and as she was telling us about it and we were talking she got really emotional and that showed how real what God’s doing is. And my initial take on Haitian men was that they are always very serious, but we shared with one man who had the biggest smile and was very expressive the whole time. When I looked back he was looking through the Bible we left and it was cool to see the importance of that gift. “

“Everything was wonderful. Cody led a man to Christ and that was incredible. His name was Jackson, which I thought was neat considering where we’re from, and as Cody talked he basically said ‘I want what y’all have.’ So Cody kept sharing and led him through a prayer and we marked Matthew 1 as a good place for him to start, and he said he would come to church on Sunday. It was also nice to be able to talk to men about being a father and about their Heavenly Father and how important it is for them to share Christ with their sons and daughters.”

“There was a girl who was about 20 years old who asked us to pray specifically for her condition as an anemic – that she would be able to get medicine. Well this morning when Jenny packed her nurse’s bag she put in some vitamins with iron in them for no apparent reason thinking they wouldn’t be useful. They were exactly what that girl needed.”

“A younger guy was trying to talk to me while we were with another family and our interpreter was busy so I couldn’t understand him. He followed us after we left their house and we were able to understand that he wanted us to pray for him. After he walked off some ladies across the way said it was important that we got to pray for that particular guy and that that moment was very special.”

Those are only a few of the many things that the Lord did today, and I encourage you to ask your family members and your friends that are on this trip to describe to you what they saw the Lord doing. You can talk to all 30 of us and get 30 different answers; praise God for that. When all the groups returned with now lighter backpacks we headed back to Kaliko for yet another glorious sunset of God’s perfectly mixed hues of grays and blues and golds.

I’ve now shifted to the main lobby area post-devotional where team members are spread out playing cards, talking about their days, and reflecting on everything they saw and smelt and felt and heard today. A boy named Nelson asked Clayton Martin today, “What is your dream for tomorrow?” Clayton didn’t know the answer, I don’t know the answer, and most of this team probably doesn’t know the answer. I challenge you to ask yourself the same question. You may not know the answer either, but thankfully the Lord does. And He will turn what we think are our dreams upside down to give us even bigger dreams that are directly from him. TJ spoke about this tonight, as well as about boasting in the Lord alone and living out 1 Corinthians 10:31 – whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all for the glory of God. We pray that this is our motto here, this is our motto at home, and this is your motto wherever you are. We pray that this is every believer’s desire and motivator; that in whatever we are doing – hammering a roof together, holding a tired child, measuring out liquid ibuprofen, making tiny solar-powered race cars, pulling a tooth, kicking a soccer ball, eating a plate of pasta, writing a journal, taking a picture, walking to class, going to work, sharing the gospel, waking up, sitting down, breathing in and out – we are doing it for the glory of the maker of this earth, the giver of life, the savior of this world, Jesus Christ. This is our prayer for tonight and tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that. I ask that you pray it with us, for us, for yourself, for all believers, and for this world.

Clare

Today we travelled. We got to see the beginning of the sunrise as we sat on the tarmac in Nashville while our plane’s wings were de-iced, but most everyone was asleep by the time the sun met us in the sky. It was mid-morning when the grid-like rows of red roofed Miami houses came into view, and mid-day when they disappeared from sight as our plane headed south to Port-au-Prince. I have been to Haiti on multiple occasions and while I can’t speak for those who laid eyes on Haiti for the first time today, I can say that, for me, having that incredible island emerge out of nowhere from the clouds was one of the most beautiful, comforting sights I’ve experienced since I last saw Haiti’s mountains almost nine months ago.   The mountains seem impossibly large from an aerial perspective and just grow larger and more magnificent as the plane descends into the disorderly rows of tin and tarp roofed houses that blanket Port-au-Prince. We left the airport with old and new friends in the form of our translators, and those roofs became to look over at instead of down on as we drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas en route to Kaliko. Every time I come back to Haiti I expect to be so familiar with the poverty and lifestyle that it no longer shocks me like it did that first trip, and every time I’m mistaken. I notice something different every van ride along Route Nationale #1, whether it be a new building that has taken the place of an empty field, a dry river bed that was previously dotted with deep puddles, or tent cities that seem fuller and closer to the road than before. Today I thought I would be returning to the Haiti I left in July, and today I was reminded that I don’t have dominion over time and the change that occurs under her watch. I saw this most evidently when we stopped at the orphanage. In place of a rocky ledge separating the church and children’s house from Pastor’s house was a large poured concrete pavilion that dominated the area I expected to still be composed of a clothesline and lone tree/shrub. Instead of a hug from a young boy named Emmanuelson, I received a hug from a young man named Emmanuelson whose height almost surpassed my measly 5 feet, 3 and a half inches.   I saw new faces that were unfamiliar and I saw old faces that were equally unfamiliar, marked by the passage of time that I selfishly assumed wouldn’t happen without my presence. I left slightly saddened by the changes that I had missed, some left excited by the reality of the orphanage that they’ve heard about for so long, and others left surprised by the way that reality compared with their preconceptions of what this trip would be like. But we all left together, and upon our arrival many of us made our way to the beach at Kaliko just in time for the sunset. The beach marked a line between the mingling navies and grays of the ocean and sky on the horizon and the dark mountains shadowed by impending purple rain clouds. But the setting sun crossed that line, streaking through the gray sky and lighting up the mountainsides, creating a beautiful photo opportunity and a beautiful moment for me and, in different ways, for many others. I was filled with a realization of God’s faithfulness and goodness and love and forgiveness and power and sovereignty over all things. I was given a moment to bask in God’s perfect creation and realize that He rules over all; He rules over sunrises and sunsets, He rules over time, He rules over everything and everyone He has ever created and will ever create. And He chooses to use us as a team, me as a humbled sinner, to achieve his purposes through his means to his ends. This trip isn’t about us and what we do, this trip is about Christ and what our Heavenly Father is doing. I ask that you pray that we understand and adopt this, that our work in Williamson over the next few days will be honoring to God for it is is.

Clare Williams

As we woke this morning, we were painfully aware of the challenge the day would bring.  Over the past several days, we have developed unbreakable bonds with the orphans and today we must leave that all behind and return to our “normal lives”?  In the bus on the way to the orphanage, TJ read us the scripture of Luke 10:23, which tells us, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.  For I tell you, many prophets and Kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”  TJ encouraged us to pray to view the day through God’s eyes, so we don’t miss out on all the good He is doing. The things we were able to see and hear today were blessings, and for that, our hearts rejoice.
TJ used the path we travel to the orphanage as an analogy to our “Christian walk.”  He explained that the orphanage sits in the middle of a hectic, market village and one wrong turn could cause you to completely miss the orphanage.  If we do not “follow the way”, we might miss God’s path of righteousness.  Often, we struggle to see Jesus even in such a light-driven culture as Haiti.  TJ pointed out how often we lose sight of our mission, even on a mission trip, simply by becoming too busy.  By deciding to view the day from God’s perspective, our spiritual eyes were open to the “special moments” that we so easily take for granted.  I noticed sights, sounds, and smells that I had somehow overlooked before.  Today I decided to put myself in a vulnerable state, where God could push me out of my comfort zone to show me something beautiful.
One of the beautiful moments I had today was with John, our translator, who shared with me his thoughts on why it is so easy to veer off course.  John told me that he, too, struggles to “find the way” in his daily walk with God.  He shared that he hopes to grow stronger in his faith and that his relationship with God is a constant struggle, requiring much discipline.  When I asked him how he is able to sort through the paths offered to us, John told me that he makes a checklist of the choices he has made that God has blessed him in as opposed to those that did not turn out so well.  He explained to me that this is how he learns which paths to continue along.  John’s advice reminded me that it is no accident that we are all here together on this Haiti trip.  We chose the path that led us here and like John said, we have been greatly blessed.
We each have been blessed to have the opportunity to serve here in Haiti, an opportunity many others long to experience.  God provided a way for us to be here and has blessed our eyes by allowing us to see Him in action.  In our decision to “follow Jesus” we have witnessed the progress God has allowed to happen in the orphanage in a matter of only two years.  We were reminded of this as we sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” with the children.  The same song that stole many of our hearts two years ago still rings in the hearts of the children, as this song has become the truth they live by.
As Mary Katherine and Andrew led us in worship with the orphans, we were encouraged that we had followed the right path that had ultimately brought us to this orphanage at this time.  Through God’s eyes, we were able to slow down and enjoy the beauty of this moment, in which we praised as one, alternating songs in English and in Creole.  This was just a glimmer of the joy we would experience as we were able to provide each child a personalized backpack filled with gifts from their sponsor families.  We were overwhelmed by the genorosity of our “church family” whose donations allowed the children to laugh and smile in an ecstatic state of happiness.  We rejoice in this moment we were able to witnesss and are grateful for the support of the church back home.  God has shown us beauty through His eyes.  We rejoice in the gift of this trip and want to share it with those of you serving these children back home.
Traveling back to Kaliko for lunch, I was able to see a kite soaring above the orphanage’s village.  I can’t help but feel as if this was God’s way of telling me these children are going to rise up above the corruption, leading this country to greatness.  God allowed me to see that kite  to give me peace in leaving the children and the orphanage.  Our hearts were breaking with each goodbye, but God reminded us that “greater things are yet to be done here.”  Circling around for a final prayer, tears were shed as TJ reminded us that the same stars that shine so brightly in the Haitian sky can be viewed from our homes in Tennessee, because God is constant and does not waiver even in our struggle to find Him.  Hope could be found in the realization that God had led us here once and He may do it again in the future.  Perhaps, one day very soon, we will travel this same path to the orphanage to find God and the children he loves beyond measure.  God revealed beauty, even in the goodbyes, because we were able to leave confident that the children know Him.  They have faith in God’s goodness, and trust that He will provide them food and water each day.  They have “decided to follow Jesus” without turning back, and we should, too.

-Claire Jaggers

Si Petet – What if?

What if we can already speak Creole?  What if all knowledge already exists in us?  What if we are already the light of the world, able to push back all darkness?  What if the knowledge of God, that transcends all understanding, is found in us?  These are the questions we were challenged with as Chris inspired us with the prayer of Philipians 1:9 that, “Our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”
Chris shared with us his “thirst for knowledge” in learning the language of Creole.  He used the game “Monkey in the Middle” to illustrate his struggle to grasp the wealth of knowledge being thrown above his head.  Chris explained that we experience barriers like this that serve as weakness in our foundation.  We are unable to achieve full knowledge until we are able to peel back these barriers revelation by revelation.  The barrier to light is darkness, which Chris suggested can be chipped simply by supplying more light to cast out the darkness.
As we celebrate New Years with a feast and fireworks, we are immersing ourselves in a culture of light.  Our desperate yerning for “more”  has bought us each here to Haiti to share in the opportunity and optimism that comes with each passing year.  Here with our friends and brothers in Christ, we are certain that there is no better place to break down the barriers than this place in this celebration.  As we enjoyed the night, I asked each teammate to share their own “what if” statement of a dream they have for Haiti.  This year instead of New Year’s resolutions, we have “hopes for Haiti.”

What If….

What if everyone’s heart was fiilled with the love of Christ?

What if the kids in our orphanage became leaders of Haiti?

What if love is authentic?

What if everyone in the village got to hear Pastor Emmanuel preach the gospel?

What if there was no end to what we could do through Christ?

What if I don’t let my fears about the future stop me from committing to a life of “serving” Him
today?

What if the kids at the orphanage transformed the country of Haiti?

What if all our relationships could be like what  we experience inside the walls of the orphanage?

What if the rivers of Haiti had water flowing in them again?

What if a devastating earthquake had never hit Haiti?

What if instead of longing to take these children home, we realize that they can grow up to change the country of Haiti, and even the world?

What if we all knew Creole?

What if everyone in the village was open to the Gospel?

What if clean drinking water could be supplied to all of Haiti?

What if everyone in Haiti was raised like we were in the U.S.?

What if God was present in every person you ever met?

What if we could provide these kids with everything they needed?

What if the orphans had someone to love and hold them everyday?

What if every sponsor family had the opportunity to come to Haiti and meet their sponsor child
face-to-face?

What if one day years from now, I come back to visit Williamson and one of the orphans is the governor?

What if all the health needs were met for the village, as well as the orphanage?

What if we did not overcomplicate God’s simplicity?

What if God is calling me to “wreck” my life?

What if there were no barriers stopping us from spreading Christ’s word?

What if the 143,000,000 orphaned children in the world were given a chance at hope?

Haiti Day 3- Hand in Hand

“So, this is what the hands of God look like?” I thought to myself after studying the details of the tiny hand I was holding.  Flipping the hand in my own, I observed every wrinkle, freckle, and scratch.  The hands of the creator and savior of the universe covered in dirt and dust?  How could this be?  This hand belongs to a boy named Widenel and as he sat in my lap, I began to understand.
Mr.  James shared with us the passage in which Jesus washed the feet of those who had served Him.  He humbled Himself in adoration of the great faith they had displayed, in the same way we are now serving the orphans.  Mr.  James used this image to illustrate that maybe in our distorted image of God, we feel we understand the ways in which he is at work.  However, this image shows us that things are never as they seem, especially here in Haiti.
This scripture challenged us to view the children from a new perspective, choosing to serve them as if we are serving God himself.  The eyes we behold are not of a helpless child, but those of God.  The hands we hold belong to God who draws near to us, saying, “Come walk with me, child.” I asked Maddie how this message translated in her life and she told me, “It really stuck out to me when James said I should see God in their eyes.  It gives me the comfort that He is in me, too.”  Like Maddie, we were suddenly made aware of the sharp contrast of our view of God versus the reality of His closeness.  The wheels in our heads began to churn as we considered the truth that maybe God is not unreachable in the heavens, but instead staring back at us through the eyes of the orphans we are serving.
God is using the contrast of the orphanage, serving as a beacon of hope for a lost country, to show us that He is in control.  In fact, contrast can be found throughout Haiti as a reminder of this truth.  Contrast is found in the differing shades of black and white that seperate us in race.  It is found in Kaliko, which serves as a safe haven from the harshness of the Haitian streets.  Contrast lies in the way the orphans love us so dearly when they have been abandoned by the ones that love them.  It can be found in the relationship of Pastor Emanuel and Madame Pastor who have graciously opened their doors to dozens of children in need.  We were able to celebate the success of their relationship tonight with a surprise anniversary dinner for the two, which included a poolside feast, as well as cake and dancing.  Contrast can be found in the size of the childrens’ hands and the ease with which they so easily intertwine with ours.  James used the orphanage’s logo, a large hand with a smaller one imprinted in it, to allude to this idea that things are not always what they seem.  While we each view this logo as a symbol of the bond we share with a particular child, Mr. James suggested that maybe the smaller hand is ours and the larger one is God’s.  After all, it is Him that the children need, not us.  I talked with Mrs. Marianna about what this message revealed to her.  She said, “I thought of how often I think look at me and what I am doing.  I was reminded by this image that it is not about me and it is a privelege just to be a part of the story.”
There is contrast in the unity the orphans established today with a neighboring orphanage as they gapped the bridge of tension in an amazing game of soccer.  It can be found in the impurity of calluses and scars on Widenel’s innocent hands and in the way he constantly brushes the dirt off my fragile skin.  Widenel’s act of service mirrors the grace of Jesus as he washed the feet of those who had believed in Him.   Christ is dwelling in the children we are serving.  He is in their laughter, He is in their smiles, and He is in their hearts.  As I long to know Widenel, down to the wrinkles in his hand, I long to Know God in the same way.  Looking into Widenel’s big  eyes, I was again reminded that “things are not what they seem.”

-Claire Jaggers

Haiti Day 2- Buckets of Hope

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “So whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  This is the scripture TJ prayed that we would live out today as we continued in our mission.
With this scripture as the motivation of our hearts, we asked God for the strength to improve upon the work we had started.  Our  day began with a visit to Mission of Hope, a local outreach program and our partner here in Haiti.  There, our prayer became one with the people of Haiti as we attended worship service after a well-deserved late breakfast.  At Mission of Hope, we were greeted with the sound of hundreds of Haitians singing with every breath they had in them.  Their display of vibrancy and passion left us with no choice but to join in and sing praises to our King.  For a moment in time, we were singing- one praise as one voice- language was no longer a barrier .  Together we sang, “You are the one we adore, You are the one that we praise.  You give us healing and grace our hearts always hunger for.”  The breeze from the open church calmed our overwhelmed minds, as we were comforted and inspired by the peace the people of Haiti have found.  This peace was exemplified in the certainty of their worship, as they sang as if God was so near that the tin roof above their heads was all that seperated them from their Heavenly Father.  With these faithful followers as our example, we were able to humble ourselves and glorify God with our voices.
After being spiritually filled by our Haitian-inspired worship, we returned to Kaliko. There, we armed our bodies for the physical task of starting work on the pavilion for the orphanage.  We were told to be prepared to work, equipped with gloves for “bucket lines.”  This warning was accompanied by many groans of those who have become familiar with the wrath of the “bucket lines.”  For those who remained uncertain of what the day had in store, it was now time to glorify God through our work.  At the orphanage, we wasted no time in developing a steady line of teammates in the infamous “bucket line”, as cement buckets were passed and poured only to repeat the process over and over again.  As we circled around the plot of land for the future pavilion, we were unified in the work we were called to perform.  TJ described this bond as the goal of any mission trip saying, “We are all called to the same place for different reasons and therefore, we share the experience.”  Other team members were able to glorify God in their work with the children, making crafts and singing songs in Vacation Bible School led by Melissa.  The heat pressed on, and so did we.  The monotony of the “bucket line” challenged us to live out this verse, even when it becomes most difficult.  Just when the weight of the buckets and children became too much to bare, we could hear voices from the neighboring orphanage singing praise songs.  God sent us the sweet voices of children to remind us that this trip is not about us; but about bringing glory to God, who always hears our worship, along with our cries for help.  The peace the people of Haiti have found is in knowing that God is glorified when we allow Him to help carry the weight we struggle to hold on our own.  So, whether learning to weld, leading Vacation Bible School, passing buckets of cement in what seems like a never-ending circle, eating, or drinking we must “do it all for the glory of God.” He is worthy of the highest praise because in our desperate seeking for relief he gives us “healing and grace our hearts always hunger for.”

-Claire Jagger’s

Haiti Day Seven

Monday, July 1, 2013

We have spent the entire week covered in dust and dirt, and today we finally washed it all away.  A few team members returned to the orphanage this morning to make sure everything was finished and to complete the painting of the gate while the rest of us stayed back at Kaliko to decorate for the best birthday party ever.  Melissa Workman did a fantastic job coordinating everything, and the theme was orange, blue and green.  Which just happen to match the color of our team t-shirts and the colors of the gate at Pastor’s.  We strung up triangle banners along the path leading to the pavilion where we eat, which was filled with blue, orange and green balloons, streamers, table runners and birthday hats.  We assembled the birthday gifts for all the kids which consisted of two bibles, one in English and one in Creole, a t-shirt with the orphanage logo, the envelopes from sponsor families, small toys, and plenty of “bon bons,” or candy.  We had so much candy that we had enough left over to make a goody bag for every one of the 110 staff members at Kaliko.  So thank you to everyone who provided sour patch kids, animal crackers, jolly ranchers, and a plentiful supply of dum-dums. All the gifts were put into a draw-string backpack with the each child’s name on the front and set aside for after lunch.  Once the decorating and gift assembly was done, the team was able to enjoy spending time relaxing while waiting on the kids to arrive.  One of the great things about a large team is the opportunity to develop relationships with a wide number of people.  We cherish the relationships we have made with one another this week, and every opportunity we’ve been given to further them has been welcomed.  It was so special to witness everyone sitting around Kaliko laughing, making gigantic water balloons out of normal balloons, dropping said balloons on unsuspecting victims, and just enjoying one another’s presence.  Around twelve thirty, screams echoed through Kaliko that the buses carrying unsuspecting children were pulling up to the entrance.  They emerged from the bus to the sound and sight of our crazy team members clapping and yelling and singing ‘Happy Birthday.’  The party had begun and it didn’t stop all afternoon.

The kids went immediately into the dining pavilion and sat down among colorful balloons tied to the rows of chairs with streamers overhead, birthday hats on head, and smiles all around.  TJ told us last night that when planning for the party he told Mike the manager that he had a budget of $10 per person for the party.  Mike countered and said that the kids deserved to have a special day, so he added another $10 per person from Kaliko.  Thus, the birthday feast consisted of numerous cold dishes like salad and marinated vegetables, hot dishes like chicken, lasagna, rice, fish and French fries, and two massive birthday cakes complete with sugar work and the name of the orphanage piped in icing.  The kids mounded their plates as high as they would go, and made the challenging decision of whether to drink Coke, Sprite, or Fruit Champagne (think carbonated cherry cough syrup, though some might disagree) on their special day.  I cannot even begin to describe the scene that ensued once everyone was seated.  Sprite was pouring down the fronts of shirts, chicken was zooming from fork to mouth and conversation only came between bites of French fries.  Look at the pictures that were taken and ask for stories to be told.

Once everyone was finished eating and wiping icing from arms and mouths, gift bags were broken out and the smiles continued to grow bigger.  The level of excitement the kids reach over pieces of gum and packs of stickers never ceases to touch our hearts.  It’s incredible to see such big examples of true joy and gratefulness come from such small people; small in size, big in heart and spirit.  It was also incredible to watch the faces of the kids as our wonderful translators translated the letters written to them from their sponsor families.  Again, the only word I can think of to describe the knowledge that relationships exist between families in Jackson and these children in Williamson is incredible.  Absolutely incredible.  As the last letters were translated, the word ‘nage’ slowly began to rumble through the room.  The kids were ready to swim in the pool they had asked about since the day we first arrived.  Everyone ran to the pool, shed layers and began the greatest pool party ever.  Look at the pictures.  Ask for stories.  There is no combination of words that can do justice to the smiles, the laughs, the fun that happened in the cloudy pool at Kaliko this afternoon.  What a sight.  God’s children playing together under his cloudy sky, in front of his deep blue ocean, in the middle of all his creation, glorifying him through fellowship.

But then the moment we all knew was coming, the time to say goodbye, arrived too soon.  The kids slowly got out of the pool, carefully packed their backpacks, found the team member(s) they attached themselves to this week, and began an unhurried walk back up to buses.  Saying goodbye and even ‘see you later’ is always hard, but something about saying goodbye to these kids seems harder than all other goodbyes.  These children become our family while we’re here.  They break and mend our hearts, they make us laugh, they get us dirty, they teach us and they love us.  And they’ll remain family for the rest of our lives.  They will never leave us.  Just as the country of Haiti and the experiences we have had here will never leave us.  But as Eugene reminded us tonight, the life-changing moments we’ve had here can just as easily happen in Tennessee and Arkansas and wherever our lives may lead us.  Those in need, our neighbors, are all around us.  The challenge is to see the need and cross the street.

It will be hard for us to return home tomorrow.  Our lives have been turned upside down. Questions have been asked and answers are being searched for.  Though I’ve tried, it really is impossible to put Haiti into words.  Even so, I challenge you – our families, our friends, our neighbors – to ask us about Haiti.  Ask us the tough questions, ask us the fun questions, ask us anything and everything.  We may just sigh and struggle to find words, but ask all the same.  Keep asking us.  Don’t let us stop thinking about everything we’ve seen and heard and smelled and felt and experienced.  Help us process and move forward with our new perspectives in tow. Help us continually remember the ways God has moved in our lives and the lives of all those we’ve encountered. Be patient with us and understand that Haiti is a unique place.  It’ll grip your heart tightly and never let go.  And all you can do is hold on just as tight; hold on to the feelings, the people, and the God who placed the nation into your life.

Pray for safety as our team travels home tomorrow, and for continued blessings for our friends from Arkansas who will continue their journey in Haiti for the next two weeks.

Haiti Day Six

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Today we went to church.  We left Kaliko at 8:15 this morning to make the forty-five minute drive to Mission of Hope for church.  The drives takes us straight down Route Nationale #1 (one of the main highways in Haiti) and through the towns of Archaie, Cabaret and Bercy.  On any other day of the week we would have had to avoid crowds of people travelling along the roads, merchant stands set up right at the edges of the streets, and colorful tap-taps zooming in and out of traffic, picking up and dropping off passengers.  But today being Sunday, the roads were a lot quieter which made for a fairly peaceful, horn-free drive.  We arrived at Mission of Hope’s main campus a little after nine and went ahead and sat down in the church building.  The church is shaped like a ‘T’ with a slightly slanted top, comfortably seating about three hundred people per section.  The building is open-air with half walls on the bottom, metal work on the top, and a simple metal roof.  The church steadily filled with both Haitians and Americans (many of whom were staying at Mission of Hope, but some who were staying outside, including another group staying at Kaliko) as the 9:30 service grew nearer.  Music started playing and the guessing game as to what was going on began.  The welcome was conducted mainly in Creole, though there were a few interspersed English phrases.  Soon the band took the stage and worship – real, pure worship – started.  The beginning chords of the first song rang familiar in our ears, and the Creole lyrics to “Our God” were projected onto the wall at the front of the church.  We began to sing along in English and about halfway through the lyrics on the wall shifted from Creole to English.  This same pattern of alternating English and Creole verses was repeated for the rest of the music, which included “Break Every Chain” and “Your Love Endures Forever” among other songs.  The church was full and the ratio of Americans to Haitians was such that there was not a visible division between groups and not a clear majority.  Which brings me back to the idea of real, pure worship; worship that brings to mind the picture of what perfect worship in heaven will look like.  Romans 7:9-10 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”  This morning we experienced the passionate and participatory worship of peoples old and young, black and white sending the same praises up to the same Lord in different languages.  It’s impossible to describe how beautiful and incredible and heart stirring it was to hear the sounds of English and Creole singing together with abandon to one God of all nations and all tongues. There is absolutely nothing like worshipping with brothers and sisters in Christ in another language; it provides a small glimpse into what waits for us in heaven where we will worship together for all of eternity.  Imagine the kind of worship we experienced today multiplied by infinity – every tongue, not just Creole and English, from every nation, not just Haiti and America.  That’s big.

We returned to Kaliko for our second to last lunch of club sandwiches, burgers, and ever-popular chicken nuggets, and then went back to Pastor’s for our last day at the orphanage.  Tomorrow we are having a birthday party for the kids at Kaliko, so only a few people will return to the orphanage, and only for a short time.  We really only had one project left to do, and that was completing the gate.  Metal sheets were welded to the frame, and Maggie McGrath and Claire Swindell were finally able to begin painting the logo for the orphanage on the yellow doors of the gate.  The logo is made up of small blue hand print resting in a larger hand, which is actually based on a picture taken on a previous trip.  The orphanage is called ‘Oedwa’ which stands for Orphelinant des Enfants Demunis de Williamson Archahaie, and the name is painted to the left of the hands.

This is the first student trip that we have not been pushing until the last minute to complete projects, so we got to spend a large majority of the afternoon just playing with the kids.  It’s so neat to see everyone having an opportunity to enjoy the relationships that have been built this week without the beckoning of a bucket line or the call for concrete.  Perhaps the best part of the afternoon, however, was when we were given another opportunity to go out in the village and pray over families.  We split up into four groups with our translators and set off down different sides of the street, stopping at every house we walked by.  It was eye-opening to hear the prayer requests that seemed to be constant throughout the village: provision, healing, security, confidence, help following Christ.  Every request came with a story, which reminded us that there is still such great need in the village of Williamson and such a wide open door for ministry beyond the walls of the orphanage.  Some team members were moved to get to pray with people they prayed with last December, noting the differences in demeanor and health and need.  One surprising moment that came for one group was when the village witch doctor allowed them to pray over her.  Voodoo is very popular in Haiti, and there is a female witch doctor in Williamson that lives about five houses down from Pastor’s orphanage.  She has been very stand-offish in trips past, but today we were able to walk right up to her front porch and ask her what she needed prayer for.  She requested that we pray for growth in her Christian life and that God show her things in unexpected ways.  Again, that’s big.  As we sang last night and again this morning in church, there really is power in the name of Jesus.

As our trip is coming close to its end, team members are beginning to reflect on everything they’ve felt and heard and touched and smelled and seen.  Change happens in Haiti.  Hearts are broken, passions are renewed, purposes are discovered, new emotions are felt, hard questions are asked and challenges are issued.  And sometimes the hardest part is returning home to the place we left with our old experiences and come back with our new experiences.  It’s hard to assimilate the two worlds.  Not only is it hard to adjust back to daily life, but it’s also hard to adjust to the challenges we’ve issued ourselves here.  Tonight Randy Pierson talked about “crossing the street” in devotional time.  He cited the story of the good Samaritan and noted that the first step of compassion involves moving – crossing the street.  We are doing that here, literally and figuratively.  The opportunity to cross the street is readily available here and readily crossed.  But what about at home? The opportunity is there, but how often do we cross the street and extend compassion to a neighbor, whether they’re easy to love or not? That’s hard.  And that will be just one of the many challenges we face when we get back.  Bringing back what we learned and felt here and applying it to our home lives.

Tomorrow will most likely be everyone’s favorite day of the trip when we have a birthday party at Kaliko for all the kids.  Pray for our team as we prepare to come home and prepare to say our goodbyes to all our family here in Haiti.

Haiti Day Five

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Something that TJ often says is that we are not here to just be a humanitarian effort.  We don’t just come to Haiti to provide walls for those who have none, food for those who hunger and healthcare for those who are ailing.  And while meeting physical needs is important and a large part of our activity, we don’t just come to Haiti to administer to the physical; we come to minister to the spiritual.  Today more blocks were laid, the solar lights were finished and the frame of the gate was installed.  All of those projects make up a part of the reason we’re here, and it is absolutely incredible that so much has been accomplished in such a short period of time and is a blaringly loud testimonial to how God brought together this large team with so many different skills, but an even bigger part of why we’re here was realized when we got to do our two VBS sessions in the village.

Yesterday we went through the village inviting people to come out for VBS today in a large open field not too far from Pastor’s orphanage.  Around 10 o’clock this morning children from the village began showing up at Pastor’s, so our team set out down the road with dozens of kids, familiar and unfamiliar, in tow.  We walked about seventy-five yards down the road and took a sharp right onto one of those narrow, easily unseen paths that was flanked by a concrete wall on the left side and “mean green” shrubs on the right side.  After a short walk the path opened up to a villager’s home, behind which lay the field for VBS.  The field was covered with short stubby greenery, save for a large oval-shaped area of dusty, grayish black dirt.  The field had a few different entrances and was in easy view of one of the main roads in the distance, which allowed for kids to see what was happening and join. Trees and taller shrubs surrounded the perimeter of the field, but the uniquely beautiful Haitian mountains were not obscured from our view.  They loomed up in the background of all the VBS activity as God’s creation silently watching over God’s children.  Those mountains are incredible.  For our morning VBS, we organized the kids into four color groups that would rotate through four stations: snack/story, craft, music and games.  While initially a really great method of organization in what would otherwise potentially be mass chaos, the constant stream of children running in from the village made it difficult to keep track of groups and what children had been through which stations.  But we carried on, telling the story found in Mark 2 of Jesus healing the paralytic man brought to Jesus by his four friends, or “zamis” in Creole.  The kids all colored and sticker-fied white visors as a reminder that just as the visor protects our eyes from the sun, God also gives us protection.  Shouts from duck, duck, goose and “ruj” light, “ver” light competed with sound of children trying to keep up with a lively version of “Singing in the Rain” and the ever popular “Dum Dum Diddy.”  We never got a complete count of the number of kids, and some teens and adults, who participated in our morning VBS, but there were easily 100 kids that came through at some point or another.

Lunch at Kaliko featured a new item today that could be the official poster product of what sometimes comes from Haitian and English communication, or rather, miscommunication.  A few team members asked for a grilled cheese and were given just that – a few slices of grilled cheese on a plate.  After a good laugh, some slices of bread were brought out, the team finished eating and we loaded up to finish our last full day at the orphanage (tomorrow we will only spend the afternoon at the orphanage, and Monday we will only spend part of the morning).  We started our second VBS soon after arriving, making our way back down the road to the field.  Instead of rotating among four different stations, we decided to do everything as one large group, which ended up working really well. The theme of the afternoon was salvation, which consisted of the telling of Christ’s life, death and resurrection during story time, making salvation bracelets during craft, and eating jelly beans the same color as the beads on the salvation bracelets for snack.  Once again, “Dum Dum Diddy” and a heavily accented version of “Father Abraham” sounded across the field.  Our translators did a great job helping us communicate, and although at first all I could think was how seemingly impossible it was going to be to get our message across to a large group of rowdy children excited about their snack and craft, I realized as we went that something unbelievably amazing was happening.  We were standing out in the middle of a hot field in a small village on the island of Haiti and the name of Jesus was being said and sung and shouted in English and in Creole.  We sang a song tonight in our group devotional time with the line “Jesus your name is power, breath and living water, such a marvelous mystery.” That reminded me that even the very name of Jesus Christ carries the power to move those mountains resting in the distance, carries the power to invade the hearts of the children in attendance at VBS and carries the power to spread like wildfire through Williamson and across the nation of Haiti.  Every night my family group leader asks us what was “big” during the day.  That’s big.

Thong Pham led our devotional time tonight, and he asked us another one of those hard questions that always seem to work their way into our minds when we’re in Haiti.  Why are we here? Why do we keep coming back? If I could type out a transcript of his entire message, jokes and all, I would.  Thong reminded us of the remarkable truth that although we come here expecting to minister to the Haitian people, God so often uses them to minister to us.  Another team member pointed out that we often ask God to come and participate with us in our work when really we’re the ones joining him in his work.  He is already here in Haiti and we are blessed to walk beside him and experience a taste of his vast power as he does mighty work in this nation, in the hearts of her people, and in the hearts of our team.  The word compassion was mentioned tonight and my mind went to the first sound of that word, “come.”  I thought that was picture-perfect in the fact that we come here to Haiti to express compassion as an outgoing flow of emotion from ourselves to the children at Pastor’s.  But I was quickly made to rethink that as Thong explained that the word compassion has two parts; “passion” as in feelings or emotions, and “co” as in together.  This compassion is not just outgoing from us to the orphans.  It is a partnership of compassion in that we share feelings and emotions with them and they in turn share feelings and emotions with us.  And God serves as the third and most important part of this partnership.  He created compassion, showed us the meaning of it, offers it to us on a daily basis, and gives us the ability to experience it with the children we spend our time with every day.  And that’s some of why we’re here, some of why we keep coming back.  To experience our saving God of power and creation and beauty and compassion.

Haiti Day Four

Friday, June 28th, 2013

We are at a sort of halfway point of our trip, and these are just a few of the thoughts running through the minds of our team members:

The people have nothing but they still smile.  Sometimes I catch myself in a bad mood, but I have everything.  I also see the connection everyone has with all the kids, which comes with returning to the same place every day.

I’m more amazed by the number of people on this trip than anything else.  I heard there were going to be over 40 people and I thought ‘Wow that’s a lot,’ but it has been amazing to see so many new faces here.

I haven’t been on every trip, but from what I can see and what I’ve been told, I realized today that so much has happened in such a short time.  I think that’s amazing.

To see someone so happy to see you after only two days of knowing them – it’s mind-blowing.

It was cool to watch everyone when they saw the running water again today.  I take it for granted, I use it every day, and today when they saw it they got excited. Wow.

The first thing that stands out is that in a land where basic resources are lacking, the children and the people remain joyful and selfless and resilient.  It’s astonishing when I compare that to anyone and everyone else I know.  The joyful hearts…everything has blown me away.

I don’t know why I’m here. Maybe it’s to make someone smile.  Maybe it’s to win a volleyball game.  I don’t know. But I guess God has a reason.

Today was another busy day in which we exercised endurance and flexibility.  The morning began as our past two mornings have; big hugs and wide smiles followed by dirty hands and sweaty brows.  The crew that began digging the trench for the water pipe was able to finish digging, get the pipe lined up and cover the pipe with the dirt and rock they moved yesterday.  The bucket line was assembled once again as the final foundation section for the wall was laid.  While cinderblocks form the actual wall, the base on which the cinderblocks is laid is composed of random rocks of all sizes bound together with a rougher concrete.  So the movement of rocks big and small was added to the duties of the bucket/block brigade.  A few of the solar-powered lights went up, which was encouraging as the success of any project is.  The light are placed at key security areas of the orphanage, like near the entrance, along the back border and at the corners of buildings.  Each light is perched atop welded metal bars, with the actual solar panel sitting like a little roof over the light. The welding machine was hot at work once again as construction of the gate continued, and the generator powering the saw was loudly humming as the last doors for the wooden cabinets in the children’s house were cut and sanded.  But it’s important to note that saws and machines and water and bucket lines were not the only things running this morning, or any time we are at Pastor’s.  Kids were running all over the place, followed closely by the team members chasing after them.  No matter how much work is going on, there are always people kicking a soccer ball, pushing a swing, tickling a child, making silly faces and mumbling incomplete basic Creole phrases.

We returned to Kaliko for lunch (perhaps the most consistent aspect of our schedule), and then went right back to the orphanage where we knew a truck load of blocks would be arriving shortly.  We heard the sharp horn of the construction truck signaling its impending entrance onto the property, and more than one jaw dropped as the sight of 1,000 gray cinderblocks on the truck bed, each 15 inches long and 7 inches tall.  Deep breaths were taken, the lines were formed, and every last one of those blocks was off the truck and into stacks within twenty minutes.  The Lord has been protecting our team throughout this trip, and he has continuously steadied our hands so that not one 15 pound block has been dropped on a single foot.

Originally we planned to do our first VBS in the village today, but since word had not really been spread to children outside the orphanage it was decided that we would instead do two VBS sessions tomorrow, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  So around the time we had planned on starting VBS, groups of team members and Pastor’s children went out to the village with translators to invite people to come out tomorrow for VBS. On our daily drive to the orphanage we basically travel on three main roads through Williamson, making only two real turns.  Merchant stands, fences, flora and houses line the roads and give the appearance that the entire village rests along those main roads.  But as we found out this afternoon, there is incredible depth and complexity to the layout of the village.  There was at least one older child with every group, and a boy named Peabo led the way for the group I was in.  We went out the front entrance of the orphanage, but took a quick left down an easily unnoticed path through some brush.  Soon there were more paths and more houses visible, and we quickly realized that the village was a lot bigger than we thought.  Peabo expertly maneuvered through what to us seemed like a confusing maze of concrete structures, barely beaten paths, and greenery that looked the same around every turn.  We stopped at houses as we walked, and Peabo and Willie (one of our translators) took turns explaining to families what we would be doing tomorrow.  Our group was able to pray for two families, one that said they would not be able to attend tomorrow but wanted our prayers, and one that were members of Pastor’s church.  One striking thing about our village trek was how readily Peabo approached his neighbors and his peers.  Here was a seventeen year old boy openly and excitedly inviting everyone he passed by to come and hear the visiting missionaries share of the gospel through VBS.  While keeping in mind it is a different culture, still how many seventeen year olds do you know at home who are open with their neighbors about their spirituality and readily invite their peers to church?  After about forty or so minutes of walking and spreading the word about VBS, all the groups reconvened at the orphanage and finished up work for the day.

We left about an hour earlier than usual, giving us an opportunity to return to Kaliko to rest and recover from a few very long, hot days.  The relaxation method of choice by many team members was a long swim in the beautiful ocean just a short walk from our doors.  The water is the ideal blue-green sea color from afar, but we could see straight through the incredibly clear water to the stony ocean floor as we waded into cool water.  It was great to spend time laughing and enjoying one another’s company as we floated in what I think of as one of God’s most breathtaking creations.  As treading water began to grow old to our tired bodies, some team members went to take showers, some did not, and some tried their hand at sand volleyball.  Again, a great time fellowshipping with one another away from the heat and focus that normally fill our day.

After dinner we again had a worship and devotional time, led tonight by Chris Clark.  He asked three questions that echoed through the room and are still echoing through my mind.  Are we desperate for God? What keeps us from desperation? What would it look like if we were completely and unequivocally desperate for God?  They’re hard questions that lead to hard conversations and hard truths.  Hard, and not easily answered.  But maybe that’s part of the reason we’re here.  Maybe we’re here to be challenged, to be asked the hard questions, to be forced to look inwards and examine and analyze ourselves and everything around us.  As we constantly realize and are constantly reminded, God has a reason for our being here.  And every day we spend here, all the projects we work on, all the buckets we lift, all the children we play with, all the conversations we have, and all the questions we’re asked are a part of his plan, though we still might not know exactly what that is.

Pray for all the children and adults in attendance at VBS tomorrow.  Please pray that God will do mighty work in hearts all across Williamson and for the continued protection and health of our team.

Haiti Day Three

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Tonight we sat around after dinner with tuba du drowning out conversation, creole echoing across the pavilion, the sounds of people comparing sunburns and discussing levels of exhaustion, and the sight of the curious mixture of yellow and purple lightning flashing across the sky, silhouetting the rain clouds as it streaked.  It was a relaxing night after a long, hard, hot day.

This being our second full day in Haiti, all of the projects had been started but none yet at the point of completion, which made for a very busy day.  The project closest to being finished is the wooden cabinet work for the kids’ house, headed up by Randy Pierson and a crew of newly skilled carpenter team members. The spacious wooden cabinets rest along the back wall in both the girls and the boys rooms, and will be used as storage space for clothes, bedding and whatever else the children see fit to put on their shelves.  Clay Pierce led the way in the welding department as metal bars for the gate and light posts were assembled.  Melissa Workman and Brenda Stanley organized a small VBS time for the kids in the afternoon, a sort of test run for the larger scale VBS we’ll be putting on tomorrow and Saturday in the village.  Sounds of children yelling “Singing in the Rain” and “Dum Dum Diddy” carried through the church windows and out to the perimeter of the orphanage where the bucket and block brigade were hard at work on the wall.  Outpacing yesterday’s work, somewhere between 800 and 900 blocks were concreted into place.  But we were assured that we can sleep well tonight knowing there will be another 1,000 blocks delivered in the morning to keep the building of the wall alive and well.  One unique project that was started today under the direction of Thong Pham was the installation of a solar-powered water pump.  There is a well directly in front of Pastor’s house that stretches sixty-five feet into the earth with about a three-foot water level that supplies the orphanage with its daily water.  When water is needed, one of the older boys will stand on top of the well walls, lower a two to three gallon bucket to the bottom, let it fill with water and then carefully haul it back up.  The team that came last June was able to install a 200 gallon water tank near the back border of the property that was filled by water piped in from a neighboring orphanage.  The moment when running water first came flowing through the pipes was one that was celebrated and etched into people’s memories.  However, due to changes in circumstances last fall, that supply was cut off and the job of supplying water to the orphanage returned solely to the well.  But access to the well water was made exponentially easier today when a long narrow pipe connected to a pump controlled by solar power (something only Thong Pham could pull off) were inserted into the bottom of the well.  The team members working on the piping were crowded around, along with a few of the children curious as to what was going on.  But the instant water started bubbling up through the pipe and spraying into the air, almost every soul on the entire property was gathered around, cheering and celebrating the fresh running water; another incredible moment for the heart and memory.  Soon after, shovels and pick axes were hard at work digging a trench to connect the pipe from the well to the water tank, a distance of about thirty feet.  The pump should be able to funnel 100 gallons of water an hour into the tank, filling it to the top in about two hours.  Thong estimated that the orphanage only uses about 50 gallons of water a day, so one full tank should last about four days without needing to be refilled.  And there is a spigot attached to the base of the tank, which will allow for easy access by even the youngest of the children.

It’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the heat and busyness of days like today and sometimes easy to forget why we’re here, what our purpose is.  There was one point during the afternoon that if you stopped and looked around you could see all at once the bucket and block lines moving concrete as the wall grew slowly higher, a medical team from Mission of Hope conducting check-ups on all the children, bouncing soccer balls rolling every direction over the rocky terrain, rainbow kites still dominating the air over the orphanage, shovels mixing concrete and moving rock, the welding machine sending sparks flying as the gate and light posts were constructed, the circular saw slicing through cabinet doors, and adults and children hard at work and hard at play, both respectively and collectively.  Something was going on in every direction and at every turn.  Who could have guessed that the single-building property TJ discovered about three years ago would now have a church and a playground and a children’s house and an eating pavilion? Who could have guessed that the property once only roamed by a Haitian Pastor, his family and all the children they could take in would now be swarming with people, whether they be from Tennessee or Arkansas or Port-au-Prince or just down the road?  Who could have guessed that all the activity seen today would ever take place?  I don’t think anyone, not TJ, not Pastor, not the kids at the orphanage, could have guessed three years ago what the orphanage would be like today.  Yet from the beginning God knew everything that would come to pass at this orphanage and with these people.  And not just from the beginning of the orphanage, or the beginning of Pastor’s family, or the beginning of the town of Williamson – he has known since the beginning of time, before the beginning of time, what this orphanage would become and will continue to grow into.  He beautifully orchestrated what seemed to be TJ’s happenstance discovery of the orphanage.  He put a desire into TJ’s heart to partner with Pastor Emmanuel.  He wrote the stories of teams coming together, funds being raised, prayers being answered and relationships being formed. He has provided protection and peace and rain and rest and supplies and skills time and time again.  It is impossible not to see God’s hand at work here.  Simply impossible.  He has proven his faithfulness and shown his love and revealed his power and laid out his plan every time a team has come to Haiti.  But he isn’t just active in the orphanage; he is moving in the village of Williamson.  But he isn’t just active in Williamson; he’s moving in the entire country of Haiti.  But God isn’t just active in Haiti; he’s moving in Jackson and Tennessee and the United States and in every nation and every people group.  There’s something incredible about Haiti that allows us to clearly see, sometimes for the first time, that we serve a real and active and loving and awe-inspiring God who created everything around us, intersected all of our paths, gives us each breath we breathe, provides us with an eternal hope, and calls us to share his good news, making disciples of all men in every nation.  That kind of God must have a purpose and plan for our lives, and right now, though we still may not be sure why, we are all where he intended us to be – in Haiti.

Please pray for endurance for our team tomorrow as we continue construction work in the heat, and pray for us as we go out in the village and are given opportunities to share our faith, that we may speak God’s truth with confidence and assurance of the Lord we so dearly love.

Haiti Day Two

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Time is always something we joke about when we come to Haiti.  Punctuality isn’t necessarily valued here, and things simply tend to get done when they get done.  This morning, however, we didn’t have any difficulties with the abstractness of time; we had difficulties with the concreteness of time.  Haiti is in the Eastern time zone which puts local time an hour ahead of Jackson time, but there is some confusion as to whether or not they observe daylight savings time.  When we arrived some phones changed time and some did not. Some watches were set forward an hour and some were not.  All this to say that when we were told breakfast was served at 7, there were two different camps established: those who woke up at 6:30 accounting for the time change and those who woke up at 7:30 who did not.  However, this didn’t put a kink in our day and we were on the vans headed to Pastor Emmanuel’s orphanage shortly after 8.

The drive to the orphanage is always a fun one as the ground is bumpy, the turns sharp, and the roads narrow.  Pastor’s orphanage is located at the end of the roads that wind through the village of Williamson, right at the base of a mountain.  Every time a team visits, the scenery and layout of the orphanage is a little different.  Team members who were returning for the first time since Fellowship’s very first trip were shocked to see Pastor’s home transformed with concrete and paint; the open-air columned church they’d left finished with walls and an additional room at the back; the open rocky space next to the church occupied by the three-room children’s home.  Even those who came in December or March noticed little paint touch ups or changes in decorations, along with the very obvious beginnings of rebar and concrete support columns that will hold up a cinderblock wall going stretching across the two sides of the orphanage that border the village.  One thing that has not changed, however, are the smiling faces of Pastor and Madame Pastor and all the children under their care.  Actually, one could make the argument that the smiles just keep getting bigger and brighter.  As each team member exited the bus, he or she was greeted by every one of the kids who were searching for familiar faces and latching onto new ones.  We basically spent the entire morning enjoying time with the kids. There was a lot of hugging, a lot of handholding, a lot of introducing, a lot of mixed Creole/English conversation, a little napping and a whole lot of love.  There is something so incredibly special about the relationships formed in Haiti.  They can be formed in just a few hours and yet are so deep, so full of God-inspired love, so impactful that they overcome language barriers and cultural differences and time and oceans.  One very cool example of this is the relationship between Connor Adkins and a boy named Fiyah.  As Connor pointed out later this evening, he has only known Fiyah for a total of 28 days.  And yet when he walked into the boys room of the children’s home this morning, his picture was on the wall alongside a hand-written scratching that said “God loves Fiyah” and “God loves Connor.”  That is something that could only come from God; that he crossed their paths a year and half ago and gave them this powerfully deep relationship.  And that’s just one story.  Ask any team member about his or her interactions with the kids at Pastor’s and they will be able to tell you how their worlds have been turned upside down because of the beautiful, love-filled relationships they’ve been blessed to develop.

We returned to Kaliko for lunch at noon, but were quickly finished and back on our way to the orphanage to start the day’s projects.  This afternoon saw the return of the dearly loved bucket line, which is composed of as many team members as can stretch from the pile of freshly mixed concrete to wherever it is being poured, and serves the purpose of passing bucket after bucket after bucket of thick wet concrete that is being used on this trip to set the cinderblocks in place for the wall.  A new addition to this trip was the block line that, as you can guess, moved 15 to 20 pound cinderblocks into position for the wall.  We stacked them two by two on top of one another like Jenga, and by the end of the day approximately 692 had been concreted into place. While the bucket and block brigade was in full swing, work on wooden storage cabinets for the children’s home began and holes for the new gate posts and light poles were dug.  But soaring high above all the concrete and blocks and tools and wood was perhaps the greatest picture of the afternoon: colorful rainbow kites with colorful rainbow tails.  Melissa Workman pulled out the kites during some down time in the middle of the afternoon, and within twenty minutes there were kite strings forming an obstacle course all around the orphanage.  Some kites were flying at the full extension of their string, some were dragging the ground, some got caught in trees, and the rest were everywhere in between.  It was so fun seeing the kids motioning at team members to run faster or untangle strings or applaud the height they got their kite to reach, and equally as fun seeing team members trying to accomplish all of the above at once.  We had a fun-filled, work-filled, love-filled afternoon, and returned to Kaliko for dinner with overflowing minds and spirits working to process the day.

After dinner we had a much-needed team devotional time on the lower level of the pavilion where we eat all our meals.  This was different from trips past and very cool because we were singing and worshipping five feet away from people talking after their dinners and workers clearing the tables, so our presence, and more importantly God’s presence, was easily made known.  TJ reminded us that each one of us is on this trip for a reason, something that is so important to remember during the hottest hours of our longest days.  God brought us each to Haiti at this time, with these people for a very specific reason according to his will.  And we are blessed to have five more days to begin to discover what some of those reasons might be.

Tomorrow we will continue construction and do a VBS inside the orphanage, so please pray for renewed energy, for peace as we process all that we experienced today, and for God to move in mighty ways tomorrow.

Haiti Day 1

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

The first day of any trip always seems to be impossibly and unnaturally long.  Our first day in Haiti was no exception.  The day started dark and early at 1:30 at the barn this morning, though for some it was just a continuation of Monday’s long hours.  After quickly loading the bus and having a prayer time, we hit the road and headed to Nashville.  We arrived on time, unloaded over a ton of supplies, and began the patience-inducing check in process.  We didn’t have much down time before boarding the plane to Miami where we had too much down time.  One can only eat so much food before finding other means of entertainment during a six-hour layover becomes necessary.  Our answer? Four square at gate D-27.  Anticipating the layover, TJ supplied the team with tape to mark out a court and a red blow up ball to bounce around the empty space at an unused gate.  And while some busied themselves with our makeshift playground, others read, caught up on sleep wherever there was floor space, wove friendship bracelets, listened to music and just enjoyed spending time bonding and relaxing with one another before our final flight.  Four more team members from Arkansas met us at the gate, and when two o’clock finally rolled around we boarded the plane for Port-au-Prince.  There were only a few clouds in the sky, so we had absolutely astonishing views of the blue-green Caribbean and the multitude of misshapen islands that fill her waters between Miami and Haiti.  After an hour and a half long flight, the bumpy Haitian landscape came into view and grew bigger and bigger as we descended into the 95 degree heat.  Traditional Haitian music affectionately known as “tuba du” greeted us as we entered the airport and moved through customs and immigration with our family groups.  We gathered our bags with relative ease compared to trips past, and made our way outside to meet our transportation to Kaliko.  The smiling faces of our translators and friends John and Willie were waiting to tell us “welcome home,” both to returning team members and to first timers.  We threw our bags into a small moving van and piled into a short school bus and a white van for the hour and half drive up the coast to Kaliko.  No matter how many times you have traveled to Haiti, the sights and sounds and smells of the country immediately overwhelm you.  Everyone remembers the potent combination of burning trash and a sulfuric smell mixed with the sounds of tap-tap horns and the sight of poverty beyond belief that hits you as you ride through the city.  As you leave Port-au-Prince, the magnificently bare mountains come into view on your right with the coastline along your left.  We timed our drive perfectly as we got to see the sun begin to slowly set over the Haitian landscape that words simply cannot describe or even begin to do justice to.  We arrived at Kaliko around 6:30 and were again met by familiar faces as we unloaded for the last time and had our first meal in Haiti.  After dinner we parted ways to rest our tired bodies and prepare for the day ahead of us tomorrow; the day when the faces of the children we know and love, whether from memories and experiences or from pictures and stories, will come running towards us at Pastor Emmanuel’s, ready to love us and teach us more than we could ever expect.  Please pray for rest and rejuvenation for the team tonight, for wisdom and clarity of mind when beginning projects tomorrow afternoon, and for the hearts of our team and all those we interact with, that God will prepare them for his work this week.

Northside Baseball TeamI am so thankful that God never gives up on me.

What about you? Aren’t you thankful that he hasn’t given up on you?

Last week, I was with the Northside High School Baseball Team in Florida as their chaplain. I absolutely love these guys. Most of these guys are unchurched and do not have much knowledge of the Gospel of Christ. Hence, why I went. It is amazing that when I go with plans to “minister to” others, that often, I am the one that gets “ministered to”. These guys told me their stories and about their beliefs. The treated me as a friend. These guys set the bar on encouragement and support. This group of guys is amazing.

It’s so easy so become jaded and unfocused in our lives. It’s so easy to forget how to keep things in perspective of the power of God. It’s so easy to miss out. At least for me it is. It is easy for me to lose sight of my purpose and miss out on opportunities to worship God with my life. It’s easy for me to become frustrated in this and that. It’s easy for me to become disappointed over a situation or another. Maybe I’m the only one this way. I am thankful to God for allowing me to go with team last week.

I was reminded of God. Not of a story, message or song. Simply God.

“Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:7 ESV)

OH….

God used the trip with Northside  to remind me that I am called by His Name. I was created for His Glory. He formed me and made me with a great purpose. That purpose is to make Him known among generations.

I was giving the last devotional talk to the guys and God spoke very clearly to me and reaffirmed to me that I am His. He reminded me that there is nothing that can separate me from him (Rom 8:39). He reminded me that my life is hidden in Christ, in God (Col 3:3). I am sealed. As He spoke this to me, I simply overflowed with thankfulness. I saw the baseball guys, not as my guys, but as God’s children. I thought of Haiti. I thought of my precious wife. I thought of my kids. I thought of my family. I thought of my church. I thought of the students lives that God is and has allowed me to be a part of. Its humbling and amazing. It causes a further pursuit and more abundant overflow.

Listen to my heartbeat on this.

You are called by His name. You are created for His Glory. He formed and made you with great purpose.

Nothing can separate YOU from HIM. Your life is hidden in Christ, in God.

I am so thankful God has not given up on me. I am thankful He is patient, loving and kind. I am so thankful  He has rescued me.I pray that you find Christ and you pursue him and find the overflow of his truth in your life. When you seek him, you will find him (Jer 29:13).

Blessings,

TJ

Haiti Day Six

Tuesday, January 1st

 

Today was our last full day in Haiti.  It feels like we just got here yesterday and it feels like we’ve been here forever.  We have had hot weather and hotter weather, long days and longer days, exciting moments and more exciting moments.  Though many of us are now of weary mind and body, I think it’s fair to say that each and every team member gave everything he or she had to offer over the course of these past few days.  And of all the work and projects this week, I think most of us would agree that the greatest things we got to experience happened today when all the saws and hammers and paintbrushes and welders were put away and we got to focus solely on relationships.

We left Kaliko at our usual time and in our usual way, but only made it about five hundred feet down Nationale before our bus came to a slow, stuttering halt.  Our driver, TJ, John and Willie got out and put on Haitian flashers (branches from the nearest plant life around placed on the road behind our bus), and we geared up for a long wait and schedule adjustment.  But a few minutes later they all got back onto the bus and announced that instead of a flat tire as we expected, a large rock had simply gotten wedged between two of the wheels.  God has had a watchful eye and protective hand on our bus for sure.  We drove on to Pastor’s, this time taking a different road-one that goes through the market area of Williamson and has more than a few tight turns and rough bumps. When we got to the orphanage, we all gathered in the church for a special meeting time with Pastor and his kids.  Traditionally there is a New Year’s Day service on the morning of January 1st, but Pastor decided to hold his service this year at 6 o’clock tonight.  So instead of having a church service, we had a time where TJ spoke to Pastor’s kids and Pastor spoke to our team.  They both spoke on Jeremiah 1, neither one knowing the other would be doing the same thing.  As Conner Adkins said tonight, it’s no accident that this same passage keeps popping up on our trip.  God is clearly trying to hammer home something to us, and he’s making sure we pay special attention to his words in Jeremiah.  TJ got to reiterate a point that we often hear; Pastor’s kids are like his own children.  He loves them and wants to instill in them the knowledge that God has given them power and promise and hope and has a plan for each of their lives.  We get to hear TJ quite often, and that’s a great thing, but it was really special to have Pastor Emmanuel speak directly to us.  Pastor challenged us to remember and live out God’s words to Jeremiah. Pastor told us how much he loved us. Pastor claimed us as his own, as family.  Love and tears were flowing freely in that church this morning and it was absolutely, indescribably beautiful.

But the morning was just getting started.  As soon as Pastor and TJ finished speaking, we began the process of handing out the gift boxes to all the kids.  All the kids were seated in the church and one by one their names were called, they had their letters translated by John and Willie, and they received and opened their boxes.  We had about five cameras operating trying to catch all of the joy and happiness, but I must warn you, there are some things that can never be captured.  I said before that I didn’t think the kids’ smiles could get bigger and brighter, but they proved me wrong once again.  They were so joyful about what we see as small things like glue sticks and hair clips, but what they see as grand gifts from someone who loves them.  It was a humbling experience.  And since pictures are worth a thousand words, I’ll save about a hundred pages and ask you to simply look at the pictures when we return.  The smiles in them will speak volumes more than I could ever say.

After gift boxes we returned to Kaliko for our final lunch-a bittersweet goodbye to the mysterious club sandwiches, uniquely seasoned burgers, and ever popular French fries.  We quickly ate and returned to Pastor’s for our last hours at the orphanage.  The paint sprayer was pulled out and the sides of Pastor’s house were completed, the picnic tables were adjusted so that they’d all fit in the pavilion behind the church, and multiple soccer games took place right in the middle of the grounds.  Near the end of the afternoon, a few people got to go out in the village to pray over people and homes.  Essentially, one group took the houses on the left side of the road and one group took the houses on the right side of the road.  The group would walk on to the grounds of the home, Pastor or John or Willie would introduce everyone, and then they’d ask what the family needed prayer over.  Our team members were struck by the openness of the people and their willingness to share their stories and problems.  Rather than asking for provision of money or strength or food, they asked for provision of strengthened faith.  Some asked that we pray for them to simply get through the year and some asked that we pray for their families to live to see 2014.  As the groups moved down the street, people actually approached them and asked the group to come to their home and pray, which, culturally, is a pretty big deal.  God’s light reached a little further into the village of Williamson this afternoon.

Around 5:30, it was time for the team to say their goodbyes.  The kids were eating in their new pavilion, which made the transition from orphanage to bus a little easier.  Nevertheless, saying goodbye is always a difficult task, and there were tears and broken conversations in English and Creole promising love and prayers always.  We boarded the bus, drove down that bumpy road one last time, and made our way back to Kaliko.

We got to talk a lot in our group time tonight about everything we’ve seen and experienced while we’ve been here.  People got to share and reflect try to prepare for the return home tomorrow.  The people who left Jackson almost a week ago will not be the same ones who come back tomorrow night.  Haiti changes people and breaks people.  We will be dealing with emotions and questions for a long time when we get back, whether this is our first trip or third trip.  We’ll be trying to make sense of what we’ve seen and we’ll be trying to transfer what we’ve learned here to our lives back home.  It won’t be easy and there will likely be frustration and confusion and anger and sadness and happiness and every other type of emotion floating around our brains.  We ask that our families and friends have patience with us.  When you ask us how our trip was, it’s possible we’ll say “Fine” or “Great” and go no further simply because we lack the words to say more.  And that’s okay.  As we’ve talked about the entire time we’ve been here, and as God keeps trying to remind us, He has a plan for our each of our lives.  Those plans have always included Haiti at this time and with these people.  He has worked on our hearts and lives and will continue to do so as we step off the bus in Jackson.  Please pray that God will guide us through understanding his purpose for putting us in Haiti, please pray that we will be able to transition well from Haiti to home, and please pray for safe travels.

Haiti Day Five

Monday, December 31st

 

We access Mission of Hope, Kaliko and Williamson from a road called Route Nationale #1.  It’s one of the country’s most traveled roads and always has a lot of high-speed traffic.  Everything from big trucks and buses to motorcycles and tap-taps zip along the unlined road blaring their horns as loud they can.  For those of you who may not know, tap-taps are colorfully painted pick-up trucks with benches in the back and a roof over the top.  They’re one of the main forms of public transportation in Haiti, so drivers pack anywhere from ten to twenty people (and sometimes a goat or two) in the back and drive around letting people hop on and off.  But back to Route Nationale #1.  When we leave Kaliko every morning, we turn on Route Nationale #1, drive about two miles and then make a left turn on the long bumpy road that takes us all the way up to Pastor’s orphanage.  This morning we were waiting to make that left turn when a pick-up truck that was trying to pass us hit the side of our bus.  The people on the left side of the bus felt the small impact, but the only way the people on the right even knew something had happened was the loud crashing sound metal hitting metal makes.  No one in either vehicle was hurt, and our bus, which actually belongs to Mission of Hope, only sustained minor damage.  After our experience with the overturned bus yesterday, God’s protection over us was obvious.  He’s been protecting us this entire trip, and continued to do so this morning.  Our day started with a bang and hasn’t slowed down since.

We walked up to Pastor’s while our driver sorted out everything with the bus, and immediately got to work.  At any one time you could walk around the orphanage and see something going on in every corner of the compound.  Welding continued on the pavilion behind the church, we painted the bathrooms and showers the same pale yellow as the church and kids’ home, the concrete bucket line returned, a few guys surveyed the orphanage’s land, construction on the picnic tables resumed, we dug holes for the swings to be set in, and, as always, we played and played and played with the kids.  As usual we returned to Kaliko for lunch around noon.  I have yet to mention in detail the food at Kaliko, so here’s a brief overview: Breakfast equals fruit, pancakes and omelets, lunch is a hit-or-miss meal where the only sure thing is the fries, and dinner offers a sampling of rice, beans, various meats, salad and, on special nights, a pasta bar.  Overall, the food is good and gives us much-needed energy.  We at rather quickly and immediately headed back to Pastor’s to pick up our work where we had left off in the morning.  More smooth concrete was poured on the floor of the church and on the front side of Pastor’s house, a huge boulder and lots of rocks were moved, some guys dug up some dangerous stumps, the storage closet was organized and cleaned, more doors were attached inside Pastor’s, the pavilion behind the church was completed and two of the four finished picnic tables were moved inside, and Pastor’s house got it’s first touch of paint.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the afternoon was the completion of the playground.  It sits between the church and the children’s house, and was originally supposed to consist of monkey bars and a swing set.  A few people came to TJ and said it would be a great idea to add a teeter-totter to the playground.  Some cut metal and welding later, the swing set and monkey bars were connected by a completely unexpected but completely ingenious teeter-totter.  A coat of salmon pink paint finished the job, and we were able to stand back and watch the kids attack their new playground.  They got to discover how to swing on a swing set-something I always thought every child knew how to do.  They got to discover the wonders of going up and down effortlessly on a teeter-totter.  They got to climb and swing from monkey bars like they’ve never been able to climb or swing from people.  And they did it all with some of the biggest grins I’ve ever seen.  I don’t understand how all the kids’ smiles can keep getting bigger and brighter. But they do get bigger and they are brighter.  The only smile that even comes close to being as big and bright as that of the kids was Pastor Emmanuel’s when he saw the kids on their playground.  He was standing in the doorway to the room behind the church grinning ear to ear as his children were laughing and playing and loving life in that moment.  It was a special sight and a special afternoon.

The “specialness” of the day continued on to our evening at Kaliko because, after all, it is New Year’s Eve.  Instead of our usual meal at 7, we had appetizers on the beach until 7:30 before experiencing a New Year’s feast at 10:30.  In between appetizers and dinner we did a team devotional and got to reflect on today and think about all our tomorrows.  Last night TJ compared our lives to an almond tree that grows right in the middle of our meeting space and tonight he read to us from Jeremiah 1.  Verse 12 talks about an almond tree.  It’s funny how God connects things just because he can.

By the time 10:30 rolled around we were all pretty hungry.  Kaliko did not disappoint.  All the tables in the room in which we usually eat were moved outside and in their place was every type of food they had at their disposal.  Whole sugar cane, lobster and a full pig seemed to be the highlights.  By the time we finished our meal, the New Year was almost upon us.  About four minutes before midnight we went into a meeting room to gather and pray for what God will do in the New Year.  It was the perfect way in the perfect place to start 2013.IMG_2436

Haiti Day Four

Sunday, December 30th

 

This morning we got to do church Haiti style.  We left Kaliko a little later than usual and went to the church at Mission of Hope.  We got there about thirty minutes before the actual service started, so TJ gave the team a quick tour of the grounds and buildings which include a large school, an orphanage, offices, warehouses, a team house, a hospital under construction and the clinic where the children from our orphanage go to receive medical care.  After the tour we made our way to the open-aired church building.  It’s shaped like a ‘T’ with a long center aisle and two branches that all meet at the stage at the front of the church.  When we first sat down the church seemed to be about a third full, but before we knew it almost every row was full.  We knew going in that the service would be in Creole and we probably wouldn’t understand any of it, but we came away with so much more than we expected.  The service began with a greeting and prayer and reading of scripture (the first few verses of Psalm 121), and then the worship team took the stage.  They had a full band-drums, keyboard, guitars, singers, even a tambourine-and played loud and proud.  The passion of the congregation was evident in the opening lines of the very first song.  It was like the social constraints that are so often found in America-fear, desire to maintain decorum, wondering what people will think of our worship style, wondering if the people around us can hear us-were immediately loosed and all that remained was pure, simple, passionate worship.  Worship like I’ve only experienced in Haiti.  These people come to church with all their troubles and hurts and worries, troubles and hurts and worries unlike anything most of us have ever known, and they lay them all before their creator and selflessly worship him.  It’s an incredible thing to witness and be a part of.  A song started playing that many of us were familiar with, and the sound of Creole and English mixing together in the same tune to the same God resonated through the church.  The band incorporated some English verses into the next few songs and everyone in the church followed along and all of us, Haitian and American, were switching back and forth from English to Creole.  We were truly one body worshiping one God.  TJ reminded us in devotional tonight that one day all believers of every race and color and background will sing together with one voice in worship of our Father in heaven for all of eternity.  Today we got to experience a small taste of what God always intended worship to be.

After church we went to L’eveque, one of Mission of Hope’s other campuses, where they are partnering with Samaritan’s Purse to build homes for families.  On our way back to Kaliko, we passed a bus full of people that had overturned.  The first thing I heard as we drove by was TJ saying, “What can we do to help?”  We turned around and TJ, Dr. Jackie Taylor, Chris Clark and our translators got out to survey the situation and see if there was anything we could do.  They came back to our bus after about ten minutes and said that everyone had gotten out of the bus and there were no fatalities.  We continued on to Kaliko, ate lunch, and headed to Pastor’s to work the afternoon away.  The monkey bars were painted a salmon color, the swing set was welded together, the frame for the walls and roof of the room behind the church was welded, construction started on two more picnic tables, and the infamous bucket line of concrete was reformed to pave the floor of the church with a smooth finish.  We worked and played with the kids as long as light would allow, and then returned to Kaliko for dinner and a very special devotional in which Thong Pham shared his personal story.  He reminded us all that God is ever-present in our lives and that he has a plan for each and every one of his children.  God meant for all of our lives to intersect in this place at this time in this way.  Though we may not see or understand the reasons he put us here now, God has proved himself to always be faithful and he will eventually allow us to see his grand plan for each of our lives.  Pray for continued safety for the team, pray for rest for tired minds and bodies, and pray that God will continue to reveal himself and his plans for this trip and the people on it.

Haiti Day Three

Saturday, December 29th

 

The landscape of Haiti is absolutely breathtaking.  It’s amazing to me that every morning we get to wake up and have breakfast 50 yards away from one of the bluest oceans I’ve ever seen.  We get to drive alongside huge green and brown mountains that look they’ve just been pinched upwards from the ground and been left there to stand.  I love that God created such a beautiful backdrop for our time here in Haiti, knowing that each and every one of us would get to enjoy the majesty of his creation.  The beauty that surrounds us provides such a great contrast to the dirt and sweat and mess that have become a part of our daily routine.  And today was an especially dirty and sweaty and messy day.

We made the bumpy journey to the orphanage in our yellow bus and immediately hit the ground running.  One group donned gloves and moved buckets and buckets of rocks that would later be used to mix concrete.  Another group helped to weld metal into a set of monkey bars and the frame of a swing set.  As a few team members remarked, what childhood is complete without a set of monkey bars to fall off?  Chris Clark and a few other guys constructed a near perfect picnic table for the orphanage, the first of four to be completed by the end of the trip.  Then there was a group who completed painting the interior of Pastor’s home-a process that included shifting the entire contents of the storage room around and climbing in and out of semi-rickety shelving units.  One of the most tiring projects was the mixing, carrying, and pouring of concrete for the spare room behind the church.  For a while it was just a few guys making the long trek from the concrete mixing spot to the back of the church, but before too long almost the entire team had formed a bucket line and was moving buckets quickly and efficiently.  It was so neat to see everyone laughing and sweating and getting dirty and serving together.  Moving wet concrete in the heat seems to bring people together.

But while all the construction was going on, we still got to hang out with the kids and give much of our time and attention to them.  Thong Pham pulled out a remote control helicopter that fascinated and excited the kids to no end.  He even let some of them try and fly it, which provided for some interesting crash landings of the helicopter.  Faces were more familiar, names were a bit easier to pronounce, and communication was a little easier, though it was comprised more of hand motions and facial expressions than of actual words.  But people discovered today that sometimes love needs no words.  Love can be shared and experienced through action alone.  We’ve seen that here in Haiti with simple hugs and hand games and tickling sessions, and we’ve seen that through God’s sacrifice of his only son for the whole world.  Love was created by a powerful God to be a powerful tool that can be expressed in any way, at any time, and in any language, verbal or nonverbal.  We’re getting to discover and develop our love for the kids and their love for us, and in turn are being reminded of God’s love for us and challenged to return that love with no conditions, the way it is given to us.  Please pray for the team as we try to hear and see what God is trying to show us, as well as for continued health, safety, and rest.

Simply Overwhelmed

The Bible tells us to “Taste and See that the Lord is good” in Psalm 34:8.  I just want to say that this past weekend and today I am simply overwhelmed by the goodness of God.

I know I have posted on this passage before, but I have come back to it over the past couple of days.

Taste and See. That is an interesting use of words and when it plays out in our lives, it can be very dramatic. It’s kinda like when you put your hand under the water to make sure it is the correct temperature and when you do, you see it is just right and you jump in.

God plunged me into the deep end this past week.  I saw 38 kids orphans get fully sponsored (check out Haiti Initiative page), my church go to its knees (led by one of my best friends, Randy Pierson) in prayer, a stirring video of past, present and future created by my friend, Jeremy Hunt, powerful worship led by my church’s worship leader (Jason Fitts) accompanied by a worship leader (Ruben Cenea) from Haiti, friends come together for one cause and major plans and vision discussed for a village named Williamson, 30 people praying strength and peace over 2 people, my wife’s gift of hospitality put on display. To top it off, I got to make s’mores with my family…and that’s just a few of the things I have experienced this weekend. Wow…simply overwhelmed by the goodness of God.

I am so thankful to see the Lord as work in people all around me and taste his goodness in each breath that I take. God is good and as the remainder of the verse says, “blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

Where is your refuge? Where is your peace? Where is your joy? Where is your joy?

We must place all this in him, because He is perfect and He has NEVER failed us in any way.

Friends, look all around you and taste and see that HE IS GOOD.

What’s my “YES” in this? It is to simply say yes to Him in my life….and I challenge you to do the same.

Blessings,

TJ

Then and Now.

Today, I woke up thinking of yesterday.

Yesterday, I woke up in the poorest country in the world. This morning I woke up in a different place altogether.

Yesterday, I worshipped with my Haitian brothers and sisters. This morning, I prayed and gave thanks with my brothers and sisters here at Fellowship.

Yesterday, I woke up thankful that the team had made it through another mission trip mostly uninjured. This morning, I woke up thankful that I got see and hug my wife and kids.

Yesterday, I experienced the goodness of God. Today, I have experienced the goodness of God.

And I pray that tomorrow brings the same for me and for you.

2 Years ago, I entered into a little orphanage in Williamson, Haiti. I had never experienced, in my life, anything like what happened that day to my heart when I heard kids singing praises to God even though they literally had nothing but each other. You see, just a few months before I visited this place, an earthquake ravaged central Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives during the 47 second earthquake. The kids of this orphanage lost their moms and dads and everything they knew. I know this because Pastor Emmanuel has shown me the death certificates of the parents.

And they were singing… praises to God.

I remember praying to God,in that place , asking that He would raise a place up for these kids to be able to sing and dance and play where they were safe from storms and could enjoy laughter in the shade. I prayed that God would raise up a church and the laughter of the children could be heard throughout the village.

I must be honest. I had forgotten that prayer, until this past week, when God reminded me of his goodness and power.

On Saturday, I was working outside at the orphanage when all of the sudden I heard a loud, but very rhythmic, drum beat happening within the church. I heard laughter. I saw people going inside and I had to go check out what was happening. As I stepped inside the church, I saw our team and most of the orphans inside, in the shade, dancing and laughing together. I went to the corner and just watched.

I heard the Lord speak to me. He said, “TJ, never forget my power and my love. You are blessed to experience this day what I am doing.”

I often describe the orphans as the voices of angels singing directly to my heart when I heard them the first time.
The Lord is teaching me that his narrative for my life and Haiti is still be laid out. God planted a stake of “trust” in my heart this past Saturday. I was humbled to hear the Lord speak to me and to see a prayer that was prayed almost 2 years be completely answered.

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012 will forever be engrained into my heart and will further push me to seek God with my life. I want nothing more than God to use me in Jackson, TN and all the way to the ends of the earth for his name. I am undeserving of any applause or “pats on the back”. My deepest hope and ultimate prayer is that God will continue to use me and use me more to be a part of sharing his message with you and people from all the world.

Sometime this week, I will be posting many pictures on the Haiti initiative page of the site. I will post a picture of every kid in the orphanage with their names along with a daily name list to join me in prayer for these kids.

May God bless you today.

Then (in 2010), I saw more with my own eyes.

Now (today), I see that God is overwhelmingly faithful.

No matter the twists and turns your life my take, be restful that God is constant and He loves His Children.

Blessings,

TJ

Well…Here We Go!

ImageI have been simply overwhelmed with who God is as of late. I know there has been a break in my posts here for a week or so, but for good reason. I have been immersed in the planning and prep stages for an event called ONE weekend for our student ministry. The event took place this past weekend and was the largest event in FSM high school history. Let me tell you a few of the stories over the next couple of days.

God moved. I mean really blew us all away. The effects of this weekend are being felt still today through students and families.

On Friday night, a good friend of mine, Mychal Hunt, spoke on “di-visions” and how they don’t line up with “Da-Vision” of God of his church being unified under his name. Mychal spoke with such clarity and passion.

A brief history of Mychal. Mychal grew up Atheist and his father is Muslim. Mychal grew up hating church and religion andwas on the verge of becoming a main stream rapper. He was all over the place meeting with other and rapping, cursing the name of God and doing whatever he could to make his name known.

Then…God interrupted that path and Mychal surrendered his life to Christ and to ministry. He just recently completed a program by FCA called Driggs. It is a seminary style discipleship program. Mychal is very gifted and very humble. I love serving alongside him.

Mychal is such an inspiration to me. His story, like so many others, shows that God can do anything. god has brought Mychal from the life of an atheist, gang member,Muslim family into his full light and life that is so beautiful.

What’s your story? What’s the Lord doing in your life today? How have you sought him lately?

I can tell you that this past weekend, God moved in the lives of 130+ people at ONE Weekend. Lives were not just changed, but they were altered to be more like Christ.

Over the next couple of days, I will be sharing with you pictures and stories from the weekend.

I pray that God blesses you today. I pray that you bless God today.

Let love be the motivation for everything you do.

Blessings,

TJ

Have You Counted?

Sometimes in our life, we have to take a step back and investigate ourselves. As a follower of Christ, I have to step back and ask how closely I am following after Christ.

I must admit, I love watching the World Series of Poker. It fascinates me the strategy and skill that the participants play with. Each move is a tactical play. One move can put them out of the tournament. When the tournament begins initially, the players smile a little and are having fun, but then once they have played into the tournament, it’s go time. They call certain bets, check on others and then at some point, they look at the cards that are dealt, look at their cards, count their chips and go “All In”, pushing in, typically, a large stack of chips worth more than most of our annual income. The are either go win everything or lose everything (I even get a little tense watching it). Its simply fascinates me.

Jesus used some powerful words in Luke 14:25-35 to describe what it means to follow him as a disciple. His words still ring true today, “If you’re going to folio me, you have to go “All In”. There is no such thing as a part-time disciple. You can’t be faint-hearted, “just curious” or apathetic.

We can try to give Christ less than everything. We can approach our faith halfheartedly just getting by, hanging  at the edges of the game for a while but never committing wholeheartedly. As I continue to learn to abide in Christ, I understand that I must more and more give everything over to him.

Or we can go “All In” as we follow Christ, putting our all on the table for him.

3 Questions to Consider today:

  1. If Jesus calls disciples to give up everything they have, why does anyone follow him?
  2. Do you think people can choose not to be a disciple of Jesus, yet still be “saved”?
  3. How would your life be different if you decided to go “All In” for Christ? Do you find the idea of a total commitment to God frightening or exciting? Why?

 

Luke 14:25-35 (ESV)

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me  and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Blessings,

TJ

Changed Forever

How has Jesus changed your life?

I was challenged with you this question yesterday.

I challenge you to find a time today to simply stop and list the ways that Jesus has changed your life? When I stop and look at my life, I am amazed that God still loves me at all. To think of all heartache I must have put him through in the few years I have been alive is simply detestable to consider. Isn’t it amazing how God doesn’t leave us.

I read in my quiet time yesterday Deuteronomy 31:8.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Let me tell you, this is exactly what I needed. For just over 10 days, I have been asking God to show me what is in me that is not of him and help me to remove it. I hate looking deep within me and seeing the inside. Yesterday, a friend of mine said, “Now, stop asking God to show me to myself, but to begin to ask God to show me His strength” and that is when I came to this verse. See, every person, whether a doctor, lawyer, pastor, teacher, construction worker, student, child, teen, adult or senior or anything else all need to stop and remember these words from our God.

If we are all honest, we probably all need these words today:

He will never leave you.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be discouraged.

When I read this verse, I wanted to jump with joy and thank God for his unconditional love and his understanding or my failings. He is simply amazing and my hope for you and for myself is that we will walk as if God has prepared our path and that he is walking each step of every day with us.

Because…He is.

Jesus has changed my life and I the only thing I can do is commit myself to him and come broken before Him each day, giving it to him. God doesn’t want us to sacrifice anything or any activity. He wants you. He wants me. Why?

Because He loves us. Today, I aim to abide in Him and be in awe of who he is. I am thankful he has chosen me and is constantly changing me.

How has Jesus Changed Your Life?

Can you do it?

I recently did a random survey of 20 students and asked some general Bible questions that you would hope every believer would know. Sad to say, I was not shocked by the answers I received, but my heart hurt when I read all of them. The questions were answered by 20 students, ages 14-18. Not one students answered all of the questions correctly. Half of those that took the survey don’t believe the Bible to be 100% true without any error.

God, over the past several weeks, has reconfirmed to me that I am exactly where I am to be and doing exactly what he created me to do. I love student ministry and everything that goes with it…well almost everything…

Friends, Students, Parents… Let me say this bluntly. We MUST do better. It is so important that you and I partner together to not just teach the upcoming generation of students, but to display who we are in Christ on a daily basis.

Here are the 10 questions I asked. See if you can answer them.

  1. How many books of the bible are there?
  2. Who received the 10 commandments?
  3. Who denied Jesus three times?
  4. What book of the Bible has a chapter dedicated to the explanation of love?
  5. What was Paul’s original name?
  6. How is one “saved”?
  7. Name 6 of the 12 disciples of Christ.
  8. Without looking in your bible, write John 3:16.
  9. how old was Jesus when he died?
  10. Do you believe the bible is 100% true with any errors in it?

How did you do?

Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Oh friends, may you and I have a burden to train our children in the ways of God? We are handling and training the most powerful generation in history. I pray we do a good job!

I pray that you and I make Christ the most important part of our lives. Our kids are watching. Our friends are watching. We can teach all day, but we reproduce who we are.

I want my kids to see that I abiding in Christ with everything I am! I want my kids to see that my life is completely devoted to living in Christ!

Blessings to you today!

-TJ

What’s Your Status?

Status. I don’t know who many of you are on twitter, instagram or facebook, but I would say that it is probably safe to say…most of you. Isn’t amazing how we can sum our lives up in such a few characters? Here’s what I was thinking about as I began to write todays post. I wonder what someone would say if they were following me around, what would they post about me?

What would they say? I just wonder…

Lets go a step further…hopefully not too far. If Jesus was tweeting (probably wouldn’t waste his time with it), and was following you around, what would his feed look like about you?

“There’s TJ sleeping too late again… #GetUp”

“There’s TJ eating salad… #SaidNoOneEver”

“Alright! He’s praying…man, he’s ADD #PrayingLookatThatLight”

 

Or maybe…

“Bless you TJ, I see you, the real you. #IWillCarryYou”

“C’mon. I died for you. Why are you choosing that? #Myblood”

“No. Don’t go there. Instead, #FollowMe”

“TJ, don’t try to change. Let me change you. #Power”

“Your heart will guide you wrong. #IWont”

 

 Or maybe…

“I’m so proud of you! #WellDone”

“I love you more than you can understand. #Sacrifice”

“Dead, but made Alive. #NoOneElseCan”

 

There are so many definitions of status in our culture. How much do you make? What kind of vehicle do you drive? What achievements have you accomplished? How many awards have you received? The list could go on and on.

But, if you are looking for your true status.

Who you are in Christ.

Then look directly at this verse and see the goodness of God.

Col 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

You are a son and daughter of the King and nothing can separate you from that.

2 Corinthians 5: 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

I pray that as we finish reading, our status, for our lives, isn’t based on an emotion, a relationship, sports, politics, academics, but I’m praying and hoping that we will see that our true status, or identity is that we are hidden with Christ in God and our hashtag should be…

#AliveandFreeInChrist

Blessings,

TJ

 

 

Been Here?

Ever feel like this? Quick hit today. I saw this picture and it spoke volumes to me during my quiet time. How do you look at this picture? You can look at it 3 different ways.

  1. It’s just a silly picture. That’s fine. I thought it was pretty funny too.
  2. It represents life. Sometimes we feel like the world is just raining down on us and we are like this cardboard cutout that eventual will crumble under the weight of the water.
  3. The little guy is looking up to the sky and being rained on. I hope this is true of my life with God. I hope it true with your always. I hope you can see that the Lord reigns over all and wants to shower you over and over with his forgiveness, love, understanding, wisdom, power and presence.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Be strong. Don’t fear the rain. Let Him reign on you.

Blessings!

TJ

Man, I want that!

Have you ever had something in your mind that you wanted really badly? I mean you wanted it bad…but no matter what you tried you couldn’t achieve it. You couldn’t find a way to do it.

Maybe it was the latest technology, a certain kind of automobile, or maybe just someone to recognize you.

You wanted it so bad that you could taste it. You knew what it would feel like if you could just have it. You wanted it so bad you dreamed about.  You wanted it because it would make your life better. You wanted it because you wanted to show it to others. You (secretly) wanted to rub it in their faces. You just knew if would make everything different. It would make you…well…you.

I have had those things in my life. I wanted a Four-Wheeler so bad. I want a motorcycle so bad. I wanted a big sound system. I wanted to be the best football player, baseball player. The best. I wanted them. I wanted each of them so bad that I would come up with a plan to get them. The things I wanted I found a way to make it happen.

Can I be really honest this morning with you? I learned something last week and it has shaken the very foundations of who I am and I will become.

You see, I am afraid I had the wrong perspective for quite some time on my life with Christ.  From a normal perspective, the things I am going to mention seem right.

I want revival. I want you to fall in love with Jesus. I want you follow him no matter the cost. I want you to love others. I want you read your Bible. I want to grow the student ministry I have a privilege of leading to the point every single school in Jackson and surrounding areas is represented.

You see a trend here?

This past 2 weeks, God has called me back to Scripture and has revealed so much to me. Please allow me to unpack these verses with you this morning.

Philippians 1:21

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

This verse just makes me think in awe of who our God is? It makes me evaluate everything about me and it should all of us. Can you  claim this verse as your life.

These 12 words can rip you apart and mend you up into a new person.

These 12 words have been the launching pad of my fresh eyes. Friends, I am refreshed. I am mended. I am hungering for God. I am yearning for God. All because of the truth here.  I am asking God to fill me up with him and help me to be a better son of the king, husband, father, friend, pastor.

For to me to live is Christ.”

“While I have breath in body , I will live with Christ”. This is not as I always have said. As a teen, I said I will live for Christ at church, before the ballgame, but in no time flat, I was at the party, I was treating Melanie as girl instead of a daughter of Christ.

Even more recently, I was saying, while I am alive, I will do everything I can to change the world. I will do everything I can to reach students. This sounds right in our minds, doesn’t it. It is not. It is about me.

It is so important for you and I to see the difference.

For Christ”. We aren’t to live “For Christ”. He IS already living. He doesn’t need us to live for him…we need him to live FOR us to Live.

If you have at some point in your life stood at he foot of the Cross and said, “Christ, I need you to save me” then essentially, you were saying and the recognizing the only way you could LIVE IS CHRIST.

We have to get to the point where we are saying that the only way I can function is “To Live” IS Christ.

May I say that I have observed that our culture has conditioned us to believe that we live “For Christ”. What a weight that you are carrying that you were not designed carry. You were not created to carry Christ. He carries you. Our issue is that we do not know how to simply be “Alive” in him.

“To Live Is Christ”. There is another layer for us in this phrase and oh man, hang on.

The other day, Trey had a soccer game. It was his next to last one. It was a makeup game and I was, well, lets say, in a not so good mood. I worked all day, then went home and hopped in the car with the kids and we headed to the fields. I walked to the field with Melanie like always and we put our chairs down. I sat down and Trey went out to find his friends and warm up. Um…kick the ball in the goal.

The game was about to start. I said, “Okay Trey, go kick the ball hard and run fast.”

The game started, Trey was running around and everything would get in their clumps. Trey was making his sound effects and for some reason I was getting frustrated. I wasn’t in the right mindset. He’s 7 and never played before.  I wanted him to kick it hard. I wanted him to score. I wanted him to be the best player on the field. So what did I do…I yelled…”Go Trey. Kick the Ball!!”. Then, “Run faster!”. Then, “C’mon Trey”.  He was playing, but as I instructed him, the smile left his face and he began to have a straight face, which is not like my Trey. Every time he would run, but, he would look at me and see if I was saying something to him. I thought, good grief…”where is his competitive spirit? Where is his winner attitude? I’m a winner. I’m a competitor. Why isn’t he doing like I would be doing?”

It wasn’t until later in the week that God taught me a lesson.  Trey wasn’t concerned about competing. He just wanted his daddy to watch. It was enough to know that I was there. He was satisfied to know that I was there.

Oh friends, “To Live Is Christ” is like this. Are we satisfied to simply know God is with us? Do we just want God to be with us?

To me to live is Christ. So much power. Living not for the death and resurrection of Christ, but living in it.

Blessings,

TJ

Ummmm…that’s good!

Image

I recently made a trip to Frisco, TX. When I heard that there was a new In-N-Out Burger place by the hotel I was staying at, I got a little excited. A couple of years ago, I ventured to my first In-N-Out while helping a friend in AZ and quickly fell in love with the place. So, as soon as I could, I went. OH WOW! So good. It was so good that I went back a second day for lunch (and if I have to admit…a third day also…). I watched the employees make my burger, cut and fry the fries. I waited in anticipation of how good everything was going to be. When I sat down and took the first bite…I knew, without question…It was good.

Psalms 34:8

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

Friends, let me tell you that the Lord is good. No illustration or choice of some eloquent words can describe all or even part of the Lord’s goodness. As I sit here and write this, the Lord’s goodness is overwhelming. The Lord has blessed me with an incredible wife, amazing kids, fun family, great friends, a powerful church to serve at,  and so much more. He has blessed me most by saving me and making me his own. Its simply overwhelming to think about the good ness of God. Please allow me to dissect Psalm 34:8 a little with you.

This verse issues you and I a challenge. “Oh, taste and see…“. I can almost feel the writer wanting you to experience the goodness of the Lord because he, himself has experienced it. It is as if he is saying, “I dare you…”. He wants us to experience all of God. He wants us to know that there is nothing better. When you taste the goodness of the Lord, you begin to see him in his rightly.

What I love more is the second half of the verse. “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.“. You see, once you have truly experienced the goodness of God, you simply want to be in him. You want to seek after him. You want to talk to him. You know that he will fight your battles. You trust that he will overcome the hard times. You have faith that he will provide everything you need. You know that He will be and do more than enough, and honestly, more than we deserve. When you take refuge in him, you see him moving all around you and you know that he cannot fail. It is impossible for God to fail at being God.

Let me tell you, when I bit into that burger, I was satisfied. I knew I had made a good choice for lunch and was content to just sit there and enjoy that burger. I could taste how good it was and I was sure to bring the others that went to the conference with me. I wanted them to taste it also. We were all happy…and went back…2 more times.

When you taste something and you know it is good…you go back to it.

Remember when you gave your life to Christ? Remember how it felt to know that the Lord was good and that you were just given a new life and new hope. You realized for the first time that you had real purpose in your life. Return to the joy of your salvation. As you press on in your spiritual journey, always remember to find your refuge in him, because he is good.

…remember the taste.

…it is better than good.

Blessings,

TJ

ronaldlong

Christian. Husband. Father. Youth Minister.

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