In a couple of weeks, we are going to take a trip home. It was very difficult to adjust to life here in Haiti, but somehow, it seems like it will be even more difficult to transition back to the life that used to be so familiar and comfortable in the States. It has been an intense time of learning how to live in a different way – with far less than we thought we needed, but with much deeper friendships and closer community than we expected.
We had hoped to stay here for a longer time, but we’ve made the important decision to take this trip to take care of our health and wellness, and to make decisions about what to do next. Thank you to every single one of you who reads this blog and supports and prays for us! If you are in Texas, we hope to see you sometime over the next few weeks!
Last week, I was invited to the St. Mother Theresa Clinic to teach a public health class focused on women’s health and natural family planning. Doctor Dubréus, the clinic’s medical director, was very supportive and translated for me during the entire class.
Ryan, Bethany, and Dr. Dubréus leading the first LETS Public Health class
The class was taught to the clinic staff as part of their regularly scheduled clinic education. The clinic nurses, doctors, and auxiliary staff were present. Everyone was so excited to learn this material that is so important for both men and women to understand.
LETS is an organization that was founded in Haiti to teach fertility awareness in order to reduce abandoned children and the issues of child abuse and trafficking. The LETS training program teaches and empowers both men and women to understand their responsibility for family planning and fertility knowledge.
Everyone in the class was excited to receive their LETS bracelet. Women can use the bracelet to track their cycles, and men can even wear a bracelet in support of their partner. This method of natural family planning relies on the couple committing to communication and respect for choices.
This initial class was a great beginning – I hope that the clinic staff will now be interested in helping me teach this class to families in the community. It could have such positive far-reaching effects. I’m especially excited about teaching women and young people how to understand their fertility in a way that supports the beliefs of the Church. I pray that we can have more opportunities to teach this valuable information!
Two months in Haiti… it actually feels like we have been here much longer! We can hardly remember what it’s like to walk into a grocery store, or a restaurant, or what it’s like to take a hot shower or bath. Ryan has ventured out on some trips to the nearby cities to do errands or to pick up our mail and packages. But, our children have not left this isolated little village in the middle of the mountains. The younger children don’t believe us when we tell them that Haiti has some large cities, too!
Even though we feel like we have settled in here somewhat, we also are longing to get even more settled. We regularly walk down to the future boys home to see the process on the building – it is looking so beautiful! The masons are building an amazing stone wall all around the property, and the house is painted in vibrant colors! When the house is finished, we plan to move down there and work on making it into a welcoming home – ready for the grown boys to use sometime in the future. For now, we are living (and homeschooling) out of suitcases in this rental house. It is a challenge, but we are so blessed to have many people helping and caring for us!
Last week, we met our closest missionary neighbors. Our children were thrilled to meet their children, and to play with all of their toys and bikes! These new friends have blessed us so much with their company, and by giving us many tips and suggestions on how to shop for food and cook in Haiti – especially when we crave certain foods from America!
Preparing food in Haiti is a time-consuming process. We are so thankful to have a sweet woman who comes to our home many days to help us with cooking and laundry. When she is not here, it takes a long time to plan and make the food for our family! We don’t always have fresh meat to cook, but we have plenty of canned meats and refrigerated sausages. With some planning and creativity, we can make great pretty great meals with those ingredients.
Each weekday, Ryan leaves right after breakfast to spend his day at the St. Mother Theresa Medical Clinic. He is serving as the administrator there, and his goal is to help the clinic to run more smoothly, and to grow in its ability to serve the medical needs of this remote area. The kids and I stay home and work on homeschooling and cooking during the days. In the afternoon, we often walk down to the orphanage to play with the children there. We usually have to take our little children home to get ready for bed, and then a few of us can go back for nightly chapel at the orphanage.
If you ask my children about their very first memories of arriving at the Kay Mari orphanage, they would say that it was meeting Djoulie. This sweet twelve year old girl could speak better English than almost anyone else at the orphanage. She was brilliantly smart, and shined with kindness that reached out to everyone. My very favorite memories of Djoulie are when she was playing dolls and tea party with Eliana and Olivia.
Djoulie had sickle cell anemia, which can cause bouts of severe pain and fatigue. Last week, she experienced complications of sickle cell and infections, and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Soon after, she was taken by helicopter to a larger hospital in Port au Prince to be given multiple blood transfusions and to be placed on a ventilator. Unfortunately, she became so gravely sick, and the doctors could not help her poor body to recover.
The entire time of her illness, Djoulie was surrounded by such love. Sister Florence, who is one of the most amazing women I have ever met, stayed by her side almost continually. She put her own life at risk, sleeping in a car at the hospital and navigating the city to make sure the doctors had the blood donations and supplies they needed. Sister was supported by other members of the mission here, who drove into Port au Prince to help her. Everyone back at the orphanage kept a continual vigil of prayer for Djoulie and her helpers. In fact, we heard of people praying for Djoulie in so many cities and countries all over the world.
My children had their very first experience with real grief this week. We prayed and prayed for Djoulie, and we warned them that she was very critically ill. When news of her death reached the orphanage, we could hear the cries of sadness all the way up the road at our house. Each of our children have experienced grief and responded in their own way: Emma is such a people-person. She has been spending as much time as possible at the orphanage, often just sitting silently with her arm around her little friends. Selah has quietly mourned, and also has been able to comfort and care for her little siblings during the stressful week. Eliana had the most difficult time with Djoulie’s passing. She misses her terribly, and she found it very sad to hear the cries of other people.
I spent most of the week keeping our little children away from the sadness at the orphanage. They attended a few minutes of the funeral mass, but mostly stayed home. After the procession and burial, we brought them quietly to the gravesite with flowers. They seemed to understand that their friend’s body is in the ground, but her soul is heading to be with Jesus in heaven. Olivia said, “I miss having tea parties with Djoulie.”
I cannot imagine how much the children and staff at the orphanage must miss sweet Djoulie. The sadness that we witnessed was overwhelming. However, after she was laid to rest, I also watched their strength and peace. We all know that we can’t help but rejoice for Djoulie. She has no more illness or pain! What an honor it has been to meet this amazing girl before she died, and to know that we will meet her again someday.
Our goal for our first month in Haiti was very simple – to get ourselves and our children acclimated to life here. (Easier said than done!) The first week was a joyful time of getting to know all of the children at the orphanage, touring the clinic and houses, and getting unpacked to settle in for a time in the upstairs missionary dorm at the orphanage. The next three weeks were a blur of sickness and trying to settle into a routine amidst ever-changing days. At least one or two members of our family were sick on any given day, and getting back into the structure of homeschooling was near-impossible, especially with the challenges of fatigued parents and a slow internet connection. Being present at the orphanage was a wonderful way to get to know the children and staff. But it was difficult to find privacy, and living out of suitcases with a family of eight (plus a puppy) in a single room was a challenge.
Soon, we were able to move out of the orphanage and into a rental house that is only a five-minute walk away. It has been such a blessing to our family to have a private space – we can more easily put our little kids down for a nap, prepare simple meals, and spend a few hours a day getting into the routine of homeschooling our older children. We all sleep in mosquito-net covered beds, which the children are tolerating very well! We are learning to keep all of our belongings packed away and clear of ants, cockroaches, and mice (and we are working on cutting down on those pests!). We have running water from a well and a reservoir, and usually enough electricity (via solar panels) to use all of our lights, fans, and even a working refrigerator! We have been so very grateful to even have working internet installed in our home, which has made it possible to communicate with each other even if one of us is not home, and with friends and family back home. Unfortunately, our internet connection is not quite fast enough for our oldest girls to continue taking homeschool classes through the program they had started in Texas. We put together a modified curriculum of books that we brought with us, several online books, as well as daily Bible reading and Creole lessons. Several of our homeschooling friends have been so generous and kind to send us some of their used textbooks, which we hope will arrive on our next delivery on Agape Flights (the missionary airplane service that supports missionaries in the Caribbean with mail services and aid). Our kids will be excited to have new books to read!
The very kind cooking ladies at the orphanage have been checking on us every day, and helping to stock our kitchen with food: we now have a steady supply of coffee, bread, peanut butter, and pasta to cook when our children need a meal. We have been able to supplement that food with our own orders of food that come through Agape Flights. Agape organization is such a life-line, in which we can send and receive mail and order necessities such as medicine and household supplies. Our young children are especially grateful for the nuts, raisins, and oats that we ordered from Walmart so that they can have a familiar snack or meal. (We do have to be careful to stay in budget when ordering items through this service, because we pay additional charges for air shipping, as well as in-country custom fees.)
A very wonderful Haitian woman is helping in our home, cooking alongside me in the kitchen and helping us with laundry several days each week. She is most comfortable cooking outside in a charcoal kitchen, and I do the cooking inside on a stove with propane tank. She is very willing to work around our children, and to allow them to watch and help her with tasks. One thing that Haitians are very good at is making a meal out of a hodgepodge of inexpensive ingredients. The other day, she found some plantains growing in a tree in our yard. She cooked a fabulous lunch of boiled plantains, with a meat sauce that she made out of a small amount of summer sausage and some ketchup. Apparently every Haitian cook is a saucier!
Our children are doing so well with this transition and adjustment. Sometimes, especially when they are feeling sick with a stomachache or fever, they express deep homesickness. I help them talk through those feelings. Each time, it has been very temporary, and they have been eager to get back to their friends at the orphanage and to be involved in life here. Our little children have had some difficulty sleeping and eating the Haitian food when they don’t feel well, but they are even settling into a more consistent routine. Whenever we spend time at the orphanage, our children can be found playing games of tag, hide and seek, swinging, and just walking around with their Haitian friends. It is still a challenge to communicate with each other, but children are quite adept at finding a way to play despite the language barrier. Our older girls are improving with learning Creole, and can now say a few more words than simply “bonjour” and “mesi”.
It is hard to believe that we have been here for an entire month. There have been so many changes, adjustments, and ups and downs (all of that with the normal chaos and drama of life with six children!). What is our plan for our second month here? Of course, it is often difficult to plan in a country where shopping, transportation, and communication often is slow or non-working. However, we do have several goals: Ryan is observing and consulting with the mission’s administrators. My primary task is to provide a stable home for our children – to keep them safe, healthy, well-fed, and learning! I also hope to begin teaching health classes this month. First, I will present the material to the doctor and nurses, and offer the public health and natural family planning classes to patients at the clinic. I can also then expand those classes to the other employees of the mission here, and the older children at the orphanage. I’m so excited to have a small contribution to make here.
That’s our update from the first month in Haiti! Thank you to all of our friends and family for watching and praying with our family during this time. 🙂
We spent our first two weeks in Haiti living upstairs at the orphanage. It was a great period of immersion- living in close quarters with all the children really helped us develop relationships. Sometimes it was difficult for us and our children, because there were always kids wanting to talk to and touch us. But, it was really worth the sacrifice of space and privacy in order to have that time at the orphanage. We were able to attend nightly chapel time as often as possible, and our big kids had many late nights staying up with the teenagers to chat and have impromptu Creole lessons.
Several days ago, we moved into a nice little house that we are renting until the future orphanage boys home (which will first be our home) is completely ready. The children at the orphanage were so sad when they first saw us load up our things in a car to bring to the house. They surrounded us, and kept wanting us to stay longer. We promised them that we were only moving down the street, and that we would be back every day to eat dinner and play with them. They couldn’t believe it – I think they just expected us to leave for good! Sometimes they still ask us, “Are you coming back tomorrow?” It is so beautiful to see the friendships that our kids are making here. Even the Haitian teenagers love my little children, and light up every time they see them.
The move to a house has helped our family to have a little bit of space and privacy – we can now have a quiet family prayer time at night and our kids can do their homeschool work at home before heading to the orphanage to play in the afternoon. The puppy loves having a yard to explore – she especially likes finding a fallen coconut to chew on. We are only a short walk from the orphanage, so the kids can walk back and forth and we still have plenty of time visiting there. We had to accept a lot of help in order to move – the teenage boys from the orphanage carried beds and mattresses, the cooking ladies supplied our home kitchen with simple foods, orphanage workers helped us find bleach and ant spray and other essentials. It has been humbling to accept so much help. We have been given such a warm welcome by the orphanage kids, the staff, and everywhere we have visited.
Now that we are becoming more settled, we are craving a bit of routine and a way to fit into life here. Soon, Ryan will begin working regularly at the clinic and helping with administrative work there. It has been difficult to begin much work yet, because a fever has been working its way through each member of our family. Also, the internet can be very intermittent, so communication is difficult. Routine is often a challenge here – often days are spent waiting… for the internet to work, for transportation, or supplies. It is a different pace of life, and it takes flexibility and patience!
JP playing in the orphanage playground
Eliana loves making Andre laugh
Olivia can always find a girl to play tea party with
We’ve made it through a whole week here in Haiti. We’ve had some fevers, homesickness, fighting and whining and general angst while getting used to living in a brand new culture, with 50 new people, and sleeping our whole family in one room.
I was worried that my kids would have terrible moments of hunger for familiar foods, and homesickness for friends and family. They have experienced that, but they have also been amazingly willing to make the small sacrifices required to live here for a while and invest in these people.
There are those moments when I really am proud of my kids for being willing to make sacrifices. The bucket showers are shockingly cold. There have been times when the meals are not quite what we expect, or aren’t available when we are hungry.
Sometimes, we wake up starving and wait until after morning prayers to eat, and then there is nothing except bread and peanut butter. We are far away from any stores out here in the mountains! Breakfast is bread, lunch is bread and pasta and potatoes (“pommes de terre” – translated as dirt apples!). Spam is a good little burst of protein! Homemade donuts, fried plantains (“bannam peze”)… carbs carbs carbs. All of a sudden, fruit began to appear yesterday – woo hoo! We always enjoy a big dinner with rice and beans (“diri ak pwa”) and fried chicken or fish!
Today, Luke got into serious trouble for being mean. I really think he is just confused and acting out. There are dozens of kids running up to him and touching him, so he sometimes gets annoyed and overwhelmed. When he was sitting in time out, he told me that he missed his living room with toys. He just blurted out, “I want a living room!” I totally understand how he feels!
It has been a bit of a challenge for the introverts in our family to get used to living at an orphanage with about 50 people. The Haitian children constantly want to play with and talk to our children. The Haitians especially love Olivia and John Paul. We can hear voices say their names over and over, everywhere we walk. The kids are starting to warm up to the people, saying “Bonjour”, “Mesi” for the food, and giving high fives. It makes someone’s day when John Paul is brave enough to wave at them, or give them a fist bump!
Our big kids have been extraordinary. They have been playing with the kids here practically non-stop. They attend morning and evening prayers and Masses, always sitting on a bench surrounded by new friends. We have been teaching kids how to sew, crochet, and draw.
It has been difficult to get accustomed to the slower pace of life and the challenges of learning a language, but we are slowly but surely making relationships and settling into this season of life. Next week, we are scheduled to move into a rental house – that should be interesting and exciting!
This is the question that we keep hearing, and the question that Ryan and I regularly ask each other and our children. In just two weeks, we are bringing our family of eight to Haiti. We wonder how each of the kids will react to the completely different way of life they are about to experience… Will the toddler and preschooler have a hard time sleeping in the new surroundings, heat, and mosquito net-covered beds? Will the older kids miss their grandparents and friends, as well as familiar foods and toys? Will they be able to really see the purpose and joy in serving the poor, and then make the small sacrifices of comfort and familiarity in order to serve faithfully? I wonder if we are ready to leave behind all of the things that make life so comfortable and easy in Texas in exchange for third world country challenges. It will be difficult… often the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
We are in the fourth week of Advent, which is meant to be a time of penance and preparation. We pause, clean our homes and hearts, pray, and become more and more ready for the coming of our Savior. How often do we really feel ready for Christmas, let alone ready to allow God deep into our hearts, to bring new transformations? We may be ready to jump into the next season, into something new and big, but we are never fully prepared.
Imagine a young couple who is eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. They are so excited to meet this new little person, and to begin the adventure of life as a family. They make all of the preparations, and become as ready as possible. But, nothing can truly prepare them for the reality of parenting – the absolute joy and exhaustion they will experience, and the love and strength they will need in order to give so much of themselves to their child.
The story of Mary during the Annunciation is such a beautiful example of this. Mary was created in a special way, to fulfill this incredible purpose of carrying the Son of God on earth. She was ready to do this job, and ready to answer, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” Yet, nothing could really have prepared her for the intensity of that moment – being surprised by an angel and given a message that was difficult to understand. She was “greatly troubled” at what was said. It took a great amount of faith and grace to accept the role she was given at that moment.
How appropriate that we are in the final stretch of preparation for our family mission during this season of Advent. It’s a time of waiting. We pray, we talk about some of of the experiences we will have in Haiti. We practice fun little Creole phrases with the kids. We tell them things they will love (playing soccer and doing crafts with the Haitian kids), and things they will probably not love (the humidity and bucket baths). Most of all, we ask God for patience, flexibility, and grace to follow where He has called us, and to take a leap of faith.