Sweet readers…it’s taken me a while to even wrap my brain around how to begin this blog post. Here goes:
Whenever I go on mission experiences (they are really experiences, not trips) I usually end up as the photographer, which I never mind. I am by no means a professional photographer but no matter where I go, I always enjoy capturing ‘life’ and ‘God moments’ and there are always plenty.
Disclaimer: Grab a cup of coffee…this is going to be a long post; if you read to the end, you should likely receive an award or some kind of certificate, but you won’t…sorry:( Instead, hopefully you’ll receive a story and a visual for what much of Haiti is like and perhaps your heart will be open to help even without traveling there yourself and without leaving the comfort of your own home.
One thing I’ve learned is that when the mission experience is over, it really isn’t over at all. In fact, it’s just beginning. If we return home from what we witness and do not bear fruit, then the mission experience is wasted and oh what a shame! We are not all called to physically go and travel the world; we cannot fix it all and we cannot eliminate poverty for every human…BUT we can do it for some and some is more than none. And if lots of us help some, well then that turns into many.
I decided a few years ago that I would take each of our four children out of the country on a mission experience before they graduate from high school. Several intentions here and in no particular order:
*a bonding experience for the two of us
*powerful way to witness extreme poverty and discuss how we can help from our corner of the world
*an eye-opening experience for a teenager (and every time for me too as an adult) to realize how fortunate we are + it puts EVERYTHING into perspective.
*Also amazing to truly see God at work in these places and to witness faith and joy in people who may have nothing but because they have Jesus they really have all they need. Their unrelenting faith and trust is always a humbling example to witness.
So for Walker’s 16th birthday, he didn’t get a car, he got a mission experience in Haiti and I bet if you ask him, he might just say it was a wonderful gift.
So here’s a bit of our recent journey in Haiti:
view from the sky leaving Charlotte and headed to Ft. Lauderdale after a long delay.
Lots of sketching and painting in the sky…um yes, I never travel without art supplies, ever. Even to Haiti.
Missed our flight but met the nicest guy, Serge, (back right) who was born in Haiti, now lives in SC and is a dentist but he returns to Haiti every year to do free dental work on hundreds of Haitian children and adults. What a blessing that he chooses to use his gifts and do this!
We all became fast friends after learning that we missed our flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Haiti so we found a hotel and all went to dinner then enjoyed great conversation and this amazing sunset.
Off to bed since we had a VERY early flight to catch. Up at 3am and ready to roll with coffee in hand! (not decaf!)
Finally arrived in Haiti!
Thrilled to connect with Joyce, our amazing leader. Joyce Pipkin is a member of Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church in Columbia, SC. She leads three mission trips to Haiti each year, coordinating a variety of projects and primarily visiting partner church communities in and around Les Cayes in the southwest section of the country. I think if you look up ‘saint’ in the dictionary- it may have her name beside it.
Met up with Moliere, our fabulous driver for the week and loaded the van.
Not sure we were prepared for our first views of Port-au-Prince.
I couldn’t help but imagine what her daily life may be like and knowing in my head this is her normal and all she knows, but knowing in my heart, she shouldn’t have to live like this.
Haiti has a rough, mountainous terrain and the entire country is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland. It is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a total estimated population of 9.9 million. 60% of its population lives in the outlying rural areas, 80%+ live under the poverty line.
We then headed over the meet Phyllis (left, with Joyce) who was our gracious host at our first guest house in Port-au-Prince.
Noticed great color and design on the concrete and gates along the way!
SUCH a blessing for Emily (on the right- my dear friend who has a booth filled with gorgeous fair trade jewelry at Cotswold Marketplace here in Charlotte- go see her!) and I to meet Shelley Clay, (left) founder of Papillon Enterprise/The Apparent Project! She has a beautiful heart for empowering and transforming lives here in Haiti.
Our first visit there was actually our first day in Haiti, but we loved it so much we went back on our last full day in Port-au-Prince.
Shelley gave us a wonderful tour. It was incredible to watch and interact with the artisans and we also had fun shopping. They now employ approximately 300 Haitians who are so talented and thrilled to work there. We also were able to visit the day care on site … More on that next. If you haven’t watched the amazing video yet, please do!
More from our phenomenal time at The Apparent Project. Loved watching the artisans roll the clay beads and hand-paint hundreds and hundreds so carefully. Also enjoyed watching them roll the paper beads of all shapes and sizes. Some of the artisan’s children stay in the day care on site and are in loving arms while they work. This place is truly transforming lives!
Afterwards we headed back to the airport to gather up the rest of our team. Dabbled with more sketching and painting in the van while we waited:)
Then we had a very bumpy and long 5+ hour drive to Les Cayes, which is a town and seaport in southwestern Haiti with a population of about 70,000 people. It is located in the far southwest section of the country 120 miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince. When we arrived at the guest house, it was dark and we were all exhausted from lack of sleep and the turbulent travel. We set up our mosquito nets and brushed a few large roaches away (insert oh my goodness, panic and prayer) and tried to sleep with the fans running in what felt like 90 degrees in the room. And this guest house was a lovely palace compared to everything around us. I became immediately grateful beyond words for the comfort of my own home in the United States. Pretty sure I finally fell asleep thanking God over and over for that. The next morning, our vision team gathered for our morning devotion, breakfast and visited with our lovely hosts…Franchette & Ignes.
We headed out to meet the young adults and teens from the church in Les Cayes who were ready to help run the Vacation Bible School at the church/school called Saint Esprit out in the countryside of Cavillon. It is common for tons of people to pile in a truck and ride long distances over bumpy roads with dirt and dust flying everywhere. Ya’ll, seriously I believe this is the longest and bumpiest road in the entire world.
And the things we saw from the windows each day were astounding. The views of the mountains, banana and mango trees are lovely but below for miles and miles we saw poverty I have never witnessed before. Families bathing in contaminated streams…
Naked children holding younger naked siblings walking from homes like these.
Breath-taking views looking up and heart-breaking views down below.
But I tell you what…the drive those days were worth every bump because we had no idea how our hearts would explode with love for what would come next. The time had finally come for us to meet the children who we’d spend the next two days with for VBS. It didn’t matter that we did not speak French Creole one bit… because smiles, high fives and hugs were all they wanted.
Another mom on our trip, Ann, gave her daughter this experience for her graduation gift. Michal Ann is 18 and happens to be fluent in French, so she was a huge help in translating much of the week. She and Walker certainly hit it off and it was a bonding time for them as teens to experience what is so opposite of their lives at home. The kids absolutely loved them and were fascinated with Walker’s spiky crew cut and Michal Ann’s long golden locks. Pretty sure these pictures speak for themselves…
Before we knew it, VBS had begun with praise and worship, teaching, and singing.
Below you’ll see our vision team with some of the wonderful kids/leaders for VBS. Will try to explain who is who.
Cathie top left (she owns Crossings on Main gift shop in my hometown of Fort Mill- go see this precious store! And her husband, Chip, runs Education Equals Hope / Handmade Equals Hope. Call him if you ‘re a retailer and would like to carry the jewelry!
Top Middle: Betty (one of the amazing VBS leaders) and Joyce. Top right: Pastor Colbert & Betty
Middle left: Joyce & daughter Sina Middle center: Walker Middle right: Emily
Bottom left: me, Walker Bottom middle: Ann and daughter Michal Ann Bottom right: Brian (youth pastor) and daughter Whitney
And this may the highlight of my entire career as an artist. I had the opportunity to help teach art to these precious Haitian children with sweet Emily … Almost 200 kids rotated through in groups. Although we only had a chalkboard, 4 pieces of chalk, some index cards and markers + 100 degrees and they had a blast and so did we. Our translator helped us so much as we explained to the kids that God created them with a purpose and a talent. Although it may not be art it IS something and if anyone tells them otherwise, they’re wrong. Loved hearing their hopes and dreams today and will treasure this memory forever and ever and ever, Amen.
One of the things which completely blew us away was when the food was served we learned that for many of these kids, this could be their only meal for the week! Now I’m pretty sure if my kids and I had not eaten in a few days, that I would be shoving food into my mouth pretty quickly when given a meal. But this was truly amazing….each child from baby to the oldest teem waited until everyone was served AND until after the food had been prayed for until they began to eat. Not one child touched their spoon or plate until the blessing was over. No one asked for more, no one complained about the way it tasted, and every single child ate every morsel of rice and beans- every bit. We will never forget this!
This precious little boy, Kensley, stole Walker’s heart on day 1 – it was actually quite mutual and this would be just the beginning…
We wrapped up our first day at VBS then split into two groups and went on our first home visit – a short walk from the school/church. One of the teen VBS leaders, Edmond, who is also one of our sponsored students with Education Equals Hope showed us his home. Pastor Colbert translated for us. Edmond’s parents died when he was 8, leaving him an orphan. He now lives with his aunt, uncle and cousins. They have 8 people living here with two mattresses. They have no running water, no place to use the bathroom and food is scarce because Haiti has not had rain in over 3 months so they cannot grow crops. The ground is as hard as concrete and it’s dusty, hot and dry all day and night. Despite their circumstances, they love the Lord and thank Him daily for what they have as they know many in their country do not any form of shelter. They are so thankful for E=H and the donations, which allow Edmond and his brother to continue their education because Edmond hopes to become a priest one day. What a privilege to pray with and for this family that day and forever more.
This is their kitchen. BIG reality check for me/us-whoa! Tears.
We were surprised to see Kensley follow us to this home… we learned that he is one of Edmond’s younger cousins who lives here. The bond was growing stronger…
I was constantly struck by images I was capturing both through the lens and in my mind. This one made me especially grateful for transportation and makes my minivan with broken side doors seem like a complete luxury. And perhaps for Walker…borrowing our cars doesn’t seem so bad after all.
Not your average Farmer’s Market…this is where some folks in Cavillion sell or purchase livestock once or twice during the week and on Day 2 of VBS we would soon witness the masses and livestock covering this entire area.
so I began collecting more love in Haiti.
Friday night we went to visit Pastor Colbert and his family who live at the rectory in Les Cayes connected to the church and school Saint Sauveur. Lovely family who graciously welcomed us to visit the church and school before dinner.
At the rectory I enjoyed coloring on mini chalkboards with the pastor’s children.
After a busy and very HOT, full day we were back at the guest house and off to try and sleep under our mosquito nets again (oh my!)
Early rise & shine…morning devotion and breakfast with the team then we headed back to the countryside of Cavillion for Day 2 of VBS and knowing the kids would be at the end of that long bumpy road was worth it again. They were eagerly awaiting with huge smiles and banging on the van as we drove in. Kensley was back again and waiting for his new buddy, Walker.
more art with the kids…pinch me!
This may be one of my happiest moments there- witnessing Walker’s authentic love for these kids and their joyful love for him.
Walker picked them all up, gave piggy back rides, played chase with them, sang with them, went to some of their homes, and even did the Macarena with them.
Love that he even thought to teach them to pat their heads and rub their tummies at the same time…something so simple and fun and no language required- just laughter.
It was so hard to say goodbye to sweet faces like these… but we knew we may some some of them back at church on Sunday.
We went with Jefferson, a wonderful teenage boy who is also a sponsored student through E=H as he invited us for a home visit. Can you imaging having to walk over this log and stream at night with no electricity to get to your home? His parents have both passed away and he lives here with his grandmother and other family members. He’s incredibly grateful for E=H and has big dreams to be an accountant and/or a priest one day.
more beautiful discoveries here despite the litter and surroundings.
Late Saturday afternoon back in Les Cayes we had an incredible home visit with a mother and her three sons. They live in very small one room area (I am not sure I could even call it a house, but it what they call home)…a curtain for a door, no electricity, no water. One table, a few pots and pans and one mattress which she shares with her sons. It had to be close to 100 degrees in there and I was overcome with more emotion and tears than I had during any point of the trip. As a mother, I could not and cannot fathom what their daily struggle must be like. Thank God for sweet Emily who led us to stand in a tight circle and pray with this mother. Michal Ann translated it beautifully and I tried not to wail out loud. This strong mother thanked God for us and for Education Equals Hope who sponsors two of her boys for school. Her level of gratitude completely blew me away. It is a moment that will never ever be forgotten for me and for Walker I hope- etched in our hearts for eternity. I did not take pictures but I will never forget what I saw, smelled and witnessed in that place and time.
Emily and I had the privilege of meeting with these wonderful women from Les Cayes who make paper bead jewelry for Handmade Equals Hope. SO special! We talked design, color palettes, and of course we shopped! Also loved the beautiful handmade notecards they make using dried banana leaves. If you are a retailer interested in selling the Handmade Equals Hope jewelry from Haiti or from Ecuador in your store, please contact Chip Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 493-0374
Examples of our new Handmade Equals Hope jewelry from Ecuador
and from Haiti:
Saturday night back at the guest house we cleaned up and headed to the rectory for a special dinner Pastor Colbert and his family had been planning. I cannot begin to tell you the trouble they went to to make it all work. They carried children’s tables and chairs across the rooftops from the school over to the church and then over the roof to the connecting rectory and lowered them each by ropes onto the balcony. Seriously….they literally bent over backwards to make this something special.
Sunday morning Sunday morning…up super early; morning devotion with the team, quick breakfast then off to the first church service in Les Cayes at Saint Savuveur. What a wonderful service! Michel Ann translated for Joyce and they called us up by name to give us hand-made gifts (a cup and a bracelet with our names stitched on them)- so incredibly kind.
We couldn’t believe that the two brothers we had met the day before (we prayed with their mama during that home visit) had walked to church on their own all dressed and clean. So much hope in these moments below.
Then it was off to the second church service back in Cavillion where we had been for VBS the two days before. And look who was front and center greeting Walker and rubbing his hair again? Kensley!
The service was beautiful and the children sang like angels but man it was incredibly hot and we had all run out of water. Truly, just having a luke-warm bottle of clean drinking water during our time in Haiti was a complete privilege. After communion which was so special, they called us up by name and handed us each an envelope….beautiful hand-written note to each of us in English thanking us for coming and that they will always be here waiting on us. More tears.
Really hard to say those final goodbyes knowing we would not be back down that bumpy road during our time in Haiti. We talked in the van on the way back how desperately they need rain and moments later we saw just a very quick sprinkle on the windows. We thanked God and asked Him to please send more.
We were told to pack bathing suits and bring a fowl and a change of clothes because we were going to the beach abut 45 minutes away to celebrate with the VBS leaders. We had no idea that we were about to go from all that we had seen to paradise. This is a small private beach club called Rainbow Beach and man was it beautiful!
Gorgeous blue water, gigantic conch shells, more heart-shape discoveries and fun celebrating with the VBS leaders.
Met this guy who was using this hand-made trap/net to catch lobsters!
Sweet Emily had the fun idea to pull a Sharpie out of her backpack and doodle on shells with the kids. They seemed to really enjoy it and we did too.
Came back from the beach to the guest house in Les Cayes… enjoyed this beautiful sunset, showered and absolutely crashed. We had to be packed and ready to go early for the long drive back to Port-au-Prince.
We said more goodbyes in Les Cayes, Moliere loaded the van and we headed out. On the way, we stopped at the ironwork village which was fascinating! These guys need work tables and saw horses though…their poor backs! They work every day like this sitting on the ground.
The talent was unreal…they can create just about anything you want and I fell in love with this giant John 3:16 cross plus a few smaller treasures. Bottom left picture…we met the guy who works here named Shelove. Yep, that’s his name can you believe it? Cool guy and made two smaller crosses as we waited. Amazing!
We finally made it back safely to the guest house in Port-au-Prince and after our second visit to Papillon Enterprise/The Apparent Project, we had dinner and they had prepared one tray of ice cubes for us using clean drinking water and I tell ya’… I wasn’t sure whether to place it in my glass or rub it all over my face and body. I have a whole new appreciaton for clean drinking water, cold water, ice cubes and air conditioner! We gathered on the upper deck and recapped as a vision team about what we had done and seen over the last several days. It was a powerful discussion and great to hear different perspectives during our last night in Haiti. This was the sunset just before dinner-pretty amazing!
More early morning goodbyes and a quick transition from Haiti to Fort Lauderdale and then back home to Charlotte.
On the flight home, I worked on completing a sketch I had started the day before when we learned the word ESPWA which means HOPE. God is certainly at work in Haiti and hope is not only something Haitians cling to…they require hope to survive. Their espwa and trust in Jesus is absolutely overwhelming. In many cases He’s all they have and if asked they’d say He’s all they need. In America, we tend to cling to idols and material desires…We have so much to learn from these beautiful people. I think it’s interesting that God has me creating art for products and I don’t think it’s an accident I was attending Atlanta market the week before I left for Haiti. Nothing wrong with gift products, art licensing or market goods, (many of you know I love my job and feel very passionate about it) but it confirmed my desire to continue and use my art to try and glorify Him. That may be on products with scripture to brighten someone’s day and bring faith into people’s homes, it may be in a sketchbook or journal just for reflection and pleasure, or it may mean using my time to volunteer and help design jewelry so the ladies in Ecuador and Haiti can assemble them so they can earn a fair wage and feed their families. I’m not really sure but I’m trusting Him to guide me.
I may have smuggled home these beautiful Haitian treasures but I actually brought home waaaaay more than you can see or touch. My heart is overflowing full and Walker’s is too… full of memories and experiences you cannot read in a book, watch in a movie or research in National Geographic.
I think this photo pretty much sums it all up. So much of life is about relationships and touching lives. You can do that by physically going, doing and being a part of it or you can help from your sofa and that’s wonderful too. It’s really what you feel called to do. Education Equals Hope is an amazing ministry which helps educate and nourish (physically, spiritually and emotionally) kids living in poverty in Haiti, Ecuador and Uganda. The program is always in need of financial donations and we are working diligently toward providing a feeding program in Cavillion for the students at the school where we visited. They can’t learn if they are not nourished and fed. They want to learn and fulfill their hopes and dreams and we want that for them too. If you’d like to consider reducing visits to Starbucks or give up one dinner out a month, you could make a BIG difference in the lives of the children we just met and sang with, hugged and high-fived. $32 a month is all it costs to sponsor a child through Education Equals Hope. It’s a great gift to give your kids and perhaps one day you can take your teenager to Haiti or Ecuador air Uganda and visit your sponsored student- how cool would that be? To hear first-hand, how your $32 a month can change a life like Edmond’s and Jefferson’s.
Could you donate now here ????
It’s an easy, beautiful gift that literally keeps on giving. Thank you and God bless you for taking the time to read and listen. And many thanks to my family and friends who prayed before and during our travel. Grateful!