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I usually send this newsletter out in February each year, but this year it has taken me a bit longer to manage to get it done. My apologies for the delay, but I am excited to share so much good news with all of you!! Please click the link below to open the newsletter. I also provide a jpeg attachment of it below too.
Please be praying for us as we return to Haiti next week. We begin hosting our first team of the busy team season starting May 4th, and we pretty much have back to back teams coming until the middle of August. We are super excited about serving with all of the teams that have made plans to come and we will be praying for everyone as they plan and prepare!!
Thank you for taking the time to read our Newsletter!
Tony & Mickie
Today I want to share with you a story. Some of you may already know this story, but other do not. It’s Betsy’s story, but it is also the story of countless other children in Haiti who have suffered the nightmare of malnutrition.
Betsy was our first experience with infant malnutrition about six years ago. God used Betsy to set us on a pathway to eventually opening our own malnutrition center, Pen Lavi. When Betsy came to us, she was six months old and weighed six pounds. She had become very sick, stopped eating, and was wasting away. Her family didn’t know what to do for her, so they brought her to us for help. At the time, we had no idea of what to do, so we reached out for help through the Expat Community on Facebook. There is a medical page there that we often use to reach out for help from medical professionals across the country. Someone immediately suggested we contact Brittany Pierre who was running a malnutrition center down in Bel Anse (about 6 hours from us). I wrote to Brittany and she was flying in from the US and said we could meet her at the airport and she would take Betsy and her mom to her place for care. Over the next few weeks, Betsy had to go into the hospital multiple times as her fragile little body fought hard to stay alive. After multiple miracles, she made it. Today Betsy is a happy, thriving young girl who loves to help others and loves Jesus more than life itself.
After Brittany took Betsy in, other families began to bring their malnourished babies to us for help. It seemed to be a constant, endless flow of desperate mamas trying to find a way to help their babies survive. We knew we could not continue to take these babies six hours away from their families. We found another malnutrition center that was closer, but it was still 3 hours away. As God continued to grow our understanding of malnutrition, He also grew our desire to open a center of our own that could meet the needs of these families closer to where they live. At the time, Rachel Charpie was working as a two-year intern at our children’s home. I had done some research and was putting together some forms and spreadsheets of the patients we had already had, but I knew that this was more than I could take on myself. I asked Rachel if she might be interested in taking on the challenge. She immediately said YES! God had already begun preparing her heart for the next step He wanted to take with her in her Haiti journey. Rachel had started leading a boy’s Bible study in our house on Saturdays. She practiced her diagnostic skills on them by going through all the tests and measurements required to diagnose someone with malnutrition. Most of the boys in the group were clinically malnourished. She started them on a nutritional regime that would get them to their optimal weight and size and within months, they were all released from the program.
In the meantime, Rachel started seeing more and more patients in our clinic though her out-patient malnutrition program, but those who needed more intensive care were still having to go to a clinic 3 hours away. We began to pray for God to provide a place where we could offer inpatient care so that we wouldn’t have to send them so far away. God answered our prayers in every detail when He led us to the place where we would open Pen Lavi (Bread of Life) Malnutrition recovery center.
Since the first day we opened the center, Rachel and her amazing staff have treated over 80 children who were severely malnourished. Not all have survived, but those that did not just came to us at a point when it was too late to survive or they had other medical problems that complicated it too much. These children that are taken in at Pen Lavi are given love and nurturing and nutrition that turns their little bodies and spirits from sickly and scared to healthy and happy just like Betsy. Their mamas are encouraged to stay with them there at the center so that they can not only give their child love and nurturing, but also learn about their child’s nutrition and health needs.
You see, malnutrition doesn’t necessarily mean “starving”; it more often means “bad nutrition.” It means that the child may have been eating, but he or she was only eating rice or bread and wasn’t getting a proper diet to provide the nutrients the body needs to grow and stay healthy. Complications develop in the body that put the child on a downward spiral to death. Organs start to shut down, and the child develops a syndrome called Kwashiokor that can quickly become lethal. We have treated many children with this problem over the last year in our center.
The miracles we see God perform in our midst daily at Pen Lavi are astounding. However, because the center doesn’t have a source of creating income to pay the medical staff and provide the medicines, medical care, and food the children need to recover, we have to raise those funds. We would like for Rachel to be able to focus completely on running the center without having to worry about whether or not the center can continue to be open because of budget issues. This is why we have decided to have an annual fundraiser called Food for Life where we raise all of her budget for the year and she and her staff can continue to provide the care all of these children need to survive like Betsy has. Our prayer is for every child that enters our doors to receive the absolute best possible care we can give them.
We would like for you to pray about helping us do that. Please join us at the Food for Life fundraiser dinner on May 2nd, 2019 buy purchasing a ticket for $45 and/or participating in our silent auction. The auction will be live at the event and online as well. Bidding will actually start online on April 25th. You can go to the But God Ministries Facebook page to learn more about the event or go to this link: Food for Life fundraising event Your support truly provides Food for Life! Thank you, and God Bless!!
As I sit here still answering messages that have come to me over the last 24 hours, my heart is hopeful as many, many people are joining us in prayer for Haiti. Monday night around midnight, when I went to bed, I checked my phone to make sure it was not on silent in case Tony called and then put it on the night stand to go to sleep. I checked it occasionally throughout the night for updates on what was going on in Haiti, and then around 5:00 am, my phone began to “ding” over and over….and over again. Between text messages and inbox messages, I had over 63 messages from people expressing concern. As more and more people started seeing people, groups, and organizations in Haiti post about the political demonstrations going on over there, I found myself spending the whole morning answering questions about our perspective on the situation. One of my missionary friends over there was sending me pictures of things she had seen or others had seen going on in the city, and I realized that this is not just a political situation, it’s spiritual. Haiti needs prayer. Right now, the forces that are wreaking havoc are powered by the enemy. Their intentions are evil. They are using the oppression and desperate condition of the masses to bring about political upheaval that will only benefit the wealthy and once again ignore those in need. But God….
But our God is more powerful. He loves Haiti, and He loves the ones who are being daily oppressed and their condition ignored. This is why He called us there, to minister to the oppressed. And now He is calling us all to prayer. He is more powerful than the one making a mess of things over there, and we CLAIM Haiti, by the power of God, for CHRIST! He WILL move, and He WILL establish peace again there soon so that we can continue to serve Him by helping the people of our village.
God’s word is FILLED with not suggestions but commands to minister to those in need. Look for yourself. Do a search in the Word about poverty and helping others. Over the last two days I have found myself reading Psalms and Proverbs, asking God to use His word to embolden my spirit. He has done that. Proverbs 31: 8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” God loves them and calls us to serve Him in ministry to them. The poor in Haiti deserve a chance, and God’s plan for them has not changed. In our village, people don’t seek luxury, but they do want to be able to send their kids to school, get dependable medical care, find ways to establish their own businesses, grow and harvest their fields for food and market, worship together in peace, and move about the country easily and affordably as they go about their daily lives. BGM as well as many of you have partnered with them over the years to help them do just this. Over the last 7 years, the improvements we have seen happen in the lives of people in our village are enormous! Thousands of people have come to our village to serve with us and love on our people. This WILL NOT CHANGE. As it is God’s will, it will continue! As David cried in Psalm 35:10, I cry out too: “My whole being will exclaim, ‘Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.'” When I read Psalm 113:5-8, “Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people” the words that stuck out to me were ASH HEAP. Here I picture the piles of smoldering ash in the streets of Haiti after the burning tires have lost their flames and the people have returned to their lives. God reminds me, “I am on the throne, I see the pain, and I WILL MOVE.” The flames will smolder out, and the needy will be lifted up and seated “with the princes of his people.”
I needed this so, so much. My heart has been breaking and my spirit in panic as I envisioned once again the poor suffering because of the injustices of others as hundreds of Americans fear coming to the beautiful country where we serve. I just don’t want to see that happen again. I want to see people joining us in ministry to the ones we have grown to love so much. I have thought about LyniaNara needing medical care, and Mr. Saintus and Mdm Dorsainvil needing their blood pressure medicine. It hurts my heart to know Mr. Milfort can’t make his almost daily hike from Ganthier to Hope Center to visit with us. I cry as I envision all of the children in our village unable to attend school, growing more and more hungry because the food trucks are unable to pass through barricades in the city to deliver food. I have found myself on my knees, just crying uncontrollable tears to God. ….then it hit me!
God said, “This is where I want you right now.” He reminded me of Psalm 146:5-9 where He says, “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” God is watching over us. He is the maker of heaven, earth, sea….and Haiti. Haiti is HIS. She is not mine, or yours, or anyone else’s. She belongs to God, and He wants us to BOW DOWN and pray for the ways of the wicked to be “frustrated.” He will protect the foreigners and sustain those we serve. It’s happening right now. He WILL lift Haiti up again. We WILL serve normally there again, and soon. This confusion is only for a short season as He stirs things up and moves people to once again turn to Him.
So now for the elephant in the room. Many people have called and written to me as well as the BGM office and asked, “What do we do now? Do we continue making plans to come to Haiti to serve?” The answer is OF COURSE, WE DO!! The called of God don’t let the wickedness of the enemy hijack God’s plan and rob those to whom we minister. We don’t allow the enemy to manifest fear in our hearts and chase us away from our call. We are cautious and practical, of course, as we believe God would have us be, but we do not, WILL NOT, abandon the call. God is clearly not finished with the work He called us to. The many thousands of other believers who join together as the body of Christ to minister to those in need in Haiti are STILL CALLED. This time of upheaval is a call to prayer, to REAL faith in God’s power to move among the people of Haiti as they once again turn to Him and rise out of the grip of the enemy. Before we know it, the streets are going to be open again, businesses are going the be thriving again, schools are going to be teaching again, and WE – the Body of Christ – are going to get up off our knees refreshed and renewed and ready to be His hands and feet to this beautiful nation to continue the work He called us to.
Anyone who has ever lived in Haiti knows how one week you can be lifting your eyes up to a beautiful sky filled with a fresh, ocean breeze rustling the palm fonds, and the next week the air can be filled with the smoke of burning tires. It’s a third world country. Oppressed people are easily influenced and enflamed by corruption. To serve full-time in a country like this, one must build relationships with trusted people who also have influence around the country, who will spring into action when things get rough. One must utilize multiple sources to be aware of conditions all throughout the country. One must have plans in place for keeping people safe while they serve as well as give safe evacuation in cases of emergency. God has blessed But God Ministries with all of these things. We will not allow a group to come into the country if we do not feel it is safe to travel to our village. We will be in communication with every group that has booked a week on the calendar as that week approaches and we continue making plans for ministry. As long as we can safely move these groups in and out, and as long as our Haitian staff can help us prepare, we will do so. We keep our eyes set on God and His plan for His ministry in Haiti. Can unpredictable events occur that are out of our control? Of course they can. Life is unpredictable. But we must remember that panic is not of God. Wisdom is. The plan of God is still at work and will continue on in His power, protection, and provision, and we will rest and trust in His will.
Please join us in this call to prayer, and please continue making your plans. All of this uprising and chaos will be over soon, and life in Haiti will be no different than it was a few weeks ago when we were busy teaching ESL to village kids, educating expectant mothers, building houses, serving lunch to school kids, and seeing patients in medical clinic. Our prayer is that there will be one big difference though. Our prayer is that Haiti will have a renewed sense of the power of God and a new commitment to His will in their lives and the future of their nation.
Many, many people have asked for the story of our sweet renal failure patient, LyniaNara. If you want to know her story, sit back and have a read. So here goes…
When I met her, she was just another bright and energetic 5th grader at one of our sponsor schools. She loved to laugh and jump rope, sing with her friends and EAT! You couldn’t tell it from her tiny frame, but boy did she love to eat! She was mischievous and loved to play pranks too. She was just a normal girl, living a simple life in a tiny village in Haiti. Her friends called her “Lynia,” but I always loved calling her by her full name “LyniaNara” because it had a certain ring to it that reminded me of a song. That’s what LyniaNara is…a happy song. Her joy is contagious…
She moved on to sixth grade, and she and her friends enjoyed being the “seniors” at the primary school. They giggled at the boys, protected the kindergartners, and bossed around the fourth and fifth grade girls because, well, they could! This was their last year at “the orange” school, and soon she and her friends would move up to the BGM High School, and they would switch to the more prestigious blue uniforms.
LyniaNara moved on up to seventh grade, but her spark had begun to fade. She was always very tired and wanted to sleep instead of go to school. She cried because she wanted to go, but she didn’t feel good when she was there. She didn’t feel good no matter where she was. Her back hurt all the time, and she did not have an appetite. Food didn’t taste good to her for some reason. She tried to feel normal. She didn’t know what was wrong with her body. Her smile grew weak. It was as if her dark, sunken eyes were about to lure her into a deep tunnel. She was exhausted. Her parents knew she was not the energetic child she was so supposed to be, so they took her to the doctor.
LyniaNara’s parents took her to see a doctor who ran a series of tests on her then referred her to a nephrologist. The nephrologist admitted her to the hospital and had more tests run. By the time they figured out that LyniaNara was in the advanced stages of kidney failure, her parents had spent almost $2000 US. They had borrowed from friends in their church and sold livestock to pay the hospital bills, but at this point they were tapped out. The doctor explained what it would take to keep her alive, and it sounded to them like an impossible future. Someone suggested they go to Hope Center and talk to us here about the situation. If BGM couldn’t help, they had already prepared themselves to accept the fact that, without a miracle, their baby girl was going to die. But God….
After talking with LyniaNara’s family about the situation, we began to pray that God would show us what to do. We consulted with But God Ministries CEO, Stan Buckley, and he said, “We can’t put a price on a 13 year old girl. We will ask God to provide and we will do what we can do to help her live.” We had no idea where to begin. We reached out for advice on the Haiti Medical Facebook page and a doctor suggested that if our ultimate goal was kidney transplant, we should take LyniaNara to see a doctor in Haiti that had done several successful kidney transplants. We did just that, and held onto the hope that one day LyniaNara would return to a somewhat normal life. We made our first visit to Hospital OFATMA in May.
After talking to the doctor, a plan was made to try to manage her kidney disease with peritoneal dialysis because she could do this procedure at home and it would not be as expensive. Once she got into a routine with the dialysis, we could start testing family members for a tissue match and make plans for a kidney transplant. We scheduled the surgery for the port to be inserted and then we would proceed with learning to do the peritoneal dialysis. She was nervous but hopeful that this procedure would put her on a path towards a normal life. She was beginning to realize, however, that her idea of “normal” was going to be far from what she had always known. None of the other girls she knew would go to school every day with a tube in their stomach. None of the other girls would have to attach a bag of fluid to that tube and fill their belly every morning and night for the rest of their lives. None of the other girls had to swear off of salt, bananas, potatoes, avocados, or CHOCOLATE! She was only 13 and she LOVED to eat! Now she was having to accept that most of the foods she loved were poisonous to her body! It was a lot to think about. It was more than she was ready to face.
Between the months of May through September, LyniaNara spent most of the time in and out of the hospital fighting for her life. She spent many nights in the emergency room, and even more nights in a large room with 20 hospital beds filled with other sick people. Family members would take turns sitting with their loved ones, sharing stories with one another, going out to get food for their loved ones because the hospital didn’t provide food that they could eat. They would loan one another money to get medicines and tests that their doctors called for. Every week we would reload LyniaNara’s envelope with money, and as the money was spent, receipts took its place. LyniaNara’s mother and sister took turns caring for her, and I would run back and forth from the grocery store to the house and back to the hospital with food made with no salt because the family had no idea how to make food she could eat. We were all worn slam out. I sat with LyniaNara many times all day long so her mom and sister could get a break. One time, as we sat there trying to find things to talk about, a family three beds down began screaming and crying as the staff wheeled their loved one out to take him to the morgue. LyniaNara knew that this young man who had just died was fighting the same kidney disease she was fighting, only he had lost his battle. Fear filled her eyes as they passed by her bed. She watched in horror as the ghostly shape of the man’s figure draped in a white sheet brought chills to her spine and melted to despair. She slowly turned her face towards mine, looked straight into my eyes, then closed hers. A tear pressed its way out of the corner and created a dark, fluid path down her soft, mahogany cheek. My heart sank.
LyniaNara was finally moved to a patient holding room the hospital containing 20 beds, Tony and I were preparing to go to the states, so I went over instructions with the family, explaining when to take each medication, how to measure her water intake, how to check her blood pressure, and who to call on for help while we were gone. We would be gone for three weeks, and the thought of her sinking down again and becoming septic made my heart tremble and my blood boil.
I briskly made my way to the administrative office, weaving through the patients crowding the hallway in wheelchairs, wrapped in blood stained bandages. There were people sleeping on benches all along the walls, desperate and dying patients moaning and yelling for help from rooms along the way. My blood pressure was rising by the second. When I finally reached the office, I was in tears. I sat before the emotionless administrator trying to explain in my best Creole that I needed to settle up LyniaNara’s bill because we were taking her to another hospital for dialysis. She slowly thumbed through her files, occasionally glancing up at the soap opera on the tv overhead, then finally she began to name off all of the treatments LyniaNara had received. She scribbled a figure on the paper. As I leaned forward and stared at the number, my heart began to tremble. I closed my eyes to keep my composure. It was going to cost $700 to get LyniaNara out of the hospital. Tony just to happened to have given me $600 just in case I needed it when I left Hope Center that morning. I knew there were going to be other charges when we changed hospitals, so I was going to have to muster up some courage to dispute this bill. I tried with all of my strength to find the words to calmly negotiate a lower bill. The administrator finally agreed to let me pay $500. I took the papers from her, ran to cashier, counted out the bills being careful not to let anyone around me see how much money I had. While paying, the paramedics passed me with LyniaNara’s stretcher and I motioned to them where to go. The cashier gave me the blue discharge paper I needed to exit the building, and I ran to catch up with the stretcher that was turning into her room.
We made our way to the ambulance and lifted her in. I found myself praying out loud in Creole for God to spare her life and help us get to where we needed to go. She probably had minutes to live. My driver, Meresse, was waiting for us outside, so LyniaNara’s mother and sister and I jumped in and told him to follow the ambulance to Hospital L’Epoir. Traffic was horrific and Meresse tried desperately to keep up with the ambulance, but other vehicles were not letting him pass through. For a minute I thought we might die trying to get there.
Once we arrived at Bernard Mevs, the team transferred her to the pediatric ICU and prepared for intubation. However, her father suddenly decided that he did not want a tube to be put in his daughter. The hospital staff explained to me that she would certainly die within the hour if she did not get intubated and treatments begin. I pulled her parents aside and tried to explain. I begged them to make a wise decision. If their choice remained to not intubate, she would be dead by morning unless God intervened otherwise. They calmed down and agreed to the intubation. The hospital staff quickly got back to work on her. They were losing time and were concerned that they might lose LyniaNara as well.
As I sunk down upon the black-gray, mud and grease covered curb amongst all the other long, tired faces, I leaned my head back against the cold, cinderblock wall and began to pour over the events of the last 24 hours. I could not believe that this precious 13 year old girl was again fighting for her life for the fourth time in one year. I felt my chest tighten, my shoulders began to heave, and as I drew in a deep breath, the tears began to flow uncontrollably. My body curled forward as I placed my face in my hands and pretended to sleep like everyone else, but inside the dark womb I had made for myself, I was crying out to God for a miracle. At 5:00 in the morning, I felt a gentle hand upon my back and was startled upright to find a doctor with soft, apologetic eyes searching my face for permission to break the silence. It was the chief of pediatrics coming to let me know that LyniaNara had made it through the night and I should go home. Her family had left long before and decided to let me sleep. My driver was asleep in the truck outside the gate doing what he often finds himself doing…waiting for me to decide to leave. I tapped on his window, he bolted upright, and scrambled to lift his seat and roll down the window. We headed home towards the sunrise as vendors along the route swept their curbs and prepared their booths for the day’s market. I was beyond exhausted.
In the two weeks the followed, LyniaNara continued to improve. The hospital called saying it was time for LyniaNara to go home and she could return to the dialysis center for her treatments three times a week. As Meresse and I made our way through the maze of congested traffic through Port au Prince, I felt thankful that LyniaNara had made it through yet another nightmare of near-death trauma, but I also dreaded sitting down in another administrator’s office begging for grace on a hospital bill. Three hours later, we exited the hospital with LyniaNara in the back seat and a receipt for a $1500 hospital bill. I just kept praying to God to continue to provide. I reasoned that it was clear that God had rescued her from death over and over again, so I must continue to trust that the funds would continue to be there. I fought against worry in the back of my mind while clinging to the memory of the many miracles experienced so far.
Knowing absolutely nothing about hemodialysis, I was a little confused when the doctor called us two weeks later explaining that her temporary port had come out for the second time and we needed to pay $300 to have it reinstalled. Her doctor said that she was in the hospital having a new port put in, but we would have to pay for it to get her out. She also explained that LyniaNara seriously needed to get her fistula installed because we could not just keep reinstalling this temporary port. I had no idea what a fistula was, but it didn’t sound easy or cheap. The doctor said she had heard that a surgical team was currently at a hospital not 3 miles from us and they “just so happened” to have an endovascular surgeon on the team whose specialty was installing fistulas! I quickly assured her we would send her the money for the port that day, hung up the phone, and grabbed the keys to the truck. I was going to that hospital to find this surgeon. Once I arrived at the hospital, I asked around until I found the unit where the visiting team was operating. The surgeon was in surgery, but they agreed to send him out as soon as he was finished. Two hours later, he came out of the double doors and greeted me with a smile. I explained the whole story to him, and he said to have LyniaNara at the hospital by 6 the next morning and he would do the surgery for free. ….for free!! Oh my gosh, Hallelujah! I resisted the urge to hug him since he didn’t know me from Adam.
The next morning, we arrived at the hospital early, and LyniaNara was the first patient on the surgical list. She received her fistula, entertained the whole surgical staff with her sweet smile, and we headed home that afternoon. Praise God for His provision and yet another miracle!!
Please join us as we pray for God to continue to guide us down the needed paths to get sweet LyniaNara back to a somewhat normal life. She yearns for friends and school and the brisk, sun-kissed air on her face as she walks through the village with other girls. If you know of anyone with access to dialysis supplies that might be willing to partner with her dialysis center, share her story and get them in touch with me. If you feel led to help contribute to her medical expenses, you can do so at http://www.butgodministries.com and earmark it for LyniaNara benevolence. If you have connections with anyone at St. Jude who could help guide us through the process of getting a foreign patient admitted, please forward them her story and get them in touch with me. I know that God has a plan for her, and He wants to use many, many people to come together to do a miracle. I don’t know yet who those people are, but God does, and I trust that He will call them to action as soon as I….hit…publish.
God bless you all. Thank you for reading LyniaNara’s story.
Our days here at Hope Center are filled with many ups and downs. We face huge disappointments, heart breaking situations, and glorious miracles. I love it when the day ends in a miracle like it did yesterday. Many of you know Kenken…..
His sponsor is Lori Kizziah from Pensacola. Lori and I (as well as many others) have been so concerned about Kenken over the last few years because he has been through so much pain and he often feels discouraged and beat down by people he trusts to take care of him. He comes from a village called Cha-cha near the mountain village of Bel Fontaine. His parents died about three years ago, and he went to live with his uncle. After a few months, his uncle left him and moved to Brazil. He was alone and scared but determined to find help. He made his way down the mountain to Galette Chambon all by himself. He was 12 years old. He found a family to live with, but they treated him like a slave. It’s a common form of child slavery in Haiti, particularly in the countryside. A child slave is called “restovek.” He was forced to work for this family and was only allowed to wear tattered clothes and no shoes. He was always dirty and alone. He knew that this treatment was not right, so he came to Hope Center seeking help. At the time, a team from Pensacola was here, and that’s how he met Lori. God led Lori to be his sponsor and we got him in school.
He also started coming to our church and he accepted Jesus as his savior. Things were looking up for Kenken! Once he started school, however, the family he was living with kicked him out. They didn’t like that he was not home in the mornings to work. Once again, he was alone on the dusty paths of the village, sleeping anywhere he could find shelter. Eventually, he found another family to live with, but every time Lori would send him gifts, the people in the family would steal them from him. They made him feel like he owed them the nice things he received from his sponsor. Yesterday, he came to us again completely beat down. Someone in the house took all of his belongings and burned them outside the house. He had nothing…no uniform, no back pack, no shoes, nothing more than the clothes on his back…and once again, no home. He said that the family had started making him sleep outside in the yard with the dogs. I was devastated. I just felt like we were at a complete dead end. We had asked people before if they could help him, and they either said no, or they agreed and abused him. We had talked to some Christian orphanages – because he is a TRUE orphan – but none of them could accept a child over the age of 12. I found myself crying out to God for help because I know He sees Kenken’s situation, and I know He can provide. My heart was so, so heavy. Meanwhile, Kenken just hung out in our yard, playing soccer with Bicly and Cade, enjoying a few laughs with photo filters….waiting…..
About the same time, a local pastor came to see me to discuss plans for our upcoming party for the handicapped in our area. Next week’s team is making plans, and Pastor Wilfaite is planning on the Haiti end. He had brought in the ladies that will cook the food for the party. We sat and discussed the plans, and I agreed to show them a good location for cooking the food near the church. When we walked through the clinic gate, there sat Kenken on the bench by the clinic. God spoke to my heart and said, “Share his story with them.” So we went behind the clinic and looked at the space for cooking and they agreed that this was a good location. Then I told them about Kenken. Their faces showed disappointment, sadness, & compassion for this child who has known nothing but rejection in the last few years. Pastor said he knew of a woman who has a house near his, not far from the school Kenken attends. She is getting older and could really use someone there in the house with her particularly at night. She has an extra room, and she agreed to let Kenken live there. There is no furniture in the room, so we gave him a cot to sleep on until we can get him a bed. We agreed to find Kenken an additional sponsor so that we can use that money to help her buy food for him and take care of other needs he may have. We dug around in the things that teams have left here and found him some clothes. I looked in the uniform closet to see if his uniform for next year had been made yet so I could go ahead and give it to him. I found something better. I found a uniform with the name of a student who has left the program. The size is perfect for Kenken!
Last night, Kenken spent his first night with his new friend in a solid house with a concrete floor. He slept safely and soundly with a pillow under his head. He woke up this morning and prepared for school without skipping a beat. He had a good breakfast, ate lunch at school, and he knows he will eat dinner at his new home tonight. God has answered our prayers. He has seen Kenken’s pain and used Godly people in the village to reach out to him and help him. I will be posting him again on the website to find him an additional sponsor. I have no doubt that he will have one in no time. Isaiah 40:29-31 says, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” God is giving strength to Kenken right now. I have no doubt that one day, Kenken will run and not grow weary and he will walk and not be faint. He has and will continue to overcome. Praise God!!!
When Tony and I first moved to Haiti almost six years ago, we didn’t know a lick of Creole, and we only had one good friend we knew in Haiti and he was our translator, Vladimir. We jumped right into hosting teams and building the mission here with many visions in mind of what God was going to do through hundreds of people within these walls and for miles outside. It was exciting, but at times it was lonely too. We quickly realized the importance of getting away for a few minutes to just hold hands and walk and breathe in the mountain breeze that would clear our thoughts and refresh our spirits. We found a pathway that went up a hill behind our house that became our favorite walk. Hand-in-hand, we would set out to climb the hill and take it all in.
After several trips up the hill, a little boy started noticing our path, and he curiously began to follow us. He would approach us on his donkey, then he would jump off, tie up the donkey, and join us on our walk. He didn’t know our language, but his sweet smile spoke volumes. We immediately recognized that he was smart, loving, and eager to get to know the “blans” that had moved into his village. “Mwen rele Bicly,” [pronounced Bickley] he said as he worked hard to make his steps move in unison with ours upon the rocks. We could tell there was so much he wanted to say, but he didn’t have the words to communicate it. The only words he had were in Creole, and clearly we didn’t understand. We would smile at him, nod our heads, and give him our names. “Mwen…rele…Mickie,” “Mwen…rele…Tony,” we would say with stuttered Creole. His beaming smile showed that he was proud that we were trying to speak his language. Then he picked up a rock and said, “Woch!” [pronounced “wosh”] and we realized he was teaching us his language. We repeated, “Woch.” “Kabwit,” he said as he pointed to a goat. Then he said, “Pike” [pikey], and he touched a briar on a bush and moved it away from us so it wouldn’t stick us. He continued on with his language lesson, and when we were ready to head back to Hope Center, he hopped on his donkey and trotted away.
Nearly every afternoon, my walks holding Tony’s hand, included a small, dark hand in the other. The three of us would hold Creole class as we walked. His bright smile would light up my heart. I knew deep down that there was something very special about this little boy. He was so helpful and kind and smart! We didn’t know it at the time, but little Bicly was working his way into another heart in our home….Jacob’s. Although Bicly was only two years younger than our son Jacob, because of his size, he seemed like a child, but somehow he connected with Jacob, and they had become good friends at a time when Jacob needed a good friend.
I’ll never forget the first time we let Bicly spend the night at our house with Jacob. There was a bunk bed in Jacob’s bedroom and Bicly wanted to sleep on the top! I told Tony that I had a feeling that he was going to break the light bulb that was coming out of the wall just above the bed. Within seconds of climbing up, he began to squeal and jump on his knees, and, “Crack!” he broke the bulb. At this point, I realized our little Bicly was also predictable. 🙂
After a while, we had met another young boy in our village by the name of Johnny. He was a little charmer with “street smarts.” He would charm teams into giving him almost anything, and every team that came along, he would steal their hearts and tennis shoes, and soccer balls and sunglasses and…. well, you get the picture. We decided to ask Johnny’s mother if we could give him a little part-time job after school where he would do little odd jobs to earn money so he could buy the things he wanted and needed instead of begging. She said she was fine with that, and speaking of school….. She proceeded to tell us that he was three years behind in school and if we could go with her to talk to his principal. We went with her to the school and helped her get caught up on his tuition. After that, we informed Jacob that Johnny would be coming every day after school to work. Jacob said, “Well, if you are going to give Johnny a job, you need to give Bicly one too!” We decided that was a good idea because they could help one another. We thought perhaps Bicly could even help Johnny with his school! The next day, they both showed up early to work with big smiles on their faces. Little did we know, their first day of work at Hope Center was preceded by disciplinary action at school for getting in a fight. They had been sent home, but instead they came to work. They clearly didn’t like one another, but they agreed to put that aside for the sake of the “bon dolla” [American dollar] they would get later. They worked eagerly every afternoon planting trees and flowers around Hope Center. They took out the trash and burned it in a burn pile each afternoon too. It was hard work, but they were excited to do it. They were becoming not just friends but brothers. Tony helped them learn to save their money by keeping it in a box in our bedroom. Bicly’s would fill quickly and Johnny’s would empty quickly. They eventually saved enough to buy used bicycles in town, but they were clearly robbed by the vendor because the bicycles fell apart quickly. It was another lesson learned…
In time, many, many teams fell in love with them as we had. They would not only help teams, but they would listen to their language and learn words that helped them communicate. In no time, they began to speak English with us and with teams as they worked alongside many Americans and stole their hearts. We decided to see if some of the Americans would like to chip in to buy them new bikes. Within minutes of asking, two brand new bicycles were ordered and shipped to Haiti. The day we gave those boys their bicycles was probably the best day of their lives.
Two years passed, the boys grew, and more and more teams fell in love with them. Tony and I fell in love with them even more and had come to see them both as our very own sons. Our own boys had come to think of them as brothers, and our whole But God Ministries family had accepted them into the BGM family. Someone asked us once, “Do you think you could take them to America with you sometime?” My heart leaped at the idea! Oh how I would love to share our home country and friends and family with these boys! We decided to run with the idea. We started a fundraising campaign to get them to the US, and in no time we were able to get them both passports and visas! We just needed to raise a bit more to pay for their flights. We were so excited!! Our hearts would soon be broken, however, as we realized that it was not a good idea for two minor, Haitian boys to travel with missionaries of a big, growing mission organization to the US. The BGM board hated more than anything to break the news to us, but they could not allow us to fundraise to take the boys to the states. It was too risky to the organization and to us personally. The night we broke the news to the boys was devastating. We all cried together and searched desperately for strength and understanding to accept it in our minds and hearts. The boys faced great shame and disappointment at school and in the village as they had to find a way to explain that the good news they had shared with such excitement was not going to happen. We promised them that one day God would make a way…
Then two years later it happened!! The two families that sponsored them in school, the Anthony’s and the Hill’s, went to the same church and were on the same mission team preparing to come to Haiti. One evening while Tony and I were in the states, we met them for dinner and explained how we had not given up hope that the boys would get to come to the US. WE just couldn’t do it ourselves, but maybe THEY could! The families both embraced the idea immediately and we began to make plans. Their GoFundMe account was started, and in no time, funds began to pour in to help Johnny and Bicly come to the states. On our end, we would provide pictures & video updates for the page and social media; we worked on renewing their temporary visas, and we gathered all the paperwork to make it happen. Because there were plenty of funds, we decided it would be best to have their parents sign over temporary guardianship to our translator Vladimir for the trip and he would go along with them to help maneuver their way through immigration and help translate for them. All plans proceeded smoothly. The team came to Hope Center that summer and the boys left with them when they returned to the states. For two weeks they sent fun stories and photos of their adventures. Their mamas and siblings would come over to FaceTime with the boys from their host homes. It was an experience of a lifetime!
When the boys returned to Haiti, I could tell their American experience affected them in two different ways. Their relationship had grown closer, but at the same time it grew in two different directions. Johnny quickly returned to his hard-working schedule of planting, cleaning, raising chickens, building things, etc., but Bicly had become pensive and quiet. One day he sat down on the couch beside me and said, “Mom, I am really sad and I don’t know why.” He explained that although going to the US was fun and he saw many cool things, returning to Haiti from the states had made him sad for his country. He saw the potential and growth a united nation could have, but he didn’t see how his country could rise up to that same potential, and it created a sadness that he just couldn’t shake. We talked about it, and I explained that the key to helping a nation of people grow was with its leadership. His wheels began to turn in his head, and soon he realized that he wanted to turn his experience of visiting the US into something that would eventually help his county. He vowed to become one of those leaders that truly HELPS his people rise up to their potential. He really didn’t know how that would happen, but he would be committed to doing all he could to be a good leader.
Over the next year, several Americans began bringing up the idea of Bicly going to the US to attend school. They recognized his potential and wanted to help in some way. We explored many options, but nothing seemed to work out. It was clear that we were on the path God had designed for Bicly from the beginning, but we just had to trust God to lead us to the right time and opportunity to see it happen. We waited patiently and trusted God would lead. Finally, after several hopeful potential opportunities sparked our vision, God revealed the perfect fit.
Tony and I were in the states when a new team from McLaurin Heights Baptist Church in Pearl, MS, came to Hope Center to serve. Although this team had never been to Haiti to serve with us before, many of them had been on the journey with us from the very beginning when I first announced to my colleagues at Pearl High School that I was leaving PHS to become a missionary in Haiti! Their team leaders, Brad and Beth Hayes, had known us for a long time and had watched our mission grow over the years through social media. They were so excited to get the opportunity to actually come here and serve! Little did they know, God would put an idea into their hearts that would interweave with our vision for the future God had for Bicly, and He would seal that plan through a relationship between Bicly and their son Dillon, just like He had done through Bicly and our son Jacob. Bicly and Dillon immediately hit it off.
After the team left Haiti and returned to Pearl, God began to speak to Beth’s heart that she might have something to do with Bicly’s plan to go to the US for school. She shared that idea with me, and it all became crystal clear to me. Before I moved to Haiti, I taught at Pearl High School for seven years. My colleagues there were not just fellow teachers and administrators, but they were family. The principal at the time was Ray Morgigno, and he hesitantly but graciously accepted my news that I would not be renewing my contract that next year. He said, “I understand, and I want you to know that I am going to put this contract in my drawer. If all of this doesn’t work out, your contract is still here for you.” That touched my heart. It was my first experience of telling family goodbye and it was really hard. All of it sounded so crazy at the time, but now, six years later, it’s beginning to come full circle.
This week, Dr. Ray Morgigno, now Superintendent of Pearl Public Schools, is writing a letter accepting Bicly as a student at Pearl High School!! The school I loved so dearly as a teacher for seven years, and Tony’s alma mater, is now accepting our Haitian son Bicly as a student and welcoming him into the Pearl Pirate family! I am overjoyed and overwhelmed that this is actually happening! At the same time, I am ashamed to admit that I am cautious too. There have been so many times when we got our hopes up that something like this was going to work out, but it didn’t and the disappointment cut so deep. But this time, it feels different. I can see the beautiful irony in it all and I realize that my Heavenly Father planned this union long before we ever even came to Haiti. It was in his plan when he placed me at Pearl High School. It was in His plan when He moved us to Haiti. It was in His plan when He brought a little boy on a donkey to a hill to be our first Creole teacher. It was in His plan when He bloomed a friendship between Bicly and Jacob. And it was in His plan when He bloomed a friendship between Bicly and Dillon. It is becoming real now.
Dr. Brad Hayes and his wife Beth are currently writing some letters themselves. They are writing letters to the US Embassy explaining that they are accepting the responsibility of taking Bicly in and being his host family as he enters school in the US at Pearl High School. I am overwhelmed to think of what a huge step they are taking for a young man they have only met once. I do know what it feels like, however, as a mother, to see a special bond form between her son and this young Haitian boy named Bicly, and it is a blessing beyond words. There are many others joining in on the efforts now, including our dear friends Dale and Kent Banks, who have known Bicly almost as long as we have and who believe in his desire to get an American education so that he can return to his country to become a leader among his people. We are all working on the various facets of the plan, and I am trusting our God to move us along as we continue to seek direction from Him.
Beth will be using this story (a condensed version of course) and pictures to create a GoFundMe account to raise money to help them make this happen. We will have to renew Bicly’s passport, apply for his visa appointment, register him with SEVIS, and book his flight to Mississippi within the next few months. These things will be very expensive, but we know that God will move in people’s hearts and provide the funding to do so. Once Beth gets this account set up, I will share it on my Facebook page and you can check it out and get involved if God so moves.
I cannot wait to share the rest of this story one day! God is going to raise up a leader in Bicly in his community and maybe even his nation. He is ready for the challenge and knows that he has a huge family of both Haitians and Americans who will be praying for him as he continues on this journey. Please be praying for him as well as us and the Hayes family as we seek to honor the Lord and accept the call to be used in Bicly’s future. It will be another beautiful story to tell of God’s love, provision, and vision for this village and for Haiti. I am super-excited!! To God be the GLORY!!
Today ends a year-long journey and begins a new one for our family. It is a gift from God that we have prayed earnestly for. We have been blessed with countless prayer partners who have been on this journey with us – too many to name. You know who you are if you have been praying with us about our situation. Just to recount, here’s our story…
When Tony and I answered the call to become full time missionaries in Haiti, our boys were fifteen and twenty. Jonathan was about to enter college, and Jacob was about to be a junior in high school. The night we shared our call with them, they didn’t seem shocked. They didn’t question God. They didn’t complain. They simply asked, “Cool, when do we go?” Jonathan and Jacob have always trusted God’s call on our lives and have patiently and faithfully walked with us as a family the whole way. They have blessed our hearts as they have trusted the Lord’s guidance for our family every step of the way. It has not been easy for either of them. We were and still are a close-knit family. We always did so many fun things together. We moved to Haiti together. Jonathan began moving our things here the day before we arrived, and Jacob moved with us on August 2nd, 2012. After that, Jonathan returned to college, and after a few months, we decided that I (Mickie) would take Jacob back to finish high school.
When Jacob and I returned to the states, we had nowhere to live because we had sold our house. Over the course of the next two years, Jacob and I lived out of boxes and suitcases. We would stay in mission houses when we could; we stayed on a houseboat twice, a cabin in the woods twice, and several guest rooms and guest houses of generous friends who let us stay for a while. We moved approximately 20 times in 24 months. Jacob never complained. He and I just prayed for God to provide, and when the time came to move, he helped me pack up and we moved. It was really hard, but we trusted in God and he would always provide.
Jacob eventually graduated high school, went to college, joined the Army National Guard, and kept moving to wherever God provided housing. After almost 5 years of moving over and over again, Jacob finally shared with us that he had become weary. He had lost so many things moving around and was tired of storing all of his belongings in a mini-storage. He had grown weary of not having a home. We thought we could make Haiti “home” for him, but he couldn’t just come here and visit on the weekend or take off time from work or school whenever he wanted to come home. He was always a guest in someone else’s place, and he felt alone. Our hearts broke for him and his situation, but we struggled with what to do about it. We began to pray about the possibility of buying a house in the states, but we were not sure if we could justify using our support funds to pay for a house we only lived in “sometimes.” ….but we desperately wanted a place that Jacob could call home, a constant place where we could stay when we were in the states, a place our grandson, Emerson, could come to recognize as Minnie & Papa’s house, and where we would enjoy making memories with all of our family when we were visiting. So we prayed….
In February, 2017, I was invited to attend the Briarwood Presbyterian Missions Conference. While there, God led me to seek counsel with a Christian counselor who was a former missionary. He offered his services for free to the missionaries there at the conference. After sharing my heart with him and using ALL of his kleenex, he proceeded to explain to me that it is okay to want to provide for our family in this way. I told him that I felt like the people who support us send support to help us do what we do in HAITI, not provide housing in the US. We just didn’t feel like we could seek support for that. He explained that the people God leads to support us want us to be all in and completely focused on our mission and free, emotionally and spiritually, to minister to the people God called us to minister to. If we are so torn by family needs, we can’t fully focus on the ministry God called us to. He said it’s natural to want to provide for your family and you should! He said, “Mickie, as much as you love Haiti and the people of Haiti, Haiti will never be your home. You are American. Your family is in America. You return to America to seek rest and reunion with your loved ones….and that’s okay! It doesn’t mean you aren’t ‘all-in’ or completely committed to God’s call. I think you have proven that very well. You still must care for and provide for your family.” I cannot tell you how relieved I was to hear these wise words. My heart just melted and my body wanted to collapse in relief to hear that our desire wasn’t a selfish desire. I went straight out and called Jacob, and we cried on the phone for an hour. This mama’s heart was filled, and as I shared the experience over the phone with Tony, we prayed together that God would provide and lead us to the right house. We would be patient and look.
Three weeks later, another church asked me to come speak to their church during their missions emphasis week. Before I went before the church, their pastor explained to me that their church already knew about BGM, and they already knew about Hope Center. They wanted to hear about our PERSONAL needs. My heart convulsed in fear. Could I REALLY share our very personal need for a house with this church? I told the pastor about what we were praying for and he said, “That’s EXACTLY what I want you to tell us about.” I trembled at the thought. I had no doubt that I would pour tears as I spoke the words publicly for the first time. The church listened to our story, comforted me in my brokenness, and blessed us with a financial gift that would allow us to take the first step towards purchasing a house. This was clear confirmation from God that HE was in this, and HE would provide.
Over the course of the next year, Tony & I began looking at houses online. Jacob would help us look too. We searched Zillow and Houses.com and other sites. When we were in the states, we would go look at houses on our list and take notes. We made offers on two houses, but the doors closed, so we kept looking. Finally, one year after God began to grow the idea in our hearts for a house, He led Tony and me to this house in Florence, MS.
On the day we went to look at it, we had Emerson with us. As soon as he got out of the car, he ran to the play set and began to play. When we went inside, he ran and played as if he were right at home. He loved it, and so did we. We were only there about 30 minutes. We didn’t test anything out or inspect anything closely. It just felt right, so we began the process of making an offer. After we made the offer, we discovered one glitch. FEMA had made an incorrect flood zone ruling on the property that would require us to get flood insurance temporarily until the ruling could be reversed. There would be no way to know how long that would take. This would increase our house payment by $200 per month which was way more than we needed to pay. So we prayed, “God please push FEMA to reverse the ruling soon!” We prayed and waited and moved forward in faith with the closing process.
We knew we would be returning to the US in March for deployment meetings for Jacob, so we tried to push for closing on the house during the same visit to the US. We would be in the US for ten days, and the first closing date we set was for March 13th. On the morning of the 13th, we rented a moving truck to go to Hattiesburg to get all of our furniture out of the house that we had rented for Jacob while going to USM last semester. They had allowed us to keep his furniture there until we found a house. Some sweet friends from FBC Madison joined us and we loaded everything up. As we were putting the last things onto the truck, I received a call from the mortgage company. They were having difficulty establishing our proof of residency for an FHA loan because we spend so much time in Haiti. We headed on to Florence, but it was looking like we would not close that afternoon. We drove up to the house, parked the truck in the driveway, and met with the selling agent and our buyers agent to figure out what to do. The seller’s agent called the seller and explained the situation and they agreed to let us go ahead and move all of our belongings into the house even though we would not be closing that afternoon. Wow – BUT GOD!
Over the course of the next week, we got settled into the house and immediately began making memories in a house that did not belong to us, but we IN FAITH claimed as the house God led us to, and by grace the owners believed with us. We ran into hurdle after hurdle that delayed closing time and time again. It was so stressful, but we realized that God was not CLOSING the door; He was simply DELAYING it. The enemy tried to discourage us with these hurdles, but we held onto our faith that this was God’s plan. One evening we were talking with some friends and I said, “Wouldn’t it be something if God was allowing closing to delay so that the FEMA ruling would have time to come in?” Sure enough, about a week later, the FEMA ruling was reversed and closing was moving right along smoothly!!
Tony and I both had to return to Haiti to host a team, so we asked our missions pastor, Scott Ross, to be our Power of Attorney and sign papers for us at closing. He graciously agreed, and yesterday, on Good Friday, we met via FaceTime with the sellers, our agents, closing attorney, and Scott, and we closed on the house! We’ve already made some precious, precious memories with our children and grand baby there and we look forward to many more made in the future. God has blessed us in such a special way by sending us so many prayer warriors all over the world who have prayed with us over this. He has raised up support to help us be able to afford to make the payments and pay utilities. He has provided friends who will watch over it while we are gone and who will even help us with some needed upgrades and minor “fixes” that are needed. He has provided furniture and many other things needed to make this house a home. God has provided every single need and for this we are shouting His praises from the mountaintops!! …..Literally. From the mountains of Haiti to the quiet community of Florence, MS, we are praising God for his provision and grace, patience, and strength to get us to this point in our journey. No more searching for a place to stay when we visit our family. No more wondering where our son will live. No more digging in the mini-storage for clothes to wear or hunting gear during hunting season.
Of course, we didn’t have time to move everything out of mini-storage before we left for Haiti, but we are looking forward to the day that we can close that door one last time and know that what little we did keep when we moved to Haiti has its place in our new home. Now we can be “home” no matter where HOME is – whether is Hope Center in Haiti, or Minnie & Papa’s house in Florence.
Thank you Jesus!! And thank you to every single person God has placed on this journey with us! May God bless you for your faithfulness as He has used so many of you to bless us in so many ways. We are overwhelmed…..
Tony and I are back at Hope Center in Galette Chambon, Haiti, and we are excited about all of the amazing things that we know God is going to do in our midst in 2018. Before we left the states, I prepared a new newsletter touching on some highlights of 2017 at Hope Center as well as in our family. Thank you so much for your prayers and support! We are honored to be able to partner with you in spreading the Love of Jesus Christ to the “uttermost part of the earth” that we have been called to. You bless us in more ways than you can possibly know. Click the link below to open the newsletter. God bless you!! ~Mickie & Tony West
Before I begin this post, I want to make clear that I am not writing this post to be passive aggressive. I am not responding to any one person in particular or have any one group or person in mind. I did recently reply to an email that inspired this post, however. My email reply addressed the topic of this post in a loving and gentle way, and as I continued to think about it, I decided that this was a topic worth writing about for others to consider as well. I appreciated VERY much the person who wrote to us to ask if it was a good idea before moving forward with it, and because of her question, I was inspired to address it publicly from the perspective of a missionary.
I’ll begin with my own short-term mission experience about three years before I became a long-term missionary myself. We were preparing to go on our first mission trip as a family. We were going to Brazil, and we were going during the same week that Brazil would be playing the USA in the World Cup! What a time to go to Brazil, right? Our younger son was an avid soccer player, and he asked me if he could take some soccer balls to give out to people. My reply at the time was, “Well I don’t know why not!” This mama’s heart was thinking, “Oh how precious that my young son wants to minister to other kids in this way!” I was so proud. So we contacted Eurosport and they agreed to donate 30 soccer balls! I emailed the team leader and informed him that one of our suitcases we would be bringing would be FULL of soccer balls to give out to the kids in Brazil. Looking back through hind-sight, I know now what must have been going through his mind. “Oh boy. How do I tell this proud mother this is not a good idea?” So he gently agreed (since the balls were already acquired and packed) and said we would talk about the “best way to share them” after we got there.
So the day arrived when we all went to Brazil and unpacked our things. We were so eager to see the children’s’ smiling faces when we placed a soccer ball in their hands. We began writing “Jesus Saves” in Portuguese on every ball. While we were writing, the team leader came and sat with us and began his gentle message like this: “Now we are going to need to be very careful how we handle this. We don’t want to get any child in trouble or cause harm. I need you to trust me and let me show you the best thing to do with these balls. We will NOT be distributing them to all the children.” Then he explained the reason why and informed us that we would give five balls to an orphanage, five to a men’s prison we would visit, five to a church/school, five to a local soccer team, five to the local mission we were supporting, and then he would let us keep aside the last five to give to someone in particular secretly. Hmmmm…. that’s not really what we had in mind, but we had agreed to be flexible and trust our leader. Throughout the week, our boys would play soccer in the dirt with local kids and use one of the five balls that was left. By the end of the day, the ball was busted and it would get left for someone to pick up. At the end of the week, we had one ball left, and we decided to give it to a little boy who had worked hard to help us all week. We put it in a bag to conceal it and we gave the bag to a translator to give to him in private. I remember the feeling I had when he left there with his ball. Fear came over me, and all I could think about was the danger I may have put him in by giving him a ball. It was a little disappointing and non-ceremonial for what we would have preferred, but still, we trusted our leader and prayed he made it home safely. We found out later that he did make it home, but he would not play with it because he was afraid someone would be jealous or try to fight him for it. My heart broke for him. Somehow giving away a soccer ball did not feel like I was expecting it to feel. I’ve never forgotten that feeling.
Now fast forward seven years. We have been missionaries in Haiti for five years now. The tables have turned, and now we understand exactly what our leader in Brazil was saying when he said to trust him to know the best way to give the soccer balls. The first year we were here, we didn’t know any better, and we agreed to let a team bring 65 soccer balls to give out to children at VBS. When the day came to distribute them, we had massive chaos. HUNDREDS of people had gathered outside our gate because they heard we were giving away soccer balls. By the afternoon, children were getting jerked and trampled and shoved against the gate as people jockeyed for an opportunity to get a ball. The team was shocked and devastated that what they had looked forward to for so long had turned into massive, dangerous chaos. Many of the team members sat down and cried as little children in VBS were getting jumped by bigger kids that would take their soccer ball and run with it. We decided right then and there that Hope Center WOULD NOT be a place that would come to be known as a distribution center. We would never, ever encourage massive, unorganized distribution of anything. When teams would bring things to be given to people in our village, we would take them gratefully and explain that they would eventually be given to someone, but not all at one time.
Since then, my living room has become a “suitcase graveyard” of bags full of things to be given away. We have suitcases full of clothes; suitcases full of toys; suitcases full of shoes; suitcases full of hygiene products. You name it, we’ve got it in a suitcase in our living room. Sometimes we will have someone come in and say, “Why do you keep all of this stuff in your house when there are people in the village that need it!?” My answer is always the same, “Oh people will get it eventually, but they will get it when God shows us the need and not by distributing it to people all at one time.” We try to explain to teams when they come in that although we know they came here with a giving heart prepared to bless as many people as possible, sometimes we all have to let go of the need to be the one giving things and just know and trust that God will show us when there is a need to be met. We try to explain that distributing “stuff” just isn’t what our mission is all about. Our mission is about Jesus. Our mission is about loving on people, building relationships, praying with people, and meeting needs both materially and spiritually as God leads us. If all we do is distribute things from week to week, the mission becomes more about giving “stuff” and not about giving Jesus. It’s not sustainable. It’s not healthy. It’s not what God put us here to do.
So when someone asks me if they can bring or send 100 pairs of flip flops, my heart just fills up with dread because I don’t want to come across as uncaring or unappreciative or rude. I love a giving heart in a person who wants to know how they can best serve the people in our village. I love it when I am given an opportunity to share with people what I once did not understand before I became a missionary myself….but I do dread the possibility of being misunderstood.
Besides the fact that the terrain and climate in our little Haitian village is not conducive to the thin, rubber flip flops, and they will disintegrate and fall apart in a week, it just isn’t wise to pass them out like candy in a large group setting. What happens is, word gets out quickly that “the blans” are giving out sandals, then people come running from all directions to receive the free gift that the Americans are giving out. Little children, who were in the front of the line, suddenly begin to get shoved to the back of the line, or worse yet to the ground. Hands become stretched out over the sea of people, reaching for the next pair to come hovering out over the crowd. Someone will grab the pair, but another bigger person will snatch it out of their hands and run with it. People get angry and start yelling. Children start crying because their sandals got jerked out of their hands, and they ended up with nothing. Then suddenly, the “blans” pack up their empty suitcase, get on the bus, and leave the area, and not one word of Jesus has been shared. All that is left is crying children sitting in the dust left from a bus full of people who are already sharing their photos and stories with one another about what a great experience it was to give something to children “who have nothing.” I’ve seen the scenario over and over again, and it breaks my heart more and more every time I see it.
So perhaps you are asking why I felt it was necessary to write this post after going so long without writing. Well, I just felt led. We’ve recently had people question why we hang onto stuff instead of immediately giving it away. We’ve even had people get angry with us when we told them we didn’t need to distribute things that they brought in large quantities. What they didn’t know is that just last week, we filled six giant suitcases full of clothes, shoes, and toiletries and gave the suitcases to six local pastors to take to their churches and give to their members. They were thrilled and very appreciative that they could give some things to their people who need things – not the “blans” but the pastors.
The precious lady who emailed me asking if she could bring 100 pairs of flip flops had beautiful intentions. She wants to give of her own resources to help people in our village. I get that, and I am thankful. I am also very thankful that she was understanding and gracious when I suggested she take the same money she would have spent on flip flops and contribute it to buy Medika Mamba for our malnourished patients; or to buy recyclable grocery bags to make sponsor gifts to give to children when they come to get measured for their sponsor update; or to buy medicine to replenish supplies in our clinic…. Of course, I realize that it isn’t as much fun to contribute to causes such as these as it is to give out flip flops and have pictures posted with a big “thanks for sending flip flops!” in the caption, but if you really want your contribution to have the greatest impact, you will trust us and follow our lead. We don’t mean to steal your thunder. We just want to serve our Lord and bless our people in the most practical and loving way we possibly can. We want to make an impact and not create chaos. We want to share Jesus and not “stuff.” We want to be led by God. We want teams to join us in that.
That’s what’s on my heart today. Thank you for your prayers and your support. We appreciate you more than you can possibly know.
Mickie and Tony West