All posts by gradygirl48

I am Catholic woman with two beautiful grown children. I strive to serve the Lord by loving compassionately those He places on my path. I will go wherever He leads me for I believe happiness can only be found in doing His will.

My new role.

When I moved to Haiti in July of 2016 I had no real plan, no idea what I would actually be doing. I did however feel very strongly that this is where I was supposed to be and where I wanted to be. My first trip was in July of 2010 and since then Haiti had never been far from my thoughts.

The only thing I did know was that I, along with some other volunteers, would be living in community with two members of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. Shortly after my arrival I was asked to take over as interim director for a large program for women and girls here in Gros Morne. This program meets a critical need in the area; educating and developing young women to be leaders as well as providing literacy and vocational training for women who never before had the opportunity to go to school. Although I said I had no idea what I would be doing I surely didn’t think it would be a 9-5, full-time position which included 10 Haitian staff members none of whom spoke English! So, I thought, perhaps this is God’s plan for now.

I struggled more days than I’d like to admit; with the language barrier, the cultural differences and with being a boss after 25 years as a self employed business owner. For 25 years I reported to no one, did as I wanted and had no one reporting to me. Running my own business was so easy and this was so hard. People came late to work. They didn’t come if it was raining or if it looked as if it might rain. They often preferred to sit together and chat than to do their work. They could understand my kreyòl for the most part but I couldn’t always understand some of them. It was so hard that many days I closed the door to my office and cried in frustration. I didn’t feel equipped for this job. At all. Was this what God called me to Haiti to do?

Month after month as we searched fruitlessly for a permanent director I began to wonder if this could be God’s plan for longer than short term. I try to be obedient but found myself fighting this idea. Surely God wanted me to be happy, to be joyful in my work. And I was not feeling either of those. Surely there was someone much more capable than I to run this important and worthwhile organization.  I spent much time in prayer pondering His will, wondering how or when it would be revealed. Honestly, I was almost at the point of submission. In May, after nine months as director, I thought to myself if this next candidate doesn’t come through then I must seriously consider that God wants me to stay. Aha, perhaps that is all He was waiting for! That candidate was the one and is now the capable and competent Director of Mercy Beyond Borders.

Humility. Patience. Trust. These are my constant struggles. Well, I was humbled often enough. I was challenged to be patient perhaps more than ever before. And I certainly got to the point of trusting enough to say, okay Lord, if this is truly what you want of me.

The reward has been great. I am now doing something I love, where I am making a difference in the lives of a few people and am able to use my gifts.  I have begun to help people navigate the medical care system here.

The medical care system in Haiti is so different from that in the US. It is almost as if each hospital has a specialty and if you go to the wrong hospital you will be redirected. Although that doesn’t seem too complicated, when a family scrimps and saves to take a loved one to the hospital and is told they need to go elsewhere the process of scrimping and saving begins all over again. Several weeks or months can go by before they have the money needed to go back down to Port-au-Prince. Months where their loved one continues to get worse, where sometimes too much time has gone by and there is nothing that can be done medically to save them.

My first two patients were in situations such as that. Rejeanne and Marie Carmel. Two beautiful women with breast cancer too advanced for medical intervention. I have written about each of them before, shared their stories and shared my grief after their untimely deaths.

I know there will be more deaths as I journey down this path but I also know there is something very special about walking those last days, weeks or months with someone. I consider caring for someone who is dying a blessing. I am honored to share the Word of God with them, to hear them praise the Lord for His goodness and to help their family members cope with their loss.

And then there are the success stories. Like meeting a woman with a larger than golf ball sized growth in her mouth which was removed the following week and was found to not be cancerous. Or being the conduit to find funding for successful surgery for a three year old’s club foot. Or finding a clinic for physical therapy for a one year old born with microcephaly after his 22 year old mom contracted Zika while pregnant.  Or admitting a baby born with a cleft lip and palate into a free malnutrition clinic so that he can gain enough weight to have free surgery to repair those defects.  Those are just a few of my current patients.

I am happy and I am finding joy in my daily work.  I think this is why He called me to Haiti. We have all been blessed with different gifts and talents. And it is when they are put to use in His way, in His time that we find contentment.

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Hard at work.

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The link above is a short video clip of these two small boys taken this past Friday.  They were so happy and proud that I noticed what they were doing and stopped to take a video.20170714_122113 There is a house being built in town for the family of the boy on the left. Their need is tremendous and these two are so happy to help out in any way they can, even it that means spreading the sifted soil a bit.

The needs of this family are tremendous. They were living in two small one room houses which consisted of dirt floors, cracked and crumbling walls and bed sheets. The family consists of a grandfather in his seventies, a grandmother who suffered a massive stroke in November and is unable to walk or talk, a single mom of six children, who is also currently responsible for her four nieces and nephews while her sister works four hours away in Port-au-Prince. Additionally there is her first grandson who was born two months ago, the son of her eldest daughter. Fourteen people.

This month the mom of six is cooking for our Summer Camp, arriving before 5:00 a.m. each day and working until 4:00 p.m. She is always smiling, often laughing and joking despite the long hours spent over a charcoal fire or bent over washing the aluminum cups,bowls and spoons for 300 students. She is so grateful to have a job and know that soon her family will be in their new two room house with cement floors. Yes, still only two rooms for fourteen people but sound, solid walls, a sturdy roof and a cement floor!

A 2007 World Bank study found that a substitution of dirt floors with cement flooring leads to a 78% reduction in parasitic infestations, a 49% reduction in diarrhea and an 81% reduction in anemia. This new home will absolutely change the lives of these people. No wonder the little guys want to help!

 

Mother’s Day

It has been so long since I have written. I wondered where to begin? What story should I tell first of the many that are in my heart? I was at a loss so I looked through some recent photos and quickly my heart was stirred.

In Haiti Mother’s Day is celebrated on the last Sunday of May. The day before I was at the river swimming with friends and some children joined us. The question arose about what they could give their moms to show them how much they are loved and appreciated. These sweet kids couldn’t think of anything. They don’t have the supplies to make a card, they don’t have money to buy even a pack of crackers and they already help with all the household chores.

So a friend asked if I’d like to go back Sunday morning to help them. We don’t have many supplies either but I remembered what I liked to receive on Mother’s Day. It was the little handmade gifts, the cards that were so carefully written and colored, the gifts made from things found not purchased.

When we arrived we found about 20 children eagerly waiting to begin, some as young as 3 or 4 who were stark naked, others as old as 14. Each of them with broad smiles at the thought of making something for their mom or grandma. We sent them all down to the river to find a rock that would fit in the palm of their hand. They came back and sat at two long picnic tables. We gave each one a permanent marker. There was no pushing, no shoving, no grabbing of someone’s marker, no complaining about not getting a specific color. Just total concentration on the task at hand. Drawing a design or picture on a small rock.

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Each child took their time, carefully coloring this beautiful gift with so much love. When they finished with their rock they each were given a half sheet of construction paper to make a card. And they were encouraged to share their marker with a friend adding more color to their masterpieces. The happiness and pride on their faces was my gift. To all of you who are moms, to those who yearn to be moms and to those who act in the role of moms I pray that you are blessed by any child you encounter for children are truly a gift from the Lord. Psalm 127:3

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Madam Dessalines

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This afternoon I learned that a dear friend in Basen died this past week. I first met Madam Dessalines in 2011 and have visited her during each of my trips to Basen.  She was always so happy to see me and I loved to just sit with her and listen to her stories. We would sit side by side, often holding hands.

She was an amazing women who was raising her three orphaned grandchildren. Over the years she had become more frail and suffered from leg and back pain. Years of laboring in her gardens, washing clothes by hand at the river and cooking over a pot sitting on stones on the ground had wreaked havoc on her small frame. For the past two years she was unable to walk to Mass. Always when we spoke she mentioned the Lord and how grateful she was for His presence in her life. No matter how difficult her situation she found comfort in knowing that God knew her every need.

Please keep her grandchildren in your prayers. Her grandsons are very young and I wonder who will care for them now. Their names are Tchembert and Aslet and both are students at the school at St. Laurent. Her granddaughter, Rose-Berchise, lives and attends school in the nearby city of Gonayiv. My heart aches for them.

 

Compassionate action.

One of the tenets of the Mercy Beyond Borders Scholars’ Program is Compassionate Action. Each of our secondary school scholars is required to volunteer for two hours every month helping others in the community. One option is tutoring students from a local elementary school.

A few weeks ago, early on a Saturday morning, several of the MBB scholars were joined by students from a nearby school. After the session began a few more scholars and students straggled in. The last elementary school student to arrive appeared a few years older than the rest, likely as old as some of the scholars. He had a deep voice and some facial hair. The last MBB scholar to arrive was a tiny girl, probably one of our 7th graders. They seemed an unlikely match so I asked another scholar to join them.

They sat side by side on a school bench and the boy sheepishly said he’d forgotten to bring his Math textbook. The girls were undaunted, quickly took his notebook and began writing numerical problems for him to solve. They sat together, arms touching, and quietly worked for over an hour. When the session was over the scholars went on their way. I watched this student, this young man, walk around the room. He stopped before each poster displayed on the wall and read it. I could sense, even feel, his thirst for knowledge. After he’d made his way around the room he quietly approached me. I asked his name and learned that he is 15 years old and is in the 5th grade. In barely more than a whisper he asked, “Can I come here every week to get help with my lessons?” I managed to hold back the tears that came to my eyes.

The scholars in the MBB program are among the brightest students in this area. To enter the program they must have graduated at the top of their class while in elementary school. As MBB scholars their secondary school tuition is fully paid, most of their books are purchased and if they do not live in the local area they are eligible to live in one of the two boarding houses. They are truly blessed to be given this opportunity. For me it is just as important that they are also learning to be compassionate members of society. They may not know that this young man was older than them, they most likely don’t know why at 15 he is only in the 5th grade. But they do know that they helped him. And I am proud to say they did it without ridicule and with respect.  This is compassionate action.

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God’s grace is enough.

Your Grace Is Enough is a song that brings me great comfort. It has been playing in the back of my mind during this long and emotional week, reminding me of His love for us. We all face times of hardship. Sometimes we wonder how we can continue or how the people around us can cope with the challenges they face. His grace is enough if we allow it to penetrate our minds, our hearts, our souls. We are never alone.

Last Sunday there was a horrific accident just outside of town. A bus carrying a load of people was traveling from north of Gwomòn to Port-au-Prince. The bus flipped on its side and continued down a steep, long hill dragging people as it went. There were many fatalities and the injured were taken to several different hospitals. Several were brought to Alma Mater Hospital here in Gwomòn. We arrived to help in whatever way we could and I was shocked by what I saw. There were dozens of injured people, many of them lying on benches in the outside corridor which typically serves as the waiting area. Many were bleeding, crying and moaning. Others were sitting up. All of them were covered in dust from head to toe.  In shock, the look in their eyes was full of pain and disbelief.

I quickly realized that the scene which initially seemed chaotic to me was totally under control. The nurses and doctors had already evaluated each patient, IV’s had been started, there was a triage nurse in charge and everyone was busy doing exactly what needed to be done. Doctors were stitching wounds while bending over patients lying on benches, abrasions were being cleaned and bandaged. On the last bench I spotted a little girl lying by herself. Her eyes were closed and my heart skipped a beat as I approached wondering if she was alive. She had a IV and as I gently touched her arm her eyes fluttered open. She had gauze bandages on her ear, her cheek, her forehead and her left arm. Her shirt was covered in blood. Her hair looked grey from all the dust. I knew she did not get onto the bus looking that way. She is only six years old and her name is Mirje Carlide. As I sat talking with her she started quietly weeping saying her Mama had died in the accident. I was speechless and devastated and at a loss for words. I asked her to try to rest for now and told her the doctor would soon come to help her. I sat with her for about an hour until finally a young woman came by. Tamara is her 24 year old sister who was also on the bus and had been brought to our hospital with minor injuries. She did not know her little sister had survived. She did know their Mama had died and she was in deep shock. It took about two hours for her to get to the point where she was able to care for her sister. At that time I left them. The following day Mirje Carlide, accompanied by her sister, was transferred to a larger hospital about an hour away. They have since gone on to Port-au-Prince to be with their extended family. His grace is enough.

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The following Thursday morning I planned to go to Basen with my friend Anita to speak with Marie Carmel. Before we left we needed to pick up one of Anita’s patients who has been ill on and off since her twins were born nine months ago. She suffers from postpartum cardiomyopathy and needed to be seen by a specialist in a hospital several hours away. Her condition has deteriorated so that she is unable to walk or sit on her own. It was necessary that her uncle pick her up and place her in the back of Anita’s truck on a mattress. He and her mom sat at her side for the hour long road down our deeply rutted dirt road trying desperately to keep her comfortable. Germithe is 21 years old. Her twins are named Roseberline and Robensley and their six year old sister is named Islande.

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We arrived in Basen an hour later to speak with Marie Carmel and her family leaving Germithe in the truck with her family. We began the 25 minute walk up the mountain and after 10 minutes Anita hailed a passing moto driver who took us the rest of the way. It was very quiet when we reached the mountain top home. The yard is usually full of adults and children but we only saw my friend Mari, Marie Carmel’s mother. She led us into the house and lying on the bed was my emaciated friend, to weak to sit up, to weak to speak above a whisper. I wondered for a minute why we were there. Anita and I spoke with her, her mom and her daughter. We explained that Marie Carmel was scheduled for surgery the following day to remove the huge mass in her armpit, that the surgery was risky but her only chance of survival. We were there to make sure they understood that, other than a miracle, this was her only chance. No one was able to decide whether Marie Carmel should make the trip. Phone calls were made to her two other daughters but still no decision could be made. How to you choose death over the possibility of life? We could not wait too long as Germithe was waiting in the truck. With tears in her eyes, the youngest daughter, who is 30 years old, finally made the decision to keep her mom there in Basen, to let her die in their mountaintop home surrounded by family. She simply couldn’t let her go so far away. Although it saddens me to think yet another person that I know will lose their life to cancer I think it was a wise decision. Truly I don’t know that Marie Carmel would have survived the journey to Port-au-Prince but she deserved to be offered the chance.

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We hugged, we cried, we prayed and we knew, His grace is enough.

We returned to the truck sad and disheartened but we had another patient to care for so we composed ourselves and continued on the 4 hour trip to Mirebalais. When we arrived Germithe was quite quickly given a bed in the Emergency Room, ahead of many others who’d been waiting since the early morning hours. Her situation required immediate care. After taking some tests and waiting almost five hours she was finally admitted and we left for a friend’s house nearby for dinner and some much needed sleep.

It had been a long day, part of a long week. But His grace carried us through as it always does. We are both grateful for the opportunities God places in our lives to care for others. There is no greater gift He could give us.

Marie Carmel

I first met Marie Carmel in July of 2016. She is 53 years old, the daughter of a dear friend who lives in the mountainous community of Basen Manyan. This is her story over the past six months. It is a long story but will give you a glimpse into one of the many struggles in Haiti. Facing a medical crisis anywhere in the world can be complicated and challenging but trying to navigate the medical system in Haiti can be overwhelming. To complicate matters further the situation is often exacerbated by a patient’s crippling fear and superstition of doctors and medical procedures.

On this July afternoon I walked up the mountain to visit my friend Mari and offer my condolences on the loss of her husband seven months before. They were a dear couple who were truly devoted to one another. Each time I visited them over the past several years I was given gifts; usually watermelon from their garden and one year a large, live turkey. After Mari and I spent time talking and reminiscing, shedding some tears and praying together I prepared to leave. It was then that Mari introduced me to Marie Carmel who was sitting on the ground off to the side. Mari asked her daughter to lift her arm.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. In her right armpit was an external growth the size of an orange. I will spare you further descriptive details but will say that I was rendered speechless by the sight of this. When I composed myself I began to ask questions. I learned that the tumor had been growing for many months, that Marie Carmel had been to see a doctor and had been told that the growth could be removed. But she said she would not have surgery. She was too afraid. Too afraid to go to a hospital because she would die there. Too afraid to have anesthesia because she would never awaken. Too afraid of the unknown medical intervention that could save her life. I looked her straight in the eye and told her she was correct, that there was a chance she could die during the surgery. But I then stated firmly that she would more certainly die if she did not get the cancerous growth removed. She was not convinced. So we prayed and I asked God to provide her with wisdom, courage and strength.

I asked if I could take pictures to share with some medical people serving here in Haiti, mainly to offer her some professional opinions. I returned the next day with the news that several doctors and nurses also believed this was a life threatening cancerous mass. She agreed to my offer to assist her in seeking medical help, albeit somewhat reluctantly. She was willing to see a doctor but not yet ready to commit to surgery.

Within two weeks I was headed to Port-au-Prince with a nurse friend, along with Marie Carmel and several other women with cancer. Our four hour drive brought us to St. Luke Hospital for registration and consultation. The look on the physician’s face and on the faces of his two resident interns was not encouraging. Thankfully there is a beautiful chapel on the grounds where Marie Carmel and I took time to sit and pray after her consultation. The other women in our group began earnestly encouraging her to have surgery.

The following day we went to Bernard Mevs for scans, blood work, and a surgical consultation. Each of these were done in a different building, amidst throngs of people, long lines and confusion. The opinions of the doctors varied greatly, one saying he could do a biopsy, another saying the area was too vascular, another saying the entire growth could be removed. Follow up appointments were made and Marie Carmel agreed to return to have the tumor removed. Sadly not all of our patients that day received encouraging news yet still we prayed.

During Marie Carmel’s third appointment, while she was under anesthesia, the decision was made that the tumor should not be removed but that a biopsy be taken instead. After finally agreeing to the surgery this was discouraging for all of us, most especially Marie Carmel.

The biopsy was sent to a lab in Cap Haitian and only with repeated follow up did we finally get the results – after more that two and a half months. This delayed the onset of treatment which was discouraging and detrimental to Marie Carmel’s health. Several times I heard from friends in Basen that Marie Carmel was very sick and was getting weaker. My prayers continued.

Finally just two weeks ago, with the type of cancer identified, I was able to get medication for Marie Carmel. The hope was to begin oral treatment, reduce the size of the tumor before a team of surgeons arrive from the US in mid January. I headed to Basen with trepidation having heard of Marie Carmel’s weakening condition.

My walk from the rectory to Mari’s house was unlike any walk I have taken in Basen.  It was the first time in seven years that I was not accompanied by a group of children. It became a time of private prayer and a beautiful feeling of peace filled my heart. I prayed for Marie Carmel and for my dear cousin who was lying in a hospital bed in Virginia, she herself fighting for her life after a three year battle with cancer. It was not lost on me that God provided this time for me to feel His loving presence.

When I walked up the hill through the corn field I asked God to give me strength and courage to meet this challenge.  Mari was the first to spot me and quickly told me she thought I was too late, that her daughter was too weak to continue her fight. I walked into the tiny home and saw Marie Carmel lying on a mat on the floor. Her face and body were emaciated and her shallow breathing made it difficult for her to speak. My heart sank.

I spoke candidly with her and asked her if she thought she had the strength to make it down the mountain and endure the four hour drive to the hospital in Port-au-Prince.  She did not think she could manage the trip. I told her I had medication to try to reduce the cancer in preparation of her upcoming surgery but still she said no, it was too late. I cried as I told her the biopsy should never have taken so long, that I was so sorry. Again we prayed. I asked if I could take another photo for my nurse friend. As I left Marie Carmel asked me to tell the nurse who had taken her to Port so often that she was grateful for her help and that she continued to pray for her.

I left the house, angrily threw my backpack to the ground and walked to the edge of the yard looking out at the beautiful mountains with tears streaming down my cheeks. Mari came over and placed her arm across my shoulders. The mom of a 53 year old daughter who is dying was comforting me.

I was alone again on my trip back to the rectory. I was sad for Mari and for Marie Carmel and wondered what God’s plan was for them. I contacted my nurse friend, sent her the new photos and explained Marie’s weakened condition. She agreed we were probably too late. Our spirits were crushed and the injustice of life for a Haitian hit us hard.

I did not sleep that night. I wasn’t sure of our decision. What if the Tamoxifen could help, what if the iron supplements and vitamins could increase Marie Carmel’s strength? The next morning we decided we needed to try. I prayed that Marie Carmel would feel the same way.

I headed back up the mountain with the medication. Once more I walked alone, comforted by the silence, praying for God’s guidance. As I reached the clearing at the top of the corn field and looked across the dirt yard I spotted Marie Carmel squatting on the ground wrapped in a blue towel (the picture on this post). It was breezy and cool. I held up the bag of medication and she smiled so beautifully. Her eyes were filled with hope. She was willing to try, to fight for her life.

Three weeks have passed. I have not been able to visit Basen so I don’t know if the medication has made a difference. But I will be there next week with the nurse because Marie Carmel is on the surgeon’s schedule for January 13th. I pray that she has regained her strength and we can get her down the mountain.

I know this was a long post. Writing for me is a way to process, understand and learn from what I encounter in Haiti. It is also a way to ask for your prayers for the Haitian people who suffer in so many ways. The grip of poverty, superstition and fear of the unknown can be paralyzing.

 

 

Klas Patisri

In October of 2016 Lavi Soléy, a center for women in Gwomòn, expanded to include baking and sewing classes. The center is one of several programs supported by Mercy Beyond Borders, all of which are focused on forging ways for women and girls in extreme poverty to learn, connect and lead.

On December 15 and 16 the baking students had their mid-term assessment which included both written and practical exams. On the day of the practical exam the women arrived at 9:00 a.m. to begin preparing their recipes for exposition and judging at 3:00 the same afternoon.  The Center was abuzz with activity, laughter and delightful aromas. No box cake mixes for these women; instead they beat butter or shortening with sugar for up to four hours to ensure its’ creaminess.  Here is a short video clip of some of the women preparing their recipes.

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The end results were delicious. I served as a judge and admit to eating far too much! After changing their clothing for the presentation, one by one the women processed into the room to show off their work. Some danced their way into the room while others shyly walked in. All were smiling, proudly wearing the M.B.B. Lavi Soléy uniforms. They are happy and proud to be learning a skill that will provide an opportunity for them to earn a living. And I am happy to play a small part in the process.

Jude

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I met Jude last weekend while on a walk around the neighborhood. He was in the process of making a truck. His materials consisted of small pieces of aluminum, plastic soda bottle caps and a rock, his only tool. With the rock he was patiently forming a fold in the aluminum so that he could wrap one piece around another to secure it in place.

When I asked Jude if I could watch him work and take some photos he smiled brightly and asked if I would like to see a completed truck.  As soon as I said yes he quickly jumped up off the dusty ground, climbed up onto a nearby structure, scurried across the top of the roughly made wooden frame and out of sight. He came back several seconds later with this amazing work of art.

20161218_091555Jude, who is twelve years old, was proud of his work and delighted that I was interested. He had a small group of friends sitting and watching him, learning from their bright friend.

Haiti is a country full of creative people; people who take scraps of different materials and form them into useful objects, people who make do with what they have, people who find a way no matter how dire their circumstances may be.

I hope I am always amazed by this, that my wonder never ceases, that instead I, too, am inspired to reuse or re-purpose the things I have. I appreciate the lessons I learn here in Haiti and love that even a twelve year old boy named Luke can inspire me to live differently.

Fishermen

20161125_062005.jpgMy morning, Friday, November 25, 2016.
It is dawn. There is a small boat twenty yards off the coast. Two guys stand on the shore pulling in a huge net. A third guy is swimming underwater helping at the far end of the net. I watch as together they pull the net for 12 minutes. Then the third guy swims to the shoreline. When he sees me he swims toward the boat to retrieve his underwear. Naked he runs up the beach to put them on. Only then does he come to assist in the pulling. Finally the net is in. It appears empty. But I see some movement, some small fish flopping back and forth. They are small enough to be picked up with one hand and thrown into a bucket. Maybe 15 small fish. The third guy then swims back to the small boat, hops in and while standing he paddles to bring the boat closer. The net is loaded into the boat, another 10 minutes. When they finish, with a beautiful, warm, broad smile the third guy stands up, waves and calls good bye in his lovely kreyol accent. I bid them farewell and wish them luck. As they paddle away, two men are rowing and the third is bailing water from the boat which obviously has a leak. They paddle out for maybe 5 minues, drop the net and begin again. Ayiti, how I love the lessons you teach me ~ perseverance, patience, joy and gratitude.

Driving here I struggled with the inequities of life, that as I passed by homes that offer little protection from wind and rain I can afford to go on vacation for a few days. I know that the money I spend on this vacation will provide a living to the many Haitians employed here. That knowledge does not eliminate my discomfort. It does however cause me to reflect upon what I am doing here in Haiti, to question if my presence is making a difference in anyone’s life, to ask myself how I can be more effective, to wonder what God’s plan is for me.

For today I will focus on the lessons I learned from the three fishermen. I will try to emulate them. And I will continue to search for a deeper understanding of His will in my life.