Monday, July 30, 2012

July 28: Last Day in Keokuk

We hung out at Mom's house before leaving to drive back home today.  Time to take lots of pictures before everyone goes there separate directions!

My sister just had a baby girl named Braxen Amari about two months ago.  This was my first time to meet her! 

While I had the camera out, Isla came scooting over.  She was very interested in the camera, and for the first time, I showed her the picture on the back screen of the camera.  After that every time I took a picture she would want to look and see it.  She was being so cute!!

And one last picture of Josiah!!

July 27: Fun in the Water

This morning Nana got out a slip n slide for the kids.  They had a lot of fun!  It was getting close to Isla's nap time, so I didn't want to mess with her swimsuit.  Once we got outside and saw the water, she was very insistent that she should get to play too!  So she got to play in her clothes, and she loved it.

The rest of the kids had a lot of fun taking turns splashing in the water at the bottom of the slide.

My sister's boyfriend's daughter Sage was with us this week.  She and Audrey have so much fun together, and they are just too cute.  They get along really well, and I loved watching them play together.

After lunch, we drove to the Quincy hospital to see my grandma.  She recently fell and broke her pelivs, and she has been having a difficult recovery.  We took all the kids (five under the age of three!) to the hopsital with us to help lift her spirits.  I'm not sure that taking five little kids to the hospital is really that great of an idea, but it went fairly well.  We did not stay long, but hopefully getting the chance to see all her great grandkids helped to cheer Grammy Lois up a little.
After the hospital visit, we drove to Dad and Chris's house for a pool party and cookout.  More water fun for the kids, and they were pretty happy about that!  Thankfully, the weather had cooled down some this week, and the high was in the upper 80s.  It was sunny and a gorgeous day for swimming!
Isla really had fun in the pool today.  I would put her on the side and count to three, and on three, she would fall into my arms and laugh and squeal.  Then she would want to do it again and again and again.
Audrey was excited to swim all by herself yet again!  Even though she is still reliant on the swim vest and floaties to keep her above the water, she is getting better at swimming while wearing them.  She was using her arms and kicking her feet to move forward in the water, and she was floating on her back too.  We really need to enroll her in swim lessons soon!
It was a busy day, but we all had a good time.  The night ended on a high note with the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics!   My family thinks I'm crazy for liking the Olympics so much, but I really do love everything about them!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 26: Day 2 in Keokuk

Ugh, I just can't keep up with blogging this summer.  Two more weeks, and then VBS will be over, and I will get back on track.  Maybe.  For now, I'm going to try to catch up on our trip to Keokuk.

We just hung out at my mom's house for most of the day today; nothing too exciting.  I took some cute pictures of my nephew Josiah.

Tonight, we went to my grandparent's house for a visit. Great Grandma had recently been to a garage sale at church, and she found this bouncing horse for the kids.  It was a big hit with Audrey; Isla and Josiah were a little unsure of it.
 Great Grandma also found this pillow at the garage sale for Audrey.  Not only is it a pillow, it is also a book.  Audrey was SO excited about her pillow.  She kept asking, "Can I keep it?  Forever?" She is still talking to everyone she sees about this pillow, and of course, she is sleeping with it every night.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 25: Fun with Cousins

Daniel is still busy with the Muni, so the girls and I drove over to my mom's house for a few days.  My sister and nephew are here, and my other sister and her new baby (who I haven't met yet) will be here tomorrow.  We are looking forward to spending time with family.

Audrey and her cousin Josiah had fun tonight dancing to some kids songs on youtube.  Notice Audrey is dressed in a "princess" dress.  My mom likes to buy dress up clothes, and Audrey likes to wear them!

Isla was having fun on her own while the other two were dancing.  This little bus was a popular toy with Josiah and Audrey today, so Isla never really had a chance with it.  Once they were both occupied, she scooted herself right over to the bus and wanted to get on.  She was able to scoot her foot and move herself both forwards and backwards on it; she thought it was a lot of fun.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Last Two Weeks

So while I have been writing about Haiti, life has been going on as usual around here.  Daniel has been running sound for a show at the Muni, so the girls and I have had a lot of quality bonding time over the past two weeks.

I would love to write about all we have done, but I think I used up all of my words in my Haiti posts.  I have nothing left!

Instead, here are some pictures of the past two weeks at our house.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Final Haiti Thoughts

Just a few more thoughts that I need to write down about Haiti, and then we will get back to regularly scheduled programming around here, I promise!

We left Haiti on July 7 at 4:00 am and we arrived home on July 8 at 1:00 am.  I had 21 hours to sit and talk with our team and reflect on the trip...but I was so exhausted, I'm not sure that I had too many cohesive thoughts on that day.  Since we've been back, I have been trying to figure out all my thoughts.  Writing on this blog has been helpful in this process, but there is one question that I still haven't quite figured out:  Now that I've been to Haiti, what is going to change in my life?

One thing I kept pondering while in Haiti was just the sheer number of people in need in this world.  We saw countless numbers of people in Haiti in need both physically and spiritually, and Haiti is just a tiny country!  I started to think about all the people I saw in China, such a huge country.  Jody and Julie have both spent time in Africa, and they were frequently talking about all the people in Africa.  Then I started to think of all the people in my city, state, and country.  Not to mention all the other countries of the world!  So many people, so many is just overwhelming.  It feels hopeless, and I think it's easy to develop an attitude of "since I can't do everything, I will just do nothing."

Enter the NWHCM Neighbors Project...a practical way for local churches to help Haitian communities.  We were able to learn more about this idea during our trip, and I just love it.  It makes sense!  NWHCM has been working in Haiti for a long time, and a big part of their ministry is facilitating short term mission trips.  The problem with short term mission trips is that they are short!  On our trip, we did a lot of different things, but we didn't make many real connections with any people in Haiti.  There just wasn't time.

The Neighbors Project addresses this problem by creating connections between American churches and Haitian communites.  Churches in America (or other places in the world) are partnered with a community in Haiti.  The American churches commit to providing financial support and sending teams to work with the Haitian community.  They work together to build churches, schools, provide clean water sources, and so much more.  You can learn much more about this on their website, as well as see a list of needs for each community and what has already been accomplished.

I love the idea of having a sister church, where the churches in both countries are in communication with each other and develop real relationships with each other.  I also love the idea that the Americans are not just barging in and trying to take over.  It is designed that the Americans work to support local Haitian leaders and help provide them with the means and manpower to change their Haitian community from the inside.   I love the idea of everyone in our congregation being a part of working together to change the world.  I love the idea of being able to make a tangible difference in the lives of people in need.  

I am hoping that our church will be willing to become a part of this project or a similar project in another country (we have a group in Africa right now looking at a similar opportunity there).   As opposed to a more traditional approach of just writing checks and sending them to missionaries around the world, this project provides a chance for us to do so much more than just send our money.  It helps us to learn that the world is much bigger than our front yard.  It helps the people of Haiti to get what they need to live and survive and find God's love and grace.  It seems like a win-win situation on both sides.

Almost everyone I talk to about Haiti says the same thing to me:  "Seeing how little they have in Haiti just makes you really grateful for what we have here in America."    That is true.  We do have everything and they have nothing.  And visiting Haiti did cause me to be more grateful for what I have.  However, if all I learned from this trip was to be more grateful for what I have, I feel like I missed something important.  My gratefulness does nothing to help those people who are living with nothing. 

NWHCM gave us all a devotional book to read before, during and after our trip.  One of the final devotions summed up my feelings and thoughts almost exactly.  Here is what it said:
"I may not meet all of Western Civilization's criteria for being rich, but compared to Haiti, the luxuries and comforts I enjoy each day place me firmly in the lifestyle of the rich.  Recognizing that I am rich is a start but only a start.  Figuring out why I've been so abundantly blessed and what God is calling me to do with my resources is much more challenging.    God could ask me to sell all I have and give it to the poor, and if He does, I had sure better be ready to do it.  But for the vast majority of us, that is not at all what He wants us to do.  As pastor Andy Stanley describes in one of his sermon series, God is simply asking us to do a better job of being rich."
The above thoughts don't necessarily give me an answer as to what I should do now, but they do summarize the way I have been thinking lately.  I am grateful for the blessings and the comforts in my life.  I recognize that I do have more than the majority of people in this world. Rather than hoarding all these blessings for myself, I want to find ways to practically share what I have with people in need.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Haiti Day 5 afternoon (July 6)

For our last afternoon in Haiti, we participated in the grocery ministry.  We pooled together some money to buy groceries.  Our intern and translators took us to the market, where we (okay, really it was just our translator Lunes who did everything!) purchased four bags packed full of groceries...rice, beans, flour, sugar, fruit, seasonings, even charcoal for the cooking fire.

The market was so interesting, and I really wanted to take more pictures but I was just too uncomfortable.  Some of our team members with smaller, less conspicuous cameras were able to take some pictures though.  It is just such a different way of life.  There were so many "vendors" set up in little shacks, back to back to back.  I can't even estimate how many were there, and they were so crowded together there was barely room to walk through the maze of them all.  The interesting part was that everyone was selling the exact same thing.  I don't know how they all make it, because there was nothing unique...each place had the same items as the place before it and the place before that and so on.

 This was one of many charcoal stands. They were all set up next to each other, and we (meaning Lunes) got into a heated bartering session deciding which vendor to buy from.  I couldn't understand the language, but it seemed like each vendor had a reason why we their charcoal was better than the others.  It was just so funny to me, because it was there really a difference between any of it?  Finally, Lunes decided that he would purchase from whoever could get him a sack to put it in.

Lunes grew up in St. Louis de Nord, so he knows the people and he knows the market.  He knew exactly what we should be paying for the food, and he drove a hard bargain to make sure we were never overcharged.  Our intern said she had never seen anyone get so much food for their money at the market.

After leaving the market, we headed out in the streets to deliver the groceries.  The normal procedure for this is to just walk up to random houses to talk and pray with the people and decide if they would be in need of groceries.  According to our intern, we did not have to give groceries to everyone.  Sometimes groups would just stop and pray with people.  I felt a little bad about stopping to talk and pray with people with bags of groceries in our hand and not giving the food to them though, and we ended up giving groceries to every house.

Since Lunes knew the people and the streets, we had him lead us to some homes.  At each home, Jody would ask Lunes, "Do they need these groceries?"  And Lunes would laugh and say, "yes."  After doing this a few times, Jody asked Lunes why he kept laughing, and he said, "I'm laughing because everyone here needs groceries."

After delivering our four bags of groceries to various homes in the neighborhood, Lunes offered to take us to his home and meet his daughter.  Lunes had been working with us all week, and he had told us about his almost five year old daughter.  Her birthday was in five days, and we brought her some candy and trinkets we had leftover from VBS.
 It was so cool to get this peek into a real home and family in Haiti.  So far, we had viewed everything from the outside.  But Lunes invited us in and showed us around his small two room home. I really was honored that he invited us inside.  He seemed both humble and proud of his place.  This is the "street" where he lives, made up of cement block homes.
I don't know a lot about social classes in Haiti, but from what we viewed this week, it seemed like this would be considered typical middle class living: a cement two room home with an outhouse for a bathroom and a fire and pot in the yard for a kitchen.  Lunes had battery powered "electricity" in his home so he could charge his cell phone (very important!!) and have a few lights inside.  His home (like him) was very clean and well put together.  By Haitian standards, it was a pretty nice place.  A place like that in America however would be considered extreme poverty.

Being in his home made the people of Haiti so much more real to me.  Up until this point, we had been working with kids a lot and driving by a lot of people on the streets.  It all seemed so surreal.  It was just hard to imagine that all those people we saw on the streets were real people with real lives.  I don't mean for that to sound callous or insensitive, but seeing that kind of was just so hard for me to wrap my mind around it.

Then we went to Lunes' house.  Entering another person's home is such a personal thing, and just seeing how he lives his daily life was helpful to me.  While we only visited Lunes' home, I felt like I could suddenly see into homes all across Haiti.  That sounds really dramatic and I don't know if I am explaining myself very well, but honestly, this was an eye-opening experience for me.  It helped to personalize the entire trip and every person that we had encountered throughout the week.  Real people with real homes and real lives and real needs and real emotions.  This was not a planned part of our week, but it was one of my favorite parts of our trip.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Haiti Day 5 morning (July 6)

Our last day in Haiti!  This morning we took a field trip with a group of kids from the Miriam Center to a playground.  A real Haiti!  It looks a bit out of place, but the mission owns a super nice playground that was provided by a company who builds playgrounds in needy places around the world.

The playground is kind of out in the middle of nowhere in a place called Bonneau, and it was a bumpy, bumpy 1 1/2 hour bus trip to get there.  At one point on the ride, we traveled for a short distance along a cliff that overlooks the ocean.  I tried to be brave and hold my camera up for a photo of the scenery (because it was so bumpy on the back of the bus there was a good chance I could have dropped my camera at this point)...this was the best shot I got:
It was gorgeous; this picture doesn't even begin to capture the beauty.  But it was a little scary too.  We were driving right on the edge of the cliff on one of the bumpiest roads we had been on yet.  We were in a school bus, and you could see the bus tilting from side to side as it went over the massive holes in the road.  At this point, the translator turned to me and said, "There are many accidents on this road."  Not exactly what you want to hear while bouncing all around in a school bus on the edge of a cliff!  We made it safely, though this was one of the most difficult trips for my stomach to handle!

Before I write more about the playground, I need to go back and give a little backstory.  In 2003, Daniel went to Haiti and worked with NWHCM.  Daniel became buddies with a boy in the Miriam Center named Jimson.  I don't know exactly what condition Jimson has, probably cerebral palsy as that seemed to be the most common among these kids. He cannot speak or walk.  His legs are in a permanent bent position.  He can walk a little with his legs bent, and Daniel would often walk around with him back then.  Here are a few pictures of Jimson in 2003.

Before I left for my trip, Daniel told me to say hi to Jimson for him.  Honestly, I wasn't sure if Jimson would still be there.  Nine years is a long time, and I didn't know if they would even allow him to stay at the Miriam Center for that long.

So it was very exciting to get there and see Jimson's picture and name on the bulletin board of Miriam Center kids.  I spotted him from a distance a few times, but I didn't get a chance to actually meet him until this morning before we left.  I was excited that he was also a part of the group that got to go to the playground with us.
 Jimson's not a kid anymore, as he is now 19 years old.  I don't think his condition has improved any over the past 9 years.  He now has his own wheelchair, and he seems to spend most of his time in it.  He walked with me a little bit (someone took a picture of that, if I ever get it, I will post it here!), and I saw him take a few steps with others, but he didn't seem to walk too much.

 Okay, back to the playground.  Here's a picture of it:
 Super nice!  It is designed specifically for kids with special needs, so it is a great opportunity for these kids.  Here is Jimson going down the roller slide!
Isaac was another kid I got to know during the week.  He didn't talk at all, but he most definitely tried to communicate and was very insistent that you understand what he was trying to tell you!  He loved to pose for pictures too.  Here he is going down the slide and sticking out his tongue when he saw the camera on him!
While at the playground, a little boy from the neighborhood climbed up a tree and knocked down some coconuts for us.  This was my first time to try raw coconut, which was kind of fun.  The kids REALLY thought it was fun to enjoy such a special treat!!