Friday, July 26, 2013

John's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

We serve an awesome Lord!  We, the mission group, arrived in Haiti late Saturday afternoon, July 13, 2013.  The next morning we were up early, loaded on the CODEP truck and transported for 1 & 1/2 hours to a local church up in the mountains.  I asked my Lord, "Why am I here, what could I possibly learn from this experience"?  The entire service was presented in Creole.  I did not speak the language and the local parishioners did not speak nor understand English.  The church was tin roofed, pole side structure in the open.  It filled to capacity by the start of the service and even though I could not understand the language, I experienced an awesome, profound and humbling learning experience.  The melody of a number of the hymns were recognizable but I could not sing the words as they were in Creole.  Then my eyes were opened to a congregation of devout, happy, friendly people.  Poor in worldly goods, but rich in their belief and worship of our Lord and God!  This was all apparent in their body language, their eyes and their smiles.  When the congregation greeting was performed, everyone mingled through the entire church, front to back, extending greetings to all.  Especially noticeable was the effort, by all, to shake the hands of each of our mission group!

That morning, I leaned that our gracious Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ loves everything and everyone he created.  In that structure everyone was the same.  We witnessed the joy in the eyes and actions of the Haitians.  One can be poor in worldly goods, but our Lord loves us all the same.  I am greatly appreciative for this opportunity to visit Haiti with this fantastic mission group with the dynamic leader we went with.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Back from Haiti!

I just returned from a week long "Vision Trip" to Haiti and it was an amazing experience! We call this type of trip a "Vision Trip" rather than a "Mission Trip" because our focus is not on a short term mission or objective but rather a long term vision and partnership that comes through experiential learning. If you haven't read about the difference between relief and development, I encourage you to read the same book we did in preparing for this trip, When Helping Hurts. I also encourage you that while I will share some of our experiences here in this blog to reach out to those who recently went on this trip and ask them to share with you their stories, experiences, and thoughts. This year the team was Scott and Tricia Jordan, Tom Campbell, Brian Saunders, Katherine Finnell, Lila Buescher, and John Juarez. Click on a team member's name to read one of their stories during the trip that was impactful to them.

While we have three mission partners in Haiti, CODEP is perhaps the one that encompasses long term redevelopment and self-sustainability the best. When CODEP was founded 23 years ago, the work began by recruiting Haitians with the promise of long term help. Rather than giving handouts that create dependency, CODEP devised a plan of incenitives which the Haitians could work towards. The Haitians were allowed into the program once they planted and began to take care of 500 trees. As they continued to care for these burgeoning forests they earned points towards incentives like cisterns and homes. Those initial trees eventually turned into lush forests that provide shade for other growth and prevent flooding. As the Haitians began growing enough food to survive on, for the first time in their lives they began to think about what it would mean to leave something for their children. Today, CODEP has worked so well that those first groups have surpluses of self sustainable farms which they can sell and use to send their children to school. So many other Haitians have seen this being successful that another group, CODEP 2, has been formed, this time with an entirely Haitian board of directors from the first CODEP group. We had the opportunity to hike in and see the result of one of these initial forests that has become a model of what Haiti can become and once was - the Jewel of the Caribbean. As this forest grew, one of the most amazing moments for the Haitians was when they heard the first sounds of birds. As the land had been stripped of all trees in the past, the birds and their songs had left, but now with this restoration their songs and new life can be heard again. Listen for the birds in the background of this video:

One of the other initiatives of CODEP is teaching the Haitian people how to do agriculture and aquaculture. The shade provided by the new forests allows for new growth of trees and produce that can't stand the full sun, and prevents flooding that would normally wash away these crops. These farms produce coffee, cocoa, mangos, bananas, avocados, potatoes, peanuts, pumpkins, and corn to name a few. There is also an effort to raise fish to increase the protein in the Haitian diet done through Tilapia farms. Here's a video as we transferred some new fish into their home for the next 3 months while they grow to an edible size:

While we were there we did have the opportunity to work with the Haitians who are a part of CODEP. We spent some time working in the guest compound and model garden which is used in hosting teams and teaching agricultural techniques. We also had the chance to hike up the mountain and paint a home (a Ti-chi) that a Haitian family had earned through years of consistent work and reforestation.

The hospitality of this family was amazing! Though they had very little we were blown away that we were provided with a delicious cinnamon coffee and bread at the beginning of our work and then a wonderful meal served on the best plates gathered from around the local community. A woman even hiked out a mile or so so that us Americans could have sodas! While we were able to do some manual labor, I can promise you that every team member will agree, that we gained so much throughout our trip that what we contributed pales in comparison.

As a reminder, you can support this partner through regular prayer. Pray specifically for the leadership of CODEP as the Haitians begin to take more and more control of CODEP. The goal is by 2017 for CODEP to be completely self sustainable and run by the Haitian people. Pray also for CODEP 2 as it begins new forests in new regions of Haiti. CODEP in general is very low on funding so those in CODEP 2 are working for free with the hope that one day, years from now, they will see results from their efforts and perhaps some of the incentives like homes, cisterns, and fish ponds that the original CODEP has enjoyed. We support CODEP through our General Fund, but if you'd like to give beyond your regular offering you can always designate funds specifically for this or any other mission partner.

The greatest part of the trip for me was reconnecting to the Haitians of CODEP. I was able to see familiar faces again and continue our relationships that had began last year, and that began with Trinity years ago. I hope that we can continue this relationship and these "Vision Trips" to CODEP. If you have any interest at all in going next summer, let me know! You can comment below, email, call, Facebook, or even talk to me in person! Due to logistics we have only 10 spots available each year, so don't hesitate if you feel called to this.

You can check out more photos of our trip here!

Katherine's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

In the first pre-Haiti trip meeting I met the seven people who were going to be my trip companions. After some chatting we realized that all of us regularly attended the 9 am service at Trinity. Some had been coming for many years and some were fairly new. At the time I had not realized how sad it was that we were meeting each other for the first time under these conditions. We met twice more to get to know each other and to learn more about the trip we were about to take. 

We were thoroughly under prepared for the devastating poverty we faced moments after landing in Port-Au-Prince. Children were running down the lanes of tent cities that stretched for far longer than I was comfortable watching. The roadways were packed with people, goats, crazy drivers, and were poorly maintained. It was extremely unsafe. Any standing concrete structures were abandoned and roofless. Haiti's government offers little to no medical care, job opportunities, or public schooling for its people. All of this was quite difficult to stomach.

My teammates and I were in the same van experiencing this despair at the same time. Throughout the week we came together for lunch, for small chats, and for a devotional. We worked through our understanding of such extreme poverty and what it meant to be a wealthy Christian among these people. 

My companions and I had the opportunity to sit and eat lunch with a Haitian family of a Ti Kay (small home) recipient. Venus and his family had earned this Ti Kay from years of work at a co-op call CODEP. His wife cooked all day and graciously fed us large portions of coffee, bread, beans, rice, and a soda. She had neighbors bring in fancy plates and silverware and had them stay for lunch too. We could barely communicate but we bonded just by sitting and being in the moment. They shared joy and peace with us in a magnitude that I had not previously experienced. They shared all they had with us and their neighbors generously. I truly understood the "love your neighbor as yourself" clearly at that moment. We live hundreds of miles away and they gave us everything they had. 

When my team got back to the compound where we were living that week I realized what a true tragedy it was that I barely knew any of my travel companions. I felt loved by strangers I could not speak to in an impoverished country more so than in my 9 am church service. Worse than that, I scarcely share love to my neighbors and network of people. I have not taken the time or effort to bond and cherish the people in my home community. 

I now deeply feel that God has called us to come together and worship him as a community not as individuals. Not merely sitting in the same room at the same time, but deeply bonding with each other. Loving one another as if our lives depended on it.