Friday, July 18, 2014

Tom Campbell's Story of Haiti

As the “in county” trip leader for this year’s trip to Haiti my experience was quite a bit different than the previous year where I was a team member with Pastor Samuel as the lead.  In contrast to last year, this trip was more focused on the team and their experiences.  My self-reliance and introspection from last year was overtaken by keen observation of how the group was interacting and taking in the experience.  While traveling I was conscious of the safety of the group and our adherence to our “development creed”- “first, do no harm”.  We needed to consider fully the consequences of our actions – mistakenly creating barriers to relationship building, or fostering a dependency of the Haitians on missionary efforts.  Of course, I also wanted to ensure we were good guests and stewards of the CODEP facility and thusly we worked hard to keep the place clean and pitch in around the grounds while following the rules set forth by our host and CODEP Director, John Winings.  

During our small group meetings in the evening I enjoyed listening to what was learned and also how we were able to connect the daily devotional passage to the Haitian people or the experiences of the day.  The group was additionally blessed by having John Winings with us each evening during our group discussion.  John has a tremendous heart for the Haitian people and had become very proficient in Creole.  Additionally as a minister he had learned about the Haitian perspective of the Christian faith and the Haitian Creole translation of the Bible.  As an illustration of this, one evening while reviewing our devotional John pointed out a basic difference in our view of God versus that of the Haitian people.   For us our God is a God of Joy and Hope in contrast to Mercy and Justice in the perspective of the Haitian people.  To help us understand John shared this concept through the parable of the good Samaritan where in our culture the lesson shared by Jesus is to help those in need.  Because of the tumultuous history of the Haitian culture, including slavery and death from natural disasters, it is a common viewpoint that in the story of the good Samaritan the Haitians represent the traveler in the story.   In the Haitian perspective someone (missionaries) will come to help (charity, aid, development) them.  This hit me like a ton of bricks and cemented what we had been studying about “development versus charity” and also how cultural perspective can result in vast differences in how we experience our God.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ashley Walters' Story from Haiti

To read the main article and other stories click here.

Where do I even begin? Human logic tells us things have a beginning and an ending. Our earthly logic has its limits. Many things of God,God himself, and the Holy Spirit far exceed our earthly understanding, knowledge, and logic. Perhaps we are designed to always be this way, after all it humbles us and grows faith. Maybe God has been preparing us and continues to prepare us for more and more knowledge and understanding. Like any Father, although wiser and greater than anything we can even imagine, he knows when we are ready for such things and when we are not. Just like a baby can not eat solid food, we are not born ready to understand abstract concepts first, only the concrete. All people at some point ponder this among many of God’s other creations, plans, and intents. All people at some point are likely to argue over such things because they have come to believe one thing over another based upon our earthly logic and understanding. I am far too small, far too ignorant, far too earthly, to try and fit such holy matters into my own logic for my own understanding and benefit. The more words I say, the more I am aware of how little I am and how Great my God is. I pray that God and the Holy Spirit guide my words so they do not make nonsense, but say or do not say the exact things they would will them to say.  

I am writing to share my experiences in Haiti. Thanks to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for they are present everywhere, and have provided me this opportunity through Trinity. I have been really growing and learning the past 2 or 3 years about God, Jesus, and the Bible. I use to open the bible and try to read it when I was younger. I even tried to break it down in small sections and try different versions to really understand and learn from it. I would open to a random page and say God speak to me! Finally with success in small group and life groups, I decided that I never was a reading enthusiast so reading the bible maybe was not the way for me to learn. A few days before my trip my husband and I had a wonderful day led by God, just as we had when we first met. Our conversation flowed and we talked effortlessly about the love of God and Jesus. That afternoon he went to work and I had an immediate desire to go and retrieve my bible. I opened it and read Ephesians 5:13 which says, “But all things that are exposed are made manifest by light, for whatever makes manifest is light.” This verse was so beautiful and colorful, I had to continue. So I read until the end of Ephesians falling in love word by word. After I finished, I went back and began from the very start of Ephesians and read the book in its entirety. I fell to my knees in prayer, the beauty, the color, the light, the truth, I thanked God and Jesus. Since then I have had a burning desire to keep reading the bible. Now that is another story, but directly relates to how I perceived things on my trip in Haiti. I fell in love from the time our airplane neared Haiti. I continued to grow in love the whole time in Haiti through the places, the people, and the Holy Spirit who guides and tends my heart. The bible says all things will be made new, or something along those lines in a few  different places. There is a direct connection to when we notice God and his presence, all things we once felt, thought, and saw become new in the light of God. The same is true for once we understand and truly accept Jesus and the Holy spirit. Matthew 9:35-38 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of Harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

I hope this does not seem unrelated to Haiti, for there are no other words or ways to describe it for me and do it justice. As far as CODEP the organization we are partnered with, I leave feeling that they are a rare, special organization that is being led by light and we should continue to be partners offering whatever the Lord puts on our hearts to them. They are bearing fruit, and their branches are expanding! For if it is of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, it will also be directed by. Praise God and may he bless, in Jesus name! Amen.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

McKenzie Simmler's Story of Haiti

To read the main article and other stories click here.

My experience in Haiti was amazing. I’ve always wanted to go to Haiti, and it was such a blessing to have had this opportunity. Each day I woke up smiling to the sound of children laughing and singing at the school next door.  Then through each day we met more and more smiling, happy, loving, welcoming faces. The Haitian people have taught me valuable lessons, and shown me what this life is really all about. They have taught me to accept anyone and everyone. I learned that no matter how many “things” you have, God will always be enough, and that the key to happiness is giving. The people are beautiful, the country is beautiful, and they have made a beautiful impact on me. What shocked me most was how giving they were. Even with what little they have they were always trying to give something. I would recommend this trip to anyone and everyone, no matter where you are in your walk with God.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Doris Stitt's Story of Haiti

To read the main article and other stories click here.

When the church announced in 2013 there would be a vision trip to Haiti I was ready to sign up. Unfortunately however the trip filled up very quickly and I was not able to go. You can imagine my surprise when in March 2014 I received an e-mail that a trip was scheduled for June. Without hesitation I quickly put together the documents needed and went to the church and signed up. As always is the case, God knows best when it comes to timing. I was in a much better place emotionally this year than last to experience a vision trip such as this.

Samuel and Tom did an amazing job preparing our team before our departure. We read the book Toxic Charity which in itself is a life changer but moreover dove deep into what community development really is. We were prepared to understand the philosophy behind CODEP and to understand why it works. The one thing I don’t think anyone could prepare us for was the actual experience of driving through Port-au-Prince. To see impoverished areas on TV or in magazines is one thing but to see the reality of it face to face is overwhelming. We drove for two hours and it just never seemed to end. The streets were crowded with people, there were vehicles (tap taps) going every direction overstuffed with people, there were makeshift tents with people trying to sell whatever they could, there were homes that looked like rubble and trash was everywhere including every river we passed by.

The CODEP compound was in a rural area so even though the poverty was still present, it felt more peaceful. Each day our nine team members along with missionaries John and Debbie, and CODEP’s Logistics Animator Clement would pile into a Nissan pickup truck and head up the mountain. On one of our day trips we visited 3 different CODEP sites. Each site was at a different stage of development based on when the initial planting took place (i.e. 3, 10 and 15 years). Clement explained the whole process including preparing the land, growing seedlings, planting and the development of fish ponds. He always got very animated when he spoke of the impact that the development has had on the people in the communities and how lives have been changed. Through hard work and dedication people are now able to earn incentives such as cisterns and homes. People are now able to earn money to be able to send their children to school. I was amazed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the Haitian people. It was apparent they are not afraid of hard work. The people of Haiti are doing all this. CODEP is merely the facilitator. Another demonstration of this was observed when we stopped and visited with Edvy, one of the key leaders in the CODEP program. He explained his roll as record keeper and his responsibility for disbursing funds. He explained a type of partnership with CODEP and another organization that provides the opportunity to grant micro loans to groups and individuals. Much like in the U.S., borrowers must pledge collateral or have a guarantor but what was amazing was that in a country with a 60-80% unemployment rate, the default rate on the micro loans is very low. Being a banker by career, this process was intriguing to me.

On our final trip up the mountain we headed to the demonstration forest. Our destination was the forest initially planted by CODEP some 20 years ago. The hike up was fairly rugged but worth every step. I have always longed to take a trip where I could be immersed in the culture of the people living in a foreign country however I never imagined it would be Haiti. What a blessing! On the hike up the mountain we observe all these beautiful people living their lives in what appeared to be peaceful harmony although with very little material possessions and none of the conveniences we so take for granted (electric, running water and sanitation). Reaching the forest was like reaching paradise. The trees were dense, the air was fresh and the shade cooled our bodies after hiking in the hot sun on a rugged dirt path while stepping over donkey . . . Well, you get the picture. Anyway, it was a beautiful way to spend our last day and was truly a gift from God.

On the plane ride home there was a young couple who had just adopted 18 month old twin boys. I remember feeling a crazy mix of emotions about it in that I was so happy for the couple who had been trying to adopt for years and thought of the opportunities the boys could have in the U.S.  On the other hand, I was sad because I couldn’t help think of the rich culture and the deep love of the Haitian people that the boys would miss knowing. It will be my prayer that the boys through the love of their new parents will come to know the love of God and will be taught and exposed to the love of their Haitian heritage.

I am so thankful to God, for our churches leadership and for the wonderful team I came to know and love during that one special week in Haiti. I pray God will use this experience in my life to touch others for his glory.

Tess Teurling's Story from Haiti

To read the main article and other stories click here.

One of my favorite parts of visiting Haiti was seeing the innocence of the people. One of the days, we were in the water playing with the kids when I decided to play a game where I cradle the child in my arms and, on the count of three, quickly stand up with them so they feel like they are flying. This little game seemed to be a hit, as I watched all the other children get in a line waiting for there turn to "fly". Kenzie joined in to help with the exhausting game and next thing I know I see a grown Haitian woman climb into Kenzie's arms for her turn to fly. Her innocence was so precious and I enjoyed seeing how these Haitians appreciate the little things in life. 

Leslie Potkaletski's Story from Haiti

Our vision trip to Haiti had an interesting effect on me.  As someone who has traveled some, originally for New York City, taught Social Studies for a time, there was a level of “I know what to expect”… that was totally blown out of the water almost immediately.  I expected to see poverty, I did not expect to see it everywhere we went; I did not expect to see Shanty Towns reminiscent of those that cropped up across the US during the Great Depression.  I expected to see devastation from the earth quake, but I expected to see more repair. 

More than anything, I suppose that what I expected was a country in disrepair; not a country that on top of natural disaster issues, had never really developed.  Within Port au Prince you could see buildings that looked like they may have had electricity, running water, indoor bathroom facilities, etc.  But those things appeared to have been destroyed, with some repaired in parts of the inner city. 

I did not understand the ramification of the nation’s history until seeing it for myself. A nation formed out of a slave rebellion, that was then, what I would imagine, blackballed from the affluent doing business, trading in the Caribbean.  Leaving the people of Haiti without exposure to modernization, without the income from trading, and with a social stigma that lasted hundreds of years. 

Once we were outside of Port au Prince, although there was less congestion, there were still buildings built very near the road, but with few intersecting roads.  The road system is very limited, and once you get off the few main roads, they are mostly dirt and most often only wide enough for a foot path.  Most of the buildings that we encountered that were still serviceable by local Haitians, were only small, perhaps two rooms, structures.  Cooking is done outside over fire and if you are fortunate you might have an outhouse.  These issues seemed to have more to do with the lack of modernization, i.e. no running water, no electrical service.  Again, if you are fortunate you might have a cistern to collect water, instead of having to carry it, as we saw some do, in 5 gallon buckets up very steep hills. The water is usually at the bottom. 

Many Haitians only eat 1 meal per day and with education a private venture, no centralized educational system at all; progress, if any will be long in coming.  Not because the people are not intelligent, they are, very; but because they are uninformed and ignorant.  They are making the best of a very difficult life.  Many have been trained by experience to expect a handout from the “blanc” white people who come to “help” in the way of mission work.  Unfortunately, many of those who take a short mission trip and think they are helping are doing just that, giving a hand-out, instead of a hand-up.  Much more could be accomplished if the proverb were followed.   “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”  This is exactly what CODEP is doing, teaching the Haitian people involved, how to restore their land.
The stark difference in topography between Haiti and the Dominican Republic was startling.  I knew that the Dominican Republic was much more lush and tropical; however, I somehow had believed that the deforestation was a result of the many natural disasters, not people stripping the land out of ignorance.  Selling the wood to feed their families, send someone to school, etc. 

I found CODEP to be a breath of fresh air.  Even in the USA there are many programs that merely ‘give’.  With no accountability and no personal investment, here and in Haiti the people in need only learn how to take not how to rise above their circumstances. 

CODEP is teaching Haitians how to re-forest their land; in so doing they are learning how to utilize their land for food and for other natural resources.  As each individual works to improve their land, their families benefit from the additional food source and begin to eat multiple meals per day.  As each group becomes prosperous they can afford to send their young to school. As land is developed and the rains come, the water stays on the mountain instead of flooding the towns and villages below.  So the work, not only helps the individual, the individual families, but also the communities.  Over the years, as CODEP has had success more and more people are looking to become a part of the CODEP project.  The light in the darkness, CODEP land stands out as a beacon to those around it that there is hope. Individuals approach CODEP asking to be partners with them, or looking for the ‘handout’ to fix their land.  The leaders with wisdom and foresight require individuals to have their own land to improve; they must show to the other Haitians involved that they are doing their part in making it a success.  They must have a personal investment in the process to be able to be a part of CODEP.  The only “blancs” are John and Debbie Winings, so it cannot be said that the success is that of an outsider.  The projects are monitored by those who have been doing it themselves and have reaped the benefits of their hard work and can therefore share the processes with authority. 

CODEP is taking Haiti one hill at a time and making a difference that will be felt for generations to come.  As you can see in the picture to the right, we were hiking through the forest that was started 20 years ago by CODEP.  Not just a quick fix, not just a Band-Aid, but a solution to a generational problem. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Chris Taylor's Story from Haiti

To read the main article and other stories click here.

We race up the mountain road chasing the Baskil (Big truck), carrying the doom (55 gallon plastic barrel) full of 160 tilapia being transported to Edvy's pond. We stop and pick up Edvy and then stop briefly again further up to pick up a helper with 3 5 gallon pails. We stop abruptly along the roadside seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We pull as far off the mountain road as we can to avoid being struck and we watch Claymont, our Haitian (Codep) partner pour the tilapia into the 5 gallon buckets from the doom. Fish fly into the bed of the Baskil. We toss them into the buckets. Quickly now we must make it down a steep, corn planted slope down into the valley below and over to Edvy's pond. The fish need oxygen. 

We traverse the mountainside with no clear path just hustling through the vegetation as quickly as possible. We arrive at the concrete poured pond and the fish are slowly introduced. The pond is remarkably close to the mountain road above. So we  ask the obvious question. Why is this pond so close to the road? The remarkable answer....because the visiting American's on their "mission trip" just had to have something to build, something to "help out the poor Haitians...But you see, the pond had to be built with rebar spaced so close together as rods sticking up in the bottom so no one could come along and get into the pond and steal the fish. The pond had to be built so close to the road so the American's could boast of how helpful they were in building this for the Haitians. The truth is, that this kind of helping hurts. The pond has to be drained completely to gather the fish. You can't net them or get into it to catch them for food. The pond would have been built by the Haitians farther into the forest, off the beaten path where it would have been secure. Then they could net the fish when it was time to harvest them for food.

Stories of Haiti, Stories of Hope

When CODEP, our mission partner in southern Haiti near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, began working towards a community that would be self-sustainable most of the Haitians that they encountered had little to no concept of passing on something, an inheritance, to the their children. Decades later, there is something that is sometimes difficult to come across in Haiti: self-respect, a sense of dignity, and a hope for a future not just for themselves but for their children as well.

About a month ago, a team from our faith community went on a Vision Trip to continue the relationships we have with the Haitians of CODEP, to gain a greater understanding of Haitian culture, and to be partners in a decades long mission project that aims to give a hand up rather than just one more hand out. While we continue to support a feeding program in Port Aux Prince through Fishers of Men’s Ministries because there are truly still emergency needs in Haiti, I hope that as a community we will gain a better understanding and ability to participate in long term redevelopment. This is one of the key aspects of this most recent trip to Haiti – to gain a vision for the kind of love and help that preserves dignity and allows our Haitian brothers and sisters to stand proudly on their own.

The team is safely back in town and sharing stories of the things they experienced and learned while in Haiti. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to speak to the team about their experiences. I encourage you to listen to their stories and gain from their experiences as family in Christ. Besides speaking to them personally, you can click on any of the names below to read one of their own stories:

Tom Campbell
Leslie Potkaletski
Dave Potkaletksi
Chris Taylor
Doris Stitt
Ashley Walters
McKenzie Simmler
Tess Teurlings
Ashley Powers

We limit these teams to 10 people and are already beginning our plans for next summer. It may be time for you to go, continue our relationship with Haiti, and to see yourself the vision we have alongside CODEP for Haiti. If you'd like to start that process just speak to Carla Carson in Mission Central on Sundays or send an email to her at