One night, back in early June, Megan and I were in our usual spot - sitting out on the porch where you can catch a breeze - playing cards (Skip-Do/Bo obviously). I took a sip of my chilled drink, bugs swarmed around our porch light lit up with electricity, and music from my computer softly cut through the night. We were talking as Megan dealt another hand. She looked up at me, looked around where we were sitting and said, “Think about where we were this time last year.” ...Oh wow. This time last year we were at the old house in the pitch dark, huddled up in bed under our mosquito net, sweating half to death because our battery-powered fans were constantly out of batteries. There was probably a crying child in our room and we probably had no idea what we were doing; but one thing could be counted on, at some point the next day we would have to eat raman, a cliff bar, or if it was a good day, fake cheese and macaroni shells because that is all we had. We reminisced about life back in that other house and laughed.
|The first piece of land purchased by Respire, taken last June.|
This trip down memory lane was just another moment in a long line of moments that hit me periodically throughout the summer; moments where I realized how our God is a transformative God. Looking around Bellvue Mountain, at Respire, the streets we walk down everyday, the people with whom we interact, in our very selves, the transformative work of God is clear and it is absolutely astounding.
|The people cooker.|
I think back to last year when Megan and I would walk with visitors up the back trail to the mountain. We would walk over to the tree and she would excitedly tell whoever it was that this is the land we bought and the site where the school was going to go! At that time, there were 100 students in the school meeting in the one room church (or people cooker as it seems most days). It was a great start, but man was it chaotic trying to teach 100 kids all sorts of different things in ONE very hot, noisy, crowded room. But now there is a school - the 6 classroom building was opened in January and the new 4 classroom kindergarten will be all ready to go when school starts again in the fall. So many of these children are restaveks (child slaves), orphans, and/or are living in extreme poverty. So many are getting to go to school for the first time. This is really challenging. But it is really beautiful to see transformation happening in their lives through education and all the work that is being put in to ensure that their education is quality.
|The new kindergarten building during construction.|
|Ramase Lajan recycling center!|
I think about what Respire was when it started. It was a girl who may or may not have been crazy, moving down to Haiti on total faith, to love on children. Then came a school. Then came a child feeding program. Then came more land, and a builder, and more plans, and then buildings, then partnerships, programs, progress. Now instead of just focusing on one or two aspects of life, Respire recognizes that you have to look at a child holistically. Simply offering a child an education is wonderful, but so many other things affect their ability to receive an education: what's going on at home? are they healthy? do they have basic needs met? and on and on. Respire is working to address all these things by reaching out to and educating parents, opening a clinic, providing jobs to help families sustain themselves, feeding kids physically and spiritually every weekend. People are constantly coming in and giving time to enrich kids lives through English classes, guitar lessons, sports camps, art, you name it. Children are not just being taught how to read and do math; they are being taught respect, tolerance, and other cornerstones of strong character, through the feeding program turned discipleship program. And now, thanks to some incredible partnerships, Respire is supporting artisans through Haiti's Jewels (which you really need to check out), raising food for the school through sustainable agriculture with Love Your Neighbor, and opening a recycling center (OH YEA!) through Ramase Lajan. I am so proud of those organizations and the people behind them, they are all truly incredible. (Click on all those links, its so worth it!)
|Love Your Neighbor's garden on the side of Bellvue Mountain.|
I look at my dear, dear friend Tachi and how much she has grown over the last year. She is one of the strongest women I know. She started off staying with Megan and I for a week last summer in between jobs and now runs our house like a machine. And her cooking is great; we would all die without her. Tachi is a leader in our house, a dedicated mother, and an example to the ladies that work with us. Ladies like Darlene, who has come to live with us, along with her son, Jezilo. Their story is an incredible one of transformation, read more about it here on Megan's blog.
|Super Tachi and her daughter Esther.|
Over everything, perhaps, I am most astounded by Megan and her family. Having been there when Micha first came to live with Megan, I don't even know how to describe the way this little girl has been completely transformed. I think back to the beginning - she was a poor, scared, erratic child. But she had such a magnificent and genuine smile despite it all. I can't imagine what she had been through and I can't imagine she thought, at first anyway, that this new found stability was going to last. I would sit with her and work with her on learning numbers and colors. She could not stinkin' remember pink (woz) or orange (jon abricot) and I thought to myself, "Man this is not good! Is she very smart?" And when I came back at Christmastime last year, I couldn't believe that thought ever crossed my mind. Micha is BRILLIANT. She knows English so well now that we can have conversations, and let me tell you, she is a neat kid. And she knows all her colors now :).
|Micah, Jessica, and mangos as BIG as their heads!!|
|Had to include one of Jessi in the Pooh Suit |
because it is my life's joy!
I remember when I first heard that Jessica, Micha's younger sister, would be coming to live with Megan as well. I was a little worried - she just became a mom and now was getting another kid. Jessica came on the exact day that I left last year and I didn't get to meet her, which I still think is funny. But seeing her from Christmas to June and June to August, she is growing beautifully as well. I am so thankful she is here. Jessica reminds me of my little sister in so many ways, she's totally got 'tude. I would probably call her a turd under my breath about 4 times a day, but oh my gosh, this child is so precious. And the more she is loved on, the better she gets. And the fact that she and Micha have each other has made such a noticeable difference in their lives. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about them together - playing, laughing, fighting, getting older - and knowing how much my sister has meant to me. Jessica and Micha both, day by day, are growing in the good, Spirit-filled, loving home that they are being raised in.
|Throwback: us in college. |
See? Totally different :)
And at the head of that home is Megan, who is one of the great treasures in my life. I have loved seeing what the Lord has done transforming her into a mother. I can't really speak to the extent that it has been difficult for her, even having gone into the trenches with her as much as I can. And I don't know many people that could've done it, or would've been willing to make the sacrifices that she has. She stepped up. She was not a mother back in June of last year, but she said yes to taking in and loving these sweet girls with all her heart. God took that and transformed her into a mom, and a goshdarn good one at that. (I have a lot of bad to compare it to thanks to my last several psych/social work internships.) It is truly amazing and such a testament to the transformative power of God.
The craziest thing that has struck me in all this is that this thing didn't just start last year. It didn't start when that crazy girl decided to move down to Haiti. It started 14 years ago when Pastor Benito and his wife would go up Bellvue Mountain to pray every Sunday morning at 4am. Pray that God would do something, bring somebody, to transform that mountain from the dark, voodoo ceremony hotspot it was to a place that brought life and hope to the people of Gressier. And things fell into place over the years. Megan had experiences that shaped her and lead her to where she is now. Our paths crossed in college and I'm blessed to have been along for this ride. Bernard was learning English from New Yorkers and getting shaped into the genius he is today. Tachi was busy overcoming remarkable odds to get where she was when we met her. And so on with every person's story who has been a part of Respire Haiti.
When the Benitos were with Megan signing papers for the purchase of the first piece of land, they cried and praised God for answering their prayers. After 14 long years, God answered, and in a HUGE way. It makes me wonder with much excitement what he has in the works right now, in all of our lives. What person might we meet tomorrow that points us down a certain path, what random inspring thing might we read, what nice looking rock or bit of glass (Sophie) might we see on the ground will God use to continue his transformative work in our lives? All praise and glory to him for his mighty works! And for another great summer in Haiti.