The 2019-2020 school year and program year for PMJ have begun. This is always a busy time but also an exciting and fun time as we welcome back students, teachers and helpers, parents and babies to our campuses. While our organization has been working and serving in Haiti for eleven years, we have only been operating our Sylvain campus for four years and our Maliarette campus for eight months. We have a great school and great programs but we continue to refine and adjust and improve each and every year, each and every month and week, and in some ways, each and every day. This happens because we are learning new things each day. We learn more about our systems. What works. What doesn’t work. What needs to be changed, fixed, stopped, etc. We also learn more each day about the beautiful children and people that we work with. We learn about their culture, their customs, their hopes and dreams, and about how they think. It’s dangerous for us (but I’m afraid we do it too often anyway) to think that we know what’s best for Haitians. Too often we think that we know the best system(s) or the best approach to how things should go. It takes humility, and patience, on our part to recognize this and to consider other possible ways to accomplish what needs to be done. I believe that we do a pretty good job of this but it is tricky and it is challenging because while we want to make sure that we are sensitive to cultural/societal norms for the people we work with, we also need to be sensible to expected expectations that we encounter each day. We do this so that we can still work to achieve our goals and objectives of the mission and vision of Many Hands for Haiti. So while we desire to learn each day we also find ourselves on the other end of the spectrum as we play the roles of educator/instructor/mentor. Beyond the obvious learning we want to take place in our school we also have opportunities each day to teach our Haitian staff members and the dozens of Haitian parents & families that we work with. We get to teach them about a variety of practical things that are useful for daily living and also about biblical truths that we know will have eternal implications. So we live, and learn, and grow together each and every day. We pray daily for eyes to see and ears to hear what we need as well as for the words and actions to share and reflect the love of Christ.
This month’s prayer requests and praise reports:
- For the new school year and program year that have recently begun. That those involved would learn and grow in their faith and knowledge of who God is and how much he loves them.
- For our organization, Many Hands for Haiti, as we continue to navigate through a challenging year, especially financially. We praise God for his provisions and protections in all of it.
- For our upcoming furlough as we travel to Michigan, California, and Iowa. We have several events to attend and presentations to make. It should be great!
- For continued health and protection as we live in Haiti.
- We are thankful to God for good results from medical tests for our daughter Morgan and for the engagement of our son Jake and his (now) fiancé Danielle.
WHAT THE FOODIE IS UP TO…
I was back in the United States for much of this last month. Darryl and Jake planned my trip back so I could be a part of the engagement celebration of Jake and Danielle. Along with this celebration I had some very sweet time with some of my favorite people. I returned to Haiti filled up even if not rested up! Which is a great trade off. I recently wrote a blog for MH4H website about the prayer path expansion and labyrinth which are a new to our campus. I am going to share that MH4H blog here with you, consider it recycling blog style, saving you from a travelogue of my living out of a backpack for 12 days.
When we were first introduced to the idea of moving to Haiti, one of the phrases that was used to describe what I my role would be was to “ set up sacred space” on our campus. Although the prayer path and benches were already in place, a prayer guide was desired. Once the creation of the prayer guide was completed, I started considering other ways to set up sacred space. Then my mind ran down this path: is there really such a thing as non-sacred space? Or is there just unrealized or unrecognized sacred space everywhere? Derek, our son and his wife Damaris, went to Kuyper College, where this phrase is prominent: and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ is proclaimed! To paraphrase, isn’t all life sacred, revealing the fingerprint of God the Creator?! So maybe my role isn’t really to create something sacred, but to improve the recognition of God in places, people, and things wherever we are. The use of paths, attention to familiar words with added nuances, and intentional slowing down are just a few ways to bring about this recognition. So although, it might just be semantics, it seems important to me, as I am here, to learn to recognize God’s sacredness everywhere.
Our current prayer path is in expansion mode, and we will be adding benches. We have some ideas to add some landscaping aesthetics too, allowing for beauty to proclaim God’s goodness and presence (sacredness). More benches to me, means more ideas are brewing for ways to improve recognition of the sacred all around us. What I am beginning to see is that this path is such a great opportunity for embodied practices – movement and position-based prayers more than cognitive- based prayers. Many of us have had much more practice with the latter, and the gift of the former can be disarming, freeing, and uncomfortable. Positioned-based prayers reflect and use the surroundings of where you are praying as the basis or framework for the prayer. Another new addition to our campus is a labyrinth made of lemongrass. A labyrinth is an example of a positioned-based prayer.
A labyrinth is a different style of walking path. It is a circular route and can be considered a symbolic journey (see picture above). The steps inward are intended to be a leaving behind – of attitudes, frustrations, losses, and struggles. Reaching the center of the maze after what seems to be illogical circling back symbolizes our walk with God and how we move toward Him, but we make choices that pull us back. Or life happens in ways that create what feels like dead ends or u-turns. But getting to the heart of God without the most direct logical path is often how we grow in faith and humility. Then journeying back out from the center reflects moving through life with the gifts of knowing both God and our self in a more true and life-giving way.
Here on the rocks, through the mud, and through our community we are encouraging one another to stay true to God and how he created each of us as we walk through life in Haiti. Let your steps in this day bring you into a fuller awareness of God, wherever they take you!
Food-wise, last month I learned much from Sarah, our summer intern. She has many allergies and doesn’t eat meat, ( quite easy to do here in Haiti). Her use of ginger, garlic, yeast, and peanut butter opened up new options! Thank you Sarah and cheers to your career launch. While in the USA, I did get to cook with Damaris, sample wedding caterers with Jake, Danielle, and Shelley, and enjoy many home cooked, and new restaurant flavors. I felt like I was on an all-inclusive vacation –great food with minimal effort. New food experiences include avocado fries and roasted cashews. The fries weren’t too bad, but we will need to work on them a bit. Based on the sheer abundance of these beautiful green nutrition packed stone fruit, we will keep working on the recipe! We have cashew trees on campus, but bought the raw cashews at the market. Because they are labor intensive to get from tree to shelled, they were probably the most expensive thing we have bought here in the market. But so worth it!!! The roasting process starts using solar power to dry them out a bit, then vigilant checking every 10 minutes while in oven. Our friend Craig has experimented with many seasoning flavors, we haven’t had one we don’t like yet.
My key focus area in this past month has been education and specifically getting everything ready for the start of the new school year. This involves a lot of practical things such as making sure the classrooms are cleaned and ready. That we have the correct number of tables and chairs in each class. That the teachers and helpers have the textbooks and supplies they need. I also helped to lead four days of pre-service meetings with the instructional staff where we covered a lot of basic details about how the school operates but also some big picture things such as our education philosophy (that all children can learn) and about the overall mission and vision of Many Hands for Haiti and how our School of Light fits into them. I am really pleased with the quality of the school staff. We hired two new teachers and one new helper for this year. They are talented and truly desire that their students learn…all of them. Let me share a quick story:
Last week as I shared our educational philosophy mantra that “all students can learn.” I was sure to communicate the reality that not all students can learn all of the same things or at the same pace, only that we must believe that all can learn something. I gave an example of a boy named Olivier who is in first grade this year. Olivier has been in our school for three years. In the United States he would be classified as a Special Needs Student and a plethora of academic support options would be made available to him. Unfortunately we just don’t have these kinds of resources in Haiti. Olivier did not even graduate from preschool and according to his PS3 report card, he failed in every content area. For three years Olivier has pretty much just sat in his chair. He did not actively participate nor did the teachers call on him as he never verbally responded to inquiry. But Olivier is a sweet boy who was never a behavioral problem nor a distraction to the learning of the other students. For these reasons we decided that he could remain in the class as we believe that it is good for him (and his classmates) for social reasons AND because we truly believe that every child, including Olivier can learn. Well, on the very first day of school as I was making my rounds checking in with each teacher and helper to make sure things were going well, I stopped in the First Grade classroom. Mdm. Nicole is the teacher and I asked her how her first day was going. I mentioned to her that she now has a better idea about Olivier, the student we talked about the previous week. Her response was beautiful. She said to me; “Yes, but he can learn something.” She told me that as she was reviewing the numbers with her students (they learned number up to 30 in PS3 and will learn them up to 100 in First Grade) she asked individual students to go up to the wall (where we have the numbers painted) and point to the number she said. Rather than ignore Olivier she asked him to go up to the wall and point to the number six. Much to her delight and the delight of his classmates, Olivier correctly pointed to the number six. The teacher then asked him to point to the number ten. Again, Olivier pointed to the correct number. The teacher was so excited about this as was I. It was a watershed moment for me and a tangible reminder that we can never assume too much nor give up on any child. Bless God for this amazing example of his love and grace for a little boy in Haiti who CAN learn something.
UNTIL NEXT MONTH… (it will likely be a limited update since we will be on furlough for the next four weeks). 🙂