This written by Josh and Paige Konoza, of Pittsburg, PA. They were married in August and decided to go serve with MH4H in Haiti for their belated Honeymoon. This is both of there first time traveling to Haiti.
We started the day a little bit earlier than usual so that we could meet Jean Robert and make sure we had enough time to visit all of the families he planned to see before lunch time, as he spends his afternoon working in the Five Loaves office here in Pignon to make sure he makes himself available to local visitors and those seeking assistance. Just to give you an idea of what Five Loaves does, they work with families in the neighboring areas of Pignon by partnering with American sponsors to provide health insurance for those who cannot afford to fully cover themselves. For $200 a year, an American sponsor ensures that a Haitian individual will have adequate coverage, while the Haitian that benefits also puts in a percentage of their income to make sure they have a vested interest in the program as well as their own health. Their is a cap of $1000 a year per family, regardless of the number of family members after exceeding 5 people. From my understanding, the hospital in Pignon does NOT deny medical care or turn anyone away, but picks up the cost of treatment which cannot be covered by the patient. As such, the Five Loaves Health Development Accounts help provide coverage and offset the financial burden generally paid for by the hospital. I would encourage you to visit http://www.promiseforhaiti.
We picked up Jean Robert at his home in one of the neighboring areas and headed off to see the first family. I knew we were going to see families in the countryside that depended upon Jean Robert and Five Loaves, and that we would be taking them a small bag of rice maybe weighing 1-2 lbs. While all of the families we visited are in need, their were two in particular that truly broke my heart. The first home we went to visit was deep into the countryside on a path best traveled by ATV. Jean Robert had actually spotted the man who we meant to visit as we passed him on the road. He jumped into the bed of the truck and we drove in as far as we could before getting out and making the rest of the way on foot. We passed other houses and many children, but the further we went the fewer people we saw. We arrived at the man’s house and Jean Robert began speaking to the wife inside to let her know he had arrived and that he had brought a few friends along to visit them. While it is hard for me to guess at ages, and even more difficult given the fact that life in Haiti is hard work and seems to age its people, I know that they are quite elderly and could be grandparents multiple times over. We shook the husband’s hand and introduced ourselves, and immediately upon seeing his wife, I greeted her with a hug. She seems so small and fragile in her long dress and a handkerchief to cover her head. Her feet are bare and dusty. She has a voice so small and quiet, I could only compare it to a mouse. Her eyes are small and moist, and they are surrounded by innumerable wrinkles. She has no teeth that I can see, which breaks my heart further as I know it severely limits what she is able to eat. When Jean-Robert hands them the rice, they both have tears in their eyes, but suddenly the man wants to show us something. Jean Robert explained that on a previous visit, he had brought along a new pair of sneakers for the man as his current pair were worn and could fall apart any day. He is so proud to show that he has kept the shoes, as he could have easily sold them for a small but much needed amount, and that he has kept them clean in the bag that he received them in. Jean Robert encouraged him to go ahead and wear them in place of the old ones he continues to use.A poor Haitian home in the country side.
The man’s wife invited us in to see the inside of their home. I knew already to brace myself, as their house is made of sticks and a bit of scrap metal and could easily be blown over (as we are told, this actually happened to one of the other families). Inside were two rooms, which combined are smaller than the size of most American bedrooms. In the front room, she burns an open fire and uses the flames and embers to prepare what little food they have with one of the small pans they use for cooking. A couple of pans and a few glowing embers, thats all there is. In the back room is where they sleep, sharing a small twin sized bed and a few garments of clothing are folded in a pile. The sight of their bed gives me a small sense of hope as it means they are not forced to sleep on the ground. However, their house is full of rocks and stones, as well as surrounded by them. As we exited to have a look around the house, my heart experienced another leap of hope as Fransly pointed out a few sweet potato shoots and congo beans. I know this means that when the time is right, they will have a few potatoes and beans to add to their dinner, but it is far from enough to sustain them for more than a single meal. As we are getting ready to leave, all I want to do is hold the old woman in my arms. Rarely do I meet a person I can envelop in my arms given my own small frame, but here is the chance. As I give her this hug, I wish all the love and compassion I feel for them can be understood in this gesture, as I am far from incapable of whispering encouragement without the help of Jean Robert to translate. I had packed a few small toys and gifts in our backpack in the likely event that we came across children, as Jean Robert and Zeke felt that it would be good to share them with the children we encountered in the countryside. In this moment as we are preparing to leave, I wish I had something, anything to leave with them to better express all the stirring in my heart. The night before, Josh had helped me use scrap paper to create small booklets for the children to color in to present to them as gifts. On the front of these booklet, I wrote out the kreyòl of Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I have only small toys and crayons, but I know that God knew we would visit them this day, and that He’d put it in my heart to have this verse available in kreyòl to the people we would meet. I hand her the small booklet and ask Jean Robert to translate for me. I apologize for not being able to give them anything more, but that I hope this will bring them some measure of comfort. I tell her that this verse from the Bible is one of God’s promises to His people, and that it has always helped our hearts when Josh and I have faced difficult times. As we are getting ready to leave, Jean Robert encourages them to attend church on the coming Sunday, only to be told by the woman that she has no shoes to go to church. I know he will do his best to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.An older Haitian Woman.
I can’t pinpoint what it is that makes this woman and her husband move my heart so deeply, more than any of the children we have seen. Typically I think of all the children in the world who are motherless, fatherless, malnourished, without hope, living in squalor and that desperately need help. But it’s this couple that brings tears to my eyes. This old man and his wife, living far from any family they might have once had. A wife without shoes, whom I can’t imagine sees many people aside from the husband she shares a home with. How far she must have to walk, barefoot no less, to see anyone that would spend time with her, sharing in community with her, and taking the time to express a measure of caring or friendship. When was the last time someone gave her a hug and told her that her life matters? That being old does not make her obsolete and being poor does not make her less. I’m so thankful to know that Jean Robert and Five Loaves cares for them. That he comes to see them as often as he can manage in his busy schedule. That now there is another person that cares deeply for them as I carry them home in my heart. As I laid in my bed that night, I couldn’t stop the tears from running. All I could think about is the dark that they sleep in as they share a small bed and muster the courage to face the next day. Luckily, I have a husband that knows me well enough to know when I cry. Even when I turn the other way. And even when I think I’m doing so quietly. He held my hand and began to pray that the Lord would watch over the people we had met, to send support for Five Loaves and their endeavor to make a real and lasting impact, and strength for Jean Robert to continue visiting these families each week to bring them food, listen to their needs, and provide companionship. I’m so thankful that God made a husband for me that would immediately turn to prayer while my heart breaks for our most vulnerable. It made me thankful that the Lord gave the elderly man and wife each other, that they would have companionship in their trials, and have someone to encourage them as they face uncertainty each day. I know Jean Robert hopes to find a way to fund a house for them. Nothing fancy, but something solid and strong. A place they can sleep at night without fear of a storm or strong winds. I know that as believers, God is our “refuge and strong tower”, and I pray that he would move in their hearts and be a source of comfort as well as joy in all their trials. How terrible to feel that we suffer needlessly, rather than to know there is a God that loves us immensely as His children, that trials are just that, an opportunity to grow and show that we are becoming more and more like Christ. A father who sees every misdeed our enemies enact against us and who can provide for our every need.
In closing, I will try to write quickly about the other old man that moved my heart. He also lives with his wife in a small hut, but their home shows even more dire signs of a need for assistance. Inside the sticks they call a house, there is only one room. And in this room is a broken bed frame. No mattress, no blanket, no pillow, just 4 useless pieces of lumber that lie in disarray. At this point, the children knew we were there and had come hoping we would have gifts for them. For better or for worse, I could not find it in my heart to do so. As I listened to Jean Robert speak with this man, and translate the conversation for us, I hear the children start to laugh and snicker. This old man wears a tattered shirt and pair of pants as well as a pair of serious rain boots, almost work boots of some kind, and I know this laughter comes at his expense. Zeke had asked him where he and his wife had been going when they need a bathroom. In reply, he pointed to the field just a few feet away. The children found this amusing. It’s at this point I’m glad I don’t speak kreyòl as I know I would have gone off on them and certainly not reacted in a way worthy of Christ. Luckily Jean Robert is well-tempered and simply tells them they should not laugh at the man, and that such behavior is not acceptable.
And what about the man? How did he reply? He did nothing. No word. No look. He continued to speak as if the children were not present, and in that moment whether he is a believer or not, he showed me what it really meant to turn your cheek. These children, whom I admit knew no better, children that I deeply hope come to know Christ and what it means to be a good neighbor, these children laughed in this man’s face as he simply and honestly answered a question. He has no toilet. He has no outhouse. When it’s time to go, there’s the field. Honestly, how many of us haven’t done the same at some point in our lives? But again, despite all this, he did not lash out or speak a harsh word at them. I’m so thankful that we met him, and that God used him to show me what it really means to die to ourselves each day rather than to stand up and try to fight for our own pride when He can fight our battles for us so much more effectively and with a full picture of His plan in mind.
In closing, I pray that each of us might consider “our neighbor”. To consider those we might otherwise pass by, not out of malice, but perhaps busyness or ignorance. Is their an elderly neighbor living alone who might enjoy a cup of coffee or tea? Perhaps a single parent who is working hard to raise children and could use a lunch break together? Maybe a person who’s recently lost his/her job and is feeling particularly low. We have SO MANY neighbors, that surely there is one that we can make the effort and plan intention in our day to spend a moment with them. In America, our time is found to be valuable, surely we all know the expression “time is money”. What better way to show Christ’s love, than to give up what the world tells us is valuable, so that we might put another before ourselves.
Below is an email from Tim Brand to Paige and Josh, upon receiving the Day 11 blog. Please read below.
Paige and Josh,
This is powerful and thank you for writing.
One of the joys of being in Haiti for two weeks (versus one) is you can start to understand some of the social issues at the heart of Haiti’s problems. As stated, many in the US think the powerless are the orphans or the widow… which they are. But, they leave out a huge group – the elderly. One of the cruel facts of Haiti is that they are brutal on the marginalized. The elderly are looked down upon, an outcast of society. I’ve had the pleasure (and I consider it a pleasure) of visiting some of the most depressing and heart-wrenching places in Haiti – much like you described. It burns within me to be a voice for these people. The core of leadership, the reason it is needed, is to speak out for those that can not, to make life better for those that can not for themselves (even when they don’t think they need it), and to look in the mirror and do something about it. I doubt Zeke has told you this, but one of his dreams is to open an elderly facility. Everyone opens a facility for kids – and rightfully so. They are the future. But, as he says, “Everyone forgets about the elderly. The elderly just sit around and wait to die.” And that is hear-wrenching.
A wise friend once told me, “Pain and Joy go hand-in-hand. For pain carves into our inner being, our soul. And because of that pain, we are able to retain more joy.” It is my belief, this is why Haitians can be such joyful people, even in times of great and all encompassing pain. If one has experienced and understands pain, they rejoice in the little things so much easier. To me, that is part of the problem in the US. We want to experience no pain, thus we have little joy. We are numb, stuck in luke-warm, and people look to sex, drugs, eating, and self-multinational just to feel something. ANYTHING. We have no pain, but we have little joy as well.
I leave you with this thought – if you experience something that strikes a cord, that makes you uneasy, that really creates a holy discontent in you – lean into it. It is counter-intuitive, but is it most likely God trying to speak to you. For His heart breaks infinitely more than your heart on this matter and He is looking for people like you that will be His hands and feet on Earth to right that wrong. And He has one of those problems with your name on it. He is just looking for the right heart that will do something about it.
Again, thank you for serving. Blessings on your time as you wrap up.