Just a glimpse (Photo Blog)

On my recent trip to Haiti my team talked about how God is in the business of redemption—He redeems hard situations in our lives in ways we could never have imagined in the midst. Sometimes He heals pain and confusion by using it to teach or shape us. Sometimes He uses others to help take that pain away. And sometimes He just graciously allows us to forget.

Since my first visit to Haiti over a year ago I've been wondering how God will redeem the hurt this country has endured. A hurt so deep that it seems to penetrate every area of life—physically, spiritually and relationally. I walked away from this visit without a clear answer as to how everything will be redeemed, but a strong assurance that God is in the process of redeeming. I see glimpses of it everywhere—through the local heroes He's elevated to love others well; through a generation being raised up to live for Him and love others; through families who are trying so desperately to care for their children; through people who have a heart for the world. I'm encouraged by the work God is doing, but even more so I'm encouraged by the work I know He is yet to do.

Here are some of the glimpses I was blessed to see in Haiti last week with our Help-Portrait team.

The Church (Photo Blog)

One week ago ago I was sitting on a wooden bench under an open-air tent in Zimbabwe. Hundreds of students sat around me, eyes locked on a pastor passionately sharing about what it means to live for God and love others.

In the stillness that followed, light shining in from all sides, I was reminded that this is the Church. No building, no walls, no slideshows, no instruments required—just people sharing the love and truth of Christ with one another.

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We spoke the Lord’s Prayer and its power swept over me. 

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

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We lived life together and reveled in the joy that only comes from the Lord.

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My team stood in awe of the hospitality and love so freely given.

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Before this trip I prayed for healing—for those we would come into contact with, for the team and for myself. The Lord answered my prayer in a way I couldn't have expected. The people we met are the definition of sweetly broken, poured out for their Creator. Through overwhelming joy He has made them whole again—He has made us all whole again. I was and am humbled to be part of the Church with them.

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"I will greatly rejoice in the Lordmy soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations." -Isaiah 61:10-11

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A miraculous dance

When I come back from VisionTrust trips overseas, I frequently have to stop myself from taking random pictures of cute kids at the ice cream shop or the airport. There's just something in their faces—a sweet sense of joy that transcends their surroundings—that I can't help but want to capture.

None exemplify this more than Kate.*

I met her a year ago while leading a team to an HIV/AIDS Transitional Home VisionTrust partners with in the Dominican Republic. At four years old, her Spanish was unusually limited and she had never walked before. But still, she would constantly motion for more and more pictures to be taken as she posed in her purple casts. I was inspired by this four year old's resiliency after surgery on both of her legs didn't change her joyous demeanor. And  when I asked about her story I was humbled by the struggles she'd been through that I could never comprehend.

This year I travelled with a team back to the home and did a double take when little Kate came running into the room. She was just as bubbly as ever, now able to keep up with the other kids chasing balls, giving the team new hairdos and dancing. There are a few Dominican models that are coming to serve at the home soon, so Kate even practiced her cat walk for us (I wish I had caught it on video for you). The doctors are hopeful that if physical therapy keeps going well, she won't have to have surgery again.

I can't fully express the joy on her face and in my heart while watching this little miracle.

But, I also know that if this sweet girl still couldn't walk this year, her smile and excited demeanor would have been the same.

While having a Bible study with the older kids at the home, the team asked, "What are ways Jesus shows you He loves you?" A 9-year-old boy raised his hand and confidently said, "Through trials." These kids, almost all HIV+ who have lost their parents or been abandoned, know what it means to go through trials. When I see Kate I see the "pure joy" talked about in James 1-

"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." 

I see these kids live out these verses so clearly, and the depth of understanding they receive about the love of God in return.

I pray, as the Lord takes you and me through trials—both big and small—that He would give us eyes to see His love in the same way as these kids. I pray that our hearts would be softened to all He is doing when we can't possibly understand. And I pray that His constant faithfulness and miraculous healing would bring peace that keeps us dancing through it all.

*Her name has been changed for privacy and security reasons.

Listening for the lonely

Someone recently asked me what the hardest part of my job is.

Without hesitation, I responded that it's having such a passion for something others don't understand or worse yet, don't care to understand.

I've realized it's one of the hardest parts of life in general.

We all have these things we love and care deeply aboutjobs, hobbies, people, animals, food.  When others fail to share our common interest, that's where we find a deep loneliness.

A loneliness in the feeling that although you have a voice, it's not being heard.

But, instead of stopping to listen, we get so caught up in making ourselves known that we just end up shouting over each other.  Desperately trying to be heard by people without the ability to hear.  And this lack of listening, of hearing, of being able to communicate and celebrate what each other are doing, creates in us a feeling that people don't believe in what we're doingand deeper still don't believe in us.

What a terrible lie this mess has madethat the goodness of your life is based on how many people listen.  Your life is worth so much more.

I wish I could stop writing here.  But, there's another side to this truthone that's a bit harder for me to swallow.

How often am I that person?  The one shouting instead of listening, unfeeling and uncaring about things that tug so deeply at others' hearts.  How often does my listening turn into simply networking?  It's a selfishness that becomes so clear to me as it cracks the walls of the Kingdom.

And I don't have an answer to fix this because there is no easy fix.  I've realized, all I can do is go through life one by one not only speaking truth, but listening to the truth in others' hearts as well.

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My Dominican twin

Sometimes when I go on trips, I like to keep some of the special stuff a secret; the moments that were so monumental to me that if others don't understand or if I can't communicate it correctly I might be disappointed.  But, sometimes these moments are too good, too hard, too simple and too beautiful all at the same time that no matter what someone else takes away from them, they need to be shared.

This moment was one of them.

The third day I was in the Dominican I met my "twin".

Her name is Jenny, she's 23-years-old and born in July, just one month after me.

We sat down to talk about some of the other children so I could share their stories with

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donors, but the conversation somehow turned to her own.

She was born in Haiti, taken over to the Dominican and placed in foster care.  A woman came and raised Jenny as her own when she was still young enough to forget about the foster home.  At first she treated her well because she was her only girl.  But, when two more sons came along, Jenny started asking questions about why she was darker than the others.  Her "mother" told her to stop asking, but as time went on grew frustrated with Jenny and began to abuse her.

[[I don't speak Spanish, but as I waited for everything to be translated I sat on the edge of my seat staring at Jenny, recognizing the emotions in her face and tone as she let me into her life.  Even though at this point I didn't verbally understand why she was crying, it didn't come as a surprise to see the tears.]]

One day as she was sitting on her porch a woman walked by and then slowly turned around to meet her gaze.  "You need to leave this house," she said.  Confused, Jenny asked her what she meant.  The woman responded, "I am a Christian woman and God is telling me that you cannot accomplish what you need to accomplish in this house."  The woman invited her to church and with permission, Jenny attended.  Over time she and this woman (a psychologist) became friends.

Concerned for Jenny and what she was seeing, the woman sat down with Jenny's mother.  But her mother, feeling threatened, forbid Jenny to ever see this woman again, securing this command by locking her in her aunt's house.  For months the only time Jenny's door was opened was for food.  One day it was accidentally left unlocked, so she snuck out and made it the psychologist's home.  Finding her missing, Jenny's mother called the cops and said the woman kidnapped her.  When Jenny straightened out the situation she was taken into protective custody to be placed in our partner orphanage a year later when she was 14.

There's no need for me to explain why her story impacted me so much.

...why the fact that without a birth certificate she can't attend college to become what she wants (a psychologist) makes me feel helpless and frustrated.

...why when I asked her if it was weird to feel like a mother to so many kids at the home and she said, "No, I'm used to it," made me feel so selfish.

...why when I asked her how she felt about God throughout all of this and she responded, 

"I know God has never forsaken me.  I know He has been with me since I was born.  If He wasn't with me I wouldn't be here today,"

it humbled me beyond words.

Jenny told me her story and is allowing it to be re-told because she believes the children she loves might be helped by those who hear it, and I pray they are.

Working the Field (A Village Morning)

Suza woke us up at 5am.  I use the term woke very lightly as the night didn't provide much sleep. Only a thin thatch mat separated us from the hard concrete floor of the hut.

I climbed out of my sleeping bag and followed the two boys into the soft morning light of the village. There was no complaining, no pouty faces, just a common and calculated barefoot walk to the dirt field beyond the hut.

This morning, like every one leading up to the rainy season, was to be filled with "growing God's way." It's the typical type of gardening in the village. They (grandma, Suza and the two boys) hit the ground with hoes, creating rows of holes and hills of dirt. Moses, the youngest (who was allowed to sleep in this morning), would normally go around and put a seed and manure in the hole.  Then all that's left is to wait and pray for rain.

My boss and I felt of little use, so we jumped at the chance to help. Pointing to the next place on an invisible grid, Suza directed us where to make the hole. They made it look so easy, but trust me, it wasn't.  For each hole they took about three strokes and I took about ten. This was not soft soil, oh no, and after two holes I could feel every muscle in my body aching clearly.

Our family laughed with us at our weak attempts, patiently directing us on how to stand and where to hit the soil.  I'm afraid we were more of a distraction than a help, so we focused on our filming while they completed their work.

I couldn't help but stare at the boys bare feet, covered in dirt. I suppose it was easier that way, easier than getting mounds of dirt stuck in shoes from the backlash of the hoe. But, I marveled at how close the sharp end of the tool would come to those little toes.

I really can't describe why, but being out there with our village family was such a spiritual experience.  Their life, so different from the one I have led, is still sweet and full of love. And for one brief day I got to share in that love; share in the work God is doing in their lives;  share in the Kingdom of God.  And it was beautiful to join in as they sowed seeds and prayed for life.

Matthew 13:8, "Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

The Village

Our second night in the Zimbabwe, we (my team of 5) split up and spent the night in Ngundu village.

Ngundu looks exactly like you might picture. We were there in the dry season, the anticipated rains just a few weeks away, so the brown dirt stretched in every direction. Huts, mud walls with thatch roofs, dotted the landscape in clusters of two or three. One for the family, another for storage or the "kitchen" and maybe another for Grandma. The trees were tall and full, similar to those found in The Lion King (it's a classic for a reason people).

Our huts for the night belonged to Suza, her son, her two nephews, her mother and her brother.  Her sister and brother-in-law had both died, as had her husband. Death is all too common here.  

She welcomed us with a friendly smile and gestured for us to sit on the mat and water jugs she had placed in the open space between the huts. They had 3 huts and a tiny tiny shed (I hesitate to even call it that) which I learned the next morning housed more goats than seemed possible (picture a clown car full of goats).

As we sat, my boss Matt and I couldn't help but turn our heads up to the heavens and soak in the stars. I'll admit, in Colorado when one ventures into the great outdoors they get a pretty good glimpse of the stars, undisturbed by city bustle. But, these stars! Over and over again I just kept repeating how beautiful they were.  

The Shack describes these stars well, "Of all the places he sensed the presence of God, out here surrounded by nature and under the stars was one of the most tangible. He could almost hear the song of worship they sang to their Creator, and in his reluctant heart he joined in as best he could."

Matt Reed was able to snag this photo of the night sky. How cool is this??

Of course Suza and the kids just kept laughing. This was their backyard. Can you imagine? Every night they cook and clean under this mural. How funny were we to be taken aback by the normal? 

When we were alone she offered to cook sadza for me. I tried to politely decline, but if you've ever been to Africa you know you really can't decline their sweet generosity. She and her mother laughed because I'd never eaten sadza; laughter came so easily in their household. The entire time I watched Suza cook, her mother stood quietly outside her hut repeating "sadza" and laughing to herself. 

Methodically Suza fanned the fire and placed a worn black pot full of water from a nearby jug on top of the flame, shedding a quick stream of light on her face. Sadza is cooked cornmeal that's white and looks a bit like mashed potatoes, but has the consistency and taste of bland play dough. She served it to Matt and I along with the most salty, stringy, unidentified vegetable I've ever had. 

After eating as much as we could, we handed our plates to the three boys, who jumped at the chance to eat some more. But, after only a few bites they surrendered their plates to Suza to save for their breakfast the next morning.

The four sang, raw and beautiful, their prayers before bed. Then all six of us sleepily drifted to one hut to snag as much sleep as possible on the concrete floor before the sun called us to the next day's chores.

Hmm, there's so much to cover...I'll save the next day's events for another blog post :)  

Our sweet village family.

Our sweet village family.

The hut everyone slept in!

The hut everyone slept in!

"Livin' the dream" in the DR

It's easy to pinpoint the good when major parts of a trip were terrible or even just ho-hum. But, with my recent trip to the DR, it's so hard to pick just one "best part."

(If you don't know, here's the skinny...I work for VisionTrust International and sometimes have the privilege of going to see the sweet kids we work with in-person. This time I helped take a group of CRU students from all over the country to the Dominican Republic.)

If I have to pick I would say "the best" was getting to see the Kingdom of God show up every day. See how I did that? Picked a general best, so I could tell you all the best moments that took place within that umbrella. Tricky huh? Well, here it goes...

This picture was the first "Kingdom moment" that God brought to my attention. I took it on the first day we spent at the Transitional Home when I had the chance to sit down and just look out at this awesome team of people loving on kids in the heat of the day. I can't really describe it, but it was a moment of pure joy, a little glimpse of what's to come. The picture might not seem special, but the moment was beyond words. 

On our last day at the orphanage we got to spend time with some of the older girls. We played Soularium with them and heard their thoughts on life and God (I can't wait to write a whole blog on their wisdom). After Soularium the team and the DR girls discovered their shared love of Hillsong and broke out into praise worship in English and Spanish. Another sweet glimpse into the Kingdom.  

Our last full day in the DR was spent with some sweet girls from another one of VisionTrust's orphanages. These girls have had hard pasts, so we weren't sure what our pool day with them would look like. It was awesome. They were so excited to spend the day in the water, hanging onto our backs, teaching us Spanish, jumping off walls...it turns out you don't have to know a lot of Spanish to understand they want to be dunked after "uno, dos, tres!" 

These girls are an amazing testament of what God and the love of some good people can do to restore joy and trust.

They're a beautiful picture of the Kingdom.

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I think this picture describes my CRU team perfectly. In case you were wondering, this is them "riding a roller coaster." They were so fun! Whether it was creating a video based off of Call Me Maybe, playing signs, getting stoked about Latte Losers or talking about the Lord, there was never a dull moment. They were from all over the country, but bonded with each other so quickly. I was blessed to be a part of their team and to see the Kingdom of God at work through them.

Yolo!