"Haiti is like this..." {Photo Blog}

We were driving down a busy street in Port-au-Prince when our country director slammed on the brakes. He eased his way over a sharp speed bump and apologized saying, “Driving in Haiti is like this. There are obstacles you don’t see until they’re right in front of you. They’re not labeled.”

In just a few short sentences he had summed up working in Haiti. There are moments when everything is clear, it feels like you’re moving forward and communities are thriving. But then something unexpected happens — a natural disaster, an unexpected illness, deep-seeded lies being sewn. In the two short days I spent in Haiti this week I met a woman who had recently lost two children, one to cholera and one to something the doctors couldn’t explain. I heard about people refusing to send their children to a VisionTrust school because it was against Voodoo. I saw people living their daily lives in a level of poverty that is still difficult to comprehend, even after working in majority world countries for five years.

But, for me, each of those stories was countered by the amazing locals I met that have dedicated their lives to creating long-term change. They know that unexpected obstacles will come, but they are fiery and steadfast in their determination to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. I was humbled by every conversation I had with them.

In the midst of hard there is always good. So, they will keep doing this work and I will continue to pray for them as they serve these precious children. Join me?  

4 Women, 1 Lesson

I don't know if you know this about me, but I am a feminist...and I'm willing to bet you are too. Do you believe in equal rights for men and women? Welcome to the feminist movement! When people take the definition of feminism and skew it with a bunch of negative connotations, it makes me...um...frustrated, to say the least. One of the reasons it really gets my goat is because of the women I’ve had the opportunity to meet on my travels with VisionTrust over the last four years. These women are some of the most independent, powerful, God-fearing women I've ever met and too often they're oppressed by a culture that does not respect all they have to offer. So, this International Women's Day I wanted to reflect on some of the amazing women and girls I've been privileged to meet.

Suza, who cares for her son along with her orphaned nephews, handicapped brother, and elderly mother. She wakes up at the crack of dawn to do backbreaking work in the fields (along with grandma and the boys) with this outrageously beautiful smile on her face.

Lucy, whose passion for teaching children about the Lord is overwhelming. She's pictured below teaching students at a leadership camp about health and safety.

Kate, the most radiantly joyful girl, whose ability to walk is a miracle.

Jenny, my Dominican “twin”, who is full of love despite the lack of love she was shown.

The reason these four women/girls stand out to me is because they’ve all taught me the same lesson—hope is incredibly powerful. But, hope must be paired with hard work and love in order to create change.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is, “Make it happen—encouraging effective action for advancing and recognizing women.” 

What I love about these four women above is they’re making things happen. They don’t let their circumstances define them and they don’t sit around waiting for someone to help them. They unabashedly follow the Lord wherever He leads, strive to see the good in every situation, and are generous beyond reason.

I hope to be more like these women. And in the meantime I’ll do all I can to advocate for them as they advocate for themselves.

Happy International Women’s Day! 

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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.

Blue bunt cake

My fondest birthday memory is of a blue bunt cake. Teddy grahams, iced out with bathing suits, laid in the blue on Life Savor inner tubes (only the bravest of the grahams hung near the gum stick diving board). My mom made me this cake on June 12th when I turned four. Twenty-one years later, with a quarter of a century under my belt, that cake reminds me of a childhood filled with love and stability and naiveté.

For the past twelve years I’ve shared my birthday with the World Day Against Child Labour. My childhood experience makes it difficult, if not impossible, for me to truly understand the reality of these children’s lives.

I’ve been to the rock quarry in Liberia. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard stories of children dying there. But as I stare at this picture—one that I saw taken—the day to day of this boy’s life still has trouble sinking in. Everything about it is so foreign to me—a world away from teddy grahams and blue icing.

Photo taken by Matt Reed.

This lack of understanding carries with it a heaviness that makes me feel helpless. In 2008, over 215 million children between the ages of 5-17 were considered child laborers.* That means that, if child laborers made up their own country, they would be the 5th largest in the world.

Working at VisionTrust I’ve learned that just because something feels helpless doesn’t mean it is. The number of child laborers is declining, and we can help.

The highest number of child laborers are in the poorest 20% of households. 

By sponsoring a child for $40 a month, you’re easing burdens for these families in education, medical care and food. When they recognize the future their child could have through these programs, they will no longer see labor as their only option.

This year for my birthday, as I look back on my childhood, my hope is to give more children a childhood of their own. I hope that you’ll partner with me in changing one child’s life and eventually, the 215 million.

To learn more and sponsor a child head to: 

www.visiontrust.org/sponsor

* http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/briefingpapers/childlabour/vitalstats.shtml

*Photo in this post taken by Matt Reed.

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4 essentials to unpacking your trip overseas

Too often I see people come back from mission trips or overseas experiences with no idea how to process all they’ve seen and been through. After participating in and leading mission teams, I’ve found these four essentials to be extremely helpful when returning home.

1 – Avoid word-vomit.

Coming home completely unprepared to process your trip can lead to a lot of word-vomit. I’ve seen team members return and bombard everyone with an hour-long saga of all their feelings—leaving the guy on the way to the bathroom shivering in the corner, regretting his offhanded ask of how they’re doing.

Here’s the key: come back with three answers to the question, “How was your trip?”  

Answer number one should be one word.  

Yes, I want you to sum up your 1 week, 2 month, 3 year excursion in one word.  This will be the answer you give the majority of people who ask as they brush passed you in the hallway.  It’s not that they don’t care, but they might not understand enough about your experience to want to ask.

Answer number two should be one to three sentences—something that sums up your experience and gives people the opportunity to ask more questions if they want.  Depending on your friends and family, you might have 10 to 20 people who want the full sentence and less that ask for more.

Answer number three is the big one.  Find one to three people who want to listen to all the details and help you really dig in and process.  If you find more than three that’s incredible. But I’m telling you right now that’s not usually the case.  Often these are the people who are well-traveled themselves and know what it’s like to have your world shaken.

2- Don’t feel guilty.

I once heard a story about a guy, we’ll call him Greg, who served overseas.  On returning to the States he was overwhelmed with guilt at the possessions he owned.  He ended up giving away everything he had and living in a tent in the backyard.

While I in no way want to limit what the Lord is calling you to do, don’t give away everything out of guilt.  Greg now has no sustainable way of helping people in poverty and has lost his voice.  How many people are going to listen to a guy in a tent shouting at them to give up all they have?  Often what people in poverty need is for someone to use the power they’ve been given in the US to speak up for them.

I’ve never met someone overseas who says, “I want to move to America so I can live in a tent.”  No one is blaming you for having a roof over your head, clean water and more than one shirt.  Those in the majority world want some of the security you have, so how can you best help them? Giving up some of your possessions and cutting back on your spending is completely legitimate and probably necessary. Just remember, God placed you where you are for a reason, so thank Him and ask Him how you can best help those around you. 

3- Don’t make others feel guilty.

This has been the hardest section to write because it’s so easy to make others feel guilty—I constantly find myself slipping up in this area (whether intentionally or unintentionally).  Speaking up for the poor is a Biblical command—God couldn’t be more clear about that one. At the same time, it’s important to distinguish what’s speaking up for the poor, and what’s beating down those around you.

Remind yourself that guilt is rarely a vehicle for long-term change or support. While you could pressure someone into giving money, if they’re not giving with their whole heart, then their gift isn’t really a gift and all and their support will wean over time. 

Tell stories about the people you’ve met and the experiences you’ve had. Try to make your community realize the individuals you’ve gotten to know are people, not statistics. But, don’t condemn others because they haven’t been given the same opportunities to understand poverty as you have. 

4- It’s okay to not be okay.

After spending two months in the Philippines I came back to the States and felt overwhelmed by large groups.  I started crying in a sea of 300 at our college ministry and had to leave the church. Most of my memories of that semester are sitting by myself, snuggled up next to my radiator.

And I needed that. I needed time to process, to figure out all I had seen, and to learn to live in a world—that for me—had been greatly expanded. 

Each of my team members handled the return to the States in a different way. Some didn’t struggle at all, while some were wedged between me and the radiator. It didn’t mean that the trip meant more to some of us than others. And it definitely didn’t mean there was something wrong with me for processing differently. I had to learn to cut myself some slack and so do you. 

Reminding yourself that it’s okay to not be okay, can sometimes be the thing that frees you up to move forward.  

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That awkward conversation

When I meet new people, this is usually how the conversation goes:

Stranger: “What do you do?”

Me: “Communications for a nonprofit.”

Stranger: “Oh, what nonprofit?”

Me: “VisionTrust.  We do orphan outreach and work with at-risk kids around the world.”

Stranger: (awkward smile) “Oh…that’s cool.”

Me: “Ya, I really like it…”

And then the conversation dies.  Because they feel uncomfortable, afraid if we keep talking I’m going to ask them how much they’ve donated to nonprofits in the past three years or if they know that 10 children have died from preventable disease during our conversation.

The truth is, I work in the field I do because it’s what I’m passionate about, not because I feel guilty. And full disclosure, I want others to be passionate about it too, but not because they feel guilty either. I want them to be passionate because they can make an actual difference.

I think that’s part of why I love Latte Losers so much.

In college I spent two months in the Philippines working with kids in the slums and it changed my world. I want other college students (and just people in general) to see they can make a difference, even if they don’t have enough money to go on a trip…especially because they don’t have enough money to go on a trip.

In some of the countries where VisionTrust works, $5 can feed a child for a month. That $5 is actually feeding a living, breathing kid who needs food…it’s not feeding some statistic. And the best part is, it’s so easy. 

(Cue shameless plug.)

In fact, on April 25th, we’re all giving up our latte, hot chocolate, tea, etc. together. And I’d love for you to join us. But, not because you feel guilty.

Join us because $5 not only empowers a child, but because it empowers you too.

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American Mama

When I asked if it was okay to give the tiny gift I brought to my sponsored child while the other kids were still around, our Zimbabwe Country Director replied, "Oh it's okay, all the kids know you're her American Mama."

What?! 

This was the first time I was meeting my sweet sponsored child and I'm not going to lie to you, I had sent her a total of one letter in the year I had been sponsoring her (and I work for VisionTrust for goodness sakes). I felt under-qualified for the title of Mama in any context; I barely knew her and hadn't given her the opportunity to know me.  I realized how many people were in the same boat as me when I watched kids at our Learning Center be called up one by one to claim a letter from their sponsor. So many of the kids in the crowd were left without.

A week after Zimbabwe I led a team to the Dominican Republic.  Right when we entered our transitional home, each girl tried to find their sponsor or ask (if they weren't there) if you knew them. As we toured their rooms it was impossible not to notice the letters and pictures of sponsors taped lovingly next to bunk beds. The girls would point to the pictures and tell you the name of each person and even animal present. They wanted to know everything they could about their "American Family."

If these trips taught me anything, it's that as a sponsor I get the opportunity to love on my dear girl from an ocean away, to encourage her, to tell her she is special and Jesus loves her...and I hadn't taken advantage of it.

I promised myself I would be better at writing, and I've improved, but only minutely. (Let's be real, I've been meaning to write this blog post since October.) It's not always easy to take the time, but I promise you, there is a kid on the other side of the world that wants to know you and needs your encouragement.

So, here's to writing more consistently, who's with me?

PS- A really easy way I've found to write is to email my letter and attached pictures to 

childletters@visiontrust.org.

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!

This one's for Africa

I'm going to Zimbabwe. And it's happening in less then 2 weeks. Holy cow.

Here's the truth. When I started working for VisionTrust and learning about all the sweet countries we're in around the world, I became attached to Zimbabwe. It was the one place I really wanted to go with VisionTrust. If I had a bucket list, it would be on it. Why? Well...

In 2006 the UN stated Zimbabwe has the highest amount of orphans per capita in the world. It is estimated that they have an unemployment rate of 95%. 68% of their population live below the poverty line. It has the 5th highest death toll due to AIDS when compared to every country in the world.

All of these reasons make me want to go.

Plus look how cute these kids are! This is a picture from our VisionTrust project in Zim.

I want to go and love these people. To wrap my mind around the fact that they are not a statistic. To share their stories and live in their shoes, even if I only get to see a tiny glimpse. To help, even if it's only a drop in the bucket. To learn from them. To encounter poverty and what it looks like to truly have a positive impact in a community.

When my boss said we were going to Zimbabwe I was beyond excited, beyond thankful that God clearly put this opportunity in my path. We're going because VisionTrust is in the process of launching a 5 year sustainable program called Million Meals. The gist of the program is to partner with chiefs and villages in remote areas to feed children long-term. If the villages agree to work with us, we'll feed the kids 5 days a week the first year while teaching them sustainable agriculture and leadership. The next year we'll feed the kids 4 days a week and the village will feed them 1, then us 3 days-the village 2, etc. until we're no longer feeding the children and the village is self-sustaining.

Awesome right? So, my boss, three others and I are going to hear stories, take pictures and gather more information on how the project is going and how it'll move forward. Our hope is with this information, people in the US will be moved to help once we officially launch the program.

I would love your prayers for energy, boldness, patience, safety and anything else you can think of as I embark on this adventure. I'll share stories here, so be sure to check back.

Cracked

There's a crack in our ceiling.

It's a foot long and juts out from our ceiling fan, curving to the right and then the left. The only time I notice it is when I'm lying on my back in the living room staring mindlessly above me. But, the other day this crack got me thinking.

I've been noticing a lot of cracked places in my own life, places that I thought were patched up and pristine, but when I wasn't looking dark lines crept in...worry, discontent, fear, comparison...all spurning from my view of the future. 

I read a quote once that said when we imagine our future we  picture stress and worries, but we never picture God there with us.

I think that's my issue, I forget when I picture the future that God will be present...that together we'll handle the cracks as they come...that there will be days, just like today when I'm blown away by God's provision, power and love.

It just seems so much easier to forget instead of remember.

So, here's to patching, gluing, pasting, and wrestling with the cracks one memory at a time. Here's to hoping and trusting that tomorrow could be better than today. Here's to remembering that God is faithful.

PS (Awareness Time)- Bringing it back to poverty...if you want an example of God's faithfulness and of what hope turned into action can look like, take a peek at this

video

. The number of kids dying every day from preventable causes has been cut in half in only a generation's time. The future's looking bright!

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