Thursday, 2 February 2017

Circumstances and Joy

So, this week STUNK. On so many different levels. It felt like we time-travelled back to our first week of school a year and a half ago, where every possible thing that could go wrong, did.  And that's all we're going to say about that.

Because our joy is not dependent on our circumstances. 

That statement is as much for us as it is for anyone else out there having a stinky week. It's definitely easier said than done to not let tough circumstances take away from your joy-level, but it's something we've been super conscious of the past little while. Life can be super up and down in Haiti... and spontaneous too, not necessarily in the best sense either. But the more intentional we are about how deeply we let our days dent our joy, the more consistent we can be in our example to others about the difference Jesus makes in our lives.

Jesus doesn't make all our problems go away, but He gives us complete joy in the midst of them!

So since there's nothing else to say about our stinky week, enjoy some JAK Academy pictures from the past month!


















Monday, 23 January 2017

New Year, New Perspectives

Everyday at 5, we wake up, get dressed, drink a cup of coffee, and head out the door at 6 to be greeted with this-



a variation of this every single day without fail. Morning after morning, week after week, month after month. The faithfulness of the rising sun is really the perfect representation of the way we have seen the faithfulness of God demonstrated in our lives over the course of the time that we have been living in Haiti. Sometimes the sunrise is wild and vibrant- the way we often see God when blessings flow, our ministry is flourishing, school is going well, and life is good. Sometimes it's more subtle- hazy and soft and more gray- the way we sometimes perceive God when His presence is not as felt, when difficulties are encountered at work, and our souls feel weary.

Right now, life is more of a vibrant-type of sunrise. We are refreshed after three weeks home for Christmas break, school is back in full swing, and we have a busy short-term team season ahead of us. Being home (in a loose sense of the word; Haiti is always first home) is always a confusing mix of comfort and discomfort. We relish in the love and attention of those who spoil and care for us, yet somehow feel as though we don't feel quite as at home as we used to. Haiti is in our blood, and as difficult as it can sometimes be to live here, the difficulties always outweigh the blessings when our focus stays on God.

We're riding on a bit of a school high as well. We're firing on all cylinders and the kids are firing on
all cylinders, and magic is happening. We are pushing a lot of English vocabulary and reading skills, math with a lot of manipulatives, using a lot more technology in our classes, and focusing on some heavy-duty character development. Character development is a biggy. Our students have so much crazy potential, but unless that potential is grounded in Jesus and loving Him, and understanding how to treat others and interact with them respectfully, their potential doesn't have the proper channels to flow to others. Sometimes it's hard for us to always remember how far these kiddos have come from last year. We remember venting about how mean they were to each other, how they would hit and pinch and push and bite and yell- but it truly is night and day. They are memorizing Bible verses, and
hearing Bible stories, and understanding the consequences of their actions. They've started to apologize to their peers without teacher intervention and remind each other of school rules, they tie each other's shoes and help each other with their school work. We still have days where everything seems to go wrong, days when it feels like we're taking steps backwards instead of forwards, and days when we struggle to understand if we've actually made any progress with them. But as hard as it is sometimes, we've been more purposeful about our perspective.

That's been a big word for us in the past couple of months, even going back to post-Hurricane Matthew. In light of everything that happened, we are reminded so much more often of what a privilege it is to be here, to be the ones loving on these kiddos and molding their spirits and characters. There are so many more qualified people that God could have chosen to send here to work at our Academy, but He chose us, and it's still humbling to think about. When your perspective shifts to how privileged you are to be where you are, that God doesn't need you but chooses to use you, that changes everything. It means that even if you can't see progress, you're still planting seeds. Even if you have bad days or failures or disappointments or discouragements, you have something to give where you are that only you can give. And that makes all the difference.

On a different note, we're only halfway through this school year, but we're at that point again where we have to make a decision in the next few weeks about whether or not to stay in Haiti for the 2017-2018 school year. We covet your prayers. Two years in Haiti sounds like an adventure, but three years starts to sound a little bit more crazy. We obviously love it here and would be heart-broken to leave, but ultimately we want to be where God wants us to be.

Sending love from a currently bi-polar Haiti, where days are hot and nights require long pants, socks and multiple blankets!

Monday, 12 September 2016

New Chapters

It's definitely been way too long since we've written an update, and we really do feel bad! Time in Haiti just marches to the beat of its own drum, and even with good intentions of writing at minimum once a month, it still doesn't seem to happen and we don't quite understand why.

We've been back in Haiti since the end of July and life has been moving at break-neck speed. Jesus knew we desperately needed a break after the burnout of last school year though. We spent the month of July back in Canada. For the first little while we froze in the air-conditioning and wore winter clothes inside, and ate as much pizza and ice-cream as possible. Life was busier being back in Canada than we anticipated, what with visiting with family, and road trips to see friends- not to mention planning what to pack and bring back to Haiti for the next six months until we go back to Canada for Christmas.

Our first three weeks back were filled with three back-to-back short-term teams, and as soon as they left we were in immediate school planning mode. We've added to our Mission Haiti family as well- Gerald is our new Grade 1 teacher (who's here with his wife Lexi) and Peyton, who is our Preschool English teacher and co-English teacher in Pre-Kindergarten. We could not be more thankful for them and the blessing they have been to us and to our school so far.

We've officially started week two of our school year here in Haiti! We have a brand new Preschool class (who are deathly afraid of the "white" teachers). The other classes have simply moved up. The difference between this year and last year has been night and day, and much of it has to do with the fact that 75% of our students this year have already been immersed in our school culture for a year- they understand our rules and expectations, and how our school is different from their previous Haitian schools. We also have all of the Haitian teachers with us again this year that worked with us last year as well, so it's been a continuation of the relationships we've already built. There's only one new Haitian teacher that was hired to teach the French in Grade 1. We've changed up our schedule a little bit this year too. Last year we had our all-French days Monday to Wednesday, and all-English on Thursday and Friday. This year French is Monday and Tuesday, English is Wednesday and Thursday, and Fridays are half-French and half-English.

What's also super super exciting for us is that we have both already tucked a year under our belts with these kiddos- we've seen their growth and progression, and have spent day in and day out with them. They've also had a year of English exposure, we're so interested to see how much more they grow this year- not just academically, but spiritually character-wise as well.






In other news, we're eagerly anticipating a drop in temperature and humidity. It's been brutally hot for the start of school, and we have fans in our classrooms, but it's not the most fun thing in the world to have sweat drip into your eyes (or on the students!) as you're trying to teach. So nasty. Us four missionary teachers have gotten into the habit of heading down to the basketball court by the ocean to lesson plan- there's usually a glorious breeze, and staring at the ocean helps with inspiration (or so we have convinced ourselves). We'll be sure to send an update about our classes soon!
Happy new school year to everyone!

Sending love from Haiti!

Monday, 4 July 2016

R&R

WE'RE BACK!!

Week 2 of a much-needed vacation is officially commencing. If there's one thing we're realizing, it's that although breaks back at our "Canadian home" are necessary for our own well-being, they're never quite as relaxing as we hope they'll be- simply because everything that we can't do or buy in Haiti gets put on a seemingly never-ending to-do list. Nearly every day last week was filled with appointments and outings, and our minds seem to run with everything that needs to be renewed and updated before we leave again. Top that with family and friends to see, and well, life is busy. A different sort of busy though- we have a break from thinking about school, short-term missions teams that come, and the cares of life that sometimes run you down when you live as a missionary in a poor country.

Before we left Haiti, life was [surprise, surprise] CRAZY busy. We were finishing up report cards, and planning for our year-end party and Kindergarten graduation. I suppose our year-end party is worth a bit of a mention, simply because it marked the end of a school year that we weren't sure we would see the end of some days! It was a testament to the faithfulness of a God who envisioned this school long ago, brought it to fruition, and saw all of us involved to the last day of year one. We wish all of you could have been there to experience what we experienced that day- to see the little kiddos presenting songs and poems in French and English for their parents, and to listen to the gratitude of the parents who can't completely put into words how much our school means to them and how excited they are about the opportunities it's giving their children.

After finishing school, life at the compound was crazy as well. The day after we were scheduled to leave Haiti, a short-term missions team from Minnesota was coming for a week- that meant we had to prep the compound for their arrival before we left, and train our new missionary couple on how to run teams since we'd be gone.

A lot of people have been asking us how our year was. And we always say in unison, "It's the best life, and the hardest life we've ever lived". And that statement truly sums up what it's like to live and teach as a missionary in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. You live the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. We pray we've made a difference this year- sown seeds and showed the people of Haiti the love of Jesus- but we are both changed in ways that will never be undone. We will forever have Haiti tattooed on our hearts. And because we have both changed so much, in some ways it's hard coming home and trying to fit back into a life that no longer fits us. We have grown and changed and stretched too much to fit back into the molds of our former selves. And it's also hard for the people we left behind to understand the changed people they've welcomed back home. Our perspectives have changed, our attitudes have changed, our priorities have changed, and truly our lives have changed. We don't know how long we'll be in Haiti, but we both agree that we are willing to stay for as long as God has work for us to do there.

We were burned out- nothing truly teaches you or prepares you for what it's like to be a missionary teacher in a country where you don't know the language and the culture. But now we truly understand what it means to be a servant of Jesus. It's hard. It's not glamorous. Some days it's not pretty. Some days we feel discouraged and unappreciated and lonely. Some days life is prickly and thorny and nothing seems to be going right, and we double-check with God to see if He really knows what He's doing. But it's on those hard and prickly days when we have to give but we feel like we have nothing left to give that we get the most beautiful glimpse into Jesus' ministry on earth. It was hard. He was unappreciated and rejected and so many people refused the precious gift He came to give. But that is the heart of ministry- serving others [in whatever form that may be] so that they may see the love of Jesus over and over and over and over, and expecting absolutely nothing in return. Sacrificing so that others will come to know Jesus. And remembering that only what's done for Jesus will last.

We're home until the end of July, and we're enjoying every minute. Haiti was getting unbearable hot- and by unbearably hot, I mean we would wake up and sweat, sit on the balcony and sweat, eat and sweat, and go to bed and sweat. Coming back and having air-conditioning has been slightly shocking... we often walk around our house in jeans and sweaters because our bodies haven't acclimated to the cold air yet! We've been spending our fair share of time shopping, and eating our fill of foods we don't have in Haiti. We've been planning trips to see friends we miss desperately, and realizing how spoiled we are with 24/7 electricity!

Life is going to be crazy when we return to Haiti, so we're doing our best to spoil ourselves while we can!

We're glad to be back, but missing Haiti already.
Sending love from...Canada!






Sunday, 12 June 2016

Nearing the Finish Line.

Less than two weeks until we get to head back to Canada for a much, much needed rest. We count down the days to keep ourselves sane on days when the kids can't hold it together at school. All our teacher friends will understand the exhaustion and chaos that is the last few weeks of school. Compound that with the extreme heat that we're getting here right now as we head into the summer months, and you understand why we're counting down the days.

Life in general has been slightly chaotic and unscheduled for the past few weeks. If any of you have been following the news, you might have heard about the Report that came out that suggested that the election results were not considered fraudulent enough to throw out. The Haitian people were very upset by this, because they are still convinced the election was riddled by fraud and there should be a re-election. It's more complicated than that, but because they were unhappy with this Report, there was significant unrest, more-so in Port and the surrounding areas. The only thing we experienced in and around our village were roadblocks, which is great that there were no riots or injuries, but roadblocks meant that our bus couldn't get to the school, and since 80% of our kids are from outside the village and rely on the bus, we missed 3 days of school the week before last. The one day that we had to stay home from school, we did hear a police force firing gas into a crowd that was trying to cut down a tree to make another roadblock, but it sounds worse than it was- we stayed on the compound and it blew over by the next day.

Last week our Haitian co-teachers finished their French testing, which means we are finishing up our English testing this coming week. On Friday, we have our Kindergarten graduation and end-of-school party, so every morning we pep-talk ourselves that we only have to get through one more week before we can breathe again. As I mentioned above, it is getting SO stinkin' hot, which is making it hard to get through a day of school for us teachers and the kiddos. It's getting to the point where we sweat even if we're sitting down in front of a fan, and some nights it's so hot that we don't sleep very well. We are definitely excited to experience air-conditioning again. After graduation, we have one last report card session, and then we're home-free.

In other Mission Haiti news, we have another short-term team down right now, and a new missionary couple living at the compound for at least the next year- Gerald and Lexi. They're from South Dakota as well, and moved down a couple of days ago when the short-term team travelled down. We are so excited to have more people living on the compound. Gerald is going to be teaching Grade 1 at our Christian Academy, and Lexi is going to be running short-term teams with Bethany. It's been giving us a lot of deja-vu as we think back to last July when we moved to Haiti and jumped into a crazy, new, unknown life. We have nearly made it through our first year here in Haiti, and boy has it been an adventure.

We'll be heading back to Canada at the end of June and will be flying back to Haiti at the end of July- one sweet month back home to sleep in, soak in some air-conditioning, eat an outrageous amount of food, buy some new clothes, and spend time with friends and family.

Sending love from Haiti!


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Catch-Up.

I am writing this post in shame because it's been three months since we've written any type of update, and now so much life has happened that I feel it's almost impossible to catch you all up on it. In spite of that, I will do my best to give you a glimpse of what our lives have looked like for the past little while.

February and March were a blur of short-term mission teams. Life was busier for Kristen and I than we anticipated because Bethany had to return to the States to finish out her pregnancy because of the Zika virus. That left Paul, Kristen and I to hold down the fort here- and also meant Kristen and I stepping into the gap to take over the work that Bethany would have done with the short term teams here. I know a lot of people have their opinions about short-term mission teams and whether or not they do more harm than good. But as I've mentioned in other blog posts, if there's one thing we miss greatly here, it's the fellowship and community with other believers [who speak our language]. These teams have fed us emotionally and spiritually, and given us the "oomph" we needed to keep on keeping on down here. In a strange sort of way, having these people down here has also given us a different perspective on our lives down here and the work that we're doing. It's really, really hard to explain missionary life to those who haven't lived it, but it's really easy to feel burned out and lack insight into the difference your work is making. So to have people come down and affirm that God is using you to make a difference that they can tangibly see is a huge, huge deal. Short-term teams make a big difference for long-term missionaries that live here. They're the encouragement we need, and the voice our ministry needs to keep and gain support.

Kristen and I had Spring break at the end of March, but we opted not to travel home to Canada for two reasons: number 1, there was a short-term team of high school students coming and we wanted to be able to experience a short-term team without having to teach at school at the same time and we hadn't had a younger team come yet since we had moved here, and number 2, we were going to be travelling to the States at the beginning of April anyway.

That brings me to our next adventure. Kristen and I had the honour of travelling to Sioux Falls, South Dakota where Mission Haiti is based out of in the States at the beginning of April to attend a fundraising dinner and dessert auction to raise support for the ministry. We were particularly excited for this for a multitude of reasons: we were intensely craving American food, wanted to get out of skirts for a week and wear a pair of jeans, we wanted to be able to speak English and have someone understand and speak fluent English back to us, and we wanted to be able to meet the huge community of people that make Mission Haiti happen. We both had to make a speech, and contrary to popular belief, giving a speech is ten thousand times more nerve-wracking than teaching a class of students.

Right now, our major focus is finishing out the school year well. We're also planning our Kindergarten graduation party, so things have been busy, busy, busy. We've both been feeling some pressure lately to push our students in English because they're at grade-level in French but below grade-level in English in some areas simply because Creole is so similar to French that they had a huge advantage going into the school year. For the past month and a half I've been trying to teach my students to read in English, and that was a challenge in and of itself. But some of them are starting to read and apply strategies by themselves to figure out words, and it's just the most exciting glimpse of the opportunities that our school is going to open up for these students when they finish school.

In other news, Paul and Bethany are both in the States right now [awaiting the birth of their daughter as I type this], leaving Kristen and I to fend for ourselves here at the compound. It's so strange being here by ourselves, yet at the same time so normal- just like ordinary life. Yesterday we went to the basketball court to watch a game [which is right beside the ocean], and it hit me again as I was watching the sailboats head out to sea, and the kids running around without shoes on that I'm really truly living on a tropical island doing exactly what I had always dreamed of doing. I'm so thankful for those out-of-the-blue moments that remind me of where I am and why I'm doing what I'm doing.

This is getting a little too long already, but I want to close with one horror story to make you glad you work where you work. A month or two ago as I was teaching, my class went into an uproar because there was a humongous rat running along the top wall of my classroom up by the roof. It disappeared and I hadn't seen it for a couple of months. Well, the other week when it was raining outside, the rat showed up and was sitting at the top of the wall again. It was right above where I was standing to teach and I was praying that it wouldn't fall on me. Well, low and behold, it decided to die and fell literally 3 inches from my head. I hate to admit that I ran screaming out of the class, and then realized I had left my class behind to fend for themselves. When I went back in, my Haitian co-teacher Angely was standing with her foot on the rat's head in case it wasn't actually dead. Then she wrapped her hand in Kleenex, picked the rat up by the tail, and threw it over the wall of the school property. So nasty. If it would have fallen on my head I would have ran home and had the longest shower of my life.

Our school finishes at the end of June, and then Kristen and I will be heading home to spend the month of July back in Canada. Thanks to everyone for being patient with our lack of updates!

Sending Haitian love!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

January Madness.

February. It's just as hard to type the word as it is to say it out loud. January started and ended before we even knew what was happening. It's almost hard to believe how busy the past month actually was. Our three student teachers left the last week in January, and it was with some very mixed emotions. We haven't had any teams to the compound since the summer [because of elections that were supposed to happen in December but never did], so having girls around our age to talk to and live with and work with for a month was a huge, huge, blessing. In January, our Mission Haiti Board also visited, and prior to this trip we had not even had the chance to meet our Board since moving to Haiti. It was so great to be able to put names to faces and connect with them.

If I had to sum up January in a few words it would be: school, school, school, sports camps, broken buses and weekend beach trips. School has been super busy, and as all of our teacher friends will know, January to April-ish is push-time. Our students have been exposed to 5 months of English now, and we're trying to cram as much into their heads as we can. Once you get into May, students go downhill, and downhill fast. We're also trying to think ahead to our next report card period, which is coming up in March. The beginning of January was also fun because our bus broke down. Probably 94% of our students rely on the bus to get to school, and so we had to pick up and drop off the students in our Mission Haiti dump truck. Yes, a dump truck. You know you live in Haiti when...


Life has slowly returned to normal after the busyness of last month- normal school routines, normal after school routines, and normal weekend routines. It's good- Kristen and I really needed a break before more short-term teams start arriving in a couple of weeks. We've also started after-school tutoring on Wednesdays and Thursdays for students who need extra help and are below grade-level. Wednesdays are for French and Thursdays are for English. The first week we started, some of the kids absolutely howled like we were keeping them for torture [and some still do]. So I started calling it "game time" at dismissal, and now the whole class wants to stay [and no, I don't consider that deception, exactly]. I would say our biggest focus right now has been Language Development first, and Math second. We've been reading a lot of English books to our classes, and the kids are so enraptured by books that I don't think even an explosion would break their focus. They LOVE books. I'm sure they've never had books to look at in their life. Their favourite lately has been The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and we made some caterpillar and butterfly puppets with googley eyes. Oh, how they love googley eyes. 







Carnival is this week, so we have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off of school. Can anyone say 5-day weekend?! We are so super, duper pumped because we really needed a break. School had been kind of rough lately, and Kristen and I are feeling drained physically, emotionally and mentally. The point of our school is to be radically different from all the other schools in Haiti- to create a completely different school culture filled with Jesus and respect and learning and self-control and love. Let me tell you, it's hard being a culture-changer. We feel like we're hitting a cement wall right now. But if there's one thing I've learned from my teaching job last year, it's that the school year is like a roller-coaster ride... ups and downs, and ups and downs. So we are just praying that this is one of those downs that is eventually going to turn into an up. We continue to ask for your faithful prayers as we try to do our best to teach these precious kiddos, because in all honesty, Kindergarten is EXHAUSTING. Between tantrums, and sicknesses that work their way through the whole school, and shoes that come untied then thousand times a day, and little hands that yank on your clothes, and feet that trample your toes and erasers and crayons disappearing because kids are eating them and every student tattling in Creole 5-10 times a day... it's kind of a miracle that we're still sane.

Enough about school, though. We have an exciting update. Kristen and I have decided that we are going to stay in Haiti for another year for the 2016-2017 school year. It was a surprisingly easy decision- no stress, no sleepless nights. We know that this is where God wants us, we know in our hearts that His work for us in Haiti isn't finished yet, and so we're trusting in His sovereignty because we're only half-way through this school year. Haiti has become home, and the people have become our family, and it's nice to know we won't be saying good-bye anytime soon.

I also realize that we haven't updated our prayer section in a really, really long time. So here's a quick list:
- health and safety for Kristen and I
- health for our students as it's cold and flu season in Haiti right now and all of our students are sick
- endurance to push through this tough time at school
- a close relationship for Kristen and I to continue, as we are each other's only source of encouragement and friendship [aside from Bethany]  right now

Sending love from Haiti!

PS. We actually got to watch the Superbowl on the weekend. We took our Internet stick to our Coffee Shop Ministry Center, set up a table and chairs, and ate sausages, pasta salad and Oreos under the starts while we watched Denver win. Sometimes life here is pretty okay. :)