Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Rain, rain go away!

As children, we loved rainy days. The warmer the weather, and the heavier the rain, the better. There's no way you'd catch us inside- we'd be outside running down the streets barefoot through all the puddles, finding the muddiest spots on our yard, and seeing who could drench the other with the biggest bucket of water.

However, in Haiti, rain takes on a whole new meaning and a hundred questions start running through our heads. Is it just a drizzle that's only going to last for 2 minutes? Or is it going to suddenly downpour and therefore it's smart to shut all the windows so it doesn't drench our beds? Is it going to possibly rain all night and maybe it's safer to put towels by the door so it doesn't flood our front room? Do we need to put buckets out to catch the drips from the ceiling? What about at school... did we accidentally leave anything important under a window or on the floor that's going to be ruined by morning?

Haiti life is unpredictable and Haiti weather is unpredictable, and boy did we ever get a good dose of Haiti's unpredictable weather this past weekend.

It started Thursday. Our day at school was fairly uneventful, aside from the fact that the pink eye epidemic had still not completely died out. As the day went on, we could see black storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and knew some nasty weather was probably headed our way. We're not in rainy season anymore, and so if we do get rain at this point, it's usually in the early morning and passes by after an hour or two. We made it to the end of the school day, and still no rain- a definite blessing. We have mixed feelings about rain during school. On one hand, it makes our classrooms significantly cooler... on the other hand, if it rains just a little too hard, the sound on the tin roofs of our classrooms makes it impossible to teach. But by evening, it arrived with a vengeance. It rained all night long, so loud at points that were unable to sleep. When we left our house for school that morning it had still not stopped, and the decision was made to cancel school. The roads weren't safe for the bus, and even though there was the possibility it would stop raining soon, we knew keeping our kiddos safe was more important.

Well, what a great decision that turned out to be. The rain didn't stop at all that day, and we wouldn't have gotten anything done at school anyway. We also figured maybe it was a blessing in disguise and the last of the pink eye would disappear after a 3-day weekend.

Well, the rain didn't end up stopping for nearly 96 hours.

Almost four straight days of rain. It was enough to nearly drive us batty. The rain would stop for 15 minutes or so quite often, and then start right back up again, giving us false hope that it was going to stop soon. The sky stayed the same dark gray-brown colour all day, and eventually became the color of the ocean as the storm churned the waves into a raging, muddy mess. Looking out from our balcony (when we dared to venture outside), all we could see were the trees of our immediate area, and a wall of gray-brown that never lifted, never changed.

Our house became the congregation point over that four-day rain-cation. We would cook and eat meals here, sit and talk on our floor because we don't have enough room for chairs, and play games (at exactly 4pm everyday). We were feeling every level of stir-crazy and praying for the rain to stop. By Sunday morning the rain had finally quit, but we all knew it wasn't going to be for more than a couple hours. We took advantage of it and made ourselves a big pancake breakfast, which we ate while listening to a sermon outside on the balcony. We must have been getting a little too comfortable outside, because before we could even finish church, the rain came back in driving sheets, and we huddled under Paul and Bethany's small porch overhang, trying to shield ourselves with umbrellas so we could hear the end of the sermon. It didn't let up again for the rest of the day, and by that point school was undoubtedly cancelled for Monday. The roads were dangerous and washed away in places, and we had not been able to leave the compound to assess the state of our school. For all we knew, our classrooms were flooded, and all the stuff hanging on our walls ruined. Monday turned out to be the last of it. We woke up to grey skies, but the rain never came. We were all desperate to leave the walls of our houses, and made the decision to head to Les Cayes to buy groceries (which we were almost out of by that point as well).

We were not truly prepared to face the damage the rain had done over those nearly 96 hours. In spite of new roofs post-hurricane, we knew most houses were not going to withstand that much rain over so many days, and expected to see clothes, blankets and mattresses drying on every available inch of non-wet ground. What we were not prepared to see was the physical damage from the force of so much rain. Chunks of road were washed away, boulders had broken loose and fallen down the mountains on to the road below, mudslides had made a mess of properties, low-sitting houses were flooded, huge trees were floating in the ocean, and the giant rivers had gone up nearly 10 feet. We read reports of several people drowning from being swept away by rushing rivers, and several of the streets in Cayes were flooded as well.

As we drove down the road in silence and took in the aftermath of the past four days, we couldn't help but compare what we were seeing to the days following Hurricane Matthew. By the mercy of God our area didn't receive enough rain to cause substantial flooding in October, but now, we were dealing with the rain and flooding we expected to see then. It made us all feel a little bit sick inside, thinking of wet, shivering kids, cold beds, hungry bellies and flooded floors.

So here we are today- first day back at school, and not quite sure what to expect. Our classrooms had no flooding, and we all breathed a prayer of thanks for that. We expected some absences, which there were. We expected our kiddos to eat like little ravenous wolves (which they did and which they always do after more than a weekend off of school, since they don't have as much food to eat home), and we expected them to forget how to behave at school (which they did and which they always do after more than a weekend off of school).

Rain is bitter sweet. We love it and will always love it- it's the best excuse to make some tea and huddle under a blanket and read a good book. But in Haiti, rain can cause a lot of pain, a lot of hardship, and a lot of unexpected difficulties. So today as we look outside and see sunshine that hurts our eyes after so many dreary days, we are praying a prayer of thanks for safety and sun and dry ground and blue sky (and for freedom from the walls of our house).

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Mon Deye Mon [Problems after Problems]

We would never make it without Jesus.

Seriously. Never.

We don't even have enough fingers combined to count the number of times that life here in Haiti has completely blindsided us.

But let me back up a couple of weeks and catch you all up on what's been happening.

The third week in March we finished our second trimester at school, and went through the craziness of testing, report cards and parent conferences. That's normally a challenge in and of itself, but this term was particularly difficult because we've been playing catch-up ever since Hurricane Matthew hit since we missed a month of school, and have had to try to make up all that time. In spite of how busy that period in March was, it was in a sense a really cool milestone for us both. We were asked by our director to give "teacher speeches" to our classes of parents before we went into individual conferences, and we spent days writing and memorizing our speeches in Creole. We could have asked for translators, but just really felt in our souls that it was important for us to make the effort to communicate in their language, even though we knew we would make some embarrassing mistakes along the way. IT sounds silly now, but we were both so nervous- number one, because every time we've asked these parents to do something that goes against the grain of their culture they've laughed at us, and number two, it has been an uphill battle trying to gain their respect and support. Well, we did it- Creole-ed our way through speeches about classroom discipline, not beating children, about being upstanding examples for their children and taking their education seriously. And not a single soul laughed or yelled at us.

This day was also a milestone for us in the sense that at every other parent conference day, we've either had a translator with us to help, we've used the little Creole we were learning, or we've relied on our Haitian co-teachers to communicate to the parents what we wanted them to know. Well, not this time. Both of our co-teachers threw us to the wolves and asked us to complete half of the parent conferences by ourselves in Creole. And we didn't just fumble our way through. This does not sound humble, but we totally rocked those conferences without uttering a single word of English. We were thanked over and over, and even hugged by these parents and it was enough to bring tears to our eyes. Haitian mamas are fierce and scary, but we come to love them a little more every time we meet with them.

Normally after parent conferences and report cards in the spring, we have a Spring Break- but this year we didn't. We jumped right back into our third trimester the day after conferences and haven't slowed down since. It was also especially busy after this because we knew come the first week of April, we would be leaving to go to Sioux Falls for our annual Mission Haiti fundraiser banquet. That meant we would be missing a week of school and our kiddos wouldn't be getting any English; so we bumped up the number of English teaching days to try and make up the days we would be missing.

We ended up being gone for a week, and it was the best possible thing that could have happened to us. We were so burned out and exhausted at that point that we felt like running away at the thought of facing another week of school. We ate a ridiculous amount of good food, shopped until we almost dropped, got a massage, fellowshipped with dear friends, and slept in longer than we've slept since school started in September. Even though we couldn't go back to Canada to see family and friends, we joke that Sioux Falls is now one of our homes anyway, and so many people that have become near and dear to our hearts live there that it was just as filling as going home.

We joke in Haiti that once things seem quiet for too long that something dramatic is bound to happen- well it did, unfortunately a couple days after we left for the States. We don't know how it happened or even who did it, but the generator at our school that provides all of our electricity was stolen in the middle of the night by a group of people who were able to saw the deadbolt and haul the generator over the school wall. This meant that for nearly two weeks we have not been able to have lights in the morning when we get to school in the pitch black, have not had fans going in our sweltering classrooms during the day as the temperature climbs, charge our technology such as iPads and laptops, use projectors for lessons, or have running water in our bathrooms or sinks for our kids.

These people deliberately waited until we were in the States to essentially commit this act against Mission Haiti as a whole, not just our school. It is so discouraging to realize that after all Mission Haiti has done and is committed to doing in the future for this community, after everything that those in the States have done to support Mission Haiti and keep it running, after everything we do here to serve, there are those who seek to tear down what we are trying to build up. It's in these times that it's so hard, but even more important to remember that when you are a Christian and love Jesus with your whole life, there is one who seeks to tear down and destroy all that God is trying to do through your life. Our battle is not against these people, but against the one who has confused and lied to them, and our greatest weapon right now is prayer.

On top of that, we have the worst pink eye epidemic at school that we have ever seen. It started while we were gone in the States, and Sunday when we got back to the compound, we were warned by many, many people that is has been going through the village. All of our cooking/cleaning ladies have it, some of our Haitian teachers, and nearly all of our students have gotten it last week or just this week. This morning we spent half an hour Lysol-ing everything in our classes, from tables, to chairs to markers and pencils. Thank goodness that Bethany has a stash of eye drops, but our days are essentially filled with schedules of drops and sanitizing our hands obsessive-compulsively. We are praying to the good Lord that this epidemic stops soon.

On top of all of this, a short-term high school team arrives on the ground this afternoon...
We find ourselves muttering that there's no rest for the weary, and have to remind ourselves that rest was made for the weary, and we have to make it a priority!

We love you all and are so grateful that you take the time to read our updates and pray for us. Like we said at the beginning, we could not do it without Jesus and your prayers.

Sending love from Haiti!

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!