John 9, Little Feet, & Big Prayers

I walk through the dry, dusty, cactus-fence lined shortcut back home and the phrase enters my mind on its own and seems to begin playing a gentle repeat in the back of my mind, “This happened so that the power of God could be seen…”

As it plays, the imagery of the story from one of the gospels – I’m not sure which gospel exactly off the top of my head – begins to take shape in my mind. In response to a disability, the disciples asked their teacher not what the reason was, but instead immediately asked who was at fault for the blindness in this man they were passing.

The zig-zag path opens up to the makeshift soccer field in front of our gate and I imagine a similar setting with a bright sun, uneven brown earth, and dusty feet as Jesus lovingly turned to answer his disciples (lovingly because that is his very character, no matter the question thrown his way)…he redirects the thinking that their culture ingrained and responds that “This happened so that the power of God could be seen”. And my heart skips a beat as the gravity of the phrase in my head hits me, the Spirit working to help me gain perspective in my day. I happened to be walking away from the home where Westhalineda – with her sweet smile, ‘dadada’ talking, and clubfeet – is living currently. In the middle of attempting to fundraise (see: share on social media and pray hard) for surgeries for this little one – I’ve been all over in faith. Not wanting to have the problem in the first place, excited to search for help for a physical need and show why we are here, thrilled at God providing a connection to The Red Thread Promise, nervous as I accepted the need to fundraise in the middle of my own fundraising efforts for monthly support, humbled by others sharing her story, sure that God was in it as she was placed near me, doubting the money would come in, doubting I heard God right, doubting I should be involved at all, frustrated that it had to me that He uses, blown away and excited that I get to be a part of how He uses people, and finally humbly blown away as money came in last minute for Wes and her needs to get her first surgery in January. I’m not sure I covered it all, but you get it – lots of ups and downs in this girl as she has arrived on the ground again.

And after all of these emotions and my faith barely clinging on, and God coming through in his flawless faithfulness, he whispers this phrase and story into my mind. After an afternoon of sitting with women as we make conversation about life in Cabaret, waving at Wes as she babbles, and requests for ‘fotos’ as I navigate relationships with the dozen people in a home that I am new to visit in – I am reminded that He is working. Not only is He working – the Spirit guided me to a story where there was a literal miracle on a disability from birth used as Jesus walked the earth as well as even since then as it is written down in the gospels to grow faith and understanding in God in us and all around the world. I think of Wes as she grows, of her mother through each step, of the community that always knows every detail of everyone’s life, of the family that Wes used to live with as well as the family she now resides with….God, that’s a lot of people watching. That’s a lot of people who can be affected by what you will do with the modern miracle of surgery, networking between NGOs, financial provision, and every other detail that will come along in this story. I was ready to tear up, honestly, the more I thought of how He works. That was last week.

Today, I googled where exactly this story was and then cracked opened my Bible to John 9, using the bulkier version with study notes on the bottom so I could better understand the context of this man born with a disability and how Jesus came in and said that it was all so that God could work through the situation. And as I read, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I stopped to pray for Westhalineda’s teenage mother, for the community, for Wes as she grows up to walk normally and eventually move past ‘dadada’ to real conversation that I pray is saturated with talk of our Father. I finished the story, surprised as I was reminded at how long it is and how many details there are, and fell to pray this story over what God is doing as Wes was also born with a disability.

I’ve gotta share with you (from John 9, NLT):

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

Like Wes, this man was simply born with this disability. The whole community defined him by his blindness as I see the community defines Wes by her inability to develop correctly, and deeply imbedded beliefs in a culture led to assumptions for the ‘why’ – but, typical to how God works, Jesus came with a counter-cultural answer.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”

I don’t want to pretend that I can interpret every part of this scripture right here, but after responding that the reason was for God’s power to be seen – I see Jesus reminding us of the urgency of the gospel. An urgency I often forget, one that tugged my emotions as I opened the story for myself and saw it wasn’t just God working but that we must remember we are on this earth with an urgent mission we are a part of – sent to Wes, her mother, her community, the home she lives in and more.

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

While Wes won’t be healed by mud – can we just praise God for the modern miracle of medicine, surgery, and knowledge of charitable doctors like Dr. Bheki who will take her case on? For what I see as His divine hand in connecting us to The Red Thread Promise and the ability to be healed?

His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”

But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?”

I read this and see a community that watches each member with a keen eye, notices what happens, and asks how it happened. This community way of life is exactly how Bercy runs – a natural way that the gospel and what God has done can be spread through conversation if only we have the Spirit’s boldness throughout the day.

I’m cutting it off here, but the historical account goes on to teach on all kinds of things: the sad irony of the willing spiritual blindness of the religious leaders, the parents of the blind man staying fearful of social consequences and clinging to the world despite the miracle God performed on their own child (this reminds and urges me to pray for Westhalineda’s mother), and my favorite part – the spiritual response of the once-blind man as he points to action clearly done by the Lord in His life and in verse 38, he responds to Jesus that he believes – and the account from the disciple Jesus loved says that He worshipped Jesus. This loaded story ended with me praying hard for Wes – Lord that this girl who may not even remember the surgery and healing afterwards would fall head over heels for her Saviour and turn her joy to joyful praise and worship of You!

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I’m so excited for what God is doing. I’m praying hard for what God is doing. And you would be a wonderful addition to the story as you pray for what God is doing as well, as He uses what is seen as a disability so that the power of God can be seen. Praise God that He didn’t stop being actively involved in the lives of those needing healed when his physical presence in Jesus stopped walking the dusty roads of the earth. And thank YOU for the part many of you have played in praying, sharing Westhalineda’s story, putting up with constant social media posts, and financially sacrificing for surgeries that will literally affect her entire life.

*The Red Thread Promise update: Wes is fully funded for her first surgery and thankfully can therefore schedule to start this process in January! Her second surgery is also almost fully funded, with only $500 to go before all money needed is raised! Her x-rays are ready to go and her mother is ready to be involved and get the process started as Wes gets closer by the day to being two years old this spring. Original post by The Red Thread Promise is here

Life Lessons

Today, Hope accidentally cut me with a razor blade (they’re sold as blades, not razors, here) while we were playing. I’m fine, and she punished herself with tears and a finger-snap quick change of attitude that went from giggles to seriousness. It was a good chance to tell her with a visual, as well as Biyonce & Jessica, that we should never pick up or play with razor blades even thought they are lying around sometimes (family member had been shaving nearby earlier and he didn’t realize someone picked the blade up).

A basic life lesson we all learn, and that she’d probably already been told before – just without the visual of what could happen.

Her immediate attitude change to solemn was a drastic change from the joy and playing that just explodes now from her and Jessica – while slower and quieter from Hope than Jessica – it’s still hard to fathom some days and so, so, so fun to thank God for what He’s done – and that of all people, I get to see. I was reflecting on that today, that change.

And the razor made me reflect on the way that we learn life lessons.

Which made me reflect on parents, a home to grow up in, and things we don’t even think of.

Two sides: I’m so, so thankful for the life I was born into.

I’m so, so thankful for this family who has become a foster family in the logistical sense of the word and taken Jessica and Hope in.

No child should grow up without a home both to teach them to stay away from the razor blades, and to help clean up the mess when the life lesson becomes real.

If you are a part of making a healthy home, thank you.

If you have a heart for adoption or foster care, I can’t even express it – thank you.

Some days,

…I walk out of the house just to have my hand immediately intertwined with someone else’s, and looking into a little friend’s eyes I am led to his house and greeted warmly by his mother and her sisters, and a dozen cousins and siblings of his who welcome me in as an old friend.

…my scraped knee gets more genuine concern in a day than I’ve handed out all week.

…I lose track of how many chairs are brought out for me while the hard working women either stand or move to an overturned bucket.

…we laugh together as I am asked to braid Nashka’s hair and surprisingly deliver (after her five-year-old resistance paired with her adult-like “You don’t know how to braid, you are white!” – and after her aunt helps me with the first one).

…I get to hear jokes – and the explanations behind them when I’m clearly lost like the foreigner I am.

…neighbors pass when I am visiting another house and they greet both Sian and I by name in this community that is slowly becoming one I call my own.

…hospitality humbles me as I am offered more food than I can take, in multiple homes I go to throughout the day.

Some days I come home astounded by how small minded I am in my resistance and fears to go out. Some days I both grow from learning and learn I have so much more growing to do. Some days I come home worn from laughing and being loved through a natural, effortless hospitality and community that is the very DNA here. Some days I think that these people may be some of the warmest I know. Some days I close the door to my room, a dozen different mother’s smiling faces and warm voices from throughout the day in my head, and just think of the riches there are to find in the natural way that life is done here. And I am humbled, I am aware of how human (and American) I am, and I pray that I don’t lose sight of these days when the fear tries to creep back in.

November.

What a whirlwind of a month!

As I was typing my latest prayer update here to send out tonight, I couldn’t keep track in my head of all of the things that have happened this past month! So, with the internet finally working at a decent speed I am taking FULL advantage to give you a ‘snapshots’ blog on life since my last post, when I was still in America.

So I landed the first week of November and…

We had a pastor’s conference which included over a half dozen deaf pastors – Creole, English, and Sign Language were all happening! – and some great time with American partner pastors who gave time and wisdom to spend the week with us.

There was a team that came and did an awesome job at being learners, focusing on relationships and going deep in the time that they were here.

I saw Nadine & Wes the first day, as they knew when I’d be in and came to see me right away – and I couldn’t believe how BIG Westhalineda is!

Full mouth of teeth as she takes up her momma's lap - she's officially on her way to being a toddler!

Full mouth of teeth as she takes up her momma’s lap – she’s officially on her way to being a toddler!

I was excited to see Nadine and talk about the potential surgery. I was bummed and even frustrated at the idea that “there’s always SOMETHING” as she pointed out that Wes cannot grip or use her right hand (it’s constantly a fist). I love that Sonya, from the Red Thread Promise, visited later in the month and pointed out that the surgeries will give Wes the gift to WALK – and make such a huge difference.

I visited Simon’s house after being told that I had already been gone for too long, and I was greeted with smiles and friendly faces. I cannot emphasize the difference, especially in the women, from just months ago.

image1 (1)These same women sat with their family in the front row at church, would you believe it?! I still can’t get over their warm smiles and conversation when I see them.

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How would you like your baptisms to be in the Caribbean?

I loved this one. On Sunday, I got a surprise from Samedy as he informed me they had five baptisms planned that day. This means loading up a tap-tap with both the entire visiting team and the church of Canaan and driving to the ocean, stopping on the side of the road. This. Was. Beautiful. It started with the entire church praying and singing, as loud by the water as any other church would be with a sound system. With clapping and praising under the hot sun, they didn’t stop until all five – two young men and three young women, one pregnant! – were out of the water. And then they kept it up once we were on the tap-tap – packed like sardines in this truck, standing and some of them wet, for almost a half hour drive they kept singing praises for everyone around to hear. Some days I’m blown away that God lets us be a part of this.

In the middle of the baptisms, a team member nudged something on the seashore and asked “Is that….?” – it was a doll. I almost didn’t write this, because vodou is way Hollywood-ized and this may only hammer the misconceptions of vodou in, but I can’t not share this visual. But it was a vodou doll, the first one I’d seen, actually (because they aren’t a main part of vodou). But you can focus on the doll, or you can look up and see Samedy up to his elbows in clear Caribbean water holding the hands of a young man who is now a part of transforming his community. All of a sudden the dirty, washed up, forgotten doll of an enemy whose power is limited and defeated anyway….that’s all it is. A washed up doll. How awesome, to be a part of the baptism of not one but FIVE young people and literally walk over the broken pieces of this country as new life is being breathed in. (In Haiti, baptism has a lot of weight. Baptism is how you show people, “I’m in. I’m not just saying it and it’s not just for Sundays.”) So some people may focus on the doll, but I love the visual – look up. Look at what God is doing. Look at how much bigger it is, how insignificant the rest becomes when we look up.

Okay, next. I loved getting to see little ones again – some of them who I have now known for two years! (since 2012 when I came for a week) For the first time in a while, people’s eyes got big when they saw me as I haven’t left Haiti for this long before. In Canaan, I got a totally new response as kids who normally run for the team said “Stephanie is here!”….once again, I get to be a part of this? Nuts.

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Lovely is just one of the sweet faces after the chaos of everyone running to play, who sits and just loves to BE. Girl loves to play, but she also loves that deeper relationship – and I love that I get to be on the other side of it.

As the team spent time learning from the community and about the community, I actually got the pleasure of visiting for a few hours in Lovely’s home and hearing more about her life. It’s a dangerous thing, listening to people’s stories – you grow more attached, you want to pray, you can’t un-know what you learn.

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Speaking of getting to know….

That picture? I can’t help it. In the dozen that Simon took as he acted like the 17-year-old that he is, this outtake is way more fun of Louis & I. I have loved getting to know Louis this past year and when I walked in the kitchen when she was here – that was a LONG hug! Typical for us, we just started laughing until the echoes probably filled the whole top floor. She told me about life, talked all about what happened while I was gone, and just oozed love as that is who she IS – she’s all about people. After the team left, I enjoyed some time visiting Louis at home and I just love sitting with her and being. I love that our relationship is real, I love how she teaches me. I love that she has a wall of pictures and her grandson Darian leads me over to point us out. I love that she pulled me over and asked for a picture as we left, and I left her strong personality that clearly shows as she said, “Oh, what ‘chu think you doing with that phone? What’s takin’ so long?”

Speaking of home visits, Labourdie can always be counted on for laughter as well – it just comes out in high, giggly pitches. I cannot believe the transformation of Hope & Jessica over the past two years – but every time I pull up on a moto and see their smiling faces, I’m thankful all over again. Singing, running, and braiding my hair, they have changed so much and the Talaberts – who took them in – are just as hospitable and loving towards me as when I left. Manman – I call her mother instead of her real name – told me “her family was back” when she saw me & people kept coming out of the woodwork to greet me, ask about home, and update me on life. Estefan was at my side like usual and once again, I wondered how I get to be a part of these relationships.

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Those smiles!

Like any relationship, both nothing and a lot can happen while you’re gone. Hope is going to school now and a new house is being built, but besides that things were back to normal….until I picked up Biyence (Beyonce) and the biggest, saddest cries I’ve ever heard started to come from this bundle of joy. I looked around at the adults, what on EARTH was going on?

Her mother just died right before I came.

They didn’t live together, but it still hurts. It still means I’m left speechless, not knowing what to say but just hugging her as tight as I possibly can until I eventually think, “Gade, Biyence” (Look, Beyonce) – and then we start to talk about all the people there (over a dozen) that love her. I tell her about how much I love her. Everyone is nodding and agreeing, even the sarcastic teenage girls are sympathetically nodding, “Wi, ou gen anpil moun ki renmen ou la” (You have a lot of people who love you here). Her father walks over, we talk about how much he loves her. She slowly agrees and we just keep hugging tightly, at this point it’s for me too.

Eventually we got that adorable, take-over-your-face smile back. But I was reminded of the pain behind so many big smiles that day.

LOVE the gift of her smile.

LOVE the gift of her smile.

Looking at Hope, who has been much slower to change than her sister Jessica, running and playing this week, I am so thankful that God is known for making things new. I love that these girls were orphaned but placed in a family where they transformed – and the family they were placed in was the same family Biyence is in. God will keep working in her too.

Hope running and playing!

Hope running and playing! She loves games with Amanda.

Okay, are you tired of reading yet? So much happened this month, coming back to a country where relationships are constant and the best chair is always brought out, visiting new homes of people who moved and wanted me to see, holding nine-day-old babies of mothers who were so happy to see me back and then wrestling with their question of being a godmother, getting to meet Adilyn (Amanda & Jordan’s little one!), seeing TiKris and her seven month belly – with such a different attitude than last July when I was leaving and praying for her as she didn’t plan for this, seeing Devinson’s new little brother Jean Carrey and spending time with the family (basically, lots of babies), learning how you build a stick and mud wall for a house when the rain makes one side fall down, stumbling through Creole the whole time, trying food to be polite and praying with each bite that no parasites are in it, hiking the mountains behind Bercy to visit Maxon’s family and see them for the first time in almost a YEAR, seeing the growth of the different partner churches over the past few months…we’d be here all night if I kept going. Like I said, whirlwind. It was just last month that I was sitting in my mother’s house, piecing together blogs and e-mails as we rushed to get things together as it was time to pack for Haiti again!

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Okay, I’ve gotta share the picture of Maxon’s family from that day of hiking because I just love it!

And one Wes picture? I can't NOT, especially with that hat she borrowed straight from my head.

And one Wes picture? I can’t NOT, especially with that hat she borrowed straight from my head.

 

And now I’m back – because of you.

Thanks to Him, transition back into relationships has been pretty smooth. In fact, I have been thankful more than anything else as I sit back and realize….these are officially relationships that know me, these are stories that are not new but being built upon. This is a community that knows my name, these are people asking about my family who know details about them. These are parents who smile as their kids greet me – and we both remember how they let me be a part of their child’s life for the past year and this isn’t new but instead, “Hello, again!”. Samedy walks in to the house singing in Creole, “Stephanie, mwen vin wè ouuuuuu” (I’ve come to see you) and we are friends who have been working together for a year now, not strangers or simply co-workers.

Thanks to Him, He has also reminded me about why I’m here – with hard stories, long days, sad faces, and real problems that people are facing. With the reality that there are way more questions than answers in most of the situations I find myself in throughout the day, and my need for wisdom is desperate – something I constantly ask for in prayer. Even more is my need for love, and the courage to go outside with it now that I am here. It may sound great to a generation in love with adventure to live in another country, but reality is that the long haul means that I am just as human as you – I long for comfort, not to be pushed or questioning things or socially awkward as I learn what’s appropriate.

And that’s where I’m at. That’s November, or at least snapshots of it in 2,000 words for you. Thanks for being a part of getting me back here.