Joel Rothe, pastoral intern at Abiding Hope in Littleton, CO, traveled to Haiti with HTF in January.  Here he shares how his story and HTF’s story are unfolding together. You can find his original blog at https://joelrothe.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/thoughts-from-haiti/

For me, the most difficult part of returning from a trip is figuring out how to share about it.  Especially when the trip includes not only memorable or fun experiences, but is layered with complex relationships, human frailty and injustice.  A few photos on facebook and accompanying captions just can’t get the job done.  So hence, a blog and some room to share some stories…

Last week I traveled to Haiti together with 10 other students from Trinity Lutheran Seminary, President Rick Barger, his wife and three representatives of Abiding Hope Church including Pastor Doug Hill.  We traveled not on our own, but with the Haitian Timoun Foundation (HTF).  Timoun means “Children” in Haitian Creole.

HTF partners with and financially supports Haitian-led organizations which are located in various parts of the country, and its mission is “fostering hope and sustainability with dignity.”  We did not travel with HTF to take a tour of the poverty that exists in Haiti, or to go to “help” Haiti.  Our travels were geared towards participating in authentic relationships with Haitians and the organizations that HTF partners with in order to learn from them and to be changed and transformed by the experiences we had with them.  In return, we are challenged to ask how we can participate in the ongoing transformational work that is already happening in Haiti and other impoverished nations around the world, as well as how do we bring others into the stories and experiences.

There are many unhelpful ways to travel into impoverished communities, and I don’t claim that we traveled perfectly, but I do believe that our travel was marked by mutuality between us as Americans and the Haitians that we spent time with thanks to the years of relationship building that HTF has already been participating in.

And more than being consumed by images of hunger, poverty, lack of sanitation, deforestation and dehumanization, our travels emphasized the stories of hope and resurrection that were happening all around us.  The organizations we spent time with are effectively empowering women and children through strategic economic assistance, education, accompaniment and support.  And even more, we were able to see how the rhythms of life for Haitians, the communities they live in and the support and generosity they offer to one another may be more real and life-producing than the individualized, self-determined and privileged ways of life that I participate in at home in Littleton.

So over the next couple of weeks I plan to share stories and experiences of how I’m being formed and re-formed through this experience.  And tentatively I have four areas that my reflections seem to be gravitating to…

Authentic Relationships.  What was it like to participate in relationships that were bigger than myself?  What were the marks of real relationship building?  What grounded and provided a foundation for the relationships we encountered?
Witnessing systemic oppression.  What does it look like to become aware of our own privilege, and how a country like Haiti has been impacted for centuries by the systems that benefit me?  How do I respond to such an encounter?
Witnessing new life and hope.  How are Haitians experiencing real change in their lives and their communities?  What is bringing about that change, and what are the appropriate ways we participate in it?  How is God bringing new life out of systems that perpetuate death and oppression?
Transformational curiosity.  How does such a trip and the relationships I entered into, the stories of death and resurrection, begin to reorder my own life, relationships, attitudes and priorities?  How can I participate more fully in the vision God has for the world, where all people can experience the fullness of life.  How does my life need to change so that change can happen in the world?

But those are just the questions to help organize my thoughts.  I hope the stories themselves will be what engages you – because I know they have captured me.

More to come…

Leaky Houses

Lecia Beck, a seminary student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, created a blog to share about what she has learned and is learning from her experiences in Haiti.  The original blog can be found at http://soumonsa.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2016-01-27T07:57:00-08:00&max-results=7.

Kay koule twompe soley soley men li pa twompe lapil.
    A leaky house can fool the sun, but it can’t fool the rain.

While I live in a beautiful, luxurious residence hall with hot running water and climate-controlled comfort, there are ways in which I live in a leaky house.

We all do.

Our houses leak when what we believe about God is not true to God’s character.  While I discovered that there are many ideas about God that I do not agree with, I never had a great way to articulate that.  Taking Systematic Theology last fall helped, but it was in a conversation with someone who has no seminary degree that I learned a way to explain it to others.

“If it is not true for a poor single mom in Haiti, then it isn’t true.”

This simple lens was a gift from For the Love by Jen Hatmaker through Erin Murphy, executive director of the Haitian Timoun Foundation.

If we say that we believe something about God, is it something that is true for a Haitian mother struggling to raise her children?

Before I returned to Haiti, I spent a week interviewing many people who have seen their lives transformed after a trip to Haiti.  This made me ask the question: How has your time in Haiti changed how you see God?

Lauren, a young teacher, has been travelling to Haiti since she was a senior in high school.  In her time there, she has made many Haitian friends, getting to know people and care for them.  On the Sunday after the earthquake (January 12, 2010), she went to church with a friend.  While there, the pastor said that he was not going to talk all about the earthquake, but knew that it was a sign of God’s judgment on Haiti.  Lauren knew that was not how God worked.  While many find comfort to say that terrible things were God’s will, she knew that this was not the case.  For this pastor, Haitians were a nameless, faceless group, but for Lauren, these were her friends.  

For Karen, going to Haiti was like meeting family she did not know.  She felt so welcomed.  At church, she had heard that the gifts of “God are free” for all people and that “all means all.”  She loves her Haitian family because it helps her to remember who “all” includes and has widened God’s love.  

When I talked to Erin, we talked about how she liked the security of a schedule, which really represents control of her life.  In Haiti, it is important to learn to go with the flow as things do not always go according to schedule.  Perhaps giving up that bit of control in Haiti helps us also be able to give up some of need to control and trust God more.

My favorite program to visit is Chemen Lavi Miyò.  From Fonkoze’s website: Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM), or “the pathway to a better life,” provides Haiti’s poorest women with the tools and support needed to pull themselves and their families from ultra poverty into self-sufficiency, with hope and vision for their futures.  For me, visiting with women, I see stories of resurrection and an invitation to join in God’s mission.  I can say, “The kingdom of God is near” and know that God does indeed bring about new life.

What has changed how you see God?  What is your filter?

On the journey with Fedna

This is Fedna. She is 30 and has been in the CLM program for 5 months, and has 3 goats and 1 pig. Her five children live with her - 4 are in school and the baby - Fednal - is 3 months old. Her house is under construction. She hopes to have a business and continue to grow and help her children.

Fedna’s new home

Fedna’s old home

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She is using her water filter

Meeting with Christian, her case manager

She is already doing advance math

Living Bread

From HTF Executive Director Erin Murphy to her home congregation, Epiphany Lutheran Church in Suwanee, GA.

Since 2010, Epiphany youth and adults have led and participated in a summer camp for the poorest children in the Jacmel area of Haiti sponsored by the Haitian Timoun Foundation (HTF). That camp has grown to include participation from multiple congregations around the country and has served between 250 and 350 Haitian children each year. This summer, after years of dreaming, HTF and its partner Chemen Lavi Miyò (Haitian Creole for “path to a better life” or CLM) made plans for young people and their adult guides to walk alongside and partner with CLM for their summer camps. Last week, Epiphany’s team of eight youth and two adults, along with 19 others from Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota and Haiti, served as monitors at four different camp locations throughout the central plateau region of Haiti, collectively serving almost 1,000 children over a three-day period.

Epiphany, your team of servants poured themselves out in the hot classrooms and grassy soccer fields in Mirebalais. There were physical challenges to overcome - camp days extended eight hours and temperatures hovered just below 100˚F - and each of us found our emotional fortitude tested as we loved on the children who attended camp each day. These boys and girls, children of the members of CLM’s ultra-poverty eradication program, are living at or below poverty levels that many of us have only read about in National Geographic. Their parents - their moms, alone, in most cases - have been struggling just to provide a meal for them every few days. Many of the children have never attended school, and they have never heard from loved ones or from strangers like us that their lives have value. They did last week. We showed up each day with smiles, hugs and words of hope and dignity. We told the children and their mothers that their lives matter. We told them that, even though they are young, they have the right to food, clean water, safe shelter and education. And we moved beyond words to action. The theme of the camp was Timoun Se Lavni Demen - Children are the Future - and  we sang, we danced, we played, we learned, we ate, all of it TOGETHER, in solidarity with our Haitian brothers and sisters. One of the four Haitian college students serving with us last week begged us, through tears, to never stop showing up for our partners in Haiti. He told us that he never heard words of encouragement as a child. He’s 23 now, and said he cannot hear enough that he has value and rights and a future.

In this Sunday’s Gospel text, we hear Jesus say “I am the bread of life.” He goes on to explain that the living bread - Jesus - is the bread that will sustain us for eternal life. You will hear from our team in worship this Sunday, as they share with you their stories of hope and transformation from this past week. I know you will hear and see glimpses of Jesus’s vision for the world - that ALL may have life.

Erin Murphy

HTF Executive Director Erin Murphy visited Preston Meadow Lutheran Church in Plano, Texas last weekend to thank them for their partnership and their commitment to bringing about new life for all.  Preston Meadow came together in a grassroots way to support women in Fonkoze’s CLM program, raising $25,000 with the help of 100 families.   Additionally, PMLC is supporting our summer camp for a second year AND they sponsored 12 children just during the weekend that Erin visited.  

To Be of Use

The artwork for our summer camp t-shirt made one HTF supporter think of the poem that follows.

To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Nicole Eastwood recently traveled with HTF to Haiti. Her trip has inspired a series of blog posts about the work of HTF and her experience in Haiti.  We’ll be posting her blogs here on our tumblr.  You can also access the original blog at https://familyandfaith.wordpress.com/category/haiti/.

Today’s post is a 3rd installment in my blogs chronicling my recent trip to Haiti through the Haitian Timoun Foundation. To start at the beginning, begin here.

In my last post I told you about our visit to Wings of Hope. I also mentioned that Wings of Hope is a member of the St. Joseph Family. It was our incredible honor to join the St. Joseph Family for Sunday morning worship and the 30th Anniversary celebration.

As we gathered outside, in the shade of a USAID tarp, it certainly didn’t look like any worship space I’d experienced before. However, the liturgy for the day had a layout any of us would recognize. Some of the songs were in English, and some of the songs were sung in Creole. (The Creole songs had a better drum accompaniment, just saying…) We had 5 Pastors on our trip and Pastor Shelley joined the 30th Anniversary celebration, making 6 Pastors present. Each Pastor took part in worship as well as many of the members of the St. Joseph Family. Bill Nathan was our interpreter for the day, and a leader in the St. Joseph family. His personal story of survival, first as a child slave in Haiti and then surviving a 7 story fall during the earthquake, is incredible. Have you ever met someone and realized you were in the presence of someone with so many gifts, such leadership, and such potential? That was my small encounter with Bill Nathan – an incredible leader for the St. Joseph Family and for Haiti!



There was a blessing for the children (and we were blessed as well!)


At one point an energetic man named Gesner was getting excited. So he started getting up and pacing the floor, stopping to visit different folks. Finally, he stopped with Pastor Tim. Pastor Tim just enveloped Gesner in his arms and held him there for the duration of the service. And Gesner was at peace with Pastor Tim. His contentedness was apparent to us all. After a while, it became Pastor Tim’s turn to read scriptures. As he read from the Bible with Gesner wrapped close, I was left speechless, and the tears started to flow…

Worship also included a dance by the boys, and special song selections offered by family members wanting to share their gifts to praise God. Art is a big part of the St. Joseph family, and there was a special art selection of which many members offered reflections.The entire worship service left me speechless. In fact, I kept crying during the service (good thing you don’t need to wear mascara in Haiti!). The reality is that I felt this celebration, this worship, WAS THE HOLIEST THING I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED. My tears started at the beginning of the service, and the leaky faucet dripped on and off for the 3 hour celebration. When worship started little did I know that the most incredible part was yet to come.

Holy Communion is meaningful in any worship setting. It is the tangible way in which we remember that we are:

Loved.

Forgiven.

Community.

United with Christ.

United with Christ’s Church throughout time and space.

I’ll admit, I had high expectations for sharing the body and blood of Christ with our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Then they set the table…and woah…

First, the table was processed in by 2 members of the St. Joseph Family, and the boys reverently bowed.


The table is processed in… altar cloths, flowers, plate and cup, bread and wine. (Side note: this is all happening to the backdrop of U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. So I was already excited!) The final note of the worship procession is when Josephine, a young teenager from Wings of Hope, is rolled in her wheelchair to place the cross on the table. Cue: tears!

Josephine Placing the Cross on the Table
You think that would be enough, right? You think I would be an emotional mess with Christ clearly present in our midst, but worship wasn’t done yet. Communion wasn’t even done yet. As Pastor Jay led us in the Words of Institution (and Bill led us in Creole), I was so struck by the holiness of it all. The family dog laying in the middle of worship…the blancs (Creole for white)…the Haitians…the family…the wheelchairs…the tarps…and in the middle of it all, Jesus. As it was time for communion distribution, it was immediately realized that many of the children from Wings of Hope didn’t have proper use of their arms. I wept again as Pastor Jay and the Assisting Ministers gently placed the body and blood in the mouths of these young people.


So there you have the story of the most holy worship I have had the privilege of sharing. This was a glimpse into the Kingdom of God. A place where are all welcome. A place of FAMILY. And dancing. Steve really likes to dance  :)

What to say about Haiti?

Nicole Eastwood recently traveled with HTF to Haiti. Her trip has inspired a series of blog posts about the work of HTF and her experience in Haiti.  We’ll be posting her blogs here on our tumblr.  You can also access the original blog at https://familyandfaith.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/what-to-say-about-haiti/.

5 days ago I returned from a week-long trip to the island nation of Haiti. Everyone asks “How was Haiti?” The answer is so much more complicated than can be said in passing. I feel like each question deserves a sit-down conversation over a long dinner to share the many stories of this place…

So I am going to attempt to answer the question of “How was Haiti” here on my blog through a few posts…not necessarily designed for anyone other than for me.

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Haiti was…

Intense.

Overwhelming.

Invigorating.

Emotionally Exhausting.

Full of life.

Hopeful.

Scary.

Sad.

Happy.

Abounding with laughter.

Touched by God.

Alive in the Spirit.

Humbling.

Holy.

The congregation where I worship and serve has been involved with the Haitian Timoun Foundation (HTF)for over 5 years. (Timoun means child in Creole).   HTF is a foundation that partners with Haitian organizations to foster hope and sustainability with dignity. HTF partners with 8 Haitian organizations that are most certainly changing the world. (My goal for this blog is write a separate piece about each ministry and why they are incredible.) HTF is a grassroots organization that truly seeks to partner with organizations. It is not a dictatorship organization, one who says “we’ll give you money, do it this way,” but one who says “what are your needs, maybe we can help?” The first sign of this is through the trips it facilitates.

HTF does not lead “mission” trips. It does not facilitate “poverty tourism.” HTF calls their trips “immersion” trips or “visioning” trips. The participants walk alongside their partner ministries for a day to learn about their mission in Haiti, the need to which each ministry is responding, and to experience life together. I have had someone ask me “What did you accomplish in Haiti?” to which my response was “We did not go to Haiti to physically accomplish anything. We went to Haiti to build and strengthen our relationships…to let our partners know we were in this together, and to see how God is moving in Haiti.”

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It was a complete honor to represent this organization. Everywhere we went our partner agencies treated us, as HTF representatives, as royalty. On the first day it became apparent that we were representing a larger agency, and that it was an honor to represent HTF. The work of this Foundation is holy work…it is the Lord’s work…and it is the work the Haitains have designed, so that all may have life!

I felt called to participate in this trip because I wanted to see what God was doing in other parts of the world, through different cultures, languages, economic realities, and political structures. For years I had heard of this organization and its ministries, but information is not tantamount to transformation. Thanks for joining me on this journey…

Obvious, but not inevitable

Robin Lutjohann traveled with an HTF immersion group in January 2015.  These are his reflections about his experience visiting our partners in the Chemen Lavi Miyò program.

Traveling with a group of folks from Trinity Lutheran Seminary (Columbus, OH) and Abiding Hope Lutheran Church (Littleton, CO), I was privileged to encounter some of the remarkable women of Chemen Lavi Miyò.

 One of them stands out in particular. It was a long walk to her house for us foreigners, as we were unaccustomed to the humidity and heat of Haiti’s Central Plateau region. But, eager to meet her, we trudged resolutely along bean plantations and lush greenery, down a winding dirt road. Then, up a small, wooded hill, we saw her, barefoot, holding her infant son in her arms. If I remember correctly, she introduced herself as Denise. She was shy and seemed taken aback to see these “Blancs” accompanying her caseworker. But when we assured her of our goodwill, she opened up her home to us, beaming with that characteristic Caribbean hospitality. Denise showed us what seemed to be her only possession: a little hut made of plywood, pieces of metal, and covered with plantain leaves as a roof, all in all no bigger than a sedan. With the rainy season approaching, her entire livelihood could be swept away in a mudslide. What’s more: Denise shared with us that her husband had died of a disease, leaving her to care for five children by herself.

The poverty Denise inherited and the vulnerability of her situation are not mere bad luck – they are the result of hundreds of years of oppression and aggression against the Haitian people. From Columbus to slavery to trade embargoes to occupations to the ongoing problems of corruption and poorly executed international aid efforts, Haiti has been beaten down repeatedly by forces of greed and hatred. Add to that the natural disasters that periodically sweep the nation, and poverty seems like an obvious result.

 Obvious, perhaps, but not inevitable. Once Denise had shown us her house, we saw more: A goat, tied to a plantain tree. No, two goats! And there, behind the bushes, a fat black pig! These were resources for self-sufficiency provided by Chemen Lavi Miyò. Along with a new house and the assistance of her caseworker, these resources give Denise the possibility to care for her family and attain enough stability to escape extreme poverty. Denise is already strong, confident, talented, and able. All she needs is a hand to climb up to the first step of the latter. With the help of HTF, she and many other women can take that step.

 As they say in Haiti: “Jezi kapab. Jesus is able.” What may seem hopeless and impossible for us, is possible for God, who never ceases to effect transformation through people. This I will never forget.

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Today - at Wings of Hope - we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the St. Joseph Family. Together, we sang, we danced, we took selfies, we prayed, we worshipped, and we shared communion. Pastor Shelly, in her sermon, highlighted three passages from today’s readings that resonated with her on this anniversary: (1) faith like a mustard seed, (2) with God, nothing is impossible, and (3) when the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, we have hope. The St. Joseph Family takes these words and puts them into action.

Two years ago today, I stepped onto Haitian soil for the first time. I know I wasn’t fully aware of the transformation that was in play, and how much my life was about to be changed. In ten days, I’ll leave for my 8th trip to this beautiful country. I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to work in solidarity with partners in Haiti and around the world as we labor to ensure that ALL may have life. Mark Twain said it best: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

-Erin Murphy, HTF Executive Director

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Tetkole Pou Demen Miyo (Heads Together for a Better Tomorrow), is a community center in the heart of Jacmel that provides creative outlets for youth as alternatives to violence and street life.  Art is a productive and healing activity for the youth of Tetkole that allows them to truly create hope and take ownership.  The jewelry made at Tetkole is sold for the benefit of the community center.  True life. Full circle.

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The Rejoice School, run from Trinity House in Jacmel, gives restaveks (child slaves) the opportunity of education. Typically, restaveks are not only denied the right to an education, but robbed of their basic rights to health, happiness, and to have a childhood.

Yesterday 20 Rejoice students and some of their families gathered for a Christmas party-the first in their lives! All were fed and the children participated in games and other activities.

Thanks to Maya (Luckner) Fond-Rose for sharing these photos.

From Steve Werlin, CLM Regional Director:

Yesterday we celebrated a long, beautiful graduation for 347 successful CLM families from southern Mirebalais. It was, mainly, a very joyous occasion.

But my joy was missing something. Last Thursday I got the news that Guilène, one of our graduates, had passed away. She leaves her two children, the younger of whom was born just after their father died.

She had been sick on and off for a few months. She, her mother Chimène, who is also a CLM member, and their case manager, Philistin Nerlande, worked hard to get her medical care. She was visiting a Cuban hospital in Mirebalais regularly. Recently, she had seemed to be improving.

I had written about Guilène and her son Jovensonne several times over the last months because they impressed me with their ingenuity and their devotion to each other. Theirs was a model partnership.

I had spoken to Chimène on Monday, and she had told me that she didn’t have the heart for graduation. But I had asked to to come anyway, and she did. We asked for a moment of silence to honor all five members who passed away while we were with this group, but it was very difficult to read Guilène’s name. When I returned to Chimène’s house this morning, we talked quietly for awhile. She stood next to me as I sat drinking her strong, sweet coffee. 

She turned to a visiting neighbor and boasted of the way I had been crying as I read her daughter’s name. Then she gave me a pat on the head, and started weeping again herself. 

Guilène had worked diligently and shrewdly over 18 months, and she had developed a good plan for her next steps.

Guinya, the little girl, is already living with an aunt in Port au Prince. I don’t know when I might see her again. Chimène is convinced by her surviving daughter’s devotion to Guilène’s girl, so I’ll try not to worry. Jovensonne is scheduled to move in with his paternal grandfather in Labastille, not far from where he lived with his mom. I hope I’m able to stay in touch.

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I got to see my friend Louitanne today. I first met her in September 2013, when she entered the CLM program, and we visited her home (pictured). Three months ago, I was able to visit with her and see and hear about her progress. Today, I saw the new home that she and her husband built. She will graduate from CLM in April. I will be there cheering her on.