Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

My adventure with Haiti has been spread over many years, most of them before I ever bothered to visit the country itself. When he was in first grade, my son Hunter raised money on his own to support the Church of God orphanage, the House of Blessing, in Petionville, Haiti. This was the start of my friendship with the nation and people of Haiti. Along the way I have learned some important lessons and I am sure I will continue to learn with each trip (by the way, this is one of the most important reasons for short-term mission trips: learning!). Here are a few lessons that came to my attention as I prepared our Haitian dinner last night at church.

First, God will send you helpers of all kinds. Welcome them, accept anything they can do. Then celebrate with them the accomplishments. As I began cooking yesterday, one of my wife’s teacher friends asked if she could help. All afternoon her and my wife helped me cook, chop peppers, onions, and mushrooms, and then get all the food to the church and the tables setup for dinner. Stephanie is a young teacher who made friends with my wife last year at the school where they both taught. She has come to be as close to me as a sister and although I did not expect her help yesterday, I think God sent her to be there when the work would have probably overwhelmed me. When I visited Haiti several weeks ago, I met some people who had simply been available at the right time when Yvan Pierre needed them. In any ministry, but especially in mission work, the ability to build a team from those who are available rather than those who are qualified is essential!

Second, real ministry is a relational and community event, not the work of just one person. Even when one person is the visionary and the leader of what happens, they are powerless to create anything meaningful. Partners are essential! Not just workers and far more than mere supporters. Partners capture the vision of what is going on and can discern their own contribution to that larger vision. The shared contributions of many people make the ministry or mission far more successful than one-man shows or single focus programs.

Third, sometimes the discernment of a call is not a single datable event, like God calling Samuel, but more of a progressive unfolding of God’s will for you. I think God usually has to work this second route with me! If he had showed me at 16 what I know now, I would have probably run like Jonah!Instead, God has led me step by step into my current ministry. My current ministry activity is thrilling in both the emotional and spiritual sense, it is challenging in so many ways! Only my life experience has prepared me for these challenges. So I have learned to be faithful wherever I find myself in ministry and not only perform well in that position, but also look for what God might be trying to teach me through the phases of my life.

On my most recent visit to Haiti, I spent a lot of mornings and evenings in prayer. One thing God revealed to me is that my essential calling is still to be a pastor. Although now I am more of a pastor to pastors, the nature of what I am and what I do is unchanged from my initial calling. With this in mind, I am learning to not only submit to God’s leading but also to submit to the human leaders he places in my life. God has sent me “Apostles” who can expose me to new pastoral opportunities and help me discern specific tasks. Just as I trust God, I must trust that in placing me under the authority of these individuals, he is placing me right where I need to be to accomplish his will through me.

Missions and Partners

From the very first time I spoke with Yvan Pierre about International Christian Development Missions, he talked about “partnering with ICDM.” I thought I understood his idea until I began working more closely with him in the mission. Having just returned from eight days in Bayonnais, I think I am finally understanding what Yvan really means. On this most recent trip, I got to sit down and talk with Yvan about his history and the vision God gave him. To see the way God used Yvan and spoke to him through the years is itself a wonderful experience. However, the things that come through almost every sentence he shared with me are the names of people who “partnered” with him and made the present mission possible. What was special about this narrative was the fact that this was not so much about partners and supporters here in the USA, but about the people of Haiti who helped him, guided him as he planned and worked, and opened doors when they needed to be opened. Yvan even spoke of the many people he had met across Haiti who helped him accomplish what God had called him to do in Bayonnais.

I even got to meet one of these early partners, Francois! This distinguished man was one of the first if not the first person to whom Yvan shared his dream and vision. Because of the influence God had given Francois in the community, the Institute Henri Christophe, our primary school, was able to open its doors to the children of Bayonnais. Francois himself has a wonderful testimony of how God led him to faith. As we sat and he shared his story with me, hos humility and graciousness were clear. He was so amazed at all God had done through the years without bragging the least about how God had used him, Francois, to make it all happen.

We also had a big visiting team there the first few days. Business men and women, housewives, and even some teen ladies. There partnership was profound both in terms of the contribution they made to our projects but also what they experienced on this trip. But they also became my friend!

What I learned from all this is that missions is not about one person or group traveling to another country and doing something for or to others. Rather, real missions is about building relationships with people and working together to bring to life a vision that is bigger than all of us could imagine. When we get to know people and when we see in them the gifts and calling of God, we can then work with them in creative and powerful ways. Partnership means relationship, and Christian missions must first of all be relational!

Answer the Call

Answer the Call

For almost as long as I have know him, my friend, Yvan Pierre, has tried to teach ┬áme that when God calls, God provides. Being the hard-headed learner I am, I nod my head but really don’t get it. However, Yvan’s teaching is very biblical and is certainly the directions God gives to his followers. When Jesus sent out the disciples (Matthew 10:5014):

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts–no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (Mat 10:5-14 NIV)

This lesson does not come easy to me or to many others it seems. As a pastor and leader, I have often been in the position of sharing a Godly vision only to be asked by church leaders, “How will we pay for it?” When I find myself asking the same question in response to God’s call and direction on my own life, I have to share a guilty smile! You see, this is fundamentally the wrong question! We should not be asking, ‘How will I/we pay for it?” but rather, “How can I best answer this call and trust God in my response?”

I a previous post I discussed the provision of a lens set for the Optometrist in Haiti. I was so busy trying to provide for this need, I missed the very real fact that God was providing. My job was to ask, seek, and knock until the door opened. I did not need to raise the money, make the purchase, or even shop for what was needed. Through Marie Claude’s request, God had called me to present the need. Even though I had to ask many times, seek in several places, and knock on as many doors, so to speak, God was providing in his own way and his perfect timing.

This leaves us with the clear direction to simply answer God’s call. Rather than worry about the funding or the supply, we need to just move forward. It is interesting to read the response of the Twelve when the returned from their assignment. They were amazed that people were healed and that even the demons withdrew at their command. They were provided for along the way, as they went, and as they answered the call and command of their Lord. This is a matter of trust! Since I struggle with this, I want to end this post with a prayer:

Lord Jesus, help me to simply respond when you call; to answer when you lead; and to move when you direct. Let my heart trust in you even as my feet, hands and voice work at your command. I ask it all in your precious name, Amen!

Adventure Continues

On September 23, I will again be traveling to Bayonnais, Haiti. This trip was originally scheduled for earlier this month but was cancelled by Hurricane Irma. This is an unusual trip for me because I do not know what all I am going to be doing. Some of the people I was supposed to meet are not available now because of my altered schedule. Other efforts have been delayed and may be impossible this time. Someone asked me this morning, “then why are you going?” Because I need to go!

Only a portion of short term missions is about the nation and people we are visiting. Certainly that is the main motive and reason for going. However, Haiti does things to me and in me that can happen no where else! These include physical, mental, and spiritual changes.

Physically, I am more active in Haiti. That may not seem like much to some, but for me it is both challenging and healthy. Being on my feet, in the heat, and without the need to sit behind this computer all day, I actually lose weight when I am there (in spite of Marie Claude’s awesome cooking!). I get exercise and breath fresh air. This in itself is small, but is certainly an asset to me.

Mentally, my visits to Haiti clear my mind. Forced to leave behind the worries and anxieties of life here, not to mention the mere pace of life in the US, I am able to focus more on what is important in my mind and thoughts. I am free to think about my family, my work, my friends, and all the tasks to which I am too close when I am stateside. Haiti gives me mental perspective, inspiration, and opens my mind to imagine and create new possibilities.

Spiritually, Haiti simply transforms me! I feel closer to God, more excited about what God is doing, and less distracted in my prayers. Living more simply in Haiti allows me more time with God alone, even while I am engaging others more actively. My devotions seem sweeter, my prayers more effective, and my soul is refreshed and made whole when I visit my second country!

Yes, my main goal is to work with Haitians to educate, equip, and empower them. However, I always feel like I get as much from them as they receive from me! Haiti, from the Taino word, ayiti, which means “mountainous place,” is for me a place of rest!

Waiting for IRMA!

Hurricane Irma has swept across the Atlantic Ocean and taken dead aim for the Caribbean islands and eventually Florida. As I sit in my home in North Florida and watch all the new reports, I have to keep in mind all my friends in Haiti. Most of the folks have little access to the news. No TV in the living room and very few radios. News travels by word of mouth and, at best, over telephone contacts and connections. By contrast I have news alerts on every station and at least five dedicated TV channels that seem to be covering nothing but Hurricane Irma.

We are setting up one of our church buildings to be an evacuation site for those who have to leave, or want to leave, home for the storm. We have civil servants all set to manage the evacuations, shelters, and the recovery afterwards. Haiti has little if any of these services. People must survive on their own, or at best in their communities.

I am proud that ICDM has been preparing for this kind of situation from the very beginning. With strong buildings, they have a place for people to stay. With do it yourself technologies they are better equipped to feed people, clothe people, and provide for their immediate needs. But they can only do this much because of you! As you prepare for the Irma, be thinking of those who lack the resources and civil service you will depend on! Lift them up in your prayers, be ready to help them out as they recover, and provide what you can for their present and ongoing needs.

http://www.icdm.us

A Man, a Ministry, a Mission

A Man, a Ministry, a Mission

The church is often hesitant to focus on a person or personality out of fear that by doing so we diminish the emphasis on Jesus the Christ. It is at least partially true that we should fear this tendency, but at the same time, the history of the church is replete with persons and personalities that have shaped, renewed, or revolutionized the life of the church. From Paul the Apostle in the book of Acts, to folks like Martin Luther, John Wesley, Mother Teresa and so many more. These men and and women are significant for what they did, but more importantly for who they were.

I write a lot about ICDM, the mission group I work with, but this mission is the dream and work of a very profound young man. This post is about him. I do not want to make him into a hero, but rather to highlight how much God can do through one person when we dare to listen and respond to God’s call.

Yvan Pierre is a trim, even small, man physically. At my height and size, I often feel like I am towering over him. But in his spirit, Yvan is a giant! Growing up in a Christian home in Bayonnais, Haiti, Yvan was taught early to seek God and to follow his leading at all costs. Almost three decades ago, Yvan had a vision of educating, equipping, and empowering the people of his community and his nation. Out of his vision has emerged the Institute Henri Christophe, the Portable Bible School, the School of Evangelism, a Pure Water project, ongoing programs to support pastors and their families,and even classes in Permaculture that help local farmers get the most out of their farms and resources. Now we have an emerging medical clinic and we are even working toward a trade school.

Why is Yvan so important to all these projects and programs? First, because Yvan let God use him to dream and imagine impossible things. There is nothing more powerful than someone who dares the impossible trusting God to provide and guide! My brother Yvan is just such a person!

Second, Yvan dares all of those who work for him to be just as visionary and just as trusting in God’s goodness to succeed. In my own life, I am working and living way beyond where I ever imagined because Yvan dared me to trust God to provide and dream big for the future.

Beyond vision, Yvan also is an encourager and cheerleader. In any venture that is moving this fast and growing this big there are many setbacks that discourage and dismay us. But at the very lowest times in our work, Yvan comes in with encouragement, hope, and a reminder that the outcome is in God’s hands, not ours.

Finally, Yvan is an awesome mentor and director to me because he does not seek or ask for the credit for what has happened. In fact, Yvan will probably be disturbed by what I am writing here. To him, all the glory and credit go to the Lord Jesus Christ! This alone makes him a man worthy of my loyalty.

I invite you all to come and meet my brother in Christ, Yvan Pierre. But more than meeting him, I invite you to come and see all that God has done through him and his team! You will be amazed, people will be blessed, and God will be glorified!

Putting the “GO” in the Great Commission

Putting the “GO” in the Great Commission

Having made trips to China, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and now Haiti, I am often asked, “Do these short term trips really accomplish anything?” Or I am asked, “It costs so much for you to take a team to Haiti (or wherever). Why not just raise the money you raise and then send that to Haiti?” I want to try and answer these two questions because I think they actually miss the point about why we do this.

First of all, yes, these trips do accomplish a great deal. The team that Tony Geinotta takes from Cape May county in New Jersey have made seven trips and are scheduled to be there again this coming October. Each time they complete a measurable task in terms of building. On my last trip with them in 2012, we completed the framework for the forms that allowed the next team to pour the entire ceiling for the first floor of the Center of Hope. This is how the teams work: One group may dig and pour only the foundations; The next assembles the walls using concrete block. Another team like ours, sets the forms and the last team pours the ceiling, which then  becomes the floor for the next level. Some might protest that it would be cheaper to just send the money and pay Haitians to do the work! This is true, but it would not accomplish the full task of these teams.

You see, the goal is not just to build a building or clear new farm land or even teach pastors and church leaders (something I usually do). This is only a part of the task and often not even the most important one. On all of these trips, we work right alongside Haitians. We get to know them, share some meals with them, even laugh and play with them (I learned on my first visit not to challenge the Haitians to a Dominoes tournament!). A team traveling to Bayonnais, where ICDM has their main campus, is likely to meet and play games with students from Institute Henri Christophe. We will meet and sometimes even help the teachers there. Our cooks are all Haitian as well. What happens by the end of one of these trips is that we have made friends with many of the Haitians. When the team returns home their vision of the world is changed because they now see these people as real, as human, and as friends. Although their attitude on the first trip may be, “I am going to do something for Haiti,” after their first trip it usually becomes, “I am going to do something with Haitians!” This may seem like a subtle difference in attitude, but it is an important difference. Now that they know these people, the reasons behind their work all change. Even the reasons for fund-raising will change. I remember the first trip with Tony’s team, we saw fund raising as primarily to pay for our trip. After that first trip, fund-raising was more about what was going to be done and who we were going to help on our next trip. The actual going leads to people coming home like the disciples after Jesus sent them out: Praising God and proclaiming, ‘even the demons obey our word.’ This goal of making friends and partners in Haiti is easily more important then the work we actually accomplish, although both are the result. However, there is still another reason to go.

When I took this team from New Jersey, there were numerous complaints by church leaders. Some thought we should be working directly on a United Methodist project and ICDM holds no denominational affiliation. Others felt that our fund raising would diminish the money given for current mission projects of the church. Still others thought that we needed to work at home before we went overseas to do missions. Here is why I still say we should go: 1) ICDM does not hold a denominational affiliation and this has given them the ability to work across many denominational and theological boundaries. In fact it allows them to work with (that “with” word again) other mission organizations and churches with far more flexibility and influence; 2) Instead of diminishing church funding for missions, this group actually increased the giving for missions supported by the church. This happened two ways. First, the persons who had gone on the trip found themselves more sensitive to and responsive to mission needs, whether local or overseas. Second, the group shifted their fund-raising to the community rather then from the church and then tithed all they raised to the church’s mission fund; 3) When Jesus said “go” it was to the whole world. Whether you read the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:18-20 or Acts 1:4-8, the command is to go to the whole world, not in some sequential steps (home first, then the nations next door, and then the ends of the earth), but rather to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth, all at the same time.

In conclusion, I think every leader, particularly every pastor, should go on at least one foreign mission trip. We need to see the world through a wider lens and make friends with those whom we would help. My first trip to Haiti changed the direction of my life. Once I saw these people as God’s children, abused by their neighbors, ignored by the world, and yet joyful in their existence, I could not accept the idea that I could do nothing. So I keep going and taking new people with me. They come back transformed and as often as not lead transformation in their church back home. So who will go? Will you?

Mission, Ministry, and Open Eyes

Mission, Ministry, and Open Eyes

This past April marked seven years since my first trip to Haiti. As I have reflected on my journeys to Haiti, one of the biggest changes I have noticed has been in my own perceptions. This seems to be the story of my professional life, but maybe that is OK. Having our perceptions changed and our assumptions challenged is the only way we can grow spiritually, mentally, and even emotionally. So here are some things I used to believe and the things that changed my mind.

First, I grew up in a pretty middle-class, working family in the USA. Nothing wrong with this, but the heritage of our Puritan ancestors still shapes our perceptions of wealth and poverty. We tend to think that if you work hard, you will get ahead. But another belief consequent of this is that if people are not getting ahead, they must not be working. I will admit that much of my view of those in poverty was shaped, at least unconsciously, by this belief. Believing that poverty is due to laziness or a lack of effort was the first belief that was challenged when I visited Haiti.

What are the facts? Well, if you belief Haiti is poor because her people are lazy or unmotivated, you are in for a surprise. People in Haiti work hard and for much longer hours than we are used to in the US. I have heard and seen women up at 3-3:30 in the morning getting ready and going to market. They load baskets and buckets in their head that weigh 40-50 pounds and then walk miles to the market in order to sell what they have, but what they need, and then turn around and head back home in the late evening. When we poured the first floor ceiling on the Center for Hope, we watched some of the local men mix concrete by hand on a sheet of plywood and carry five-gallon buckets up a ladder to complete the pour. No trucks or mixers, just hard work in a near tropical sun from sunup that morning until after dark that night. When we were taking breaks to catch our breath, they kept right on working! See this level of motivation and hard work, I had to change my mind about what caused poverty! It is not a lac k of hard work!

Second, I expected Haiti to be an ugly country. Although there are places that are dusty and unclean by American standards, the country is actually VERY beautiful! From green and blue vistas of the Caribbean ocean to the mountains that give Haiti her name, there is scenic beauty everywhere. But more than simple seeing beauty, I found the hearts and minds of the Haitian people to be beautiful as well! They are proud of their country and though they are painfully aware of what is missing in their nation, they want you to see it for yourself and know them as people. Every time I go I awake to the view of rich green mountains and the noise of people heading out to start their day. The smells of cooking fires as women start morning meals. And above all the sounds of the children gathering for school. Smiles, laughter, singing, and the glorious scents of the blooming flowers and trees!

Finally, I believed that Haitians were very different from me. There are some unique differences, but not the ones I imagined and nothing that should keep us separated! Haitians and Americans have both fought down a European power to gain their independence so we have a common heritage of liberty and independence. That alone was, and remains, a revelation to me! You see, we fought off the British while we were a prosperous collection of colonies who were well-education and already well-armed for our own defense. The Haitians fought off French rule as slaves with no education and few of the typical weapons their oppressors possessed. This battle for liberty continues in Haiti as they seek the recognition and equality of their neighbors. However, the pride they feel in their heritage is as strong as our own and should be celebrated with them!

What am I trying to say? Don’t go with preconceived ideas about what Haiti is and what you can do for them. Go instead with open eyes and be ready to experience a nation and a people who will astound you with their strength and beauty! Be willing to listen to them, walk with them, and see for yourself that they do not need you to do anything FOR them, but they would live to do everything WITH you!