Listen and Learn

My father used to always tell me that I did not listen! He was right! My attention was almost always somewhere else. But as I have matured I have learned the value of really listening! It is not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.

First, you have to still your own thoughts and focus on the other person or persons. I cannot be planning my answer and listening to the other’s thoughts at the same time. Usually my mind is so prepared to answer that I cannot hear. But when I push aside my own need to answer, I find that my ears and mind can pay more attention to what the other person is trying to say. I also find that I am more attentive to the contextual clues in their communication, body language and tone of voice. This has become especially important in my communication in Haiti because of the language barrier. When I am speaking with another through an interpreter, I find I must be attentive to both the speaker and the translator.

Second, I need to enter every conversation with the expectation that the other person has something to teach me. Whether it is a deep spiritual truth or just a detail of their life, they have something to give me if I will slow down long enough to receive it. This is where I think social media has spoiled us. We no longer spend time in conversation, we only throw words at each other. In one of the online classes I teach we experienced this text-based communication problem just this week. I said something to one student, but she heard something completely different. She then communicated what she thought I said to another student who went complaining to his advisor that I was giving them two different directions for the assignment! Because so many communication clues were missing a small misunderstanding became a big one very quickly. Real conversation takes time and effort. We must commit ourselves to the process and put aside distractions if we are to listen and learn.

And third, we need to weigh our words and temper our attitudes. Something else my dad taught me was to “count to ten” before responding in anger. Anger is not the only emotion that can hinder our listening. Communication requires us to trust one another with the ideas and thoughts we are sharing. If these ideas or worse our words are shared through our wounds, hurts, negative expectations, or anger, then communication ceases. If we allow words to trigger the worst of our emotions, then we stop communicating and end up only venting our emotions.

Dad, if you are paying attention to what I am doing now, I want you to see, I am learning to listen, so maybe I will listen and learn!

A Word On Teams

Yesterday was a day of sorrow as I received the news that several friends of mine were in a serious auto accident. But there is a subtle message within the news of these events that I think is very important. These men were my friends primarily due to the mission work we had shared together in Haiti. Building homes, pouring the foundations for a new guest house, and adding an addition to the Center for Hope at Institute Henri Christophe. This shared work and travel bonded us together in ways that have lasted many years and which transcend the distances now between us. I like another word for teams: community.

The men and women I have worked with in missions have become an intimate and life-bringing part of my family. They are my sisters and brothers in Christ, but more than that they continue to share life with me in all the ups and downs I experience. Just as it was my privilege to pray for and lift the three men up who were injured, they too have prayed for me, offered me friendship and counsel, occasionally kicked my behind when  I needed correction, and laughed both with me and at me! These are men and women who are only a phone call or a text message away.

When the news came to me yesterday it was a member of our first team who shared it with me. And the first persons I shared it with were other team members. Within a matter of minutes over 100 people who have worked together in Haiti at one time or another heard this news of these men’s tragedy. By the end of the day hundred’s more were aware of the death and injuries and were praying and having their own faith communities focus their prayers on these needs.

Communities or teams are essential to our life. They should be both intimate emotionally and creative in their activity. I have the honor of being part of several teams or communities which have extended into all areas of my life. From the church where I serve, to the mission teams I have worked with, all of these people are close to my heart and available in my deepest needs. Today it is my chance to lift up these men and their families.

Who stands with you? To whom will you turn in moments of joy or sorrow? These are the ones who will share life with you and with whom you will multiply your memories.

2018 Pastor’s Conference

2018 Pastor’s Conference

On January 9, I returned from an amazing event! The annual ICDM Pastor’s Conference had convened the previous week and I was more than impressed by the outcome. Three things in particular caught my attention. The first were the growing relationships I experienced. Relationships between myself and a number of Haitian leaders, but also the relationships I witnessed between these leaders. Coming from all over the nation of Haiti, these men and women gathered for days of learning, inspiration, and encouragement. And that is just what they experienced! But most of all friendships were built and strengthened! Abraham Vilsaint, Jean-Noel Preval, Nanette Pierre, Chiff, Gina, and many more! I have learned to love them and to listen to their stories. Each year my friendships grow with them and I feel that much more a part of their ministries and mission.

The second thing I witnessed at this year’s conference was the sense of purpose and hope among the participants. Pastors and leaders in Haiti often face challenges that leaders in the USA can barely comprehend. More than being preachers and teachers, they are often community developers, activists and advocates, and business leaders as well. Yet, in spite of the challenges, they are joyful! Whether it is n our worship together or just conversations in the courtyard, there conversation and communication is permeated with joy! These men and women see the reality of Haiti as it is now, but they also have a vision of change and transformation. This hope, deeply grounded in the Christian gospel or Good News, shapes their work, inspires their efforts, and energizes their creativity. And their joy is also contagious! No matter what is happening in my life and ministry, I always come away from these meetings with a new outlook! Energy renewed, vision expanded, and heart inspired, I come back to the USA stronger and more joyful!

Finally, I think this year’s conference came at a critical time for both the leaders of the sessions and the participants. While the conference was going on, ICDM was working on a home for a family in Bayonnais. Right after the conference a team from New Jersey came and finished up this construction. Construction on ICDM’s new clinic is getting started. A record number of children are enrolled in the school. New leaders are being trained and commissioned. All of these things seem to bring a sense of strength and possibility to everyone’s mind. It is as if the entire mission has reached a point of great momentum. As each new idea becomes a reality it sparks more new ideas, inspires new leaders to take charge of these initiatives, and these in turn spark even more ideas and visions. Such momentum is awesome to observe! It is even more powerful when you are even a small part of such momentum!

For anyone who reads my thoughts posted here, I invite you again to visit this wonderful country with me! Post your interest here and I will send you more detailed information.

Overdue Update

Overdue Update

It has been a while since I blogged any news about our work in Haiti, but there are some exciting happenings which you need to know! First, our clinic project is off the ground and going great! Tom Puderbaugh has raised enough funds to get our construction started. What is more, a meeting with medical professionals in Jacksonville, FL has led to the possibility of equipment and supplies for the clinic. Tom felt led to spearhead this project just a little less than a year ago. Since then he has made tremendous progress in making this project a reality in Bayonnais, Haiti.

Second, several partners of ICDM have teamed up to feed the children at the Institut de Henri Christophe, our primary school in Bayonnais. Through increasing child sponsorship and raising direct funds to feed the children, we are hoping to complete our promise to feed them daily as part of their education, equipping, and empowerment.

Finally, our Annual Pastor’s Conference for 2018 is about to commence! Pastors and church leaders from all over the nation of Haiti will gather with instructors and ICDM staff for five days of inspiration, education, and equipping for the work of ministry and service. The theme this year is Tent-Making Ministry, based around the work Paul the Apostle did when he took up his trade of tent-making to support his missionary work. In the economy of Haiti, it is a given that most pastors and community developers will need to support themselves and their families as they serve in ministry. In our conference we will be exploring the biblical basis for being tent-makers, as well as the practical aspects of working within and for the communities we serve.

Please be in prayer for the workers, participants, and staff during the first week of January! Pray for traveling mercies for those gathering at the conference and for the events of the conference itself! I will post more news at the end of the conference when I return to the USA!

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!

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!