Thursday, July 20, 2017

God's Sovereignty

One of the most important items on my to-do list today is to read about interstitial lung disease.  (I precepted one case with the director of my fellowship program last week, and she told me to read up on it - and she'll be my preceptor every day this next stretch of work, which starts this Saturday, so I'd better be able to discuss the subject intelligently.) But I've been reflecting lately on the subject of God's sovereignty and a few recent conversations with friends where the subject came up, and I either just shut down or responded too quickly.  I thought it might help me clarify my thoughts to myself - and also respond better to friends in the future - if I wrote them down:

God's sovereignty is no longer a comforting concept to me. I do still believe that God is sovereign, but I no longer find that a  comforting notion, nor something that is helpful to reflect on when I need comfort.

I suspect that in the past, when I thought that I was trusting in God's sovereignty I was often conflating it with other things. (Once when I told a friend that I was trusting in God for something she challenged me, “Really? Or are you just in denial?”) Growing up in a middle class family in North America, I have a baseline of trust in a social structure and infrastructure, and trust that in any time of trial that I or my loved ones would at least receive the best medical care possible or that insurance would cover part of any loss of property. But now I have lived in places where it appears that God has often chosen not to intervene, even when families and sometimes entire communities or swaths of a country have lost everything from a storm – and where losing everything means that now their children won't go to school or that they and their children may even die (from the storm itself or from its economic sequelae). There are so many countries where people die every day from diseases that are easily preventable or treatable in other places. And where the survivors still put their trust and hope in God. I do find hope for the distant future in the concept of God's sovereignty: I believe that Jesus will return to make all things right, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. But in the meantime lovely people suffer, go hungry, and die in the details.

I get frustrated when I hear the concept of God's sovereignty used to explain things that I think are due to economic/geographic happenstance, or even the results of long-term abuse of power. I still believe that all good things come from God, and I thank God when good things happen. But if God's sovereignty is directly involved when you get the job you wanted when you live in a place with 6% unemployment, what does that mean for my friend who cannot find any job in a place with 80% unemployment? And what does it mean when the poverty and lack of jobs where my friend lives has a direct historical relationship to the plenty where you live?

I also sometimes get angry when I hear people cite God's sovereignty when it appears that it is being used to justify acceptance of (or even outright collusion with) evil systems that are designed to benefit some and worsen the lives of others. I believe that we are called to live now the way we will live in the future, and that we are to be a part of setting up systems that bring justice and peace for our families, neighbors, and communities – both as a foretaste of what is to come and also because people's lives (even now!) are important. So if new laws or repeals of old protections cause my neighbor to suffer injustice or want, this does not seem like a time for us to take comfort in God's sovereignty – this seems like a time for us to storm the gates of hell.

So, I do not currently find the idea of God's sovereignty comforting (although again, I do still believe that God is sovereign). What does give me comfort and hope in trial? The fact that if our neighbor is suffering, we have the privilege of suffering alongside, and that we can comfort others with the same comfort that we have received. The fact that even though there is much evil in this world, God can give us the strength to resist evil, to work for good, to maintain love in our hearts. The fact that we know that God is on the side of love, justice, and hope. The fact that God is always present – rejoicing and moving toward the good, and weeping with us in the bad.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Micro-enterprise Training - Report from the team

The Haiti team reports:
Medical Ambassadors Haiti helps people build up their economic lives and experience local development starting with themselves. We show them they have resources within their communities that they can utilize which will help them grow in business. We also show them how to help their families grow economically so that they do not go hungry and always have sufficient funds to pay for their children’s school without depending on others.
We held a training in the Cap Haitien office for all the master trainers as well as ten other trainings done in communities throughout three provinces. Those trainings were on micro-enterprise and savings groups (called “mutual solidarity”), as well as on agro-industry. We did many demonstrations on agro-industry such as making liquid laundry soap, shampoo, house cleaner, white vinegar, tomato paste, tomato sauce, hot sauce, perfume, and hair pomade.
We found the means to be able to “reinforce” the savings groups in some communities [meaning to add to money used for short-term loans]. We bought materials for the agro-industry trainings done in the communities.
The communities told us that they really loved the training and that they will put it into practice because they can sell what they make in the communities. There are people there who already sell products in the market and from their homes.

Personal note:
Today I was talking with my landlord, who is interested in micro-enterprise projects. She asked me if we send out reports "like Kiva does." This is what I told her: 
-- I received a report about our micro-enterprise program from our team last July.
 Since all of our micro-enterprise projects are currently funded by just one donor, and I was going to see that donor the next month, I printed off the report and planned to translate it for him in person. 
--I only had a partial day to spend with the donor (a family member), and we ended up just chatting and hanging out with family.
-- I found the printed paper report (still in Kreyol) buried on my desk a few weeks ago. 
--This past Saturday I was at the hospital and had a bit of time where I needed to still be there physically (due to a medication a patient was on) but didn't need to attend to anyone. So I translated the report and e-mailed it to myself. 
--Today, after my landlord and I spoke, I finally e-mailed the donor the translated report and also posted it here (above) and on Facebook. 
Conclusion: please pray that we would find people who have free time and administrative skills that want to volunteer with us! Our team does wonderful work year-round and it is important that their work is seen, celebrated, and supported!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Micro-enterprise Triumphs

Testimonies from Mombin Crochu

"I have a small business selling beverages.  When I first started it with my own funds it didn't go well.  The small profit that I made did not really help me with my personal needs.  The CHE program teaches micro-enterprise.  I became involved with CHE.  I came to know more about business and I also received a small starter fund through CHE that I could add to my own funds.  My business grew and I increased my profits.  This has enabled me to pay for school for myself as well as to pay for school for a few months for my little sisters.  And I also contribute to food in my household.  My father is in the Dominican Republic trying for a better life but it isn't going well -- he can't find work so he can't send money back here to his family.  I am very grateful to the CHE program for their good work and for what we have learned." 

"I have a business selling rice as well as things people need for sewing clothes [needles, thread, etc.].  When I started a long time ago I made some profit.  I am married and have children, and I have this business to help my husband because he cannot make enough for our family.  Now I'm associated with the CHE group in Mombin Crochu and they had micro-enterprise teaching.  I now understand my business better.  I was able to get a small loan and this enabled my business to grow.  I now make more profit because I understand better how to manage my business.  My business has also grown.  This has improved my family's economic outlook."  

About our Micro-enterprise Program
Someone asked me a couple of years ago if we did micro-enterprise teaching. I said that we had lessons that we hadn't taught much for years since that portion of our program wasn't regularly funded. That person asked me to send him a plan for use of funds - turns out our director had an entire 5-year plan in his head for whenever we found funds.  Since that time, just one donor has funded teaching in many villages throughout northern Haiti in both micro-enterprise as well as savings groups.  We have such a creative, hard-working, plan-ahead team!

Monday, October 3, 2016

More wonderful stories!

We asked volunteers about the changes they have seen in their homes and communities as a result of the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) program.  Here are some of the stories from people in Lospinit (northeastern Haiti):

Gremicile Jean-Charles, Community Health Evangelist in Lospinit
I had children and there were many things I didn't know.... They show us how to make water potable. My children used to get watery diarrhea. Now that I treat our water they don't have diarrhea anymore.

I have six children. They showed me how to live well with your husband. If you yell at him, well, you should lower your voice. I've started to do this. When my husband yells, I speak calmly. Your children buy the words from your month [Kreyol proverb to mean they will imitate you]. You should serve as a good example. Our anger used to last longer, but now when I calm down I see that we don't fight so much, and we also protect our children in this way. My husband has also learned this. If I start to talk loud, he gets softer. Then the fighting ends. CHE taught us this.

Charles Wisline, committee member in Lospinit
I am very grateful to CHE because they explained a lot of things to us. I didn't know how to make a dishrack, I used to put dishes on the ground. CHE taught me to make a dishrack for my dishes.

I already washed my hands before starting with CHE, but I poured water over them. Now I have a Tippytap because it's easier and you don't waste water.

They explained to me how to dig a hole for my trash. This way the trash isn't spread all over your yard, it's just in one place. That is cleanliness, it's better.

They explained me how to wash vegetables well and also to boil the food well before eating. I like this because I don't get sick this way.

They explained to me that I shouldn't let my children walk barefoot, especially when they are near pigs. This is so they don't get worms.

Ana Jean-Louis, Community Health Evangelist in Lospinit
When I cooked I used to put the dishes on the bare ground. When I washed dishes I would put them on the ground, too. Now I use a dishrack.

I have an improved, raised cooking stove [cooking fires on the ground can lead to badly burned children, also to animals getting into the food] that I keep in good condition. I used to use one but when it wore out I didn't fix it. Now I always keep it in good condition and don't make a cooking fire on the ground anymore.

When our hands are dirty, when we finish working in the garden, when we finish going to the bathroom we use the Tippytap. I used to put water in a basin to wash my hands. But now we use the Tippytap and we don't waste water. [With the Tippytap] you also don't need someone else to pour the water for you.

When we wash dishes we put them on the table and cover them so that flies don't land on them and make us sick.

I used to tie my pigs up close to the kitchen. Now I take their excrement and put it in a hole and cover it with dirt. I use this for fertilizer.

There is a couple that lives with me. Sometimes they fight. I talk with them and do lessons for them, hoping that they will stop arguing. I haven't given up yet!

Note:  the above stories were collected in 2013.  The Lospinit program remains very active.  Funds for my time in the northeast were donated by World Challenge, one of our Haiti team's major partners.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Stories of Transformation - more from volunteers in Lospinit (northeastern Haiti)

Noël Resimene, Community Health Evangelist in Lospinit
I've been in CHE [Community Health Evangelism] since the beginning, in 2000. We started with perinatal training.  I've had a lot of children. I took them to the hospital a lot, and they often had red hair because they were malnourished. I learned about nutrition in CHE and now my children are healthy.

I go to people's houses. When you go to someone's house you greet them. They have us come in, ask us to sit. We show them some things in a brochure. We see that they make changes – they have good latrines, they have Tippytaps [simple handwashing device]. They ask us to leave us brochures so they can continue to read. They make dishracks, they wash their dishes, they cover the clean dishes so that flies cannot sit on them and bring cholera....

I love all the lessons: how to wash hands, how to make water potable. I don't buy chlorine tablets anymore – we do SODIS [solar disinfection of water] so that we don't get sick with cholera.

Edner Exile, Community Health Evangelist in Lospinit

What I like about CHE is that when we are learning a lesson it's the same way it is when you are a child at school, you learn. Then after you learn, you go share with someone else. Then after we learn something they teach us something else so that we can continue to more forward.

I say all of this because once I had a problem – my wife was pregnant with our first baby. We lost the baby but it wasn't because we weren't doing everything we could: every eight days I had her get a check-up. I spent a lot of money, but we lost the baby. When she got pregnant again, with the second baby, we had success. Then she became pregnant a third time and lost the baby. With the lessons I learned in CHE, I thought about them, and realized we shouldn't try to get pregnant again right away. We should take a little rest. It's because of CHE I say thank you very much, they gave me this great idea to take a rest.

Amelie Jean-Baptiste, Community Health Evangelist in Lospinit

What I like about CHE is the Bible teaching. When you see a portion of Scripture, that really helps you. If you have a disagreement with someone we have learned we shouldn't yell at people. We have changed this and really behave better with people within the CHE group and with our neighbors. We even tell the children they should live like brothers and sisters and not argue or hit each other or throw stones and hurt one another. When there is fighting the children suffer and their parents suffer, too. They listen to us, and even though they still fight sometimes it's gotten better.

Augustin Viola, Community Health Evangelist in Lospinit
CHE has given me a lot of information, because every month I go to the trainings the trainers give. We wash our fruit, and when we cook our food we cook it well. They advise us to dig a hole for trash and to build latrines.

I didn't know about making a hole for my trash before. But I have one now. I really like this. When the hole is filled you cover it or you can burn it – that depends on the kind of trash. When you have papers you shouldn't let them blow all over your garden – we put them in the hole or burn them.

We shouldn't tie up our pigs in the same place where people go to get water. I didn't have pigs when I first started with CHE. Now I have them and I tie them under a tree. I don't let my children go over there without shoes so that they don't get worms. I have five children. I always have them put on shoes – even if they sometimes take them off!

You need to give your children a toothbrush so they brush their teeth every morning. Whether you're a child or an adult, before you go to bed you should brush your teeth again. Really, you should brush your teeth three times a day.

They taught me how to gain wisdom, how to talk with people – you can't just do it in any old way. You need to reflect. For example, in your neighborhood a neighbor's animals might come into your garden and eat your plants. But you shouldn't yell harshly at your neighbor, you should speak with wisdom.

Note:  the above stories were collected in 2013.  The Lospinit program remains very active.  Funds for my time in the northeast were donated by World Challenge, one of our Haiti team's major partners.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Brotherly Love (July 2015)

“You look really happy.” The clerk at the Miami Airport Sheraton hotel said that to me last night, about half-way through the check-in. And it was true, I was. I'd been annoyed earlier, though.

Waiting in the Cap Haitien airport earlier that day, I was seated near a very friendly guy with a voice that carried well. He chatted with most of the people near him. He had lived in many countries, but made some rather amazingly ignorant statements about language and history and current events. I ended up seated in the same row as he was on the plane, and got to hear more of his theology and life philosophy as he chatted to the guy in between us – much of which I disagreed with. I asked God to help me see him as my brother, and that helped a little – but then he would say another ridiculous thing and I would mutter under my breath again. I then focused on my breathing, which actually did help a lot.

We landed a little late in Miami, but I still should have had plenty of time to get to my next flight. However, I hadn't yet been issued a boarding pass for that next leg and the two lines for that were chaotic – many of us were told to wait in one and then later told to move to another, several agents and passengers were snippy. I still had some time and it wouldn't have mattered terribly much to me even if I missed my flight, so I wasn't frustrated due to the wait. I was getting annoyed, though, by the statements of some of the people around me. A couple of the guys behind me were pushing two of my buttons: annoying travel talk (complaining about common travel inconveniences as if they were rare, and emphasizing how much they traveled internationally) as well as throwing out certain theological statements that I find objectionable. It didn't help that they had similar accents as the guy who'd been near me for hours that day (to my untrained ear – they were from Alabama and the previous guy was from Texas).

One of the thing they complained about was how horrible American Airlines was compared to Delta. I interjected that similar things had happened to me on Delta before, and it turns out the difference was that they had premier status on Delta. So they were used to privileged treatment (okay, so maybe that's another one of my buttons). Then one of them mentioned again how frustrated he was that he still wasn't home, then added that perhaps God had done this for a reason, saving them from some tragedy. This pushed my “9/11” button – you know, all the people who told stories about people who didn't go to the Twin Towers that day as if God had particularly orchestrated events so as to spare them. (I'm not a fan of this idea since it leads to God somehow not caring about the thousands who were there that day -- indeed, some popular pastors currently preach that God is okay with destroying people). My waiting-in-line companion then said about the missed flight, “After all, how are we to know what's bad and what's good.” Argh! There's another one: this popular concept that assumes that what we want and desire is likely opposed by God, and ignores that we were made in the image and likeness of God and are hopefully daily being shaped more and more into God's image, growing to love what God loves and walk in the ways of the Kingdom of God.

Airplane guy had said something similar – he'd been doing a job that he was very skilled at and really loved, but he felt God calling him “to trust God alone, to do things in His power” and so left his job in fear and trembling to be a “full time Christian missionary.” Who did he think had given him those skills that he had been using? How is using your innate talents somehow not trusting in God's power and creative energy and design? More than doing something random that you are able to call “full time Christian missions” ?

But then I kept talking with the guys from Alabama - they were very chatty. And they were funny, and kind. One of them mentioned how sorry he felt for the gate agents having to deal with such frustrated passengers, and added in his Southern drawl, “Boy, aren't they receiving some blessings today.” I'd heard Southerners use that word ironically in movies but not in real life – it was really cute.

It was then my turn to go to the gate agent, and she was really helpful and we ended up laughing a lot. My flight was already closed, but she gave me a dinner voucher (I hadn't eaten much that day since I'd spent a lot of it waiting in lines, so this part was particularly exciting to me – silly to be so happy about this, since I would have had no trouble paying for dinner myself), a night at the Sheraton, and re-routed me to Minneapolis in the morning. The shuttle bus to the hotel was packed and the driver kept making funny announcements and telling us that we were going to the best hotel ever. The staff at the reception desk were very professional, and acted as if this were the Ritz Carlton. I knew I had a restaurant meal soon to come, followed by a huge, comfy bed.

So yes, I was happy when I was getting checked into the hotel. While I was bummed that I would be missing the church service in Minnesota that I had been looking forward to (with people I've worshiped with for decades, which is now an uncommon occurrence in my life), the disruption in my travel plans wasn't serious. The two guys from Alabama had helped me to move past my earlier internal ishy-ness – and since Jesus put so much emphasis on the love we are to have for one another, I am very grateful to my brothers in Christ for helping me get there last night. (And hopefully beyond last night, as when similar issues come up I will doubtless remember them.) And my physical needs were being catered to fantastically well. Happy.

Written at the Philadelphia airport – in the City of Brotherly Love. :-)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


"Someday, somewhere - anywhere, unfailingly, you'll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life."
--Pablo Neruda 

I saw this beautiful quote tonight and it got me thinking. Last night I posted on Facebook that I loved the fact that when I was recently in a situation that could have been embarrassing or awkward, my first response was to laugh – heartily and genuinely and without fear. I posted that the laughter was my “natural” response. And in that moment it was – it revealed who I am right now, when I'm at my best. Which is why I was so happy to see that as my response. It revealed a “me” that is in keeping with what I say that I believe: that I am loved and lovable and have no need to be ashamed.  (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

Although I really like Neruda's quote, I'm not 100% sure that I agree with it. I seem to have “found myself” multiple times. These days, in my despairing moments, what I seem to find in my inmost self (and, indeed, in my conception of the universe and my trajectory in it) is not the same “reality” as that which I see in the joyous moments.  And many years ago, I would have said that my deepest nature was sin. Thankfully -- after decades of actively listening to God's Spirit, reading the Bible, applying what I learned from many wonderful theologians, choosing to look to Jesus, and living -- I think differently. I still see the blackness of my heart, but I also see many things to love. And even when I'm faced with the yuck, I have learned grace. Years of choosing to walk in God's grace have also taught me grace for myself.

I was at a missionary gathering a few years ago and the speaker invited us to think of how difficult it was for us to love those who wronged us. Then he asked that we imagine how much more difficult it must be for God to love us. He then went on about how terribly hard it was for God to try to love us. What? Costly, yes. But difficult? This seminary-trained man (who shortly thereafter started a church) reads and studies the same Bible that I do and comes up with a radically different concept of God. I wanted to shout out, “Blasphemer!” but I wasn't entirely sure that I knew the definition of that word (and I'm so tired of Christians crying “heresy” at slight doctrinal differences – also, I thought my motives were a little judge-y judge in the moment).

To me, the story of myself as one who sins is part of my story. There are important things to be learned from that part of my story, but it's only one part. I now see the over-arching storyline of the Bible revealing a God who loves the entire cosmos – which includes people, which includes me. A God who actually – somehow – IS love. (1 John 4) It is sometimes hard to believe – in the light of history, in the light of current events, in the light of my own quickness to anger. But I do believe it to be true. And it is truly good news.

Algún día en cualquier parte, en cualquier lugar indefectiblemente te encontrarás a ti mismo, y ésa, sólo ésa, puede ser la más feliz o la más amarga de tus horas. --Pablo Neruda