It’s Messier This Way: Building Relationships through Scabies, Stitches, Sonograms, Surgeries and Salvations
*Warning: This is a long story that just kept getting longer. There are a few graphic images included in the chapters below. If you get queazy easy or don’t like to read, this might not be good one for you.
This is a post about building relationships and the nitty-gritty gross and great stuff that happens in the process. It is about connecting stories and connecting lives. These kids in these stories–you may only get to see their faces on a television screen or a World Vision or National Geographic magazine. We get to see them everyday in the flesh. We see their chronic stress and struggles but also their smiles. Sometimes we feel like changing the channel or picking up a Better Homes and Gardens magazine instead, because it’s hard to see. But we can’t now. Because we know their names and we are learning their stories. Because they are our neighbors and we are supposed to love them as ourselves. Time and again I hear a still small voice whisper, “It’s why you are here.” It’s messier this way. But it’s worth it. Taking out stitches and treating scabies, setting up surgeries and sonogram appointments isn’t really the messy part. It isn’t what makes me cry for them. It is the injustice of it all. That I can find medical care for my son while their mamas can’t. That I can keep all my children together and they can’t. That water flows from our faucet while their children walk for miles to collect the same amount of water I used to wash a few dishes.
I suppose it all really started with Aleando. We moved to St. Marc in January 2013 and our kids began attending El Shaddai Learning center the same month. We didn’t live where we do now back then. We lived over by the school on the other side of town. Aleando attended the school and was in the first grade class with our Evan. They became best buds that spring semester. We moved to our current neighborhood at the end of the school year. Almost all Evan talked about over summer break was getting to see Aleando again once school resumed in September. Sadly, Aleando did not return to school in the fall. We asked about his whereabouts but there was no answer when we called the number listed in his school file. We waited to see if he would come back but he didn’t. Evan did not forget his friend. He prayed often over the course of that year that we would find Aleando somehow. It broke my heart to see him missing his friend.
One day the next spring I was washing dishes in the upstairs kitchen when I heard Evan’s voice from the backyard say, “Aleando!” I ran out onto the balcony to see what was happening. I saw a little brown head poke up over the backyard wall. Then I heard, “Is that you Evan?” Then a series of “Aleando!” “Evan!” “Aleando!” “Evan!” “What are you doing down there Evan?” “I live here!” “What are you doing up there?” “I live just over there!” Before I could count to three Aleando was at our front door which Evan ran to open. They hugged and giggled and hugged some more. I couldn’t believe it! God had answered Evan’s prayers! And Aleando was our neighbor! A series of questions poured forth. “Why did he not return to school?” “Where was he going to school now?” The relative that had sponsored him for school had passed away. His single mother could not afford the school fees and had been forced to take him out. He was attempting to attend a Haitian school using a French system but was failing after only previously being in an English, American school system. Over the next few months I would get to know his mother. Evan and Aleando picked up where they left off. We got Aleando on the sponsorship list and a sponsor was found before the next school year. He rides to school with our kids every day. Evan began to pray for his friends salvation. Just like God answered Evan’s faithful prayers to find his friend, God answered Evan’s prayers to keep his friend for eternity. A few months ago Aleando accepted Christ as his Savior after many conversations with Evan. Aleando had been asking Evan for an English Bible. Evan told him that he would get a Bible once he trusted in Christ for his salvation. We parents did not advise or condone this negotiation and reminded Evan that Aleando would need to know the truths of Scripture and that many people come to Christ by reading the Bible. But Evan stood firm and said that he had shared the Scriptures with Aleando and was waiting for Aleando to make up his own mind. One Thursday he did. That Sunday he came to communion service at the beach with our family. I talked to him about taking the Lord’s Supper and that only those who had trusted Christ for their salvation should take it. He said, “Oh I did that already.” I asked him when and he said, “Ask Evan. I was with him.” So ask Evan I did.
Aleando’s life is not easy. His father is absent from his life. He lives in a one room block house with his mother, sixteen year old aunt, and his mother’s boyfriend who works occasionally. There is no regular electricity or running water. His little sister lived with them but has recently gone to live with her father in another part of town after being bullied by neighbor boys. His mother had lined up a job with our family but has been too sick to work. We waited a few months but eventually had to give the job to someone else. I was sad as I really wanted Aleando’s mom to have the job so we could help her more. Aleando’s mom cannot read or write so he does not have anyone to help him with his schoolwork when he goes home. He gets lunch at school four days per week and eats all our mangos and peanut butter on bread when he comes to our house. Aleando is two years older than Evan. Evan is small for his age. Aleando is smaller. This is the norm around here. These are my children’s friends.
Sometimes we struggle too. Not just with the heat and bugs, cultural differences, and frustrating third world problems. Because we are first world people we have resources and access that most of our neighbors do not. But when emergencies happen, when our child gets hit by a motorcyclist outside his school, we are still stuck with third world resources. Haitian hospitals suck. We went to the one nearest us, filled out paperwork, paid, waited and watched. I think we watched too much. So did Ethan who said, “I think we should try another hospital.” even though he was in pain. Eric and I felt the same way and decided to leave just as Ethan was being called. We went to a smaller but a tad bit cleaner hospital 20 minutes away. It was late in the day and there were no doctors. There was also no paperwork and no pay (until after) and they got us in right away. Our friend Annie who frequents that hospital with all her special needs kids came to meet us and flagged down a guy she knew was a doctor who happened to be crossing the street. He agreed to help. Ethan kicked him a few times and he threatened to leave. I begged him to stay. Annie helped Eric hold Ethan down. Nothing I said or did was helping and I thought I was going to pass out having to watch my son go through this pain. We have had sick kids in Haiti before. We have had almost emergencies. This was our first real one.
Before this happened to Ethan I had already had my fill of unexpected medical cases. I expected this to be the climax at least for the time being. I expected wrong. The past weeks prior to Ethan’s injury I had daily chores of attempting to treat head fungus, scabies, fevers, infections, swollen ankles, stitches needing removal, and trying to find help for our neighbor’s baby that we know will die without medical attention. I keep telling my neighbors I’m not a doctor or a nurse. Taking stitches out isn’t a big deal but the past few months have served me much more medical than I feel prepared to deal with. I’m thinking maybe I should get some formal training eventually. I’m very thankful for the two real M.D.’s who answered my questions over the phone to walk me through several issues and prescribe the proper meds they had left in my care after serving in Haiti. Thank you Dr. Trish and Dr. Staci!
Here’s some of the run down. We would appreciate your prayers for these families and all these medical situations that building these relationships have brought us.
These kids. They come to walk alongside us. We are trying to walk alongside them and praying for wisdom in the best ways to do that.
The older boys also like to come for English lessons on our Rosetta Stone program. Our daughter Elita Marguerite has a huge heart to teach English to the kids in the neighborhood. She would teach all the time if she could but she has her own homework to do so we have to limit her to once or twice a week. The other night Elita and I walked through the neighborhood to these kids houses to check on one of the moms. Two sets of kids had come knocking on the gate begging me to come because Nahum, Rolanda, Saint Aline, and Davidson’s mother had been in a motorcycle accident. I asked a few questions and determined that it wasn’t urgent enough for me to come right away so we ventured out late which is always an interesting experience since not many white people are seen walking through Haitian alleyways at night with a dog on a leash. We arrived to find the mom with a foot that had been healing for 15 days. It was not infected but perhaps the kids were worried. More likely it was that we had put a few new boundaries on when they could come to the house (because otherwise they were knocking on our gate ALL DAY LONG) and the kids were not so happy about that. So they made up a reason for us to come visit them. I told them I thought as much and they giggled with an admission of “Wi!” While laughing with them we suddenly hear the words “Boy”, “Girl”, “Man”, “Woman,” in the exact same voice as the Rosetta Stone speaker lady. I thought, “Did someone steal the kids old laptop?” then realized it was the boys who come to our house trying to practice their English. They had not only memorized the words and meanings but felt it important to learn to mimic the exact tone of the spoken words! They are so funny!
The kids computer we had for this is no longer working well enough for them to use it. It just keeps shutting off a few minutes into the program. We are hoping to be able to purchase another computer or two for this purpose within the next few months. The Rosetta Stone program we have will only run on a PC and our only other working computer is a Mac. Sharing one computer with a large household is getting to be ridiculous. It’s one reason these post are so long when I finally get the chance to use the computer for any stretch of time. We really need a few more computers. Nahum asks on a daily basis if the computer is working yet.
Jocelyn is pretty shy. I have been trying to build a relationship with her and hoped for an opportunity to ask her about her own salvation after the salvation of her son. Outside the hospital after her sonogram, she thanked me for paying for her to see the doctor and told me she was very happy to know the baby is ok. We sat and waited for Eric to pick us up for longer than I expected. Since we had just shared the intimate moments of seeing her son on the screen and she seemed open to conversation, I prayed silently for the right words in Creole and began to ask her about her walk with the Lord. She told me she had been attending the Baptist Church in our neighborhood for about a year but hasn’t been to church lately. I asked her, “Jocelyn, if a big truck hits us on the way home and we die and go to meet our Maker, what would you say if He asked you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ “She believes (as most Haitian “Christians” do) that she must “mache dwat” in order to obtain and keep her salvation. I asked her if she thinks she has “walked straight” enough. She said she hopes so. I asked her what “walking straight” means to her. Then I asked her if she has walked straight according to God’s Word. We went round and round for a few minutes and then I told her, “Jocelyn, you are pregnant and you are not married. You have been pregnant three times by different men you are not married to. God’s Word says that is not walking straight”. She agreed with that. “But God’s Word also says that he still loves you.” Then I shared with her my own sin struggles. How sometimes I get mad at my husband and my kids and that is not “walking straight” either. But God still loves me. I shared the gospel with her and that if we could ever walk straight enough then Jesus wouldn’t have had to die to take the place of our sin. I felt the Holy Spirit helping me share in Creole. There were two others on the bench listening. We had taken both Jocelyn and the sixteen year old cousin of Yanise (the mother of baby Do-Do who had seen a doctor earlier in the week for his nerve issue) for sonograms that morning. Worried about her cousin, Yanise had ridden a motorcycle to come be with her later that morning and I offered her a ride home. Her cousin was having a sonogram for breast pain and was relieved to find there is nothing wrong. Yanise and her cousin sat on the bench listening to my conversation with Jocelyn. I didn’t know them really. But as they stopped talking to each other and started listening intently to our conversations about the gospel I asked Yanise to share her own experience with me. She couldn’t. She shared a lot of things but nothing resembling the gospel. Eric arrived to pick us up and I told him about the conversation we had been having while waiting for him. I asked Yanise if she would share with Eric what she had with me so that I could make sure I understood her correctly. Eric’s Creole is much better than mine. He said that I had the story straight but it didn’t have anything to do with Jesus and salvation. We shared a little more on the ride home and told the ladies we would never want them to just take our word for truth. We asked them if anyone had ever shown them from God’s Word how they can know how to have eternal life. They all said they had not. We asked them if they would like to come to our house so we could show them. We wanted this to be their choice and asked them when they would like to come. They said “tomorrow” because they needed to get home to their kids after being at the hospital all day. They set the time for 10:00 am the next day. The next day only one out of the three came. It was Yanise.
“It’s messier doing it that way. It’s harder to cry with a real person, a real heart, than it is to cry about a hypothetical situation a world away. It is messy, this business of knowing those we serve, of learning from those we once hoped to teach. It is the harder choice, investing in lives and not just stomachs or bandages, knowing people and not just stories, letting these stories become not just our projects but also our lives.”
Their suffering makes them stronger. Their stories make us stronger. Their salvation means we will get to be neighbors for eternity. Thank you for letting us be part of their stories and letting us share in their sufferings. We don’t always know how or have the means to do that well. But we believe it is what Jesus wants us to do. We need His church to come alongside us in this mess more than ever.