Written by Elisabeth
This time last year we were in the trenches of dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew on many of our friends, neighbors, ministry partners and program participants whom were deeply affected. Prior to the hurricane we had prayed about possibly relocating now that Eric was no longer working at the school in Saint Marc and our children had started the new school year primarily as homeschoolers. We have always liked the noble idea of homeschooling and have attempted a few rounds of it out of necessity in the past. But truthfully, the reality of homeschooling terrifies all of us even under best case scenarios. Even those who are well suited for this brave endeavor find homeschooling in Haiti a daunting task. We had concerns about how homeschooling would be accomplished with the many unavoidable dilemmas demanding our attention throughout each day and distractions in and around our home. However, we had prayed about whether we should stay and try to make it work and believed that was the right thing to do at that time. Trusting God’s timing is easier said than done. Looking back now, we are in awe of what He had in store, the doors opened and the journey still ahead of us.
God used Hurricane Matthew to deepen many relationships in our community. When disaster strikes people are more willing to turn to the Lord and His strength. People are more willing to hear the gospel after being reminded that our lives are but a vapor. We had the privilege to be a part of it. We were supposed to be there for such a time as this. We wanted to be there. But it was very hard. Watching those you care about who already struggle to survive and have already suffered so much in such a desperate state is hard. Knowing how best to help is hard. Being responsible for handling who and how to help with the funding others have sent is hard. When the dust started to settle, the aftermath of helping became an added hardship that taxed our days and made me start grinding my teeth at night. In the end all these things piled up and proved to be more than we could handle in healthy ways.
Because we lived in a tight knit Haitian community and helped with Hurricane relief efforts that everyone saw, many others sought out help from us as well (whether they were personally affected by the hurricane or just the deep rooted systemic poverty of Haiti). The usual five to ten daily knocks on our metal gate often became twenty to thirty. There was no possibility of ignoring the knocks. Our oldest daughter Elita Marguerite (the best Creole speaker in our family) took on the burden of fielding door requests much of the time. Her difficult past prior to joining our family has given her an extra measure of compassion and understanding beyond her years. However, the constant pressure this puts on a young Haitian-American living in this culture’s demands began to take its toll as well. We should have protected her more. We should have protected all our kids more. They were fending for themselves most of the time. Eric and I had to be gone a lot (when our vehicle was actually functioning that is). The kids did their own schoolwork as much as possible. They made their own meals at least half of the time. They helped us with ministry. They were patient and understanding most of the time. We begged for someone to come help us with homeschooling or even any other outlets that would be good for the kids but nothing ever panned out. I felt like a terrible mother. We knew our kids needed so much more than we were giving them or had the ability to give during those days. At the end of the day we just didn’t have much, if anything left to give. I felt guilty almost all the time. How do I pay attention to my son’s science experiment while the mother with starving children whose home just got smashed is waiting at the door? So the science experiment would get put on hold along with reading writing and arithmetic. Day after day after day. The knocks became a constant part of our home life. We would yell outside, “If you are not bleeding or dying you need to come back after three o’clock!” But sometimes they actually were bleeding or dying. And sometimes they just sat there and waited till three o’clock (if we held out that long) for no apparent reason at all. The dogs barked incessantly with every knock. We didn’t go out on the balcony as much because if we did there would be people outside that would spot us and demand our attention. We didn’t go out walking or riding bikes for exercise like we used to because we would end up on a demanding detour. There was no understanding our homeschooling efforts. How a child ‘goes’ to school at home on a computer is not easily explained nor comprehended in a simple Haitian community on the outskirts of town.
We continued to allow ourselves to be poured out. We did our best to fill back up. We took a mini Haitian vacation with friends. We tried to get out and go to the beach more to clear our minds and hearts. But when we came home the knocks would be there. While on one hand we embraced the knocks as opportunities for the gospel and ministry of helps, on the other hand we began to dread the knocks. Our lives seemed to revolve around them involuntarily. The kids started using their headphones more and we didn’t fuss about that as much. Eric started using his noise canceling headphones a lot too. The problem was we couldn’t hear each other. The knocks chipped away at our hearts and health, our relationships with our kids and our marriage. I believed God would use all these things for our good and His glory but something had to give. But what? But how? Were we supposed to leave Haiti to keep our own family healthy? This thought intensified the guilt I felt. Ministries we had prayed over for many years were starting to come to fruition. Those already in place were growing. Was this a spiritual attack on our family? We didn’t think so. We simply lived in the midst of inescapable dire needs too numerous to count. This is what our Haitian friends live every single day. Who are we to complain?
It is true that our kids get other kinds of invaluable educational opportunities living this life. But they still need to get through elementary-high school academics as well. We loved where we lived and the people around us, but the stresses of living there on our family and other ministries we needed to focus on prompted us to pray for a better way. Haiti church friends of ours who knew about our struggles reminded us that their former house was still vacant last spring. We had been there a few times and remembered it being very hard to access, difficult to get water to, too small to host visitors and too expensive considering all those things. We were reluctant to hope this might be a solution as we dialed the owner’s number. However, we were willing to consider it because the house is located in a quiet neighborhood we love. It already felt a bit like home because we have been meeting with our church in that area for communion service and special occasions the past five years. We already had several established friendships there. It also is closer to Eric’s commute for weekly Haitian pastor trainings and not too far from our Saint Marc neighborhood. We met with the owner to see the house and decided it was worth discussing. Our previous house owner/landlord situation was another reason we were ready to leave as that situation had not improved over the four years we lived there and signing another contract was not something we really wanted to do. But we didn’t want to get into the same sort of mess with a new house either and we didn’t expect any rental situation in this country would exactly prove easy. Moving would be a giant pain and expense. There were other factors to consider such as downsizing and not having extra rooms to host teams and guests. We proceeded cautiously and pretended to be Gideon throwing out our own set of fleeces. We asked the owner, “If we were to rent this house for three years, how much of a discount on the rent would you give us?” His reply was that a three year commitment would lower the rent to what our then current rent and budget was. However, we didn’t have three years saved up to pay. Only one year. We then asked him about renovations to the house. That answer gave us more hope. Whatever we put into house improvements also comes out of the rent we pay. This meant that for the same amount of money we could do the things necessary to make this house functionable and enjoyable for our family to live in it. This was not the case at our Macdonald house. There we had to pay for any improvements and repairs ourselves on top of paying the yearly rent. But we didn’t want or need any new massive projects to add to our stress. So we threw out another fleece. Actually three. “If we were to rent this house we don’t want to start paying for another six months because of when our current rental contract ends and being gone over the summer. During that time we would need you to complete the following big projects. Replace the small entrance gate with a large one and fix the driveway to make it accessible. We also need you to dig a new, deeper, wider water cistern and install a new water tank and tower that will allow us to have a sufficient water supply this house is currently lacking.” These were expensive and labor intensive projects. Yet the owner didn’t bat an eye. To our surprise he just said, “okay.” Then there were small things. Paint? (The house was very pink.) He said, “How do you feel about Sherwin Williams?” Moving a kitchen cabinet and replacing badly damaged doors? He said, “Let me call my guys.” The guys were there the next day. Wow! What a switch! Still I struggled with the downsizing as hosting people is something our family enjoys very much and ministers to many others as well. This house has a huge yard but much smaller house. We don’t host teams often and could still find a way to do that as needed. I prayed about it and realized that hosting as much as we had was something I needed to give up. I added up the time I had spent preparing for and hosting people in our home the previous year (not including the regular Haiti visitors) and counted up a minimum of fourteen weeks. Those were fourteen weeks that my husband and kids got very little from me. I knew God provided this house as a way to strip away many of the things that were taking away from our family and Haiti ministry focus. Training and discipling Haitian pastors (Eric) and equipping and encouraging our Haitian Kofael ministry leaders (Elisabeth) need to be given more focus than we have been able to give. We had been feeling this for a long time and although it meant dwindling the amount of time spent on ministries in our Saint Marc neighborhood and with visiting teams and guests, God was answering our prayers for making our family and ministry focus a healthy priority. Finding a pleasantly agreeable landlord in a neighborhood we already loved at a price we felt was fair and affordable certainly helped us to see this as an open door. But God wasn’t finished with the surprises.
To be continued…