Category Archives: Training

Compost: It’s More Than Just Dirt

compost bin with hand1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the challenges farmers in Haiti face—poor infrastructure, inconsistent rainfall, and limited access to modern farming tools just to name a few—a lack of affordable fertilizer was not the first obstacle that came to my mind.  However in fact this is a huge hindrance for farmers.

“In Haiti we don’t produce chemical fertilizer so small farmers, even poor farmers, when they are poor they cannot afford to buy a sack or a bag of chemical fertilizer.  That’s too expensive for them,” explains Pierre, World Concern’s regional coordinator in southern Haiti and an agronomist by trade.

An alternative to expensive and imported chemical fertilizer is organic compost.  Compost is not commonly used currently in rural Haiti but the benefits are numerous which is why World Concern is introducing it to small farmers.

“There are many advantages to compost.  First compost provides nutrients for the plants, helps to rebuild the soil, reduce soil erosion, and compost helps in the structure of the soil.  Also when we plant it can last more; it can improve the soil longer than with chemical fertilizer,” according to Pierre.

Perhaps most importantly, the materials needed to make compost—animal manure, straw, moisture, ash—are common things that even poor farmers have access to.

On a warm Friday morning in September, twenty-four small farmers and agronomy students from two local universities gathered together on a farm outside the city of Les Cayes in southern Haiti.  This four acre farm is leased by World Concern and serves as a training center; a place to educate and teach agricultural techniques.  On this particular day this group was gathered to learn about organic compost.

training center1

Huddled under a simple tin covering, the group listened carefully as Pierre began sharing about organic compost—the definition and theory, and especially the process of making it.  It took a bit of improvisation but eventually a makeshift screen was erected to display images on a projector.  Several participants raised their hands to ask questions which sometimes produced a lively debate.  The teaching and discussion was rich.

It was obvious these farmers and students were eager to learn.  As I was observing, a thought arose; although most definitely poor and vulnerable to uncontrollable forces, the people in this group are not passive.  They chose to spend their precious time, one whole day, coming to this training to glean new insight and to discover a new technique.  This is encouraging and challenges the notion that the poor are only waiting for the next handout.

compost lecture group shot1

After a couple hours of teaching and discussion, everyone piled into World Concern vehicles and drove to the nearby Université Notre Dame d’Haïti (UNDH), one of two local agronomy universities World Concern partners with.

Here a demonstration took place, putting into practice what was taught that morning.  Pierre and the other World Concern staff put emphasis on actually doing the work of making a compost pile.  So before long, farmers and students were moving compost bins and digging in the dirt to the tune of instructions.

compost demonstration1

Pierre, far right in striped shirt, and others getting dirty.

Later in the day Pierre summarized the process of making compost.  “There are different ways we can make compost but this is one of the ways.  We make compost in bins.  In the piles we make some straw first, we add animal manure, we may add also some ash.  And again repeat the same layer of straw, layer of animal manure, layer of ash and so on until we get it high and then we stop.”

“Usually it takes 3 months but in the process we have to turn it perhaps one month, second month and third month.  After the third month, it is usually ready to use.”

worms1

Brunelle, 30-year-old husband and father of one, was quiet but attentive during the demonstration.  He is trained in administrative management and was formerly a teacher before beginning to farm full time.

brunelle portrait1

Brunelle, all smiles

“From November we will start to plant tomato.  Now we are getting ready for the new season.  We are making nurseries and preparing seeds,” he shared.  “The harvest is very useful because we eat it and we sell it as well.”

“This is my first time to work with compost,” continued Brunelle, “But the training is really good and I am learning a lot and I will try and implement what I have learned.”

21-year-old Fontaine (pictured below) is a third year student at UNDH and was equally interested in what was being taught.

“I had some knowledge about compost but today I went deeper.  Today I had a better understanding of compost because they taught us the theory and now we are getting the experience,” she said.  “Compost helps the plant to grow better and also it ventilates the soil more and brings more nutrients.”

fontaine portrait1

This young woman was inspiring.  Our conversation moved beyond compost to her interest in agriculture and her dreams.

“First of all, I decided to study agronomy because I like it very much.  Secondly, because of the situation in the country.  Haiti is not even able to feed itself so we would like to produce more because we are an agricultural country.  This is how I would like to help Haiti,” she shared.

Wow.

Continuing Fontaine said, “We would like to feed our own population.  I am not saying importation will be over but we can decrease it.  We just want to feed the population and produce more so everyone can eat better.”

It was an honor meeting Brunelle, Fontaine and the others at the training that day.  You begin to see how incredible of a resource the country of Haiti has in its people.  Although they may lack material wealth, they possess sharp and eager minds, gifting’s, and a desire to improve their lives and their country.

With an estimated 60% of the population—nearly six million people—in Haiti engaged in agricultural activities, supporting small farmers and Haiti’s future agronomists is crucial in moving the country forward and helping people feed themselves and earn an income.

“If they can make their own compost with the residues from their crop they only need a little technique to do that so when they get this technique they can produce their own natural fertilizer and improve their soil, increase their production and also protect the environment,” said Pierre.

World Concern is walking with individuals like Brunelle and Fontaine; encouraging them and providing them with skills and resources.  Conducting a compost training in one example of what this looks like.  Who knew a pile of dirt could be the source of transformation?

Oh and according to Pierre, another thing Haiti has going for it is that there is no snow…..

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A Grateful Heart

Martha and I are wrapping up our cross-cultural training here at Mission Training International (MTI) in Colorado.  The past three weeks have been a huge blessing.  God has given us many new friends and has challenged us to consider how grow as we get ready to enter a new culture.  We have learned many things; however one that stands out is the importance of being thankful and having a grateful heart.  One of our assignments has been to list joys and thanksgivings at the end of each day.  What a cool exercise.  I have missed some days but all in all it has been a really refreshing experience.

There is an old prayer that says something like, “O God, you have given me so much.  I ask for one more thing: a grateful heart.”

Why is a grateful heart so important to our spiritual health?  The MTI notebook, which has guided us on our journey these three weeks, puts it this way:

“Remembering your joys, helps you cultivate a hopeful attitude; expecting God’s goodness and faithfulness to be manifest whether in the best of times or the worst of times…as well as a great coping mechanism in managing daily stress.”

An excellent reminder for all of us as we continue to pursue a healthy relationship with our Creator.  I especially want to carry on this habit of remembering my joys as we prepare to move to Haiti.  In a new culture, with a new language, and new stresses, it will be important to lean on God more and more.  This is one practical discipline that will help me to endure even when it gets hard.

It would be a shame if I did all this talking about joys and thanksgivings but did not share with you some of mine from the past three weeks!  So here are some of the things I have been thankful for recently…

  • Affirmation from other men
  • Reading in the sun
  • Reconnecting with old friends
  • The MOUNTAINS!
  • Generous partners who care just as much about Haiti as we do
  • Long conversations over morning coffee
  • Fun and laughing really hard and joy
  • Family who is behind our decision to serve in Haiti 100%
  • Time with just Martha
  • Basketball and lighted outdoor courts
  • Grace and reconciliation
  • New ‘surprise’ ministry partners
  • Opportunity to live in community for a short time
  • New friends!

I could go on and on.  Martha and I face many challenges and uncertainties during this season.  We rarely doubt our call to serve in Haiti, however the support raising process and transition to life in a new culture can be overwhelming.  It is precisely because of these difficulties that it is so important for us to remain joyful!  I am learning how to have a grateful heart.

Here are some verses from scripture that have been helpful for me to meditate on as I learn more about what it means to have a grateful heart.  I hope they serve as an encouragement to you as well.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”  Psalm 126:3

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  Psalm 107:1

“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” Daniel 6:10

Question of the day…

How strong is your desire to make their language and cultural way of being yours?

This question is one of many I have been asked this past week and a half at Mission Training International (MTI) in Colorado.  Martha and I are here for a three-week cross-cultural course, which aims to provide practical skills for adjusting to life and ministry in a new culture.  We are being challenged, encouraged, and convicted.  I feel like the Lord is using this time to prune many of my branches.

I am beginning to see how my way of thinking, over eagerness, and proud heart can be an obstacle to understanding and integrating into Haitian culture.  This past week we have discussed stress, lifestyle choices, conflict, spiritual rest and vitality, and value awareness to name a few topics.  Each topic has opened my eyes to areas where I can grow and where I have strengths.  There are many things I could share with you, however as I was thinking about how to summarize our training at MTI so far, one sentence came to mind; I am learning how to die to what I want or think is best.

A good spot for reflection along a nearby trail

As I consider what it means to exit my culture and enter another, I see more and more clearly my need for God.  If He is not guiding this personal transformation, then I will eventually falter.  I may survive for a time, but I cannot thrive in my ministry if I am not willing to cling to His goodness and truth.

How strong is my desire to make the Haitian language and cultural way of being mine?  It is strong.  Martha and I have received this call to serve the poor in Haiti.  I am living into my passion! It is very strong.  However, it may not be strong enough.  That is, if I try to carry out this mission on my own.

One of our instructors this week said, “The key for successful personal relationships and ministry is to understand and accept others as having a viewpoint that is as worthy of consideration as yours.”

What a powerful statement!  This requires putting aside my own ambition.  This requires dying.

The idea of dying to oneself is not only for missionaries or cross-cultural workers.  It is for anyone who is on the journey of following Jesus.  We are reminded frequently at MTI that what you do now at home will likely carry over to our time serving overseas.  If I am struggling with anger, my anger will not magically go away as soon as I get off the plane in Haiti!  This simply shows that how we carry ourselves now truly matters and is a good indicator of where our heart is.  Therefore, I challenge you to think about how you are doing in this area of saying no to yourself and yes to the call of service and integration and mutual understanding.  We are all missionaries; we are just asked to go to different places.

Lots of eating and laughing together

I am so thankful for this place and to be challenged in these ways now.

Beautiful mountains nearby

Martha and I are having an awesome week.  Aside from the good teaching, we are having so much fun getting to know the 30 plus other participants in our course.  The fellowship is rich and genuine.  We are grateful to see how God is equipping and sending out many people to serve and love others all over the world.  Plus, we are in a beautiful place!

Pray for us this week that we will be able to process and unpack all that we are hearing.  Thank you for your generosity, prayers, and partnership.

 

Investing in tomorrow

Sometimes you hear people refer to ‘seasons of life.’  This journey with World Concern is interesting because I feel like Martha and I are experiencing several small seasons within a relatively short amount of time.  As I look back on our journey thus far (primarily from the beginning of this year), I am reminded of some of these small seasons.  There was the season of preparing for our short trip to Haiti in June and then actually arriving and spending a week getting to know the people we will be working with and serving.  There was the season of travel in July, where we attended two family reunions and spent time with both of our families.

Well, today we begin another small season.  Martha and I arrived in Colorado Springs today where we will spend the next three weeks taking a course with Mission Training International (MTI).  This course is a “pre-field training program, which focuses on strengthening your skills for cross-cultural life and ministry.”  I would say that each of the small seasons we have experienced this year have, overall, strengthened and encouraged us as we prepare for full time ministry in Haiti.  I hope this will also be true of our time here in Colorado with MTI.

Before I go on, I have to tell you how awesome it is to be in Colorado again.  MTI has a really cool facility where we will be living and eating and learning for the next three weeks, that is nestled right up against the mountains.  What an amazing place to train, fellowship, and grow.   We are certainly blessed to be here.

Honestly, I was originally skeptical of how beneficial this training would be for us.  Not because it was not a solid program, but because at this point in our support raising process it is easy to place a higher priority on meeting with people over coffee and making phone calls to share about our work than spending time learning how to integrate into a new place.  Although I have only been here for an afternoon, I am glad to report that my skepticism is already wearing off.  I was reminded today, that it is equally important to invest in developing habits and learning skills now that will allow us to serve effectively for the long run.

There are a number of other individuals, couples, and families participating in this training as well.  We had our orientation meeting before dinner where we learned more about what the next three weeks will look like.  I expected that.  What I didn’t expect was to be assigned homework!  Martha and I have been up since 5 am and spent several hours on planes today so homework sounded like the last thing I wanted to do tonight.  I reluctantly opened my binder and flipped to the page that we were assigned.  The title is “An Inventory of My Spiritual Life.”  Not the first thing I would choose to explore after a long day!  However, as I began to read I realized how great these questions being asked are—questions about my prayer life, spiritual disciplines, and the role of scripture in my life.  Wow.  I must admit that in the busyness of life I probably would not take the time to consider these things.  So despite my original skepticism and tiredness, I am thankful for the opportunity to be here at MTI for the next three weeks.  This spiritual inventory will help me see where I am and where I can grow.  Hopefully in a couple more weeks I can say that I am at a stronger and healthier place spiritually than I was before.  If so, praise God.  I know that remaining healthy spiritually is what will sustain Martha and I whenever we do arrive in Haiti and begin our ministry.