Tag Archives: friends

Keeping people first in life and development

Poeple first Sticker

“I didn’t see you this morning,” Jean said.  “You just parked the car and went upstairs without greeting me.”

My brain was full after another day of conversations in a non-native language and a thousand small things to attend to.  I quickly searched my mind for the events of that morning and then remembered that he was right—I had got out of the car and went directly into the office.

“Oh I’m sorry,” I said apologetically which I followed with the first lame excuse that came to mind.

There was no excuse really.  I simply forgot to greet a friend and co-worker that I greet most days. Although this wasn’t the first time I had forgotten, he was quick to forgive.

“That’s okay,” he said with a grin.  “I’ll see you Friday because I’m off tomorrow.”

This recent conversation served as a clear reminder that I am living and working and serving and operating in a place where your social ‘network’ (don’t read social media here) is highly valued and is for many their most prized possession.  Since this network is a priority, people’s choices and way of life reflect this.

And I had forgotten that.  As a part of my friend’s network I had, in a small way, broken this important yet unwritten social contract.  I didn’t mean to.  I honestly do not remember consciously choosing to not greet him.  It just was not on the forefront of my mind that morning, and as I’m learning, it certainly is not a part of my cultural ‘DNA.’

Haiti is a great teacher.  Sometimes its’ lessons are harsh and sudden, other times they are more gentle and subtle.  This time it was gentler but still a lesson to ponder and the lesson was this—people must come FIRST.

People First Collage4

Personally I know I am not quite there.  I want to be but if I’m honest with myself, I know my love of beating deadlines and creating beautiful spreadsheets and solving logistical problems and writing compelling stories, stand in the way.

Now I realize completing tasks are a necessary part of life and work and ministry however it shouldn’t be what comes first—people should come first.

The truth is I come from a culture that demands productivity at all costs (including relational ones) and that is hard to shake.  Thankfully my Haitian brothers and sisters are patient and forgiving.

This is a lesson for those of us who work in community development as well.  How many well planned and financed projects have failed because the people the project aimed to help were not put first?  It is easy to get swallowed up by logframes, impact evaluations, baseline surveys, proposals, and many more things that occupies our minds and demands our attention when running a project.

However we need to remember the ultimate purpose for all these tasks—to help people live safe, healthy and productive lives.  And how can we achieve that without putting people first?

As a well-known developmentista recently put it on Twitter, “It’s not about the data, it’s about the relationship stupid!”

Austin shaking boy's hand

So what’s the application for development workers and agencies?  Listening is certainly one practical step that those in development can take and it is getting some traction.  Projects like “Time to Listen” and the recent focus on feedback loops are encouraging signs.

Listening is important for me personally as well as I attempt to break free from my tendency to go and do first instead of putting people first.  Ultimately I just need to value these relationships more than my list of to-dos.  A shift in priorities and a ‘renewing of the mind’ is in order.

I’ve been blessed with good relationships in Haiti and I want to see those continue to grow and develop because in addition to benefiting from these relationships myself, that’s really why I’m here—to invest in people.

A couple days later I saw Jean, faithfully guarding the entrance to our office and greeting people as they came in the front door.  I didn’t forget to say hello and ask about his family this time.  I’m learning, albeit slowly

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Goodbyes and what we can learn from them

My parents can attest that I have always had trouble staying in one place.  As a youngster I was always on the move.  As an adult, although I’ve bid farewell to (most) of my bad fidgety habits I still have trouble staying in one place, geographically speaking.

In the past four years Martha and I have lived in three different cities, in three different countries.  Port-au-Prince is home now and while I am confident this is where God wants me to be and I absolutely love the excitement and adventure of living in such an interesting and vibrant place, I don’t enjoy the frequent goodbyes that come with living in a transient city or with moving every couple years.

Goodbyes are bittersweet.  There is a sense of excitement for the person who is leaving and beginning a new chapter and at the same time a sense of sadness knowing that your relationship with this person will look different in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Haiti is one of those places where people, namely foreigners or the Haitian diaspora or educated Haitians, come and go.  You often to have look hard to find people who have been here for longer than a couple years.  This is for a variety of reasons but the proximity to the U.S. and Canada, and the “short term contract/commitment” culture are major players.

Thankfully Martha and I have found great friends in Haiti and are slowly building a strong community here.  However recently we did have to say goodbye to one of our friends, Dr. Joanne, who was also a colleague at World Concern.  Dr. Joanne served as World Concern’s health program coordinator and was a wonderful friend to Martha and I since our first days in Haiti.  She is the kind of person that always lights up a room when they walk in.  Her godly leadership and sweet spirit will truly be missed.

Dr. Joanne will be staying in Port-au-Prince.  Haiti is her home.  So we’re happy about that and we will likely stay in touch.

Although we’re excited for her as she steps into a new ministry role with another organization, we’re also saddened by her departure.  Her leaving not only has made me think about my mixed feelings with goodbyes, it has also reminded me of the importance of being present.  Meaning, I need to make the most of the moments I do have now with the people in my sphere or office or apartment building or church.  This is something that takes practice and I am still figuring out but am seeing the importance and value of it more and more.

Here at the World Concern office in Port-au-Prince we had an awesome party for Dr. Joanne last week that honored her very well.  It had some serious moments and some hilarious ones.  There were speeches, prayers, stories, snacks, and laughs shared.  One highlight was the ‘dancing game’ that was organized beforehand but that no one knew about.  I had no idea some of our staff could move so well!!  Unfortunately there’s no video footage of the dancing but I did want to share some photos of that party with you.

What a good looking bunch!  World Concern staff surround Dr. Joanne (center, holding plaque).

What a good looking bunch! World Concern staff surround Dr. Joanne (center, holding plaque).

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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

Friends, meetings, dinner parties – a week in review

This has been a full, yet fantastic week.  Martha and I are doing a pretty good job of balancing our day jobs with making preparations for Haiti, raising support, and touching up on some skills.  Some days are longer than others, but all in all we’re growing more affirmed in our future ministry and have been given all the strength we need to ‘keep on keeping on.’  I wanted to share a couple highlights from this past week with the hope of letting you see what our lives are like doing this time leading up to our departure for Haiti.

Martha and I have applied to receive support from our church here in Seattle.  This week we had our first ‘interview’ with some members from the mission committee.  It was encouraging to hear about the vision the church has regarding missions and how our work with World Concern fits into that.  Following some good conversation, we had the opportunity to pray together.  This was another reminder of how blessed we are to be a part of a solid community of believers.  The next step in this process is to make a presentation of our work to the entire committee in the near future.  Looking forward to that.

As you may or may not know, Martha and I have begun learning French.  We are using a software called “Tell Me More.”  We decided to go with a software option versus a class or tutor because of the low cost and flexibility.  In general we are pleased so far with the program and since we both enjoy language it has been fun.  The majority of Haitians only speak Creole.  Why then are we learning French?  Our Haitian supervisors and colleagues at the headquarter office in Seattle agreed that having a basic understanding of French would be helpful for the transition to learning Creole.  Additionally, some things like government documents in Haiti are often in French, so it will be valuable to understand the language for that reason.  Eventually we will focus exclusively on learning Creole with the end goal of becoming fluent.  We want to invest in our Haitian coworkers and neighbors, as well as do our best to share accurate and in depth stories of what World Concern is doing in Haiti, so really knowing the language is essential for us.  In addition to using the “Tell Me More” language software to learn French, we have been listening to French music and watching French movies.  This week we watched a French film called “The Class.”  It follows a classroom in urban Paris that consists of a diverse group of lower class students and highlights the issues they face.  Slow moving at times but I really recommend it.  We’re hoping simply hearing the language will help us pick it up quicker.  We’ll see!

One of our goals prior to arriving in Haiti is to really be present each day and build strong relationships with people here.  A way we are attempting to do this and at the same time tell more people about our future work is through dinner or dessert nights.  These informal, laid back events may be hosted at the home of a close friend or anywhere else that a friend of ours allows us ‘into their circle.’  Our friends Andrew and Tessa invited us to join their small group this week for dinner and to talk about what we are up to.  It was really fun meeting new people, hearing their stories, and sharing ours.  If this sounds like something you would be interested in hosting for us let us know!

So this was our week.  We are always amazed at the people God puts in our lives and how he provides for us.  Pressing forward in anticipation for what He has next.  Happy Easter:)

Oh and it was my (Austin) birthday this week!  How could I forget?  I think 26 is going to be a good one.