Tag Archives: training

A story I didn’t write

noel

Noel (right) and another colleague at our office in Port-au-Prince.

Loyalty and perseverance.  Makings of a great story.  These are the common themes in Josette’s story, a small business owner and World Concern microcredit client in Port-au-Prince.

I’m happy to share with you the story of Josette below, thanks to the hard work of Noel, one of our colleagues.  He is one of the Microcredit Promoters, which means  he and the other promoters are in the streets, markets and squares of Port-au-Prince almost daily, engaging with clients and offering them support and encouragement.  Here’s a story from one of the clients he visits on a regular basis.

Port-au-Prince, Josette Cézair ACLAM_1

Josette Cézair (left) is one of the most loyal and honest customers of our Microcredit Program.  For more than seven years, this woman has been working in this way. Despite the many difficulties that our country knows, she has always been disciplined and faithful to her commitments.

She was a victim of the Tabarre (neighborhood of Port-au-Prince) market fire in 2012 where she lost everything, including her merchandise.  Josette had many responsibilities, especially to her family and she did not know which way to turn.  Finally, like manna from heaven, she received a loan through World Concern’s emergency refinancing program allowing her to gradually regain her regular activities.

Now she has reached her ninth loan of 200,000 gourdes (approximately $4,500 USD) and thanks to this loan has completely re-launched her regular activities.

Thank you, Noel, for sharing with us this remarkable story.  Not only is this a great story, it represents a small victory for us as we work towards more teamwork as well.

In June we shared on our blog about our desire to collaborate more with the staff in Haiti who engage with beneficiaries often.  We gave them training and resources so they can help us gather photos and stories of the people World Concern is serving.

We said that through this process we hope to (a) create a spirit of collaboration, (b) further develop the skills of our co-workers in the areas of photography and interviewing, and (c) capture more stories to show our supporters exactly what we’re doing and who we’re serving.  On all three accounts we’re seeing slow but steady progress.

 

Stories and Photos: We need help!

Recently there was something a little different going on just outside the World Concern office in Port-au-Prince.  One of our co-workers was ‘pushing’ a parked van, another was ‘washing’ their hands under a faucet, and you could see someone else ‘watering’ the plants.  They weren’t actually pushing, washing, and watering; they were having their pictures taken.  We were practicing photography!

noel washing

It’s exciting to work toward something with others.  It’s also important to recognize when you need help.  Martha and I have realized we need to put more energy into collaborating with and leaning on our co-workers here at World Concern when it comes to stories and photos.

We all need photos and stories.  Our co-workers write reports of their activities and insert photos and write short stories about the people they are serving.  We do the same, primarily for fundraising and advocacy purposes in the U.S.  So why, we asked ourselves, don’t we work together more on this?

Since the introduction of our communication liaison position a year and a half ago, we have seen an increase in the quantity and quality of stories and photos collected in-country, but we know we could accomplish more if we worked even closer with the World Concern staff that are interacting with people in the field each week.

By working with our co-workers to create a system of storing and sharing collected information and exposing them to some tips and tricks of interviewing and photography, we hope to (a) create a spirit of collaboration, (b) further develop the skills of our co-workers in these areas, and (c) capture more stories to show our supporters exactly what we’re doing and who we’re serving.

We recently held our first training session on all this with our microcredit co-workers in Port-au-Prince and we had a little fun with photography practice.  They will each collect a story with photos in the next month and we’ll meet again in July to see what went well and what can be improved.  To make it even more exciting, we are having a little contest to see who conducts the best interview and takes the best photos.

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Martha sharing about why we collect stories and photos.

They say that two minds are better than one.  Well how about a whole team full of creativity.  We’re excited to see how this journey of working together to collect stories continues to progress.

lesly & van

austin & staff 2

Checking out the finished product.

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Role playing!

Compost: It’s More Than Just Dirt

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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Farming in Southern Haiti: The Uphill Battle

“Many people rely on their crops so when a hurricane comes it can take that away.  If you lose your crops, you have lost everything,” said Jean Sylvio Bernard, a World Concern supported farmer in southern Haiti.

Everything. 

His words have been ringing in my head ever since our conversation in late June.

I have been thinking about what exactly to share from our visit with Jean Sylvio and the other two farmers Martha and I met.  The more time I spend in Haiti and the more people I meet, the more serious I take my role as communicator and story-teller.  It can be intimidating to be the one responsible for sharing about this place and its’ people.  I am realizing this is no small task and requires much thought and genuine reflection.  Basically I want to get the story ‘right.’  The people of Haiti deserve it.

With that said, what I have decided to share is not as much about these farmers’ lack of wealth but about their vulnerability.  Poverty is much more complex than we would like to admit.  It is convenient to think of poverty in strictly economic terms but often times there is something deeper than simply a lack of money.  After our chat with Jean Sylvio and the others, their vulnerability is what stood out the most, not their financial situation.

In addition to meeting Jean Sylvio, we also had the opportunity to meet his brother Estimé Bernard and a neighbor named Lina Fidele.  All three are middle aged and have been farming in the area for 20 years.  They each are husbands and fathers, and all but Lina have grandchildren.  These men are considered ‘small’ farmers in Haiti, meaning they have a very small amount of land to work.  It depends on the season but common crops include tomatoes, beans, rice, okra, and corn.  Lots of corn.

3 Farmers at WC farm_Charlette Haiti_6-13

Estimé, Jean Sylvio and Lina (left to right) strike a pose for us at World Concern’s training center.

It should also be said that each of these men were familiar with World Concern long before the current project they are involved with.  Jean Sylvio had previously participated in an animal raising project and Estimé received a cow at some point.  This highlights how long World Concern has been working in these communities.

Pierre Duclona, World Concern’s regional coordinator for southern Haiti told me, “Although projects change, we try and work with the same people because relationships are important and we want to see long term change in people’s lives.”

We met the men at the World Concern agricultural training center near Charlette, a short drive outside of Les Cayes (the big town in southern Haiti and home to World Concern’s regional office).  I say ‘center’ because that is the easiest way to describe it; although it is basically a farm that has been turned into an outdoor classroom of sorts.  World Concern leases around 4 acres of land and uses it to conduct training’s for area farmers on a variety of topics—land conservation, tree grafting, reusing seeds, and preparing land for planting.  Here is a simple video of the land World Concern leases and uses to train farmers.  Currently papaya, peppers, watermelon, squash, and eggplant are growing here.

[vimeo 70191128]

“We received corn seeds and were trained on how to best plant,” shared Lina.  “We also learned about grafting and I’ve practiced that.  I have grafted mango and it is successful so far.”

Estimé also benefited from the tree grafting training.  “The grafting is something new.  Now I have a grafted mango tree at home growing,” he said.  “Grafting is important because it improves the quality of the mango.”

Estimé grafting pic small1

Estimé proudly tells us about his newly grafted mango tree.  A branch from a mango tree that is healthy and produces a variety quickly is connected to a normal variety.  The result is a mango tree that produces fruit quickly and at a high quality. 

A technician is employed by World Concern to conduct the trainings and manage the farm.  The food that is grown here is sold and the money used to cover some program costs.  This is one way that World Concern is attempting to incorporate sustainability into its’ programs.

This support and training for farmers in southern Haiti is crucial because of the challenges they face.

Like most farmers in southern Haiti the men we met have no irrigation and rely only on rainfall which is becoming more and more unpredictable due to climate change.  Lack of access to high quality seeds and knowledge of how to reuse seeds year after year is another challenge.  Insects can be devastating for crops.  The majority of farmers lack the resources to purchase pesticides to kill off the pesky creatures.  Therefore, crops in Haiti are almost entirely ‘organic’ by default (a plus I suppose).

Also, without proper mechanization these farmers are often forced to work their land by hand which is slow, tedious and less efficient.  World Concern staff in the south estimated that 80-90% of farmers in Haiti still farm manually.  And inefficiency means that less land is plowed and prepared for planting which effects the amount of food produced and therefore the income of the farmer.

“I mostly only eat what I harvest because often it is not enough to sell,” commented Lina.

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Lina reaches for a papaya at the training center as he explains the growing process. These men are sharp and know the land well.

And it doesn’t end there.  Possibly the biggest threat these farmers face is to severe weather; namely hurricanes.  In 2012 two hurricanes, Isaac and Sandy, wreaked havoc on farmers across Haiti including in the south.  Following Sandy approximately 70% of all crops in the country were destroyed.

“Almost every farmer was impacted at that time.  Everyone has lost some of their crop which means you and your children may become hungry,” said Estimé.

“The hurricane destroyed so much.  I lost much of my corn because the water was so high.  The corn became spoiled,” piped in Lina.  “Every year [italics my own] the hurricanes come and often your crops will be destroyed.”

“This has repercussion on kids’ education too because when you have no crops you have no money and cannot pay school fees,” explained Jean Sylvio.

Jean Sylvio Bernard_Charlette Haiti_6-13

One of our light moments with Jean Sylvio. Perhaps the biggest smile in all of southern Haiti right here.

Jean Sylvio’s words that I shared at the beginning of this post summarize what all this means best; “If you have lost your crops you have lost everything.”

Aside from family and friends, there is no safety net in Haiti.  No crop insurance, no subsidies and limited alternative employment opportunities (especially outside heavily centralized Port-au-Prince).

They are vulnerable.

These men are fighting an uphill battle.  It is both equally frustrating and hopeful to know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

There is a river near Charlotte that will perhaps one day provide irrigation for these farmers if resources become available and if there is willingness on the part of the community to maintain and manage it (I think there would be).

Trainings given by World Concern to Jean Sylvio, Estimé and Lina helped them understand how to reuse seeds from year to year instead of buying new ones each season.

“Now I know how to conserve the seeds and how to protect the seed and cover it, and how to take care of the seed,” stated a confident Estimé.

Estimé Bernard with kenep (fruit)_Charlette Haiti_6-13

Estimé shows off a fruit he is growing called kenèp in Haitian Creole or quenêpe in French. Kenèp is a rare tropical fruit that grows all over Haiti. It is usually sweet and a bit sour at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A World Concern tractor is shared among area farmers, allowing them to plow faster and more efficiently.  This is especially helpful and welcomed by the farmers we spoke with.  If there is some money, a farmer may rent oxen to help plow but this is not always possible.

“If you use oxen it will take four days to plow the land but with the tractor it may only take one day,” shared Lina.

“The tractor service is good but more tractors are needed to satisfy the needs of farmers in the area,” added Jean Sylvio.  “This area has fertile land and people are busy working but we need resources.”

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Jean Sylvio letting us know all about peppers at the training center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food insecurity is a very real concern right now in rural Haiti due to a disastrous hurricane season in 2012.  The UN estimates that 1.5 million people are not able to access enough food.

For Jean Sylvio, Estimé and Lina there are always uncertainties however they are hopeful for a good harvest this summer thanks to support from World Concern and recent rain.

“I want to thank World Concern for the work it is doing.  If other organizations helped farmers like World Concern does, then they can move forward,” said Estimé as we were finishing our visit.

I wish I could say that these men and their families are no longer vulnerable, but they are.  Their situation cannot be improved overnight.  However I can say that World Concern is working diligently to strengthen and equip them.  This is encouraging.  World Concern has been serving farmers in Haiti for over 15 years and is committed to doing so for many more to come.

Food insecurity and the silent crisis in Haiti

Quietly, a crisis is brewing in Haiti.  You likely have not heard about it.  It rarely makes headlines or even surfaces in mainstream media.  It currently affects 6.7 million people, or about two thirds of the country’s population.  And it is getting worse.

fastfoodAt the center of this crisis is one of humanity’s most basic needs—food.  In Haiti, as of March of this year, 6.7 million people face food insecurity.  Simply put, food insecurity refers to a limited supply of food and the inability to access it.  This means families in Haiti, already stretched financially, are forced to make hard decisions.  Where will we get food today?  How much food can we afford?  Will we eat two meals, one, or even none today?  Can I afford my children’s school fees when there are more pressing needs?  These are questions no one should have to ask and wrestle with on a daily basis.

Why is Haiti on the verge of a food crisis?  Like many things in Haiti, there is not one answer.  However a series of brutal storms and droughts in the past year has been a big player.  There is a brilliant infographic published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that provides an overview of the natural disasters Haiti has faced since May 2012 and how these events have exacerbated the food situation.

Haiti-hurricane-sandy---Web

The destruction Tropical Storm Isaac and ‘Superstorm Sandy’ left behind in 2012 meant combined agricultural losses totaling $174 million.  This is an incredible amount of money when you consider that the average Haitian only earns $700 per year.  There is no safety net in Haiti, aside from the support one has from their family and others in the community.  Though Haitian culture is very communal and it is almost expected that you will help out someone when they are in trouble, there is only so much support that can be given.

For poor farmers, the most valuable thing they have is the land they work.  Their entire income may be dependent upon a successful harvest.  Following Hurricane Sandy, 70% of Haiti’s crops were destroyed.  This means a loss of income for many farmers and less food available on the market, which drives up prices.  These two outcomes, due to a rough year of consecutive natural disasters, are why so many people are currently facing food insecurity.  

Even in normal conditions, Haitians spend a huge portion of their income on food.  Rural households spend almost 60% of their income on food and the poorest groups spend more than 70%.  Compare that to the average American who spends 11% of their income on food.  It doesn’t take much to imagine how drastically different your life would be if it took the majority of your income just to feed yourself.

The cost of living here in Haiti is actually quite high and is not something widely known.  It has definitely surprised Martha and I since we moved here to work with World Concern.  To put things in perspective, currently our monthly food budget is the same as it was in Seattle (and we’re not buying imported wines and cheeses).  We often eat rice twice a day because it is cheap, a good filler, and we like it.  Martha and I have the resources to feed ourselves even if the cost steadily rises.  Unfortunately, this is not true for many in Haiti especially as food insecurity worsens.

So what can be done?

A priority must be to get farmers producing again.  Productive farmers mean increased income for families and also a needed boost to local production.  This is why supporting farmers and helping them become successful is important and positively impacts both farmers and consumers alike.

World Concern’s food security project is one way we are attempting to support rural farmers.  In 2013 alone, this project aims to improve food security for 2,000 people.  This is a really cool project and one that I am happy to share about.  World Concern leases three hectares of land in three different departments and uses the space as an outdoor classroom.  Here, local smallholder farmers are taught how to produce high quality seed that they can use season after season.  Other trainings geared towards youth interns, the next generation of farmers, teach best practices.  Another important piece of this project is the introduction of mechanized equipment to local farmers.  Many farmers in Haiti work the land manually which is tedious and difficult work.  The project uses small tractors to help farmers increase productivity.

Row of okra at World Concern's agricultural training center (outdoor classroom) in southern Haiti.

Row of okra at World Concern’s agricultural training center (outdoor classroom) in southern Haiti.

Youth interns at the training center enjoying some watermelon.

Youth interns at the training center enjoying some watermelon.

A training about how to protect the soil and prevent erosion.

A training about how to protect the soil and prevent erosion.

Getting some hands on experience.

Getting some hands on experience.

 

One of the project's tractor hard at work.  The tractor's are used to help local farmers during planting.

One of the project’s tractors hard at work. The tractors are used to help local farmers during planting.

Food insecurity remains a real threat to families in Haiti.  This is a big issue and cannot be dealt with quickly.  However it is exciting to see World Concern take important steps to support rural farmers and strengthen their capacity to become productive.

This is definitely a silent crisis.  My goal is to, at the very least; make people aware of the current situation and how it is affecting millions of people in Haiti.  So please check out the links you see throughout this post and become informed.  Even do a little research on your own if you feel compelled.  In order to effectively engage we must understand what is going on and why.  Thanks for reading!

 

Exploring microcredit in Haiti

In Haiti, formal jobs are few and far between.  Formal jobs have set wages and normal working hours.  These are the types of jobs that many people outside of Haiti are blessed enough to have.

The UN Special Envoy for Haiti has estimated that no more than 10 percent of jobs are generated in the formal economy; meaning that the majority of Haitians earn their livelihood by operating some kind of small income generating activity.  Haitians are very entrepreneurial and industrious.  However being proactive can only take you so far.  Many people lack opportunity and the ability to access credit.  The financial system is not designed to benefit the poor.  This is why microcredit is an important development tool in Haiti.  Providing people at the bottom of the economic ladder with a small loan and quality training can give them opportunity and access to important resources.

Since 1990, World Concern has been using microcredit in Haiti to support small business owners.  Martha and I have witnessed the positive impact microcredit can have on the lives of people in Haiti.  I have really enjoyed becoming more familiar with our microcredit program in Haiti and speaking with both staff and clients that we serve.  I recently wrote a three part blog series about microcredit in Haiti for the World Concern blog.  Below you will find links to each of the three posts.  I encourage you to check it out!

Microcredit in Haiti Part 1 – How microcredit can create opportunity

Microcredit in Haiti Part 2 – How microcredit works (‘the nuts & bolts’)

Microcredit in Haiti Part 3 – How our program is unique

Better than gold

Martha and I have been planning, preparing, and praying for Haiti and our role there for nearly a year now.  At times I have wished more than anything to just be in Haiti; sweating, working hard, learning new things, meeting great people, and loving every minute.  The question, “Is it possible to have too much time for preparation?” has entered my mind a few times this past year.

The philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas said, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”

Reading this today was all I needed in order to reflect this past year on the rich conversations, fellowship, and community I have experienced with old and new friends precisely because we had not left for Haiti yet.

The past three weeks alone have been unique and encouraging.  Martha and I have been church hopping a bit lately.  We found ourselves recently at Bethany First Church, Central First Church, and Core Church at Aspen Creek.  These communities have welcomed us warmly and have been generous by allowing us to share our story and about our work in Haiti.  For me, it has been refreshing seeing faces that I haven’t seen in a long time; and amazing for Martha to meet new faces and see how much support we have just in this small pocket of the States.

In hindsight, we as humans see our missteps, victories, and blessings.  For me, I am thankful today for twelve months of crying, laughing, praying, meditating, dreaming, and growing with some of the most incredible and generous people on the planet.  It is not necessarily what I would have chosen for Martha and I, but that goes to show that perhaps I don’t always know what is best.  I am still eager to arrive in Haiti and began our work there (expecting to be perplexed and amazed even more at how God uses others to bless us!).  However, I am arguably more ready and energized for what lies ahead now because of the many hours dear friends have poured into me this year.

Just one question.  Who have you blessed today?!

 

 

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.

 

Exploring the world of grant writing

As you know, Martha and I are currently making preparations to leave for Haiti and begin our work there.  Along with supporting raising, this time of preparation includes participating in some trainings that will help us do our jobs better once we arrive in country.  We want to be at the top of our game when we arrive in Haiti to provide the best support possible to the stellar staff World Concern already has there, so we are excited about the opportunity to hone our skills now.

Last week I (Austin) started an online grant writing course called “A to Z Grant Writing” through a local community college.  One of my responsibilities as Communications Liaison will be to assist the local staff in preparing grant proposals with the goal of building their capacity in this area.  World Concern is doing some great work in Haiti and in order for that to continue we need to consistently seek out funding.  I have some experience with public and private grants through an internship I did last year with another organization, so I hope this course will provide me with a deeper understanding of the grant writing process.  We are currently in lesson two and I have already learned a lot!  So I am confident that this course will prepare me well for my future role of supporting my Haitian colleagues in putting together top notch proposals.

I wanted to thank each of you for your support because without it, participating in trainings such as this grant writing course would not be possible.  Your investment in Martha and I now will truly make a difference in our ability to serve well in Haiti.  So thank you for being a part of the transformational work going on in Haiti!