Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A little distance, A little perspective

At the risk of sounding like every blogger who has ever blogged, I sincerely apologize for the delay of this post! Since last time was photo-less, I was mostly just waiting until I had enough photographs to justify a new update. It comes at the right time, however, as I'm beginning to wrap up my work here and prepare for a new chapter back in the States.

With less than 3 weeks in Haiti to go, I'm finding myself even more reflective than usual. I'm grateful (and a little sad) to have the chance to already distance myself from my placement a bit and gain some perspective on what will have been an incredibly life-changing ten months. I'm sure that once I'm home, I'll have enough distance that even more things I've experienced here will come into focus, but for now, I can state with certainty how I feel as I come away from a few aspects of my life in Cap Haitien. I'll talk about a few of these here.

Teaching: If I had to be completely honest, teaching ESL has been no walk in the park and at times more frustrating than I wish it had been. I have found myself spending a lot of time focusing on the students in my classes who were struggling with speaking and understanding English (understandably so), and forgetting about those who were excelling and improving. While my lack of teaching experience undoubtedly made my classes less helpful than they would have been had a certified ESL teacher been in my place, the fact that most of my students learned at least how to have a very basic conversation in English isn't worth nothing. When I think about it, some people really took to the language and will undoubtedly continue learning on their own or in a class long after my departure.

General Impact: Like every missionary who has ever served, I spent a good chunk of time this year wondering, "what have I actually done?" I had been told that it was all about the relationships, but there was always the temptation to say, "yes, but what about something I can point to? What about something tangible?" I probably spent more time feeling uncertain and slightly discouraged about what I was even doing here, what purpose I was actually serving. I think God must have heard my uncertainty, because this past Friday I was given more affirmation of my work at St Barnabas than I have ever received. The students, faculty and staff of CASB gathered together for a going-away celebration for Alan and myself. Quite unexpectedly, we were both showered with songs and words of praise and appreciation from the students. It was incredibly affirming for me to that part of my own joy came from the realization that I, after months of not speaking Creole and stumbling by with French, was not only able to speak with ease with everyone, but was comfortable around them. And they were comfortable around me, too. That somehow means a lot.

When it comes down to it, despite my musings and the obvious affection that the students and staff have expressed to me, I'm still not sure if I can really articulate what it is my impact has been. Perhaps it's not even for me to say or understand, but only for those who have somehow benefited from it to do so.

Self-knowledge: Living in Haiti has forced me to develop self-care habits, mainly spiritual disciplines, that are now an important part of my daily life. Centered prayer and journaling have been instrumental in keeping me accountable for motivating myself and remaining positive in difficult times. I have derived tremendous comfort and emotional stability from these practices, as well as an ability to force myself to dig deep into my thoughts and feelings, recognizing how they made need to change, if even just slightly, in order to do a better job here and be a better person in general. As a result of seeking God's wisdom in challenging situations and embracing a life of greater solitude as a chance to get to know myself on a deeper level--the good, the bad and the ugly--I've pushed myself to be more self-motivating, more considerate of others and more conscious of God's presence throughout my day. This journey to "self-betterment" or greater holiness, as I like to call it, is one of the biggest blessings of this experience. I hope to continue to live out the changes in my attitude and actions long after my return home.

As I said, I'm sure there will be plenty more reflections and feelings to post about once I'm home, but as I reach the end, I feel myself feeling profoundly grateful for the love from others as well as the inner change that I've experienced in the past ten months. I feel an even stronger need to express this gratitude to all of you who have faithfully read this blog and followed me in my journey. Many of you have prayed for me, sent encouraging messages, and donated money to the church on my behalf. It is thanks to you that I can look back and say with certainty that I did something, and that that something has turned into a loving attachment for a place and a group of people that I hope to visit and remain involved in for many years to come.

And now, pictures of stuff I've been up to during the last leg of my placement...

Two of my students, Chresliana and Loune-Kendal, both from Terrier Rouge, at our party last Friday

One of my students, Phara, from Trou du Nord

Our English class

Me with two of my students. Left: Jouvelie from Mont-Organisé, and Rosemène from Trou du Nord

Me with Yves-Marie Étienne, CASB administrator and our wonderful partner

Some of my students and other working on our meal of kabrit fri, diri, salad bètrav and bannann fri (fried goat, rice, beet salad and fried plantains)

Two of my students, Limage from Gonaïves, and Cléante from Carice

Our kabrit before it's fri!

Alan with Madame Vivienne and her assistants

Madame Vivienne, one of my favorite CASB employees. She's always smiling!

Everything is so green now that it's summer and we've had plenty of rain.

Alan, Monsieur St. Ange, our CASB Fields Operations Manager, and I all went on a little trip to Dajabon, Dominican Republic. I hadn't been to the DR yet, and wanted to make sure I at least made it across the border before leaving Hispaniola. We made it across, did a little shopping and had a nice lunch before heading back to the Haitian side of the island. Even though Dajabon is not exactly a large metropolis and there wasn't much to do, I was fascinated by the cultural exchange that is so visible right at the border between the two countries. On Mondays and Fridays, the border opens temporarily for Haitian and Dominican vendors to cross country lines and sell their goods.

Though this river may not look like much, it has actually been the site of two events that characterize the history of tension and hate that has existed between Haiti and the Dominican Republic ever since the Spanish and French fought over the island. This river is called "Massacre River" first because it was where bodies were dumped during the battles between the Spanish and the French back in the seventeenth century. The river served again the same purpose--body dumping-- during the "Parsley Massacre" (or "El Corte" in Spanish, "The Cutting") in 1937 under the orders of Dictator Rafael Trujillo-- a genocide of the Haitian population living in the borderlands of the DR. To learn more about Dajabon, named the "largest border crossing between Haiti and the DR" and about Massacre River, read this: https://news.vice.com/article/in-photos-life-at-the-largest-border-crossing-between-haiti-and-the-dominican-republic

The Haitian Consulate in Dajabon

Town square in Dajabon, DR

This is a yummy Haitian butter cake with rum that I made for my birthday. Some of you may remember I made the same cake back in December. I've got to say it turned out much better this time!

My lovely students in the back of our glamorous Ford Nissan: Loune-Kendal, Phara, Rosemène and Sonia.

My St Esprit students did presentations called "Tell me how," which involved using imperatives and English to show the class how to do something. Here, Samanta is teaching us how to style your hair.

Weldienne shows us how to wash your hands.

Guerda shows us how to do your nails.

Chrislin shows us how to salsa dance.

This was taken at Rustik Hostel in Fersy, which is near Kenscoff, Haiti--a mountainous area just outside of Port au Prince

Lunch at Rustik

Rustik Hostel

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Stories of Haiti and a Godly Hope

One of the advantages to having been a French and English double major in college is that I was actually introduced to Haitian literature in both disciplines before I ever imagined I may be living in Haiti one day. In an online summer English course, I read Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, and in my French Senior Seminar I read Haitian-Canadian authors Marie-Célie Agnant and Dany Lafferière, the first Haitian author to be admitted into the prestigious Academie Française in 2015. All of the works I read by these authors were about Haiti in some way or another.

I have recently begun to reread Laferrière’s half-poetry, half-prose novel we read in French class together, L’Enigme du Retour. In it, Laferrière recounts his return to his childhood home in Port-au-Prince after his father’s death. I’ll admit, I’m only about a quarter of the way through the book, but I do vividly remember from reading it the first time that Laferrière finds hope and a sense of personal belonging in his rediscovered Haiti, despite the societal problems he observes.

In a 1978 collection of Haitian folktales entitled The Magic Orange Tree and other Haitian Folktales  (kindly loaned to me from Janet O’Flynn, a missionary currently serving at the nursing school affiliated with the Université Episcopale d’Haïti in the town of Léogâne), collector Diane Wolkstein remarks: “Yet, despite the inconsistencies, irrationalities, and intense problems of survival (in Haiti) there is an order, a sense of life, and a richness of understanding among (Haitians) that goes beyond the daily poverty and difficulties and emerges in certain of their songs, proverbs, and stories.”

Wolkstein, Danticat, Agnant and Lafferière have used the power of the written word to overcome the seemingly insurmountable heartache in Haiti. To me, however, the cultural “order” described by Wolkstein, which is made up in part of the very works mentioned above, includes not just stories and music, but an incredible love of God.

Over the past month, I have been touched by the faithfulness of the people who care about Haiti in the Episcopal Church, whether they be Haitians or of another nationality. I was touched by the genuine desire of Haitians and American and Canadian partners alike at Haiti Connection meeting in March (an annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and its partners) to share in fellowship with one another, to worship together and to try and help build for God’s kingdom that will one day be on this earth. I have been touched by the administration of St Barnabas College, where I work, to help me plan the establishment of a library on campus. I have been touched by the sudden feeling I have that if I were to leave Haiti without telling anyone, I would truly be missed. 

The underlying cultural “order” in Haiti that Wolkstein refers to in her introduction is important because it gives everyone who cares for Haiti hope. Stories and literature certainly are apart of that—but more so is the incredible Godly love that surrounds and enlivens the people and the church here. The unshakable faithfulness of all involved, the willingness to support one another, and the relationships formed in God’s image are what will create and are creating magnificent transformation in Haiti.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16:20). 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Young and important

This following is a speech I recently gave to 20-30 youth who are members of congregations in the northern region of the Diocese of Haiti. I was asked as someone who is "experienced" in the church to pass along some words of wisdom. Even though I assured the teenagers gathered that I wasn't much older or wiser than they are, I do know what it's like to feel young and unimportant at times. While the past 6 months have forced me to both recognize how much more I have to grow as a child of God, I have also learned to assert the wisdom I already have and remain confident in the the contributions I have to offer in my mission. On this Easter Sunday, let's not forget the many blessings of this life and the call we have to serve Jesus using our the tools he has given each of us, no matter how young or old we are.

Faith didn’t mean a lot to me as a kid. I didn’t really want to take the time to think deeply about what God wanted for my life. But as a teenager, that started to change. I  started wondering more why God had made me the way he had. Why was I good at some things and not at others? What do I need to do to please God and did I even really believe in God?

As I grew more and more, I began to discover how much I enjoyed spending quiet time with God. The more time I spent trying to listen to God’s voice, the more I believed and the closer I felt to Him.  I started to think more and more about what God was calling me to do as an adult with the talents and gifts that He has given me, and I felt “called” by God to serve others and be transformed through mission work. 

Since coming to Haiti, I’ve grown even more in my faith and have realized how much I rely on God to give me the strength to do the work He has called me to do. I’ve realized that God has called me to do this work for a reason, which is that I have a powerful voice that should be heard and valuable gifts that should be used for the Lord’s service.

A verse from 1 Timothy says, “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity."  I’m still a pretty young adult—I’m only 22—and many of the people I work with are older and more experienced than I am. But what I’ve realized more and more is that just because I’m young and don’t feel as important as others sometimes doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say and don’t have valuable contributions to make to the church. My voice and gifts have the power to help transform the world into the kind of world God dreams for us. 

You all have the same power to serve others that I have. Just because you’re young, just because you may not be sure about how God is calling you to serve your family, your community, your country or your world does not mean that you’re not important and that you don’t have important things to say. My advice for you is to be confident in what you have to contribute to the world, and take some time to discern where God is leading you to serve and in what ways. 

How can you start using your gifts to serve others, to serve God and to empower and love yourself? 

The fact that you’re here, gathered together, means each and every one of you is already doing this. Each and every one of you is here because you value your community and your relationship with God. That means that you’re already on the path to empowering yourself through God’s service. It means you’re already showing other people how to live as a Christian, old and young alike. If you continue to come together in spaces like this, if you continue to come to church and worship with your family and friends—that’s exactly how you can start to serve God in the present and discover what it is that God may be calling you to do in the future. 

I would also encourage you to start building spiritual practices if you don’t have any, yet. Spend a few minutes every day praying to God about your needs and desires. Do little things to help others, like encouraging a friend who is sad or struggling, or telling a family member how much you love and appreciate them. 

You are never too young to show others how to live as a Christian. You’re never too young to set goals for yourself in your spiritual life. He created all of us on this Earth to have a purpose—figure out what yours is. Figure out how you might help others with that purpose, and always remember that God and the Church want to support you in everything you do.


And here are some photos from a little trip we took to Les Cayes in southern Haiti and after!

Watching RAM, a famous Haitian band with a rock n' roll and vodou vibe, in Port au Prince

The Rev Carmel Chéry at St Esprit Parish, celebrating Palm Sunday

The Olofsson, where we stayed in Port au Prince before heading to Les Cayes, is known for hosting some of the greats, including Mick Jagger who once stayed in the room next to ours

The Olofsson in Port au Prince is a historic hotel built in the 1920s

A view from the balcony of Notre Dame de l'Assomption, the Catholic cathedral in Les Cayes

Panoramic shot of the coastline on our visit to the Marie Jeanne cave in Port-de-Piment, about 2 hours outside of Les Cayes

Our guide to the Marie Jeanne Cave!


Standing by "the elephant"

Goin in!

Ile a Vache, where we went for a day trip, was the perfect final stop on our trip

From the dock in Les Cayes at sunset

That's my hair peeking out from the chair!

The wonderful youth from the Episcopal parishes of the North

Sunday, February 28, 2016

When mission becomes tranformative

Last week, I started to ruminate on the challenges associated with mission work, specifically about how even when we have the best intentions as missionaries, the way we choose to spend our time, interact with others or even just our perspective going into mission work can get in the way of giving the best we have and fail to bring about the transformative change we had hoped for.

My class with me on the front steps of CASB. This picture was taken for Elon Day (March 8), Elon University's (my alma mater) day of annual giving. International alumni were asked to take pictures with the Elon banner in their respective countries. My students were super excited to be in this photo with me, but I think they may have thought they needed papers in their hands, too! You can see some of them are holding the homework assignment I had given them just a few minutes ago :)

Then I began to wonder if I had been going about my own mission work in the right way. Had I really helped the community I’m in? Is my teaching doing anything for my students?Are the new projects I’m getting involved in here going to bring about positive changes to the institutions I’m working with? Have I really done enough?

Hiking from Labadie Village to the Temple of the Sun

Wanting to get some more guidance in these questions, I turned to a couple of articles on mission work online that honestly explored my worries. Both pieces suggest what may be the most common root cause of fruitless mission work, which is that it is often too focused on the missionary and not enough on the community they are working in. In order for mission work to be successful, there needs to be a balance of concern for both the missionary’s experience and the community’s experience with the missionary. This symbiotic relationship between the missionary and their community leads to positive relationship, which then leads to transformation within a community and and works to transform the the missionary’s understanding of the community and the individuals in it.

Grove of trees on our hike to Temple of the Sun and climbing some serious rocks to get to Belly Beach

“Success” can of course be measured in many different ways. It is from positive relationships between the missionary and the community that concrete change is possible. If a religious leader in the community and a missionary take time to form a positive relationship, for example, they may end up working together to combine their abilities and perspectives to start a new program for youth or build a new worship space. 

A former swimming pool at an abandoned hotel with a stage, complete with the muses of comedy and tragedy at the Temple of the Sun. Kind of a bizarre place. We thought it seemed like the perfect setting for a crime novel.

Sometimes, though, I would argue success can stop at relationship and create changes that, though perhaps not tangible, create a kinder, more supportive environment that lifts people up in the community and gives them the loving base to lead their lives with courage and hope.

Hiking to the caves in the nearby farming community of Dondon, Haiti. Many of the caves contain markings from as far back as 15th century Spanish colonialism in Hispaniola and were the places of worship for the indigenous Taino people of Caribbean.

Thinking about these challenges both helped to reassure and motivate me. It reassured me that my work in Haiti is of value, even when I feel like concrete changes aren’t happening. When I feel like I’m failing at teaching or when projects are moving slowly, I know that what I can at least control is my relationships with those I work with, including members of the Episcopal Church community in Haiti and fellow missionaries. 

Inside view of "La Voute Minguet" cave. The website of Cormier Plage Beach Resort says, "La Voute Minguet, named for a French naturalist André Minguet, is a cave used by (Taino's)...Here in a vast cathedral-like sanctuary the chieftains met for the celebration of the summer equinox. According the legend, the first man, Louquo, appeared from a great natural chimney at one end after falling from heaven. In like manner, according to ancient beliefs...the Sun and the Moon came forth, to illuminate the world. This cavern is about 150 feet in depth..." 

Even if those relationships don’t seem to lead to anything that can be quantified or that is physically evident, I know that through the building of those relationships, God is doing His work to transform on both sides. Exploration into this topic has also motivated me to continue striving to to be as productive as I can be every day, to take advantage of the opportunity to converse with others and put my best effort into everything I’m hoping to accomplish as a missionary, whether that is to strengthen my relationships here, finish a project or become a better teacher.

My class looking thrilled about reflexive pronouns!

To read a new Episcopal News Service article on all of the exciting changes happening at CASB, click on the link below: 


Sunday, January 31, 2016

God's support in growing up

It’s been a very eventful January here in Haiti, which I hope justifies the neglect of my blog for over a month! Just after settling back into a semi-routine in Cap-Haitien following Christmas, I made a quick, last-minute trip back home to take care of some health concerns. It was nice to be able to visit with family and friends, some of whom I would not have seen otherwise. Less than a week later, my parents came to visit me in Cap and we had a nice weekend together visiting the Citadelle and showing them around the city. The next week, I gave the first quarter exam to my students at CASB, and not too long after, I was asked to attend the Diocese of Haiti’s annual convention (Synod) in Port au Prince with members of the Development Office team from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, along with a few other missionary colleagues. I felt so privileged to be able to attend meetings between the Presiding Bishop’s staff and various clergy from the Diocese of Haiti, many of whom are running Episcopal schools. I even got to present on CASB with a co-missionary, Kyle Evans, who has been coming to Haiti for many years now.

Now that I am finally returning to a more normalized schedule, I’ve had some time to reflect on some of the wonderful opportunities as well as stresses and challenges that I’ve experienced, not just within the past month, but since coming to Haiti in September. Although I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding and more blessed experience overall, I’ve also (quite naturally, I think) combatted loneliness, challenges in daily life and in my responsibilities and homesickness. In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself at times so wrapped up in these feelings that I’m tempted to indulge in self-pity. It’s taken some courage to accept the grittier aspects of adulthood, to which my transition from childhood seems to be moving faster and faster as I take on life in a different country and a culture far removed from my own.

My youth director from my home parish, who, upon hearing that I had decided to do YASC, said to me, “you’re going to be forced to learn how to sit on your discomfort.” There won’t be as many easy escapes to the challenges you’ll face, she added. And she was right—there are no easy escapes. I can’t go running to others as easily here when I’ve had a hard time. In moments of particular weakness, I long to be coddled and pitied by others. But whenever I sense that feeling starting to grow and cloud what could be a much brighter outlook, I check myself. Each time that I do this, I become more and more impressed upon the notion that it is the transition to adulthood that reveals to us the hard truth of Christ as the only one who is really capable of supporting us in every stage of our life journey. The things that I would like to change about my life are not things that other people can “fix” for me. And even then, I can’t always fix them myself. That’s when the “sitting on my discomfort” comes in, and when I am left with only God to help me sort through my emotions, to carry the weight of them, and to find my grounding, my hope and my spark again.

Thanks to my ever-growing relationship with Jesus, my burden IS eased and I’m given the time and space to embrace the positive aspects of young adulthood, enjoying the privileges—some for the first time— that being technically “grown up” bring, particularly in terms of my experience in Haiti. I get more control in some parts of my life that allow me to exercise my creativity and my own ideas—I get to structure my English classes the way I think is best, I get to take on extra tasks and responsibilities that I’m interested in accomplishing, and I get to explore this rich place in the way that I want to—by seeking relationships that are genuine and that depend solely on what I have to offer as an individual, and not on what someone else thinks is best for me. I’m able to exercise my own judgement in making decisions about my actions and my behavior, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be treated and trusted as an adult by my coworkers and supervisors, here in Haiti and in the U.S. 

Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me -Psalm 54:4
Visiting with my grandfather and Ferlito cousins

Cannons at the Citadelle Laferrière

Panorama shot from the top of the Citadelle

It was a long way up!

View of fellow visitors from the top

Insignia on cannons

View of the Sans Souci Palace in Milot

View of the city of Milot from the palace, including Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church

The guardhouse beyond the Citadelle

Family shot

My parents ended up needing the horses

Dad fitting some work in during our tour of CASB

Things are starting to grow in the fields behind the classroom buildings!

Another beach day at Labadie, because why not?

An advertisement for the new English class offered at St. Esprit Episcopal VoTech School (one of which will be taught by yours truly!)

Art at the Perroquet Hotel in Port au Prince

"The Gingerbread House" at UNEPH (L'Université Episcopale d'Haïti). Constructed in the 1920s, the building is considered a historical site, and cannot be torn down.

An enclosed memorial dedicated to the students of UNEPH who were tragically killed in the January, 2010 earthquake

A distant view of a statue of King Henri Christophe in the Champs de Mars district of Port au Prince


Gardens of the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien in Port au Prince. We had lunch at the adjoining restaurant.

Handprints of students at St. Vincent's Episcopal School for Handicapped Children in Port au Prince

The temporary structure of the Cathédrale Sainte Trinité in Port au Prince, set for the opening Eucharist of the Diocese of Haiti 2016 Synod. The cathedral was destroyed in the earthquake and is currently in the process of being rebuilt.