Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Owen Rodney

After my initial visit with my sponsor child, Rood Phania, I was on Cloud 9! I was head over heels in love with her the second I saw her sweet little face. Sponsoring a child had just taken on a completely new meaning for me. With one kiss from Rood I had immediately become passionate about sponsoring these children and my wheels were already turning on how to get my little girl and her family a home.

In the middle of our trip, we got to spend an afternoon at The Children's Home, another piece of Lifeline Christian Ministries that would quickly find a place in my heart. The Children's Home isn't technically an orphanage. While some of the kids in the facility are true orphans, many do have a parent who was simply unable to care for them. The kids can stay at The Children's Home until they finish their schooling. In the United States we think of that as being eighteen years old but in Haiti, many students start school later or may have something disrupt their education and cause them to continue their high school level education into their twenties. At that time, it is hoped that the kids will go off to university in Port au Prince and/or reintegrate back into their family outside of the Children's Home.

The Children's Home is run by a married Haitian couple. Their love for each other is brilliantly evident. In our time visiting, he fawned over her as if she were the last soul on earth and my heart swelled at the beautiful love story these children all get to witness and the example they get to see of what a spouse should be.

When we walked in through the gate into The Children's Home's yard there were several children eagerly awaiting our arrival. As I stepped into the yard, a boy with a beautiful smile wrapped his arm around my waist and began escorting me inside. Inside the dining room area, he sat between me and my dad and held our hands. His name was Owen. He was ten years old. I was smitten.

I would later learn that the Children's Home took Owen in when he was just a baby. His mother and father had both died. He had a sister but she had been taken by someone else already when the Children's Home came for Owen. She's out there somewhere. I pray she's safe and loved the way that Owen is.

The kids performed several songs for us and we, in turn, performed one back for them. We held a small devotion and helped them with a small craft, a canvas bag they could decorate to carry their bibles and their new prayer journals that we had brought for them.

We got to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring their world with them, playing their favorite sports, swinging on swing sets, and having our hair done by some of the older girls. If Owen paused for any length of time from playing soccer, he immediately came to my side and took my hand or wrapped his arm around my waist. How could this ten year old boy who wasn't even able to experience the love of his own mother and father so affectionate and loving to a stranger from a foreign country?

We attended Lifeline's church service the next morning. The kids from The Children's Home attend church there and here came my sweet Owen looking for my dad and I. He and a friend sat between us on our jam packed wooden bench and despite how hot and sweaty we all were, he never let go of me for the entire almost three hours or worship and praise.

I knew in my heart that Owen was mine as soon as he wrapped that arm around me in the yard of The Children's Home and after church service was over I knew I needed to make it official. I went back to the dorms, found one of the leaders, and asked her if she could find Owen's paperwork for me. Signed, sealed, delivered.

On that final day in Haiti before heading home when we all got to see our sponsor children one more time, Rood Phania wasn't the only one on the grass in the shade under the big tree with me and my dad. Owen got to join her that day.

God, if you didn't already know, is a funny one. He has plans far beyond what we can imagine and I can picture Him smiling when I cried over Fednerline's absence on that first day in Haiti, knowing of the two children He instead had for me, saying "Be still. You have no idea what I have planned for you."

***If you would like to continue to follow our journey as I raise funds for a house for Rood Phania, click here

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rood Phania (Part 2 of 2)

After the utter heartbreak of my sponsor child, Fednerline, not showing up with the rest of the sponsored children I was questioning my presence in Haiti. Fednerline had been my saving grace in giving me the strength to make it to Haiti. Meeting her was all I had thought about for several weeks and now what? What was I doing here in Haiti when the one thing I looked forward to more than anything else had fallen apart?

Christy, who led our mission trip alongside her husband, explained the process of tracking down the children and getting them to the compound to meet their sponsors. She worked diligently over the next 24 hours to find my Fednerline and get her to me but the next afternoon she pulled me aside to tell me that she had spoken to the director of Fednerline's school only to find out she had moved further away, they weren't sure where to, and that they didn't know if she intended to return. This isn't uncommon in Haiti. Sometimes people come and go and occasionally hardships force them to move in with friends or family outside of their city in order to support themselves.

Christy told me that her recommendation was that I take a look at the board of children still needing sponsors and pick a new child who they could immediately begin to look for and bring to me. It was unsettling to think of replacing Fednerline. Despite the fact of not having met her, not having even enjoyed our first correspondence, the idea of her and all that she is was what had battled my anxiety over the last several weeks. I knew that Christy was right and I tried to trust that God had His own plan in this matter.

My dad and I took a look at the board. Nobody immediately jumped out at me the way that Fednerline had. Nobody felt like The One. I told Daddy to choose. He pointed to two girls he felt pulled to and after looking at the two of them I pulled Rood Phania's picture off of the wall and took it to Christy.

By the next afternoon we had received word that Rood Phania had been found and that she would be at the compound that day! I grabbed the bag of gifts intended for Fednerline and raced to the waiting area, shaking in anticipation but trying not to get my hopes up as great as they had been the first time. There were several children in the waiting area and a couple of other American missionaries waiting to see their children who hadn't been able to make it the day prior.

Finally, after so much waiting, after so much heartbreak, Rood Phania's name was called and a beautiful 3 1/2 year old little girl walked up with her mother and right into my arms. My darling girl kissed me right on the lips and rubbed her tiny little hands in circles on my cheeks. My heart swelled, tears filled my eyes, and I silently thanked God for the series of events that had led this little girl into my life.

We all sat down on the floor; my dad, Rood's mother Annette, our translator and a tiny little girl in my lap. I pulled out the grey teddy bear that I had bought for Fednerline and felt filled with the peace that the teddy bear was meant for Rood Phania all along. As we started to go through the rest of her gifts I explained that the dresses would be far too big right now but she could grow into them. I showed her the barrettes my mom had bought and how she could place them in her hair. Playing with her new grey teddy bear, Rood Phania slowly began to come to life, giggling in my lap. She kissed my face, rubbed my cheeks, and let me squeeze her sweet little body.

Through the translator we began to learn more about Rood Phania and her family. The paper I had received with a summary about her life had said that her father was a teacher, her mother was a vendor, and that she had one brother. It turns out that since that paper had been typed up, her father was now unable to work, her mother had no money to purchase the shoes to sell and make money, and she now had a second brother. I'm still unsure what led to her father's inability to work. It's likely that despite his qualifications there just simply aren't enough teaching jobs available. As the money dried up, Annette lost the ability to purchase more goods to sell and they found themselves having to move in with a friend of the family in order to keep going. When I asked the translator if there was anything specific that Rood needed I listened to her speak to Annette in beautiful Haitian creole and then she looked at me and said, "She says they need a house."

I tucked my face into Rood Phania's hair and began to tear up. The thing about having to wait several days to meet my little girl was that in the meantime I had learned a lot about life in Haiti and what it meant to sponsor a child. After two mornings building a house for a local woman named Rose Marie and her daughter, Serafina, I knew the details behind the Haitian people needing homes, what it took to get one, and the amazing job that Lifeline was doing in building homes. A Lifeline home is a simple 12 ft by 24 ft two room home that costs roughly $4,700 in American money to build. To qualify for a Lifeline home, the family has to have the ability to purchase or rent land on their own and the funds have to be raised and turned in prior to the start of building. The money for homes is raised by churches across the United States and often times it is raised through the hard work of an American sponsor who feels led to get their sponsor child in a home of their own.

Is it an easy task to raise almost $5,000 to build a home for a child in Haiti that only you will ever know the pleasure of hugging, kissing, and holding in your arms? No, I don't really imagine so but when Annette spoke her plea I knew immediately that I would come home and get my girl a home, whatever it took.

For the remainder of the week, I held Rood Phania close in my heart and at the front of my mind. We got to meet with our sponsor children one more time the day before we were to head home. I packed up the second half of her gifts, including several new size 4 dresses that I had chosen from the donations Lifeline receives, and the money we had brought to give her mother, praying it would be enough to allow Annette to purchase the goods she needed to begin vending again, and headed back to the waiting area one more time. The room was fairly full but my little girl wasn't there yet. I sat with my heart beating a million times a minute waiting for her to arrive. A few minutes later I glanced up and walking in was a tiny little 3 1/2 year old girl wearing a dress several sizes too big, hanging off of her shoulders, with barrettes decorating her hair; all gifts that I had given her the week before. A huge lump formed in my throat and tears filled my eyes at this beautiful gesture from her mother.

We all sat together in the grass under the shade of a tall tree and Rood Phania played with the Barbie wearing a fancy dress sewn by one of the women at my church. I hugged her and kissed her and she rubbed those tiny little hands in circles on my cheeks once again. We didn't talk much that afternoon but I don't know that we really needed to. It's a funny thing about visiting a country where you know none of their language, sometimes you find out just how many other ways there are to communicate. I tried to commit every moment, every giggle she made, every kiss she gave me to memory and prayed that the Lord would never let me forget exactly what it felt like to be with Rood in Haiti.

Annette spoke to the translator and he told me, "She says that when you go home she will be praying for your family and she will be praying also that you do not forget your family in Haiti and will pray for her family as well." My dad and I took turns telling her that we would NEVER forget them and we would always be praying for them. I know that when Annette says she will be praying for our family that she will most definitely be praying for our family and with all that I learned while in Haiti, I know that despite the little, the almost nothing, that Annette's family has, she will still be praying with all her might for my family in America who has it all.

**** If you feel called to help me in my mission to get Rood Phania and Annette a home, please check out our fundraising page here. We have chosen a Christian based crowd funding site and would appreciate anything you are able to share. ****

Heartbreak in Haiti (Part 1 of 2)

Only a few weeks before leaving for Haiti, our church had a child sponsorship drive. Several tables were set up with pictures and information about different children needing sponsorship around the world. Lifeline Christian Mission, the organization we traveled with, had a table and pictures of several children living in Haiti near the Grand Goave compound that we would be staying at. My dad told me to choose a child and with a quick glance through the pictures, I laid my eyes on her. She was the one. I knew it. Her name is Fednerline.

Fednerline is six years old and if you ask what it was that led me to pick her, all I could tell you is that she was the one. We were choosing her early enough that they would get our papers turned in and we would have the opportunity to meet her when we got to Haiti! At this point in my preparation for mission work I was completely doubting my decision to go. As excited as I had been only a couple of months prior, now I was completely doubting God's choice to send me there. I sent my plea up to Heaven, "God, I'm going to be obedient. I'll go like you told me to but I'M NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT!"

Choosing to sponsor Fednerline was just what I needed to reset my heart to prepare to leave. My mind and heart were consumed with the idea of meeting her, touching her, holding her, kissing her. She wasn't just a face of a child in a faraway world who I would cut a check for once a month. She was a real little girl who I was going to hold in my arms.

We arrived in Haiti late in the evening on Monday and the plans were that the next day, our first full day in Haiti, we would all get to meet our sponsor children. I excitedly bagged up the gifts I had brought for her and headed over with my dad to wait for her name to be called.

As the names of sponsor children, their sponsors, and the translator they would get to use were called I slowly became anxious as the seats filled with sponsor children and their families began to empty and Fednerline had yet to make her way up front to meet me. My heart raced faster and my eyes began to fill with tears as I realized that my Fednerline, the little girl who had given me the last bit of strength I needed to get on the plane, wasn't there.

Sitting alone next to my dad, looking around at the smiling faces of American sponsors hugging their children, it was all that I could do not to burst into uncontrollable tears. We waited a little bit longer, just in case, before we quietly stood up and began walking back to the dorms, a bag of size 7 dresses and a grey teddy bear hanging like dead weight on my shoulder.

To learn more about our work in Haiti, visit Lifeline Christian Mission's website here!