Monday, December 2, 2013

Book About the Iris Latin America Trip Now Available!

I want to personally thank each and every person who followed along with the Iris Latin America team's journey.  It was such an honor to be a part of this team - this family.  When the vision for the trip was birthed in 2010, the Lord laid it on my heart to write testimonies from the journey.  I knew God would show up in wild and radical ways.  I wrote as we traveled, and I have finally finished a book that shares stories of healings and miracles, personal struggles and victories, funny moments with my teammates, and ultimately realizing that the greatest miracle of all is love.  If you enjoyed following along with our journey, please check out my book about the trip.  It's called Believe and Be Love by Caitlin Ann (available on  Enjoy and God bless you!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Epilogue to Caitlin Ann's soon-coming book

Twenty-six countries.  Nineteen months.  Countless flat tires, car breakdowns, personal freak-outs, sleepless nights, and moments of roaring laughter.  And then, in a blink of an eye, our journey was really over.

When I joined the Iris Latin America team in September 2011, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  My planned eleven months on the road quickly turned into nineteen, and I’d be lying if I said the journey wasn’t far more than I’d bargained for.  I was stretched in ways I never dreamt possible; sometimes the process was so painful I thought I would burst.

I think it’s safe to say that my teammates would agree.  None would claim that this trip came without challenges.  Honestly, there were many tough moments not recorded in this book — times when we prayed for people who didn’t get healed, instances when we couldn’t agree on decisions no matter how long we talked them over, moments when we all felt like giving up.  We would be deceiving you if we said no one ever got cranky, tired, or frustrated.  Sometimes we whined about stupid things or cried out of sheer exhaustion or snuck away to secret places in an attempt to hide from the world. 

As I’ve shared testimonies of miracles and healings, far too many people have responded, “I could never do what your team did.”  But we weren’t the ones doing it in the first place.  I can’t heal anyone on my own, nor can anyone I know.  It is the Holy Spirit moving through us that heals.  The purpose of sharing our story is not so that readers can put me and my teammates on a pedestal.  If that’s all I’ve accomplished throughout this book, then I have failed you.  We are not heroes; we are not superhuman.  We are ordinary people with extraordinary dreams.  And we’ve simply said “yes” to the extraordinary God who fulfills them.

When God invites us into His story, I believe it’s our responsibility to share it with others.  I want the world to know what God is up to, because He’s up to amazing stuff!  I want the world to know that God still heals cancer, opens deaf ears, causes the lame to walk, grows out limbs, opens blind eyes, heals backs, and sets people free.  I want people to know that anybody — anybody — can be a part of these testimonies.  God delights in letting us be a part of His story.  And yes, certain chapters will come at a very real cost.  However, the things sacrificed will never compare to the things gained.  Nothing this world has to offer can compete with the pure, unconditional love of Jesus Christ.  My God is amazing.  

Friday, April 26, 2013

Jamaica: ONE LOVE

Twenty-six countries.  Nineteen months.  Countless flat-tires, car breakdowns, sleepless nights and moments of roaring laughter.  One heart.  One vision.  ONE LOVE.

It’s hard to believe that our wild journey throughout Latin America and the Caribbean has finally come to an end after nineteen intense months.  When I joined the Iris team in September 2011, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  My planned eleven months on the road quickly turned into nineteen, and I’d be lying if I said the journey wasn’t far more than I bargained for.  I was stretched in ways I never dreamt possible; sometimes the process was so painful I thought I would burst.  But in the end, I don’t regret a moment of it.  I have more trust in God than ever before.  I have renewed faith for impossible things.  I look at the future with hopeful expectation.  I am honestly in awe of Jesus.

Despite the challenges of the past year, the victories far outweigh them.  Besides going through my own personal transformation, I saw God do things in front of my eyes for others that I’d only read about before.  Collectively, my teammates and I saw cancer healed, deaf ears opened, blind eyes healed, the lame walking, limbs growing out, backs healed, and people set free.  Sure, I missed a real bed, hot showers, friends, family, normal food, and the distant memories of a routine—but no, I wouldn’t change the past nineteen months for the world.  The things sacrificed cannot even compare to the things gained.

As my teammates and I approached the end of our trip, I prayed that God would give us an exciting ending.   Though exhausted in every way, my teammates and I were determined to finish well.  From Cuba, we flew to our twenty-sixth and final nation—the beautiful island of Jamaica.  During our final hour, God still had some surprises up His sleeve for us and gave us a perfect ending for a wild journey.

Personally, I was elated to finish our time in Jamaica.  I’d been dreaming of visiting this island since I was a little girl, and reaching Jamaica seemed like the prize at the finish line of a very long race.  While planning for the Caribbean leg of the journey back in December, the Lord had told me to simply dream with Him.  Along the way, He met every dream, fulfilled every promise, and surprised me with unexpected gifts. It seemed only fitting that entering our final country was a fulfillment of a lifelong dream.  Being in Jamaica was like a physical manifestation of God’s promises. 

Right away, I fell in love with Jamaica.  The crystal-clear beaches, friendly people, delicious jerk chicken, and unique melody of the Patwa language—it was just as I’d always imagined it.

We began our time in Jamaica just outside Montego Bay to volunteer at a children’s home.  Days later, we worked our way to the sleepy beach town of Negril and ended our trip in the capital city of Kingston.  Through a complicated chain of events, we got connected to a Bethel Church team who was headed to Kingston the same week as us.  Every spring, Northern California’s Bethel Church (the church to which Iris Ministries is officially “married”) sends teams all over the world for short-term mission trips.  Because Iris and Bethel are closely linked, Iris’s Heidi Baker had visited Bethel Church at the start of our journey to officially commission our trip to minister in Latin America and the Caribbean.  It seemed significant that we’d begun our journey with a blessing from Bethel; and now, nineteen months later, we’d come full circle and ended with Bethel.

Partnering with Bethel seemed like a divine connection, but I was unaware of just how much had happened behind the scenes to connect us.  Upon arriving in Kingston, we met with the Bethel team as well as the local pastors who were hosting us and sat in awe as we listened to God’s divine hand in it all.  Unbeknownst to me, the Jamaicans had been dreaming of having people from both Bethel Church and Iris Ministries visit their island congregation for a long time.  The pastor who invited my team to join them in Kingston didn’t initially realize we were from Iris Ministries and freaked out when he found out that Iris and Bethel would both be at his church at the same time.  Meanwhile, one of the leaders of Bethel was receiving words from the Lord about Jamaica, even having a dream that revealed who her co-leader would be.  A Jamaican woman from the Kingston congregation had a dream of a large group of white people standing on their stage and didn’t know what it meant.  And my team weaved our way into this church through a friend of a friend of my parents who just-so-happened to go to Christmas dinner with one of the pastors this past Christmas.  The pastor normally spent the holiday with a different family but decided to change things up this past Christmas.  The connections made at that dinner were what introduced my team into this beautiful web of Jamaican and Bethel brothers and sisters.

I quickly realized it was no coincidence that all of us were in Kingston together. And as I heard the expectancy from the Jamaicans and the Bethel team, my expectancy grew as well.  I knew God was going to do something great in Jamaica.

We began our time in Kingston with a healing conference at the church, and right away God began to move in a powerful way.  From the first night to the last day, God healed and freed many people.  To be honest, I hadn’t seen an unusually large amount of healings throughout the other islands, but the Holy Spirit broke loose in this place; and people were getting healed left and right.  There were so many testimonies that I gave up trying to record them all.  Here are just a handful…

One man in the congregation had a friend who was stuck at home with a sick daughter but wanted to be at the conference.  As people were healed of various ailments, they marched to the front of the church to share their healings.  This man started texting his friend the testimonies. As she read the stories of healing on her phone, the Holy Spirit invaded her home, touched her daughter, and the fever left her body. 

Natalie received a word of knowledge that someone in the congregation was allergic to water.  She saw a picture of itchy irritated skin from the allergy.  As she shared the word aloud, I wondered if it was even possible to be allergic to water and where she’d gotten this idea from.  Yet sure enough, the following day, a man from the congregation grabbed the mic to share his healing testimony with the church.  “I was allergic to water,” he declared.  “Whenever I showered or got sweaty, my skin would feel itchy for twenty to thirty minutes afterwards.”  I looked at my teammates in disbelief.  This was real.  The man went on, “But I’ve been dancing around the church, getting sweaty, and I am not itchy!  I’ve been healed!”

On the first night of the conference, I prayed for a young man who had problems with heart palpitations and shortness of breath.  On my way home that night, I just-so-happened to bump into the young man in the parking lot.  He approached me and exclaimed, “I’m so glad to see you!  I need to tell you something!  I’ve been running around and around, and I’m not short of breath!” He was grinning from ear to ear.  This was good news.

Another young Jamaican man named Matthew, who helped serve as a chauffeur for me and my teammates, shared an amazing testimony with us.  Matthew explained that just getting to the conference was a miracle in of itself.  Though born in Kingston, Matthew had been studying in Montego Bay (several hours away), as well as spending time in the Cayman Islands where his family lived.  He was scheduled to start an internship back in Montego Bay after visiting the Cayman Islands, but he ended up taking a little detour to Kingston.  He needed to help with wedding preparations in the city, and his internship was pushed back two weeks.  He knew the Lord had brought him back to Kingston for this specific time, and he had come to the conference with high expectations. 

Matthew had been in a snowboarding accident five years prior while attending boarding school in the states. He had three herniated disks, which were extremely painful.  After the accident, Matthew had to throw away his dream of becoming a professional soccer player and dealt with depression as he couldn’t do the physical things he used to.  He had spent a long time rehabilitating his back and doing physiotherapy.  Doctors warned him that if he didn’t keep the muscles around his back strong, he would be at risk for paralysis later in life. But Matthew no longer has to fear such a thing, because during the conference, God completely healed and restored his back.  All pain left; all disks were restored. Matthew is now able to bend over and do things he couldn’t do since age sixteen.

But my favorite healing testimony belongs to the Jamaican woman who hosted Aleeza and me.  Betty had worn glasses for over a decade but wasn’t even thinking about her eyes at the conference.  In fact, when Betty stood up for prayer, she asked God to heal her back pain.  Yet, as people prayed for her back, she received a surprise she hadn’t asked for.  Her eyesight was unexpectedly restored.  She was so shocked she could see without glasses that she completely forgot about her back.  Realizing that her vision was the same whether her glasses were on or off, Betty started telling everyone around her what had just happened.  She shared the good news with Aleeza and me as we got into her car to drive home—the first time she’d driven without glasses in years.  “We’re your guinea pigs!” we joked. “Betty, you better really be healed if you’re going to drive right now!”

Betty, Aleeza, and I laughed the whole ride home.  Every time we stopped behind another car, Betty read the license plate numbers aloud and asked me to confirm the accuracy.  With every correct answer, we erupted into more giggles.  Betty was so surprised that her joy and laughter was contagious.  God is just cool like that.

After the conference, the Bethel team split into two ministry groups--one heading off to the countryside, the other stationed in Kingston.  After many changes of plans, we Iris five were asked to stay in Kingston with the city team.  One morning, Nick, the leader of the city team invited us to visit their host house to pray for us.  We gladly accepted the offer.

We were driven up to the beautiful mountain home where the Bethel team was staying.  The view was breathtaking, overlooking the city and the ocean.  Nick said his teammates wanted to wash our feet and pray for us.  As they prayed for God to bless us for the sacrifices we’d made, so much was going through my head.  Tears began to flow from my eyes remembering the past nineteen months of my life—remembering the pain of being separated from friends and family during crucial moments, the devastation of being robbed and watching my teammates get robbed, the discouragement of illness, the frustration of endless car breakdowns, the nights sleeping on the side of the road, the moments of paralyzing fear and the reality of just being plain exhausted.  People often ask to hear about the glory, the healing testimonies, the stories of adventure—but most don’t acknowledge the pain and sacrifice that come alongside those stories.  As the Bethel team prayed for us, I felt tears begin to trickle down my cheeks.  Our trip had been amazing, but it hadn’t been easy.  And someone noticed.  Someone cared.  Someone took the time to stop for us.

As the five of us—Alan, Roberta, Aleeza, Natalie and myself—sat there receiving the blessing of having our feet washed, I couldn’t help but to think about the many people who weren’t sitting there with us.  I couldn’t help but to remember the beautiful faces of my teammates—my family—who had gone home after the completion of South America and not returned for the Caribbean.  I couldn’t help but to mourn the loss of their presence for the final leg of the journey.

I remembered that Natalie had told me many months ago (long before we separated in South America) that the Holy Spirit gave her the number seventeen and told her seventeen people would finish the trip in the Caribbean.  While traveling with just five people, I figured that had simply been a mistake.  However, in Kingston, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to count the number of people on the Bethel team standing beside us.  I asked Nick how many people from his team were left in Kingston, and he said that after many rearrangements, they were a team of twelve.  The twelve Bethel members plus our Iris five formed a final team of seventeen.  We had become one unit; and just as Natalie had heard many months prior, we finished in Kingston with seventeen people.  So many hard changes had tried to come against the vision in our hearts, but when God says something will be done, it will be done.  When God says seventeen, it will be seventeen.  Though it was hard to lose such a big portion of our team, God has such a beautiful way of redeeming things and accomplishing His purposes. He is truly awesome.

I wanted God to give me a very exciting ending to our story.  He gave me a finish beyond my wildest dreams.  Not only did we see miracles in Jamaica—eyes healed, lungs healed, deaf ears opened, herniated disks restored, etc.—we saw God’s divine hand wrap up our entire journey into a beautiful time of redemption and restoration.  He gave us new stories, new testimonies, and new friends.  We saw God’s blessing, His honor, His grace, and His complete control of everything.

The phrase “one love” from Bob Marley’s famous reggae song has become an unofficial slogan of Jamaica, and I can’t think of any better way to sum up the story of Iris Latin America.  In Jamaica, the phrase “one love” refers to a universal love for all people.  No matter what your color, gender, beliefs or ethnicity, you shall remain under the covering of “one love” for every person.  After visiting God’s children in the largest cities of Latin America, in indigenous tribes in the jungle, on the streets of red-light districts, inside prisons, in orphanages, on farms in remote rural villages, and everywhere in between, we saw the true “One Love” moving and breathing upon all of them.  We saw God’s love for all His children—from the fairest ones to the darkest ones.  We saw God’s love for the jungle chief, the prostitute, the prisoner, the orphan, the mayor, the rich man and the poor man.  We saw no bounds on God’s love. 

I love to share cool stories and testimonies, but there is something that I feel is far greater to share—LOVE.  The greatest miracle we can ever experience is the raw, unconditional love of Jesus Christ.  Everything else is meaningless without it.  I have traveled the world and been privileged to see many things and many nations.  And my best testimony, my journey’s greatest conclusion, my favorite memory is love.

Thank you for reading and for following this journey.  May God bless you and fill you to the brim with His beautiful LOVE!

submitted by Caitlin Scudder

Monday, March 11, 2013

Haiti: Beauty for Ashes

“…[H]e will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.”
-Isaiah 61:3

Before coming to Haiti, I had heard pretty much nothing but negative talk about this country.  People called it a hopeless nation, a black hole that sucks up resources, a revolving door of missionaries, a country given to Satan, and a barren land.  Rumor said Haiti was ugly, brown, and unfertile.  I’d been told I would see a shift from green to brown the moment I crossed the Dominican-Haitian border, a result of demonic curses.  “No one knows quite what to do with Haiti,” was the resounding opinion.  “Don’t waste your time.”

To be honest, whenever I hear negative press about a country, everything inside of me wants to prove people wrong.  When people declare a hopeless nation, I want to declare hope.  When people declare barrenness, I want to declare life.  When people declare a curse, I want to declare Isaiah 61—beauty for ashes, blessing instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. 

The Lord had given me a vivid dream about Haiti way back in August, and I held it in my heart.  Despite hearing how dreadfully ugly Haiti was, my dream revealed gorgeous palm trees, sparkling water, and natural beauty.  I believed God saw Haiti like this—but I wondered what I would actually see when I got there.

Upon arriving in Haiti, I quickly realized that people see what they want to see.  Yes, it is true that parts of Haiti are incredibly polluted, poor, and destitute.  But beyond the rubbish piles and the poverty, there is beauty so intense that it honestly can’t be put into words. 

In Haiti, I saw green.  I saw lush vegetation.  I saw majestic trees.  I saw children laughing and faces smiling.  I saw the same sparkling clear water and palm trees I’d seen in my dream.  And most of all, I saw a nation bursting with endless potential and relentless hope.

Haiti is undoubtedly on the brink of change.  The earthquake of 2010 was not the confirmation of God’s hatred for this “ungodly nation”.  God loves Haiti.  He loves His Haitian sons and daughters.  And He has a plan of hope and prosperity for them. 

After visiting twenty-four countries during this trip (many of which blur together), I can honestly say there is something very different and very special about Haiti.  Something significant is happening in Haiti’s history right now—you can simply feel it in the air.  It seems like the people have hit a turning point, and the nation is on an historic upswing.  There is still abundant need and appalling poverty, but Haiti is rapidly moving forward.

Because of the unique nature of Haiti, our team’s ministry time here unfolded quite differently than we’d imagined.  Instead of witnessing healing miracles, overwhelming financial favor, or other demonstrations of the more in-your-face glory, we experienced God’s glory through relationship.  Most of our time was spent getting to know people on a much more intimate level than we normally can.  We shared our hearts with our new brothers and sisters, listened to their visions, and ministered to many individuals who are in the process of transforming Haiti. 

I felt like God let us in on one of His greatest secrets—that He is going to surprise the world by what He is doing in this little island nation.  He is gradually pouring more and more fuel into the country, and soon He will throw a match on it; and Haiti will explode with His glory.  In Haiti, I felt like an undercover agent for God, secretly being handed fuel by my Father and shown what people to throw it on--knowing the explosion is coming really soon.  God connected my team to pivotal leaders in Haiti’s transformation, and I can’t explain how humbled I am that He let my little team be a part of their lives and this upcoming burst of glory. 

Our divine connections actually began before we even arrived in Haiti.  A friend of my mother, June, had lived in Haiti years prior and connected me through Facebook to several of her friends living in Port-au-Prince.  I started writing so many emails to strangers in Haiti that I was getting mixed up with who was who.  But one man’s emails really stood out to me, and I knew I needed to meet him when we arrived. His name is Pastor Bobby.

Bobby is the head pastor of Quisqueya Chapel, one of the three English-speaking churches in all of Haiti.  We attended his church on our first Sunday, and the moment he began to speak from the pulpit, I knew this man would shake the nation.  He declared the very words that were on our hearts.  He boldly proclaimed that Haiti was positioned perfectly for revival.  God loves to use the underdogs to blow people away with His power and glory.   God uses the weak things of the world to shame the wise. Haiti has been declared the “poorest country in the western Hemisphere”; and Bobby declared that label of poverty is precisely why God would choose Haiti for a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit.  He said that because of the devastating earthquake in 2010, the whole world is watching Haiti.  This tiny country had attracted the hearts of people all over the globe, and people would see when God brought it from tragedy to victory.  This was the first time I’d heard someone fearlessly declaring that the negative words spoken over Haiti were lies and curses--and that we needed to believe in something greater. 

Immediately, our hearts connected with Bobby and we knew we needed to spend more time together.  He quickly adopted my team as his little “League of Nations” and invited us to stay at his home for a couple nights.  There we shared ideas, food, and laughs with him and his beautiful wife.  Bobby was hungering for more and more of God and was desperate to see Him move powerfully in his life, his family, his church, and his nation.  He saw the same ticking time bomb that we did and believed God was getting ready to blow Haiti up with His glory.

Bobby knew God was on the move here in a radical way and wanted to involve us in what was happening.  We spent hours praying with Bobby and for Bobby, anointing his whole church with oil, prophesying over his family, and breaking strongholds and curses over Haiti.  Bobby had person after person lined up for us to meet.  Through his connections, we met many of the key players in Haiti’s future and were able to speak with and pray for several.

One of the many fireballs in his congregation was South Korean Helen.  We met her on a Sunday morning when Bobby brought her over to our group for prayer.  Helen was facing many trials that had all piled up into one big mess.  She had mistakenly been assumed as a woman of great wealth, and greed led to an attempted kidnapping.  Fortunately, she’d been removed from her home and able to hide out for a while; but she felt unsafe and needed a new place to live.  Helen was in search of a new base for her ministry as well.  In addition, she had been suffering from a relentless cough for months.  Looking overwhelmed and broken, she approached us for prayer.  We prayed that God would protect and provide.

Just two weeks later, we reunited with Helen in her brand new home.  God had provided a new place to live—beautiful, affordable, and fully-furnished.  Though monthly rent is a concept virtually unheard of in Haiti, Helen needed this option, and the woman renting the house said that was no problem.  Helen was also provided with a new house for her ministry base at the exact price she’d prayed for.  And lastly, her cough was healed.  Helen looked radiant—healthy, happy, and in awe of God’s speedy answer to prayer.

During our visit, Helen invited a colleague over to her house and asked us to pray for her.  We’ll call her Jasmine to protect her privacy.  We asked Jasmine what she wanted prayer for.   Poised and self-assured, she very matter-of-factly said she was bi-polar and would like to live a more normal life.  We began to dig a little deeper.  Eventually, Jasmine admitted that she had been abandoned by her mother and mistreated by her sister as a child. 

Jasmine also divulged that she heard a voice who gave her instructions.  The voice told her there was no God.  It told her that if she kept smoking, she would go to hell.  We asked her who she thought the voice was.  She seemed unsure at first, then said she thought it was the devil.  We asked Jasmine if she believed the voice when it spoke and if she really wanted to follow its instructions.  She said she had no choice.  She needed a guide for her life, and the voice was the only one guiding her.  Jasmine said she couldn’t hear the voice of God, so she was forced to follow this one.

Jasmine explained that she had begun to feel a “negative energy” in her childhood home in Jamaica.  Her sister hated and cursed her, and whenever she wore her sister’s clothes, she felt pain all over her body.  When Jasmine told her mother about the pain, she immediately brought her to a psychiatric ward.  Jasmine was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and put on medication.  Her mother couldn’t handle the situation and quickly sent Jasmine off to live with her father in Haiti. 

Jasmine had been dismissed as mentally ill, but I told her that she was not crazy.  I explained that we are all in a very real battle, and there are very real angels and demons around us.  I told Jasmine that the negative energy and the voice speaking to her is called Satan.  The positive energy is called the Holy Spirit.  The negative energy, Satan, produces lies, death, condemnation, etc.  The positive energy, the Holy Spirit, produces life, truth, freedom, peace, joy, etc.

We asked her if she wanted to hear the Holy Spirit instead of the voice.  We asked her if she wanted to forgive her family and find freedom.  We asked her if she wanted to stand in authority over the voice that was controlling her life.  She said yes on every account.

Natalie began by leading her in a prayer to forgive her family and renounce all pacts she’d made with Satan.  Several of us prayed for her, and we asked her to repeat, “I am a daughter of God.  Satan has no power over me, etc.”

As Jasmine repeated, she suddenly burst into tears and began to yell words from her heart, “I belong to God!  Satan, I’m not your play-toy anymore!  I hate you!!!”

In that crucial moment, she shifted from being trapped to taking authority over what was happening in her life.  I saw the deep pain from her battle and the true desire to defeat the enemy.  We stopped fighting for her and began fighting with her as she spoke words of truth over her own life.  This was breakthrough. 

Finally, after much prayer, we all went outside, joined hands and screamed “FREEDOM!” at the top of our lungs three times.  Jasmine radiated with victory.  She was no longer a prisoner.  This woman was free. 

Helen looked elated at the deliverance that had just taken place.  As she continues to reach out to those around her and take the time to find the Jasmines in her community, many more will walk in freedom.

*                      *                      *                      *

Though we could have easily spent our entire month in Port-au-Prince, we decided to head outside the city for part of our journey.  We spent some time in the region of Carrefour, just an hour outside of downtown Port-au-Prince.  One of Natalie’s friends connected us with a Haitian fireball named Karly.  An architect by trade but missionary by practice, Karly exhibited what a true servant of Christ is supposed to be.  Karly spent his days visiting the tent cities and homes in Carrefour to visit families and pray for people.  He was involved at a neighborhood orphanage and active with the youth in his church.  Karly’s home not only belonged to him, his wife, and adorable son but also to the countless neighborhood children who flocked to his property.  Every time we came to his home, local kids were in the front of the house playing soccer, gathered in his living room watching a movie, or sitting on his porch waiting for a hug. 

Karly often worked with visiting mission teams and led them throughout his village to be involved in his day-to-day ministry.  Normally the teams stayed at “The Villa”, a fancy establishment across the street from Karly’s home.  However, we were placed in a more modest house next door and invited to eat at Karly’s house each night instead of The Villa.  This turned out to be a huge blessing and an opportunity to transform from acquaintances into family.  Each night, we enjoyed the delicious local food Karly’s wife cooked for us, as well as the fellowship of new friends.  As we joked around with Karly, he became like a big brother, and his four-year-old son became our team’s new favorite person.  The people who saw us interacting thought we’d been friends for a long time and were shocked to find out we’d just met.  

Karly whipped us into shape by hiking us around his mountainous community and bringing us into homes to pray for people.  Many were sick and in pain.  The need was great.  At the top of Carrefour stood a tent city, a makeshift community formed of tarp tents after the earthquake.  As we passed through, we were invited into some homes to pray.  Whenever we prayed, the women put cloth on their heads—a sign of reverence for God while receiving prayer.  If they didn’t have a handkerchief handy, they all scrambled to find something before prayer started—even an old T-shirt—to place on their heads.  Despite rumors that everybody in Haiti believes in voodoo, my team was moved by the Haitian humility and reverence for the Lord. 

Karly also brought us to a local orphanage which immediately melted my heart.  Most of the children living there were very young—around five or six years old.  They eagerly surrounded us, ready to play.  We organized a few rounds of “duck, duck, goose” and then a game of musical chairs.  The kids went wild with excitement and roared with laughter. 

Aleeza spent her time holding a tiny baby, just a few months old, who was the most malnourished person I’d ever laid eyes on.  I’d seen starving babies from places like Somolia on TV and in magazines, but I’d never seen a child so emaciated right in front of my eyes.  Her legs were like fragile little twigs, with withered skin sagging off of them.  She looked so delicate that I felt like I’d break her if I touched her.  Aleeza bravely picked this baby girl up and held her on her lap.  She prayed for God to heal the little baby though she looked lifeless.  Her face was blank, and I knew if she hadn’t been taken in by the orphanage, she would have died.

A few days later, we asked Karly to take us back to the orphanage for another visit.  In just a few days, the tiny baby girl had transformed into a different person.  She smiled when we picked her up.  Her face had life in it.  She showed emotion.  I could scarcely believe my eyes.  God was really healing this baby.  Slowly but very surely, He was nursing her back to health.

The other children were happy to be reunited, and I spent most of my time chasing around a few of the little boys, tickling them as soon as I caught them, and swinging them in the air.  I got tired much quicker than the six-year-olds did and sat on the couch for a moment to rest.  A quiet little boy approached me and crawled into my lap.  He examined my ponytail and ran his fingers through my brown and blond hair, carefully rearranging where it fell on my shoulders.  After he was pleased with his work, he cuddled into my chest, his arms wrapped around me. 

I’d been having so much fun playing that I’d kind of forgotten these kids were orphans.  Suddenly, I remembered why they were craving such love and attention.  It’s not normal for a little boy to be so starved for affection that he doesn’t care where it comes from.  That’s never the way God intended the world to be.  Though we were providing very temporary affection, I knew these kids needed so much more than we could provide in a just a few hours. 

This feeling of hopelessness is what many people let define Haiti, but this isn’t the end of the story.  Though there are still many orphans, God is raising up a generation of fathers for the fatherless.  Karly is already serving as a spiritual father to many, and he is training up many young Haitians to follow his example.

Karly had been dreaming of organizing a youth conference for the young adults in his church for a while and asked us to make it happen.  He wanted to disciple the youth and begin a ripple effect of God’s love.  As these youth go deeper with God, they will become the revival Haiti needs.  Karly invited several young adults to our house for a three-day conference.  My teammates and I taught on the father heart of God, our identity in Christ, and the authority we carry as God’s children.  The youth were open, eager to learn, and excited to pass on what they learned to others.  I believe God will raise them up to be amazing leaders in Haiti, and I’m blessed to have met them.

Though Carrefour was great, we still wanted to explore further outside the city and began to pray for open doors.  Through a friend of a friend of a friend, we got connected to a German woman named Martina living in Gonaives, an area about three hours north of Port-au-Prince.  Martina invited us to stay at the children’s home where she lived, Mission de Vie.  We’d found that most non-profits in Haiti charged lots of money for visitors, some orphanages charging as much as $90 per night to volunteer.  When we asked Martina how much it cost to stay with her, she seemed confused as to why we would even offer money.  Her orphanage was the first we’d seen that didn’t seem to depend on foreign teams for income.  And though Martina was from Germany, she was married to a Haitian, and there were no other foreigners at Mission de Vie.  Martina was gracefully and joyfully immersed in the culture.   I liked that.

Martina organized several meetings for us—praying for sponsorship program parents, orphanage staff, kids, and youth.  At the staff meeting, we threw our original plan out the window and decided to simply wash the feet of all of the staff members and pray for them one by one.  One woman’s stoic countenance cracked, and she began crying.  As we prophesied over people, Connie was overwhelmed by a sense from God and told one of the women, “I feel like you are called to be a mother.”  This didn’t seem a wild notion for a woman working at an orphanage, but the woman sneered.  Connie was a bit taken aback by her reaction and wasn’t sure what to think.
Natalie pried further to see why she’d reacted like that.  Natalie asked the woman if there was anything she needed prayer for.  Reluctantly, the woman offered, “I don’t know why, but my husband and I can’t have children.  Before this meeting, I was crying out to God about this.  I told God that if your mission team didn’t say anything about me being a mother, I wouldn’t listen to anything you told me.”  We were a bit stunned. 

Shortly after, her husband heard what Connie had heard from the Lord, and he asked us to pray for both of them.  We went to their home later on and prayed for God to give them children.  The woman’s countenance had completely shifted from harsh and skeptical to soft and welcoming.  She hugged us goodbye, blessing us and telling us to come back to Haiti soon.
At the end of our visit, Martina dropped us off at another mission in Gonaives called Much Ministries.  We were greeted by an American couple known to locals as Papa Beaver and Mama Kathy, the heart of Much Ministries. Beaver and Kathy started going back and forth between Haiti and North America for ten years before making a permanent move to Haiti in 2011.  They now work in an extremely impoverished community called Jubilee.  There’s a garbage dump, several shacks, muddy roads, sewage streams, and salt flats.  You can choose to see the brown ugliness of it all, or you can choose to see the beauty.  Papa Beaver and Mama Kathy choose to see the beauty. 

Kathy’s vision entails taking things that others consider trash and making them into something beautiful.  She started collecting trash from the rubbish dump in Jubilee and teaching the local women how to turn it into beautiful jewelry.  Years ago, she told the Haitian women of Jubilee that one day foreigners would be fighting over what they had.  The Haitians laughed at Kathy.  Not too long after, they began to sell the jewelry and stunning art they’d rescued from the dumps and transformed into masterpieces.  Foreigners began coming to visit the project, and some literally fought over who got what--all wanting to buy the stunning art.  The Haitian women who had once laughed at Kathy stopped in awe.  Mama Kathy smiled; she’d seen the beauty in Jubilee all along. 

Kathy named their line of jewelry and products “Second Story Goods.”  She said their materials have been rescued from the trash, but now they are being used for something beautiful.  They are on their second story.  And this story is a good one.

People like Kathy and Beaver will change the nation of Haiti.  They already are.  Martina and Karly and Bobby and Helen as well—they are vital agents for the kingdom of God and are calling forth great change in a small but mighty nation.

I suppose the line of Kathy’s products sum up the heart of Haiti best.  Truly, this nation is on its second story.  The first story I heard about Haiti was poverty and strife.  But its second story will be transformation, prosperity, and hope.  I am so honored that God brought me to Haiti at such a significant time and connected me to such amazing people.  I am so humbled that He let me and my teammates sprinkle fuel onto this country, and I can’t wait to hear news of an explosion really soon.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Dominican Republic: Yo Soy Catalina

Yo soy Catalina.  My name used to be Caitlin, but no one here in the Dominican Republic can pronounce it.  “Caitlin” has become just a jumble of letters and sounds, something unrecognizable.  In Puerto Rico, I still had my name and some of my culture, but those days are over.  I’m Catalina again.  I’m a missionary in a foreign country again.  Having a holiday break in the states seems like a distant dream; now it’s back to reality.  In the Dominican Republic, I can’t depend on electricity or running water or internet.  I can’t go for a jog on my own in the neighborhoods where I stay.  I work with people who don’t speak my language or understand my culture.  People make constant comments about my hair, my skin, my body.  Caitlin is being squeezed out of me all over again.  Yo soy Catalina. 

As challenging as it’s been to jump back into life here after being in the states, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  As I sat in a poor farming village the other day, random dark-skinned children running their fingers through my hair and laughing, my heart felt at peace.  I’m in the right place.  Sure, I am challenged daily.  But I am blessed daily.  I love the islands.  I love the people here.  I love the kids, the prisoners, the lepers, and the senior citizens I’ve gotten to hang out with in the last few weeks.  I love the beautiful Caribbean ocean.  I love the simplicity of things here.  Though being Caitlin was a lot easier, I love being Catalina.

My team began our time in the Dominican Republic in the capital city of Santo Domingo.  After a short flight from Puerto Rico, we were greeted at the airport by Pastor Luis and Julio, his friend from the church.  While driving from the airport to the pastor’s home, I could already sense a stronger Caribbean flavor than what we’d experienced in Puerto Rico.  The main road from the airport into the city hugged the coast, providing us with breathtaking views of sparkling crystal-clear water.  Palm trees hid people in their shade and swayed with the rhythm of the gentle ocean breeze. 

On the way to Pastor Luis’s house, we pulled over at a man’s fruit stand where he treated each of us to a freshly cracked coconut.  We swigged the sweet milk straight from the coconut, then scooped out the remaining fruit.  Now we were in the real Caribbean.

As we continued driving, the roads became a bit more industrial, and we could sense a shift from laid-back Caribbean life to a chaotic favela community. Luis’s neighborhood is called La Canela, meaning “cinnamon” in Spanish.  And just like the spice, this neighborhood is a flavorful little barrio, bustling with people, commotion, and noise. Whether dogs barking, stereos blaring, children playing, street vendors announcing their products, or motorbikes whizzing by, noise rules La Canela at all hours.  The neighborhood is comprised of a series of steep up-and-down streets, weaving a wild labyrinth of roads filled with colorful homes. 

Upon entering Pastor Luis’s home, we were excitedly greeted by his beautiful and bubbly wife, Belkis. She had heard through the grapevine that Roberta loves a traditional Dominican food called la bandera which literally means “flag” in Spanish.  Belkis had a bowl on the kitchen table covered in a cloth and declared that she’d prepared la bandera for us.  She pulled the cloth away to reveal a literal bandera--a flag folded up in the bowl.  She burst into laughter at our look of surprise, pleased by our reaction to her clever joke.  Moments later, she whipped out the actual meal of la bandera and invited us to sit and enjoy.  We shared an amazing spread of rice, savory meat, and sautéed vegetables. 

Throughout the week, we spend much time at the kitchen table surrounded by good company and some of the best food of our entire Latin American journey.  Meals were a time to enjoy the local culture, share our hearts with Pastor Luis and his family, and gain corporate revelation about spiritual matters.  Luis and Belkis explained that normally when visitors come to their neighborhood, they offer them a place apart from their house where they stay on their own.  They are careful about who they let stay in their home.  We were all surprised, because we were under quite the opposite impression.  When we’d called Luis from Puerto Rico, he had offered us his home instantly, without asking a single question about us.  But while in his home, Luis explained that the Holy Spirit had moved inside him during our brief Skype call, and he immediately knew he needed to receive us.  Belkis nodded in agreement, explaining that when she prayed for us, the Holy Spirit told her we came with pure hearts.  We’d done nothing to cause such certain expectations and such a warm welcome.  God had done it all, and we undeservedly reaped the benefits of His work. 

Throughout the week, we worked within Pastor Luis’s church; but more importantly, we took the gospel outside of the building.  Preaching, sharing testimonies, and heading up a conference for church leaders were all good opportunities to share the love of God.  However, my heart really came alive when I got to do ministry outside the church walls.  Pastor Luis had hoped to light a fire for missions in his congregation, and we arranged several little outreaches that honestly began to spark something.  Many people from the church had been interested in evangelistic outreaches for a long time, but they’d never taken the initiative to organize them.  Our team got the ball rolling and initiated visits to houses within poorer areas of La Canela, a local prison, and a leper colony.  Everywhere we went, young people from the church ministered alongside us.  Once people saw how easy it was to jump in and how God worked so powerfully through these outreaches, they excitedly declared that they would continue the work after we left. 

Pedro, a young pastor from Luis’s church, accompanied us on every outreach; and the fire inside him transformed from a spark to a burning flame in just a few days.  He had a natural gift for preaching and evangelism but wasn’t yet operating in his full potential.  The Lord had given him a vision to preach in every prison in the Dominican Republic, but he’d never been to a jail yet.  So we went to a prison with him and encouraged him to preach.  Pedro wanted to share the gospel outside the church, but had no platform to do so.  So we went house to house within La Canela and prayed for needy families.  Pedro wanted to pray for the sick, so we went to a leper colony together.  He loved every moment.

During every outreach, we saw hearts touched and enjoyed our own breakthroughs with the Lord.  But I saw the greatest breakthrough in Pedro’s life, and I rejoice for what God is doing in him.  His eyes were opened up to countless ministry opportunities within his own community, and many doors were opened that he may not have attempted to open on his own.  By the end of our time together, Pedro felt empowered to continue with the ministry we began together.  Other members of the church were starting to catch that fire for missions as well; and I believe we witnessed the start of a powerful evangelism team who will share the gospel around Santo Domingo for years to come. 

To be honest, I sometimes worry about coming into a city for only a week or so, because I don’t know what will happen after we leave. I wonder if our efforts ever go to waste.  But God reminded me that He is faithful to complete the work He starts.  In Santo Domingo, He connected us to the right people to follow through with the work that was started during our time there.  I am confident that Pedro will revisit the houses within La Canela, the prison, and maybe even the leper colony.  I am excited to hear about what God does through his life and the life of others within his church.

One of our greatest moments together happened while visiting homes inside La Canela. While walking through the maze of small homes that comprise the neighborhood, we encountered an older couple who asked for prayer for different health issues.  The wife said she had pain in her back and knees, so we prayed for God to heal her.  After, we asked if she could do anything now that she couldn’t do before.  She began to bend over and twist.  Realizing that she hadn’t been able to do those movements just moments prior, she began to celebrate her healing and excitedly praise God. 

The woman was a Christian and wanted her husband to know Jesus as well.  We asked how we could pray for him, and he explained that he had a heart condition in addition to diabetes.  Earlier in the day, he had attempted walking from his bed to the front door but wasn’t able.  He’d become too dizzy and had to return to his bed.  We prayed for God to heal him too and afterwards asked him to try to walk.  This time, the man walked to the door and back without problems.  His dizziness was gone.

The man sat back down and explained that he had not yet accepted Jesus into his life. But he was happy that God had chosen to heal him nonetheless.  So were we.  The man went on to explain that during this very week God had begun to speak into his heart.  God was inviting him into His love.  Just one day prior to our visit, the man felt a real desire to go to church.  He said he had been too sick to get there, but declared that God had brought church to his house today.  His eyes radiated with true joy.  His body looked old, but his eyes were like those of a boy—excited, pure, and captivated by the love of His father.  The man said he wanted to pray with us; and inside his little home, he accepted Jesus into his life.  Because God had just touched his body, it appeared as if he would now be physically strong enough to go to church.  But no matter what, I rejoice that his heart was touched by God’s love, and no sickness can ever take that away from him.

After a week in Santo Domingo, we prepared to move on to our next city in the Dominican Republic.  We had originally planned to travel to Santiago, but after going in circles with our contacts there, we realized this was another closed door.  Pastor Luis went to bat for us and made several calls to pastor friends around the country.  We waited to see what came through.  We needed to leave on Wednesday, and on Tuesday night, we still had no idea where we were going.  All we knew was that we were going to the bus station in the morning and would get on a bus—to somewhere.  On Tuesday at midnight, plans were confirmed.  We made plans with just hours to spare!  A pastor from the city of La Romana invited us to work with his church and stay with a family from his congregation.  La Romana is a coastal city about two hours east of Santo Domingo.  With no other options, we hopped on a bus to La Romana and hoped for the best.

And the best is what we got!  We were met at the bus station and hosted by two of the most joyful people I’ve ever met.  Always-laughing Ramone welcomed us into his home, constantly calling us beautiful, giving us hugs, and sharing funny stories.  His gorgeous wife, Lucy, showered us with hospitality as well—working tirelessly to prepare amazing meals and serving us with a smile on her face.  The kindness of strangers blew me away once again.  I immediately felt at home and looked forward to hearing Ramone’s infectious laughter each day.

One evening, while eating dinner, Ramone told my teammates and I that he’d seen us in a vision two weeks before we arrived.  He had forgotten about the vision until that moment and then realized he’d seen the whole scene before.  He explained that he’d seen each one of us sitting around his table, talking.  We’d had no idea where we were going until midnight the night before, but Ramone had seen us weeks ago.  God had it planned all along.  Crazy.

We worked at Ramone and Lucy’s church, attending prayer meetings and preaching (apparently I’m a preacher now); but again the work outside the church walls is what really moved my heart.  We connected with several women from the church who accompanied us to a senior home, a prison, an orphanage, and a Haitian community outside the city.  One of the women, Maria Teresa, astonished me with her faith.  She lives in a poor community and visits homes in her neighborhood almost every morning, sharing the gospel and praying for people.  She regularly visits a local orphanage and a prison as well.  She has almost nothing, but everything she receives, she gives to others.  She waits for God to provide enough money for her to catch a bus to the prison and uses those coins on bus fare instead of her own needs.  She walks long distances to get other places.  She works tirelessly, day after day, loving people with radical abandon, yet receiving no glory.  She is a faceless, nameless woman who will probably never receive due honor here on earth. 

When I travel, I have strangers taking me into their homes and cooking me feasts.  When I’m in the U.S., I have people showering me with generosity, praising me for simply doing the work I love.  Yet, there are local people in these poor countries who never get praise, honor, or glory.  They work simply because their hearts are full of the love of Christ.  Maria Teresa is one of these women.  She is a hero, and the world will never know.

I had already fallen in love with her genuine heart, but when I heard more of her story, I was literally in awe.  Maria Teresa’s father had been her closest companion, the man she adored.  He was unjustly murdered, and three men were accused of the crime.  Instead of resorting to anger or bitterness, Maria Teresa chose to love.  God told her to go to the prison and pray for the men who had killed her father.  She started visiting the men who had been accused—to show them love.  The three alleged killers all claim innocence, but they are still awaiting trial, so there’s no proof either way.  Maria Teresa doesn’t care whether the men are guilty or innocent.  She loves these men, and they love her.  Over time, she’s become a mama to them.  They adore her and shower her with affection when she walks into the prison.  Maria Teresa is a walking story of forgiveness and God’s redemption.  Wow.

Normally, she goes to prison alone whenever she can save up enough to get there.  This time, my teammates and I arranged for a vehicle and went with Maria Teresa.  She was very glad to have company and thankful for transportation.  We arrived at the prison and were told to leave all our belongings at a dodgy kiosk outside the jail.  We waited in the scorching sun for about an hour and a half, our water bottles and sunglasses already confiscated.  Finally, we were led into the jail, where we underwent the most humiliating prison security inspection yet.  We might as well have been prisoners ourselves.  Each of us still reeling from the shock of that experience, we walked into the main meeting room where inmates were receiving visitors. 

Immediately, we were greeted by a smiling Angelio, one of the accused killers.  He didn’t look like he could hurt a fly.  He was probably a few years younger than me, and I could see all he wanted was someone to hug.  We sat down with him and chatted about his life.  He said he used to live a godless life—doing drugs and getting into trouble.  Open and honest about his past, he admitted he was far from perfect but declared that he had not killed Maria Teresa’s father.  He had been accused of committing the crime with two other men whom he’d never met prior to being thrown in prison.  When he met them in jail, he heard they’d been accused of the same crime and were his alleged partners in crime.

Angelio wanted his freedom back but said that he was thankful he’d met Jesus in prison.  He said God had actually shown him mercy by bringing him to jail.  All his friends from the streets had been killed.  His life was heading in the same direction, but God spared him.  Now Angelio knew God, cleaned up his life, and had hope in something greater.  But the thought of never leaving prison was more than he could bear.   He wanted to be free and start a clean life.  He wanted to have friends he could trust.  He wanted to see his mom.

We asked if we could pray for Angelio, and he knelt down in the middle of us, reaching out to hold me and Aleeza’s hands.  Tears poured down his cheeks as we prayed for him.  Afterwards, he stood back up and said, “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”  He looked like a child, scared and longing for comfort.  Without knowing quite what to say, we sat with him and held his hands.  Roberta sat with her arm around him, and he drank in her presence like a young child does with his mother.  He broke my heart.

Visiting hours quickly faded, and we had to say goodbye.  Angelio left us with a smile, and I forced a smile back, knowing freedom was just steps away for me and maybe years away for him.  I believed in his innocence but knew the corrupt system could easily find a way to prove otherwise.  I wondered what Maria Teresa thought, but then I remembered that she doesn’t care.  All she wants is to love.  And she does.  She loves Angelio with all her heart.  And he knows it.

Yo soy Catalina.  I am a blessed woman.  I think my life is hard sometimes, and then I look at the world around me.  I am free.  I am loved.  I get to see what God is up to all around the world.  In the Dominican Republic, He’s up to a lot of good.  He’s using selfless people to reflect His incredible heart of grace, love, and forgiveness.  And lucky me—I get to see it.  I am humbled by my time in the DR and amazed by God’s goodness.  His love is beautiful beyond words.

By Caitlin Scudder