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.