This month’s blog title is inspired by several ideas:
I. In honor of Lecrae’s recent release of his newest album “All Things Work Together,” we’re throwing it back to his first studio album “Real Talk.” I have a habit of binge listening to a single album for months on end, and Lecrae’s newest game changer has been the most recent soundtrack of my days. In accordance with Romans 8:26-28, I’m holding on to the promise that,
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (NASB).
Real talk—many days in September left me pleading for the Spirit to intercede for me because I simply did not know what to pray. But the days that brought the most internal turmoil also brought the promise that “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your Faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23, NASB).” Thank you, Coach Levin, for sharing your favorite verses that have become an anthem of my days, reiterated in a Kreyol song lyric, “Mizerikòd ou pap fini, Konpasyon Bondye pap fini. Li renouvle chak maten, chak maten,” or “Your mercies will not end, God’s compassion will not end. It is renewed every morning, every morning.” Mèsi Jezi.
II. In many ways, it’s about to get real here in Haiti. A few small job creation/capital raising projects I’ve been working with here and there throughout September are about to come to fruition and become real in October. Also, with no fault but my own, the savings group idea didn’t go over too well in the first community I chose to present to—so I had to come to terms with my shortcomings, take it back to the drawing board, and get real with how to move forward from here. And several threats of hurricanes and protests/demonstrations/manifestations/transportation strikes due to Haiti’s president’s proposal of a new budget and increased taxes kept us in the compound with too much time to think, meaning that this post—as a compilation of many thoughts, experiences, emotions, and steep learning curves over the past month—is about to get real.
Real talk—it would be much more pleasant to only share with you the many joyful, fun, life-giving, lesson-filled times of September, but that would not truthfully reveal the whole story that is unfolding. In the past I’ve had a tendency to only express emotions and experiences of joy and excitement, pushing down the ugly feelings of confusion and unpleasant uncertainty. I’ve found myself falling into that same pattern again, but I’m learning that to live out my purpose in life is to face the unpleasant head on decked out head to toe with the armor of God. Throughout college I used my busyness to avoid thinking through thoughts, ideas, and encounters that bothered me. There was always some distraction in the form of a project to work on, reading to be done, practice/conditioning to be attended, coffee to be enjoyed with loved ones, or my nice, cool pillow was calling my name. And while the unceasing nature of living in a developing country trying to figure out this whole microfinance/economic development/job creation thing certainly could consume all of my post-grad thoughts and time, I’m learning that I have to take a breather from time to time and confront some emotions and thoughts I have pushed down for too long. For some reason, I also must rest a lot more now. No amount of coffee or homemade kombucha seems to keep my eyes from getting sleepy early in the evening and resisting waking up in the mornings. I guess the late nights and early mornings in college paired with little break from the Caribbean heat are finally catching up with me. Mezanmi!!
Now that the previews are over, let’s dig in to the nitty gritty of a few things I’ve either encountered, began thinking/fighting through, read, realized, been convicted of, prayed about or a combination of many of the aforementioned list. Below you will find glimpses into my head, project, and life in Haiti, loosely ‘organized’ under bold headings with either a few sentences or several rant-ish paragraphs below. Looking back I can see how some times seemed dark, but rest assured that September held many a joyous times–they just didn’t manifest into as great of learning opportunities as some of the more trying experiences :).
A Foreigner (Blanc) in this Land
“Blanc, blanc, blanc!! Blanc!!” resounds like an alarm clock as I walk down any road I’ve ever traveled in Haiti. It’s occasionally broken up with thick Creole-accented “How are you?”s and “What is your name?” or the gut wrenching “Give me one dolla” as the kiddos attempt to speak my language and get the attention of the foreigner passing by. My responses vary with each encounter. Sometimes I smile and wave, asking “Koman ou yè?” ignoring their remarks of my skin color and perceived economic class. Other times, it pains me to report, I simply ignore them and keep my eyes focused ahead, hiding behind the sunglasses I use to protect my blue eyes from the sun and to cover the pain I feel that my skin and country of origin is a false barrier between me and the people I so deeply love. More often than not, I attempt to sweetly say, “Bonswa! M’ rele Shersty. M’ kontan wè ou jodi a!” in hopes that next time they recognize that while I am indeed a blanc, a foreigner in Haiti, I’m here to stay for awhile.
Sometimes I sinfully react out of anger and think to myself, if only you knew that one dollar is not going to help you... Ouch. That’s ugly.
A few times this month I along with others with Disciples’ Village encountered an unfortunately semi-normal situation with a few young girls at the beach who were asking for sunglasses, headbands, watches, dresses, money, food, water, anything they thought we had and would give because they asked—all while dramatically pointing to their stomachs and throwing themselves down on the rocks when I would say no. This bothered me more than before—how do I lovingly show them I care about them and communicate that giving into their request for sunglasses or a dollar might make them feel good for a few minutes, but the hunger and thirst will quickly return. How do I response without furthering the divide my nationality causes? I hate to say that they followed behind us empty handed calling us cheap and stingy. My heart broke with every step at the anger/pride inside of me that I allowed to keep me from loving them, even if I didn’t have any water or food to give.
While I am still working through this encounter and the emotions I have felt while praying about better ways to handle similar situations, these frequent reminders that I am indeed a foreigner here is a reminder of the greater situation at hand—as a follower of Jesus, a person who declares Him as Lord of my life, this earth is not my home. I am a foreigner in this land, and I am seeking a kingdom that has no end. I am working to bring heaven to earth. The brokenness that surrounds me will not last. The pain and suffering experienced by the people I love and have come to serve is temporary in this life, and they are ultimately in the arms of the One who loved them to the point of offering His own blameless life as a sacrifice to wash our sin white as snow. I am constantly being reminded to keep my eyes on Christ and the things and pains of this earth will go strangely dim. Mèsi Jezi pou lavi ou te bay nou.
“Do the Self Work”
I found this incredible advise from Kathy Brooks via the ‘About Us’ section on 2nd Story Goods’ website. Each day brings something in myself that I need to surrender to the Lord before attempting to ‘give a hand up’ to the people around me.
A recent article in Relevant magazine posed a question similar to, “What if instead of trying to change people (or in my case, specifically change their financial situation), we started by looking at our own lives first?” Dying daily, purging my sins, seeking forgiveness… Ouch. So unpleasant.
It’s easy to push my shortcomings, sins, and hidden-but-quickly-surfacing selfish heart to the side when working in a developing country. But with doing (hopefully, prayerfully) ground breaking and life changing work comes pushback from the evil that benefits from people living with veils over their eyes, and that evil is bringing my sinful self’s wants, desires, selfish thoughts, and past emotional hurts to the forefront of my attention during inopportune times at a disturbing frequency. It is all too easy to be distracted by these bubbling emotions, but I’m learning to lay them at the foot of the Cross and to continue to walk in the work I have set out to do. I’m learning to do the self work in the forefront to remove distractions that could keep me from being effective in the future. It’s ugly, and it’s a process that I am far from mastering.
When we set our to-do list aside, we start to love people better.
Lately I have been so guilty of putting on my blinders and setting my eyes towards the task(s) at hand. So so guilty of getting frustrated when a situation arises that requires me to put my to do list aside. Ek. Real talk—it physically pains me to say that I often don’t see the person in front of me but rather the time it will take to deal with the problem...time spent away from checking things off my list. How dare I say I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and act this way? How dare I say that I’ve come to Haiti to ‘give a hand up’ and yet look past the people whose lives and problems have intersected with mine?
At the core of my project is meeting individuals and families where they are—problems and messes and pasts and broken systems and all—and working with them to find work/capital and manage their money to advance themselves and their families. My desire to focus on my lists filled with research and tasks that I think will help them over actually handling their current situation is an interesting tension inside of me.
Looking back on my college years, this selfishness defined how I lived. Reaching that 4.00 and getting some sleep was more important than loving the souls around me. Coffee shops were for getting work done, not socializing during the school year. How many relationships did I forfeit for my worldly ‘goals’? How many people did I leave thirsty for Jesus because my to do list was more important than their heart? Lord have mercy on me.
“Mizerikòd ou pap fini, Konpasyon Bondye pap fini. Li renouvle chak maten, chak maten.”
Kado epi yon prè… yo pa menm bagay
Gifts and loans…they are not the same thing. Several Americans living and working in Haiti with microfinance have advised that many locals who have worked with foreign groups before view loans from said foreign groups as gifts to be kept rather than loaned money that requires repayment. This idea of gift vs. investment is proving to be quite a sticking point in my project.
How do I best structure financial opportunities through Disciples’ Village, train and correctly utilize the local leadership, and position/communicate this project in a way that sets high expectations for ownership and good stewardship of all investments made into individuals, families, and communities? One of the last things I want is for the approaching future investments—financial, time, physical labor, human capital, etc.—to be misunderstood as gifts that will fade with time and not the true investment into a community with the hopes of seeing a return in the form of lives permanently changed for the better.
Back to the Drawing Board
In the first few weeks of September, Ganaud (a brilliant interpreter) and I made several early morning treks to Disciples’ Village’s mountain community of Vielo to introduce the idea of a savings group and to get the community thinking about calculating their monthly income and expenses. All with the hopes of starting a group at the beginning of October. The idea didn’t quite catch on like I have envisioned for about a year now. In fact, the flames I was throwing fell on wet ground and now I’m waiting for the earth to dry.
In true Shersty fashion, I became a tad (read extremely) vague and big picture through excruciating detail in my presentation and neglected to speak to the audience in front of me, explaining details un-comprehendible to anyone outside of my head and ESPECIALLY to people who do not know if their next harvest will provide enough money to eat let alone save. Dr. Cornwall had warned me about that mistake before, but don’t worry—I will not forget again.
While the idea didn’t quite catch on as desired, the experience provided invaluable insight into presenting new, challenging, and different concepts to individuals with drastically different educational foundations than my own. Now I’m in the process of making necessary changes to the presentation and overall framework of the savings group to make it more attractive, understandable, and useful based upon what Vielo community members and DV staff have expressed. While the initial idea only included frequent meetings to save money that the members would ideally be earning in their current jobs, now we are looking at incorporating a combination of job creation/diversification and infrastructure improvement opportunities in addition to savings. I’m having to go back to the drawing board and dig a deeper foundation than I initially anticipated, but I truly believe that something lasting and beyond the scope of my past knowledge is on the horizon. Just. Keep. Swimming. And don’t forget to look up and love the people around you along the way.
I’m increasingly thankful for the unpleasant initial ‘no’ to my savings groups…it is reinforcing the process of dying to myself and my ideas and causing me to press into the unending mercy and wisdom found in my Lord. Long and emotionally grueling story short, I’m having to lay my pride, research, and conclusions aside and listen closer to God’s leading and the voices of those I have come to work with. That self-work is becoming increasingly important these days.
“Peye nou malad”
Perhaps the most agitating ongoing situation in September has been the impossibility of planning and traveling outside of the Disciples’ Village campus/compound sporadically over the last few weeks due to protests turned demonstrations/manifestations that block the main route and transportation strikes that make it potentially dangerous to get out, all of which are in response to the president of Haiti’s proposed budget and tax increases. These demonstrations are keeping kids from school, hardworking people from their jobs, and me from meeting with people I desire to learn from and community members whose insight is essential to the forward movement of my project. In the words of our beloved grounds keeper Jean Claue, “peye nou malad,” or our country is sick. But thank the Lord for the internet that allows me to connect with people online and websites/articles with incredible information of those who have gone before me in microfinance and economic development work. I’m also indebted to our staff who keeps us informed, safe, and off of the streets when these things are going on. Thankfully there have been more clear days than those blocked, it just makes it a tad harder to plan.
Yes, Jean Claude, this country and world that we live in is sick, but in your other words uttered at the hurricanes, “Bondye pral ede nou,” God will indeed help us.
I’m continually in awe and filled with gratitude that I’m getting to learn to live, love, and work in Haiti. September brought it’s fair share of storms, but after the wind and the rain comes a glorious horizon reminding me that there is beauty in every situation. No amount of words can express how thankful I am for each day and every person who has poured into and supported me. May God’s presence be as evident in your life as it is here in Haiti. Bondye beni nou, zanmi mwen yo.