Time after time I have sat down to write a post that encapsulates all that has been my Lumos project in Haiti. Sometimes I start crying happy and sad tears simultaneously. Happy and grateful tears for all that has been these last 27 months—there are absolutely no words to express my gratitude to the Lumos committee, Disciples’ Village, Belmont, my family and loved ones, and Haitian staff and friends that have become family. Sad tears because in two years I’ve only scratched the surface of the depth and pain and suffering that cripples this country that has become home. I’m in utter awe of the people I get to share life with here, their stories, their suffering, their perseverance, and their joy…and my heart swells and I tear up every time I think of my love for them and how they have so graciously chosen to love me too.
My spirit cries now as I’m sitting at a local resort in the rain to write this post and watch football, but my mind is flooded with images of mommas trying to keep their babies dry as water runs under their makeshift huts and turns the earth floors into mud. I rejoice as one family comes to mind who we have recently helped get into a concrete room with concrete floors and a solid roof. Small victories have become my work’s lifeline here, in addition to God’s goodness and grace and the encouragement and support of my loved ones.
Other times it seems odd to write a final post and prepare a final presentation, as living and working in Haiti has become my reality and everyday life. It doesn’t feel as captivating as a few weeks or months and even years might seem in a foreign country—although each day continues to have unique and challenging adventures of its own. While I continue to learn so many things that I want to share about the world and life and people in my microcosm of a developing country (or is the term these days emerging market?? Can you even say that about Haiti??), I am at a loss as to how to communicate anything seemingly final. Each day I’m learning something new that makes yesterday’s lessons and projects seem naïve.
The reality is that these two years are only the beginning of my time in Haiti and development aspirations to come. A spring board, so to speak, launching me into a work and life that sets my soul on fire.
For now, all that has been put on my spirit is a letter to my sweet younger self as she leaves the Belmont bubble and dips her toes into the Caribbean ocean and the beginning of a lifetime of love, joy, lessons, victories, heartbreaks, humility, and hope. May future Lumos travelers and college graduates find some personal insight in these words, my community get a glimpse into what has been on my mind these last few years, and I some closure as I try to take this project and apply it to the next phase of my time in Haiti and work with Disciples’ Village. You can find a description of my next steps here.
I’m intrigued to read back through the letter and realize so little mention of actual activities and projects started. If you are interested in those details, my past blogs can be found under this one. You’ll find accounts of chickens, business leader training, car break downs, census recording, country-wide gas shortages, potholder sewing, microfinance beginnings, stories of strangers who have become family, my godchildren, manifestations, cultural and language faux pas, being a young, white woman, and the joys and pains that come from working and living in another culture.
At the end of the day, it appears my Lumos project has been about who I and those around me are becoming more than what we are doing. The daily activities are all just the means to an end of coming to the end of myself and overflowing into the lives of others to offer what I can to give a future and a hope.
P.S. this is probably revision number 24 on the letter. I finally had to give myself a time limit and go for whatever I could summarize and organize in an hour—which quickly turned into two 😉 I tried to be as concise as possible—but unfortunately Haiti and my experiences are not something that can be explained in a timely manner. Thank you for your patience and grace.
Felisitasyon on finishing well at Belmont, and byenvini a Ayiti cheri! Enjoy this time of celebration and excitement, but keep it all in perspective that your brothers and sisters in Haiti have never heard of a GPA, softball, social entrepreneurship, Belmont, FCA, or anything that you have worked tirelessly to achieve up until this point. What matters now is what you have learned along the way: the importance of serving others when no one is looking, perseverance in the face of loss and fatigue, relationship building when you just want to draw inward, and how to laugh at yourself time and time again. You plunged into the pool of knowledge, learning, wisdom, and experience while at Belmont. But there is an unending ocean out there to explore, and you are now a cute, small, white fish in the big blue sea filled with fish of many colors and sizes and purposes.
Right now, your mission is to start a micro loan program for Disciples’ Village to fulfill the 8th benchmark after godly leadership, biblical teaching and discipleship, Christ-centered education, medical care, clean water systems, safe roofs, and sanitation. You will learn that all bench marks must work together for humans and businesses to advance. They will slowly materialize as funds come along. There is also a base level of stable infrastructure needed…something Haiti cannot offer her people. And you will begin to stare into the vacuum of corruption and indeed find that “the darkness around us is deep (William E. Stafford).” You will learn to make due with the current situations you have found yourself in, and my goodness you’ll have to get creative! But you will come out on the other side more compassionate, humble, broken, wise, and with invaluable relationships you wouldn’t otherwise have. You will have to find a firm foundation in something other than yourself, as all that you are now is simply not enough. And that is the most beautiful thing, because that is where true strength in Christ is found.
Bill will tell you that there is no guide book to starting a microfinance program, and my hope is for this letter to guide and encourage you along the winding and loopy path that you are about to embark upon. You will stumble, get lost, and chase rabbit trails, but you will meet some pretty cool people and learn an abundance in failure that you would have never known in early success. All things will work together for the greater mission at hand and for your good. And in due time, you will arrive at the beginnings of your goal to start a micro loan program with a much more firm and seasoned foundation than you began with.
To start, there is a lot of ‘self work’ that needs to begin to prepare your heart, mind, body, spirit, and soul for what is to come. This new environment has a way of bringing out the ugly hidden inside, and you will discover a variety of doctrines, habits, false thoughts, perceptions, frameworks, legalism, and triggers that you will need to unlearn. This is a process with no end, but having the humility to begin will greatly help you move more quickly through it all and on to bigger things. You will also become increasingly more thankful for your family and upbringing. There will be many times when Dad’s advice to junior high Shersty will come to mind, “Remember, you need to be extra careful to be nice today because you are tired.”
While humbling yourself to do the ‘self work’, be unwavering in upholding absolute truth. Truth transcends culture and standard of living and sex and corruption and language and generations. Seek to know truth, live truth, and lovingly hold yourself and others to the truth. Haiti—and the world—is filled with deep darkness and the enemy is looking to deceive, kill, steal, and destroy. This seems to increasingly come in the form of ‘personal truths’ and false ‘compassion’ that justifies and glorifies sin. True love and compassion is confronting your own sin, seeking forgiveness and grace, and sharing the hope, freedom, and joy you have found while pointing others to truth. Only the truth and light will set and keep you and those you love free. You will not-so-quickly learn that your capacity and reach will only go as far as your ability to set standards and boundaries and hold yourself and others to them. You must stand firm in tough love when holding yourself and others accountable no matter how weak or uncomfortable or uncertain you feel. People will try to take advantage of your kindness and youth, but stand firm on what you know to be right and true and be gracious along the way.
Shersty, dear one, you have strapped in to a roller coaster of an adventure of being a woman in this world and in a male-dominated culture and organization. You come from a long line of strong women and chose a university and athletic department where women have seats at the table and their voices are listened to and often sought after. This will not always be the case in the next few years and likely for your whole life. Chose to know your worth and value as a human and as a woman no matter how others perceive you. Being a woman is an honor—you have a power that is both fierce and loving, firm and gracious, and sensitive to the needs of others while having the capacity to solve systemic problems. Own the gifts God has given you as a woman and use them to build the Kingdom by the grace and strength that He supplies.
Daily you will find yourself in the tension between Haitian culture and hospitality and your individualistic upbringing in the United States. So much confusion and inner turmoil will come from wanting to participate in the community you live in but fighting to hold on to what you perceive to be yours. You will learn that if someone has food today and you don’t, they will share what they have today and tomorrow you will be expected to share what you have when their cup is empty. So much misunderstanding comes from locals seeing or perceiving what the blans/foreigners have that they don’t and not understanding why we blans don’t share more. You will learn to hold your personal space and belongings and money with open hands—as the more people you know and the more who know you, needs and wants will greet you every morning upon waking thanks to WhatsApp messaging and missed phone calls. Learn to set clear boundaries for giving sooner rather than later. Hopefully our future self will figure out how to handle these requests better, as this tension is currently draining every last drop of energy I have.
Shersty, while you have always known what you wanted to accomplish and have worked hard to get it, you will learn that not everything in life can be won with blood, sweat, and tears—which you will shed a lot of in the next few years. But hard work does pays off, just not always how you think it should. Please try to learn to be gracious with yourself a little faster—you will save a lot of needless worrying and calm your inner critic that way. It has taken until the last few months for you to understand how to set goals and break them down into strategic and actionable steps. But don’t worry, your floundering around in the meantime will still prove to be valuable as relationships take time and you will meet some remarkable people and see and learn some crazy things along the way. Each struggle, surrender, and ‘ah-ha’ moment will further prepare you and clarify your next steps in Haiti and in life. You will develop a heart that beats for women’s advancement—specifically those who have been left to care for kiddos and others with zero source of income or opportunity.
You will see things and learn stories that will cause you to question God’s goodness and faithfulness while walking around Dhal and seeing hut after hut pieced together with wood, tarps, bandanas, and scrap tin. The faces of the women and children who reportedly eat every two or three days will keep you up at night on several occasions. Keep questioning, but keep trusting. Not only will God prove Himself faithful, gracious, and good, but your paradigm will completely shift. You will gain a new understanding of true need and provision. His presence will become what you seek instead of tangible goods.
To turn the corner to more project-specific lessons learned: there is a handful of things I want to pass along that I hope will put you years ahead of where I started. 26 month ahead, to be exact, as that is how long it took me to finally administer our first micro loans. And I still have so much to learn and redo in reaching for excellence! But at the end of the day, most lessons are best learned by living through it, and you will have plenty of experiences to do just that!
First, do not hold one more meeting, interview one more person, or research another economic development method without getting a team/committee of national leaders to bounce ideas off of and get input from. While you have always been a lone wolf and prefer working alone to get stuff done, that is simply not possible to achieve real change in the real world—especially in a culture, socioeconomic, and political environment that is as foreign to you as the language being spoken. Truly listen to the advice and wisdom of those around you, and work it into the framework for everything you do. They know their people and financial situation better than you ever will, but too, keep in mind there are certain blind spots that stem from 200+ years of corruption and brokenness.
Also, do not start a new project without a national leader in it every step of the way. Delegating is not a strong suit of yours, but you will need and want as much input and local leadership as you can get to make projects endure for the long run. This will be a difficult but fruitful training ground for holding others accountable in the standards you have set and tasks assigned to do. As you have heard many times, begin with the end in mind. And the end goal is nationally led business training, job creation, and microfinance projects that operate without a foreigner on the ground at all times.
Where are you going to meet these leaders? It truly does take time. Thankfully Disciples’ Village has a strong Haitian staff with many connections and solid community leaders who will recommend good people. Continue to reach out and listen to their stories and aspirations for their country even if you have to ask for yet another ride and coordinate one more translator.
Speaking of translating, Love, you have been saying you’re 60% fluent in Kreyol since the end of your second summer in Haiti. To this day, you are still 60% fluent but have thousands of hours of conversation and hundreds of new words under your belt. Vocabulary and slang and culture and relational context will be forever changing—but stick with it. It is all worth it to see eyes light up as people you pass in the street know you love them enough to study their language and culture. Your ability to communicate, joke, and speak truth in their heart language will lead to the sweetest of friendships in unexpected places. It will also help you earn the respect to be listened to by people who otherwise wouldn’t occupy a young woman in a serious conversation. As Coach Levin always said, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You will hear many times, “Oh! White girls speaks Creole?!” Own it. Love it. Use it. You will go through a phase when you hate your “other-ness” and the constant attention. Learn to use standing out as an opportunity to love others with an open heart and open arms.
Understanding Creole will also lead to disheartening times when you pick up slurs and hateful words otherwise not heard to untrained ears. You will be called cheap, stingy, wicked, evil, and foreign. You will be asked for almost every article in your possession, including to cut you hair and weave it into theirs. Men will ask you to have their white babies, and you will learn to graciously handle being be proposed to by strangers. Navigating these odd situations with a light heart and understanding spirit but a firm “no” will prove to be invaluable.
When engaging in conversations, people will mostly respond and react to the assumptions and attitude you bring to the table during your interactions. For example, if you harden your demeanor as you roll down the window at a police stop, they will likely give you a hard time and point out everything wrong with your paperwork. If you smile and ask how they are doing while taking your sunglasses off, they will kindly inquire about your work in Haiti and wish you well as you drive off. Always be gracious to decline their inquisition of your phone number or Facebook profile info. This will be valuable in relating to and getting to know those you will work with. Haitians are a loving, warm, and playful people. If you carry this and a collectivistic perspective into business conversations, things will run much more smoothly and there will be less confusion on both ends.
Likewise, planning meetings and trainings will only go as well as the vulnerability and humility you demonstrate. Never, ever, think you know more than the locals just because you think you can see their situation from a higher, more ‘educated’ perspective. Not once have you lived an hour in their shoes, and you never will because your upbringing and perceived status will follow your blonde hair and white skin wherever you go. No matter how desperate or hopeless a situation gets, by the grace and mercy of God you have a massive support system in the US of A to pick you up—something a majority of the world cannot fathom.
Dear one, you must never speak of any financial opportunity unless in the context of a relationship where the other knows you are discussing possibilities—not grasping for any chance at a “gift” from the blan. Many people will ask you “So, what can you do for me?” as if you are obligated to help them because you are a foreigner and what else did you come to Haiti to do?? You will have to politely decline many times, but always keep your heart open for the tug when those without hope pass by. Some people are just being difficult, but many are asking because they have nowhere else to turn. Do everything in your power to give a hand up to the hurting and vulnerable.
To wrap things up, Shersty, there are too many words and not enough time to share with you what is about to go down in your life, in Haiti, and in the world in general. It will get crazy and challenging but wonderfully beautiful and expectation-shattering. In short, a few more pieces of info I want to pass along:
It, whatever “it” is, does not have to be perfect for you to begin. Start the project, have a conversation in Creole even if you don’t know all the words you will need, bring up that tough topic even if your opinions are not fully thought out.
Fix the car when it first shows signs of wear and tear or starts clanking. You will know the sound. Do not wait until you are an hour away from home and having to send someone on a moto to find a mechanic. Although these are unfavorable situations, you will meet some of your guardian angels and have some good laughs at yourself.
Sometimes you will be hesitant and timid and afraid. Go anyways. But learn to be sensitive to the Spirit in discerning God-given boldness to go and God-given wisdom to stay put.
The enemy will often lead you to believe that you have been isolated and set aside. Never confuse being set aside for being set apart. You were made to bear unique fruit from a branch located away from that of many of your peers. Location and perception does not make your fruit any less valuable. We all come from the same Vine.
Haiti will be “locked” a few times for various reasons, most involving some past and present government corruption, the people being tired of suffering (rightfully so) and evil taking advantage of vulnerable situations. You will learn to keep nonperishable food on hand and get creative with preparation. You will also experience a few gas shortages that cause prices to spike and work to slow. Use these times with limited mobility to quiet your soul and listen and to pour into those around you. Some of your greatest moments of insight will come when you still your mind and say, “Yes, Lord,” because there is simply nothing else to do.
In the end of your two years, you will realize it has all been the birth pains and joys of a new beginning. Every surrendering of possession and control, moment of bravery and gumption, and person that you meet will guide you into the next phase of your time in Haiti. Your heart will break and then beat for loved ones and their suffering you have yet to know, and you will find it easier to say yes when you need to say yes and no when necessary. Best wishes to you, dear one, and n’a we nan kèk ane! All my love and grace from the future.
In Christ alone,