5.11.2011

5/11/11- Day 6

Today was a fairly boring day. All we did was build a church. The whole church. But don’t call us Church in a Day.

That was not the original plan when we went to bed last night, but this is Haiti. We put the new one in the same spot as the old one so that required us to actually lift the old church and move it out of the way. Yes, lifting and moving a church by hand has officially been crossed off of all of our bucket lists. We had to wait for the material to be delivered so until about 9 we were sitting around twiddling our thumbs or playing with the neighborhood kids. Once it got there, the frame went up before lunch and the rest fell into place by about 5 o’clock when some Habitat for Humanity executives showed up. All 10 of us would like to extend a huge thank you to whoever prayed up the incredible cloud cover this afternoon. We literally didn’t see the sun after lunch when the roof was being put up. The time that we were all the most worried about wound up being the coolest temperatures we have seen all week. It’s almost as if God had this all planned out the whole time. Who would’ve thunk it?!

The crowd was about what we expected with every single person who walked, rode, or drove by stopping to check out what the group of 10 white men were doing. Roody was completely taken aback when he pulled up with the Habitat people and couldn’t find the words to express his gratitude and amazement. It was quite the moving day for all of us. You could really tell how thrilled the community was to get an updated structure. It was something that they desperately needed and it is so rewarding to have been a part of an experience like this. We may never know or see the fruits of our labor but, rest assured, we will find out when we all get where we’re going.

The highlight of my day was the period of time while we were waiting for the material to show up. Rommie had a little buddy show up named Adlere. He is a 3 year old little boy but he would be small for a 2 year old. I’m pretty sure he is Cale’s Haitian twin and that may have had something to do with why I instantly was drawn to the kid. He came and sat in my lap and just talked and talked and talked and I, of course, had no idea what he was saying the whole time but I’d respond with some universal sound or gesture and he’d just smile and go right back to talking away. Occasionally, Rommie would inform me of what he was telling me but I pretty much just let him jabber away. He took my hat, told me to sit down (even sounded English), and refused to leave my side for the longest time. If I hadn’t signed that agreement and promised Bob Harper I wouldn’t bring a kid back, I would have been pretty tempted to sneak that one back with me.

The prayer concerns for tomorrow are that we can finish strong. We have some loose ends to tie up and maybe a couple more houses to throw up. We are running on E and we are losing Rommie tomorrow. He is the vice president of the English club and has to go teach tomorrow. It was such a joy to be around him all week and grow closer to him. We still have Alex so he will be in charge of all of the key/picture/Bible ceremonies tomorrow. It should be a relaxed day but the job is still not finished. We have to finish out what we have been doing all week. Strength is our biggest concern at this point.

Thank you for all you have done for us this week.

Until tomorrow…

5.10.2011

5/10/11- Day 5

Today was by far the best day of the trip so far. First off, it is Robert’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Robert! He had quite the celebration all day, too. As soon as we pulled up to our first house of the day, we told Rommie, one of our interpreters, that it was his birthday. Rommie’s eyes lit up and he ran over to Robert and gave him a huge hug and sang “Happy Birthday” to him! Rommie actually celebrated his 24th birthday on Saturday so Robert told him all day it was his 25th birthday. There’s no fooling him, though. This is the Haitian who informed me today that his favorite group is the Backstreet Boys. He has really grown fond of us and all of us just love him. He really is a joy to be around all day.

Before we get to the serious matters, it seems necessary to touch on the excitement of the day. After Robert’s birthday hug from our new friend (“mawmee mwen” in Creole), he and Jerry had to go back and fix something for a lady that they built for yesterday. When they reached the house, they were greeted by a man yelling and hollering about something in Creole- something that posed a little issue given the 2 men involved. At some point in this barrage, the man began to pull his pants down. About that time, Rommie came strolling up and found out the man thought the 2 white men who walked up were a medical crew and he wanted them to check his hernia out. The fun was just beginning at that point. After lunch, our birthday boy had to drive because Gary stayed back. The roads are less than perfect around here, but he found a way to drive the Mitsubishi into a ditch while “trying to avoid a lady in the road.” There is no photo evidence of the event but the 4 of them claim that the back tire was off the ground and none of them are sure how it didn’t roll completely over. Luckily, he kicked it into 4 wheel drive and backed his way out. This was after a crowd of around 30 had gathered to watch the foreigners struggle in the ditch. Then, after work, Phil, dad, and I decided to take to the Haitian way of life fully: we rode in the back of the truck with all of our material. Much like when we are back home, all of the ladies were doing double takes when they caught a glance of us. We were the talk of the neighborhood the whole way home. Other events like Jerry stepping off into the 2 foot drainage ditch in front of the rooms and the strange cheese sandwiches that we ate for dinner made for the most entertaining day so far. But the good news is that we are only getting more tired and loopy as the week goes, so there is no telling what is to come….

Now on to the serious business. We totally tore through two houses, finishing them by 10 o’clock. Then we finished numbers 3 and 4 by 12:30. We had 4 houses finished before we ate lunch! Did you catch that? 4 houses. Done. We then ran in to a couple of issues because we had just about used up every bit of the materials and we were not totally sure that we could finish 2 more houses. Needless to say, we took a little bit of an extended lunch this afternoon in hopes of avoiding that awful time of day that we all dread. Somewhere around 2 we headed back out and, by no coincidence, were able to finish 2 more houses (the old fellas lack a couple of sheets of plywood on theirs but that’s it). Our total is now up to 16. At least 16 families now have a roof over their head and walls to support it. In 3 and a half days, these 10 rednecks from Arkansas have provided shelter for 16 families. PRAISE THE LORD!! There, literally, is no other explanation for these events. There has been much made of the talent and skill level of the 10 individuals that make up this group, but that is absolutely meaningless. There are too many variables to count that we have no control of whatsoever. And make no mistake, satan has been trying to screw this up since the time this crew was set. It is 15 degrees hotter than it normally is this time of year. Terry was sick one day and Gary had to stay back at the camp this afternoon due to exhaustion. Roody had to take our truck to Port Au Prince this morning and didn’t get back until dinner time so all 10 of us only had 1 vehicle. The generator has been out of commission for all but one night. The list could go on and on. But time after time, God has taken care of us and just absolutely floored us with His power. Once or twice, we have caught ourselves saying something about a coincidence only to realize the complete lack of randomness involved in the events. Even this group of rough and tough construction workers has made mention about how amazing our God is.

Gary is feeling better now and is itching to get back out with us and we are off to start building a church for the community we have been in all week. The supplies are supposed to be delivered tomorrow and we will most likely spend the last two mornings all working on the church. It is something that they desperately desperately need. But it is in an area that has absolutely no possibility for shade. Please make it a point to say an extra prayer for extra cloud cover the next two days. We will definitely need it since we are wearing out and the sun is getting hotter. Also, we got 4 boxes of Creole Bibles- that you all raised money for- delivered to us yesterday and you could not imagine the excitement on the people’s faces when we hand it over to them. Again, it is a desperate need in the area.

Please continue to pray for our health and cooler weather/places to hide from the sun. Again, we all thank you for the updates from home and words of encouragement that we have been receiving. Just know that you are never far from our hearts and minds.

Until tomorrow night…

5.09.2011

5/9/11- Day 4

Today was remarkably productive and we made it back to camp in time for half of us to shower before the dinner bell rang.

We had breakfast in our bellies and the translators on site by 7 o’clock. We set out with the plan to take the old man crew to a set of houses that were separate but connected. At some point in the last week or two, the lady who was to live in one of them passed away and the neighbor became the caretaker for her children and family. So, the two houses became one but still counted as two in our grand countdown. However, when we pulled up, someone decided that it would be best for us all to stay there and tackle the whole thing rather than for us to split. The 10 of us got both of them finished and were back at the compound by 11 o’clock this morning. You would have thought we’d been doing this together for years. Everything but the generator operated like a well-oiled machine (we made do). Thankfully, it was in the ideal location. Tucked back in a corner past a few houses and the local cinema was the mostly shady little nook. We whipped through the both of them in right at 3 and a half hours. We had two separate key/picture ceremonies, packed our things, and were on our way.

After lunch, we actually went back to the splitting idea and both groups went back to the same “neighborhood” that we have been all week. First off, the young guns had to go finish up a couple of key/picture ceremonies that we missed out on yesterday before we could continue on to the next one. We aren’t sure if the fact that it is Monday made the difference but both crews had way way way more company today. The other crew was tucked away in a tiny little hole and claim they had a classroom full of pre-teens running around while they were working. Our area was actually a large plot of land on a big slab with just enough shade to tease us most of the afternoon. But both crews were able to plow through those houses, perform the ceremonies (with no interpreter, have you) , and get on our way. I will admit that the old dogs beat us young guns again this afternoon and had to come help us (or at least supervise) finish off the porch. We have now been sitting around the camp for 3 hours enjoying the now perfect conditions.

Highlight of the day: Lunch and dinner were just terrific today- for a number of reasons. At lunch, the preacher who we are doing all of the work for, insisted to Roody that we take some of the fish that they caught yesterday and let the cooks fix it for us. I don’t like fish. I’ll admit that from the get-go. This meal still had scales and fins when it was served to us. It was absolutely delicious! We were all just floored by how amazing it was! That may have had something to do with our exhaustion level but it was easily the best thing we have had the whole trip. We thought temporarily that we would get to witness a modern-day feeding of the multitude. Only, instead of 4,000 it was 10 hungry men. And instead of a few fish and a few loaves of bread, it was 9 chunks of fish and some homemade potato chips. The fish did manage to make it all the way around the table but there definitely was not 7 baskets leftover (maybe we ate all 7 of those too). Then dinner rolled around and we had the infamous “octo-dogs.” They really are kind of a nifty idea but they just slice a regular hot dog into a few slivers but leave it whole on one end. When they are fried, they curl up and look like octopuses (or octopi). They didn’t taste quite like a regular hot dog but, then again, nothing around here tastes quite the same as back home.

The prayer concerns remain the same. They are obviously paying off so far as none of us have given out at any point. If we can just survive along and coast through the 1-3:30 hours, the rest of the day is pretty tolerable- being that we are used to unusually hot and humid conditions. The shade spots have been perfectly placed so far, so we thank you for continuing to pray for us in that. God has been so gracious to us as we all knew He would be. We have a special project in mind for Thursday that we are not totally sure about just yet. There are things in motion right now but we’ll save the details for later on as they come out.

We are all dropping like flies around here already and it is only 8:30. We should be plenty rested by the morning.

5.08.2011

5/8/11- Day 3

Before I forget….Happy Mother’s Day. I think everyone at camp has successfully called home and spoken to the mother(s) in their lives so we should all be welcomed back home when we hit the airport Friday evening.

Now that the official business is out of the way…today was church day (details later) and since none of had any clue what time we were leaving this morning, we were up at the now standard 6 AM. After church we had our lunch (honestly have no memory of what it was at this point) and headed out to the houses we left unfinished last night. It was roughly 150 degrees in the shade this afternoon and our first house has no idea what shade is. Both groups knocked out the remainder of those houses in no time- admittedly, the crew of “old guys” beat us and they were further behind at the start. We weren’t proud of that on the “not-quite-so-old-thanks-to-me-and-ted” crew. At this point, the temperature had dropped to a reasonable 99 degrees and both crews actually finished another house well before dark (we young fellas redeemed ourselves on that house though…not that anyone was keeping track or anything, of course).

We now have our bellies stuffed full of some kind of turkey, rice/beans, slaw, and a macaroni-like dish. Most of us are showered and all of us are exhausted. The generator has been hit or miss since we got here and the A/C units in the rooms are currently out of commission so we are looking forward to a sweaty night of sleep.

Highlight of the day: The service this morning. Granted in was in a language that none of us understood, but that was the least of our concerns. We showed up during the Sunday School hour and made our way to some seats in the back. We were just under the cover of the roof overhead. Let me tell ya, we were eternally thankful for that mango tree that acted as our roof this morning. Dad managed to disrupt the children’s Sunday School class (some of you are not surprised by that even a little bit) and wound up providing a Q&A session via Roody’s father who was the fill-in interpreter. Once the service started, Roody found a seat right behind a few of us (thank goodness) and provided random interpretations of what was going on in the service. Somehow, Robert wound up on the second row and dad found his way to the front row with his new friends from Sunday School. There were a couple of songs that they sang as a congregation that our entire groups swears we know the tune to but, unfortunately, this IS a group of men so none of us could recall the English names of either of them. They then had a scripture reading of Psalm 136 according to Roody. The preacher would call the first line of text and the congregation would recite the second line. In unison, the congregation of about 40 gathered under this tree, quoted in an excited fashion “His steadfast love endures forever” 28 times culminating with an amen that Paul would even be proud of- that is the same no matter what language you speak. At the conclusion of the whole service, every single one of the congregation members rushed to shake our hands and a couple even gave warm God bless you’s. It was another instance that made me see that these people have clung to hope through all they have been through.

It was an encouraging day all the way around. We are still figuring out the intricacies of the craftsmanship that we are dealing with so each house is getting quicker and quicker. 6 down, 18 to go. Since we have been in the same village both days, some of the locals are beginning to recognize us and enjoy the show we put on for them. Robert and Phil have both entertained the kids with their antics and have become quite popular. And all of them will yell “HEY YOU!!” every time that any of us go walking or driving by and they absolutely love it when we holler it back at them. They just love the attention no matter how small it may be.

It is supposed to get hotter with each passing day. That is kind of the opposite that we were hoping for but we are not doubting God. Continue to pray for shade, energy, and health for the 10 of us. We were incident free today which was definitely a blessing. That is all we can hope for the rest of the week and continue to trust that God is going to get us through this and provide for our needs as we provide for some of the needs of the community. We have at least 6 more houses in the same area (which is about 2 miles or 20 minutes from our compound) so travel has been far easier than expect/feared. Just another answered prayer.

We love you all and have continued to keep all of you in our daily thoughts and prayers. Thanks to everyone for the updates that some have received over email cause it has definitely taken some of the worry out of our days.

Time to pass the computer.

5.07.2011

5/7/11- Day 2

Our first full day got off to an early early start. After a less than restful night of sleep due to the rain, SOME of our group was up and out of bed by 5:15. Roody informed us last night that breakfast would be on the table at 6 o’clock this morning, and even though the 4 guys from the original trip had their doubts about the validity of that statement, they were the first 4 moving around this morning. To our surprise though, we were summoned for breakfast precisely at 6 AM and managed to leave the complex by 8.

On the way to our first set of houses, Roody wanted us to stop by the church in the “neighborhood” where we will be most of the week. This church is located literally within spitting distance of the local sugar cane mill which is a long way from church mouse quiet. It is walled and roofed by blue Samaritan’s Purse tarps and stood up by glorified tree limbs. It was quite the humbling experience without a doubt. Given the fact that the majority of this group comes from Park Hill Baptist Church, this church house was the polar opposite but it clearly did not bother them one bit. They hold school in the structure 6 days a week for the kids in the area. They apparently don’t have the same separation of church and state issues that we deal with back home. They are not only taught reading and writing but also how to pray and sing praises to God. Roody found out that I was the designated picture taker for this group so he asked me to go visit the school today to snap some pictures and videos of their activities. I didn’t get to stay for long cause Roody didn’t tell me to go down there until the end of their day but the 15 minutes I got to see was inspirational enough. They started off with a prayer from the pastor. The younger kids were a little distracted by the strange, light skinned fella standing at the back of the class but the older kids stood as still as rocks with their hands folded and listened with intent. Then the teacher and preacher led them in a song in Creole. Every one of the kids clapped and sang along with all of their energy. On the way back to the worksite, our interpreter, Rommie (no idea how he really spells it), explained to me that the song was exclaiming how great God is, how He loves them unconditionally, and how He has never left them or let them down. I don’t know if I can possible understate how little these people had and how miniscule their church house was. Yet they understand the fact that God is still with them. Humbling indeed.

Progress report time I suppose. We managed to finish two of the partially built houses and got two others within about a solid hour’s worth of work of being completed. Having to make adjustments on what the original groups did to them slowed us down drastically on the first set but we kind of found our groove by the second set and figured out what things to look for and fix. We should be able to fly through those and possibly finish another couple after church tomorrow. No one really knows the plan for church tomorrow so we aren’t sure how plausible that goal is.

Terry got a little overheated today and had to sit it out for a couple of hours this afternoon but was able to fix himself well enough to finish out the day with us. All 10 of us worked ourselves tired today though. The food was filling and nutritious enough to give us the energy we needed but we are all ready for a good night’s sleep for sure. Please keep praying that none of the rest of us get under the weather the rest of the week and that we can all stay on our feet to complete the works that we have been called here to do. It is going to be an incredible week for us from the plans that have been discussed with us so far.

I am being forced off the computer cause apparently the rest of these guys have family and stuff that may have emailed them.

Thank you for continuing to protect us with your prayers.

5.06.2011

5/6/11- Day 1

Well we are already off to a better start than the last construction crew our church sent down here. We have made it safe and sound the very same day we departed Little Rock National. The only slight delay we experienced was after we re-boarded the plane in Fort Lauderdale. Somewhere between the time we got off the plane and the 45 minutes we spent in the terminal, a computer went haywire. So we got to spend an extra 30 minutes or so sitting on the tarmac in Florida. Everyone and everything made it safely to Port Au Prince and we even made pretty decent time getting from the airport to the compound where we currently are.

The reality of the situation set in as soon as the wheels touched the ground in Port Au Prince and the pilot immediately slammed on the brakes (or however you stop a plane) to keep us from on the extra short runway. After we all pulled our teeth out of the seat back in front of us, the damage could be spotted from every window on the plane. Even the view from a couple hundred feet above didn’t do this place justice. After stepping off the bus that shuttled us to customs, we were slapped in the face by an all too familiar feeling of Arkansas-like humidity (only we aren’t used to it being here this early in May) and an indescribable odor. We waded our way through customs and all managed to grab our bags. Then it was time to step out of the airport and into the real Haitian atmosphere.

Not two steps outside the door we got the pleasure of watching a cop and a “bag boy” get into a shouting match that we could only assume was not a light-hearted game between two friends. Then the rest of the aspiring bag boys began reaching their hands out to grab our bags with the hope that we Americans would be na├»ve enough to allow them the pleasure and reward them with a tip. Luckily, some of our group was here not too long ago and obviously left an impression. One of the men recognized AND called dad by his name and then proceeded to assist us all the way to the trucks.

Whatever you have heard about the roads here: it was an understatement. The main highway in Port Au Prince would be an embarrassment in the back woods of Mountain View, AR. And I’m just glad I wasn’t responsible for navigating us to the compound safely. I you hesitate, you lose. And if we had lost the white Mitsubishi, we would have been out of luck completely (I don’t care how confident dad was). The activity on the sides of the roads was the most heartbreaking though. The images that have been shown a million times on every news channel do not do this place justice. There is no hyperbole big enough to outstate the devastation, poverty, and need in this country. We drove for nearly 2 hours and each minute that passed was more shocking the one previous. My view was limited to what went by the left side of our truck, partially because I got conned out of my prime real estate in the front seat by a sneaky, short man named Robert Austin, but we don’t need to get into that. Being surrounded by tent cities and broken marketplaces that once were the main draw of the country is not something that you can be prepared for. Much like the first time you see the Grand Canyon, it is going to take your breath away no matter what else you may have seen in your lifetime.

More details about the compound and daily activities will come later. No need to bog everything down on the first night.

We just finished our team meeting for the night. We split into the two groups that we will have for the week (or that’s the plan so far at least) and had an incredible few minutes of prayer time in our groups. The song that continues to pop into my head is an unexpected one to say the least. For some reason, George Straitt’s Best Day of My Life continues to resonate in my mind. This truly is something that I have always dreamed about. I am on a mission trip in a foreign country with my dad and my brother. The two biggest influences in my life. And now we have a chance to do something absolutely amazing as a team (I do not quite consider winning the Jacksonville church softball league “amazing” in this sense) and make a direct impact on 24 families’ lives. This is the beginning of the best week of my life.

To conclude today’s update, we need to throw some more specific prayer concerns out. First off: the two teams need specific prayer. The first team is led by Terry and also has Gary, Jerry, Mac, and Robert (you can call them “Mac-y” and “Robbie” if you just have to have them all rhyme). The other team is led by dad and has me, Ted, Phil, and Sam to fill it out. We will be splitting to tackle this project. Gary and dad are the two drivers of the vehicles. Keep them specifically in your prayers. It truly is hectic. Safety in travel and on the job site has to be prayed for double this trip. Sorry bout that. Also, there have supposedly been 12 houses mostly built in the last two weeks. According to the report, all we have to do is put the plywood walls up, pop the window and door in, and put the porch on. Everything else has been done. That drastically lightens our load to say the least! Miracles have been happening even before we got here.

I think I can safely say that we all felt your prayers raining down on us as we traveled today. That is a feeling that cannot be described and none of us can thank you enough for the support you have shown us. There were a lot of variables that went into making this trip happen. They couldn’t have happened without your prayers. But the battle isn’t over. Please continue to think about us and pray for us.

That’s all folks. See ya tomorrow!

5.04.2011

Haiti Preface

Lots has happened since I last made an appearance around these parts but we aren’t getting into that at this point. This is a precursor to what is to come over the next week.

On Friday morning, I will be leaving with a group of 9 other men on a mission trip to Leogane, Haiti. Our goal on this trip will be to build “a few” houses. This is a group that I am a long way from qualified to be a part of. First of all: there is roughly 26 years separating me from anyone other than my brother, Ted, who is a modest 6 years my senior. Also, this group is full of men with real construction backgrounds. My dad (you’ll see me refer to him as simply “dad” from here on out), who is leading the trip, not only made his living in the construction world, but this is also his second trip to the area…in the past 3 months. Then there’s Jerry, Robert, Phil, Ted, Sam, and Terry (I’m gonna go ahead and let us all be on a first name basis with each other; it will make future posts far easier) who all have current or previous ties to the construction industry, themselves. Gary is making his second trip down (also in the last 3 months). And Mac has a spirituality that could put us all to shame. Then, there’s me. We’ll figure my role out down the road somewhere. We’ll just call me the utility man of this crew; Aaron Miles, if you will.

Now that we have exchanged pleasantries, let’s get to the task at hand. From my understanding, Samaritan’s Purse and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention teamed up with the goal of building 50 houses (12’X12’ structure with a roof and a front porch) by June. So far, there have been 5 or 6 groups go down, I think (minor, insignificant detail really), and they have successfully erected 26 of the houses. We are the last group left to go before the end of the set agreement. For you math people out there, that leaves 24 houses for our group to get up in a week’s time. We are splitting our group of 10 into 2 separate groups of 5 so we have the best opportunity to accomplish this lofty goal. This wasn’t like picking teams in 3rd grade dodgeball where one team is loaded with talent and the other group is a bunch of scrubs. These are two perfectly divided teams that provide us with an amazing chance to get this thing done.

It is our goal to complete almost half of the original target in a single week. This is when you start to realize why I talked so much about the qualifications earlier. And let’s not kid ourselves, this is a huge task. We are standing at the base of Everest. But the beauty of it all is that it, pretty literally, took an act of God just to open this week up for us to get down there. The more beautiful thing: God made this mountain that we are standing at the base of and he ain’t looking up at it like we are.

None of us know what is truly in store for us in the week ahead. We have our goal in mind, but there is no way for us to know if that is the real reason that God is sending us down there. He may have something entirely different for us that will knock us off of our feet in a totally unexpected way. All we do know is that weeks of prayer have led us to the point where we currently stand and prayer is the only way we will get through the next 8 days. 24 houses in one week is not something that intimidates God. This is child’s play to Him. Sometimes we just need reminding of how weak and powerless we are and this sets up to be one of those times. I, for one, am ready to watch God flex His muscles and show off a little bit for us this week. It is safe to say that all 10 of us will be leaving our comfort zones in a minor way next week, and that is when we are actually able to step out of His way and let Him amaze us. Maybe we’ll finish 24 houses. Maybe we won’t. We won’t know the answer to that until a week from now. But I have zero doubt in my mind that God is going to find a way to change all of our lives and knock to our knees.

So how can you be of assistance to us next week? Continue to pray for us. This is a country and scene that I am probably not prepared for. I have yet to hear a report from someone who said it was better or cleaner than they expected. Traveling to the country is just the beginning of our travel concerns. We, then, have to navigate what is left of the roads everyday. It is the rainy season in Haiti. Rain makes it hard to build houses, from my understanding. They don’t eat like we do here. Energy will be something that all of us lack at different times throughout our journey. And these are just the things that popped in my head while I’m sitting here tonight.

I do not know if this will be the “official” venue for our daily updates, but I plan on giving daily reports of all of our activities on here. So please continue to check in on us everyday and see our progress and see how our prayer concerns change every single day.

This is going to be incredible.

See you all very soon.