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Get outside your comfort zone

Posted by Kathi on Friday, July 10, 2015 |

Recently, something has been germinating inside my brain, working its way into my core.  This blog isn’t directed at anyone, it‘s a response to a few years of random comments.  A reaction to people wondering, “Why travel to 3rd world countries to volunteer, when there are so many volunteer opportunities in our community”.   These past few months, I have been listening to messages on compassion and servant hearts. Messages SO poignant, they inspired me to write what has been on my heart.  Warning: this blog is meant for followers of Christ. It is a blog about what it means to show compassion to the “least of these”.

One Sunday, the message was about the cost of following Jesus. When Jesus was at the pinnacle of his career (that’s how us business people would describe it) - a man came to him and asked if he could follow Him, be one of his disciples. The successful man went on to explain that he had obeyed all the commandments, he was a good guy and he was ready to follow Christ. Jesus very quickly assessed the situation and detected that the man loved the “good life”.  So Jesus explained what it meant to be a disciple. In Luke 14:25 Jesus is very clear about the cost of following him. It is a high cost, but one worth every penny.

We need to abandon everything we hold close. Jesus explained - we need to love God more than we love any and every thing’ AND more than we love anyone else.  In other words - we need to get out of our comfort zones , and  this is where it gets tricky.
‘Really,  am I supposed to love God more than my children, more than my husband, more than my house, my mother, my father, my life’???  Don’t shoot the messenger, I am just telling you what it says in Luke 14:25.  Now, I am not advocating that we abandon our families to serve God. But I am advocating for us to get out of our comfort zones.  Serving the “least of these” does not mean helping out in homeroom or working at the school carnival.  These are all good things to do, but they are not serving the “least of these”. A Pastor, I know,  explained (I am paraphrasing). ‘It is easy to love and serve our neighbors, not so easy to love the unlovable or the malcontents or the people who are very different from us’. Hence, the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s easy to volunteer or love people just like you – not so easy to cross to the other side. The minute you start to serve the poor, the spiritually bankrupt, the sick, the imprisoned, the orphan, the widow, – your reality changes, your heart softens, and compassion finds a home in you.

I am blessed to work with a group of people who follow Christ’s call. It isn’t easy; they all have families, and they know the sacrifice that comes with stepping out of the comfort zone. When you start to volunteer and serve people that are OUTSIDE your daily environment, well, that’s when compassion develops. It isn’t easy listening to an impoverished mother tell you she doesn’t know how to feed her children. It isn’t comfortable working in a homeless shelter, or holding the hand of a dying patient,  or providing mentorship to a  prisoner. It makes your heart ache, which increases compassion.

So what’s my point?  I am advocating for each of us to take time to assess what God is calling us to do. To step outside our normal routine.  To love God more than we love anything else, especially our status quo. To love and to love without boundaries. I am grateful for the teams and volunteers that serve in Haiti. Even going on a week long mission trip gets you out of your environment and opens your heart to what breaks God’s.  A mission team member knows that sharing God’s love requires sacrifices and builds compassion for others. If we all took a deep look inside ourselves we would see how much we have to share with the hurting of this world. Step up, step out - compassion will follow and your life will blossom.

As Mother Teresa said:  Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. GIVE THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; t was never between you and them.

 

 

Blessings,
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Easter 2014

Posted by Admin on Thursday, April 24, 2014 |

Here in Haiti the battle between Satan and God is most evident over the Easter week. It’s the time when the followers of evil (voodoo worship) and the followers of Jesus collide. There are voodoo marches most nights and sometimes the streets can be blocked for hours while they dance and chant in a procession. And as the noise from these processions blare, it collides with worship and praise music coming from the windows of each church along the route.  Haiti feels spiritually “on fire” during Easter week. It is a battleground between good and evil.

  

My own spiritual battle occurs when I let frustration and disappointment wear me down.  I open the door to darkness when I quit trusting in God and start doubting. The voodoo drums start beating inside my head. Dealing with staff problems, vehicle issues, health challenges, blah, blah, blah -  I let the negative things start to discourage me and actually announce to God “I’m done” – “I don’t want to do this anymore” – drums beating loudly.

But our God is loving and patient and in these days of darkness he usually shines a light for me to claw my way out.  Just like the voodoo procession that looses its steam when encountering the melodic chorus of Praise music from the open church windows – my darkness abates with an act of service. While organizing a feeding program for 100 malnourished children in a remote province, my heart is softened.  Through the efforts of Highlands Church and New Harvest Church, I am forced to quit thinking about my own needs and see life through the eyes of a malnourished child who hasn’t eaten in days. Instead of focusing on my own stomach issues and cold, I focus on what it feels like to not know when you will eat again. To focus on a 5 year old with no muscle tone, red hair and a distended belly.  But God wasn’t done; He knows I am a slow learner so on Easter he added an extra bit of encouragement.

  

After Easter Service – I was told that a visitor at the church was looking for me. She had walked over 8 miles with some of her family members, because she had heard I lived in Kenscoff and had a picture book identifying me and our daughter, Esperancia.  The doubting starts again….the voodoo drums start pounding…does she want money? What does she need? How will this affect Espie? Who is she? Will this become a bigger problem? On and on and on…… as the drums crescendo I hear the chorus of “Whom Shall I Fear “and know that angel armies are at my side.  I make a decision – “I’m done.” Done relying on my own understanding, done doubting, done questioning? I am choosing to trust. Because if God brought her all this way, today, on Easter, He knows what is best for Espie and I. So I went back inside the church and for the next few hours met the woman who had just as much love for our daughter as I did. 

Talking with Francine and learning about her family, her children (13 of them), her life, her mother – it was surreal. Two of Espie’s sisters were also there – but Espie hadn’t come to church that day because she wasn’t feeling well either. So I called her on the phone and invited her to join us if she was comfortable doing so. The look of PURE JOY on Francine’s face when she saw Espie is something that will stay with me all the days of my life. Her voice began to lift as she praised God for seeing her daughter, for holding her in her arms.  Her sweet Esperancia, grown, beautiful, poised, sweet and with those same piercing eyes as when she last saw her 7 years ago; it knocked her breath away. It was a moment of undiluted and unconditional love. We all talked and laughed and shared stories. Espie and I invited them to join us in a few weeks for dinner and I just pray that all 14 won’t show.

I offered to give them a ride home since they had walked so far, and one of my coworkers (Noe, who had helped me with some of the translation) offered to drive for me. I asked Espie if she would like to take them home and she jumped at the opportunity. She held her little sister on her lap. They were gone what seemed like an eternity to me and the entire time, not a moment of doubt crept in. When Espie returned she was beaming. She hugged me more tightly than ever and said “Thank you” about 200 times while we hugged. Tears fell and when we could finally talk, Espie said  “What do I call her?” 

 “Well,” I smiled “You call her Mom, honey, she’s your Mom.” 

“But that won’t upset you? You’re my Mom.” She replied. And I smiled with the confidence that only comes from God and said,

 “What a great Easter gift God brought us today, another Mom that loves you as much as this Mom.” 

And with that we said a prayer of gratitude and listened as harmonic chords of worship drowned out the beating voodoo drums.

P.S. The day happened so fast, that I forgot to take any pictures, but don’t worry, I promise to add them after our big “family” dinner.

Hope you all had a blessed and peace filled Easter.

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No one is going to tell you how long you have left…

Posted by Kathi on Friday, February 07, 2014 |

No one is going to tell you how long you have left – you have to live thinking it may only be for today. KJ

I was reading a blog recently and came across something that caught my attention….

 “Who knows if you’ve really got time to clean out the garage, or to read this endless news feed, or to pick up and move to Haiti and live your dream of spending the fleeting time holding the hands of forgotten ones.  No one tells you if you have enough time to try to change the world or just enough time to try to change your own story. If you knew how much time you have to live, you’d know how to live. ” ~Ann Voskamp A holy experience

This week, as I was on my way to a meeting, I came face to face with this reality. You never know…….

Especially, here in Haiti. Every day I witness car accidents, hear of a death in someone’s family, or in rare cases, see something like this.  Living here sharpens your focus, awakens your senses and makes you take nothing for granted –appreciating each hour. Some days, I want to quit - go back to my “normal” life.  But I can no longer live my life on autopilot, continuing to focus on my own needs. I have to do the hard things to live a life of radical success.  Success for God, success for myself and success for others. 

At the end of our days (whether that’s tomorrow or 50 years from now) we want to be able to say we lived full and passionate lives. A life well lived. That requires making tough choices and doing the hard things. As I was contemplating all this, I received this inspirational message from Craig.

You have to do the hard things.

  • You have to make the call you’re afraid to make.
  • You have to get up earlier than you want to get up.
  • You have to give more than you get in return right away.
  • You have to care more about others than they care about you.
  • You have to fight when you are already injured, bloody, and sore. 
  • You have to be kind to people who have been cruel to you.
  • You have to meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled.
  • You have to be accountable for your actions even when things go wrong.
  • You have to keep moving towards where you want to be no matter what’s in front of you.

You have to do the hard things. The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on.

Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.

 

So whether you are committed to being the best mother, the most thought provoking teacher, the greatest sales person, the most sensitive missionary or just simply setting goals for yourself – the key to life is to live it fully. Live today as if it is your last. I am sure the man I saw lying dead on the streets of Petionville, didn’t wake up thinking it would be his last day on earth.  So rather than waiting for your last day, week or month – live for today. Whisper words of encouragement to your children, hug someone you may not want to hug, let go of resentment, love unconditionally, forgive openly, laugh heartily, and give thanks to God continuously. And if we are lucky enough to see another day, we will know that we have lived each glorious day to its fullest.

Life is precious and time is a key element. Let's make every moment count and help those who have a greater need than our own.”  Harmon Killebrew

Blessings,
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What does Laundry have to do with orphan care……

Posted by Kathi on Monday, January 20, 2014 |

Happy 2014 everyone - this year the focus of my blog posts will be on Gratitude.

Here in Kenscoff , it is hard to prioritize my tasks in the morning.  We get cloud cover and rain most afternoons, so one of my first priorities, is getting clothes washed, allowing enough time for the sunshine to get them dry. I know that is an odd concept, since most of us 1st world dwellers, never think about line drying. But here, the electricity (on the rare days when we have power) is so weak, it won’t heat a dryer and our propane dryer is very expensive to operate. So, back to my morning priority – getting clothes washed and out to dry before the rain comes. Most families hike down to the spring to fill buckets of water to do their wash. Fortunately, my 1st world status, has afforded me the privilege of having water right at my faucet. What a luxury!!! , Running water in my home,   I will never take that for granted again. Every morning,   I watch countless children lugging gallons of water up the steep terrain for bathing and laundry. Once they fetch the water, then it has to be heated –which means lighting a fire for most families and boiling water. For me, again, thanks to my privilege, I have almost instant hot thanks to a hot water heater (another thing I don’t take for granted anymore).  Getting a basic task, like laundry, completed here in Haiti, is a herculean feat. So when at 8:00 am I have our laundry done and out on the stairwell to dry – I feel a genuine sense of accomplishment.

 

As a member of a privileged society, I take great pride in my new found “laundry” skills. My Haitian friends have taught me how to scrub garments, make my white clothes look brand new, and ring sheets and towels to reduce the drying time. I realize this all sounds silly and far from why I came to Haiti in the first place – but believe me, it sums up so much!!  Because, I take nothing for granted anymore. I realize I don’t know squat about much, because everything here is so much more difficult. But when you accomplish something simple– like clean clothes, there is complete joy.

Now imagine this task multiplied by 48!!!! This is the thankless job of 3 women who are responsible for the laundry for our 48 children. Towels, clothes, sheets, blankets, shoes – it is a 30 hour a day job and these three women work tirelessly for the sake of our children. Imagine spending 10 hours a day hunkered over a laundry tub doing wash.  And never complaining.  Singing songs of praise while your hands shrivel up. I complain about hand washing clothes for Espie and I – imagine my embarrassment as I watch as these women wash laundry hour after hour, day after day. They don’t moan or groan, instead, they greet me with a smile and joyful voices.

It’s these kinds of experiences that teach me so much about life and my privileged status as an American. By stepping out of my comfort zone and living a life radically devoted to serving –perspectives change, the American dream looses its luster and complaints are replaced with gratitude.  As I start this New Year, I have 3 simple resolutions;  to love more deeply, to laugh more frequently and to be grateful continuously.  I am grateful for every single opportunity (good and bad) that comes my way. I am grateful for an amazing group of friends, donors and colleagues who support our efforts in Haiti. I am grateful to a family and husband at home who love and encourage me. And above all, I am grateful to God for opening the doors that allow me to experience and share His amazing love with children in Kenscoff, Haiti.

“we always have bright, clean clothes”

My wishes and prayers to you and your  families for a healthy and happy 2014.

Blessings,
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Joy and Despair

Posted by Kathi on Sunday, September 29, 2013 |

It  is hard to imagine another place in the world where the contrasts between joy and despair are so magnified!! You can go days where almost everything is dark and problem filled, but then, thanks to the Grace of our Lord, a day arrives that brings you to your knees with joy!!!  Here in a nutshell is my personal experience with joy and despair in Haiti.

Last week could be best described as the week from hell for me. My worst fears (petty ones, I know) came true. I had always worried about driving alone and breaking down. Well, that is exactly what happened, not just once but two times. One time, Espie was with me  (which was actually worse) and once I was alone. Both happened on busy, narrow roads with no place to pull over. Talk about needing grace – there was nothing I could do but pray and thankfully, I was able to get off the road and to a safe place to wait for help. And in addition to that, I had an electrical fire in my bedroom when a power strip (bought here in Haiti) shorted out and caught my bedspread on fire. Thankfully, I was near home and smelled the fire and was able to put it out. Now I just avoid that side of the burned mattress.  We constantly face battles with transportation, 2 hour commutes due to accidents, difficulties with adoptions, and a litany of things that bring you down. To be quite honest, last week I was seriously contemplating calling it quits and admitting “maybe I am not ready for this”. I still struggle wondering  about the negative impact my time in Haiti will have on my boys and Craig – so it doesn’t take much for me to start questioning my decision and ultimately God’s plan.

But then, realizing my dejection, God threw me a life preserver. For those of you who know me, you know I can be stubborn.  At first I resisted this gift. When Nathan came to me and asked me about planning a beach day for the kids, I really tried to discourage him. What about the risks, the costs, the transportation challenges, the well being of the kids – I thought of every negative thing I could. But in the end, God had His plan and I had to remember to let go of the need to control everything. And it was by letting go of control that I discovered the ultimate joy.

 The joy that comes from anticipation as many of the kids see a beach for the first time and wait to get inside.

The joy of of listening to shrieks of delight as they swim in the warm ocean water.

 

 The joy of watching the older girls proudly dress in their bright  new suits.

 The joy of our staff frolicking in the ocean for the first time as if they were kids themselves.

 

The joy of witnessing responsible staff make sure their designated 2 children were always in sight.

 The joy of seeing Nathan and his team plan and implement a very difficult outing without a hitch.

The joy of watching 65 people savor a delicious meal prepared and brought to the beach by our Administrator and Head Nanny.

 

It was exactly what I needed to remind me why I am here. I am here to mentor, guide, lead, train and follow Christ’s example of love. I am reminded of Isaiah 58:11 “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail”. I am exactly where I should be. Our children and staff were strengthened and satisfied after the day’s outing.  And so was I, like a well watered garden we can continue to bloom knowing He won’t let us fail.  I guess I won’t need to book that one way ticket home just yet!

Blessings,
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Things you learn on LONG car rides

Posted by Kathi on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 |

Last week I had the opportunity to spend time (a lot of time, due to traffic / blocks) with 2 birthmothers and their children. Both mothers had interviews with the Embassy, which is part of the adoption process. And in both cases, we had been having difficulties with these two birthmothers. They had missed appointments, been difficult to reach and we had many frustrating months with them. Normally, Nathan, our Crèche Manager goes with them to their interviews, but because of the challenges with these two particular cases, I had volunteered to accompany them. And the lessons I learned along the way were powerful.

First, to say I had formed a mindset/judgment about these women, would be accurate. I am not proud of that fact, just that when people let you down repeatedly, it happens. Instead of reflecting love, patience and understanding for their situation, I was a judgmental.  And I believe that is exactly why God had me “volunteer” to spend the day with these women.

Here are some of the things I learned on that very, hot and long car ride.

  • They are both amazing mothers – when their young children cried, got tired, were thirsty, got bored – they each immediately comforted their children, even if it meant they would be uncomfortable.

  • In the hot van with no air conditioning they fanned their children and let them sit on their lap, when it would have been cooler to make them sit next to them.

  • When the interview time came, they proudly groomed their children, making sure their hair was in place, buttons done and shoes tied.

  • They never stopped nuzzling their babies; they talked with them and gave them constant love.

I also watched as one of the children cried silent tears in the car because he was convinced he was returning home. He shunned his biological mother at first and wouldn’t look at her, talk to her or smile at her because he thought he was going back to his previous life. Once we explained to him that he was just going to a meeting and would be returning to the crèche, he completely changed. His Mom could be his mom again, because he knew he would still be fed, still have a bed to sleep in, still get to go to school. That is when the reality and difficulty of all this hit me. If she could provide for him, this wouldn’t all be happening.  She wouldn’t have to make this ultimate sacrifice. They could continue to cuddle and laugh and play and hug. It was as if I was standing at the edge of a steep cliff – what I saw in front of me scared me. It was at that moment I witnessed firsthand the importance of job creation for these women. We need to do everything we can to help these mothers keep their children by creating economic opportunities for them.  In fact, later in the week we hired a new nanny and we made sure to offer the job to a mom (who had previously placed one of her children in our adoption program). She simply needed a hand-up not a hand-out to continue to be a good mother to her other children.

Watching these birthmothers that day in the hot car also taught me a lot about myself. When one of the children got car sick and threw up all over me (multiple times), I didn’t recoil in terror. I didn’t cry for help or make a face or any of the things I might have done before. Instead, I simply held her and tried to get the driver to pull over – I didn’t worry about my dress or shoes or how I looked and smelled.  And in that moment, the birthmother and I shared something. We shared respect and love for each other and those children. This is how hearts are changed – this is how love replaces judgment. I am so grateful for the long, hot car ride and even for the vomit– because it broke my hardened heart.

 

Blessings,
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