Thank you for all of your support of our ministry in Haiti.
This year had more than it’s share of ups and downs. In fact, it was probably the hardest year that I’ve spent in Haiti to date. But, we have learned through it and will be starting 2018 with a fresh perspective and lots of optimism. I know this is a long message, but please read it through, because the gloomy outlook of the first part is my attempt to be honest with all of you, but there is plenty of optimism as we look forward.
Most of the reasons that this last year was hard were self-inflicted.
One such difficulty was the painful end to our hurricane relief work. In the fall of 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti and we began to assist with relief work. That work went well for a couple of months. Our best week by far was the first trip after the hurricane. That week, our crew from Jacmel joined me and we simply went around cutting up trees that had fallen wherever there was a need. A crew of locals joined us, but all the work was done on a voluntary basis.
Unfortunately, as we took subsequent trips, more and more money was involved, whether it was being used to hire workers or purchase materials. We used this to build a few temporary shelters for families in need, and to hire many, many workers, but this stirred up trouble within the community. I was trying to use every dollar wisely, and we did the best we could.
We built multiple houses for families in need, and provided materials for many others. We even were able to provide jobs for over 100 men during our time in the community. However, as we would build a house, the family that was chosen would be excited, but another 20 people would complain that they were not chosen. Even as we chose workers, there were constant complaints about how we were choosing workers. The final straw, however, was when some unhappy members of the community actually blocked the road to prevent us from fixing someone’s house. Honestly, this broke my heart and kept me jaded for quite a bit of 2017.
While I still feel that God did want us to help with the relief work, I have learned that we must also continue to wait on Him for guidance in each step of the way. I think I was overwhelmed by the needs and a desire to help, but realized too late that I was not the best man for the job. Our most constructive efforts were to hire a trusted local crew to continue working while we were gone. They knew the community well and fixed the houses of those most desperately in need.
Beyond the hurricane relief work, this past year was trying because I couldn’t seem to keep up with doing our work well and being a dad. Part of it, granted, was that our house and vehicles both required significant maintenance this past year, and some of that is yet to be completed. Between the maintenance work and trying to be there for Jamie and Mara, I frequently got behind in responding to emails or planning work properly. Furthermore, many days the crew of guys at the shop didn’t have any work to do because I hadn’t made any plans for them.
All of this was weighing heavily on me, and I was not coping well. Each time I let someone down, I took it personally, and this even took a toll of my spiritual well-being. As I was struggling to find enough time in the day, I sacrificed the most important things, like taking time to read scripture and truly “Be Still” before God in prayer. As you can imagine, this is about the worst possible thing for a missionary to admit, and even to say it now makes me feel like a fraud. However, God was (and is) working in our midst, even in our struggles. So, on a more upbeat note, let me share with you some of the successes of 2017.
First, as I mentioned the hurricane relief work. While I don’t think we executed things as well as we could have, we were able to help many people that were in desperate need. Realizing how little our resources could do, I was intentional to pray with each family we surveyed and try to point their eyes towards God as Jehovah-Jireh, our great provider. And, in the end, we employed lots of people in need of work and provided help and materials to over 50 families trying to recover from this disaster.
Next, our crew of apprentices has grown tremendously. We have a regular group of 8 guys at this point with Lulu, Waly, Anderson, Kily, Gayly, Fleury, Deny and Chalet (not pictured). Gayly and Waly have developed into foremen in our crew and teach the other guys what they know. They have all grown significantly in skill and maturity this year.
Christmas 2016 with our crew and special guests Tiana (Gayly and Waly’s siter), and Petra from Saalem Church in Finland
Overall, we were able to complete 16 power system installations for missionaries all over the country in 2017. These missionaries ranged from dear friends in Jacmel, like Pastor Pierre and Chase and Kimmey Barbrey, to one of our furthest trips up into the Artibonite to put in a system at the Christian Veterinary Mission’s training center. Possibly even more exciting is that these guys have learned enough that I am able to send them to complete some work on their own and come in for inspections at the end.
Additionally, Daniel, whom we have sponsored at diesel mechanics school for 3 years graduated this year and is working in Port Au Prince. He also is engaged with hopes to get married soon. Unfortunately, good work is hard to find, so he is currently a driver there. I would love to have him move back to Jacmel and work with us, but until I can give him some sort of fixed income, I won’t be able to do that.
Then, we made some new friends, who we look forward to growing closer to this new year. Chase and Kimmey Barbrey moved in to Jacmel last February, and I was able to help them set up their house. Prior to coming to Haiti, they served for 3 years in Uganda, and they also have a little girl who is about 6 months younger than Mara. They became good friends quickly, and we plan to start some prayer and worship times together in the new year.
Travis, Mara, and Jamie with “Mimi”, Chase, Piper, and Kimmey at Piper’s 1st Birthday Party
And finally, our most exciting news of 2017 came to fruition on January 16, 2018 when our son Aiden Olavi Knipple was born. He is a wonderful little man and both he and Jamie are recovering quite well.
Looking into the new year, our hope is to return to some of the basic tenants of F1 Engineering more fully. Our stated purposes in Haiti have always been two-fold:
(1) To aid missionaries in Haiti with whatever skills/resources we can so that they may be better equipped to do what God has called them to.
(2) To use our work and tools to train up a group of young men in trade skills, maturity, and as men of God.
With these stated purposes in mind, we are trying to re-focus our efforts in 2018.
In order to start this new year off properly, we are taking the most important steps in our personal spiritual lives. This past year, we got off track on personal disciplines as well as community worship. So, in addition to Jamie and I getting back into our personal times with God, we will be seeking to have a regular time of worship and prayer that will be open to other missionaries in the community. Chase and Kimmey have expressed interest, and others may follow, but we need to do it for ourselves even if no one else can make it.
For our work, we will start the year by taking a few steps to improve our organizational administration. One step will be to officially start a “business” in Haiti, so that we are paying payroll taxes and everything as we should be. We will continue to focus our work on helping missionaries with non-profit jobs, but are open to the idea of taking on a few “for profit” jobs throughout the year, if it seems that God would have us to do that. It would certainly help fund more projects, but I do not want to fill our schedule with work that is not what we are meant to be doing.
As this new year starts, I will also be focusing more on our work crew. As they have progressed in their skills, I have handed off more and more responsibilities to them. It is a great step that they can do things on their own, but it has also created a situation where their skill level is no longer progressing as it should. Unfortunately, this also extends to their personal maturity, and even more so, their lack of spiritual growth. I must spend more time with them if we hope to make a shift from pure job training into a situation where the guys will come to know Christ and choose to follow Him. This is a big transition that I want to focus on, and it rides mostly on my own personal spiritual discipline and the prayers from all of us that our guys would to come to know and love God as we do.
A couple other exciting announcements that we have to make are:
We have received a donation from Lincoln Electric welding company and from J&J Trucks in Somerset of both a Plasma Cutter and a used Welder/Generator. These are great blessings as they will enable us to do even more work in the shop. Especially the generator is important as both of our generators currently in Haiti are giving us problems. I have not figured out the shipping arrangements yet, so please pray for wisdom with us on the best way to get these units to Haiti.
We also have an exciting partnership as we enter this next year. A few professors and students from Cedarville University, my Alma Mater, are planning to help us develop a power monitoring system that will enhance our installations all over the country so that we can maintain these systems better and expand them as necessary. We want to reduce the chances of maintenance failures causing damage to these systems that are major expenses for most ministries.
And the most exciting news is that there is a family that wants to come join us in Haiti and work with F1 Engineering. The Smith family, from Lawrence, Kansas, reached out to me in the fall of 2016. Matt Smith is an electrical engineer and he came down to visit us for 2 weeks in January of 2017 and is very excited about being part of what we are doing. With his help, we can ensure that everything we do gets done well, as I know I drop the ball sometimes because I have too many jobs going at once. Please pray for Matt, his wife Christina, and their 5 kids as they seek what God would have them do. There are many concerns in moving a large family to the field, but we know that God can do all things if we are faithful to follow Him in both timing and direction.
Thank you for your support this past year. We cannot do anything without God, and we truly value your prayers each and every day. As our family and ministry grow, we know there will be more stress, work, and expenses, but also more love, grace, and opportunities to honor God in all that we say and do. Please pray for us that we may remain focused on Him, and that He will make His priorities known to us as He provides for them.
Travis, Jamie, Mara & Aiden