Reflections On a Rocky Year

Haiti is broken.

It is starving, sometimes quite literally.

The entire government is corrupt, and this past year the population finally grew weary and began an uprising. Sadly, even this uprising has been wrought with corruption.

It has left the country cut off from supply routes of food, medicine, and any materials needed to work, leaving thousands of people starving and sick.

Unpredictable roadblocks like this one became a common occurrence in Jacmel, popping up suddenly and cutting people off from different zones and parts of the city.

It has ground the economy to a halt.

It has cut the income out from under most of the population and bled the small savings of the lower-class people dry.

It has left the country literally in the dark as fuels to run generators, including the power plants, have been cut off many times in the past year.

Gas shortages have been frequent this past year, creating long lines and rationing whenever it does manage to make it into town. Often stations have to close the pumps down because they simply get overwhelmed by the unmanagable crowd that quickly builds up.

It has even left the children out of school. The entire fall semester was cancelled due to protests and safety concerns, and schools have only recently re-opened since their summer break.

Needless to say, poverty has gotten much worse.

The price of everything from food to fuel keeps rising but the incomes of most people remain the same, that is if they are lucky enough to still have a steady job with the increasingly common downsizing that has taken place in the work force, particularly in the tourism industry. And all the while the local currency is worth less and less. When I (Travis) first moved to Haiti, the exchange rate was 40 gourdes to a dollar, but in recent months it has more than doubled to nearly a 100 gourdes for a US dollar.

A depression has swept over the country as I have never seen before. This famously resilient people who have endured devastating earthquakes, hurricanes, cholera, viruses and many other issues, is breaking into despair.

As an example, we have a friend Franz that works at the local hotel. He always has a big smile on his face, and is a wonderfully friendly man. Yet, as I sat talking with him some weeks ago, I asked him what he really thought of the life these days. His response? “Ayiti pa gen la vie.” Haiti doesn’t have life. Haiti is dead.

He’s been the restaurant manager at the best hotel in Jacmel for over a decade. His is one of the steadiest jobs around, and even he has suffered from lay-offs because of all the protests. After all, tourists aren’t exactly flocking to visit a country where insecurity is increasing, sporadic gang violence has grown, protests are almost a daily occurrence, the people are restless and a shaky government is barely holding things together.

So, where can their hope, their help come from?

Their President? The Opposition party?

The UN or other foreign aid groups?

The United States?

France?

All of the above have either failed in the past or left the country to fend for itself (or both).

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Psalm 121:1-2

As with Haiti, this year has been rough on us personally as well. Every step we took forward seemed to yield one backward in return. Every time we fixed something, like one of our trucks, another one broke down. We would wake up in the mornings with plans for the day, only to find out that roadblocks had us stuck and isolated in our house once again. And yet, for Jamie and me, this was a year that showed the beginnings of a spiritual renewal in our lives.

For a while, we had both felt more akin to the Charlie Brown Christmas tree (you know the one…a pathetic little twig of a stick with no more than a few pine needles to keep it company) than one bearing good, spiritual fruit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, etc. were sorely lacking. Yet ironically, as life became harder and more unpredictable, God was using this time of drought to sprout new leaves in our inner beings, and to remind us that our hope depends solely on Him. That without Him, we can do no thing.  Nothing.

 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Just as trees don’t sprout overnight, we still have a ways to go, but it’s a start. And we thank God for it. And it may take a while before the fruit is ripe and visible again as the roots grow deeper, but we’re trusting that God will be faithful to finish what He’s (re)started in us.

Despite the setbacks, including our personal ones ,this past year has actually been a time to see growth as well.

For one, our relationships with other missionaries and local ex-pats have grown. We have found more than ever that we need each other, and that has bonded us together.

Visiting with dear missionary friends, the Officers.

At one point we had even started praying as a group with other missionaries whenever we would gather together rather than just waiting for a “church service.” Our discussions would center on what God is doing in our lives. And we could encourage one another. And actually pray. Whether there were four of us or a dozen.

On one such occasion, God taught us another valuable lesson. As we finished up eating dinner together, our friends received some alarming news warning us about an incident that was supposed to take place the following morning. While we couldn’t be sure of how legitimate the rumours were, just the potential disaster had us all worked up with dread and full of worry. At last, after a couple hours of allowing the “what ifs” to consume our thoughts, work up our emotions and steal our joy and peace it’s like the light FINALLY clicked on and we looked at each other and said, “How about we actually pray about this?” So we did. We may have been a little slow getting there, but at least we finally did. And what a difference it made! As we turned our eyes back to God from the looming waves around us, His peace came resting over our hearts, quieting the questions and doubts.

It was then that God reminded me (Jamie) of a verse He had showed me that very morning.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy —meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4:8-9

The reason it had stood out to me on this particular day was because it had showed up as the “verse of the day” on my phone in a translation I wasn’t in the habit of reading. One part in particular caught my eye as the wording was different from what I was used to. “Whatever things are of GOOD report…” I thought back on our evening and how we had allowed a bad report to completely derail it. A report we weren’t even sure was true, a rumour that was definitely not lovely, pure, just, praiseworthy etc. Instead we had meditated on our fears. No wonder we had been so restless and worried. We had focused on the waves and not His face. But the moment we corrected this and turned back to Him, He graced us with His perspective. He reminded us that He already knew what tomorrow held, after all, He was already there. No matter what was going to happen, He was already aware, and we could continue to trust Him with everything concerning our lives.

Learning to be still.

Therefore, we’re not writing all this to bring a message of despair and gloom that Satan would like us to see all over the land of Haiti, and in our own lives, but bring you all a good report: the message of what we have learned, received, and heard from our Father in heaven in this time.

For starters, while many of the people that were part of this community have now left Haiti, we are thankful for the fellowship and encouragement that we did get a chance to have with them while they were here, and trust that God will not leave us as orphans but continue to bring other opportunities and people to do community with.

Back: Travis, Denny, Foyie, Waly, Lulu, Jonas, Gayly. Front: Anderson, Fleury, Kily & Chalet

In positive news, our staff at the workshop has grown. We now have 10 guys working with us. And among them we see growth as Gayly is now married and his son just turned 1 year old. Anderson and Fleury are building houses. Kily, who lost a baby last year, now has a beautiful daughter again.

Celebrating their marriage with Magda, Gayly and their son Kayly.
Kily with his girlfriend and new baby.

They are growing in their skills as well. Gayly, Waly, and Anderson are working as welders and electricians, getting work independently from our solar installations.They are providing for their families, and supporting each other, as a contract for any of them means work for most of the shop. And this is extending the ministry of F1 as now we can bless other missions with solar installation work even when I am out of the country.

Finishing up a job for a missionary in the Port-au-Prince area.
Installing solar for FOTCOH medical clinic in Jacmel.

While we have been in the U.S, our crew installed solar for a family running a community center about 15 minutes from our home. This couple has opened a youth center in their house to bring young people to Christ, and they even take it to the Jacmel prison where they have been doing the Alpha course with 10 young adults each week. Recently, they shared that an older inmate had been “eavesdropping” each week and prayed with them to accept Christ into his life.

Even through the difficulties of the year, we have been blessed to complete 8 solar installations supporting missions all over the country. We have 3 more installations lined up for when it is possible to get back to work as well.

And we have had blessings to share within our own ministry.

As we’ve said, it’s been a hard year. Our vehicles are perpetually broken, yet somehow we have always had one functional when we’ve needed it, even it was a loaner (pictured below) from friends while they were out of the country.

Our inverter was blown up by a lightning strike, but God provided that we could get a new one even despite the roadblocks.

Despite the lack of fuel, we’ve been able to sustain our power station outside of our house, to share our solar power with our neighbors, and still manage to keep our own house powered through the night. That alone is a miracle as the math shouldn’t work out and yet we’ve been abundantly blessed with enough power to share.

Even with travel issues, we’ve been blessed to be home with Mom twice this year as she’s been going through important stages in the treatment of her cancer, and to be here with my Grandmother when she passed away earlier this year, and as a dear friend went to be with the Lord at the years close.

And we were blessed with a trip to Finland this summer to see Jamie’s family. We thought it would be good to see her grandparents as they are getting more frail, and that was good. But He also used it as a chance to get medical treatment for Mara for an infection she had gotten in Haiti that was starting to go wild just as we arrived in Finland where the doctors were able to sort it out.

And we now take great comfort in the fact that this trip was a chance to see her uncle one last time before he was unexpectedly called home to heaven by a brain aneurysm.

Celebrating Jamie’s grandfather’s 90th Birthday in Finland.

And despite everything in Haiti growing more expensive, God has continued to sustain us financially and meet our every need.

He has taught us to trust Him, and that He is in control. And strangely, He has taught us the lesson even more clearly by putting us in a position where life seemed more out of control than ever before. I felt like this was a year that I (Travis) couldn’t plan anything. My mind has been stuck spinning in neutral, constantly turning, but getting nowhere, and now I see that He was with us each day, and had everything in His control.

So I offer that encouragement to you today. No matter what storms life is throwing at you, look to Him, above the waves. He has you, and will hold you, and will sustain you if you are his child. He is your loving Father and will answer your cries.

 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

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