I am so excited to share with you all about our short journey into Haiti earlier this week. It truly was a God ordained trip. Although we got off to a rough start with Dominican border/customs offices giving us a hassle about paperwork, we eventually crossed the border at 1:30 pm, arriving in Port au Prince around 5:00 pm.
Since it took us so long to cross the border, we had no choice but to stay the night in Port au Prince (border closes at 6:00 PM). When we got into Port au Prince we met up with Kailey Stutzky (our long time friend) and a group from Grand Rapids, MI area (specifically the Catholic parishes in Grandville and Pewamo). Despite our late arrival the group of fellow travelers embraced our presence and made us feel very welcome at their "home" for the week. Several of them even rearranged their bedrooms (slept on floor cushions or doubled up in twin beds) so that we would have rooms for the night. Their sincerity and hospitality was astounding and a true testimony of what it means to "welcome the stranger".
Two of the members of this group are particularly important to me. The first is Michelle. She is Kailey's mom and one of my most honest sounding boards. She has sat with me as I've cried and laughed about all of the crazy things that have happened over the years. And she is one of our greatest prayer warriors. To share some time, however short, with her in Haiti was a true treat. The second person that I was excited to see was Jean Paul. I first met Jean Paul in college when I was involved with the Haiti projects run by Aquinas College and the International Haiti Conferences that were hosted by the college. As a Haitian - Dominican he brings a unique perspective to the table. Over the years I have gleaned a lot from his stories, experiences and advice. I surely wouldn't be the same missionary I am today without his insights during my formative college years. As a resident of Grand Rapids, he often serves as a guide and translator for missionary groups going to Haiti.
Before we arrived in Haiti, Kailey had the opportunity to speak with Sr. Luevia about Nelson, a very special boy in one of our communities. If you didn't get a chance to read the last post, please scroll down to the recent blog titled "An aching heart" to learn about his situation and relationship to BBOH.
After explaining Nelson's story Sister responded very humbly saying,
"You can bring him to me. I will find a place. This is my job."
Those three small sentences instantly relieved a great amount of pressure and worry. This is an opportunity for Nelson to continue to live within his own culture, speaking his native language, surrounded by a faithful Catholic community. He will receive an education. A good education. And yet, as he gets older will have the ability to decide for himself if he will visit family during holiday breaks or summer vacation. Quite literally, this is a combination of the best outcomes. Of course, there are several steps before Sister actually begins caring for him.
Please, please join us in prayer with the specific intention that if this is the Lord's plan for Nelson, may nothing prevent or delay his transition into a healthy and loving environment. We will be sure to update as things unfold. Our next steps include several hikes into his home community to speak with the biological family about this new option. Prayers for safety and ease of conversation are greatly appreciated.
As you read through this and other blog posts, we want to remind you of the great role that our sponsors play in this mission. We truly wouldn't be here working on behalf of Nelson or anyone else without your financial support and prayers. We are profoundly grateful for your presence in our mission. Thank you to each and every sponsor! If you want to learn more about sponsorship please click here.
REMINDER: Our charity auction, Raise the Roof, will be held on Sat, August 12, 2017 from
5:30 PM – 11:00 PM at Corsi's Restaurant and Banquet Hall (27910 W. Seven Mile Rd. Livonia, MI 48152)
Tickets are available for purchase at our Eventbrite website. We can't wait to share food and fellowship with you!
There has been a burden heavy on my heart for the last month or so. I've been thinking about it everyday.
His name is Nelson. He lived with us in 2012 when we took care of severely malnourished children at the Mission House in Palo Seco. Back then we referred to him as 'Big Nelson' because he was almost 4 years old and we also had a younger Nelson who was close to 1 year old. Big Nelson was known for his infectious smile, hypochondriac tendencies (you should have seen it when he had a hangnail...end of the world haha), and his fierce independence. To this day he is the only child who came into the house so very sick but insisted on washing dishes at the sink and putting his own shoes on. Needless to say, he is a special little boy who has earned a very guarded place in all of our hearts. He was returned back to his biological family about 8 months after we first met him. In subsequent years we began sending interns into the mountainous region where he lives to do community health assessments as this region of Haiti - DR is in desperate need. I'm devastated to report that since returning home in 2013, Nelson has become severely malnourished several more times, bouncing in and out of the Nutrition Center in Las Matas. Most recently (May 2017) he was brought to our medical clinic in Rosa la Piedra in a very severe state.
You see.... all of this is particularly worrisome because the human body can only overcome the trauma of malnutrition a finite number of times. Brain and organ damage are very real and very serious consequences of repeated severe starvation and hunger. Our greatest fear is that Nelson will pass away from malnutrition complications similarly to Papito (a young boy who died at the age of 9 in 2014).
And while the poverty that leads to such cases is a real - devastating - tragic reality of our world, there is a poverty that is far greater.
"We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty."
--St. Mother Teresa
On top of material poverty, Nelson is also living in a home that is spiritually and emotionally poor. Nelson's biological mom left him with his father 'when he only had 2 teeth' (the only indication of age that we were given, information we received and verified through the community and family members). His dad and step mother haven't had a particular interest in him, and many accuse/suspect this is why he has been fed very little. There are multiple types of abuse taking place between members of the household. ....and so many more examples of being unwanted and unloved.
And yet -- despite all of this information -- Nelson was returned to his biological home 10 days ago. He made major improvements over the last month (which I credit in part to your prayers! Thank you!). As a Haitian child with living parents, whose home is actually in Haiti (as opposed to on the Dominican side of the border) our hands are very much tied. There is no social safety net that his case would fall into, there is no social worker, case worker or foster home. The reality of life here is that we had to return him to his biological father, knowing full well the abusive environment.
Talk about a bad day at work. So many tears, frustrations and feelings of failure.
Yet -- our hope is in Him.
The Lord of the universe loves Nelson in a way that my human mind can't even comprehend. God has been with Nelson every single day of his difficult life and will continue to be present.
As a team, we have by no means given up on Nelson's case. We continue to pray for guidance for God to open to doors so that we can provide a better future for him and all of the other children like him living along the border. At this time we are learning more about how the Haitian version of social services operates with great hope. As two organizations (BBOH and FUMSIL) that operate in the DR, we must pursue the legal and moral route -- which often means lots of red tape, waiting and delays.
Tomorrow we are going to Port au Prince to meet with a parish group from Michigan that supports a religious sister, Sr. Lluvia. We are filled with hope that Sister can help us navigate the murky waters of Haitian politics and social services. This is also a particularly special trip as we will be picking up one of our good friends, Kailey, and bringing her back to the DR with us for a visit.
I hope that this post has served as a glimpse into the "child advocate" hat that we wear as missionaries here in the DR. Of all of our responsibilities, this is one that I hold particularly close to my heart.
For safety, perseverance and peace as we continue to discern exactly what can/should be done to help Nelson and all other children in similar situations.
For travel mercies as we embark on a short trip to Port au Prince, Haiti tomorrow (6/26).
For Nelson's mind, body and spirit - that he may feel the loving presence of Jesus in the most lonely and difficult moments.
In Thanksgiving for Olivia, a supporter and friend who has come to the DR for 6 weeks just to help us with our children. Her presence is a true blessing, allowing us to accomplish so much!
**All information mentioned about Nelson's family was received from aunts, uncles, siblings and bio parents themselves. All info was verified through our community connections.
**Nelson's actual name is not Nelson. This was the name that we used for him when he lived in Palo Seco, but it is not the name that he is known by within his community. This and other identifying facts have been altered and/or left out for his personal privacy.
**No photos of Nelson will be published nor will be taken in accordance with the Nutrition Center's photo policy and our desire to honor his human dignity.
As I type this I am sitting in the spare bed room at my in laws house in Michigan. Ahh, how nice it truly is to be home surrounded by family, friends and the little things that just scream 'home' (like a cup of American coffee with flavored creamer, mass in English and friendly, familiar faces). At the start of our trip we were welcomed back by the good 'ole midwestern flu virus. Ben even had a stomach emptying episode on our last flight. #memorable
But, now that we are all feeling better we've been scurrying around from meeting to meeting, trying to see as many people and get as much done as possible. If we haven't seen you yet -- please forgive us! This trip was particularly short and we will be doing a SPONSOR POT LUCK in August when we return home. We look forward to catching up face to face with more people then.
One of the most exciting events we want to share with you all is our BBOH Charity Auction! We met with the BBOH Ambassadors and their dedicated Auction Planning group -- and we were BLOWN away! They have put so much time, energy and passion into this event....we are truly humbled by their love for Building Bridges of Hope and FUMSIL.
Please join us for an evening of food, fun, and fellowship as we raise funds to support BBOH activities, including the startup of construction for a new mission house.
Please check out the Raise the Roof website here for more info and to purchase tickets online!
If anyone is interested in putting together a silent auction basket or donating a live auction item, please contact Lindsay Nelson (our Lead Ambassador and Chair of the Auction Committee) at firstname.lastname@example.org We greatly appreciate all of the donations, allowing us to raise the needed funds to continue reaching out to people along the Haiti - Dominican border!
As April came to a close and May begins we want to catch everyone up to speed on another of our newest ventures: the LONG TERM VOLUNTEER PROGRAM. *insert all types of hooting, hollering and general good cheer*
This is a program that has been a long time coming. The vision statement of the program reads:
Long term volunteers commit to the work of both BBOH and FUMSIL for up to 2 years. Their leadership, expertise and old-fashioned hard work are an integral part of what makes BBOH a highly respected grassroots organization impacting communities along the Haiti-Dominican border. Volunteers will be accepted on a rolling basis with flexible starting dates.
Ladies and gents: we are SO EXCITED about this program!!!! We are finally in a place both professionally and personally to welcome like-minded people into a life of service here in the DR! How awesome is that?! God is GOOD and FAITHFUL to this mission.
After extensive conversations with BBOH and FUMSIL leadership we have come up with a list of the jobs/areas where we can best utilize extra hands. They include: volunteer and mission house management, school sponsorship program, home visit coordinator, English teacher, music teacher, medical professional(s) i.e. RN, PA, MD, etc. With a variety of skill sets needed and lots of room for flexible scheduling, we are hopeful that the Lord will send us the perfect people for these positions. BBOH will be providing a separate housing accommodation for the long term volunteers where they can grow in community together in the town of El Llano. We will also be providing a living stipend and wifi. I have to say it again -- how awesome is that?! It is humbling to see a long term vision come to fruition.
We are more focused on the quality of the applicant than the quantity, therefore we have opted to leave the application process open indefinitely with rolling start dates throughout the year. Our first pair of volunteers are set to begin ministry in July 2017.
Please share this information about our LONG TERM PROGRAM far and wide! We want as many applicants as possible and we have the work on the ground to keep them busy! Inquiries for more information can be sent to: email@example.com
Onto our personal updates....
Last weekend I had the opportunity to go on a Ladies Retreat with other missionary women who live in San Juan. It was a great day of prayer and reflection through the Velvet Ashes website for women serving overseas (I highly recommend them!). The whole experience felt somewhat surreal as I reflected back to May 2016. One year ago we were identifying our need for community and fellowship. Those were some of the driving forces behind our decision to move to San Juan..... and there I was experiencing exactly what my heart had been longing for. My how much can change in one years time. Amazing. God is FAITHFUL.
We have come to love this town and all that it has to offer. Ben is enjoying school. Emily is growing like a weed -- and just about walking everywhere. We celebrated our first Easter here in the DR. It was a quiet day with a delicious dinner and then mass and spending time with Angel and his family. We surely missed the Easter egg hunts and family dinners from Michigan, but we made the best of the day!
**Honorable mention goes out to my mom, Debbie Coffelt, for making sure that the kids had small Easter baskets and little surprises from home on Easter morning. Thank you!
MARK YOUR CALENDARS!
There are two important events coming up! The first is our short visit home from May 20 - June 8. We would love to see YOU! Please comment or send a message with info about when you are available. We hope to see everyone!
The second is our annual auction fundraiser, RAISE THE ROOF! It will be held at Corsi's Restaurant & Banquet Hall in Livonia, MI on Saturday August 12 from 5:30 - 11:00 PM. Tickets will be available for purchase online SOON! This event is put on by our BBOH Ambassadors and a team of dedicated volunteers. It will surely be a fun evening with a live & silent auction, dinner and lots of laughter. Dr. Angel, Adam and I will all be present as well. #epic
We look forward to celebrating the mission with you! <3
After a busy spring we are happy to take advantage of this lull in the volunteer program to dedicate time and resources to new projects. As some of you may know, we have been talking about building our own BBOH Mission House for quite some time. With so many balls that we have been juggling, it has been easy to let this project take a back burner. However, now that we live here FULL TIME we can take advantage of these weeks between volunteer groups to move the vision forward.
Why a new Mission House?
We have quickly outgrown our humble accommodations in Palo Seco. This three bedroom single family style home has been a big part of our story here in the DR. However, as our projects have expanded and our volunteer groups have grown, we simply need more functional space to accommodate visitors, to hold meetings and to embrace the local community in fellowship.
We desire for this new mission house to not only be available for our international volunteers but also for other missionary/humanitarian groups who come to Elias Pina. Our open arms to embrace other likeminded groups and provide them with a safe place to sleep while serving in their own projects is at the center of our heart. We desire to impact the local economy by providing steady jobs in meal preparation, care-taking, office administration and other fields. The presence of a retreat center style Mission House will also lift up the local Catholic community. For the first time there will be a place to gather for mens & women's retreats, catechism classes and trainings, extended stay youth activities, local medical missions, etc.
Preparation and Planning
Over the last two weeks we have been in contact with a local San Juan political figure (I think her role would most closely translate to Mayor) who is also an architect. Through a series of God-moments she has happily agreed to join us on this adventure. She cleared her schedule to visit the property that FUMSIL (and subsequently the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana) own in El Llano (shoutout to you Rose Marie!!). A topographer has already visited the land, taken measurements and will then provide a comprehensive map of the property. With this map, our architect will design the layout of the project, dividing it into phases of completion. We are beyond excited to have the blue prints, 3D images and computer renderings of a project has been on the horizon for so long.
We have meetings set up after Easter with the Vicar to Bishop Grullon of the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana to present the project, gather feedback and move toward formal approval of the project.
Please pray for the Lord's leading in this huge undertaking. We are looking at a season of construction, capital campaigns and grant writing to make this project a reality. And the best part -- WE ARE EXCITED!!! More information coming soon!
For this preparation phase of building a new Mission House.
For the preschool in El Chivo as Dr. Angel moves toward Ministry of Education funding.
For our family as we continue to embrace full time missions. (In particular, for our first Easter abroad)
Thank you to all of our supporters. We couldn't be here doing this without you!
Over the last 3 months the mobile medical clinic program
We are Catholic lay missionaries serving along the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Join the Support Team today!
|Serving the Border||