I remember being taken back the first time I heard them referred to as petting zoos. My initial reaction was defensive. Reality began to sink in as the explanation was given for the description. The man I was talking with wasn't even talking about the orphanages that neglect and abuse children. He was referring to the “good” non adoption orphanages. It took me a while to prayerfully process what he was saying before reality began to sink in.
The man that was explaining the situation to me was giving me his opinion about the orphanage situation in Haiti. His opinion was that it was all about money. You have a place where young children are kept and then advertised to supporters as orphans. The reason for non adoption is a steady stream of income for the lifespan from childhood to adulthood. Supporters are offered opportunities to visit with their sponsored child and have an emotional experience with them. Language barriers, cultural barriers, time, and distance all put a significant barrier between the supporter and child they are sponsoring. They will never know the truth. They will never know that most of the children actually have parents. Most have a mother, father, and other siblings all living at home. Of course there are a few true orphans in the mix, but these are few and far between. Even if they are true orphans, why not try to get them into a real family? Why keep them for their entire childhood in an institution?
Most of these questions and concerns are justified by the operators of these institutions as a better alternative to living in a state of abject poverty with their biological family. Sometimes this actually may be true. However, now there is a systemic problem that has been created where record numbers of parents are readily willing to legally (and sometimes illegally) abandon their children to an orphanage operator. This creates an environment ripe for anyone to exploit the national natural resource of neglected children for financial gain. Sometimes their motives are pure out of a desire to see their children live a better life than they are able to provide. Sometimes. The reality is that most are abandoning their children out of a selfish desire for personal gain. Sometimes that gain comes in a monetary compensation for the initial abandonment. Most of the time it comes from a long term continued relationship with the child under orphan care in a hope that the child will be able to provide monetary support for the family at some point. Such was the case with the orphanage next door to my house as explained to me by the children that lived there.
If petting zoos became the often referred to term for the good orphanages, then slave camps became the equivalent for the bad ones. Even worse, most of this is done under the guise of the Christian mandate given by James to look after the orphans. Most of the operators are officially ordained and licensed clergy. Most have churches on site with regular services. They attract large groups of people to long worship services where singing, preaching, and praying go on for hours several times a week. All the while the most vulnerable little ones among them are living through a hell that transcends verbal description.
The children that would come to my house for food explained to me that a lady showed up at their house one day and promised their parents that their children would be given an education, a good place to live, food to eat, and a passport to the United Sates. Once in the United States the children would then be able to send back money to their parents. Here lies both the bait and the problem. This seems to be the goal that is most sought after. A product of missionary influence on the culture. Life support. That one person that can become my provider. If God would just send me that person then all of my problems would be solved. I would be the recipient of regular receiving at the Western Union office. Even if it means at the expense of my child.
For years this has actually been the case. Orphanages have tried to help the children inside get to the US. Once in the US where they work and receive a regular income, they send regular money back to their families here. The dream that this could happen for a family here is so tempting that even when the truth is revealed they have a very difficult time receiving it. This is what I witnessed.
The children that would show up at my house all had family that they had regular contact with except for two. The ones that had phone numbers I encouraged to call their families and tell them the truth. At first the children were afraid and only made small talk. As time went on the small talk turned into hints. Finally a full breakdown with tears and begging to come get them and bring them back home. Even with the tears and begging it took months for the parents to begin to wake up. With the help of authorities the truth finally became known. One by one the parents came. Jameson was the last. I received a phone call one day from a number I didn't recognize. It was Jameson. He said that he was now living with his father again and he wouldn't be able to visit my house anymore. Praise the Lord!
The problem is so widespread. The descriptions that have been given to me by other Americans that actually lived and worked inside orphanages similar to this one are horrendous. The neglect is only a small piece of the puzzle. On the surface many of these are simply exploiting children's face for personal financial gain. They pocket the money and the children never get the care they need. This would be bad enough, but it gets so much worse. Sexual abuse is usually the second most common thing mentioned. In one instance it was in conjunction with the participation of an American man that is still doing this. Other reports involve actual systematic torture. All under the Haitian version of a steeple.
Albertson kept showing up for food regularly after Jameson was taken back home. His tooth had been mysteriously broken at the same time I was subpoenaed and had now became abscessed to the point that I was afraid he might die from infection. Through a connection made by the hand of God I was able to visit with our new magistrate and discuss the situation with him. It took many weeks, but things slowly began to move forward.
The first news of a small victory came in the form of a Facebook post to our ex pat community here. It explained that an orphanage had received a few young children in the night. They were brought there by several government agencies. They had no paperwork, were not told where they came from, and one of the children didn't even know his name. They were malnourished and in need of medical attention. Through a series of events we were able to confirm that these came from next door to our house.
I have really been trying to increase my fluency with Creole and also learn French. I try to read the French bible out loud sometimes to help my understanding. One day I was sitting in my rocking chair and decided to read all the way through a short book. Jude is short. Just one chapter. So I read it in French out loud. It is interesting some of the things you find in the book of Jude such as Jude 1:11-12 11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion. 12 These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm-- shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted-- twice dead.
As soon as I finished reading the book the magistrate called. He explained to me that he was continuing to move forward. Immediately after I got off the phone with him I received a cryptic text message that I still haven't been able to understand. It is actually possible that it wasn't intended for me. The timing however, just seemed too close to be coincidental.
Then one day I received a call from my contact. The orphanage was officially being shut down as we spoke. The children would be relocated and the orphanage that was there would no longer be allowed to function. I don't know where the children are now. It is in God's hands. The emotions connected with this are difficult to describe.
It seems that we try with vain effort to take care of ourselves here physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We still try. I started making some dumbbells recently out of old cans, some pipe, and concrete. They actually came out pretty good. Now if I would only take the time to use them I might be getting somewhere.
Tarantellas continue to be problematic. In his famous book The Spider and The Starfish, Rod Beckstrom describes the power of leaderless organizations and movements like a starfish compared to a spider. His analogy shows that if you cut the head off a spider it will die, but if you cut a starfish in half it actually makes more starfish due to its regenerate qualities. After living here I know now where his fatal flaw lies in this analogy. I actually think that spiders offer a better analogy for organizations that have effective leaders that create more leaders. It is true that a spider will die and not regenerate. However God gave spiders the ability to create countless babies. Not every time, but often when you squash a spider they will explode into thousands of tiny baby spiders that run everywhere and creep the heck out of you.
For this reason I continue to use the blow torch method as my number one go to for tarantella extermination. Even if they are filled with a disgusting sack of babies, they will all be torched together. Down with tarantellas.
All of our gray water is set up to just run outside with an open pipe third world Mad Max style. This allows an open inlet to creatures that would like to come in my house and give me a heart attack in the middle of the night. Just like the itsy bitsy spider that climbed up the waterspout I noticed a giant tarantella in my tub at 2 am that gave me a big shout. So I torched it. I always use my flashlight to look all around and under the toilet lid so I am not surprised by a bite on the butt.
Then there was the night that I was bathing. Remember that this involves getting a cup of water from the bucket near the tub and pouring it over myself. I had just finished a complete body lather of soap and shampoo when I felt something bump from my head down my shoulder and along my body. Then I noticed a tarantella in the bottom of the tub that had decided to join me and was now experiencing the sensation of slip sliding around in the suds that had descended to the tub. I could have easily just smashed it with my cup, but that isn't my style. I climbed out of the tub and walked to my bedroom where the can of bug spray and lighter lay just on the other side of the door. I came back and torched it. I raked the charred remains out of the tub and finished my shower.
It was bittersweet to spend our last Sunday officially at Mission of Hope International Church in Grand Goave before the step out to begin planting churches in our mountain area. Pastor Lex called our family up to the front, gave us a blessing and then had the other leadership lay hands on us and pray for us. There were some tears shed, but we know that we will still see each other often.
For a couple of weeks we met with a group of ex pat believers meeting together in Gressier. It was really good to meet up with them. The first time we visited we just listened to worship music on mp3 and listened to a sermon from John Piper. It was so simple, but so refreshing. It showed me what true church was. A group of redeemed meeting together for two reasons. Our recognition of our total dependence on Christ, and a recognition of our total dependence on each other. It reminded me of my own frailty. I came to Haiti ready to conquer. Now I just feel conquered. In a better position to listen and learn. A better position of weakness to see the strength of Christ. However, I now have new broken areas that have been exposed that must be addressed.
Discipleship continues but looks so different now. It has an urgent more mission focused feel to it now that we have moved into church planting. We were going through gospel sharing strategy with the group one Saturday when we notice people climbing on top of our wall and walking along it. The new owners of the beach area near our house have put up a fence and a gate in order to keep the beach more private. Undeterred by a rightful attempt to block off unwanted traffic from private property hordes of people continued to seek the route of least resistance. This route happened to be along the top of our concrete wall.
This helped me make the decision to put barb wire along the wall. When I was in BUDs, the instructors use to have a running joke. They told us the reason that we were made to keep our knives so sharp was not for the enemy. It was to stab our swim buddy in case we saw a shark. This way you don't have to out swim the shark, just your swim buddy. I guess this is what it is like to live in Haiti. You don't have to have a good enough boundary to keep people out, just a better boundary than your neighbor. As long as your boundary is more difficult to traverse than your neighbor's, then people will stay out of yours. So begins the battle to keep up with the Joneses Haitian style. One wall meets another. One wall grows taller. Barb wire and broken glass are placed along the top. Every time a breach is found someone exploits it. Every exploitation of defense is met with a new layer of resistance. The root cause still remains.
I watched this play out over the next few days as I placed barb wire along my wall. No one I saw that attempted to pass the new gate the neighbor had put up were completely undeterred. Every single person at least pondered all the possibilities. Even if they did turn around, it was after a lengthy time of consideration. I stood in disbelief as person after person tried to find some way around. The children that were small enough just climbed underneath without missing a beat. Many people looked first to the barb wire on my wall and then to me. Without acknowledging me or saying a word they just started looking for another way. People tried opening the gate even though it was clearly locked. The route of least resistance became clear to most people in almost every case. The neighbor across from me had no barb wire. They just climbed through a barb wire fence and then over the wall on the far side. It was incredible. The overt lack of respect shown for private property and fences by a sampling of a population gave some insight into some of the attitudes held here and some of the impasses met by people offering help.
I finally had to ask one guy what he was doing after he had successfully navigated the route of least resistance and now stood on the other side of the gate beneath me while I worked the barb wire on my wall. He said plainly he was going to the beach. I asked him why he didn't show respect for the fence and gate. He said because if he went around it to a different section of the beach it would be a long walk. He said he knew it was wrong, but it was easier. Then he assured me he was a good man and a pastor's son. I said that was even more of a reason to go around. He said he knew I was right but planned to do it anyway. About 1 minute later I heard a long string of yelling coming from down the beach road. Obviously he had been busted by TiMouche who continues to be the caretaker. His voice is unmistakable.
I don't know how many times I have blogged this, but I still mean it. Everything is harder in Haiti. I do regular maintenance on our small generator. It is our only source of power and I want to be a good steward of it. The pull rope had already broken once and I was able to cut off the broken section and tie it off shorter before it was sucked into the depths of the engine compartment. When another frayed section began to manifest and I knew it was nearing time to replace the rope before it broke while starting it right before bed one night.
By some miracle our internet worked good enough to download a video from Youtube on how to replace it. It was a great video that showed every single piece being removed before you could access the assembly. It looked fairly simple, just time consuming. I planned a day for it and started early in the morning. It would have been easy if only the screws would have all come out – but they didn't.
I don't know what gorilla tightened all the screws that held that generator together but I was not having kind thoughts about him as I stripped out two heads and came close to stripping out more. A job that should have taken an hour tops took all stinking day. It was exhausting. I finally got the whole thing apart, the pull rope replaced, and then back together with no actual damage. I was actually driven to real tears twice. I had to tap out the two bad screws with a hand drill and a tap set. Glad I brought that to Haiti with me. Before I put them back in I used a hack saw to cut slots in the top so I could use a flat head screwdriver. One section was attached to the plastic housing and broke free immediately when I started baking out the bolt. At least I had some JB weld to reattach when I put it back together.
After getting it all back together I prayed a whole bunch before attempting to fire it up. It cranked right away and then purred like a kitten. Praise God! It ran great that first night. The second night after the fix something bad happened.
I cranked it like usual and it fired up immediately. The new longer pull rope made it even easier than ever. It was effortless. It ran for about five minutes and then died. I tried cranking it about twice and then realized there must be some other problem. I prayerfully opened the spark plug compartment and notice the spark plug had cracked in half. Maybe I am just not a mechanic (which is very true), but in all my life I have never just seen a spark plug crack in half for no reason whatsoever. At least this was an easy fix.
I had an old spark plug that I keep as a spare so I just cleaned it and replaced the bad one. I fired it back up and it has been purring away ever since. I bought two new spark plugs in Leogonne the next day so I would have two spares.
The day finally came to put the gospel training to practice. We headed up the mountains and watched God at work. It was Luke and I along with Jean Franswa and Frenchy. Jean Franswa struck up a conversation immediately after arriving at the mountain village with a guy that was clearing the weeds of of his yard with a hoe. I would like to just say that the whole thing was just this awesome Holy Spirit – led encounter, which I am sure that it actually was. But I swear it seemed like Jean Franswa was just in a hurry and was trying to get this over with. It was like his attitude was, “OK, we know what we have to do, let's not fool around and just do it.” Frenchy kept a written log of everything which displayed his attitude very clearly in the last lines where he said, “We were about to go deeper into the mountains when Brother Jean Franswa diverted us and took us back down where we ended up in Grand Fon.”
The guy and most of the village area had just relocated there from the island of LaGonav. They were new to the area and didn't really know anyone. The closest evangelical church was about an hour walk in any direction. The man had already visited one, but they required him to dress in nice clothes to attend and he didn't have any so he never went back. He said he had previously accepted Christ, had never been baptized, and was interested in going to church. We offered to start a bible study at his house to which he graciously accepted. We planned to start the next Sunday. He offered to build some benches so we could sit beneath a tree in his yard.
The next house we visited a lady gave her life to Christ and other houses people expressed a desire to return to Christ that were far from Him. They were all interested in going to the bible study at the first man's house. This all happened in such a short amount of time that I really didn't know what to say. I was kind of just there praying silently, speaking very little, and just watching it happen. I just keep praying now and trusting God with the results. I am very interested to see what God does next.
As I continue to ponder and pray about the orphanage situation here I realize that healthy church plants would be one answer to the problem. If the church was healthy then the members would understand first their responsibility to care for their own children and second to care for the orphans in their midst by bringing them into their own families. Ideally this would eradicate the need for institutional orphanages.
Beyond this there must be at least two other things that must happen in my humble opinion. The first is justice. All the care in the world for orphans that come out of these institutions will not be enough until their captors are brought to justice. Only then can true healing take place for the abused and other abusers fear the same consequences they have seen befall their comrades in crime.
Jeremiah 21:11-12 11 "Moreover, say to the royal house of Judah, 'Hear the word of the LORD; 12 O house of David, this is what the LORD says: "'Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done-- burn with no one to quench it.
The final and most important piece is that the funding has to stop. Right now most of these wicked institutions are being funded by American Christians and churches. Many supporters don't want to cut funding even when they find out the abuses. They fear that it will be worse for the children. I assure you that it doesn't get any worse than this. Ephesians 5:5-11 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-- such a man is an idolater-- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
I keep praying that the orphanage that closed next door will be the first domino that topples them all. It was a long battle, but we first went to our knees before God and prayed, gathered other prayer warriors, went to the proper authorities, went to the press, refused to bribe, and provided aid to the victims as best we could during the process. We continued to press those in positions of authority simply to look at what was happening and do their job. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We must resist giving in to waging war as the world does. God blesses His work when we partner with Him and His methods in a way that He gets all the glory. The thing that evil systems fear the most is being exposed with the truth. Never try to hide what is going on and always take risks to expose the truth. John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
In the midst of all this as I was working with the barb wire I realized a comparison. Ministering in Haiti is like working with barb wire. You always get cuts when you are working with it, but often don't realize until you are finished that you are bleeding all over. There were several times when I would finish that someone would point out, “Hey! You are bleeding!”. I didn't even realize it until they told me. Our family is on the other side of this particular battle right now and rejoice in the victory that God has allowed us a small part to share in, but it has come at a price. We recognize our weakened position right now and the need for some healing. I know the cuts will heal in time, but we will continue to bear the scars. I also know that this is just the beginning of this fight. As I begin to recognize my own weakness I also begin to recognize the abundant strength of Christ. John 3:30 He must become greater; I must become less.
1 Peter 5:6-11 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.