Friday, November 4, 2016

Matthew After Matthew
A Resounding Thanks:

From the mountains of Verrettes (Dinere) to the shores of St. Marc and across the country of Haiti, all are saying thanks; and with tears there is awe for your response to the need in this hour (after Hurricane Matthew)…  In the south of Haiti relief is arriving but with broken bridges and the rise of cholera there are great concerns.  It will be some time before we see the rebuilding of this part of the country because the immediate, medical and physical needs of the people there are so great.  The monies, first aid/hygienic items, clothes, food, replacement coverings and housing you provided or assisted with are overshadowed only by the overwhelming hope and encouragement you have built in the hearts of the Haitian people, the churches and ourselves here in the Puerto Rico/Caribbean mission field. 

In Port au Prince, we were able to assist two families with needed supplies, replacement of their roof and financial assistance.

In Jeremie, we sent across medical supplies/first aid items and financial assistance to family relatives of the Haute St. Marc church.  There five members of the family died in Hurricane Matthew and in another household the father sustained triple breaks in his arm.

In Dinere, (Mountains of Verrettes – a poverty stricken region) where the high winds destroyed several homes, we were able to send medical/first aid supplies, hygienic products, clothes, financial aid and a 30’x50’ tarp to replace the palm/banana leaf roof covering of this growing church.  From May – Sept. 107 people were added to the congregation and 12 new believers got baptized in early October.  Requests for assistance for building a basic structure for church services and local activities continue for this newest addition to the church affiliation in Haiti.  It takes appx. 8 hours to get to Dinere:  1 – 1 ½ hours on a motorcycle taxi and 6 ½ - 7 hrs. of walking thereafter (only other option to walking is renting a mule or donkey).  There are no electric lines or telephone towers there so it took several days before we were informed of their condition.

Dinere, Mountains of Verrettes

In St. Marc, we assisted a family in the church to move into a new home.  They lived on the banks of a river, which overflows in the rainy season.  When rain and other dangerous weather patterns are expected no one sleeps for fear of being driven down the river.  We ministered with regular assistance of clothing, food, school tuition (no govt.-sponsored/free pre-k to high school education).  Through personal invitations and evangelism the church is growing.  Saturday, October 15 three believers were baptized. Follow-ups continued to recent visitors and church members and home visits to the shut-in and elderly.

 Side of house closest to river bank

Front of house (two families)
New home, freshly painted... 

Baptism, Bay of St. Marc, October 15, 2016

Shut-in visit to Elderly (Ms. Coulange)

Cape Haitien Church, Pastor Sylvain Dalus

This is the day the Lord has made let us Rejoice & be Glad in it!...

Colossians enumerates the wonder, manifestation and fulfillment of the greatest mystery known to man:  that we would be the tabernacle, the temple of the living God.  Our hope is central to this understanding and experience; that the Holy Spirit now indwells the believer.  In your giving financially and materially; in your words of encouragement and love you are testifying to this mystery.  You have and continually are making the greatest investment in souls for whom Jesus died…  Our anticipation and revelation resonate against this question King David of old asked in Psalms 8:4 – “What is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you would visit him?”  Value is appraised for a thing by what we are willing to sacrifice for it… Well, God so loved us He gave His Son for us (John 3:16).  You, reflecting this love, have given sacrificially that everyone would come to know and experience the mystery of the character and nature of God in us.

If you are interested in continuing to help with the work in Haiti -- those we have assisted with Hurricane Matthew related recovery; with our general, continuing, work there and/or support us monthly here in Puerto Rico – send your support to our missions headquarters:

Greater Grace World Outreach
Attn: Missions Office
6025 Moravia Park Drive
Baltimore Maryland
(Please indicate in the memo section of your checks our name/designation, i.e. Haiti Relief, Puerto Rico Mission, etc.) – all tax deductible. 

We can also be reached by phone, not international: 787-560-5414 or 787-504-8707. 

144 Villa Las Violetas
Barrio Miradero
Mayaguez, PR 00682

Again thanks to all who assisted, including Women of the Wall, Rincon/Puerto Rico.

For Bible College classes and potentially a visit to two ministries, I will be traveling to Haiti November 8th-15th.  Pastor Ken Feyers and other church members of Florida will be joining us in Haiti. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mud Slides and Remote Places!

If our blog has "types" of entries, this would be "update":

Julian spoke with me for a few minutes (which is a treat when he's in Haiti).  He had been saying that it is REALLY HOT--and coming from him, that's serious (it has been hot next door in Puerto Rico as well, but I can at least depend on a fan and ice).  There were heavy rains last night that flooded MUD into the church/mission house, around the corner and down the stairs.  There is 2 1/2 feet of mudslide backing into the front of the building/gate.  Forgot to ask whether this means they are barricaded(?)

Last trip, some students shared that when they did evangelism in a nearby town, 55 new converts prayed to receive Christ as their Savior.  The visitors from Baltimore and Florida who are coming this week are planning to bring a heavy duty tarp.  What do you do when you get that response?  Put up a tarp and start "church"!

This coming week, they are planning many visits, including more prison visits in Haiti.  The prisons are very heartbreaking.  Only one meal a day is provided; other food must come from family, if they come.  Thirty men might be crowded into a room so small that they take turns lying down!  Some of the prisoners are boys of just 12 and 13 years.  There are women as well and their quarters are just as heartbreaking.  The prison will allow them to bring a speaker and preach so all can hear.

They also plan to visit an affiliate church in a remote area.  So remote that once have traveled as far as is possible by vehicle or motorcycle, you need to walk another 45 minutes!

Since I have no photos of all of the above, I'll share a silly memory from yesterday in Puerto Rico.  It is safe to say that we could use to get a vehicle in good working order.  Pictured is Julian's "guagua" for misc. lawn work.  It is faithful....and a gas guzzler.  Our "family" vehicle was recently diagnosed with terminal disease, so my lady friends and I had planned to caravan to a women's fellowship time yesterday.  BOTH of their vehicles had problems yesterday, so we decided to employ the "guagua".  Contrary to Julian's many warnings not to park her downhill....she didn't have enough gas, so....that gas tank had a broken spout, so we found some funnels, but the angle was still not good, so we found that pipe!!  Took three of us!!  I also locked my keys in the beloved "guagua" angels must be having fun watching over me!!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Making sense of it all--life-long culture shock

"To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery.  It means to live life in such a way that one's life wouldn't make sense if God did not exist."  Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard

Julian returned from a longer, ten day, trip to Haiti yesterday, looking well.  But an intense question is being put before God by him: "Is it really all about suffering?  Is life really just stages of suffering?"

When you come from a place where life and lives hold little promise for more than basic sustennance, when the people are in a constant line to see if you can find a way through your U.S. connections to give them a little help, when a young widow can't find the funds to bury her husband and the family looks to you..."Lord, is it all about suffering?"  He goes through a couple of days of readjusting from his trips most months.

Our ladies' study is on the book of Ecclesiastes this week.  I find the phrase "laboring under the sun" to remind me of the intense and unforgiving intensity of the sun beating down on the people of the Caribbean, and especially those in places like Haiti, making an effort to get their daily portion and find respite from it's oppressive heat.  As with anywhere, there comes a question of meaning to all of us.

"We are born homesick.  We long for an existence, a quality of life or a settledness which we've never directly experienced, but which we know exists, or at least ought to.  We live in something like a life-long culture shock.  Our response to this fact sets the course of our lives."  James Wilhoit

A Christian life on the frontlines doesn't make sense to sensible ones.  It should be hard to explain our motivations, our choices, in light of anything except Our Savior.  As a line in the popular Christian song, "Oceans", goes, "and there I find You in the mystery, in oceans deep, my faith will stand."

"Wouldn't they find it a source of consolation to see that light and darkness, hope and despair, love and fear are never very far from each other, that spritiual freedom often requires a fierce battle?" Henri Nouwen

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Intrigue, Missions and Compassion--Haiti

There is intrigue, and there is compassion.

There is the understanding that luggage carried into Haiti could hold an item to help an impoverished teenage orphan earn their own money for food: a staple gun, sewing supplies, a sewing machine, a wet-suit, an electric hair trimmer, a pot….

donated water filter
When people in Puerto Rico start handing us their used items, the barefooted children come to mind.  In Haiti, where clothing is washed by hand with every effort to preserve precious water,  where having two sets of shirts or pants is wealth, my paying for extra luggage and hauling the donated items through crowds and public transport may be a glimmer of the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living (Ps. 27:13)... I thank every generous donor and make sure things get there.

Sometimes there are moments when the item that was meticulously packed demonstrates His direct care.  Two specific and all-too revealing stories from this month come to mind:

A new boy has been around the mission/church house lately.  His story is the one I have heard hundreds of times.  At sixteen, his parents are dead.  He has a lady who lets him stay at her house, but it is up to him to find a way to feed himself.  No, he isn’t in school because of school fees.  No, he didn’t make it to church...he didn’t have proper shoes…...the professional I met in San Juan before heading to the airport gave me some shoes.  Yes.  They fit.  God’s care….

He’s been thinking.  Maybe someone could loan him a motorcycle so he could drive “motor-taxi” to make some money.  My best counsel is that it is unlikely that anyone will want to lend a motorcycle to a 16-yr-old.  Let’s call on Your specific care again, Lord!

I’ve been getting the young men in the house and church to help with some projects, and learn about home maintenance.  I gave them some pointers on preserving water (which is expensive and all too often unavailable)--things I learned while growing up in the islands.  For instance, if you have drawn water to bathe, stand in the basin and catch the falling water.  When you are finished, the water can be used to flush the toilet (Oh, Lord!  How the house could use to have the toilet flushed more than twice a day!).

Having accomplished a recent flushing, we set out to discover why the drain in the shower stall was stopped up and from whence came that remaining stench!  This was repeated several times during my visit and the mystery remained unsolved.  As the building is often full of young men, and as relieving oneself isn’t a particularly private event in Haiti, I happened to catch a glimpse of the new 16-yr-old boy and was struck!  After further investigation, I ascertained both the reason for my sanitation struggle as well as a striking reality.  He, and possibly others using the mission-house bathroom, had no idea what the toilet was for!  Therefore, relieving oneself into the shower stall drain was the method of choice!  Working on that one…  

Toys are not as essential as clothing, toothbrushes and food, and I’ve brought very little in the way of toys on my trips.  This month, however, a friend had given me some new matchbox cars and I encouraged our son to add to the collection.  One day, when some women in the church were downstairs working in the kitchen, I heard a unique pounding.  The cook’s 18-month-old child was contenting himself by playing with a rock, the diversion available to him while his mother toiled.  Whereas my son had selected from a vast variety of matchbox cars, this little boy was given two matchbox cars, possibly the only durable toys of his childhood to come.  The rock was quickly forsaken.

As a missionary, at some point, you grapple with the balance in drawing an audience to your “updates.”  The real and undeniable reality is that some are simply intrigued, and may, to a lesser degree, have substantial interests in sustaining the efforts toward the daily grind of building disciples.

The missionary  adventure piques our own senses to the unique and different aspects of this  “exotic life.”  This is a passing reality for many of us, but it need not be.  We can still adventure, with open eyes and heart, to the privilege of what it all means when there is a healthy balance.

A worse alternative is despair.  The material and educational needs may never be met, no matter how many generous souls find an outlet.  The government may never release the burdens of corruption, no matter how many moral and spiritual entreaties are broadcast from the Christian remnants.  We must, instead, focus our lens closer, ask the Lord for a vision to be used for one, by one, by one. Choosing quality over quantity, we run prayerfully into the provocation to trust God’s Sovereignty for those concerns too big for our finite souls to grasp or fulfill (Prov. 3:5,6).

The missionary intrigue with Haiti may never end.  The great gulf of circumstances remains, and compassion should exist whenever stories come from her shores.  An author writing a title such as, “When Helping Hurts” could base his entire volume on futile, well-meaning thousands sent with a strong message: Dependency. Good comes from a foreigner...the “gospel” that is understood by the Haitian populace all too often.

Our missions effort has attempted to do another thing:  To train Haitians in Christian leadership.  To have them refrain from dependence from outside.  We have built no buildings in Haiti and have sent no regular salary to Haitians.  The men and women being trained rigorously in Bible doctrine and church leadership have well-understood that their completion of their training will not be followed-up by any more than their ability to help their churches strengthen in being self-sufficient.

But then, there is compassion.

Sprucing up the church/building by "re upholstery" job

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Blessings from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

We spent this morning praying in our New Year in Puerto Rico.  Our month has been filled with preparations for a special Christmas concert as well as joyfully receiving our daughter, Abi, for a visit from college.

The Lord has abundantly blessed our church in the last months with the addition of a few faithful families and the blessing of "team" members who are sharing the vision to reach out and strengthen our ministry in Mayaguez and the west coast of Puerto Rico.  Our music ministry/band planned a very successful concert this past week.  The chapel we use, in downtown Mayaguez, was brimming with about 70 people in attendance.  Some were old friends, some were new to us, and some made new commitments to the Lord during the service.  The biggest blessing was the reality that the crowd had been inivited by the team.  What a blessing!

Our daughter, Abigail, now in her second year at Williams College, is visiting for about 12 days.  It was a financial stretch to get her here this year, but she is the gift we all needed this year.  It was such a blessing to have her participate in the preparation and details of the concert and worship this week.

We had traditional, contemporary, Spanish and English music to honor the coming our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The biggest blessing of this year has been co-laboring with these two families.  Pastor Billy Lebron and his wife Mildred have been assisting in our church for several years now.  He has been filling the pulpit during Julian's travel to Haiti.  Julio Cardoza and his wife Stacy are now also contributing their many gifts in ministry here.  Please keep these families in prayer in the coming months!

When your children start to move out and you are only able to share a roof for only a few weeks of the year, it is a true adjustment.  Abi is such a joy in every way and we will spend tomorrow saying goodbye until at least May.  It still just feels "right" to have her smile greeting us every morning but life takes these bitter changes in seasons and makes them sweet nonetheless.  Please keep her in prayer as she applies for summer internship and employment opportunities and will most likely spend the summer in the states.  She is also continuing to be on the leadership team for InterVarsity on her campus as well as Varsity Women's Crew.

I Samuel 7:12b is a favorite verse: "Thus far the Lord has helped us."  As we close off a year and look in on what is to come in this next, may we remember the LORD's profound faithfulness and favor and anticipate His workings as it continues.

We are so thankful to the many who team with us in prayer and support.  We could never have endured these years outside of the generosity of saints the Lord has raised up with His plan for reaching many in the Caribbean.

Much love from the Matthews family in Puerto Rico.