Thursday, May 22, 2014

Welcome to Franktown; We Don't Turn Down

Howdy everyone!

I'm going to really, really try to start blogging on a regular basis. I stopped blogging in Haiti because of a lack of internet connection, among other things, but I'm back online and I'm going to try to keep up, as well as start posting some more writings with Biblical topics and points.

To get you caught up, I finished my Spring '14 semester at TAMU about 3 weeks ago, and I'm about to complete my first week of working with the Holly Hill church of Christ in Frankfort (a.k.a. Franktown), KY. This first week has been outstanding. We have a lot of great things planned for the summer and I hope you'll pray with us that God allows His Word to pierce the hearts of not only those who do not know the Truth, but those who know it as well-all of us. I'll be working here until July 27th. Then, I'll be speaking at the church of Christ in Madisonville, KY's Bible Quest on Saturday morning, August 2nd. That evening Collin Fitzgerald (Mayfield, KY) and I will fly out of Evansville, IN for the Philippines, where we will be met by Daniel Horn (College Station, TX) and stay for two weeks working with congregations there.

I am so blessed to have the opportunity to be where I am, specifically at this moment. I am absolutely loving the Holly Hill congregation, and looking forward to what God has in store. To give you an idea of some of our activities, we are planning young men's and ladies' Bible study groups, planning for VBS (#HollyHillVBS2014) in a couple weeks (June 8-11), hosting a Summer Youth Series on June 2 (my birthday, and I'll be speaking-be there or be square), looking at doing a congregational garden to give produce to the local Soup Kitchen and Men's Shelter and volunteering there via service and leading worship services, and of course we have an assortment of activities like movie nights, etc. If you're in the Frankfort area we would love to have you! Sunday school starts at 10:00 with services following at 11:00, and Wednesday evening services at 19:00. Again, please keep us in your prayers.

In regard to the Philippines work, I'd like to
1) Ask you to pray for us,
2) Sign up for the newsletter - send me an e-mail: PhilippinesMissionsProgram(at)gmail(dot)com,
3) Consider supporting the work yourself, or getting your congregation on board-send us books, Bibles, song books, study material, monetary support.. if you plan on sending us something other than something listed, please ask first, so we can make sure there is a need and way to distribute, & 
4) Join a trip-see the Lord work in the lives of Filipinos. We need teachers, but also those will agricultural and medical abilities.

God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!

"Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you."
-Deuteronomy 31:6

Have a blessed day!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Planes, Passports, and People


I just returned from Hawaii, where I spent my spring break with my family and visiting the University of Hawaii at Manoa looking at a Ph.D. in Natural Resource and Environmental Management in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. I have been very bad about updating my blog in the past week and a half or so, but before leaving for Hawaii there wasn't a whole lot to post about; we worked on a few small projects around the Live Beyond campus. Anyhow, back to the point of this blog post, which mainly focuses on a few my flights to and from HNL.

I arrived with Paige around 07:15 at the airport, dropped off by David and Devin. Little did any of us know that DELTA's ticket counter would not open until 12:30. With no seating area for those pre-check-in, I found a nice cozy spot on the floor next to an outlet and took about 5 hours to enjoy my high-speed internet for research. Finally, the counter opened and I was able to check-in, still 3 hours early. With nothing but time I wandered around the pre-departure area of the airport until I found a lounge area with a few food options. I enjoyed a "chicken sandwich" (more like pulled chicken on some kind of sub bun, but I enjoyed it nonetheless). With the time dwindling down to departure I took the creaky steps down from the lounge to the DELTA gate area. After a long security screening, I eventually boarded the Boeing 737 and took the isle seat beside an elderly Haitian lady, who eventually moved to the window when we concluded it was just us two.

This wasn't just any elderly woman though; she was fragile, illiterate, and just in need of a good "bless your heart." I sat beside her and smiled, it was just us two in our three seat row, and asked how she was doing in Creole. Her response was so mute I could barely understand her, but I as looked into her eyes, saw the forced smile she wore like a mask pushing all the pain back, I knew this woman was desperate for something better and that I could not possibly imagine the trials she has and does face in her life.

With takeoff approaching, I bucked my seat belt. We watched and listened as the safety presentation that is redundantly given on flights started. Typically, this is when I put in my headphones and lay back and go into flight mode, a.k.a. catch some shut eye (you can ask Mallory Warmack - it's impressive). However, this time I didn't; no specific reason, I just didn't. When we got to the seat belt part of the presentation, the sweet, frail woman next to me mumbled something to me as she analyzed her seat belt along with the one between us. I soon figured out via non-verbal communication that she had no idea how to buckle her seat belt, even after I tried to demonstrate for her. After seeing a few moments of confusion on her face, I unbuckled and fastened her belt for her. She mustered, again, that pain stricken smile to me and mumbled thankfully.

Later on in the flight, my co-pilot had to use the restroom. As she fumbled around, I demonstrated with the belt next to her how to take her seat belt off; which she successfully accomplished. Minutes later she walked by and I tried to reach for her, but she walked on by. A woman in the same row, opposite the isle, got her attention with Creole and pointed to her seat. This poor woman, flying solo, had forgotten where her seat was. Furthermore, I had to buckle her in once more. However, the worst was yet to come.

The flight attendants soon started passing out the customs forms to come into the US. The woman next to me had a huge look of confusion on her face and the flight attendant and I (using my handful of words in Creole) were failing to effectively communicate with her. This time the woman across the isle from me translated and we discovered the woman knew she was going to New York, but that's all she knew; on top of that she couldn't read or even write her name. The woman translating took her passport and customs form and politely filled it out for her.

I could write about this experience for days, but I think I will let your own heart and mind ponder the thought of an aged woman who is unable to write her own name, unable to read and copy information, unable to figure out how to buckle up. My heart found its way back to that experience multiple times through the week and was pricked each time. There are people in Haiti-people all around the world-with the same problem. The best way to help a developing nation and help a people help themselves is through education, whether that's agricultural education, basic education, or ESL, education is the foundation of a better life. Don't take yours for granted. Use the empowerment you've received to empower those around you and increase their quality of life; in the US, the Philippines, Haiti, wherever you are.

I often hear stories of people who sat beside so-and-so before they "got big" or, as Mrs. Pride, my 5th grade teacher told us once, saw Michael Jordan at a hotel. How cool would that be?! Well, I can't say that I sat beside a celebrity (after all, I was flying coach) or saw one. However, as I sat cozily in my seat waiting to see how I had rolled the die in terms of who would sit beside me on the plane, a thin blonde headed guy walked up and pointed. I later found out he was 20, but I didn't think he was a day over 18.

He sat down, and trying to be friendly, I struck the conversation up. Whoa! This dude was fresh from Germany; direct flight to ATL. I asked what his business was in LAX and he responded with training for motocross. That was all I needed to hear. We talked MX for quite a while, and I told him how a girl I was staying with in Haiti, Lexi, was friends with Trey Canard; he said he had raced with Ken Rozken. This was a total trip! I messaged my motorcycle crazy family (the group message with my parents and sister) and got them excited. Well, I would say I didn't do anything weird, but I was that guy. I had him sign my notebook and date it, so that I would have it when he hit "the big time." He was such a chill dude. Kim Lehmann.. look for that name in motocross in the upcoming years.

You know, you never know who you will run into at the airport, or anywhere else for that matter. You never know who you will see, or what they will become. The bigger thought: no one ever knows what YOU will become.. we each have the opportunity to follow God and make something of ourselves. It doesn't have to be a world class motocross racer or a movie star, but simply someone called according to His purpose. What will you become?

With travel back and forth between the Philippines, I am a DELTA Silver Medallion holder; not THAT legit, but it has its perks nonetheless. One of those perks is having an upgrade automatically requested. I checked my DELTA app and it showed 10 available upgrades for business class, but I wasn't eligible for the upgrade. Don't think me as one of "those people," but I had the opportunity to spend a 5 hour flight a lot more comfortable, so I wanted to find out why I wasn't eligible for upgrade.

In front of me in line to talk with the whatchamacallit guy that handled tickets was an elderly man who was trying to get a seat with his wife; they were separated. As I thought about how much more enjoyable the flight would be sitting beside your other half (not that I actually know what that's like), I spoke up and offered my seat if it were to be useful. The guy took the seat down and said he would let me know.

Then, it was my turn. I asked about the upgrade and he said that upgrades weren't offered like that for flights to JFK. I just said it was no big deal and I just wanted to try my luck. He reminded me that he would let me know if he needed to swap my seat.

I sat, waiting to board, and business class was being called. Right before I got up to get ready to board with Sky Priority the man at the counter said my name, "Mr. Cherry." I looked up, "yes?" "I needed your seat," he said, "here's your new ticket." I looked; business class! I thanked him and went to board. It amazed me how something so little as offering your seat if it's needed God would reward. He truly is great!

I sat there thinking I had my row all to myself; extra room for my junk, extra bottled water, and no risk for crazies to sit beside me. However, God wasn't finished. Right before the doors were closed a Chinese man came and sat in the seat next to mine. Noticing my A&M cap, he asked about it. We discussed my studies, research, Johnny Football, and plans for education while he intently asked questions and listened, sharing bits of his own life. This Harvard grad had some cool stories, did some great work to help the people in China, and knew some awesome people; awesome people as in those high up in the Philippine National Bank and the Philippine government. We chatted quite a while before both going to sleep.

Upon waking, talking some more, and landing we exchanged handshakes and business cards. He was interested in the work in the Philippines, agricultural development, and was just an all around genuine guy. God not only gave me an upgrade, but he placed me in he path of someone that can help me benefit His Kingdom. Again, you never know who you might meet. This guy had no idea he would run into me, but he took the opportunity, thanks to God, to network with me because he knew he might could help me. Perhaps, I am in his path as well to help him. We often notice how God places people in our paths that can help us improve out lives or help us in some way, and that's okay, but how often do we look to see if we are placed in the path of someone else to help them? All it takes is you striking up a conversation because of something like a university ball cap..

God is good.. All the time. All the time.. God is good. I pray that He blesses you!
I am back in Haiti and we start the work week back up tomorrow. I will be trying to update my blog based on that, as well as having a post about my time in Hawaii. Look for it!

"And we know that all things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose."
Romans 8:28


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Socialism? Maybe not...


Hope you are doing well and the Lord is blessing you!

God has definitely blessed my life.. while in Haiti, and every other day since I have been on this earth. He is GOOD! Amen?

First, before I share my story, I want to say that we finished the greenhouse! But... the wind destroyed it..

Anyhow, moving forward from that experience; I was talking to one of the translators/workers, Bob (for his protection), around the Live Beyond compound today and learned some very interesting information. This will not be a long post (not long for me, anyway), but I want to give an insight on how blessed we are. It's easy to forget our freedoms when we aren't defending them or in a world where such does not exist.

We went to go check on some Haitian Olive (Moringa) with a farmer, to see if I could use the leaves for a study I am doing. The young man, probably late 20's, generously agreed with no problem. This man's home was pretty well kept and was a little better than the "typical" Haitian home in Haiti. He had fenced in turkeys, puppies that actually looked like they weren't neglected, and he and his family looked to be in pretty good health. As I noticed his nice stead, I couldn't help but wonder how a man so young could "have it so nice." Oh, and his farm is larger than average. 

With my curiosity turning the wheel in my mind, I thought on it as we traveled back to the compound on the rough, dirt and rock road in the TATA (Indian vehicle - I don't recommend them). I tend to be extremely overly analytical from time to time, if you're thinking that about me right now. With my "research-minded approach" that I've had for everything since being here, I decided to ask Bob how the farmer got all of the land. His response: "He claimed it."

He farther then, after more inquiry, explained that people who were born in Dalma (the community) had a right to all the land. Basically, the community owns all of the land, and a farmer can claim whatever is being unused. My first thought, besides "I'm so confused," was "Umm.. okay. Communal farming?" I have read about places, particularly in developing nations in Latin America and some in Asia, where there is communal farming. However, I was corrected; this is not the case. As I fished in the mind of Bob, it was like fishing as a child again; so frustrating because you want the fish, but exciting with each nibble of the fish. 

After finally breaking down my questions so we were on the same page, I got the explanation. The Haitians born in Dalma share the deeds to all the land in the community. If a piece of land is sold, then it is split among the individuals in Dalma. Right, so that's socialism? No.. someone born of Dalma can claim their land to farm on; that land and the "profit" from the farm is theirs until they die. Then, it is opened back up.

I thought this was kind of bazaar, and continued to press. Bob said in his home community some of the people lost their deeds, or "da papers" as he called them, so the government came in and kicked them out. I've also heard of another instance where this has happened. IF the family can keep up with the deeds (in their clay-built homes in an arid and tropical climate) they can pass the farm down, but if anything happens the government comes in and takes over. When the government gets in "they do what they want." 
Bob says many communities keep all of the deeds together so that they are not lost and they can keep the land where it belongs; in the hands of the community. 

Two things learned from this:
  1. Never judge a person, group, culture, etc. for something without knowing the back story. It could have easily been left with "They share the money from sold land. They're socialists and that's that Haitian problem." Instead, I learned the back story, and honestly, who can blame them for doing it that way? 
  2. WE. ARE. BLESSED. In places all around the world governments are oppressing people much worse than the American government (*not dismissing our own problems). We need to be more thankful that we don't have to worry about the government kicking us off the land we own or out of the houses we built. 
To end on a positive note: Bob told me a story of a community where the government came in and took over because the papers could not be found. Eventually a man found the papers and the people rose up and took their land back!

God bless you.. and remember to pray that He blesses everyone else in this world too; not just you, not just your family, not just America (or whatever country you may be in), but the entire world!

"And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
Romans 8:28


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Long time, no post

First, sorry it has been so long since my last post.. things have been busy, internet has been spotty, and lots of ground has been covered.

I'll start with the weekend before this one (Feb 14-16). On the 14th we traveled to Gressier, Haiti to Christianville. Christianville is a ministry that has existed since the 70's. This mission has a high concentration of agricultural education and production; to help the people around them, as well as to produce food for the school that operates on campus. There are a few different ministries involved, but I can't keep them straight, so I won't try. Anyhow, we visited the weekend to check out the things they are doing agriculturally to see what we can bring back to the Thomazeau county and Live Beyond.

Some of the projects they have going on are awesome! They utilize two high-tunnel greenhouses, a 900+ laying hen facility, several large tilapia raceways and breeding facilities, a goat production program, as well as many other things on campus. Additionally, they have a small holder chicken program and a small holder tilapia program. The tilapia program was one of the neatest things for me. They use moringa leaves, palm leaves, and chicken manure in the bottom of the small holder tank to promote algae growth. Then, they use cross sections of bamboo sticks in the water for the algae to grow on. This creates a self-feeding system with no other feed inputs. It's truly remarkable!

Christianville brings interns in from Zamorano University in Honduras. While they may not have studied some things the way we do, the amount of practical knowledge that is packed into their Bachelor's education program is incredible! Most of the agricultural successes at Christianville are because of the Zamorano students. Without going into too much detail, we learned a lot from them. Additionally, we got to see the vocational school at Christianville, which was also incredible (imagine that - I think I'm seeing a trend?).

Sunday, I was blessed to get to worship via FaceTime with the Glendale Road church of Christ in Murray, Kentucky; where I did my undergraduate work. I got to see those I love and miss so much. More importantly, I got to see Todd Walker, one of the biggest men of the Faith I know. Todd has been very sick with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and I would sure love it if you prayed for him, his family, and those overseeing his care.

Last week we planted some different crops in the kitchen garden (mainly Paige) that are already up and tried to propagate some different plants. Additionally, we got the frame to a greenhouse built. Now this greenhouse, it's built out of re-bar, and it is definitely... unique, but it is our pride and joy. The dimensions are 30'x12'x15'. Let me just say that welding in Haiti is very unique as well. I knew it would be interesting when the ground and electrode clamps were missing from the welder, which we finally found. Then, the welder (who told people what to do and didn't weld) and one of his workers showed up in shorts, flip flops, and a tee shirt. The other worker showed up in a tank top, flip flops, and jeans (at least he had jeans). They welded with sun glasses and work gloves with holes cut in them. To make things even better, the wire used for the ground and electrode clamps was pulled out of the welder's back pack. There were probably 5 or 6 wires twisted together with exposed wire that would either arc on the greenhouse, or on one occasion, burn and separate. Needless to say it was an interesting experience.
(Putting up the final part of the frame)

This weekend we took a small rest at a resort for a day and a half. Don't get the wrong idea now; this resort was $40/night. I definitely took advantage of the burgers on the restaurant menu too. It was a great place to catch up on rest, catch up with good internet, and to observe the wonder of God's creation.

(Thanks, Lexi, for taking my camera to get some pictures)

This week Paige will be working with the orchard, I will be visiting farmers in the region, and we will be working with teams of men (who will finish the property border wall this week) to finish the greenhouse and start different research projects we have going. I am interested to see what happens and where this week takes us. First thing tomorrow we are headed to get agriculture supplies for some of our projects.

Please pray for the work we are doing here and for the work I am still active with in the Philippines - as well as all of God's creation, on every continent.

May God bless you as He has and continues to do me!

"And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good."
Genesis 1:12

PS: Sorry this post wasn't as vivid as some of the others. It was a rushed post to play catch up from the long span I went without posting. I promise I'll try to do better :)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Scabies (and a little bit of an update)

Howdy (Sorry, my Aggie comes out every now and then), and happy Singles Awareness Day!

First off, apologies for not writing for almost a week. We had a medical team on the Live Beyond base and internet bandwidth was kind of sketchy from time to time. Plus, it already seems as though the days are running together. I don't want to completely recap everything that has happened since my last post; that would not be possible, but I'd like to share some things that have stood out to me.

I must say, whenever I was planning my first trip to the Philippines with Bro. Danny Weddle, some of the women in our congregation at Sturgis made me terrified of these "things" called scabies. As we sat at an incredible, country cooked buffet in Jackson, TN, with fried chicken stimulating my scent glands and sweet tea (which I have not had since Dec. 31, 2012) stimulating my taste buds, I was enlightened about these tiny little bugs that crawl under your skin. Now these bugs.. "they itch.. they itch realllll bad," but the itching is not from the bugs themselves, but from their feces in your skin. Anyhow, traumatized, I decided I would do whatever possible to avoid getting scabies.

Traveling to the Philippines three times, I was doing pretty good about avoiding these disgusting mites, that is until I came to Haiti. Up until coming to Live Beyond, I had never been a part of a medical mission per se, other than bringing supplies to Tacloban City after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Therefore, I had not really experienced, or been able to notice/diagnose things like scabies. All that changed on Tuesday.

As we embarked with our caravan of medical personnel up the looong and dusty road up the mountains near Thomazeau with the windows down, because the AC was not doing its job, the dust was in our eyes, our lungs, everywhere. The children smiled and waved at us as we passed them; some chased the trucks with laughter. Each smile a child sends my way causes me to feel like a listener to Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2; it's a prick to the heart. *Pontification:* It amazes me each and every time I see a child, with little hope for a future, get so excited to see a blanc person or to simply get to greet and wave at someone new. Then, I see the animals, worked ragged and looking awful, the men often resting from the sun or laboring in the fields. I then remember, with the constant breeze filled with smoke or dust, the innocence of a child. It's then I know why I do what I do.. I have put away childish things, became a man (I Cor. 13:11), and decided to make a difference so others can have the opportunity to BE a child!

*Pontification Cont'd:* When these children are smiling and waiving it is because they want to find that childhood. These barefoot youth are walking miles per day gathering water and taking animals to get drinks, just so their family can survive. If they are fortunate enough to be able to afford the "free" education, they go to school 5 hours/day, rotating work (i.e. primary kids work in the AM and go to school in the PM; vice versa with secondary). For others, it is work all day long. There isn't a childhood for these innocent toilers of the land. I believe they deserve the right and OPPORTUNITY to be children! *Pontification Ended*

Nonetheless, we arrive at the school in the mountains to treat the students. The school consists of a halfway run-down concrete building (shamefully about the size of my apartment) with a small dirt area in the center and open classrooms on either side. Paige and I decided we would try to get involved, so we wander around until we find a room that is not for doctors only. We sit down, taking instructions from Laurie Vanderpool, Dr. V's wife, on what to look for and what to apply for different things on children. We were treating children who said they were itching; this meant either scabies, ringworms, or maybe just an itch.

For the next couple, few, I honestly don't know how many, hours we treated children. We washed their dry, infected scalps with green anti-fungal shampoo, cleaned their infected areas, and applied permethrin, anti-itch, or whatever was needed. My avoidance of scabies was no longer existent. As I pondered the life of a child and the difference we could make, I said "forget you" to scabies and took the risk in order to make a child know that someone cared about them.

Sometimes a child would come in and there may be nothing wrong with them except they're itching. So we would give them some itch cream and send them on their way. Other cases, children would have scabies sores from their feet up their thighs. I'd look into their helpless eyes, feeling helpless myself. I wanted so much to cure them of their mite infestation, but I could only attempt to treat it and hope for the best. For the first half of the onslaught of children coming in like cattle running for the feed bunk, I had no way to know how to ask the kids where they were itching. A lot of times the confrontation resulted in an awkward exchange of basic greetings, smiles, and me pointing until I guessed right (sometimes they nodded a yes everywhere because they too were confused). Later, I learned "kote," or "where." It is amazing how one word can make all the difference. Previously, I mentioned non-verbal communication, but this proves how important individual words can be in communication; in helping someone, either spiritually or physically. One word, or the way we use it, can determine whether we find something like a scabies rash/scab area, or whether someone chooses to accept or reject the Gospel. Let's choose our communication wisely.

Through the whole clinic I saw so many heartbreaking things. I saw a small boy with a massive 3rd degree burn, scabies that resulted in bloody scabs that forced tears through sorrowful eyes, or gashes from parental beatings. I used what few Creole words I could to communicate, and I joked with the kids making many of them smile and "enjoy" their time with someone who cares about them. For those who had nothing left in them to muster a smile, I sat in starstruck shame and helplessness, knowing I could not imagine this child's (or the child next to him/her's) story. Needless to say, my fear of scabies (except when I itch in paranoia at night) was overcome through a conscious effort to move more toward "none of self and all of Thee." I can say this: "I stand forever changed by scabies."

Small Recap
We had a medical team come in on the 7th and stay through today (14th). I met a lot of great individuals with great hearts for helping people. I remember something a professor of mine, Dr. PiƱa, discussed with me; listen. Don't get me wrong, if you know me, you know I love to tell stories of "adventures," but I sat back and listened to each person; why they were in Haiti, what their motivation was, etc. Sometimes it was expected, other times not so much, but it was great to hear the stories of those who were being a part of helping the Haitian people. We are many sparks of the same fire.

One of the best experiences, that I plan to continuously enjoy while I am here, was visiting the orphanage in Thomazeau. I can't tell you much because of the law and their safety, but I was extremely blessed by one young boy who reached out to me (thought it was supposed to be the other way around). I plan to visit there as much as possible when I'm not working.

On a side note, during the tenure of the medical team's visit I was also able to receive acupuncture therapy from Daniel, an acupuncturist in Austin. Hopefully in a few days my sinus and allergies will be better. I won't go into detail, but it was awesome!

Another day, I found a boy on the mountain who spoke just a little English. Our conversation resulted in a long, sweaty, dusty walk from the school, before turning around. As we spoke in broken English I asked him about his family, his food, agriculture, and anything that came up. Strangely enough this boy decided that I was beautiful and that he loved me. Assuming it was a cross cultural mistranslation, I didn't let it phase me.. then or the next two or three times. Nonetheless, he was a nice boy.

A quick agricultural summary: We have planted coconuts at Live Beyond, we (mainly Paige) are working on Avocado propagation, Moringa propagation, and several other things. We are also looking at some educational and experimental options.

At current, I am sitting in the guest house at Christianville, the campus of FISH Ministries in Gressier (a few hours from Thomazeau). We will be here this weekend observing their agricultural production facilities and agricultural and extension education programs. I look forward to the long weekend ahead of us, and seeing what God reveals via agriculture to reach souls for His Kingdom.

"Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!"
-John 4:35

God bless you!

PS: Sorry for not having pictures.. I'll try to have some in the next post.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Wordless Wilson

This afternoon I was sitting at the table outside, with Paige across from me at the other end. A small boy, who had been paid to wash the truck for the Vanderpools, wandered up the steps to the concrete patio-type, covered dining area. He, without a word sat beside Paige, staring at her computer screen. Then, he picked up her iPhone and began trying to figure out what the crazy device was capable of. After all, it's not like he could read what it said and know what each app's function was. Soon, he was gone.

About five minutes later, here he came again, wandering once more to Paige and finding her white-cased cell. As he attempted to navigate through the applications once more, Paige looked on smiling as his curiosity. Eventually he found his way to the camera. However, he had no idea how to actually take a picture. Paige took it from him, showing him how to capture a moment of life. Then, she turned the camera around allowing him to see himself. He looked at it and tilted his head, like my dog, Millie, does when she's trying to figure something out. After changing the camera around, he began taking tons of pictures before, what I would guess, getting bored and sitting back in his seat.

After a bit he began to whistle, and I'm not sure how he was doing it, but it was loud. After a few times, I began to mimic his whistles, that is, until he accepted the challenge and began to do patterns that I could not follow nor replicate. As I struggled to keep up, he simply stopped and began laughing. This, maybe 12 year old, boy just laughed and smiled for the first time.

Mustering up what little Haitian Creole I've learned so far, I said, "Como ou rele?" or literally, "what you call?" (what's your name?). "Wilson," he told us, though it sounded more like "wheel-sohn." Paige introduced herself, "Mweh rele Paige," followed by me, "Mweh rele Audie," and Wilson relayed the names back to us.

I sat there thinking about how this young boy and Paige had created a connection through a cell phone, and the ability to capture a part of time on it. Then, I thought about how we had communicated and created a connection through the ability to whistle, even if mine were not up to par with his. We had no idea what his name was and vice versa. Sometimes we forget how much non-verbal communication can create a relationship; how it can destroy a relationship, or how it can directly affect the hearts and minds of others. English and North American cultures are considered to be low context, whereas many others like Haiti (French included, who colonized Haiti) are considered high context cultures. High context cultures depend more on non-verbal cues in communication. By only using words to communicate, we can often miss out on an emotion of thought of an individual. The Greek culture, considered by many to have the most descriptive language in history, is considered high context. Even with such a descriptive language system, they realized the importance of non-verbal communication.

Just a thought from the day.....

Might also add that I got to see Wilson rock out to "Back in Black" by AC/DC, and he taught me a great deal of Creole words as we used Google, pointed to things, and he took me to different spots to show me what things were. It is through children like Wilson that we can know we were created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27). His tender heart and rare smile are assurance that we have a Father above.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Pain, Voodoo, Sanitation, Agronoms, and Hope

We have now been here about two full days. Currently it's about 4 o'clock (we're on CST, but Haiti doesn't use daylight savings time). It is a bit overwhelming trying to process field notes, emotional and mental notes, and simply recollect the past 48 or so hours. However, I'll give you a rundown of a few things that have really stuck with me thus far. Some I have seen before, though not as intense as here, and other things I have never seen before in my life. These five points will lead you in the journey we are on and look to see slowly unfold.

While any of us who have been to a developing country cannot doubt the power held within the eyes of the inhabited peoples, pain cannot begin to describe the dull sensation found deep in the hearts of those who look back into your eyes. The eyes are the window of the soul; their souls are hurting and hungry for hope. As I gaze into their longing, needing eyes, I pray they look back in mine intent on my heart, understanding I am here to help; not that I am a simple minded, rich white man who most likely brought AIDS and HIV to their people or that builds useless cities in the middle of desert ground with no water or proximity to market (attribute the latter to your tax dollars via Bill Clinton). No, I hope they can peer into my soul and see Christ through me, and know I hope to make their lives better.

There are only some fortunate enough to go to school where the education is free, but they cannot afford to make the uniforms (and definitely not buy them already made). For the others it is walking miles per day, many without shoes, on the rough and rocky road that runs from the market and "city" to the outskirts and farmlands. Some are unclothed, some are unshod, and all are uneducated. This vicious cycle of pain is inflicted through a lack of education and means of understanding a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Because of this lack of education, some live a barbaric lifestyle of oppression. Today I watched as David Vanderpool went to a woman whom his family often helps by bathing, feeding, and generally taking care of. This woman is of low stature and as we might call it "hunched." The Haitian people refuse to accept her in society and she stays literally locked in her mud house to avoid beating and shame. As David tried to communicate with her through the door we saw a hand, so dirty it was lighter than my own skin, reach under the wooden door frame. He passed her a NutriGrain bar; the hand quickly pulled it under and reemerged, again open and empty. He quickly came back to the truck and grabbed another bar. A second time, he placed a NutriGrain bar in the pale, dirt-varnished hand; it swiftly pulled away and reemerged with nothing. He held her hand for a few moments, as a few tears slowly streamed down my cheeks. The pain this middle aged woman has gone through is enough reason to educate the people, beyond their need to sustain life. Thanks be to God Live Beyond is working toward trying to construct a special needs orphanage.

Without getting into much detail on Voodoo...

  1. Voodoo priests poison people so they appear as dead for a few days. They are placed in a casket, and a couple days later the priest helps them bust out of the casket and feeds them an herb than enables brainwashing. Priests raise up armies to fight one another... Thus the origination of zombies.
  2. The demon Voodoos worship is Lucifer. They burn wood around a metal pole, get drunk off of sugarcane moonshine, and worship him by touching and licking the pole. Those who die did not have enough faith, while those who live usually end up at Live Beyond for medical treatment the next morning.
  3. Red is associated with Voodoo, so we don't wear it.
Flowing pure from a natural spring in the mountain, a old French aqueduct transfers the water down a series of channels, making it available to many Haitians. Sounds great, but the unfortunate reality is that this dihydrogen monoxide is used for bathing, cooking, drinking, cleaning clothes, and urinating in.. for everyone in contact with the channel. Then, once it reaches the valley, sometimes by aqueduct channel or by dug channel, it's used for irrigation, which is done by flooding the misconstrued (to me) rows of plants, that shouldn't be flooded.

Paige Graves (MS Horticulture, BS Agronomy; Texas A&M) and I have met with, along with David, the regional minister of agriculture in Thomazeau the past two days. He hold the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in Haiti in agriculture. While some things are totally unrecognized, I am very impressed with his abundant knowledge of agriculture. He seems to "know his stuff" rather well. We will be working more to see what can be accomplished.

Paige and I, as agriculturalists have found many practices to be.. unexplainable. In some cases, we can accomplish the Haitian frame of mind and bring understanding to the purpose for practices such as the crazy plant rows, but in more cases we cannot. Practices here are very indigenous and need to be improved. Luckily we are Agronoms (a description and title of an agriculturalist in Haiti), so we will try to bring forth change.

We will be working hard to try to change some of the practices that the Haitians do. We are working on variety trials for both seeds and practices (obviously with her expertise, not mine). We're looking at ways to add protein to their diet, change their cultural practices, and promote trades among children who cannot attend school. It is my hope to not only benefit Live Beyond and Texas A&M University, but to improve the lives of the Haitian people. Change cannot come by force or because Americans are doing it, but only through a diffusional progression that starts with culture. If we can dig into the complexity of a culture unknown to us, find a glimpse of understanding, and create a bridge of hope between us and it, I believe we can truly impact the lives of these people.. and just maybe when I look into the eyes of children and adults we have touched, I will see, not pain and hopelessness, but hope.. a hope for tomorrow, and the next day, and the next; a hope for a future. Without having to wonder if tomorrow might come, but being confident in facing tomorrow, we can teach them to be confident in facing eternity. I pray I get the opportunity to teach them both.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.
-II Thessalonians 2:16-17

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

T-Minus 19 Hours and 20 Minutes Till I Board for Haiti

I have been thinking a lot lately about starting up the blog since I stopped about a year and a half ago.. I guess this is the perfect time!

At 6:50 AM tomorrow morning Paige Graves, a horticulture Master's student, and I will be departing cold (though not Kentucky cold), rainy College Station, TX, leaving our fellow Aggies behind only to create new ones.. in Haiti (insert prayer request here). We will be working as Graduate Researchers for Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Live Beyond in Thomazeau, Haiti.

Live Beyond is a 501(c)3 non-profit humanitarian organization, formerly Mobile Medical Disaster Relief. Their website defines the following as their mission statement:

"We are an organization that chooses to Live Beyond... ourselves, our culture, our borders & this life so that others can Live Beyond ... disease, hunger, poverty & despair."

Live Beyond was founded as, and focuses on, medical relief. However, they are looking to expand into agriculture in order to encompass human nutrition. I'm often told the story of how Dr. Vanderpool (founder, CEO) says that according to what he was taught in med school, the women should not be alive because of such a low BMI.. but they aren't just alive, they are nursing children, and often have another on the way! Through agriculture we hope to fight malnutrition in pregnant and nursing women, and in people in general. Furthermore, through agricultural development we can help in alleviating some of the heart-breaking poverty that exists in the poor nation.

While in Haiti I will be particularly focused on a few things in regard to research, while remaining open to additional opportunities for data collection. While Paige focuses more on the horticulture and crop side of things with the people, I will be focused on more animal science and social sciences. We (in regard to my research focuses) are looking at conducting some small holder projects with poultry, beginning effective goat production, and conducting needs assessments on about anything that can be observed, specifically livestock production and youth development via agriculture.

With almost no scientific literature on Haiti, the sky is the limit. The great thing about this whole shindig though is that during our pre-departure meetings/briefings (and we have had a lot) we have constantly been reminded about what it means to be an Aggie. Our professors and advisors have told us that research is important, but if we do not get involved with the community and some outreach to personally change lives, then we will not be as effective and we will not have the same personal reward and growth. They have emphasized over and over outreach. Atop of that, we are the "guinea pigs" of this "project" that has plans to be long term to shake Haiti and create better lives for Haitians. It is our job to help lay a foundation so that Aggies will always have a presence in the lives of the people, helping them, educating them, and showing them what it means to be a Fightin' Texas Aggie.

As I conclude my long rambling, I plan to update my blog as much as possible, so check in on it and share it with your friends, and I can only hope it inspires you to make an impact in this world. We can show people the Hope by helping them get a little taste of Heaven; whether it's in Clay, KY, the Philippines, Haiti, College Station, TX, no matter where it is.. we are the light on a hill.. so let's shine!

In Christ; Our Savior,

Audie Cherry