Help Us Feed Haitians

 “Have you even for one second in your life been hungry?”

That question, posed to me by a Haitian interpreter in 2012, has haunted me ever since. Read the following little story I wrote a couple years ago, and you will see why I am passionate about sending funds to feed Haitians.

(And why I am excited that we have an anonymous person willing to match all donations for doll dresses, up to $250!)

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Me and Billy

I sit enjoying Billy’s company on a wooden bench shaded from the hot Caribbean sun. He is eloquent. He is intelligent. His smile genuine. His joyful spirit contagious. He speaks excellent English with a beautiful accent.  Dressed handsomely in navy blue pants and button-down shirt, he may as well be an old friend from back home.

In just one day, my Haitian brother has gripped my heart.

He did not choose poverty.

He did not choose hunger.

He did not choose life in Tent City.

He asks about my life. What can I say? I live in a 5 bedroom home, of which only 3 bedrooms are slept in on a regular basis. I have cupboards full of food and regularly toss uneaten leftovers down my garbage disposal. Clean drinking water flows from multiple faucets and ice pops out of my freezer with the push of a button.

My voice falters. I can’t verbalize the discrepancy between his life and mine. So I speak of things that don’t accentuate the contradiction that is my abundance and his scarcity.

Then he asks the question I can’t sidestep. The one that now drifts through my mind a dozen times a day.

“Have you for even one second in your life been hungry?”

It takes all I have to look into his eyes, but I owe him an honest answer.

“No, Billy. I have never known what it is to be hungry. Every day of my entire 37 years, I have had more than enough.”

And now as I am back home, my more than enough breaks my heart into pieces.  Every bit of abundance causes an ache inside. But I trust that God breaks hearts so he can mold them into something new. So he can impart his perfect love into my imperfect being.

I know that as I sit here with my coffee and my laptop, my God – the one who is able to save little American girls and little Haitian boys – is working on the inside making me a new creation to do the work which he has prepared in advance for me to do.

And my friends, a new creation ever growing in the desire to serve and obey my God is exactly what I want to be.

A generous anonymous person has offered to match the money made from our doll dresses, up to $250. So every dollar you donate becomes $2. Sweet!

Here’s a sampling of the dresses available at Local Blend Coffee Shop.

If you are not local to Huxley and are interested in a dress email us at 500dresses@gmail.com.

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Haitian Wedding Ceremony Traditions

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Brunel and his Bride-to-Be

This month we are raising funds to help pay for Brunel’s wedding ceremony. Our goal is to cover the $250 cost required to secure the appropriate government paperwork.

Weddings in Haiti are big and often extravagant occasions, but there are a number of ways they differ from American weddings.

The following are a few things that might take place at Brunel’s wedding that you wouldn’t likely see at a wedding stateside.

1. The wedding party may dance down the aisle.

2. The wedding ceremony may last up to 3 hours. 

3. The bride and groom may sit facing each other instead of standing for the ceremony. (If my wedding was 3 hours long, I’d want to sit too.)

4.  There may be another couple, dressed like a bride and groom who enter before them. This couple is called the prince and princess.

5. The wedding cake may not be cut at the reception, but at the home of the bride and groom a few days after the wedding.

6. A 2:00 wedding may not start until 3:00 or later. (Schedules in Haiti are a bit more relaxed than they are here.)

7. There may not be formal wedding invitations. Sometimes word-of-mouth does the trick.

If you are interested in giving toward Brunel’s wedding, send us a donation with “Brunel’s wedding” in the memo. You may also send a card of encouragement for the couple.

Help Make A Haitian Wedding Happen

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This is Brunel. He is a tailor living in Port au Prince, Haiti, and he is getting married.

Much like in the US, weddings in Haiti are a big deal. Also like in the US, they are a big expense.

The difference is, most Americans can plan for the expense. They can put money aside, work some extra hours or simply cut back on the extravagance of the affair.

Almost all the money made by Haitians goes directly to food and shelter. Saving is really not a viable option. Thus, it is not uncommon for couples to decide to live together unmarried, even though their heart’s desire is marriage.

Brunel is engaged and planning a fall wedding. As noted above, he is a tailor. And he is really good (I’ve seen his work.) But even having a fantastic skill-set doesn’t guarantee a steady income in a country where most people have zero extra money.

You would think that getting married in a poverty-ridden country would be inexpensive, but in Haiti it is quite pricey.

It is $250 to simply pay for of all the necessary government paperwork. The cost of a marriage license in Iowa is $35. Seems a little backwards, doesn’t it?

In addition to the paperwork, there is the cost of the wedding gown (which they rent), the bridesmaid dresses, the princess dress and the tailored-suits.

There is also the cost of feeding the guests.

Plus, it is expected that the groom secure a home and furnishings prior to the wedding.

What we would like to do at 500 Dresses is provide Brunel with the $250 needed to cover the government expense.

For the next month, we will be taking donations for this purpose. If you desire to give, please send your donation of any amount to 500 Dresses, c/o Kim Harms 314 Centennial Dr., Huxley, IA 50124. Note in the memo that the donation is for Brunel.

If you want to include a card for Brunel and a note of encouragement to him and his bride-to-be, I will send it along with our donation later this summer.

Thanks for considering giving in this way!

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Brunel translating for me while I share the morning devotion during a sewing class in Haiti.

Handmade American Girl Doll Dresses and Food for Haiti

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Did you eat breakfast today? Have a lunch date planned? Dinner in the crockpot?

Millions of Haitians have empty tummies and are wondering where their next meal will come from.

 At 500 Dresses, we’ve decided to try something new and different this summer.

Sticking with our dresses theme, we will be giving you the opportunity to own a cute new doll dress while helping to feed a Haitian family.

Pictured above are several American Girl Doll dresses mom has made. We plan to have these and others available for a freewill donation (suggested donation $10+) at Local Blend coffee shop in Huxley, Iowa starting in June.

At the end of the summer, we will send 100% of the proceeds to Mission to Haiti for the purchase of beans and rice.

$25 feeds a family of five in Haiti for one week. We’d love for you to help us feed as many families as we can.

More details to come….

 

That's a weeks worth of Beans and Rice on her head!

That’s a weeks worth of Beans and Rice on her head!

The Poor and The Prideful – A Mission to Haiti Experience Changed My Worldview

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I wanted to walk into their homes and see and feel and know what their lives were like. The day-to-day lives of sponsored children in Haiti.

Traveling down the pot-holed back roads of Port au Prince with Mission to Haiti’s Bill Nealey Jr., two sponsored teenagers and an interpreter, I expected this day would conclude with Kim Harms feeling pretty good about Kim Harms. That I would go to bed encouraged in my gifts to the poverty-stricken.

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STEVE

But when 15-year-old Steve opened the rusty corrugated metal gate that led to his two-room home, I sensed this afternoon adventure would not end with the proverbial pat on the back.

“Welcome,” his mom Elmase ushered us to sit down on hand-carved wooden chairs. I was suddenly ill-at-ease; a long sheer curtain in the doorway tickling my leg as I glanced down at a page of prepared questions that now seemed trivial.

I had anticipated stepping into Steve’s home and taking pride in my generosity that was providing for a Haitian family’s comfort. I would ask questions about his life and be satisfied that my money was doing a great thing. That I was successfully answering God’s call to serve the poor.

The poor.

That was my problem. Sitting in a tiny Haitian home a world away from my own family, I realized that to me they had simply been the poor.

The tall lanky teenage boy seated beside me in a slightly unstable wooden chair. The boy who likes soccer and probably enjoys watching an NBA game when the electricity is working. Up until that very moment in his home, to me, this boy Steve was the poor.

As I was struck with this new insight, my pride dissolved into shame.

   Steve spoke,

and I realized

he could be my own son.

The language was unfamiliar, but the sentiment was the same. He’s fond of some subjects in school and could do without others. He loves his little sister, but sometimes she’s annoying. And he wouldn’t mind a little privacy.

“I dream of having my own room,” he laughed at the unlikelihood and glanced at the door leading to a small room he shares with two younger siblings. I caught a glimpse of my oldest son Carter in his humor, but his eyes revealed something my three children do not have; a somber understanding of their life circumstances.

 If he were my Carter, my heart would house a continual ache from seeing the world at large strip him of his identity and lump him into the broad and undesirable category of the poor.

Conviction started weighing me down as I thought about the apathetic attitude with which I often walk through life.

“What is it that gets you through each day?” I asked Elmase thinking of how exhausting it must be to work daily for survival, and feeling guilty about the times I’ve grumbled about having nothing in the pantry.

“We’re living by the grace of God. Day-to-day we struggle to live.”

I knew as she said it that she understood the depth of God’s grace and mercy. And I began to wonder if I did.

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KEVIN

By the time I sat down at the second stop on my excursion, I felt completely unworthy of this Haitian hospitality.  Shifting my weight in a cheap white plastic chair in Kevin’s one-room home, the bright bubble gum pink walls mocked the darkness that was being unearthed from my heart.

 What must they be thinking of me, this rich American coming to satisfy my curiosity by peeking into their private lives?

   I wanted to go home.

I wanted to go back to feeling comfortable with me.

But once God shows you something, there’s no going back.

And He had a purpose in mind for this trip.

So I sat and I talked and I listened and I learned.

Kevin’s cousin Rosanna opened up her home to Kevin’s family after theirs was destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. Since that awful day, six people have been existing in this space smaller than my bedroom. Neither work nor food was a sure-thing in thing in this household.

   “Sometimes we only have one meal for the day,” said Rosanna. “And some days we have nothing at all.”

Kevin’s father and mother, who are a mechanic and a factory worker by trade, often go months without work, making feeding a family nearly impossible.

It is relatively easy and unconvicting to think about the collective poor who do not have enough to eat. But I found it almost unbearable to sit in the Haitian heat next to Kevin, a growing teenage boy without enough food, and Rosanna who selflessly opened her home to her extended family yet often goes to bed with a hollow in her tummy.

CONVICTED BY MY WORLDVIEW

By the end of my afternoon with the Mission to Haiti sponsor families, I was deeply convicted by the shallowness of my worldview. God used that experience to clear some junk out of my heart. Instead of obtaining that pat on the back that I was expecting from this experience, I received a change in perspective.

As I thought through the day’s events, I became aware of a few areas in which God wanted me to change my way of thinking.

The first was that of presumption.

To an extent, I had presumed the poor were without individual identities. And when I did so, I stripped them of their God-given uniqueness.  Just as God created me with a set of gifts and passions, so he created Steve and Kevin. When I lump the poor into one category, it’s like dumping the pieces of a hundred puzzles into one box. There is no hope of seeing the beauty of each individual picture.

I will be much more apt to love my Haitian brothers and sisters and all monetarily less fortunate Christians around the world when I see them for who they are, beautiful individuals created by God.  Carefully knit together in their mother’s wombs just like me.

I also became sickened by my pride.

I am no stranger to pride. There are arenas of my life in which I struggle to get off the teeter-totter ride of pride versus insecurity. But my charitable giving is not an area where I expected to be convicted.

God showed me that I have a tendency to give out of my abundance and then to expect to be blessed. I was reminded that he did not call believers to give so we could feel good about ourselves.  He called us to give because we are his children and that’s what his children do.

When I give to get something in return, whether monetary or emotional, I am stealing the glory from God and missing the point of the call. I do not want my actions to steal God’s glory.

The final area in which I’ve had to shift my perspective is that of entitlement.

That feeling that because I am an American I deserve a certain standard of living. I am not saying that hard work doesn’t lead to opportunity, nor that taking advantage of opportunities that will improve our status in life is a bad thing. I am saying that at the root of all opportunities or lack thereof, is God’s sovereignty. Steve and Kevin may become the hardest workers in the world, but because of circumstances beyond their control, they will likely never reach the state of physical wealth with I am blessed.

Doesn’t it make sense that to be the best stewards of what God has given us, we should do what we can to provide opportunities for kids like Steve and Kevin? That maybe instead of feeling entitled to what we have and feeling a little too good about ourselves when we give mechanically out of our abundance, we should strive to be more aware of just how and what God wants us to give; not to the generic poor, but to his own children living in poverty around the world.

I’m just a regular American mom, leading a regular American life. And I plan to continue to enjoy an occasional caramel latte, family vacations and a membership to the rec center.

But I will never again look at giving to the poor in the same way. The poor could be me. The poor could be you. And it took sitting in a tiny little home on a back road of Port au Prince Haiti for me to realize it.

**Head on over to Mission to Haiti, if you are interested in changing the life of a Haitian child.

Disclaimer: Pardon the length of this post. It was originally written for magazine specifications, but that publishing opportunity fell through. Also, as the publishing world can be excruciatingly slow, the things I’ve written about are not new to me. They are things God awakened me to a couple years ago, but I am definitely still in the process of learning to see the world the way God sees it.

Baby Clothes Heading to Heartline Ministries in Port au Prince, Haiti

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Thanks to all of your generous donations we have 76 little baby outfits boxed up and ready to head to Heartline Ministries Maternity Center in Port au Prince, Haiti.

In Haiti, a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 83. In developed countries the rate is 1 in 3,800.

Heartline Ministries is slowly and diligently working to change this.

Heartline has been working along side the courageous Haitian people in Port au Prince for more than twenty years. Heartline approaches Maternal Health care with a model based in quality care, love, respect, and relationship building. The women that enter the prenatal program are known by name, their stories are known by the midwives that help to see them through a safe pregnancy and delivery. – (heartlineministries.org)

Our donation of baby clothes will be added to gift bags given to the women who complete a child development class after the birth of their babies.

After the ladies in our prenatal program have their babies, they begin attending our Tuesday child development classes. Every week Haitian mothers show up faithfully for class. When they arrive their babies are weighed to check for proper weight gain. If a mother is having breastfeeding issues we work with her, encourage her, and give her the information she needs to continue to successfully nurse her baby. Then the women eat a high protein meal together.

After lunch the ladies attend the child development class. We teach about topics relating to parenting, motherhood, womanhood, nutrition, and breastfeeding. We see these classes as very important in empowering women with truth and life-saving information for themselves and their children. In addition to teaching, we also learn a lot from the women about Haitian culture. We teach, but we also listen. When class is over medical care is offered for the women and children who are sick. – (heartlineministries.org)

Please visit Heartline Ministries online and/or LivesayHaitiWeblog to learn more about the super awesome things that God is using them to do in Haiti’s capital city.

Rosemina Needs A Sponsor

Rosemina

Rosemina lives in the rural community of Guedon. Her father and mother are unemployed. Jobs are not always available. Rosemina has 2 sisters and 2 brothers.

For fun, Rosemina enjoys playing dolls with her friends. She is in Preschool 2 where her favorite subject is drawing.

Your prayers and support will help her reach her potential.

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The above photo is of children walking to or from school in the rural community of Joineau, one of the communities in which Mission to Haiti has a sponsor school.

People in rural Haitian communities live a couple centuries behind us in regard to technology and developments. Though cell phones, TV and Internet are available in the cities, many in the rural areas have never seen a television, been on the Internet or used a cell phone. It is common to have to walk a mile for clean water, and if a child has the opportunity to attend school, he or she may have to walk a couple miles to get there.

If you are interested in sponsoring Rosemina, head on over to missiontohaiti.org.

Our Mission to Haiti Sponsor Kids

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Corey and I are hanging out with Lucson and Pierre in this photo. They are roughly the same ages as Carter and Owen and we have been sponsoring them through Mission to Haiti for a number of years.

On our trip to Haiti in the spring of 2012, we had the opportunity to meet these guys and give them a few gifts.

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I thought it was important to introduce them to the best college in our nation. Go Cyclones!  We also gave them soccer balls with air pumps, school supplies, some toiletry items and beans and rice.

They were very appreciative, (a good soccer ball is like gold to a Haitian kid), but I think they would have preferred going home with my camera and my cell phone. They may be poor, but they are not naive about cool electronic gadgets!

The language barrier made conversation a bit tricky, but Corey kicked the ball around with them and when it was time to go, they wanted to know when we would be back.

“When will you come see me again?” “Don’t forget me.”

I have no idea when I will see them again, but I most definitely will not forget them. Mission to Haiti is excellent with communication, and they make it easy to send food and gifts to sponsored children. We get to watch them grow up through their photos and letters. And our children get a tiny glimpse of the life of a child who was not born into a country of wealth and opportunity like they were. It is a small way of helping them see a bigger picture of the world.

I mentioned last week that I would be focusing on child-sponsorship for a while. I plan to post a child’s photo each Tuesday this month. I have no desire to guilt anyone into taking on a child sponsorship, but maybe someone out there will see a child who tugs at their heart like Love Mara tugged at Jessica’s.

Livesay Haiti Weblog – Our Eyes are Open, But Do We See?

Better to love God and die unknown than to love the world and be a hero; better to be content with poverty than to die a slave to wealth; better to have taken some risks and lost than to have done nothing and succeeded at it. -erwin lutzer

I love the quote that graces the homepage of the Livesay family blog. I love the family’s passion for Christ and for the people of Haiti. I am amazed at the way they chose to give up this American life I’m living to plant roots in the dusty soil of Haiti: middle class comfort for life among the poverty stricken. And I am inspired to be willing to love like they do, even when the way God is asking me to love his people is uncomfortable.

I have been reading this blog for quite a while and want to introduce our 500 Dresses readers to this Jesus-loving family and their work in Haiti. The following is the start of yesterday’s post at livesayhaiti.  Take the time to read it and spend some time on their blog. I am positive you will be inspired, and if you are like me, maybe a little convicted.

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 photo from http://www.livesayhaiti.com/

Our Eyes Are Open, But Do We See?

I learned a while back that kids that grow up abroad can grow up with an entirely different experience than their parents.  They can and do observe and participate in the culture in their own separate and unique ways.

An expat friend of ours tells a story of teaching a class at a school where many wealthy kids attend. He asks the class, “What is it you would like to be able to see or do in your life?”  The high-school kids talk and name a few things. One boy says, “I would really like to visit a poor country some day.”

The school he attends where this question was posed, is located in Port au Prince, Haiti.

That student wants to visit a poor country.

*        *         *

Our son Isaac is many things.  He is an optimist on steroids and cotton candy on a sunny day at Disney World. When the clouds do roll in, his clouds drop gumdrops instead of raindrops and it only serves to make him even cheerier…

Click on the link to find the rest of this story.

Livesay Haiti Weblog