Playing Pastor: Canada vs the USA

Attach3600_20180702_131531 (1)Culture Matters. I grew up and went to college in the Southwest USA, got married in Dallas, and later moved to Winnipeg Canada with four kids and stayed for seven winters. Things were different there.

Winnipeg is a tad cooler than Tucson. Actually, Tucson may have hellish heat, but January in Winnipeg makes a Tucson summer seem like heaven. The politicians in the US take turns when they debate, in Canada they rudely interrupt, making it way more fun to watch. In the Southwest, we speak two languages but claim only English. In Winnipeg we claimed two languages but spoke only English. The countries have different movie rating systems – but we were shocked as to what offends and doesn’t in Canada. One night we rented the equivalent to a PG movie in Winnipeg, and suddenly saw WAY more than we bargained for. Seeing more skin doesn’t seem to offend much north of the 49th parallel. However kill a few people and an “adult” rating is imminent. One culture is squeamish about skin, the other about blood.

But nothing is as different between Canada and the USA as playing pastor.

When I was new in Winnipeg I used the illustration of a friend of mine, who was trying out for the police department in Tucson, who took me target shooting. After using that illustration I was met at the door after church by a young man, who said, “I think I will have to leave this church. I just don’t think I can follow a pastor who would shoot a handgun.”

We now live in New Mexico, and I was reminded of what happened in Winnipeg today. A friend from church took me out to show me what he does at work – in defense of our country. He let me pull the trigger on stuff way more fun than a handgun.

What fun!

Attach3601_20180702_131531Southwest American fun, not Canadian fun. That would have been mauling people in a hockey rink.

All this to say, culture matters. I quit using gun illustrations in Winnipeg, and the young man stayed and became a good friend. Our family learned about Parliament, a 5-party political system, and became dual citizens. I went from helping to bring in DC Talk and Newsboys for concerts in Tucson to learning to appreciate a pipe organ, stained glass, and a church with 100-year history in Winnipeg. I got rid of my gun before moving North, and got a 100-lb possessed dog to take it’s place. He was way more scary anyway.

But one thing about me didn’t change and never would no matter how long I had lived in Winnipeg.  I’d still be squeamish about skin.


Bizarre Christmas – coming out this Fall, 2018!



Christian Bourbon?

81rsS8+B3XL._SL1500_This week I got a 100-word email after my sermon that had an 8-word line in it I’d like to memorize. Our sermon topic was Awkward Church, which got this individual thinking. I hope you like his email as much as I did.

When I was about 11, we stayed with my grandparents for about a month when we were between homes. My father liked a glass of bourbon before dinner. Although he never drank himself, my grandfather kept a bottle of bourbon in a cabinet in his living room and invited my dad to have a drink each evening.

 A couple of years later, I asked my grandfather why he did this, believing as he did in abstinence from alcohol. His answer was short and concise: “Abstinence is a choice, hospitality is a commandment.”

It’s important for us to make sure we don’t treat our preferences like commandments.

God bless …


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Awkward Church

awkward-moment-in-churchWhat is your dream church? What kind of music, kids program, messages do you most like?

If we found our dream church, would it be good for us–or would it limit us?

I know what my dad would have liked. His dream would have been the Blackwood Brothers leading hymns, George Beverly Shea singing the special music, and fire-and-brimstone Billy Sunday doing the message.

I’m still more of a DC Talk, Josh Garrels, and Tony Evans kind of guy.

But, is getting what we want best for any of us? Does God divide Heaven up into contemporary and traditional services, Gregorian chants and hip hop? Will the Anglicans have a different service than the Baptists, or are all of us going to have to learn when to stand, sit, and repeat?

Let’s admit it. We are all somewhat selfish consumers when we choose a church. Maybe it is because of my job, but every time I attend another church, I can’t help but evaluate it. I end up asking myself deep theological questions like…

  1. Do they have close visitors parking? Surely if they cared about the unsaved and lazy visitors like me, they would provide guest parking.
  2. Is it going to be good coffee; or church coffee?
  3. After sitting down, I look at the stage. That way I know if I need hearing aids, earplugs, or if it gets my eternal approval and hitting that perfect balance between the two.
  4. Please no “greet the visitor” time. I’m shy already. Let me hide.
  5. After the service, what are they giving away? Coffee doesn’t count. I want a hat, a mug, a new iPad might even bring me back next week.

OK, I’m not that bad. But this week, as I look at what Scripture says about church, I have started to wonder…

Was growing up in a church not my style more healthy for me than if it had been one of my making? This study made me glad our church combined with Wellspring Anglican on Good Friday. It was awkward, I never knew if I was suppose to be sitting or standing, but a picture of Heaven nonetheless.

Here’s my thesis: I believe God made church awkward on purpose – so that we would mature.

Now that I think of it, Dad is in his dream church now. I wonder if learning when to stand and sit in Heaven was awkward.

3 Things That Only Happen in Haiti

View from rooftop in PaP

Thanks to so many who supported our trip to Haiti this year. I went early with a few, and here are 3 things that pretty much could only happen there…


1: Up to my armpits.

We had a couple of toilets we couldn’t get to flush correctly. One was the toilet the 96 too-young-to-aim preschoolers used. We really wanted that one working. The other was in the guys room where we stored the plunger for constant use even when the toilet works well. Anyhow, after removing one toilet with my coworker Jeff, a massive centipede came climbing up the pipe. It was amazing, as the pipe went straight down over 2 feet. I suppose the poop on the sides of the plastic gave him grip. The other one just had those 2” roaches flying out of it.

Centipede Home

Anyhow, we killed it when it reached the top, and that’s when I dropped the drill end tool I was using. The one I needed. The irreplaceable tool I needed, I dropped down the toilet hole of death. I didn’t want to think about what I needed to do – too much thinking leads to wisdom, otherwise called wimping out. So, I dove my hand down in there, felt around, grabbed it and yanked it out as fast as possible.

Had something, anything, crawled onto my hand, there would have been another brown spot on the floor.


2: Trash That Wasn’t

After replacing the two unfixable toilets, the trash people came. This isn’t like trash pickup here, it’s a couple guys in a flat bed truck that you pay to come. There is no trash pickup, people end up burning or burying it if they have a house, or just dropping it where they are if not. You have to pay someone to pick up your trash, and few have the money for that. It’s not safe to go to the dump without being somehow connected to the gang there. Anyhow the trash guys asked about the toilets, we said to take them. Suddenly two women working at our house said they wanted them.

We said OK.


We also had a busted suitcase when we arrived – one of the wheels and corners was totally missing. This wasn’t a big deal, we pick them up at garage sales for 5 bucks, and trash them when they get broken due to the harsh treatment. I had put that one in the trash pile the day before. Later I walked behind a building and saw another female worker washing it off with a hose and rag. It looked spotless.

My trashing it was a mistake.

The woman with the suitcase was taking it home to store things out of the dirt. It would become her dresser. I don’t know what will happen to the toilets, almost no one has running water. But, the problem was, I let people take stuff without asking the missionaries that run the place, Byron and Shelley, first. They know who got something last, who is in the greatest need, who would most benefit. When the first to speak up get something, the others can become bitter. Ignorance can cause issues.

After 12 trips, I’m still ignorant. And how humbling to see folks fighting over our trash. It’s confusing, the inequity of it all.


3: Haitian Realities and God’s Sovereignty

Fritz Boyle, who is an intern with Maranatha Ministries again this summer, wrote this last story for the Maranatha Newsletter. It is the reason we go – so that things like this have the opportunity to happen through the real missionaries on sight. I thought she could tell it better than me.


A few weeks ago, Maranatha became involved with distributing food for another orphanage in Port-au-Prince. The full story of why we became involved is wholly corrupt. Funds were being stolen, food and supplies were being mismanaged, children were starving to death. Once what was happening became evident to us, we involved our staff in buying and preparing food to feed these children. 

 A couple weeks after we became involved with food distribution at this orphanage, my parents came to visit. Shelley suggested (almost on a whim) that we all go on a field trip to the orphanage, so that my Dad (who is an ER doctor) could give the kids a medical examination and so that we could tell the kids the Easter story and how much Jesus loves them.  

 During the medical examinations, my Dad discovered that one of the younger boys in the orphanage had congestive heart failure and vocal cord paralysis. If these symptoms were due to malnutrition, then the condition of the boy was fatal; if we didn’t address it within a few weeks, he would die. His problem had to do with a severe deficiency in vitamin B1. 

 Vitamin B1 can be taken orally or in a liquid shot. The boy’s deficiency was so severe that in order for him to survive, he needed a concentrated shot of vitamin B1 as soon as possible. At that point, if he had taken it orally, his body wouldn’t be able to absorb it and he still would have died.

 And, here’s the thing. A concentrated vitamin B1 shot might not be an easy thing to find in Haiti. It’s just not as common to take it in a liquid form. And never in a thousand years would my parents have just randomly packed liquid vitamin B1 for their beach vacation with their daughters, EXCEPT THAT, Shelley and I have been wanting to take vitamin B12 shots (which are supposed to give you more energy if you’re exhausted all of the time) since October. You don’t mix the vitamin B1 with the other liquid vitamin until you’re ready to take the shot (for reasons that I am unaware of.) Normally, you can buy these shots in a dual chambered syringe that will mix the chemicals right before injection. Dad found it cheaper to buy bottles of the concentrated vitamins separately, though, and had intended to put together a whole bunch of shots once he landed in Haiti for Shelley and I. HOWEVER, by the glorious grace of God, even though the second vitamin had been packed tightly in a small box with bubble wrap so it wouldn’t break, it shattered on the way here. Dad was unable to mix the concentrated vitamin B1 with the other vitamins to make our shots. 

 He was able to inject this young boy with the concentrated vitamin B1 his body so desperately needed the very day after we discovered the deficiency, and we had enough to last us until my sister left to visit her friend in Florida and was able to bring us back more.

 But that’s just half of it. The symptoms of a vitamin B1 deficiency don’t present themselves in malnourished people until after they’ve been eating for a few weeks. Following WWII, they found that many holocaust survivors died after being rescued, even though they had started eating, because they had undiagnosed vitamin B1 deficiencies. A team of nurse practitioners spent two days trying to sort out the health issues with these children at the time that the plight of these starving kids was brought to our attention. They had examined every single one of those kids and didn’t notice any congestive heart failure or vocal cord paralysis. 

 What I’m saying is that if my parents had come a few weeks earlier, the vitamin B1 deficiency would have gone undetected. And if they had come a few weeks later, the kid would already be dead. God in His perfect, glorious, good will, brought these children’s condition to Shelley and Byron’s attention so they could start feeding them a few weeks before my parents visited, shattered the glass containing our other liquid vitamin on the way here, and then brought us on a spontaneous trip to the orphanage to save a life.

 Coincidences aren’t really coincidences. A volunteer/supporter of this orphanage has been faithfully praying for this orphanage and these children every single night with her kids. I am confident that her prayers and our God saved that boy’s life. I have no words except that our God is a God of grace and miracles. I was not involved in saving this boy’s life, but I was humbled and filled with joy to witness the work of our God.

 We continue to need direction and miracles for that orphanage. Pray with confidence of the sovereignty and goodness of our God.

Thanks for your support of us going for another year!



Some of the preschool kids

3 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Memorial Day

dad-franceThis was my blog for AnchorPoint Church this week, but I thought it fit here too. Before I get to the three things – I wanted to explain the picture. My Dad didn’t die in WWII, but I still remember him on Memorial Day. My sister found this picture after Mom died, with the writing on the back. They weren’t married yet, Mom was still attending school at Moody when Dad sent this picture to her during the war. OK, here we go, three things you probably didn’t know….

1: One of the first US Memorial Day services was organized by former slaves.

When the Civil War was winding down, the South had thousands of Union POWs. They made camps in South Carolina, and brought the men there. Conditions were so bad that, at one camp near Charleston, over 250 prisoners died. They made a mass grave behind the camp. On May 1, 1865, a few weeks after the war ended, more than 1,000 recently freed slaves, joined by some U.S. Colored Troops and some white folks from Charleston gathered to dedicate a proper burial site. They had one of the first memorial services, including hymn singing and readings.

2: Memorial Day didn’t become a Federal Holiday until 1971. 

For over 50 years, many individual states had a “Decoration Day,” to commemorate those killed in the Civil war. It wasn’t until WWI that the tradition extended to those in other wars, and it wasn’t until Viet Nam that Memorial Day became a Federal Holiday.

3: Memorial Day has ancient, even Biblical roots

The practice of honoring those who have died in battle is much older than America. The Greeks and Romans would hold public parties in honor of those who had died, especially soldiers. In Athens, they held public funerals for fallen soldiers after each battle. But, the Bible goes back further still.

In the Old Testament, Biblical memorials weren’t focused on those who died in battle, but on the God who did battle for them. Jacob makes a stone memorial in Genesis 28, and Joshua in Joshua 4.

However, the greatest memorial is our Communion Service, which is a bit of each kind of memorial above. Each communion service is a memorial to Jesus, who did battle with sin and won by dying for us – and who did battle with death and won by rising from the dead for us.

This Memorial Day, let’s give thanks for those who died to give us a freedom to worship – and, let’s give thanks to Jesus who is worthy of our worship.

Some facts were stolen from

I’ll give them back.

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The Illegal Grad Speech

grad hatWhat is the world so afraid of? We have sex education, gender identity, and abortion on demand, but seem paranoid to let a High School Valedictorian speak the name of Jesus.

Me thinks they protest too much.

Below is a short, stunning speech by Jennifer Swadell, Valedictorian of San Diego’s Grossmont High School in 2015 2003. School officials deemed the speech illegal. She had to write a new one without references to God or Jesus. In typical teenage righteous rebellion she concluding by saying, “Most of all, I want to thank the One who has rescued me and made the greatest impact on my life. But I am sorry to say it is illegal for me to say His name for you today.”

Love it.

 With graduation coming up, I thought you would want to read her disallowed short speech in its entirety, quoted from Christianity Today / IgniteYourFaith

 “Greetings to all students, faculty, administration, family and friends.

 I want to begin today by telling you a story about a young girl who seemed to have it all: friends and grades, confidence, religion, and love. Yet, one day this girl looked in the mirror and hated what she saw. Her forehead was too big, her teeth too crooked. She wore big ugly glasses and clothes without expensive labels.

 Others seemed to ignore her, so she began to realize she wasn’t worth their time. In fact, she wasn’t worth anything. Many people let her down and she stopped trusting anyone. She gave up and let herself live only to spite others, while trying to gain their respect through ceaseless efforts to be the best at everything.

 This girl entered high school bitter at the world and its emptiness. She criticized people she didn’t know, yet held a façade of confidence and control.

 One day this girl met some people who tried to show her otherwise, people who shared with her a love she had never felt before. She tried to push that love away, but it only loved her more. She would cry herself to sleep night after night, in hatred of the world, those around her, and, most of all, herself. Until, one day, the love finally reached her shattered heart. It was a love she had met more than 10 years previously, but that she had doubted and disregarded for so very long, that she had never taken as real in her life.

This love, that of Jesus Christ and his truly amazing forgiveness and compassion, finally became real to her. And when she made him the center of her life, it actually held meaning and purpose; it was worth something again.

 I’m sure all of you already know that I am describing myself. Those of you who know me, I am sure, know that I could not get up here and tell you anything of importance to me whatsoever, without reference to the most central part of my life, my faith in the Creator of the Universe, but more personally and important to me, the Creator of my life.

 He has taken me, a broken clay pot, and shaped me to something more like him. I am certainly not perfect, but he knows that. In fact, he has taken me into his family to be his child, knowing full well that I will continue to do exactly what I know is wrong. But the beauty of it is that he loves me still.

I recognize that many of you come from various backgrounds with different beliefs and values, and I am not up here to try to convince you that you are all wrong and must believe what I tell you. I only know what God has done for me in my life.

 I want to encourage you to take a challenge as you enter college and continue the search to find your identity—exactly who you are. I ask you to seek the truth with all your heart. Never be satisfied with unanswered questions. For so many years of my life, I doubted the truth I had and sought instead what the world had to offer. The only place I ended up was hopeless, not wanting to continue on such a meaningless journey . …

 Maybe there are some of you out there who, like I was for so long, have to search for a reason to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. To you, I wish to say, you are loved beyond belief.

Mom’s Day

mom and grandpaMy mom was born Dec. 12, 1922 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Last week at church we talked about what Ecclesiastes calls “crooked days.” It’s Solomon’s way of talking about hard, suffering, difficult bad days, and my mom had a few of those. She was the youngest of seven kids, and the light in her dads eyes. The picture is one of my favorites – of mom and her dad. He died when she was 12, and my grandmother decided my mom was too young to go to the funeral. Grandma sent her to school that day instead. A crooked day.

Mom’s sister introduced her to Jesus, when mom was a teenager. Back in those days, you had to choose one of two High School tracts. You could take the vocational, work right out of High School tract, or the College tract. Mom wanted the College tract, but her mom said that wasn’t for women, so had her enrolled in the vocational tract.

Mom prayed and waited.

Upon graduation, my mother left home, and got on a train for Chicago where she enrolled in Moody Bible Institute. She met my dad there, who soon after became a solder in WWII. Another crooked time.

Mom prayed and waited.

Mom graduated from Moody in 1945, and married my dad just after the war in ’46. They were missionaries in France from 1953-’56, mostly in Dijon. While there my dad got severe Pneumonia, and the doctors said he needed to have a lung removed to save his life, but they did not have the facilities in France at the time. My parents would have to return to America. The mission board sent the plane ticket, but mom didn’t have the money for a train ticket for her, dad, and their four kids to get from Dijon to Paris. There was no internet. Money took time to travel.

Mom prayed and waited.

Finally, the flight was just one day away. When mom picked up the mail, she had a letter from one of her sisters, who had promised to support them when they were in France, the same sister who introduced mom to Jesus. However, she had not given anything for the last three years. Feeling guilty a month before, she wrote a check for the three years giving she had held back and sent it all at once. That day, the day before mom and family had to leave; the check arrived in the mail. This money that probably would have been spent, rather than saved, had her sister sent it in on time.

Only the bank wouldn’t cash it. Yet another crooked day.

As an out of country check, it would take weeks or more to clear. Mom, with kids in tow, walked home and prayed.

God gave her an idea.

She ran with kids back to the bank just before it closed and asked them, “Would you please call the American Embassy in Paris, to see if they will back the check?”

They did.

Years later I remember my brother, ten years older than me, going AWOL from Christianity upon leaving home after High School. They were hard times for my parents, especially mom.

Mom prayed and waited. Every night, every devotion, I heard my parents pray for all their kids, but especially for Dave.

David came back to Christ some years later, just before I left home after High School. But for all those years I heard lots of praying, saw lots of waiting, and it affected me. David came back.

When JoLynn, our four kids, and I moved to Winnipeg in 1998, someone from the church in Winnipeg had secured a rental for us. I’m sure their intentions were good; but… mercy.

It was a cool old house in a nice neighborhood, and would have been great for a newlywed couple.

We weren’t newlyweds.

The floor slanted over a foot from the NW corner to the SE. You couldn’t use a desk chair with wheels without blocking it in place. Pencils rolled off tables. Cabinet doors hung open. It was 1600 sq ft on 3 different floors, so it seemed to be 1000 sq ft of stairs and 600 ft of living space. The good thing was it had a basement to store our extra stuff – which worked well until the sewage backed up. I suppose the worse part of it all however was the landlady. Words fail me.

We moved in October 2. My mom came from Arizona to visit in November. She said, “Danny, you can’t live in this place!”

“Mom,” I replied, “I know that, but we signed a one-year lease, and we can’t get out of it.”

“Well,” she replied, “I’ll just pray that you do!”

Mom prayed. That was Friday. She flew back to Arizona on Saturday.

We waited. I believe it was Monday when our landlady called to say she had filed for bankruptcy and we had to vacate the house.

I could go on of course, but you get the point.

Happy Mothers Day. I’m sure grateful for mine, and that my kids got a mom much like her.



Bizarre Book Cover Help

I have a little stocking-suffer book scheduled to come out through Heritage Builders this Fall, for Christmas.

What do you think of the proposed cover? I especially loved the bug, scientist, and Mary making diapers out of underwear. Hopefully that won’t offend too many….

Any suggestions? Anything you love? loathe? Of course, without reading the stories it all doesn’t really make sense – but that is why your opinion is more helpful than mine.

Thanks for your help!

Hoping people buy books based on their covers,




miracle-on-voodoo-mountain-wide-800x445Read through without groaning.

I can’t.

I was wondering, why would a single, white gal from the states move to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? It’s dangerous. It’s hot. It stinks.

You take one-step off the plane and you groan.

That’s the reason.

In Mk 7:31-37 Jesus is moved by a mans suffering, and groans.

Later in Mark 8:12 when the Pharisees refuse to believe, Jesus groans.

This is the same word used in Romans 8:22 when it says all creation groans under the curse.

We pray, “Thy Kingdom done, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” God has given us the power to bring a taste of Heaven to Earth, but we will never be effective in that commission without heartfelt groanings. We have to hate the curse. And we have to want Heaven.

Last week we had Sue who lives in Port-au-Prince come stay with us. I asked why she moved to Haiti on Sunday. The answer?


The article below can help put it in perspective. It is from one of my favorite books, Miracle on Voodoo Mountain. It is writing by a 20-something-year-old gal who also moved to Haiti. I cut and pasted some sections of it below – in the hopes that it will get you to purchase it here.

Book Excerpt below [except brackets]

 Deye mon gen mon./ Behind the mountain, there are mountains.–A Haitian proverb

As I sat on the roof and watched the sun go down on my second day in Haiti, I ate another energy bar for dinner. I felt so very alone. Am I crazy? My friends are right. I must be crazy to leave such a great life in the States for a place like this. I don’t even know why I’m here. Oh Lord. Did I make a mistake? Should I just go back home?

 I needed to hear a familiar voice that night, so I made a quick decision to splurge on an expensive two-minute cell phone call to my mom. As soon as I heard her voice, the tears began to well up in my eyes.

“I’m fine, Mom.” I tried hard to keep my voice steady and to sound sure of myself even though I wasn’t. “It’s beautiful here.” As I got off the phone I repeated the same routine as the night before, except this time my sobs and sniffles drowned out the beating drums in the distance as I cried myself to sleep.

I awoke the next day to the same goat-chicken-pig-people sounds and knew if I stayed around the house again all day, I would implode with fear and anxiety. I ate my breakfast energy bar, dried up my tears, and looked at David, the roof boy….

I pointed to myself, then moved two fingers like legs walking uphill and pointed toward the front of the house to show him I wanted to walk to Bellevue Mountain. It was the only place I had a name for in Gressier, and since I had holed myself up in the house for two days, I thought it would be refreshing to get out.

“Okay,” David said with a smile. He got it! I smiled, too, with a little jolt of happiness at having a plan, if only a small one…. Tons of children waited for their turn at the community water pump right outside of my gate. I looked at my feet as we walked, avoiding the gaze of dozens of dark brown eyes on me. As we strolled down the street, people yelled at me in Creole, and children ran up and grabbed my hands and clothes.

I followed close behind as he led me down the uneven brown road. We stepped onto a narrow footpath with clumps of weeds and bushes dotting the sides. We walked through a group of long-horned cows with tiny ropes around their necks, grazing peacefully. The path wound between a few decrepit houses and down into a small valley through a leafy green mango grove where the soil was rich and dark. As the path began to curve upward, we climbed a steep hill and came through some bushes to the top. It was flat and green, and my eyes followed the path that cut through the grass until I saw it. There, just as I remembered, stood the tamarind tree. It was a rich dark green, about twenty feet tall, with a single sturdy trunk and strong, supple branches that curved gracefully down at the ends.

I waved toward the tree and the land around it and asked, “Bellevue Mountain?”


 …The top of Bellevue Mountain is a beautiful place. A cow relaxed nearby on the lush green grass, and I could see beyond the edge of the mountain all the way out to the turquoise sea. I smiled and took a deep breath, staring off into the distance.

A movement caught my eye, and that’s when I first saw her–a little girl, maybe six or seven years old. She was wearing a raggedy, soiled, yellow tank top that was too big, hanging off one shoulder down to her thin elbow. It must have been a woman’s shirt, and she wore it as a dress.

She was barefoot with matted orange hair, and her bony figure screamed of malnutrition. I watched as she threw a rock at a blackbird.

I felt drawn to her. She was so little. What is she doing out here all alone? I remembered the girls I’d seen earlier that morning, walking to school. They each wore a uniform with their hair neatly braided and tied with bright ribbons. Why isn’t she in school?

 I got close enough to call out, “What are you doing?” I was sure she didn’t understand me, so I glanced at David, and he repeated my question in Creole…

The little girl answered back in Creole. “There are two blackbirds.” David turned toward me to translate… “Yes, I see them. But what are you doing?” I asked again.

As she rocketed off in Creole, I received another loose translation from David. “Throwing rocks at birds.”

“Yes, I see. But why?”

Her beautiful brown eyes widened as she looked up at me. “To eat!”

…Bernard arrived shortly after to help with translation; David had called him when we left the house. Bernard was fluent in Haitian Creole and English, which he’d learned from a group of deportees from Brooklyn.

A few moments later I saw an older woman walking up the mountain toward us. She spoke broken English and told me the little girl’s name was Michaelle (Mick-kay-ell). Then, in an emotionless voice, she explained, “Mother dead. No father. Nobody wants her.” She looked at me, then turned to Bernard and began explaining in Creole that no one wanted Michaelle, so she had taken her in. She called herself Michaelle’s aunt, even though they weren’t related.

…The woman continued, telling Bernard her house had been destroyed in the earthquake and she’d moved from outside of Port-au-Prince to Gressier several months ago. “No one wanted Michaelle, so I brought her here although I can hardly afford to feed her.” Bernard looked at me, his eyes sad as he translated.

“Does Michaelle go to school?” I asked.

“No, she can’t go to school. No money,” she said.

…Early the next day I found the path and climbed Bellevue Mountain again, following the woman’s instructions to find Michaelle in a big blue tent on the side of the mountain with the older woman, four other children, and several adults. The relationship this mishmash family shared was unclear and unsettling.

Michaelle was playing in front of the tent in the same ragged yellow dress she had worn the day before. When she saw me, she ran inside and changed into a blue-and-white princess dress costume with white shoes and ankle socks. Her excitement propelled her ahead of me down the path. I had to walk fast to keep up with her. As I followed her down the mountain, I wondered who she was and why she was living in such a strange situation. Is it because of the earthquake? How did her mom pass away? Why was she trying to eat a bird? Was she really that hungry? Why isn’t she being fed? And why was she wearing that old yellow rag when she had a cute dress to wear? I had lots of questions, and I wanted some answers.

A person’s a person, no matter how small. –Dr. Seuss

 “Non,” she shouted, clinging with all of her strength to the branches of a scrawny little bush in the mango grove. Michaelle was refusing to let go. It was a Sunday morning, and we were halfway up the path to the blue tent on the mountain where she lived. With tears streaming down her face, yelling and screaming hysterically, words poured out of her so fast I couldn’t understand even one syllable. I crept closer and sat down next to her in the dirt. When I got down on her level, I realized I didn’t have to understand any Haitian Creole to know what was going on. I didn’t need to understand a single word to see that her face was filled with fear, fear of returning to her tent. I was rocked by the waves of terror emanating from her tiny seven-year-old body.

My heart ached, and I felt anxiety rising inside because I knew I couldn’t really talk to her, even though I tried. In my most soothing and confident voice, I called her Micha (pronounced “Mee-ka,” my new nickname for her) and told her everything was going to be okay, but it didn’t seem to help. After a few minutes of feeling completely helpless I, too, burst into tears as I stared, transfixed, at her frail body shaking and plastered to the dusty bush. I’d never before felt so helpless, and I begged God to show me what to do. Why is this happening? Please! Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.

 …Micha’s aunt and the others in the tent where she lived didn’t seem to love her. At least they didn’t show it when I was around. It was so confusing. Why is Micha so sad all the time? Why is she the one that seems to be doing all of the household chores and all the work? Why doesn’t she want to go back home? The questions and curiosity and confusion swirled around in my brain and wouldn’t stop. My stomach clenched, telling me there was something deeper happening and I needed to find out what it was. After the emotionally exhausting morning I wrenched open the front gate, crossed the front yard, and burst through the front door, frantic to find my cell phone. I needed answers, and I didn’t care how expensive the Internet data charges were going to be.

I turned on my cell phone and pulled up Google. Then I typed in the three words that would forever change my life: Haiti + child + servant.

 A word I’d never heard before popped up in big, black, bold letters: restavek.

I froze, staring at the word on my cell phone screen for a good five minutes before scrolling down. There is actually a name for this way of treating children in Haiti. My mind reeled in confusion. I didn’t want to believe it, but as I continued reading, my head felt as though it would explode with this horrific discovery. The word restavek (sometimes spelled with a c instead of a k) is translated “to stay with” and is a common arrangement in Haiti, where parents force a child to live with another family because they are very poor or because of parental death or illness. Sometimes it includes the child being sold, kidnapped, or borrowed for a period of time.

I read a statement by the United Nations, condemning the restavek system as a “modern form of slavery” where even young children are put to work as laborers and treated as less than human.1 The majority of these restaveks are girls between the ages of four and fifteen, and they are responsible for all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and fetching of water for their households. Additionally, restaveks often suffer severe abuse and are very rarely enrolled in school.

There was much more, but I’d seen enough, and I put down  my phone. The room felt as though it was spinning. “Micha,” I gasped. Like an overwhelming rush, everything started to make sense. This is why she wasn’t in school when I met her. This is why I always saw her carrying heavy buckets of water or washing clothes in a tub outside the tent or surrounded by endless piles of dirty dishes. This is why she sleeps under a table on cardboard.

 Like a slideshow, images from the last few weeks popped up in my head as I remembered the many young girls I’d seen around Gressier who seemed to be working constantly. I had wondered why they stared down at the ground, eyes glassy and sad, and shoulders drooping. It was all starting to make sense, and I knew I had just made a life-changing discovery; I was finally able to put a finger on the disturbing feeling that had crawled its way up into my heart every time I passed these children. It was as if I could see the darkness of the situation and the evil behind it. I realized what the Holy Spirit had been stirring up in me the past few weeks, and I felt as though the Lord was igniting a fire inside me.

Children’s faces, one after another, popped into my head as I realized that Bellevue Mountain and much of Gressier were full of restaveks in an epidemic of child slavery. It made me sick to my stomach that I had been walking around this community for the last few weeks, knowing that something was wrong, wanting to question the situation, but not knowing how to begin. And it made me even sicker to know that so many Haitians had accepted and participated in this form of slavery in their own country with their own people.

I couldn’t find any firm statistics, but organizations that had studied the situation estimated that 300,000 to 500,000 children in Haiti are restaveks. I couldn’t get my mind and heart around that number. I still can’t. I never will…

I knew cooking pots of beans and rice or singing songs with kids wasn’t going to be enough.

[Get the book here.

I get to go back to Haiti this summer. What a privilege.]

 Romans  8:26 (NLT)  The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.


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Does Youth Ministry Matter?

I started youth ministry at Camp Peniel. From there I went to church ministry. I still remember wondering what I had gotten into when someone in my first church gave me an article on the horrors of listening to Amy Grant.

Where do you go with that?

Fairly early on in church ministry I met Mark Matlock, who later became the President of Youth Specialties. He has a free book download you can get by clicking on the picture below.

It’s worth the price.

OK, more than that.

If your church is struggling with what to do with youth, how to fit them into the overall ministry, or control their obnoxious flirting,  this book can help. I’m not sure there is a cure for Amy Grant.

Kidding – still love Tennessee Christmas.