Tag Archives: haiti

Max and the Haiti Music Camp (or, when teenagers are given space to lead)

my 16 year-old son max is going to haiti for a month this summer. he’ll be part of a small team of four people partnering with leaders from my church’s sister church in carrefour to host a two-week music camp for children in the community around the church.

this is a perfect mix of max’s interests and passions: he’s very much into music (he’s a drummer, but plays other instruments, and is fascinated by music theory); he loves serving, and is particularly gifted with children (he volunteers, without any push from his parents, in the children’s ministry at our church); he’s passionate about justice and people in need (again, without any provocation from us, he has regularly, for years, joined a group of people who befriend homeless people in downtown san diego); and he’s had an interest in haiti since he was little (long before the earthquake, he did a massive school report on the country, and knows all about its history).

but all of max’s passions and interests might have sat semi-dormant if it weren’t for adults who cleared a pathway for him to activate, by organizing the trip, including him as an equal, and clarifying the needs.

in response, max has done the following things (TOTALLY on his own — i usually found out about these things he was doing after the fact):

  • max is actively collecting instruments for the music camp. he is unapologetically asking people for donations. he asked on facebook, asked musicians at church, and met with the owner of our local music store to make a big ask. the music store owner came through in a major way, donating this wonderful collection to the cause (which was a neat fit, as the music store owner had just launched a website of unique world music instruments):


  • max is taking a four-week crash course in creole language and culture, every thursday night:

creole class

  • max is organizing (completely on his own) a benefit concert for the camp. he found a location, volunteers, put together a facebook page, and continues to develop a robust line-up of solo artists and bands of a wide variety of rock, pop and folk genres. the concert is this friday night. if you live in san diego, there are worse ways you could spend a friday evening.

music camp concert

  • max (with help from us — this is one of the only aspects we helped him with) sent out support letters to friends and family around the country. since most of his personal trip costs are being covered by himself and us, the majority of the funds coming in will go directly to the costs of running the camp.

of course, i’m extremely proud of my son; amazed even. but all of this has also been a great reminder to me of what kenda dean wrote about in one of her earliest books, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church. instead of merely treating teenagers as consumers (as the vast majority of churches do), or even the step-in-the-right-direction of giving them roles in the church, what would it look like if we tapped into teenagers’ natural interests and passions (this is really what morgan schmidt writes about in her book Woo: Awakening Teenagers Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus), providing rails to run on and then getting out of the way? yup: teenagers will lead. and teenagers will remind us what passionate faith looks like, in action.

by the way, if you’d like to support max’s trip, i’ll let him ask you in his own words (copied from a facebook status):

this is really important! i’m going to haiti this summer for the month of july to put on a music camp for street kids and orphans, and we need money. $35 pays for one child’s tuition to the camp, and $50 pays the salary of one music teacher (although we will accept any amount). this camp will create jobs, create mentorships, and give the kids a sense of purpose. please help us show these kids that someone loves them.

if you’d like to help, you can donate here. all donations through this site in the next few weeks will go directly to camp tuition scholarships and haitian music teachers working the camp.

“haiti does not have a shortage of construction workers”

a couple nights ago, i sat in the back row as jim noreen, the haiti operations director for praying pelican missions, went through an orientation for a group of about 30 from a church in mississippi. the group was mostly adults, with only a few kids and teenagers (who were there with parents).

this particular church has taken many trips to haiti, and has developed something of a church partnership with a large baptist church in carrefour (through praying pelican). one of the projects that haitian church has told praying pelican they want help on is the construction of another church about a half hour away. so PPM has been bringing teams to that construction project for a year or two (adam mclane lead a group of youth workers on a vision/exploratory trip here earlier this year, and they spent time in mariana at that project).

but as jim was prepping the group for the start of their work the next morning, he said something i’d not heard from a short-term missions organizer before. he said (this is a paraphrase, but pretty close to what he said):

tomorrow we’ll be working on the mariana church, and will be helping pour the concrete columns for the bathroom area of the church. but i want to be clear about something: haiti does not have a shortage of construction workers. and we are not here to replace the work that local construction workers need. so, part of your trip fee was given to the pastor to hire a group of skilled haitian construction workers, who will be completely leading the work tomorrow. we’ll only be extra hands for them to direct. and that means, it’s not a race to get the work done. our goal is not to complete a certain amount tomorrow. our goal is to work alongside the volunteers from the church who will also be there. our goal is relationships.

wow. that really caught my attention. so often when i’ve been on missions trips, our work has been in almost complete isolation from any real interaction with locals. it was almost as if we had our “physical work” (a project of some sort) and our “relational work” (playing with kids at an orphanage, or something similar).

the “don’t worry about the pace, since that’s not the point” approach reminded me very much of my experience visiting zappos.com, and how they measure the success of their customer service phone reps based on how LONG phone calls are, not (in direct opposition to normal customer service metrics) how SHORT phone calls are.

really, what a great perspective. of course, we know that our work as youth ministry people is relational. but there are certain “projects” (construction or otherwise) that don’t seem to fall within the purview of the relational bits of ministry. doesn’t have to be that way, though. and i saw it yesterday, on the work site. cool interactions, permission to play, encouragement to grab a translator and forget the buckets of water, dirt and rocks that our bucket brigade moved for the concrete work.

here are a handful of pics showing that (all taken during the work project):






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my favorite haiti pics, so far

after three days, these are my favorite photos from our trip to haiti:

max tries to use his elementary school french class memory to buy some water for us from a street vendor:


adam photobombs an awesome kid i was playing with at an orphanage:


with praying pelican staff member eric, my beard brother:


an unfortunately mis-translated stenciling on the wall outside the airport (i think it’s supposed to say “arrested”):


our amazing praying pelican host, jim noreen, with sister mona, quite possibly the sharpest firecracker of an orphanage leader i’ve ever met:


lunch with the youth group from columbia baptist church (falls church, VA), in the mountain town of hinche:


cross town traffic:


max and adam devouring some amazing sugarcane:


this little beauty, enjoying some simple play with a youth group, at an orphanage:


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responsible short term missions starts with humble leadership

any youth worker who has taken a group on a short-term missions trip has seen the way it has impacted the lives of teenagers. that’s why so many youth workers make these sorts of missions trips a key aspect of their programming. we want to be sensitive to cultural issues, and we don’t want to hurt the communities where we serve. but we tend to be pragmatists, and we get stoked about seeing our teenagers have their developmental narcissism poked, and seeing their worldview shaped.

i remember, with some embarrassment and regret, some of my earliest missions trips. i’m sure we did some good. and i’m sure there was some sort of impact on the lives of the junior highers i took. but, really, way too much of the trip was about us. i remember building tiny little homes (the sort that a group of junior highers was capable of building); and i remember being asked why we were building something so small. while i don’t think i could admit it at the time, i’m pretty sure our reasoning was more about what we could do (and how we could do it all on our own). there wasn’t any partnership, really, with the vision of a local church or even the family who would receive “our gift.” i remember mexico border town missions where we “led children to faith in jesus” who had certainly made the same “decision” every week during the summer, for each group of visiting gringos, who were obviously pleased (and deeply gratified) by the children’s learned responses.

but it doesn’t have to be that way.

i loved adam mclane’s post (adam is with me here in haiti) yesterday on this very subject. read his post When Helping Helps (it’s really good).

marko with youth workers

and i think i’ve learned this lesson. but it was great to see humble leadership in place today here in haiti. we’re with jim noreen, the haiti operations director for Praying Pelican Missions. they have 170 americans in haiti this week from a whole bunch of churches. they’re working on multiple sites, in multiple forms of ministry. today we’ll be joining a group who’s arriving from mississippi, and will be mostly with them for the next few days. but these first two days, we drove around with jim and visited all the other groups.

and here’s the math equation i saw working…

a visionary and humble local pastor + a missions organization committed to long term relationships of serving the local church’s agenda + a youth worker who’s committed to coming under the leadership of the local indigenous church leadership = great short term missions.

if any one of those first three components are missing or compromised, things go wrong very quickly. the teenagers themselves might not see the skew. they might still return home all charged up, full of great memories and stretched hearts. but the impact doesn’t really have a kingdom scent to it. and, the long term results will just be flat (in the lives of all involved).

the first two components are very much about choosing to work with the right missions organization. but the last one: well, that’s on us. today i had the privilege of meeting and hanging out with a handful of youth workers who “got it.” they set the tone for their groups in word and deed. it’s one thing to organize a trip. it’s another thing to constantly provide a model in word and deed of honoring and following (ooh, that’s a big one!) the local church leadership. our little american autonomous selves sometimes find it hard to put ourselves under someone else’s authority, particularly when we have a culture (including our church culture) that tells us that people with more stuff are of more value.

but that’s when things get really good, when we voluntarily set aside our preferences and assumptions and valuations, and place ourselves under the vision and leadership of local leadership. yeah: then this short term missions stuff can be a BIG WIN for the kingdom, and for everyone involved.

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impressions of haiti after three years

IMG_4556i arrived in haiti sunday morning, after more than three years since my last visit. we spent the day visiting a few missions teams, and seeing a handful of the ministry partners who work with Praying Pelican Missions.

while they did cover my expenses for being here, this bit is not a line they fed me or anything i’m writing out of obligation: i totally dig their approach and attitude. they are all about serving the local church, and seem meticulous in protecting that vision. it’s one thing to say, “we want to serve the local church,” but still have a “we white westerners know what you need” attitude; but the PPM staff seem to fully embrace an attitude of humility and “we are less.”

i’ll probably write more about the actual work we’re seeing on another day; but i want to return to my impressions upon returning. my first two visits to haiti were in february and may of 2010, closely on the heels of the earthquake. even though there was some evident progress made in those months, the situation in may of 2010 was still pretty bleak. while i have plenty of stories of individual haitians i met on those trips that have become part of my own story, the single image–or reality–that best summed up the complexities of those days was the image of a tent city.

IMG_0056these tent cities–mostly comprised of makeshift “tents,” not real tents–were everywhere. hundreds of thousands of people were living in them. and the living conditions were horrendous.

on the upside: almost all of the tent cities are gone now. i saw maybe three of them as we drove through port au prince and carrefour today. i’m sure there are plenty more than that, but it’s a fraction of what was. and all over the place, i saw construction and life.

that was encouraging.

but the realities of life here in the poorest country in the western hemisphere haven’t abated. and there’s zero debating this: they haven’t yet “recovered” from the destruction of the earthquake.

i’ve been to plenty of poor countries. and in one sense, any attempt to say which is better or worse is a waste of time: complex systems of poverty–whether you live in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, or the seventh poorest country in some other part of the world–are overwhelming.

one thing i’m looking forward to this week is getting a better sense of the haitian church’s identity post-earthquake. my sense had been, during those first trips here, that the haitian church struggled with figuring out her sense of self. i witnessed the church coming alive during those early post-earthquake months, stepping up with a sense of confidence in a lived-out gospel. it was great to meet a handful of church leaders today, and hear, over and over again, how they are all actively involved in loving their neighborhoods in significant and tangible ways.

so: hope is alive in haiti. but the work is far, far, far from over.

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thanks for your help in saving the lives of haitian orphans!

the other day i posted a desperate cry for help. an orphanage i’d visited in haiti, and that teams from my church have visited and helped many times over the past year, was discovered to be trafficking children. i asked you to click through and sign a petition to apply some pressure to those who had the power to shut the orphanage down (the 6 churches and ministries involved — my church being one of them — had already prepared placement for all the kids in the orphanage). many of you clicked through, and many of you passed along the need on facebook and other social networking sites. we met our goal of 10,000 signature (passed it, in fact).


i just got this facebook message from a woman in my church who’s there right now!

It’s done!! You guys, we won! After a morning full of police, guns, and arrests the kids were loaded up and they are now on their way to safety! Praise you Jesus!!

thank you, jesus, indeed.

and thank you, whyismarko readers.

update: abcnews.com coverage

please help stop this horrible case of human trafficking that is close to my heart

last year, when i visited haiti two times, i mentioned the son of god orphanage over and over again. i posted photos, told stories, and rallied people. i brought my church’s senior pastor to haiti, and we established a church to church partnership that has, over the last 15 months, flourished in beautiful ways, including hundreds people from our church visiting the son of god orphanage, and a wide variety of help being provided.

i connected with a boy named jean-michelle there on one of my trips (this photo is of me and him), and keep his little signature taped to the wall in front of my desk. he gave it to me and asked, “please remember me.” it makes me ill to wonder whether jean-michelle is still there or has been sold off (or killed off, or abused) in the year since i’ve seen him.

so, i’ve been so sad over the last few months to have suspicions raised about mistreatment and trafficking. now, the proof has been documented. and six organizations — my church among them — are lobbying various haitian and american governmental agencies, as well as cnn and some other organizations, to shut this orphanage down quickly, before the remaining children are sold or abused in some other way. as the press release below states, there is strong reason to suspect that the haitian governmental department responsible for oversight in this area is complicit in the problem, which great complicates it.

here’s the press release that was issued yesterday:

After continued visits to the Son of God Orphanage in Carrefour, Haiti, six charitable organizations (Adventures in Missions, Bridgeway Church, Timberline Church, Children’s HopeChest, Journey Community Church, and Respire Haiti) have challenged the global community to force the hands of international leaders in the closure and investigation of the facility.

According to eye-witness accounts, the children at SOG have suffered some of the most heinous human rights abuses at the hands of the director of the orphanage, Maccene (Max) Hyppolite and his family.

Despite consistent delivery of relief for each child, including food, clothes, and medicine, the children have continued to suffer from malnourishment, curable diseases and parasites, as well as complete neglect of acute medical conditions.

A recent account included a one-year old baby who was severely burned and not treated until almost two weeks later.

Police conducted a successful sting operation after numerous individuals had been solicited by Hyppolite to purchase children. In July of 2011, Max Hyppolite was arrested while attempting to sell one of the orphans and he is currently in prison for child trafficking in Port au Prince.

Continued accounts from as recent as October 13th, 2011 indicate that the situation has only become worse, and to date there are 53 children who have disappeared and are unaccounted for.

The orphanage is currently being run by Hyppolite’s wife, Mary, who not only continues to say she does not know the whereabouts of the children, but has also threatened the lives of the relief workers who have sought assistance in from the Haitian government organization, IBESR (Institut du Bien Etre et de Recherches).

Given the sharing of information from IBESR to the Hyppolite family, cause for speculation has arisen regarding the government’s involvement in the trafficking of the children.

The six aforementioned organizations have worked together with Change.org to bring this issue to light. They have asked the global community to give these children the voice that has been stolen from them in hopes of world leaders recognizing the human rights violations occurring and the immediate call for the closure and investigation of the Son of God Orphanage in Haiti.

would you please help in this tiny, simple, but powerful way? would you please click though on these two petitions, and sign them both? please: close to 2000 people read this blog every day. if each of you would take 2 minutes (literally) to do this, you could play a role in saving the lives of these precious children in haiti.

Sign the original petition urging CNN to expose abuse & trafficking at Son of God Orphanage in Carrefour, Haiti
Sign the follow-up petition calling on Haitian President Michel Martelly and global leaders to close Son of God Orphanage and order an immediate investigation of the IBESR

relevant magazine article on my church’s partnership with a haitian church

i was totally stoked to see that relevant magazine published an article about adventures in missions’ church-to-church partnership program, which connects american churches with haitian churches. the article uses my own church as the primary illustration. it’s been so cool to see my church lean into the vision for this thing. we’ve had two teams travel to our partner church already, and three more trips are planned between now and january (construction teams, medical teams, and care-giving teams, all serving under the vision and leadership of the partner church pastor).

here’s a taste of the article:

Pastor Edouard Clerhomme and Pastor Ed Noble likely never would have met if an earthquake hadn’t filled Haiti’s streets with rubble. But now the relationship between them and the churches they lead is growing into something that has life beyond the tragedy.

In late May, Noble, the pastor of Journey Community Church in La Mesa, Calif., traveled to Haiti with a group of ministry bloggers to help kick off the Church-to-Church Program through which interdenominational missions organization Adventures in Missions (AIM) is facilitating direct partnerships between churches in Haiti and churches in America.

As they met Haitian pastors already in AIM’s network of trustworthy pastors and churches, Noble and Mark Oestreicher, a speaker, author and consultant from his congregation, were hoping to find the church that Journey Church could partner with.

By the last day of the visit, they still hadn’t met a pastor who felt like the right fit. Yet they had a sense about Clerhomme and were hopeful as they headed to their meeting with him. “Our meeting was stunning,” Oestreicher says. “It was one of those rare moments where God’s presence was obvious.”

click here for the rest of the article.

click here for more info on aim’s church-to-church program.

click here to see my church’s “journey in haiti” blog.

youth leaders and church leaders: interested in exploring a trip to haiti?

i’m so glad i took adam mclane to haiti this past february. i’m glad because i really enjoy him as a friend, and it was great to spend that week with him. but it’s much more than that — adam was clearly moved on our trip, and followed up by taking a 2nd trip this summer, with a random crew of peeps he recruited via social media (as only adam would do).

but now’s he’s at it again. adam wants to take 10 – 15 youth leaders and church leaders on a trip to port-au-prince, december 26 – january 1. he’s specifically hoping to include people on the trip who are either considering taking a group (but want to check it out first), or are considering a church partnership.

here’s adam with a few details:

i couldn’t encourage you to go more strongly. my church has a church partnership that has already been so wonderful for both churches (in fact, my church has a team in haiti at this moment!).

if you’re interested, contact adam: facebook, flickr, website contact page, twitter, or walk into the freakin’ ys office and let him show you the bullet hole in his window.

meet geftay and john, or, why people give

i think i miscalculated something. please hear me on this: what i’m about to explain is not an attempt to guilt anyone or manipulate. i thought about how i should write about this, and realized that my blog isn’t about spin, and that i should just say what’s on my mind. so here it is, my miscalculation…

i thought it would be super easy to raise $35,000 for AIM’s church to church program. i think (and thought) it’s such a unique and revolutionary approach to long-term help for haiti. and i think (and thought) people would be quickly “in” on helping finance that kind of thing, particularly when the funds we were trying to generate are for the express purpose of providing the salaries of a few haitian church leaders.

but, man, i miscalculated. so far, our efforts have brought in a total of about $750 (plus a $3500 offering taken at my own church a week ago), even though we’ve had tens of thousands of blog readers and radio listeners hear about it. some of our team think people in the US have “haiti fatigue”. that may be true; but i’ve been very pleased with the response to the church partnership program in terms of interested churches (this was the very successful part of our trip there this past week). and i can already tell that the partnership my own church has formed will be transformational for both churches. so i’m not completely convinced it’s a “haiti fatigue” issue.

what i’m wondering is: did we talk about it in the wrong way?

i was (finally) reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide on the plane ride home sunday (i bought the book on kindle back when it came out, but my wife short-cut me on it, and it fell out of my ‘to read’ cycle). the authors mentioned, at one point, research that shows what people are more likely to give to: the research showed that people will give to a real person who’s story moves them much more than they will give to a program, even if the program is very promising in terms of impacting the lives of hundreds or thousands. and it struck me: we’d talked about the concept of church to church, and how it will bring sustainable change in haiti; but we’d failed to tell the stories of the few church leaders we’re hiring in haiti to run it.

so, let me introduce you to geftay and john, two of the three (the other is samuel, but i didn’t get to know him as well). geftay and john were two of our translators on our first trip to haiti in february. but now, on this return trip, they are basically the haitian hands-and-feet (and heart!) of this program. they’re amazing young leaders, with big hearts and ready smiles. they love the church and their country, and they’re 100% committed to standing in the middle of god’s kingdom flow, god’s restoration work in haiti. every day, geftay and john are working long hours, meeting with haitian church leaders, discerning needs and hearts. they’re the guys who are able to give us the insight on which pastors have a heart for their communities (rather than a heart for building their own kingdoms). they’re leading discipleship groups of haitian pastors. they’re providing leadership for work sites (for groups coming down to help). they have shown absolute integrity, and have proven that they’re not in this for their own gain.

at one point on the trip, i had a chance to chat casually with john. he told me why he’s had to postpone his wedding: he can’t get married until he has a place to move with his future wife. but the house he was in the midst of building was destroyed in the earthquake. so he’s starting all over again (though he doesn’t currently have any money to do so). geftay is an architect, who is putting his training into the service of god through his work in the church to church program. both guys lost the jobs they had due to the earthquake (as pretty much everyone in haiti also did — this is one of the most significant problems there today, resulting in a complete lack of resources for basis life needs, like food). but they’re not involved in the church to church program merely because they need employment — this is missional stuff for them. i get the sense that they would do it whether they were being paid or not.

here’s my sense of geftay and john: both of these guys will be key leaders in the haitian church over the next decade (or more). both of them are clear-minded leaders, but with humble hearts. they’re value-driven, passionate and articulate, but they listen more than they talk (a leadership trait i often lack). they understand suffering at a deeper level than i ever will, and bring that compassionate leadership to every interaction (whether with a haitian or an american).

it wasn’t until we were halfway through our week there that i realized that geftay and john (and samuel) are the three haitian church leaders we were trying to fund with this giving project. for me, the whole thing moved from a great concept to a wonderful personal story.

so, again — no manipulation or guilt from me; i’m not interested in using those tools. and, i think this is probably the last time i’ll ask here on my blog. but, if you’d like to support geftay, john and samuel, in their desire to connect haitian churches with non-haitian churches, for long-term restoration in haiti, here’s the link. geftay, john and samuel are paid $10/day. they work 6 or 7 days a week, every week. if you give $10, you can cover a day; or $30 will cover all three of them for a day. give $60, and you’ll cover one for a week; $180 covers all three for a week. or, go big: about $300 covers one for a month; or $900, all three of them for a month.