Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Desk

A lot has happened... a lot! I can't say I've been overly busy, but blogging is just never on the top of my to-do list. I've got much to blog about - Louisville trip, Chicago trip, my new desk, marathon training, my next Chicago trip. We'll start with probably the funnest (not a word) and most exciting (to me).

After living in my apartment for a year and making do with a folding table for a desk, I finally got myself a real bonafide desk. See, I've gotten picky in my old age. I don't want to just have make do furniture any more or "I got this cause it was free" furniture anymore. I want a grown up place, ut this grown up has no money. Lucky for me, this grown up also loves getting cheap things and making them great things!

Last week one of my friends asked if I wanted to go to an auction with her. Now this friend is an antique store junky and also has the gift of making cheap things, great things so how could I resist?!

I remember going to one auction before, but my dad was in charge of the bidding. I was instructed to stand there, not look at the auctioneer, and for Goodness sakes keep your hands at your sides.

We didn't exactly know what to expect, but got our number looked around and strategized on what we were going to bid and where we were going to stand. It ended up being REALLY fun! $67 later I had brought home this loot.

Like I mentioned, I have little money and it didn't make much sense to spend more on paint and supplies than on the desk so I rummaged through my paint supplies. Added bonus, it matches my apartment color scheme perfectly!

First step: sand and prime

After I had finished priming I walked into the kitchen to clean out my brush and the paint fumes noticeable changed. As in, smelled exactly like gas fumes. The closer I got to my stove the worse the smell got. After walking back and forth several times I decided to call the gas company to have it checked out. I'd rather be the idiot that called for paint fumes than the idiot who died in the middle of the night from carbon monoxide. Turns out, I was the idiot who called for paint fumes. Thankfully the guy was nice about it and assured me he'd been called for this before. Apparently the paint fumes will burn off your pilot light too.

Step 2: base coat

I decided on white for the desk, but wanted something fun on top. After seeing the prices of stencils online, I landed on a chevron pattern in purple and green. I was actually going for green stripes with a purple under color, but realized too late that I should have started with green instead of purple. Live and learn.
After doing some touch up it was time to tape the chevron stripes. This was a lot more tedious than I anticipated as I'm not one for detail and exact measurement.

I decided I wanted three peaks on the desk top so I measured the desk width and divided by 4 using chalk to mark my measurements.

Honestly, I stalked some blog posts of other people painting chevron stripes and modified their instructions. That person measured up every 6'' for each stripe. I tried that first and it was just too large so I halfed it and it was perfect. On the lines I just marked, I measured every 3 inches. However, every other line I made my first mark 4 1/2 inches up in order to make a peak then continued down the line marking every 3 inches. Then came the easy part of painting the top green. Of course, everything that was tapped remained purple and boom... chevron stripes!

After a couple of coats of clear sealer, I had myself the perfect little cheap desk!!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Haiti in Review: Final day

It's been over a week since returning from Haiti so I'm long over due for a post describing and processing through my first international ministry opportunity. Here are previous posts about day 1work day 1work day 2, and work day 3.

Well, this last day of work started out a little different than the others. Pastor pulled up (late for the first time ever) to get us and I immediately saw the flat tire. Normally this would get everyone down, but I think we were all a little excited to get a few more minutes of rest before heading out into the heat and work.

Too quickly, we had a new tire and were ready to go. We loaded up and were back at the job site. Thankfully Grace was feeling a little better and was able to join us. 

The day started much like the two days prior with song. It was so great to sing with these guys! Although, I don't think our team contributed all that much to the joyful noise.

 I had been pestering Tyler to teach me to weld every single day, but it just didn't seem right for him to stop teaching someone else in order for me to play around. Finally, it was my time! I figured, I'm good at a lot of things surely I can weld. Well... I am good at a lot of things, but welding isn't one of them. Although, to give myself some credit, I wasn't horrible, just need some practice.

This day was a little slower than the others as we were tired and had handed off a lot of the work to the Haitian volunteers. We got some time to joke and play around. James broke out his phone and showed off his family at home. He asked the guys if they had any siblings and one of them responded, pointing at the other guy "he is my brother; my brother in Christ." then pointed at James and said "you are my brother." This moment accurately described how each one of us on the team felt. We had come so far to a place we had never been to meet people very different than us, yet we found family. There is a unmistakable and tangible bond through the blood of Christ. It's mysterious, but real.

I think the heat was getting to Tyler because late in the day he looked at me and said "wanna weld this?" And, I said "heck yea I wanna weld that!" Big mistake! Actually not horrible, but maybe he simply responded "you mind if I clean that up" after I had finished.

Remember how on the first work day I mentioned the digging beginning?! Over 3.5 days Jim and Travis dug the entire time! We decided that we had time and people to dig the hole for the cistern. It's crazy how much work they got done all by hand.

Our day slowly came to an end and Pastor brought us all some sugar cane to celebrate the end of a job well done. Of course, something new meant multiple photo opportunities even though we classified sugar cane as an unattractive food to eat.

Before leaving we had to take a few more pictures of our team and friends we had made.

That night we spend one last night with the congregation in the tent city. This was a special night, not only because it was our last worship service, but because Tyler got to preach. 

Earlier in the week Pastor had learned Tyler was a seminary student and said he needed to get some practice. This service was bittersweet. We were so thankful to get to go home and enjoy our family and air conditioning, but sad to say goodbye to people we had grown to love. At the end of service each person came up to us shaking our hands and giving us hugs. Once back at the guest house we decided we wanted to end our night all together on the roof. Tuesday night we had spent a couple hours on top of the roof just talking and hearing our guest house manager's story. It was extremely peaceful.  

Finally it was time to head home. I was amazed the time went so fast. Friday morning we got up especially early in order to get to the airport on time. We made our way through all three security check points and were hopeful for a smooth flight home with no delays. Unfortunately that's not what we got. The team got delayed about 8 hours in Miami, but thankfully made it home around midnight to their own beds and neighbors without roosters!

Haiti in Reveiw: Work Day 3

It's been over a week since returning from Haiti so I'm long over due for a post describing and processing through my first international ministry opportunity. Here are previous posts about day 1work day 1, and work day 2.

Wednesday started much like Monday and Tuesday: drag yourself out of bed after a long night of trying to not kill Floyd the rooster and head down to the most delicious breakfast before getting ready to go to the job site. Pastor would show up (for some reason he showed up earlier and earlier each work day) and we'd pile in the van for our death defying ride to begin work. Once on the job site we'd begin with a short meeting, prayer, and typically a worship song.

We planned on a short day on Wednesday because we are Americans and we get tired much quicker than our hard working Haitian friends. Oh! And, we like to take time to get out and see Port-au-Prince while we are here. Since Grace was sick this day, I stuck close to Tim and helped him out. That decision had nothing to do with the fact that I was so tired and could no longer lift a wheelbarrow full of dirt and rock. No... nothing to do with that ;)

Tim and I readjusted some of the previous truss work and laid out the short trusses on top of the long ones. Soon we realized we really had no more work left. We stood back and saw all the Haitian volunteers busy working away and leading their individual stations. It was awesome to see, but then also made us feel a little useless.

Soon we were back in the van ready to take a little sight seeing tour of Port-au-Prince. I was really interested to see the white house... or what remained of it.

 For lunch on Wednesday we went to some country club. It was fancy. We ate outside with cloth napkins and a buffet lunch overlooking a pool and the mountains. Of course here we come in our sweaty, dirty clothes straight off the job site. They forgave us and we enjoyed a lovely Haitian meal together.
 Haitian food is what we described as Indian without the curry. There is tons of rice with some kind of stew. This stew (I'm sure that's not the right word for it) was seafood and had muscles, lobster, crabs, etc. Then there is goat (this one was really dry), potatoes, beets, and what we were told was cornmeal (I'm thinking it was lentils). We never had a bad meal. Everything was so good! Especially the hand squeezed juices we had at the guest house.

We told our guest house managers that the juice we had at this restaurant was no where near the juice that their staff makes. They of course passed on the compliment and the next day told us how excited they were to hear that their juice was better than the nice restaurant in town.

We snapped a lot of pictures during our drive around Port-au-Prince. And, as we would get back to the guest house and see Grace, we explained "once you've seen one street, you've seen them all." This is a particular beautiful shot of some of the houses on the hill. They literally build these houses straight into the hill. We saw numerous scenes like this on Sunday during our drive up the mountain, but couldn't get a good picture (you know... since we were driving approximately 90 mph). 

Honestly, driving the streets of Port-au-Prince was much like what I anticipated. I don't know if I was overly prepared or just desensitized, but I wasn't shocked or horrified by the poverty as people have described I would be. Yes, everyone is impoverished there. Their living conditions are horrible. But, if you look past that, you see people. Real people who are loved by God whose poverty is actually a lot like mine. They need to be in a relationship with God. We need to look to God as our provider and sustainer. We need to look to God as the one who is righting all wrongs and reconciling this world. And, when you look at the world through the lens of the Gospel all of a sudden poverty isn't the biggest issue, being reconciled with God and one another is. And, as we drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince I think that's what I saw... not the poverty of stuff, but the poverty of heart that makes us all equals.

Because of this I'm hesitant to post anymore pictures or videos of our time driving around. I don't want to stir your heart towards their lack of stuff. It's so easy for us, in our wealthy state, to look at someone cleaning and selling our old shoes and think how much better we are than them. Or, the noblest of us, go and want to help them by giving some of our money. Yet, what if our money is the very worse thing we could give them? 

After our tour we came back to the guest house to clean up and get ready for church. Since it had dried out much during the day, we were able to drive straight to the tent where church is held. This was an experience we all detested. As you might imagine, people don't often drive through the tent city; especially large van loads of white people. Every time before this we walked, which did in fact draw a lot of attention to us, but we were able to at least interact with everyone around us. We could say "bon aswe" or smile and wave at the children begging for our attention. In the van we were in a moving fish bowl for people to stare at and even throw rocks at us, and one guy stood in the middle of the road stopping us from going forward until Pastor yelled at him. Needless to say, we requested to never do that again.

At church we once again choose to sit in the back in order to better participate in the service, but of course we were called up to the stage and asked to speak a little about what we were going to take home. We were given certificates and pictures as thanks for our time with them. Then it was off to Pastor's for dinner. Now, these guys know how to celebrate!!

The table was gorgeous! We sat around as honored guest with pastor and his wife. We enjoyed an amazing meal of BBQ chicken, rice and beans, salad, potatoes, and my favorite, fried plantains. I was so sad that lunch was so filling that I didn't have much room for this delicious meal. Other leaders from the church joined us, but sadly they either sitting behind us or outside. Even though it was sweltering hot in the kitchen, I didn't want to go when it was time. I think I was the last one out the door as I said goodbye to the Pastor's wife.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Haiti in Review - Work Day 2

It's been a week since returning from Haiti so I'm long over due for a post describing and processing through my first international ministry opportunity. Here's day 1, Here's work day 1

The second work day started much like the first work day. Up early (thanks Floyd!), eat a great breakfast, and out the door to the job site. This morning we once again stopped by the school as James on our team had a friend give him hundred of toothbrushes and toothpaste to give away. Pastor said they could take them at the school so we stopped by and he gave them to the principle.

We were thankful to have gotten a working welder late in the day on Monday so some progress was made on putting the columns together. Tuesday started with much of the same work, but we also began laying out and cutting the steel for the trusses. Our resident construction manager, Tim Flacke naturally took leadership and began to get to work.

Tim's a leader in my community group. He and his wife Kara Dee are great people! They love people, care for them, and sacrificially give of themselves each and every day in St. Louis. Yet, I had never seen Tim "in his element." That is, until this trip. Tim naturally took leadership and became the unspoken foreman on the job site.

Each column will have four of these (whatever you call these things). We made one and used it as a template then taught the Haitian crew exactly what to do. Each member of our team was impressed by the Haitian's ability to learn quickly given the large language barrier. And, even more impressed by their extreme work ethic. Because of this, we began wondering what we were going to do with the rest of our time.

That night we stayed home from the church service. I think it might have rained, but I can't remember really since it's all a blur at this point. Since we weren't going anywhere and our team of hard working, blue collar guys hadn't had a cold beer in four days, we met our project manager at his guest house and walked up to a gas station to purchase some Haitian beer.

Walking the streets of Port-au-Prince is nearly more death defying than driving. Especially considering we don't understand where and when you are suppose to walk. You knew that if you stepped wrong or crossed at the wrong time a car wasn't going to stop for you. By God's grace we all arrived at the gas station. Mind you, there are really no laws in Haiti so after we purchased our beer the lady behind the counter simply opened them for us and we continued to sit on the gas station's step enjoying our fine brew.

After our adventure with Haitian culture, we headed back to the guest house where we sat on the front porch and heard each person's story. It's a little hard to believe, but our team really didn't know that much about each other. We had met briefly one Sunday morning and had traveled together the last few days, but we didn't know where they had grown up, how they got to St. Louis, or why they were on this trip. Taking this time was a great way to get to know each other and lay a foundation for the rest of our time together.

Haiti in Review: Work Day 1

It's been a week since returning from Haiti so I'm long over due for a post describing and processing through my first international ministry opportunity. Here's day 1.

I can't blame the fact that I was warned, but still the roosters crowing at all hours of the night are absurd!! This night the rooster we'd later learn was named "Floyd" began crowing around 3 am and would continue to do so about every 3 minutes until I finally gave up and got out of bed at 5:30. But really this is what I needed. I need to get out of bed and enjoy the peacefulness and beauty that our guest house gave us.

Sitting on the balcony in the cool morning air with a fresh cup of coffee and my bible was the perfect way to start the first work day. As I sat and prayed I thought "this is how I'm going to start every morning!" Unfortunately good intentions left after a couple hard days of hard labor.

Once again we had to park a little bit aways from the work site because of rain, so we parked by the school that will eventually be meeting in the building we are helping to build. As we left one of the other leaders asked me if I could imagine learning in that environment. I immediately thought of my grandparents who both were educated in one room schools and would later teach in one before the large elementary school in town was built. It wasn't really that long ago that we were learning in these environments.

As we made it to our job site, we prepared ourselves for a slow start to our day because we weren't sure of what supplies and tools we'd have at the job site. Nothing could be further from the truth as the project manager was already on site and ready to get started when we arrived. He put us straight to work moving and organizing the steel beams (or fe)! To keep the steel safe it had been hidden out of view; this was good for safety, but meant we had to get into a pit and lift each piece out and sort them according to size. Soon we had ourselves a chain of workers and were already beginning to make friends with our new co-workers.

We had come to Haiti not to do work that the Haitian's could already do, but to work with them and teach and empower them to do this work. With that in mind, we set to work with our friends. Soon we were asking each others names, pointing at objects and learning a little creole. Through out the week we would quickly learn modified sign language and basic words in order to communicate.

Each morning started with a brief meeting where we'd talk about what needed to be done and a short safety briefing. We'd pray and often sing together before setting to work.

Some of the Haitians spoke some English which made communication slightly easier. Within about 10 minutes of working I had one Haitian guy come up to me and ask if he could ask me a question. I said "of course!" And he went on, in perfect English, to ask if I was married. I smiled and said no and he smiled and walked away. We met again a few minutes later and I asked him a question which he replied saying "I don't speak english." I nodded and then walked away baffled and confused.  I'd later learn that this was a common question to be asked, but one that typically is asked to American guys by Haitian women.

Our prayer for the couple days leading up to our working was that we would have two welders on the job site. Without them it was obvious we'd get no work done; nor would we be able to properly teach anyone to weld and complete the job when we left.

On this day we got a welder, but it wasn't working. It was dropped on the last job site and we just couldn't get it working. Things like this can get really frustrating, but we have to keep in mind that these things happen on our job sites in America all the time. We joked that morning that on the farm (three of us team members were raised on farms) we always have to fix our tools before we can use our tools. Luckily this day we had plenty to do even without a working welder and we'd continue to pray for working tools the next day.

Remember how I said we started each day with a safety briefing. Notice how Grace and I are both wearing our hard hats...well... they don't protect your skin from the dangerously sharp metal. For the record, Grace was the first to get injured. Because of the environment we're in we couldn't go without cleaning and covering any and all cuts. I made sure Grace's cut was thoroughly cleaned with hand sanitizer (the closes thing to rubbing alcohol that we had). This of course burned. About 2.2 seconds after getting her all bandaged up, I sliced my arm as well. Even though she hates the sight of blood, she took a little too much joy in cleaning mine with the burning sanitizer. We were then informed by the project manager that it's always the white people who get hurt and that he never has to worry about a Haitian getting hurt on the job site.

After moving tons (probably literally) of steel, we began cutting. Of course, I'm never one to back away from combining large power tools with ministry opportunities. Mix in a photo opportunity and I've got myself the perfect combination.

A couple hours into our first day and it became clear we could do a lot more than what we anticipated. So, we decided to also dig the hole for the cistern. Our team members Jim and Travis spent their entire time on the job site digging. I dug for about half a day before I realized this wasn't for me. I think Rosilyn, from Pastor's church, knew long before I did I wasn't cut out for digging. I picked up a pick and took my first swing and she busted up laughing... hysterically laughing at me and my picking skill. I spent a good day helping out before getting so worn out I couldn't lift the wheelbarrow anymore.

By the end of the first day we were tired, but satisfied with our progress. We were sweating and dirty, but none of us came close to the level of filth Travis and Grace had reached. We still can't understand how Travis got so dirty or how Pastor stayed so clean!

As most nights, we spent the evening in the worship service at the tent city where we all somehow ended up on stage. Hopefully once the building is complete we can back up behind the scenes and not be front and center as much. Our heart is to equip and empower Haitian leaders to do the work and be the movement leaders here; not us.

That night it really started to rain during the service. Knowing it was already too wet to drive in and experiencing the slippery walk to the tent already, we each had worried faces during the service and probably secretly hoped it would end sooner so we could safely get home.

Now, each walk in the tent city is an adventure, but nothing topped this night. We walked and slide our way back down the hill as residence looked on, talked about us and even broke up laughing. We tried to scrap our shoes clean, but it really was no use. Back at the guest house, Julie, the manager, said something to the affect of "oh wow! you're really muddy!" To which we replied "sure... we'll call that mud!" We decided that tent city mud wasn't actually mud, but it was better to just pretend.

The next day we'd come up from the job site and find our shoes perfectly polished by the guest house Haitian staff! Even the managers were impressed by their work ethic and attention to detail.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Haiti in Review: Day 1

It's been a week since returning from Haiti so I'm long over due for a post describing and processing through my first international ministry opportunity.

My adventure started crazy early with a wake up call of 3 am. Somehow I managed to get up, finish the last minute packing, and clean the entire kitchen within an hour. Soon my friends and fellow team mates arrived and we were off to the airport to meet the rest of the team.

Somehow I ended up in first class which I wasn't going to turn down nor argue with, but I felt a little awkward as I waved the rest of the team to the back of the plane. I had never been in first class before so I had no clue what to expect...especially the amazing breakfast served on real china. I had to look like an idiot with a goofy smile on my face as I enjoyed my first post 7 meal! I was amazed at the textures and tastes I was experiencing for the first time in a really long time.

Soon enough we were in Miami where I rejoined my team mates as they enjoyed their breakfast during our two hour lay over (or what we thought was going to be a two hour layover). Unfortunately once we boarded our last flight, we were soon (rather...eventually) taken off that plane to await a working aircraft. Five hours later we were onboard a functioning plane and on our way to Haiti.

We were thankful to arrive in Haiti just before sunset since I had anticipated the airport being stressful and chaotic. While it's nothing like the airports I'm used to, it wasn't nearly as stressful as I was prepared for. This would end up being a theme for me during my week in Haiti. Soon we were connected with Pastor and in the van to the guest house; which is where the stress and chaotic-ness really began!

As far as we could tell, there are no 'rules of the road' in Port-au-Prince, except for an elaborate horn language for passing, merging, turning, etc. Since it was getting dark we really couldn't see  much of the city... which was possibly a good thing on our first arrival.

About 20 death defying minutes later we arrived at our guesthouse where we enjoyed our first meal and got settled in. Our guest house was absolutely wonderful! I had expected and prepared our team for the worse, but we had electricity all the time, running water, beds, fans, delicious meals, and amazing houseguest managers to talk with. It felt more like staying at a friends house than at a hotel...which was just what we wanted and needed.

The next morning we woke up to the smell of a wonderful breakfast being prepared for us as we got ready for our first church service with the Baptist Church of Christ's Compassion.

Haiti Mission Team #3: Tyler, James, Tim, Jim, Travis, Mick, Katie, Grace
After a quick team photo (this was as good as we were going to look the entire time), we were off. Because it had rained that night, we had to park outside the tent city and walk in. We would learn later in the week that this was our preferred means of transportation in the tent city. As we walked through open sewers, over make shift bridges, and through people's tents, we drew some attention to ourselves. I asked one of our team members "ever get the feeling people are talking about you?!" As we got closer we could hear loud singing from huge speakers in the circus team strategically placed on top of a hill in the center of the tent city. We walked in as honored guest as Pastor took the stage.

 Sadly we were seated right up front and behind a speaker so we couldn't see much of what was going on which didn't matter too much since we couldn't understand much of what was going on either. Pastor did his best to translate what he could for us. And, we were blessed to have a guest speaker from the states giving the message which meant we could understand the entire sermon.

These services are an experience everyone should have at least once. While you aren't able to understand the words, you do understand the worship. There is a mystery of our faith that bonds us through the blood of Christ that is tangible and real in these moments. We can travel to a land where we've never been, where we look much different, and speak a different language yet still find brothers and sisters. Each service our team members would experience this tangible bond.

After service nearly each person came up to us and shook our hand or gave us a hug. There were one of two reactions from the Haitians. Either they held their heads high and looked each of us in the eyes or they never looked up and gave you a very limp/weak hand shake. It was so strange and I kept wanting to catch someone's eye to somehow give them confidence to hold their head high.

Soon pastor shuffled us off and we walked to the job site to take a look at the progress and where we would be spending the majority of our time the next 4 days. Every Sunday a handful of congregants make their way to the job site to sing and pray over the building. It was such a special moment to get to watch as these people dedicated and prayed for protection of their new church.

That afternoon I had arranged and was really hopeful that we would get to go to Kenscoff to visit the Help One Now crew that was working there. I really love this organization and am hopeful we'll be able to expand our ministry in Hait with them, but wanted to see for myself what they were doing. I was so thankful that Pastor agreed to take us up there!

Kenscoff is about an hours drive up the mountain from Port-au-Prince... an hours drive going about 90 miles per hour in a huge van on small streets. To say we were nervous was an understatement. However, to say we were soaking in every moment of the beauty that this area of Haiti has is also an understatement. We sat in awe and wonder at God's creation. We had just come from the city where there is so much poverty and devastation so our eyes were open and looking for beauty. We found it abundantly! 

Once the road ended, we had to walk about a mile or so down to the neighborhood the school and church were located. They had sent two guys up to escort us down and as we walked people would start talking and looking at us. This attention never became comfortable for me as I wanted to blend in and be as Haitian as possible. Apparently that's not possible being an extremely white woman from the states. Some children would join us or beg for us to simply smile and wave at them. 

We arrived at the school/church/boys home and met our contacts there. They showed us around and talked to us a little about what they do, why they do it, and who they do it with. We also got to watch as two well respected pastors in Haiti met for the first time after hearing so much about one another and their individual ministries. As we walked around and talked with people involved here I soon realized this was probably going to be the highlight of my time in Haiti. And, even on the afternoon of our first full day in Haiti, this experience would end up being a highlight to so many on our team.