An Honest Survey

Last night I posted a new status update on my Facebook page and, after rereading it this morning, I’ve decided to post it here on my blog, too. I’m doing so because I’ve realized that there really is a big picture sense of truth underlying each step in my existence. Surely, others have experienced far worse than I have and I’m sure there are higher peaks yet to come on the other side of eternity, but, it is clear to me that God is faithful. As Jesus explained in the sermon on the mountain in the fifth chapter of the book of Matthew, we are all blessed in our brokenness. We are never alone. He is always there for us, waiting to take our hand, if only we will accept the offer.


For many of you who know me in the flesh, as well as those who’ve been my Facebook friend for any length of time, it isn’t news that The Hands & Feet Project has become a notable focus in my life over the past five years. I realize that I may even run the risk of turning people off from paying attention to my posts due to the sheer frequency of my Hands & Feet Project-related posts. But, it’s almost as if I can’t contain it inside of me! Some folks just don’t realize the magnitude of change that happened and is continuing to happen in my life! It is a transition that I firmly believe God has been orchestrating behind the scenes from well before the day my biological mother put me up for adoption.

While it is true that my biological mother nearly jumped off a bridge with me in her arms when I was an infant because she didn’t have the mental fortitude to face motherhood, it is also true that God used my soon-to-be aunt to help facilitate my nearly immediate adoption by two parents who provided a sound foundation to grow from.

While it is true that, as a young child, I was sexually abused repeatedly by somebody that, at one point, played a significant role in my life, it is also true that my parents were able to provide the right setting for me to be able to move on.

While it is true that neither of my parents were particularly spiritual, my mom provided me with a religious foundation and surrounded me with a church family that would be able to provide a positive spiritual influence in my life.

While it is true that my parents and I had very rough ride through the years that it took for their separation and divorce to become final, my relationships with both of them solidified shortly after. My Dad went on to become my best man in my wedding and was the best grandpa I could ever ask for for my kids. My relationship with my mom has recovered to a point that is greater than I ever thought possible and I love her dearly.

While it is true that my Dad and I lost everything in a house fire on a six-below-zero January night in 1996, I learned a priceless lesson about how unimportant our possessions really are.

While it is true that I engaged in all sorts of college-aged experimentation and boundary-breaking, a pineal gland brain tumor rupture in 1998 shook me up physically and mentally and, ultimately, helped me to settle down so that I could finish college with honors and start teaching.

While it is true that I was adopted and had never known, beyond infancy, anyone that was my own flesh and blood, I’ve been blessed, through my wonderful wife, with two kids of my own who, despite resembling me in many ways, consistently inspire me to be more than I am. They amaze me!

While it is true that the sixteen months of decline from brain cancer that my Dad went through, and the many months of mourning after his passing, encapsulated the darkest time of my life, they also proved to be the fertile soil out of which a brand new sense of hope and purpose was born — supporting and participating in the critical work of The Hands & Feet Project to care for orphans and keep families together in Haiti.

I’d never sought out or had any kind of prior inclination toward the nation of Haiti prior to the experiences that I was forced to walk through as my Dad’s primary caregiver when brain cancer robbed him of his ability to do anything for himself. I simply fell (because it was all that I could do at that point) forward through doors graciously opened by God, through others, to whom I will eternally be grateful.

I went to Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project for the first time in 2014 and again in 2015 with my wife (her first time). In just a couple of weeks my wife, my kids (for their first time), and I will be in Haiti with Hands & Feet again. We will be there to continue to build relationships, support the long-term missionaries of The Hands & Feet Project, deliver supplies, learn, and further experience the God-given beauty that exists in the land and people of Haiti.

If you’ve ever experienced the gutters of life only to, later, also experience the peaks, you might have an idea of how I feel. The opportunity that I’ve been given, to be able to play even a small role in serving the mission of The Hands & Feet Project has God’s fingerprints all over it. From the connections with people who’ve opened doors, to the opportunities, time, and ability to donate, sponsor, and fundraise, there has been one source: God’s grace.

Jesus never said that life in this broken world would be easy, but, He did say that we can come to Him and that He will take our burdens. If you knew the sheer contrast exposed in my life from the depths of where I’ve been to the blessings that my family and I now experience through our support of The Hands & Feet Project, you’d be supporting them, too.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6

“I’m Not Afraid. No, I’m A Believer,” is an older post from my blog that explains more about the story of how I came to be involved with The Hands & Feet Project.

For more information on The Hands & Feet Project, visit http://www.handsandfeetproject.org

How Can A Short-term Mission Team Help?

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Our 2015 mission team on Taino beach with Haitian vendors.

When I went on my first short-term mission trip with The Hands & Feet Project to Haiti three years ago, I had a pretty limited, naive notion of what I was going there to do. Honestly, I had no idea. I had, however, decided that whatever I was asked to do, I would take on as a task worth doing as a small step in helping the mission to develop and progress in caring for orphans, regardless of how big or small. To this day, I think that is a pretty solid perspective to go with.

That said, my family and I are now in the process of preparing a second team to go with the Hands & Feet Project to Haiti, and I feel like I’ve developed a clearer understanding of how we can be most helpful:

  1. Serve and honor the American missionaries who are there full-time and the Haitian staff of The Hands & Feet Project (this could mean anything from delivering needed supplies and comfort foods from home to tackling to-do list items listed by mission staff) while making a concerted effort to not add extra burdens to their load while we’re there
  2. Engage in a kind and respectful manner with all we come into contact with, whether locals in the community (a great opportunity to share the gospel) or kids at the Children’s Village
  3. Honor the long-term livelihood of those in the local community by engaging in dignified business transactions and, in doing so, directly confront the number one reason that children are orphaned in Haiti: lack of employment and the resources to care for a growing family.

As the blog post (from the Christian Alliance For Orphans) attached below explains, it is very rare that a short-term team of missionaries is going to change lives or conditions in a dramatic fashion over the course of one or two weeks. But, support given to full-time missionaries to meet their needs and refresh their spirits, while also engaging in dignified exchanges with local people, can have a very positive long-term impact on all involved.

It’s mid-summer in the US, and that means hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians are departing and returning from short-term missions around the world. Many of these teams visit orphans in developing nations, conduct Vacation Bible Schools, assist with building projects, and share the love of Christ with everyone they come to meet. For many…

via Building Local Capacity through Short Term Missions — Christian Alliance for Orphans

Our family has been saving for this trip to go serve, support, and encourage missionaries, the kids and staff of the Hands & Feet Project, and the local community of Grand Goave  for months and will continue to do so. But, with plane tickets, alone, likely to cost over $3500 for the four of us, we are praying that God will lead others to help us get there by donating directly to our family mission trip fundraising page. Can you help us get there?

Learn more about the work of The Hands & Feet Project.

Learn more about The Hands & Feet Project’s Haiti Made job creation initiative.

Play Fantasy Football and Help Orphans in Haiti

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There’s just a few hours left to register for a season’s worth of fun playing fantasy football while simultaneously supporting such a critical and worthwhile organization in their mission to care for the orphaned and abandoned children of Haiti and keep more Haitian families together. For a $50 donation to the Hands & Feet Project you can either join the BIG BIG YARD Fantasy Football league hosted by rapper KJ-52 or the BIG BIG YARD Fantasy Football league hosted by Sidewalk Prophets lead singer David Frey.

Over the course of the season you’ll get to participate in a live online draft and compete in weekly head-to-head match-ups with the artists and other fans. At season’s end, the best-finishing non-artist team owner in each league will win VIP meet-n-greet tickets to one of the artist’s upcoming concerts and a custom, hand-crafted Haiti Made coach’s gift kit! But, don’t wait because there are just a few spots left and the registration deadline for the KJ-52 league is midnight  ET tonight! Registration for the Sidewalk Prophets league will close midnight Monday.

JOIN US and register right now!

YOU Can Be HIS Hands And Feet

As I learned from the wonderful woman who would one day become my aunt, I was born to a mother who was mentally unstable and, subsequently, unable to raise me. So, it was my future aunt that cared for me for the first few weeks of my life until I was adopted by the man and woman who I am proud to refer to as my mom and dad to this day. They found me and took me in. And they always told me that because I was adopted, I was special and I believed it.

Well, actually, my dad, with his characteristic sense of humor liked to say, when I was just a toddler, that they just found me under a rock in the garden one day and decided to keep me.

But, I’ve never questioned where I belonged. Being set aside on account of my biological mother’s struggles never phased me. My bond with my family supersedes the technicalities of not being biologically related. In fact, it was my experiences during my Dad’s decline from brain cancer, over the course of about 16 months from October 2010 through February 2012 that helped my middle age perspective to really focus on what is most important.

My dad moved south to North Carolina in 2007 as soon as he received the news that  our second child was on the way so that he could help provide daycare and be close to his grandchildren. So, when the diagnosis of a stage four brain tumor hit, my wife and I were his relatives nearby to care for him. Over the next 16 months of treatments, trips to Duke’s Brain Tumor Center, and various other appointments my wife and I struggled to care for him, meet our work and school obligations and meet the needs of our kids. But it was the last couple of months when he wasn’t able to talk or get dressed or use the bathroom by himself, that pressure from multiple sides started to weigh down on me heavier than anything every had before. I was completely in the dark. It was a time when faith was far less tangible and much more a faint hope that I had to keep trying to remind myself of, just out of reach beyond the chaos. I had a lot of questions for God at the time, like I imagine many people do when in similar circumstances. But, somehow, by His grace and, as my dad would say, by “putting one foot in front of the other,” we made it through.

Such experiences tend to have a profound effect on the way people view what is most important. When I was walking through that darkness I had very little interest or concern about what the most popular songs or movies were or whether Democrats or Republicans had more power in the polls. My concerns were nowhere near even considering how the Jets draft strategy was shaping up for the coming season. No, In those dark times my mind was wrestling with the real and the true struggles of life and death, meeting immediate needs in terms of pain management, and working together with my uncle (who came down from NY to help out) to get my dad successfully through one moment and on to the next with as much peace and as little discomfort as possible. Then on the one night it snowed that winter, I sat with him on his hospice bed in the living room as he lay unconscious, with his heart rate slowing until he breathed his last breath.

Waves of grief from losing my Dad still come at random times, but, I’ve found that, having walked through the darkest period of my life, so far, I have a greater capacity than before to know the pain or at least relate to others who are going through difficult circumstances. This doesn’t mean that I always respond as I should, but, I’ve definitely come to a realization that what really matters in life has a lot more to do with how we relate to others in need and a lot less to do with making more money, earning a new title, trying to impress others with our accomplishments or with the company we keep.

I have no doubt that it was God Himself who orchestrated a convergence of factors in the fall of 2012 in the wake of my dad’s passing, that led me to read James 1:27 with new eyes: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” — and then, at that very same time, to draw a direct connection to an organization that I just learned about, through a friend, called The Hands & Feet Project. I had struggled to understand what was happening, within the context of God’s plan, to say the least. There was a lot that I didn’t understand, but, this verse gave me focus.

He was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

Nickenson was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

The Hands & Feet Project is an organization that was established in Haiti in 2004 whose Christ-centered purpose is to provide family-style, residential care and sustainable solutions that fight against Haiti’s orphan crisis. UNICEF estimated that in 2012 there were 430,000 orphans in the small country of Haiti. Some are orphaned because they’ve lost their parents in the earthquake of 2010 or due to sickness while others have been abandoned via the common practice of leaving newborns on the hospital steps or at the gates of orphanages. Others, due to extreme poverty, have sold their children to be child laborers in various lines of work ranging from organized begging to the sex trade.

The vision of the Hands & Feet Project is to work under the guidance of Haiti’s Child Social Services in order to provide holistic residential care for orphans by building and operating Children’s Villages with multiple family-style homes lead by Haitian House Mothers. They strive to create a circle of care around each child with the intent of giving every boy and girl the chance to reach their God-given potential.

Kettia holding the family photo/frame that Julia made for me to give her

Kettia holding the family photo/frame that Julia made for me to give her

The Hands & Feet Project operates two Children’s villages. The one in Jacmel is home to 70 children ranging from infants to teenagers. Their Grand Goave Children’s Village cares for another 30 children ranging in age from 10-16. In these villages children live in groups of 8-10 kids in individual houses that are managed by Haitian house mothers. There they are clothed, have comfortable sleeping quarters, playgrounds and soccer fields to play on. Each of the children is well-fed, has their medical needs met, receives bible studies, takes part in worship, and, through a partnership with Mission of Hope International, attends school and church.

In Matthew 25 Jesus teaches that whatever we do to serve those in need, we are doing directly to him. When we clothe children we are clothing him. When we feed the homeless we are feeding him.

The Hands & Feet Project is providing an amazing opportunity to take a meaningful part in the well-being and development of the children cared for in their Children’s Villages through their sponsorship program called the Family Room. My family and I have sponsored two for some time now and I had the privilege of spending time with both of them while in Haiti in January and I look forward to spending another week with Kettia, the girl we sponsor, as well as all of the other children there when I return in July.

Our family has and continues to sponsor kids through worthy organizations like World Vision, Compassion, and Food For The Hungry, but, this sponsorship program is different. Check out this video to find out how you can have a direct impact on the lives of these kids on the ground level while also helping The Hands & Feet Project grow so that they can provide for more children who have been orphaned and abandoned in Haiti – the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Give them a chance and their lives won’t be the only ones being changed.

“If not us, who will be like Jesus to the least of these?”

-Audio Adrenaline

 

Be Independent

If you’re a friend of mine, you likely know how passionate I’ve become, just over the past two years, about the people of Haiti and the work that The Hands & Feet Project, and other organizations, do to address the deep and desperate need that exists there in the poorest country on the western half of the globe. But, let not my passion for the people of Haiti diminish my appreciation for where I live and the generations of leaders and soldiers that have maintained the freedom that I enjoy today.

Going back to the colonists who were tired of taxation without representation and the government leaders that guided Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the Declaration of Independence, to declare to Britian the colonists’ rationale for taking a new direction, it is evident the only time the world changes is when somebody gets up and acts. I consider this at a time when the biblical notion that God expects those who he’s blessed greatly to extend their blessings in service to others has been weighing heavily on me.

So, on this 238th Independence Day, it is due to a combination of my gratitude for those who’ve played a role in making and keeping the United States of America free and independent and my recognition that I’ve been greatly blessed in my life that I will celebrate this day and extend my wishes for you to do the same. But, I will also recommit myself, today, to not look away when the needs of those around me, here in America, in Haiti, or elsewhere, are so evident and I will ask you, too, to not wait around for somebody else to address their needs. Be independent. Get up and do something about it. Happy Independence day.

My Expeience In Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project

A video recap of my January trip to Haiti set to “Believer” by Audio Adrenaline. If you’ve read my posts about the trip, you might be interested in this. If not, take a gander anyway. The Hands & Feet Project is a phenomenal organization doing critical work.

A Week in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project (Part 4 of 4)

The fourth of four reflections about my experiences when I spent on a short-term mission in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014: Part 1 click here. Part 2 click here. Part 3 click here. For an afterthought reflection about the topic of heroes in relation to addressing needs in the country of Haiti click here.

With New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson, co-founder of I'm ME. Learn more about his foundation which, like The Hands & Feet Project, cares for Haitian orphans at http://www.imme.org/

With New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson, co-founder of I’m ME

It was our first evening in Haiti. Our team had flown from several different U.S. cities to Miami, boarded one plane together, departed Miami, landed in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, stuffed into a van for a two-hour drive to Grand Goave and then rode up to a mountaintop building that is only accessible with a 4wd vehicle. We’d all traveled hundreds of miles and were finally settling in for dinner on a remote, third-world country mountain when, all of a sudden, in through the front door walks a player from my favorite football team, the New York Jets! Not only that, but, it turns out that this guy has a sincere, true, and rare heart for orphans in Haiti. He and his brothers have started I’m ME, a foundation to care for orphans in Haiti and he’s been getting a lot of good advice, apparently, from The Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart. We chatted for a few minutes during which I was able to share the story of my connection with The Hands & Feet Project, my respect for high-character Jets such as Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin, and my appreciation for his passion for “the least of these,” in Haiti. He shared with me about his faith and how he first became interested and involved with helping to address the the desperate circumstances that exist in Haiti and really came off as being the most authentic person somebody in his shoes could possibly be. With other NFL players, Jets in particular, making headlines for all of the wrong reasons all too often, it is certainly refreshing to have met a pro athlete like him. Check out David’s foundation here: http://www.imme.org/

Loading up shoes in my frigid garage on January 17th.

Loading up shoes in my frigid garage on January 17th.

Two totes (plus half of my suitcase) stuffed with shoes, just off the plane at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

Two totes (plus half of my suitcase) stuffed with shoes, just off the plane at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

I couldn’t end this series of reflections on my week without mentioning one of the biggest parts of preparing for the trip during the last two weeks before my plane was set to depart: gathering shoes. Site co-director Angie Sutton sent me a request for shoes for the boys at Grand Goave (the younger kids) and Ikondo (the older kids) and, thanks to the kindness and compassion of colleagues at school and friends, I boarded the plane in Charlotte with two 20+ gallon totes and half of my suitcase full of shoes ranging from sizes too small for my six-year-old to sizes too big for me – a good variety to help address the needs of the boys of the Hands & Feet Project in Grand Goave.

While this trip itself has blown open my perspective regarding the serious gap between the luxuries that we take for granted in the U.S. and the primitive and unhealthy living conditions of so many in Haiti, it has also affirmed, for me, the power and value that a simple act of kindness can have. Many of my colleagues and friends donated brand new shoes or money to purchase shoes for the boys of The Hands & Feet Project. Because they walk to school each day and the terrain is rocky, they go through them quickly. But, thanks to some generous Americans, the boys of The Hands & Feet Project now have plenty of new shoes!

Sorting and pulling the larger-sized shoes out for the older boys at Ikondo before taking the rest down to Thozin, the other site where the younger kids live. This shot is from inside what will be "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen." Currently, however, it is being used as a bedroom for incoming short-term mission teams until construction at Ikondo progresses a little further.

Sorting and pulling the larger-sized shoes out for the older boys at Ikondo before taking the rest down to Thozin, the other site where the younger kids live. This shot is from inside what will be “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen.” Currently, however, it is being used as a bedroom for incoming short-term mission teams until construction at Ikondo progresses a little further.

I estimate that 40-50 pairs of shoes, the absolute maximum number that I could fit into the two bins and my personal luggage, made the trip with me from my driveway in North Carolina to The Hands & Feet Children’s Village in Grand Goave, Haiti. From the money that was donated to purchase shoes I had $30 left over which I gave to Andrew Sutton, co-director of the Grand Goave Hands & Feet Children’s Village, to use as they see fit.

The majority of the shoes were sorted by size and placed in the storage depot  where the younger kids’ live to be distributed later as needed, but, several pairs were kept on the mountain top at Ikondo for the older boys. I was caught somewhat off guard early in the week when, while having an evening devotional with the other guys on the team, three of the boys came up behind me and hugged me in thanks for the shoes. I told them immediately that the shoes all came from friends in the states, but, that I was certainly happy to see that they liked them so much. I could tell from that moment, and then later on in the week while spending time with the older boys, that they truly appreciated the new footwear.

Sorting shoes by size for the younger kids at the Thozin site in the storage depot

Sorting shoes by size for the younger kids at the Thozin site in the storage depot

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Thanks to each and every person who supported this shoe-collection effort!

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25:34-40

Learn about how being a part of The Hands & Feet Project’s Family Room program can help even more…

…and thanks to everyone who prayed for the team and I as we made the journey. It was an unforgettable week and, God-willing, it won’t be my last visit to Grand Goave, Haiti.

The team (l-r): Greg (rear), Jewel (front), Drex, Wendy, Marian, myself, Jo, James, and April

The team (l-r): Greg (rear), Jewel (front), Drex, Wendy, Marian, myself, Jo, James, and April