8 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: A Kevin Max Countdown Retrospective: “Kings & Queens”

Kevin Max’s newest project, BROKEN TEMPLES, will officially be released on March 10. I’ll be counting down the remaining days to the release of the album on this page with a post each day exploring and celebrating, in no particular order, some of his prior creative ventures.


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2013 brought the announcement that Kevin Max would be teaming up with Mark Stuart and Will McGinniss to relaunch another legendary band in the history of contemporary Christian music, Audio Adrenaline, in order to build awareness and support for the band’s non-profit organization, The Hands & Feet Project. The Hands & Feet Project cares for about 100 orphaned and abandoned children at Children’s Villages in Jacmel and Grand Goave, Haiti.

The lead single and title track of the new album, “Kings & Queens,” not only made a huge impact on Christian radio (rising at #4 among Christian songs), but, it also fulfilled the band’s objective in bringing the plight of orphans and the beauty of the children of the Hands & Feet Project to the attention of the world and, in doing so, helped to propel the work of the organization forward in their mission to continue the fight against the orphan crisis in Haiti.

From the first “woa-oh” that can be heard at the beginning of the track to the final triumphant chorus, Max delivers a characteristically unique and powerful vocal to a song that will surely stand the test of time as an anthem for the Christian call to care for orphans of the world in their distress (James 1:27).

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HANDS & FEET PROJECT HERE

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Join Kevin Max on NRT Live on release day, Tuesday, March 10 at 6PM PST/9PM EST

Read about what I get out of the music and poetry of Kevin Max and check out how you can get a digital download of the new project BROKEN TEMPLES (with two bonus tracks!) before the official March 10 release!

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Pre-order BROKEN TEMPLES

Purchase and Download the music of Kevin Max on iTunes

 Kevin Max on iTunes


OTHER FEATURED SONGS IN THE KEVIN MAX RETROSPECTIVE:

9 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “When He Returns”

10 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Day By Day”

11 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Existence”

12 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Alas My Love/The Hard Way”

Is It Worth It?

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Please help us to walk through this open door together to serve with The Hands & Feet Project. Click on the photo to find out how. Thank you!

In January 2014 I joined a short-term mission team to serve with The Hands & Feet Project in Grand Goave, Haiti. I’m headed back there, again, in July for another week and, because my wife has decided to jump in this time around, we’re having to dig deeper and reach out further for help to get there. So, yesterday I spent some time setting up a fundraising site that features a convenient link for kindhearted donors to contribute through and indicates the amount of money we still need to raise in order to make the trip.

It was during the process of putting the fundraising page together that I realized, upon typing the total amount of money that we have yet to come up with, that some people might question whether or not it is worth investing this amount of money into a week-long trip. Wouldn’t that amount of money better serve the needs of the people there if it was sent directly?

It’s a fair question and, after pondering it for myself in relation to my own experience there, my growing familiarity with the kids, mission staff, Haitian staff, and American staff of The Hands and Feet Project, I can state with confidence that your investment in our trip will not be wasted.

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 Grand Goave Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village in their storage depot

A significant percentage of the cost to make the trip benefits the work of The Hands & Feet Project directly. The Grand Goave Children’s Village of The Hands & Feet Project is still in the process of building and providing safe structures and buildings for the long-term American missionary staff, short-term mission teams, local Haitian staff and, most notably, the orphaned and abandoned children to live in. Measures are being taken to ensure that the new buildings are built to resist damage from natural disasters like the one that brought Haiti to its knees just five years ago. Donations that the Hands & Feet Project receives go directly toward providing, not just a safe place to live, but, also health care, a balanced diet, an education, and a staff to provide spiritual guidance.

Short-term mission teams bring various skills to provide manual, on-the-ground support and elbow grease to tackle projects ranging from construction and maintenance to recreational and educational activities for the kids that live there. In addition Hands & Feet Project mission teams engage with the local Grand Goave community by assisting with community outreach programs.

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes that our team delivered in January 2014

Mission teams coming to Haiti to serve are sent wish lists for supplies (ranging from toothpaste to tools and clothing), by the long-term Hands and Feet Project missionaries, a few weeks prior to their scheduled departure so that they can gather much-needed items and bring them to Haiti as part of their baggage. Because of Grand Goave’s rural location in a third world country where neither the U.S. Postal Service or UPS deliver, incoming short-term mission teams serve as a lifeline to the children and staff on the ground with The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti.

The Hands & Feet Project understands the importance of taking a responsible big-picture approach to addressing the orphan crisis in Haiti. The directors and long-term mission families that lead The Hands & Feet Project on the ground in Haiti have a deep knowledge and respect for the history and circumstances that have made Haiti the poorest country on the western half of the planet. They understand the importance of respecting the dignity of the people and they provide a means to prevent future children from being abandoned by providing sustainable employment through their new and developing Haiti Made initiative. In fact, this trip, for us, isn’t just a one-and-done effort. We sponsor two children that are a part of the Hands &

Kettia is one of the two children we sponsor that live at the Hands & Feet Project's Children's Village in Grand Goave, Haiti

Kettia is one of the two children we sponsor that live at the Hands & Feet Project’s Children’s Village in Grand Goave, Haiti

Feet Project family. This trip will allow me to build upon the relationship with Kettia that I started a year ago, and it will give Angela a chance to start hers. We truly desire to be like long-term family members to Kettia and the other children of the Hands & Feet Project and develop bonds that, though miles and time may separate us, prayer and return mission trips to serve at their Grand Goave Children’s Village, can grow for eternity in Jesus.

Last, but, certainly not least, your monetary support for our participation in this mission enables us to serve Jesus, himself, directly. James 1:27 states that, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress…” Jesus himself explained in Matthew 25:31-40:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I learned about and became involved with The Hands & Feet Project by walking through open doors that I had no plan or ability to open myself. Now my wife Angela is ready to step outside of her comfort zone, too, and I know that this trip is going to have as profound of an effect on her life as it has on mine and I truly believe that this trip will have a profound and positive effect on our marriage, too.

The work of The Hands & Feet Project and their vision to fight against the orphan crisis in Haiti are sound and sound and sure. Please help my wife and I to both walk through this open door and serve in the work of The Hands & Feet Project, bringing hope to the orphaned and abandoned in Haiti, together.

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My Good Works

I can’t be sure if it is just the way my brain works or if it is the Holy Spirit trying to make a point, but, one thought that has been spiraling around in my brain for the past couple of days is that of giving credit where credit is due and how to give that credit because, if you know me personally, chances are that you are aware that I am not bashful when it comes to sharing the story of how my family and I have been blessed, so abundantly (if you’re not familiar, explore this thread of posts on my blog fo learn about it), since I had to pick myself up off the ground after caring for my Dad for sixteen months and then losing him to brain cancer in February of 2012. But, the truth is, I didn’t have to pick myself up off the ground. I couldn’t have. I was picked up. While reading the January 24th entry in the devotional written by the late Brennan Manning called Reflections For Ragamuffins this morning I was struck again, as I have been more than once lately, by the notion that I really and truly have nothing to brag about on my own. The day’s devotion starts with Manning noting the precious value of the direct advice Jesus gives as he speaks to those gathered, in what is commonly known as the sermon on the mount, about how they should view themselves and the world around them. But, Manning takes special interest in Matthew 5:3 when Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” As Manning explained:

To be poor in spirit means to cling to your impoverished humanity and to have nothing to brag about before God. Paul writes, “What do you have that you haven’t received; and if you have received it, why do you go about boasting as if you hadn’t received it?

If there is anything that you ever associate with me as being good, I can sincerely state that it has happened because of the grace of God – despite me. I have not and could not do anything worthwhile without Him, first, opening doors wide in front of me to walk through. On the other hand, if you ever see me failing, veering off course, or causing others frustration or pain, you can be sure that it is a result of me, in my ignorance, sewn to this human condition, having taken my eyes off of the only One who knows and freely gives real and abundant life to anyone who will accept it. But in the darkest period of my life when I hurt deeply, questioned everything, and had no answers, I hit the very bottom. And when I did it became coldly apparent to me that my only hope was in something I couldn’t see, hear, or even feel. But, because it – because He – was all I had, I held on desperately (in doing so, I trusted Him to hold me)  and the growth and change that has happened in my life and in my family in the three years since is difficult to adequately articulate with words. It most certainly wasn’t anything I accomplished. I was completely broken. But, thank God, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” Through Kevin Max I learned about The Hands & Feet Project and through the compassion of Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart, God’s grace blossomed and I will forever be grateful.

So, if you see me wearing a Hands & Feet Project or Haiti Made clothing item or posting a picture from Haiti or you hear me talking about a mission trip I went on, please know that I am simply and gratefully celebrating and trying to support the work that the Christ-focused organization does and the manner in which my life, and the lives of so many others have been blessed. There are long-term American missionary families that have completely uprooted from the U.S. and committed to serving full-time there and they have been serving those who Jesus referred to as “the least of these” for years. Why shouldn’t I tell others about their work and support them as it most certainly is God’s work (see James 1:27)?

Galatians 6:14

Galatians 6:14

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.

Afterthought: Are You Looking For A Hero? I’ve Found Some…

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For reflections about my experiences when I spent a week on a short-term mission trip to Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014:  Part 1 click here.  Part 2 click here.  Part 3 click here. Part 4 click here.

I’m sitting here on a Friday evening at the tail-end of my first full week back at school (since last week was pock-marked with snow days) after returning from a week spent in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project. At this point, the Haitian dust has settled a bit and the black sneakers I wore most of the week are now, almost, black again, as opposed to the tan hue they took on as a result of the dry, dusty conditions in Grand Goave.

The view of the mountains, just to the right, outside "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen"

The view of the mountains, just to the right, outside “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen”

The beautiful view I had when I walked out our bedroom door each morning, just after waking to the sounds of roosters, however, left a huge impression on me. I’ve got photos of Haiti cycling through as a screen saver on my desktop at home and even the computer screen image of those mountains rising up, even further than the height on which the Hands & Feet Project’s Ikondo mission village is being built, makes me pause and sigh whenever I catch it out of the corner of my eye. It is a very, very special place, indeed.

Today as I was working toward the end of a particularly stressful week I made the comment to more than one person that, while I was in Haiti, I worked harder, physically, than I normally do during a day’s work and I ended up falling right to sleep each evening in Haiti, despite the heat, because, quite simply, I was tired. But, throughout that whole week I wasn’t stressed in even the least bit. It was a joy to be there. I knew that, though, my contributions were relatively small, in comparison to most of the other guys who had a good deal more experience with contracting work, every single thing I did was helping to advance the development of the Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village at least a little bit. Having the chance to be there and to contribute, in even the small manner that I did, to the beautiful work that The Hands & Feet Project does in an area where the need is so desperate was a distinct and humbling honor.

Hands & Feet Project co-director Andrew Sutton's shirt: "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." -Acts 20:24

Hands & Feet Project co-director Andrew Sutton’s shirt:
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” -Acts 20:24

Quite honestly, it has been a challenge to make the transition back to working in a public school in the U.S. where even the most economically disadvantaged students have it far better than the average Haitian child. The adults, too, are all too often, too tangled in their own webs of stress, career goals, and politics to stop and realize just how fortunate we really are to live in America. Though, I should say that it isn’t really a matter of realizing how fortunate we are to live here, but, instead, to realize how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to consume here because, really, that is what we do.

The U.S.A., it seems, is much more characteristic of the moniker: United States of Consumerism. Too many of us, because we haven’t had the chance to step out and see the big picture, aren’t really living. As teachers we work so hard to write lesson plans that will “engage students” (teacher-speak for holding the interest of over-stimulated American children for several minutes in a row), employ technology in the classroom as much as possible, raise district test scores, and placate all of the public stake-holders in an increasingly political occupation that we lose touch with the idea of connecting with humanity. Some of us, it seems, don’t even know what it is anymore. I can say this because these are the conditions that I teach in and I feel the pressures each day, hence the stress.

But, the fact that I’ve had a chance, now, to, not just view a news clip or read an article, but, to actually be in the poorest country on this half of the earth and see just how wide the gap is between the haves and have-nots, has made it truly difficult for me to reconcile, not only the luxuries of my daily life with knowing the profound needs in theirs, but, also the disproportionate amount of energy, time, and stress that goes into trying to “race to the top” in public education with the seemingly little good that it actually does for American kids, let alone the ones who really need the most help.

With Angie and Andrew Sutton, long term American missionaries and directors of the Grand Goave/Ikondo Hands & Feet Project Children's Village sites

With Angie and Andrew Sutton, long-term American missionaries and directors of the Grand Goave/Ikondo Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village sites

Don’t get me wrong. I have some wonderful kids in my classroom every day and being there to witness connections being made, goals being achieved, and confidence being built is an awesome privilege and responsibility, but, it really seems like the cost to benefit ratio is becoming more and more expensive when I know that, dollar for dollar, thought for thought, and pound for pound, there is such a serious and desperate need for investment elsewhere.

What this means for me and for my family, only God knows. Maybe not much in terms of any significant shifts. After all, these are just the typed-words of a middle-aged school teacher at the end of a rough week. But, I can say, for sure, that I am truly inspired by and I have the utmost sincere respect for those who drop their own security, get up, and move to where the need is in order to help address it. That, perhaps, is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about who the heroes of this world are: modern missionaries who give it all up and go to be the Hands and Feet of Christ to “the least of these,” where the need is greatest.

If you are the praying kind of person, or even if you’re not for that matter, please prayerfully consider supporting the work of those who don’t just visit for a week and then fly back to the comforts of home in the U.S., but, the ones who picked up and moved everything in order to live and serve where the need is:

The Sutton Family – the directors we worked most closely with while in Grand Goave

The Mulligan Family – the directors we visited for a day while visiting the Children’s Village they oversee in Jacmel

Find out how you can give a gift of support to the Suttons, the Mulligans, the Moores, or Hands & Feet Child Advocate Michelle Meece

A Week in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project (Part 3)

A few of the beautiful kids that live at the Grand Goave Children's Village of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti

A few of the beautiful kids that live at the Grand Goave Children’s Village of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti

One in a series of posts reflecting upon the week I spent on a short-term mission in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014. For Part 1 click here. For Part 2 click here. For Part 3 click here. For Part 4 click here. For an afterthought reflection about the topic of heroes in relation to addressing needs in the country of Haiti click here.

Teammate James Tompkins playing basketball with Chadieu

Teammate James Tompkins playing basketball with Chadieu

The kids. How do I begin to describe them? They are, of course, the main focus of both Children’s Villages of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti. The statistics that are out there indicating the gap that exists between the life of an average child in Haiti and the life an average American child are absolutely staggering. I won’t get into them in this post, but, as I’ve said before, no matter what I write or say, you can’t really understand just how different life in Haiti is, compared to America, unless you go there. Having done so, now, I can speak with full confidence when I say that, thanks to The Hands & Feet Project, these kids are free to be kids. With their basic needs met the kids are free to enjoy many of the things that kids elsewhere do whether dancing to music, playing basketball, playing soccer, or just goofing around with friends.

The kids at Grand Goave, where I spent most of my week, are mostly upper elementary/early middle school-aged

Kettia, one of the kids we sponsor through The Hands & Feet Project

Kettia, one of the kids we sponsor through The Hands & Feet Project

kids and, like any group of kids, they represent a spectrum of personalities ranging from shy and quiet to bubbly and energetic with all types in between. There was one, however, that I was most interested in meeting. Her name is Kettia and my family has been sponsoring her through The Hands & Feet Project’s Family Room monthly sponsorship program for about one year. After site director Angie Sutton introduced us, Kettia went to her room and came back out with a family photo of my wife, my kids, and I that we’d sent her with a Christmas card several weeks ago. Over the course of the next couple of days we played basketball together, chased each other, and spent a good amount of time playing games and looking at photos on my phone.

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

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

It was during the time that she spent looking at photos on my phone, listening as I explained who or what was in each one, that I made a personal commitment to not just be a long distance sponsor for Kettia. She was so interested in the photos of my family and I and my American experiences that I’d documented with images. I had hundreds of photos on there at the time and she went through every single one! We were there just looking at photos together for nearly an hour and I couldn’t help, but, wonder what thoughts were going through her head as she saw photos of my family of four, together, in our house and elsewhere. I want her to know, going forward, that though she won’t see me that often, she is now a part of our family and we will keep in touch with her throughout each year and for years to come. We will pray for her, specifically, as a family each evening and I will go back to visit with her again. In all, the time we spent together was a moving and bond-strengthening confirmation that the monthly sponsorship we’ve maintained through Hands & Feet has made a real, on-the-ground, impact and we, as a family, are so thankful for the opportunity to be involved.

Odlin, one of the boys I battled against in our ocean water fight Sunday afternoon

Odlin, one of the boys I battled against in our ocean water fight Sunday afternoon

Sunday was our first full day in Haiti and, to be honest, I was kind of nervous about how to interact with the kids, but, my concerns were eased during our Sunday afternoon trip to the beach when I was able to engage a couple of the boys in an all-out ocean water fight. That was when I realized that, unlike some in the normal Haitian population, most of the kids at Hands & Feet can speak both Hatian Creole and, to at least some extent, English. Considering this new tidbit of information together with the fact that water fights are fun for kids no matter what part of the world they grow up in, I was able to step into the water with confidence and, literally, get my feet wet with these kids for the first time! Splashing around with them was a blast and it remains one of my favorite memories from the trip.

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Emmanuel was more than happy to demonstrate the proper way to eat a fresh mango in Haiti

Another favorite experience involved eating freshly-picked mangoes that were given to us by the kids. With a handful of large mango trees on site at the Grand Goave Children’s Village they are a common treat for the kids there who get them either by picking them off the ground after they’ve fallen or by throwing rocks and sticks up into the tree to knock them loose. They are absolutely delicious, but, they are also a mess to eat!

Nickenson, and one of his house brothers, looking at the photo/frame my son Jacob made for him

Nickenson, and one of his house brothers, looking at the photo/frame my son Jacob made for him

After working on projects around the Grand Goave Children’s Village on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we took a day trip to visit the Jacmel Children’s Village on Thursday. We packed into the van and saw some amazing views as we drove two hours over the mountains to Jacmel which is on the south coast of Haiti. The site in Jacmel, while continually expanding, is much more developed than the temporary housing that exists in Grand Goave. The population of kids in Jacmel is, on average, much younger than Grand Goave and I learned rather quickly that these younger kids were much more apt to just run to you, jump up, and cling on than their older counterparts in Grand Goave. What a joy it was to be able to hang out with those little bundles of energy! But, the two highlights of our Jacmel visit, undoubtedly, were visiting the other child that we sponsor through Hands & Feet, Nickenson, and, then, meeting the newest resident at the Hands & Feet Children’s Village in Jacmel, Elijah.

He was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

He was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

Nickenson is a toddler who, as soon as walked through the door in his house, had a big smile on his face! He was very appreciative of the family photo/frame that my son Jacob made for him and it didn’t take long before he had both arms around my neck, holding on to me. One of the things he was most fascinated by, though, was my beard. He just kept playing with it while I chatted with him, trying to soak up his joyful wonder for a few minutes. When a teammate came in and informed me that it was time to leave and they were waiting on me, it broke my heart to have to do so. His house mother had to pull him off after he’d had his arms so tight around my neck and his head on my shoulder. My last view of him was as he was walking back to his bedroom with tears welling up, looking down at the photo I’d given him. My tears have welled up several times since then when reflecting back on that moment.

With 7-day old baby Elijah, the newest resident at the Jacmel Children's Village

With 7-day old baby Elijah, the newest resident at the Jacmel Children’s Village

Before spending time with Nickenson, I had the chance to spend some time with Elijah, the newest resident at the Jacmel Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village. I rocked four-pound Elijah for almost a half-hour and what a privilege it was! He had just been abandoned by his mother who couldn’t or didn’t want to take care of him. She’d planned to leave him on the steps of the hospital – an all too common practice in Haiti, often with disheartening results – but, thankfully, The Hands & Feet Project was there to take him in.

These kids are real and they are beautiful. I know, they are hundreds of miles away from anyone that might read this blog, but, they are living and breathing children with personalities, dreams, and emotions. They’re made of God-given flesh and blood, just like your son or daughter, and just as deserving of love. Thank God, they get a good share of it from their house families and the staff of The Hands & Feet Project.

The following video features the children from The Hands & Feet Project

Little hands, shoeless feet, lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent to grieve
On their own, on the run when their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won’t let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these
When we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

If not us who will be like Jesus
To the least of these
If not us tell me who will be like Jesus
Like Jesus to the least of these

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free shout your name in victory
We will love we will love the least of these

Part 4 coming soon…

A Week in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project (Part 2)

Market in Grand Goave

Market in Grand Goave

One in a series of posts reflecting upon the week I spent on a short-term mission in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014. For Part 1 click here. For Part 2 click here. For Part 3 click here. For Part 4 click here. For an afterthought reflection about the topic of heroes in relation to addressing needs in the country of Haiti click here.

It didn’t take long once I first started taking an interest in the plight of people living in Haiti to realize that there are more than just one or two of my fellow Americans that think focusing on needs in Haiti is, at least, a case of misplaced attention. “We have poor people right here in North Carolina,” they might say. Indeed we do! In fact, in fourteen years of teaching in a public school I know all too well that there are plenty of families that live below the poverty line in the United States. In my classroom during any given school year and on any given day one can find a kid who gets free lunch based on coming from a low-income home working in the same cooperative group as a kid who only wears name brand clothes, has an iPhone, and gets picked up in the car rider line each afternoon by a parent driving a Lexus. Surely, there are people in need right here. But, after spending the last week in Haiti I can say with confidence that the gap between poor American citizens and the average Haitian family is huge! Regardless of what words I choose and how I decide to arrange them in an attempt to blog about just how serious the need is in Haiti, you will never truly understand just how big the gap is between how they live and how we live unless you are there to see it for yourself. At 80%, Haiti has the second highest percentage of residents living below the poverty line in the entire world. In the western hemisphere of the globe, no other country is poorer. In the United States only 12% of citizens live below the poverty line. The cause of such poor living conditions consists of a litany of variables ranging from generations of corrupt government and no public education or social services to natural disasters like 2010’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

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Market in Grand Goave

My dad (1940-2012) preparing breakfast for guests at the local homeless shelter

My dad (1940-2012) preparing breakfast for guests at the local homeless shelter

Just over a year ago, though, knowledge or concern for the plight of Haitians was the farthest thing from my mind. What was on my mind was my dad’s battle with stage four glioblastoma brain cancer. Diagnosed in the fall of 2010, after surgeries, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy, he passed away in a hospice bed in his living room while I had my head on his chest and his lone surviving brother, my Uncle John, sat nearby. My dad had been my best friend. I always looked up to him and he always had time to listen. He was the best man in my wedding and, just a few years prior to his diagnosis, he’d moved south to North Carolina from upstate New York in order to be closer to my wife, my kids, and I and to help provide daycare for my son who was born in 2007. The kids were his pride and joy and it was clear that, after living a life in which he seemed to always get the short end of the stick, he’d finally found a patch of happiness.

With Hands & Feet Project Director Mark Stuart (April 2013)

With Hands & Feet Project Director Mark Stuart (April 2013)

After the diagnosis in 2010 he did his very best to “just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” as he would say, but, on February 20, 2012, during the only snow that winter, we lost him and, even though I had sixteen months to prepare, I’ve never experienced a darker period. But, as is often said, the darkest time is right before the dawn and, as the dust began to settle, I realized that I’d acquired an altered perspective on life in comparison to that which I had before. The thin, quiet, golden thread of faith that I’d clung to, even when it made no sense to do so, was still there and, for the first time, ever, my focus was crystal clear. My priorities were newly shifted and, in large part, thanks to a groundswell of support and compassion from friends and family, I realized that people and the relationships that connect us, are more precious than almost anything else we waste our time entertaining our restless minds with.

The Hands & Feet Project's new building on the mountain at Ikondo. "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen" will be in the room on the first level, where the furthest left window is.

The Hands & Feet Project’s new building on the mountain at Ikondo. “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” will be in the room on the first level, where the furthest left window is.

It was this new perspective that provided the fertile soil for several variables to be planted in, just right, and in a manner that I could’ve never imagined. A bible verse, James 1:27, to be exact, a connection made by a friend, some divine intervention, and the grace and compassion of God, flowing through The Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart, led to the idea of honoring my dad’s memory by naming the kitchen in a new building to be constructed on a mountain in Haiti. The new building on Ikondo is part of The Hands & Feet Project’s plan to provide a facility for older boys who were starting to age out from their program to live and learn vocational trade skills to prepare them for productive lives living as adults in Haiti. While talking on the phone with Mark, immediately after receiving his e-mail delivering the idea of honoring my dad, he suggested that, “Maybe you can come down to see it sometime?” In my head, at the time, it was a ridiculous idea. Yeah, like I’m just going to get up and fly to a third-world country. I soon realized, though, that my perspective wasn’t done evolving.

With Vaddy, the local Haitian artist who made the plaque for the kitchen

With Vaddy, the local Haitian artist who made the plaque for the kitchen

It was toward the beginning of my week in Haiti, Monday or Tuesday evening, I think, when I was taking my day’s end cold shower (hot water was not on the list of available amenities at Ikondo) and I heard my teammate James telling me to hurry up and to come out to the back patio. When I did I found Angie Sutton, one of the site directors, along with James, Marian, and a local Haitian artist who presented me with a hand-made wooden plaque that said, “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen.” I was deeply touched by the Suttons’ sentiment. They’d contacted him a week or so before to make it. I gave him a sincere hug of gratitude for his fine craftsmanship, we took some photos and, before week’s end, we hung it up temporarily for photos in the room the guys on the team had been sleeping in which will eventually be “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen.”

The view of the ocean off the north coast of Haiti, just outside "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen"

The view of the ocean off the north coast of Haiti, just outside “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen”

Once construction is complete at Ikondo, the kitchen will be right next to a breezeway in the two-story structure which will serve as the main eating area at Ikondo. From the doorway of “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen you’ll be able to look to the left through the breezeway to see the ocean on the northern coast of Haiti, and then to the right where you’ll see beautiful Haitian mountains.

My dad was a hard-working, practical guy who grew up on a farm, served as a baker in the Air Force, loved spending time in the kitchen, and, during his years in North Carolina, would often pick me up early in the morning on Saturdays so that we could serve breakfast at the homeless shelter in Salisbury. My son and daughter, the main reasons he made the move south from upstate New York where he’d spent his entire life up to that point, were the joy of his life.

The view of the mountains, just to the right, outside "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen"

The view of the mountains, just to the right, outside “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen”

As I told my wife, it’s very possible that, for years to come, visiting missionaries (another purpose of Ikondo is to house  mission teams) will wonder why there’s a kitchen on a mountain in Haiti named after “Grandpa Rockwell.” They might not all get the full story, but, I know he would be proud of the idea of his name being associated with a kitchen (his favorite room in our house) in a building where hard-working kids will have the opportunity to learn practical hands-on skills in order to make a living.

My family will forever be grateful to Kevin Max for putting me in touch with The Hands & Feet Project and to Mark Stuart and all involved with the organization for the work they do. Sincere gratitude for the burden-lightening gift of honoring my dad with “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” was surely the spark that lit the fuse leading to my first trip to Haiti. However, the experiences I had being in the Hands & Feet Children’s Village serving and spending time with the children growing up in such a desperate country, but, thanks to The Hands & Feet Project, doing so with hopes and dreams, will be the undying fuel that will keep me doing everything I can to continue supporting them and, God-willing, return to Grand Goave, Haiti in 2015.

My heart has been broken and my joy now soars higher than I ever thought it could before. All of my senses have been heightened on account of the trip and I am thankful for the opportunity. I have plenty of room to grow, but, I will continue to offer what I have. Christ has, indeed, given me abundant life and he will do the same for you if you open yourself up to Him.

Part 3 coming soon…

Final design for Ikondo. "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen" will be situated on the first floor in the center of the building, just to the right of the breezeway and tables

Final design for Ikondo. “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” will be situated on the first floor in the center of the building, just to the right of the breezeway and tables

Final design for Ikondo. "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen" will be situated on the first floor in the center of the building, just to the right of the breezeway and tables

Final design for Ikondo. “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” will be situated on the first floor in the center of the building, just to the right of the breezeway and tables

 

With Angie and Andrew Sutton, long term American missionaries and directors of the Grand Goave/Ikondo Hands & Feet Project Children's Village sites

With Angie and Andrew Sutton, long term American missionaries and directors of the Grand Goave/Ikondo Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village sites

Drex Stuart (team leader and father of Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart) looking over the new plaque for "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen." Drex and his wife Jo have been coming to Haiti for mission work since 1979 and actually lived there for nine years.

Drex Stuart (team leader and father of Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart) looking over the new plaque for “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen.” Drex and his wife Jo have been coming to Haiti for mission work since 1979 and actually lived there for nine years.