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

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


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.


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…


Your words unfolded on a winter timberland
Where even evergreens lost their luster
Any semblance of life was frozen in slumber

A desolate landscape worn down in between
Weathered hardwoods without leaves
A sleet-soaked forest floor without green

For a season not defined by a tilting earth
But maturing perspective on what is worth
And turned by the labor pains of grace’s birth

With nary a prophecy or a sign to be seen
A portion of faith handed down to me
Since planted has yielded blossoms serene

Saturated with the most extravagant colors
Leading us steadily onward and upward
In a glorious green toward eternal spring

Audio Adrenaline Resonates With KINGS & QUEENS (music review)

KINGS & QUEENS Audio Adrenaline Out 3/12/13

KINGS & QUEENS is a delicious first offering from the remixed line-up of Audio Adrenaline. At once it is a respectful nod to the legacy of Audio Adrenaline with light, pop ringers like “He Moves, You Move,” and “King Of The Comebacks,” but, also, a bold step forward breaking new ground for the band with songs such as “The Answer,” and “Seeker.” Both tracks are delivered skillfully by Dave Ghazarian (guitar), Jared Byers (drums), Jason Walker (keyboard) and original Audio Adrenaline member Will McGinniss, in an arrangement with a vibe that fits new lead singer Kevin Max like a tailored Italian suit. While the album as a whole is well done, “20:17 (Raise The Banner),” and “I Climb The Mountain,” passionately communicate hope and inspiration in a manner that is sure to resonate with many listeners. The lead single “Kings & Queens” is currently rising through the top ten on the Billboard Christian Songs chart and rightfully so. It raises a flag of hope and awareness for the orphaned and once abandoned children in Haiti that are now being served, fed, sheltered, and educated through the Hands & Feet Project, an organization founded by Mark Stuart and Will McGinniss in 2004. In fact, the entire Audio Adrenaline relaunch is an integral part of The Hands & Feet Project’s effort to raise the awareness and support necessary to expand so that they can care for more children in Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, where the need for such care is so desperately critical. Put together cooperatively by original singer Mark Stuart, original bass player Will McGinniss, and the rest of the 2013 Audio Adrenaline line-up, this project delivers cleanly on a musical level and definitely has the potential to deliver on a humanitarian level for the orphans of Haiti through The Hands & Feet Project. Those two factors alone make this one of the most important albums to pay attention to in a long time. The legacy of Audio Adrenaline is alive, well, and moving forward.

How To Live Life

Spirituality and belief in something beyond what we can see and physically touch is a challenge, I think, for most people at one point or another in their life, if not, their whole life. My 36 (nearly 37) years have been threaded with alternating seasons of light and dark. Of late, however, I’ve been made keenly aware, because of the kindness of others and the grace of God, of just how powerful faith can be.

In a nutshell, after a sixteen month battle with brain cancer, during which I was his primary caregiver, my dad, who was also, most appropriately, the best man in my wedding, passed away in February 2012. My wife and I spent most of 2012 working through all of his final arrangements, bills, estate, etc. It was in autumn, after having his modular home on the market for several months and only receiving offers worth just over half of what was owed on the mortgage that we were growing more and more worried about the prospect of having to forget about any prospect of a profit and, instead, having to pay thousands of dollars to pay off the mortgage.

As many do in stressful circumstances, I prayed. At that point, just not having to pay off the mortgage would be a huge relief for us, so, in the midst of my prayer, it occurred to me that, if we were able to somehow get some kind of profit from the sale of the house that we would be willing to turn it over to God by donating it to the Hands & Feet Project.

The Hands & Feet Project provides family-style care to orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti and I’d just become aware of their existence a few months before, but, recognized the fact that they are doing the work, specifically, that the bible directs Christians to do (“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.” -James 1:27 NIV).

Within a month or two we signed the paperwork and handed over the keys to the house and walked away with a profit of about $2,500 that we sent to The Hands & Feet Project, along with an e-mail explaining a bit about who my dad was, how the donation came about, and why we were making it.
It wasn’t long before I received an e-mail from Hands & Feet director Mark Stuart stating:

    Mark…    What can I say. Your email and blog has me in tears. What an incredible honor to     your father to make a donation in his memory. I would like for the funds to got to something in his name. Perhaps our new kitchen on the mountain in Ikondo. We could honor his memory by calling it the Rockwell kitchen. What do you think?    Your friend…    

The kindness and the timing of their gesture to offer up the idea of honoring my Dad by naming the kitchen in the new orphanage after him absolutely blew me away on so many levels! The positive effect on the life of my kids, my wife, and myself – in terms of grief that we’re still sorting through, and in terms of the layers of darkness lifted off of his memory due to the manner in which his life ended – is monumental. The idea that this kitchen, with my Dad’s name on it, in an orphanage in Haiti where food will be prepared for a number of kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a home or parents, probably, is too wonderful for me able to me to be able to properly articulate in words. It honors my dad in a way that would truly move him.

I’ve come to the realization that true life is found in our willingness to act in faith, not knowing for sure, and trust in the notion that, if we seek Him and his direction, first, we can’t help but to find a more meaningful, more colorful, and more satisfying life. Now, I am inspired and more clear about who I really am than I’ve ever been before. This isn’t because of something that I did or some kind of sacrifice that I made. The profit from the house wasn’t even there to give until I trusted God. This was his grace – his love – at work. I simply trusted Him. Now my entire life has found a new meaning and taken on a heightened sense of purpose that I was never aware of before.

I read the twenty-fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew to my kids this evening before bed this evening:

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.34 “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.’37 “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?’40 “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.’

Jesus wants us to actually pay attention to those around us. It might be a neighbor, an elderly relative, a lonely kid at school, or a stranger you pass on the sidewalk. It might be your husband or your wife. Your brother or your sister. It might be an orphan in Haiti. But, wherever you find somebody in need, you have the opportunity to help them, and in doing so, serve Jesus directly.

If Jesus appeared next to you right now and asked for a drink of water, would you give it to him?

If an abandoned or orphaned child asked for a home to live in, would you help them find it?

Please consider donating to The Hands & Feet Project