catching up on life and links

After being in Haiti for a week (seven days without tv and little-to-no internet access), followed by a week at my cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin (where a few tv stations come in fuzzy and there is only internet access when the wind blows strong enough to pick up the wireless signal from one of our neighbors), I am finally catching up on what has been going on in the world while I was away from my “normal” reality. For instance,

In the pop-culture world, Coldplay’s new album has already set tons of download/sales records in only a month and the latest season of MTV’s Real World (Hollywood) came to an end. (Note: I have been listening to the new Coldplay album (a lot!) and am currently writing a theological review of it that will hopefully be online later this week.)

In celebrity gossip, Angelina Jolie had twins and Jimmy Kimmel & Sarah Silverman broke up, among other things that most people don’t care about.

In the wacky world of church and theological politics, a college student in Florida says he received death threats for “smuggling” communion wafers out of church…seriously?

And of course, in the wonderful world of sports, I’m excited about the recent moves being made by the Timberwolves (a team for which I am a season ticket holder for the upcoming season) and I am frustrated and saddened by all the Brett Favre retirement/return drama…why are you doing this Brett? Just make up your mind, please.

Looking through this quick list of news and events, all of which I have actually spent time caring about since returning to my “real world,” it makes me think about how much different my life is compared to so many other people around the world. I’m thinking specifically of my friends in Haiti who I was hanging out with just a few weeks ago. The more I learn about and see others parts of the world, the more I come to understand that the realities of life that most Americans – like me, you, and anyone else who has access to read this blog – are lucky enough to live, is a lot better/nicer/easier than how a majority of people in the world will ever experience life, even for a day.

I realize I’m not the only person in the world who has come to this realization; nor am I the only person who has had the opportunity to see the faces of poverty in other parts of the world, but I’m not writing this to convince you of anything specifically that I think…I’m just asking you to think.

Think about all the blessings in your life, have you done
anything to deserve them?
We should recognize what we have and give thanks for the ways
we are blessed.
I realize some people don’t like this country, but if you
live in America, you are lucky.
Maybe you’re critical of America, and it’s understandable
if you are, but have you thought about how lucky you are
to live in a truly free country?
Have you ever stopped to think that someone in your family tree,
(probably several generations ago),
sacrificed everything they had,
left the only life they knew,
packed up all their stuff and did whatever they had to do to get here
(most of them probably sat on a boat to travel across the ocean),
and when they got here,
they had to completely start over,
new place to live, new job, new language, everything,
(it was probably really hard for at least the first couple of generations),
and they did all this so that you could have a better life?

We don’t deserve to live the way we do in America any more than my friend Tijean deserves to live in a one-room shack with four of his family members in Haiti. But we can learn a lot from Tijean. He is happy and joyful. He works hard. He is respectful to everyone and thankful for everything, often sharing the little he has with others. He makes the most of life, and that’s what we should be doing as well.

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it’s been a while

No, I’m not quoting the painfully annoying song by Staind from back in 2001, I’m simply stating the obvious, it’s been a while; or, as Kevin Garnet might say, “it’s been a minute” since I last posted anything on anewdoxology. To be specific, the last time I wrote was about three weeks ago and it was the day before I left for Haiti to film a documentary – with my friend Andrew Brown – on the realities of life in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. There were four of us (from America) in our group. They are all good friends of mine and we had an incredibly memorable and meaningful week together in Haiti.

Highlights include the baptism of our friend Partick’s son Evan (I was even asked to be his godfather…what an honor!), spending time at the beach with the family and child (Jean, 10 yrs old) I have sponsored through Compassion International since 2005 (this is the third year in a row I was able to hang out with Jean and his family, and one of my friends sponsors his little sister), and we even has the opportunity to visit the neighborhoods and homes of some of our Haitian friends while interviewing them and collecting footage for the documentary.

If you’d like to see some pictures from the trip, along with my commentary to explain what you’re looking at, here are links to a few photo albums I made public on facebook (you can view them even if you’re not on facebook, or if you are but you’re not my friend).

one week in Haiti: a documentary

I am leaving for Haiti tomorrow morning to film a documentary.

Since 2005, I have been involved with a non-profit organization called the Haiti Mission Project (HMP). Our group has been connected with churches, individuals and organizations in Haiti for over 10 years now, mostly through trips to Haiti, but also through the friendships that have grown out of those trips (both with other Americans from groups, but also with the Haitian people who we spent time with during the trips). We have even helped some of our Haitian friends come to the U.S. to visit, and because many of us have gone to Haiti several times, we no longer see our trips so much as “mission trips” – although we certainly do “mission work” while we’re in Haiti, currently including a building project that will include an orphanage, medical clinic and food storage/distribution center near Lilavois – but our trips are also an excuse to visit our friends.

The biggest struggle and frustration that comes with each trip is sharing what we’ve seen and experienced in Haiti with people back in the states, people who will never experience those realities in person. Perhaps some of you have experienced this same frustration after visiting other countries, or even different contexts here in America.

This frustration has been wearing one a few of us for some time now, and we’ve finally decided to try doing something in response. Tomorrow morning, I will be going to Haiti with a talented film student from California (and two others) to attempt to capture some glimpses of everyday life in Haiti by making a documentary. We realize that anything we capture will be from our perspective as Americans – how can it not be, since we will be holding the cameras? – but as much as possible, we want to let the Haitian people tell their own stories. We want the version of Haiti that is portrayed in the film to be as close to the “real” Haiti as possible. So we will have conversations with our Haitian friends and acquaintances (on film) to give them an opportunity to help us decide how to tell the story of their country…since after all, as the people of Haiti, it is their story.

We have spent enough time in Haiti to realize that hope is definitely alive and well there, and despite the difficult realities that many of them live in, the people still have plenty of energy and joy for life…even though many outsiders only see their country as a place of poverty and hopelessness. It is because of these misperceptions of Haiti (by the media, in the news) that we are going to Haiti to make this film. We want to uncover the hope and vibrancy of life that we have so often seen in a place and a people where others only see poverty and despair. That is what we want to portray in our documentary and instill in its viewers; a hope that might not necessarily make sense, yet undeniably still exists.

It happens to be my belief that there is no such thing as “false hope,” so if you see or meet someone who is hopeful, then that hope is not something you can take away from them. We see it as our role to share those stories of hope with others in hopes that they will be inspired to join us in our efforts (not only our efforts with the Haiti Mission Project, but several others who are working to raise awareness and make a difference in and for the people of Haiti and throughout the world, wherever people are in need).

Poverty, hopelessness and despair is not the only version of Haiti’s story that people should see and hear, because it isn’t accurate and it’s not fair to the people (both the Haitian people and people who have been working for years to help making a difference there). That’s why we feel called and led to make a documentary that shows Haiti for what it really is…a place of hope and joy amidst the obvious struggles and brokenness of everyday life. To do this, we will show some wide-angle images of the country, but more importantly, we will also zoom in on several individuals who each have a story that is worthy of being shared and heard. By showing both perspectives of the nation and it’s people, we believe stateside viewers will not only experience the brokenness and confusion that is often part of visiting a third-world country, but we think they might also get a sense of the overwhelming joy, hope and belief that is so evident in many of Haiti’s people.

There will be four of us flying into Port-au-Prince tomorrow and we will be staying for seven days (until July 2). In addition to myself, it will be the film student from LA, and two others from Minneapolis – a nurse and a teacher – both good friends of mine. It is truly humbling to be able to go on a trip and be part of a project like this, but it’s even more special when you’re going with some of your best friends. Please pray for our health and safety, and if at all possible, that we might accomplish most of our goals during the brief time we have there.

Walk for Haiti

Please consider supporting the people and country of Haiti by joining others at the Third Annual Walk for Haiti on Sunday, June 1st at Normandale Lake in Bloomington, Minnesota. The Walk for Haiti is an awareness event put on by the Haiti Mission Project (HMP), an organization I have been involved with the past three years. There is no registration fee for this year’s walk, but instead we are asking people to make a donation to the Haiti Mission Project–in whatever amount they are able–to help us reach our goal of raising $5,000.

(The HMP is a non profit organization, which means your donations are tax-deductible, and thanks to a generous corporate sponsor for this year’s event, 100% of all the donations from the Walk for Haiti will go toward furthering the HMP’s mission of sharing God’s hope and love in Haiti.)

If you’re interested in attending the walk and/or supporting the HMP, the links below will take you to the appropriate pages.

Hope in Haiti

I’m not sure how many of you watch 60 Minutes regularly, but every once in a while me and my roommates see previews for something interesting that’s going to be on and we set the DVR to record it. I just watched a segment from last night’s episode while eating lunch today and it was really great. The segment was called “Dr. Farmer’s Remedy” and it tells the incredible story of Paul Farmer, a doctor who has literally helped save millions of lives by providing free health care for people throughout the world, many of them who were suffering from treatable illnesses like malaria, tuberculosis, aids and women who die in child birth. Along with a few others doctors, Farmer helped start Partners in Health around 20 years ago. Today, Partners in Health has hospitals and provides care in nine countries including Peru, Russia, Mexico, three countries in Africa and the country where Farmer was first inspired to begin doing what he does, in Haiti.

Please watch this video segment from 60 Minutes. It’s only 12 minutes long and it offers an incredible glimpse into the life and perspective of a person who sees hope where others only see hopelessness. (I couldn’t embed the video on this page, but click HERE to watch it on cbs.com.) The images of people, poverty, landscape and roads in this short video look incredibly similar to what I’ve seen in Haiti.

By the way, a few days ago I bought plane tickets to go to Haiti at the end of June to make a documentary that will hopefully create some more awareness of what is going on there and the need for more people to join Paul Farmer in believing that the persistent efforts of committed people over time really can make a difference.

prayers for Haiti

Some of you have probably already read what I wrote about the current situation in Haiti a few days ago, but it’s not good. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just google “Haiti” and then click News and read any of the recent articles.) Haiti is already an unstable and impoverished country, but lately food prices have gotten completely out of hand to the point where people who were already poor and hungry are no longer able to afford any food, and unfortunately some of them are now turning to violence out of frustration. Many people are aiming their frustration at the government (as made clear when mobs of people attempted to storm the presidential palace a few days ago). The Haitian president made a statement yesterday that seems to have only calmed people down temporarily, so people are now waiting to see what happens; expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Not to justify any of the violence and destruction that is happening in Haiti right now, but it’s worth noting that the average “working” Haitian only makes about $2 US per day (and very few have full-time employment), so you can imagine what it’s like trying to feed a family when food costs go up by 50% (and you couldn’t really afford food to begin with).

I’m not someone who gets into politics, I’m not an activist by any measure and I rarely even watch the news, so honestly, if it weren’t for my involvement in Haiti over the past three or four years, I probably wouldn’t even know what’s going on there right now, but I have witnessed the reality of life in Haiti with my own eyes and I have several friends who live in Haiti who I know are being effected by all that’s going on right now. It simply doesn’t seem fair that me and everyone I know has so much, yet the people in Haiti have literally nothing. I don’t expect everything to get fixed overnight, but I do wonder how it got this bad and I feel led to be involved in efforts to make things better, even if it’s just getting better for one person at a time.

What’s happening right now is a/effecting me even more than usual because I was planning to go to Haiti with 14 others this Saturday. We are having an emergency board meeting tonight to make a final decision about our trip, but based on all the conversations and emails we’ve had with the various people we know who are in Haiti right now, along with the news reports, images and videos we’ve seen, it doesn’t look like it would be safe enough for us to go right now…and that really sucks.

I was excited to see my friend Tijean, a Haitian teenager who has the same birthday as me (and it just so happens that “our” birthday is this Monday, so we were going to have a party together). I sponsor a boy from Haiti named Jean who I have been able to hang out with each time I’ve been there (and I was going to see him again on Wednesday). The man who drives us around in Haiti is named Leonard and he is the most joyful man I have ever known (he responds to our every request with the words “that’s no problem”). I could tell you about Gertrude who runs the guest house where we stay or her daughter Rosie who sits on our laps and gives us hugs, about Patrick who is one of the guards at the guest house who makes sure we’re safe or Karen and Randy who are missionaries from Canada and run a Christian school, about Pastor Louie at the Lutheran church where we worship or all the children in the orphanages we visit who touch our hearts in ways we never could have imagined. More than the thrill of experiencing life in a different culture, getting away from the crummy Minnesota weather or even deepening my understanding of what it means to be one of God’s people in God’s world, more than all those things I am sad that I won’t get to see my friends. It’s about people and relationships and I was excited to see my friends.

Please pray for the leaders and people of influence in Haiti, that they will find ways to restore peace and meet the basic needs of the people who are suffering right now. Pray for my friends in Haiti who are involved with movements that are making positive changes. Selfishly, if you could also pray for me and my friends who were hoping to go and get our hands dirty trying to make a difference, but are now forced to watch from a distance, feeling even more helpless than when we are there. Thanks for reading this and thank you for your prayers.

“it is not fair”

Here is a portion of an email I got late last night from one of my good friends who is part of the group that was planning to go to Haiti on Saturday. I asked her permission to share this with you because I think her words describe how many of us are feeling today…
I have tried about 3 times to turn out my lights and go to sleep. I am so restless, the tears keep creeping up on me and streaming down my cheeks, and I feel a dull headache behind my eyes. This is so minimal to how so many people in Haiti feel right now. I know I will never understand it all and I am trying so hard to lean on God in these moments. I can’t help but think of TiJean, Rosie, Jean, Danica, Charwens. Why? Why does life need to be so hard? I will say it a million more times I am sure but “it is not fair.”
I am laying in my bed and I am haunted by the silence. I hear nothing but the hum of my ceiling fan keeping me comfortable as I try to fall asleep. I hear no roosters, dogs, sweeping, chanting, yelling, crying kids from Notre Maison or worse yet gun shots. How blessed am I? I am not out to change the world but how can God use me/us in this crummy situation. I have to trust and believe that something incredible is going to come of this whole situation. I can honestly say that my heart physically hurts right now.