“God Is Going to Use My Life”: A Friend’s Story

There are some people whom you just connect with instantly. For me, Gary was one of those people. I first met him when his family rented a little apartment on our church property when I was about 12 years old. He and his little brother used to play me and my little brother in furious soccer games before church services in the evening, using a tennis ball and two little rocks on either end of the unfinished building next door as our goals. Gary would “announce” the games in radio Creole as we played, which entertained me when I was winning and infuriated me when I was not. (Since Gary was better than me, I was infuriated more often than not.)

After a few months of getting established in the city, Gary and his family moved down the street to where the radio antennae stood in the swampland near the oceanside. I would go down there before church to shoot the breeze and hang out with Gary. Even though his family only owned a one-room concrete structure close enough to an antenna to hear the buzz of the electrical transponder, his mother always treated me like an honored guest when I came over. 

“Do you want to sit down?” she would ask, dusting a brightly colored plastic chair free of imaginary dust as she pushed it toward me. “Do you want anything to eat?” 

I would always decline both, marveling secretly at how much more hospitable poor people seem to be than anyone else. Gary and I would then launch into a conversation about the news or a recitation of soccer or NBA scores or (our favorite) trying to stump one another with knowledge of world capitals. Gary was always a sharp kid and good at school and his knowledge of capitals was second to none. He usually beat me at that game, too.

Living in Haiti confronts you regularly with enormous inequalities, which can be overwhelming for a kid to process. My parents bought me clothes firsthand from the store in town. Gary wore the same shirt to church every service. My schoolbooks came shrink-wrapped from a warehouse in the U.S. Gary’s mom bought his secondhand at the open-air market downtown. My house leaked when it rained, but we just put a bucket underneath the leak and crawled off to bed under blankets. When it rained in Gary’s neighborhood, no one got to sleep for days. A common memory of my childhood is people showing up to church with their pants rolled up to their knees after walking for miles in streets shin-deep in rainwater. They almost never complained. On one occasion, I can recall being struck with the sheer unfairness of the world one day while talking things through with my mother and bursting into tears.

“How can the world be like this?” I lamented. “How can some people have so much and others have absolutely nothing? It just doesn’t make any sense!” (It still doesn’t.)

When I turned 18, I got to do something most of my friends only dreamed of doing: I left. I got on an airplane, landed two and a half hours later at an airport in Florida. Customs agents in navy blue scowled at the relevant documents for a few minutes and placed an official stamp on a page inside my passport. A few minutes later, through no accomplishment of my own, I was welcomed into the United States. By sheer of accident of birth, I could choose to live here for the rest of my life if I wished. 

I went on to Oregon, where I attended college. Way came to way and Gary and I lost touch as I went through college until three years ago, just before the earthquake, when I was down in Haiti over Christmas break. A pastor from Washington state with a prophetic gift was preaching in our church one Sunday evening. I can’t describe to you the feeling I got as I reconnected with Gary before the service. There was just a sense that things were about to come into alignment in some way, an electricity in the air and a sense that God was about to move. When the pastor finished his sermon, it didn’t surprise me in the least that he fixed his eyes upon Gary and called him up front. He laid his hands upon Gary’s head and prophesied in moving words that the Lord had seen him and was going to use him in a mighty way. I don’t remember the specifics of what he said. I do remember that Gary was visibly moved as the service ended. 

“God is going to use my life,” he said. “God is going to use me.”

Gary started Bible school this year and I had the tremendous privilege of assisting with what he needed to get started. I wrote him recently and told him how proud I was of him. He wrote back quickly, in perfect English: “So proud of you too bro! We’ll never stop working as we can, for the kingdom of God.” People like Gary are a major part of the reason I have chosen to move back. I have been tremendously blessed, and I believe that I have been blessed to be a blessing. I suspect, however, that in the end, I will end up being blessed just as much, if not more, by the faith of people overcoming tremendous odds out of love for Christ.

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

I wrote this last year for my Dad’s birthday. Since it’s his birthday again today, and since I’m moving down to Haiti to be apprenticed in his job, I figured I’d post it again. Happy birthday, Dad!

Today is my Dad’s birthday. Having nearly lost him twice in the last five years (to kidnappers in 2006, then to a brain aneurysm in 2010), I am taking this occasion to write him a tribute, however imperfect and incomplete it might be. 

My Dad was my childhood hero, he was to me a seemingly inexhaustible supply of knowledge and wisdom (I once proudly informed my neighbors’ kids that “my Dad is never, ever wrong”). Since then, even though my view of my Dad’s knowledge has been somewhat chastened, he has played a tremendous variety of roles in my life.

As a child, my Dad was my pastor, teacher, and comforter. My Dad took any opportunity he could to teach me the Bible, in church as well as out, and he taught me a deep passion and reverence for the Word of God. An iconic image of my Dad in my mind’s eye is the sight of him in his “SR” (Study Room), rocking back and forth on his knees, praying in tongues over an open Bible. He taught me, by example as well by admonition, a love for the presence of God as well. As kids, my siblings and I would groan at the sight of my Dad strapping on his classical guitar because we knew that that meant the next 45 minutes would be spent in “family devotions.” Secretly, though, I loved it. One year, when I was 10 or 11, my Dad walked us all the way through the book of Proverbs, teaching us every morning in the hour before schoolwork started. Someone told me recently that “you were born wise,” but the truth is quite the opposite. Any wisdom I have is due to my Dad’s steady determination and cheerful imperviousness to my childhood whining. 

My Dad was the first way the Gospel reached me. When I was five years old, he drew stick figures on a sheet of graph paper to demonstrate what baptism represents. “John is a sinner who needs to be saved by God’s new life,” he explained, drawing a stick figure standing up. “John has to go under the water and die to sin…” (another stick figure lying flat on his back underwater) “but since John trusts Jesus, he will come up out of the water a new creature, leaving his sins in the water” — and now a stick figure with hands stretched upward — “and living a new life with the Holy Spirit of God inside of him.” And then he drove the whole family to the beach and baptized me in the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

My Dad taught me plenty of things besides the Bible as well. He was a history buff, and he would take me on hikes to the old French forts scattered along the coast and tell me the stories behind them. Every time there was a movie on about World War II or Vietnam, we were watching it. He would take obvious delight in explaining to me the stories behind the battles being referenced, what the insignia on the soldiers’ uniforms meant, and a thousand other minute details.

In addition to the knowledge he passed on, my Dad also taught me crucial life lessons by his example. For instance, once, on our way back to the U.S., we had a layover in Port-au-Prince. One of the hundreds of beggar children that roam the airport came up to us and asked if he could shine my Dad’s shoes. My Dad said yes. When the boy was finished, he asked if he could shine my shoes as well (I was wearing white tennis shoes). “No, they don’t need to be shined,” I began to answer, but my Dad looked at me and said very gently, “Let him shine your shoes, son.” He then paid the boy the full price for two shoe-shines. I never forgot that. Over the years, though my Dad acquired a reputation at our church for being a disciplinarian since he wasn’t afraid to call people out for their sin, I watched him quietly create literally hundreds of small “jobs” in our church that we didn’t really need but which helped people make a little more money in a city where there was 80% unemployment.

Due to his childhood spent as a military brat, changing schools every three years, my Dad could understood the dislocation, rootlessness and divided loyalties my siblings and I were experiencing as missionary kids in a way that my Mom could not. “You will never be fully from either the United States or Haiti,” he once told me, and that has proven over time to be true. He was my comforter on several occasions when Haitian kids mocked me because of my skin color or accent or told me to go home because this was their country and they didn’t want me there. My Dad was always able to put things back into perspective and restore my shattered sense of confidence.

As I grew up, I went through an adolescent phase of rebellion and disrespect. There were times when my Dad and I butted heads, and times when I thought he was hopelessly uncool. My Dad saw me through this phase, and through my bouts of insecurity that often coincided with and fueled my attempts to carve out my identity over against him. I had no more faithful encourager through these years – my Dad taught me to play guitar, and refused to let me give it up. When he discovered my first blog late in high school, he read and praised every post I wrote. When I ran into girl issues, and got my heart broken for the first few times, I also had no gentler comforter than my Dad.

When I got to college, and sent my parents a letter of confession of sins I’d committed in high school, the next time my Dad saw me, he hugged and encouraged me without a word of condemnation. He then told me how he saw God at work in my life, how the hardness and rebellion had given way to repentance and a gentle spirit, and he asked a crestfallen teenager if he would preach in his church the next month. I have often seen this spirit of forgiveness at work in him – a few years later, when he was kidnapped, he developed a special relationship with one of his captors, to the point where when they released him, the guy offered him his watch and asked him to pray for him. “Maybe I’ll come visit your church someday,” the kidnapper offered tentatively. “I certainly hope so,” my Dad responded without hesitation. “I would love to see you there.”

So much more could be said about my Dad – about the tremendous work of discipleship he has achieved in Haiti, at the cost of the better part of his adult life, about the 52-day hospital ordeal in Canada that nearly claimed his life last year, about the indomitable faith, hope and love which have been his greatest legacy and his greatest gift to his children, about the obvious and tremendously corny love he still has for my Mom after 30 years of marriage. Suffice it to say, though, that after 26 years of life, my Dad is still my hero. I hope to follow him into ministry and emulate his example. I hope that my life looks as beautiful as his does when I am 56 [57 now].

Why Go Home?

I was born to missionary parents in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1985. My mom & dad worked in a Christian school there until 1988, when they moved north to plant a church in the second-largest city of Cap-Haitien. As a child, I grew up on the church pew, seeing the church blossom into a congregation of over a thousand people. My parents have also started an elementary school, a Bible school, and a radio teaching ministry. You can learn more about their work at rehobothhaiti.com.

I moved to the U.S. after graduating from high school in 2003. I went to Portland Bible College (Portland, Ore.), graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Theology in 2007. It was during this time that I felt the Lord begin to call me to pastoral ministry and lay a burden on my heart for the French-speaking world. After graduating from PBC, I went on to obtain a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., graduating in 2011. Since that time, I have been working in North Carolina, paying back my student loans and seeking to discern the next step in the Lord’s will.

I believe that the Lord is indicating that the next step is to return to the church that sent me out 10 years ago. I practically grew up on the church pew in Haiti and since my college years, I have preached there several times. My church members have invested a lot of prayer into me (they see me as one of their own), and I believe that the Lord is now calling me back there to invest my life into them. In January 2010, through a very particular set of circumstances (which you can read about here), I began to be burdened to see the next generation of Haitian leaders discipled and sent out, sown into the soil in anticipation of revival rains. My desire is to put the degrees that I have attained to good use in the church that discipled me in my earliest years of faith. As someone who has a foot in both the the United States and Haiti, I am qualified to train leaders of intellectual excellence with a particular sensitivity toward the unique context the Haitian church faces.

In order to return to Haiti for one year in late August 2013, I estimate that I will need to raise about $15,000. Since the Bible school where I would be teaching will not be able to pay me a salary, that number includes:

  • Housing ($300 monthly rent to my parents, who have not asked for money but who deserve something for graciously allowing me to stay on their property) = $3,600
  • Food ($300 monthly) = $3,600
  • Transportation (I will not own a car, but $100 monthly to help my parents with gas) = $1,200
  • Student loan payments ($300 monthly) for an entire year = $3,600
  • Airfare to and from Haiti = $1,500
  • Emergency fund (medical, etc.) – $1,500

If you (or your church) would like to partner with me in what the Lord is doing this year, please click “Support” at the top of this page, or visit my parents’ website or e-mail me if you have any questions about the Bible school. May the Lord bless you!

The Glory of the Latter House

Almost three years ago, just before the earthquake, I was at the airport in Port-au-Prince, waiting on a flight to the north. My flight was running a couple of hours behind, so I was wandering around the small terminal with a Bible in my hand and nothing to do. Noticing the Bible, a couple of taxi-stand dispatchers, upon discovering that I was a seminary student, began to pitch me their toughest Biblical questions. For the next hour, they turned me into a portable Bible school, and I relished every moment. During the course of the conversation, I was struck by the spiritual hunger so evident in these people, who were “like sheep without a shepherd,” hungry for the Word of God but untaught and undiscipled.

Gazing out the window later that day as the plane traveled north, my heart was saddened by the brown, arid landscape around Port-au-Prince. Haiti is 97% deforested, and many of the mountains bear deep scars from hurricane-related landslides, as well as mining and quarrying that have been carried out without regard for the natural environment. As the plane began to cross over the mountains, I felt the Lord impress upon my spirit that the natural landscape matched the spiritual state of many people in this country. Centuries of spiritual devastation have left their mark upon the people, and many had perished for lack of knowledge. When storms come, many are swept away because they have no spiritual roots.

As we entered the North, however, I saw rainclouds forming over the mountains, which eventually gave way to a lush, green rain valley. I felt another impression upon my spirit: God was going to pour out his Spirit upon Haiti and create a revival that would begin in the North and touch the rest of the country. I shared this with my church the following Sunday as the conclusion to a sermon out of John 6, which says that Jesus did not come merely to give bread, but to be bread given for the life of the world. In that passage, Jesus says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no life in us. I challenged each individual member of our local church to take Jesus seriously, to eat His flesh and blood, taking the Word of God into themselves so as to be prepared to play a role in the harvest that the Lord would create in Haiti.

The rest of my trip to Haiti that winter was spent assisting two pastors’ conferences–one in the South in Grand-Goave and one in the North in Cap-Haitien. Both conferences were blessed with powerful times of praise and worship when the manifest presence of God was thick and tangible. During the latter conference, I saw a couple of my childhood friends receive prophetic words over their lives. It was incredibly moving for me to see these brothers, who had previously been on the fringes of the church, get set into the church and begin to move into their calling and destiny. On my last Sunday there, as the rain poured down, my church ordained three new elders and rejoiced as one was sent out to plant a new church across town. On Tuesday, I flew back to the U.S., leaving Port-au-Prince at around 11:30 in the morning.

At 4:53 later that same day, a powerful earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince and changed the course of Haiti’s history. In the weeks and years since the earthquake, awash in the flood of news coverage and the grief of seeing a country that I love suffer such tremendous tragedy, the promise of revival has continued to burn ardently within my heart. Reports of the Haitian church’s overwhelming faith–American journalists marveled time and again that Haitian Christians sang God’s praises, sometimes atop the ruins of their own churches and homes–continued to remind me that God’s promise to us will be fulfilled, even in the midst of such calamity.

Long ago, the prophet Haggai predicted a day when God would “shake all nations.” In that day, the prophet said, the desired of all nations would come (or perhaps, depending on the translation, the people will come to the Desire of All Nations), and the Lord would fill this latter house with a glory far surpassing the former Temple (Hag. 2:7, 9). Some would say that this passage is only about the Second Temple, built and destroyed centuries ago. The author of Hebrews, however, interprets it eschatologically (Heb. 12:28) and thus I believe that we can, too. In these last days, God is shaking the nations and pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh, even upon Haiti. He is bringing the rains of revival to a barren land, and I hope that you will join me in praying, watching, and laboring for and with our brothers and sisters there, because the glory of the latter house in Haiti is going to be an incredible sight to behold.