Friday, March 21, 2008


This Easter weekend, I am spending my time at the Lakeway Resort and Spa in Lakeway, TX near Austin. The money in this area is, to put it simply, overflowing. Because my family is not particularly wealthy, I still find the abounding wealth staggering. Multi-million dollar houses line Lake Travis on all sides with towering columns and magnificent fountains atop perfectly landscaped and manicured lawns.
Call me legalistic, but I am not fond of such flaunted wealth. Nevertheless, the architecture of such homes astounds me. The creativeness and ingenuity put into these designs are incredible. I do not wonder at the amount of money that it takes to build the house but at the intellect it takes to create it.
However, on my first night at the resort, after a completely overpriced dinner, my brother, father and myself went outside on a balcony to view the landscape of the lake. Under the light of the stars, the lake reflected the white and red lights of houses against the dark blue water in a pure and surreal melody of color. As my brother and father were once again admiring the architecture and design of the homes and the resort, I noticed a small spider upon the railing. This small creature made me begin to think.
It appeared to me ironic that everyone around me in all of their wealth were wondering at the man-made architecture, but this small invertebrate was spinning a web that rivaled, if not completely surpassed, the greatest of all architects with its intricate designs.
Not long after noticing this one little spider, I realized that an entire colony of spiders inhabited the balcony rails. I stopped counting after thirty spiders, fearing that I would soon come to the point of subjecting myself to nightmares of spider attacks that night. The manner in which their individual webs lined the balcony reminded me of the houses that lined the lake, each with its own unique characteristics, but all a masterpiece of design. Perhaps I am personifying the small creatures too much, but I could not help but think how similar our lives are to theirs, just on different levels.
When I returned to my room, my brother informed me that our personal balcony was also "infested" with more than ten spiders. It appears that no matter how much we believe ourselves to be alone in the world, we are not. We find ourselves to be subject to the ways of society and of nature. Fortunately, we are provided with intellect to choose our way of life, not based solely on instinct. One truth we must remember, however, is that we are not alone. I am not one to promote a "united nations" mindset or any stereotypical international community, but everything we do affects others.
Maybe the best thing we can do is follow the spiders examples and adapt to our surroundings. When someone builds a wall on top of your home, take the wall and make it a masterpiece, full of our individual, unique webs—our contributions to the world. Although a global community may be an idealistic concept, it could become a bit more of a reality, not through governments or laws, but through each person's love and concern for others. Each trial we receive in life is a piece of lumber, a strand of silk, which we can either toss to the wind or use to create our homes, our webs, our community.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Nightmare Continues

This short entry is in response to Theresa Flores' book The Sacred Bath: An American Teen Girl's Story of Modern Day Slavery.

I sit, my heart racing, my hands shaking, hardly able to hold the book, which reveals such torturous events, yet not able to put it down. I feel as though tears want to well up from within my, but the anger of such cruelty holds them down. How could anyone be so evil! My heart cries. What have they done? Unfortunately, this is not the right question to ask. Truly I should be asking, “What are they doing?” For the horrors have not stopped. The injustices continue day in and day out. Every moment, every secret she tells, seems to be the pinnacle of evil. But the horrors keep unfolding. At the end of each event, she reminds you…there is more. It seems impossible, but it is true. More and more, days and days of torture that is too hard to bare, much less to think about someone actually experiencing. What is this? I ask. The story seems like something out of a horror novel. People taking advantage of an innocent soul! Ripping away her very innocence! I am enraged, and yet, because the story is of the past, I can do nothing to stop it. I long let the book drop from my hands, but I cannot! No, I must endure this, so I may share in her pain! Share in her grief! In her utter misery! So I do, until the very end. And the end is no less comforting than the beginning because the end reminds that the nightmare lives on for 27 million people around the world. It is the nightmare of modern day Slavery. It is the nightmare of Human Trafficking. The nightmare continues; to stop it, America must wake up.

If you want to know more about Human Trafficking, please look into different Web sites including,, and

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Simple Complexities

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to have someone else's life? In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens says, "A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other." In the book, as the main character looks upon a city at night, he ponders that "every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it."
Yesterday, I drove with my mom and brother from my home in San Antonio, TX to Graham, TX, a city with a population of about 8,700 and a drive of approximately five hours. Fortunately, I'm used to these sorts of drives. When I was younger, my family and I would drive three days every year to visit family in North Dakota. During these journeys, I've learned to entertain myself with music and books. But nothing compares to the time that I have to sit and reflect on the lives of others. Perhaps the most mind-stretching concept for me is the thought of farmers' way of life: every morning, rising before the sun to perform their daily tasks of feeding the animals and preparing their tractors.
Such simplicity, and yet, I wonder what they think of me.For I hold in my heart as many secrets as they. Both of us are doing what we must for survival. Both look at the same moon every night and keep time by the same sun. Maybe we are not so different after all. But who would ever really be able to tell because neither of us are willing to completely open up our hearts. Even the most honest person fails to expose himself to being completely transparent. No, the human heart is one thing that can never be taken apart. It cannot be fully simplified. It is interesting- the desire of man to simplify life. Man can never just allow things to be complex. We never want anything to be larger than ourselves.
An article in the March issue of National Geographic discusses a research project attempting to find a "God particle," which would provide a more simple explanation to life than the current theories. However, I find that knowing there is something greater than myself is the very fact that comforts me. Few things please me more than standing beneath the towering trees in North Dakota and looking up at their branches reaching toward the heavens.
So, with this digression, I resolve that Charles Dickens was correct: the secrets of hearts are "a wonderful fact." We must not mourn that we do not know all things, but, instead, rejoice that we do not. For with knowledge comes a responsibility to correct wrongs. And although we should help fix those we can, it is clearly impossible to cure all the wrongs of the world. Therefore, personally, I would care to leave this task in the hands of the same One who made the intricacies of the human heart and the branches of the magnificent firs. I rejoice that I can be simple and the world can be complex, and all the while, Someone is watching over us both.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Haiti: A Forsaken Paradise

I wrote this article after my trip to Cap Haitien, Haiti, in the summer of 2007.

The deep green mountains rise gloriously into the thin sheets of white clouds as small houses speckle the mountainside. The beach only six miles northwest is a haven of peace and relaxation, the therapeutic spa of nature as the ocean waves sooth the mind and the perfectly placed trees provide the exact amount of shade needed for a respite from the harsh rays of sun while still allowing enough UV rays for a beautiful tan. Seventeen miles in the opposite direction lies a history buff’s paradise of ruins including a palace and a 108,000 square feet (10,003.5 square meters W) fort located atop a 3,000-foot (914.4 meters W) mountain. The beach is Labadie; the palace is San Souici, home of Henri Christophe; the fort is the Citadelle la Ferriere, a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site; and the city over which the mountains keep watch is Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city after Port-au-Prince.
Behind the media coverage of political violence and civil unrest lies a place of indescribable beauty waiting to be rediscovered. However, the reports are not without great truth. The decades of political turmoil and corrupt government are evident from the central plaza of Cap-Haitien to the small thatch roof homes in the mountain villages. The hardships of living in a poverty stricken country are engraved on the faces of the hundreds of citizen who sit everyday on the busy streets waiting for work or for buyers of the few goods that they have refurbished for sale. Stores of automobile and bicycle parts, the products that seem to be in highest demand, line the streets. With few paved roads, cars do not run for long before they must be repaired. Although few residents own personal cars (most ride small motorcycles or bicycles), taxis calls “tap-taps” stuffed full with passengers crowd the streets. The “tap-taps” are named because whenever the car needs to stop for a pick-up or drop-off, a man who rides on the back will alert the driver by tapping the top of the truck. In the center of town, young men sometimes pull 10-foot long carts loaded with hundreds of pounds of goods, most often charcoal. This job is a death sentence for all who take it on as the average man lives less than ten years after beginning this daily routine. The main streets run in a grid fashion with alleys that lead to housing jutting from the sides of the streets. Because of the lack of drainage and litter control, these dirt-road streets are lined with garbage often sitting in stagnant water that is overlaid with a meadow of algae, creating a stunning stench. Motorcycles drive by as the children play or do their chores and animals including goats, chickens, and canine muts excrete in the midst of trash piles.
Despite the complete absence of sanitation or wealth, signs that read “Merci Jesus” are painted in bold font that would be considered graffiti in some countries. These spiritual messages are written not only on churches but also on the walls of businesses and on the hoods of taxis. According to the CIA World Factbook, eighty percent of Haitians are Roman Catholic and sixteen percent are Protestant. However, these practices are often mixed with voodoo rituals that continue from their tribal ancestors.
This summer, ten youths and two sponsors from Oak Hills Church traveled to this place of great poverty and growing Christian faith. The team prepared for this journey as much as they could. Meeting together once a week for a month, the team prepared lessons, learned Creole phrases and songs, and checked and rechecked the packing list. They listened to stories from missionaries of the past years, perhaps did a little extra research on the geography and history of Haiti, and prepared their minds as best they could for what they were about to face. But nothing could prepare them completely.
The first day came, exactly how others had described it, but certainly not what most of the team had envisioned, that is except for those returning for their second year in a row. Everyone having their own idealized picture in their mind, they now realized the reality of what they would face: poverty, insanitation, unpaved streets and lots of heat. I was a part of this team, and I was surely not prepared for what I was about to face.
As the team stepped off the airplane, it was obvious that we had entered another country. After about twenty minutes of sweating in the un-air-conditioned airport, we walked out into the streets of Cap Haitien. We loaded into our Diahatsu truck and traveled to the orphanage that would become our home for the next week. My first instinct was to pull out my notepad and start recording everything I saw, but I quickly realized that there was just too much to take in at once. It would have been impossible to even captured everything on camera. We drove down what you could call “paved roads,” although the more precise term would probably be “tar road with potholes four feet wide and a foot deep” in the center of town. I could pick out certain French words from the muddle of messages that adorned the stores lining the streets. One sign had the days of the week (at least the days on which I assume the shop was open). Another building had a picture of an ice cream cone, which sounded rather tempting in the scorching heat. However, I knew it would not be safe to consume ice cream in this town. I was already told how careful we must be with our water, and we had all brought a large selection of food for our lunches when we were away from the orphanage.
Our first meal was at the only “nice” hotel in Cap-Haitien, the Picolet. Still not air-conditioned, but with a nice breeze and a few fans, we had our first taste of Creole food as we sat on the patio looking out toward the sea. Spaghetti, pasta with Creole spices, seems to be a Haitian favorite at many restaurants. After eating this Haitian spaghetti, I realized (I seemed to be doing a lot of that this trip), that nothing would be like it was at home. At lunch, Alfred, a pastor in Benjamin, told us the story of the village where we planned to travel later in the week. Though it was difficult to follow the translation, we were still able to understand the work that God was doing in that community. Unfortunately, rains had come shortly before our arrival, creating a possible roadblock to our journey to Benjamin. We also received a short lesson in Haitian currency as James pulled out the money to pay for our meal.

The children did not come running as we entered the orphanage, but they simple sat and stared as they became accustomed to our presence. Once we pulled out the balls, Frisbees, jump ropes and other toys, the children came to life. I was amazed at the unselfishness of the children. Because of the few toys they have, I expected them to covet the toys and keep them to themselves, but I soon found all the boys playing catch with each other as well as our team and the girls taking turns with the jump rope. After spending the day getting settled into the orphanage and building our relationships with the children, we ate our first “home-cooked” meal in Haiti. The fruit was a welcomed refresher, its juicy goodness filling our quickly drying mouths.
That night, as on all the nights that the children do not attend church, the kids of the orphanage held a devotion before bedtime. Rodely (pronounced Woodlee), an eighteen-year-old member of the orphanage who is fluent in French, Creole, English, and is working on Spanish, led the devotion. To begin the devotion, everyone started singing a worship song in Creole. I was in awe. To the professionally trained ear, it might not have sounded like much. But in the poverty of Haiti, this was the sound of angels. Every off-key note produced from the lips of the children was a perfect harmony that connected this family of orphans as brothers and sisters in Christ. The most amazing part of the devotion was that there we no adults present. It seemed that no one told them they must have devotion. No one made sure they were acting properly or singing the right songs. They were doing this out of their own free will, and they enjoyed it. On the last night, one of the young boys was looking at a magazine he had received from another visitor to the orphanage. Without saying a word, Rodely quietly walked over to him during a song and took it out of his hands. The boy did not resist, but calmly submitted to Rodely’s authority. They truly are a family as they hold each other accountable, the older ones acting as the parents, and the younger ones looking up to them with respect.
When I first began my journal entries I wrote down the time that I began writing, but I soon realized that was worthless here. Time is almost irrelevant. Everyone awakes with the sun, which, because Haiti did not cooperate with Daylight Savings this year, is approximately five o’clock in the morning. Everyone eats when their stomach tells them to, that is if they have enough food, and they begin to get ready for bed when the sun sets since many of them lack electricity.
Our first couple of days we visited two different schools in Cap-Haitien to teach the students the creation story and provide them with an arts-and-craft activity. During our first day we also accompanied our head translator, Moise to his house that he transformed into a feeding center once a day. Here, children from the community were able to come and receive a free meal of rice, beans, and a piece of chicken each day. For some, this one plate of food was the only meal they would eat all day.

On our third day in Haiti, the team traveled to the Citadelle la Ferriere, the fort built at the command of Henri Christophe. Christophe, acclaimed for having defeated the French, is generally portrayed as a hero in Haiti, as his portraits and statues adorned the country including at his palace, Cap-Haitien’s plaza, and even the airport. For a small fee, the team rode up the mountain on horses and was given a tour of the site. Although the government had hired workers to refurbish much of the grounds for a more tourist friendly environment, the fort was still standing almost as it was originally built in 1807. No guardrails were in place to prevent tourists from falling over the edge of the fort several stories up. Cannons ornately designed with royal seals and the slogan, “Liberte, Egalite” “Freedom, Equality” lined all sides of the fort seemingly still awaiting the imminent arrival of French forces.
After returning from the Citadelle, our team traveled to the Children of the Promise Aid Rehabilitation Center. These babies were the children of AIDS parents, and the dedicated volunteers were doing their best to revert the children to normalcy from HIV. One little girl I held named Jennifer was about one and a half years old and could not have weighed more than ten pounds. Those few hours could not have past more quickly than while we were holding their frail bodies in our arms.
Saturday, we loaded up into the now famous Diahatsu for a four-hour ride to Benjamin. As I always did, I put on my Yankees baseball cap and black sunglasses in an attempt to keep the sun off of my faces and the dirt out of my eyes. I am afraid that I see the whole country Haiti in the same way, through tinted glasses that allow me to temporarily touch the Haitians’ world but remain comfortably detached, allowing me to enjoy the view but keep the dirt out of my eyes. To me, Haiti is both a beautiful place because of its simplicity and a harsh place because of its poverty. Yet I know that unless I take the time to take off my rose-colored glasses and stay in Haiti a while longer, I will not be able to understand their way of life. I cannot understand why some children are always smiling and waving to us, others seem in constant fear, and others flick us off as we drive by. I cannot understand why they have such harder lives than me, but every other care I see has “Merci Jesus” written on it. I cannot understand why the government cannot see the people’s needs as simple as they are. Perhaps it is because the government officials do not live among the people. Like me, they live above it. I fear that for many more years, the politicians of Haiti will continue to sit in their air-conditioned offices, drinking purified water, and wearing their sunglasses that filter out the harsh rays of the sun unaware of the needs of their people.

Because someone donated two colors of soccer jerseys, we were able to play a real soccer game in Benjamin. Watching the Haitians play with two of our male team members was an incredible sight. No longer was race, ethnicity or culture a barrier; all was diminished in the game of soccer. We played with some of the children from both the orphanage in Benjamin as well as from around the village. After we presented the Bible lesson, we went to the local pastor’s house where we would be staying for the night. The lavish meal that was prepared for us put me in awe at their great hospitality. After attending the local church service the next morning, we once again began the four-hour roller coaster ride down the unpaved streets of the mountain to Cap-Haitien to stay one more night in the orphanage. The next day we recuperated with a day at Labadie beach and spent the evening savoring every moment we had with the children who had become like our family. The morning of our departure greeted us with a gleaming sun that seemed too happy for our less heartening departure.
I am not an emotional person. The changes in life normally occur to me slowly as the effects slowly filter through my wall of resistance. So though I could not fully comprehend my emotions at the time, I can recall them much more accurately now that I have had the opportunity to reflect on my last moments in Haiti.
Before we left, I wanted to say a special good-bye to Duchan, the little boy to whom I grew very close. Now, the day before we left, four girls had come to stay at the orphanage for two weeks. Two of them were sisters and their family was the sponsor to one of the boys in the orphanage. However, I found it extremely difficult to have them come in so unexpected and begin playing with the children. I will admit that I was, in fact, jealous. I had built a relationship with these children, and suddenly they came in and the children are sitting on their laps and hugging them.
I was especially shocked at how Duchan had suddenly gone from standing at the bottom of the stairs every morning, waiting for me to wake up, to almost completely ignoring me now that the other girls were here. Now that it was time to go, I looked for Duchan and found him sitting in one of the girls’ laps. I leaned over to hug him. “Au revoir!” I said, hoping that he would respond at least with a hug. “Allez!” he replied, “Go!” I was crushed. I climbed into the truck, trying to savor the last images I would have of Haiti and the orphanage, but his last words kept ringing in my ear. He might have just as well said I don’t want you here anymore. I now realize that it was just his way of dealing with the fact that he would probably never see me again. I am glad that there were others there to take care of and love on him for the next two weeks. He is too young to understand that I just could not stay, that we come from two different worlds, that he is the stronger of the two because though I left my home to come to his, he lives in the harsher world. He is the one who must overcome the larger of the two hurdles. Compared to him, I live in a paradise. I hope and pray that I will not forget to every once in a while step down from my palace called America and reach out to my stronger but less fortunate brothers around the world.
There is so much more to tell of the lives of these orphans and the people of Haiti. However, I am afraid that it is impossible to accurately convey the experience. Through willing hearts of both the people of Oak Hills and our brothers and sisters down in Haiti, we are slowly being used by God to further his kingdom. Pray for the people of Haiti. It is the simplest and the most powerful gift you can give.
Call it ironic, symbolic, or coincidence but on my last day in Haiti, on the way back to the airport, my sunglasses broke into an irreparable state. Perhaps I do not see Haiti in its complete reality, but I know I see it a great deal more for what it truly is than when I first stepped onto its soil. Haiti is a place of natural beauty that has been distorted and destroyed by selfish men. Whether those men were the French lords, the Haitian kings, or modern day politicians, Haiti is a country desperately attempting to climb out of the canyon into which it has been flung. Some of them climb with a smile that comes from their faith, others with a scowl that has been permanently chiseled into their brows through years of hard labor. But the most important thing is that almost all of the Haitians climb. The least we can do is lend a hand to hold on to, a shoulder to lean on, or a word of encouragement to help them along in their journey ahead.