I want to be a secret saint that lives in the shadows - away from the spotlight of praise and fame that our culture is so quick to hand out and take back.

I want to be a gentle mentor that works from the sidelines - providing opportunities for others to emerge as leaders and live out their heavenly potential.

I want to be a patient servant that humbly steps forward - following the path that Christ is leading without a selfish desire to begin laying my own path before Him.

I am slowly learning what it means to be a leader and a follower, and that journey is always unexpected and full of turns I would never have guessed. Through the creation of New Leaf and building of relationships on various sustainability projects, I'm beginning to learn more about myself and how God desires to use me. I'm learning the importance of stepping out of the boat and trusting that I can walk on water. I'm learning what it means to have self-confidence, yet remain humble in my abilities and experiences. I'm learning how beautiful this world can be if we take the time to listen to the visions and dreams of those around us.

I've been reading "Follow Me To Freedom" by Shaine Claiborne and John Perkins. In one chapter, Shane talks about his encounters with Mother Theresa and shares some of her thoughts on leadership and the work she was doing.
"One time, a reporter asked her, 'Is your work going to live after you?' She quietly and respectively dismissed the question, saying 'That is of no concern to me.' It was like she was saying, 'That's God's business.'
That is a lesson for all of us. This is God's work, not ours. The moment we lose a sense of that, we start to lose our bearings. It is a danger sign.

After Mother Theresa died, a reporter asked me, 'Is the spirit of Mother Theresa going to live on?' I said, 'The spirit of Mother Theresa died a long time ago. What people love about Mother Theresa is the spirit of Jesus in her, and that's going to live forever.'"
Too often I can get caught up in the work that I'm doing and letting it entirely represent me. Without knowing, I take credit for the accomplishments (and failures) that I'm involved with. At any moment they could all be taken away, so I hope that I learn to be a representative of Christ more so than a representative of my own work. I've been blessed to be given so many passions and interests in life, and I hope that the work itself never blinds me from the people I'm touching through those projects.

the faintest of similarities

I'm told that the city no longer smells like rotting flesh. The bodies have mostly been recovered from the rubble, and today, Port-au-prince resembles more of a city deteriorating at the hands of time than a city which claimed the lives of thousands of innocent victims.

As I walk the roads scattered with potholes, as if modeled after a Jackson Pollock painting, images of the days directly after the quake flash through my mind. I was in Sweden at the time, and I remember sitting up late into the night with my eyes fixed upon the computer as image upon image rolled in. Some moments leave you breathless; unfortunately for the wrong reasons.

But as I continue on my walk and my eyes drift up to the incredible light show above me, I remind myself that I shouldn't remain in a state of breathlessness and inaction. The last thing that the people of Haiti need is for inaction.

A few hours later and I find myself sitting in a comfortably cushioned chair as our plane touches down on US soil. When the light above our heads turn off, dozens of passengers stream out of the aircraft's' tiny opening and we all walk quickly through the maze of hallways to customs and baggage claim. As we hurriedly walk towards our destination, we pass by numerous screens with images of the tragedy in Japan flashing by above us - and the magnitude of these recent disasters begins to settle in. After seeing first-hand the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti over one year later, my heart goes out to all those on the other side of the world in Japan experiencing similar pain and confusion. Some things are simply impossible to comprehend until we see them first-hand; and a picture on a tv seems entirely insufficient to contain the severity of the situation.

But through the faintest of similar experiences, we begin to relate with those on the other side of a picture. And an image becomes more than an image. We are called to be people of gracious compassion and abundant love. We are called to put our unnecessary comforts behind us in order to lend a helping hand to those in need. Take a moment to slow down in the midst of our fast-paced lives and really think about the role you can play for those in need. It may just surprise you what answers you uncover...

navigating a sea of blue tents

With my neck bent forward, I'm just able to squeeze my head through the open window and catch a glimpse of the stars dancing above us. The last four hours have been spent within our compact metal shuttle as we bounce along the deteriorating roads and speed by the thousands of families scattered across the countryside. Our tin roof on wheels with paint peeling around the corners feels like a kings palace in comparison to the plastic USAID tarps of those all around us. My heart breaks as our tap-tap passes by each families' tent - as easily as we turn off the nightly news reports back home. A statistic is a statistic until you meet them face-to-face. But for tonight, the stars will have to suffice and paint the picture of what has happened under their careful watch this past year.

Today was spent traveling north of Port-au-prince to a small beach just outside of the city. A private driver took a group of us north and for the first time this trip, I felt as if I were on an amusement park ride - but with a mixed range of emotions.

How easy it was for us to pull a few american dollars from our pockets, make a couple phone calls, and travel to a beach with no more pain. Escape to a somewhat familiar comfort zone seemed far too easy in comparison to the thousands of Haitian's who remain confined to a life of unimaginable suffering. 

Up until then, I could only imagine what that suffering looked like. The tent camps of Haiti are deceiving; rolling hills lined in blue tarps, masquerading the commotion and chaos of the lives beneath them. Driving by these settlements stirs up a mixture of uneasiness, mystery, and sadness - but all of which remain hidden to the streets and cars passing by. Little did we know that tomorrow we would have the chance to step behind the curtains and see life from the inside.

A city already bustling with people, after the earthquake hit, Port-au-prince became a vastly overcrowded and overstrained city. With the buildings leveled, space became scarce and living quarters dramatically shrank in size. No longer could they build on top of one another, instead, they had to spread wherever they could find space. This has resulted in one of the largest and unanswered challenges post-disaster: how do you rebuild a city when the people occupy all the available free space?

One of the failed solutions has been to create similar tent camps, lined with the same tarps covered in bold and unnecessary USAID logos. Sanitation and latrines are no more prevalent. Private space and humane living conditions are just as dismal. But worst of all, the people are no longer connected to the energy and markets of downtown. For many residents of the tent camps, they have still managed to operate small street-stands selling goods and services. But by relocating to the tent camps north of the city, they are left unconnected to the only means of sustaining their families - a tiny economy to provide income.

Yet for some reason, as our truck drives north, the dry and desert-like countryside around us are lined in tents. Their simply is no space left for people to go and even this unlivable terrain has found itself home to thousands of people.

But my curiosity remained, what was it like behind the blue-tarped walls?

The following day we had the chance to visit a friend of ours work within the tent camps. Rafeal had spent the past few months getting to know the families and people I was so curious to meet. He graciously took us up the street and into the world he has lived and assisted in tirelessly. Turning down the small pot-holled lined path into the tent camp was like entering a new country.

We entered a country with it's own economy full of business and service providers from hair salons to cyber cafes. A country with it's own government system composed of unsung leaders who emerged out of the rubble around them. A country with it's own pride in family who take care of one another through death and pain, hope and rebirth.

Passing by the residents, we turned up a road that passed under a few clotheslines and around small fire stoves before leading to a fence made of the country's main resource - plastic tarps. Behind the fence was the home of Genesis, his wife and baby daughter. Genesis is one of the camps' elected leaders and who lives in a unique transitional home designed by Rafael. Lined in corrugated plastic panels and attached to an erector set of aluminum beams, the home stands out as an entirely different way to handle future natural disasters.

As we are welcomed inside the home, I am impressed by the organized and efficient use of space within the split-level building. As we are talking, Genesis helps a friend unload some computers from the third story to begin repairing for the newly opened cyber cafe, and we begin to learn about the economy, politics and way of life within the camps.

After the earthquake hit and tents were erected, the people of Haiti began to organize themselves into communities of families. The particular tent camp that we were in was home to 30,000 people and was the second largest in Port-au-prince. Among the 30,000 people, the camp was split into 13 communities (known as committees) each run by a president and team of council members. Frequently the heads of each committee gather together to talk about the welfare of the entire camp.

As president of one of the committees, Genesis coordinates the work of the aid groups and makes sure everyone has access to water, shelter, food and a way to improve their lives. He knows everything that happens within "his family" and begins telling us the stories of life in the camp.

We learn about the 6 tents that caught on fire last month and burned a small baby alive. After the community chipped in money to help cover the cost of the funeral, he appealed to international organizations who refused to help them with the funeral. He talks about the political consequences of where they live. Because the tent camps are built on a mixture of private and government owned property, international organizations are unable to assist them because it acknowledges and encourages the residents to stay in the camps and therefore undermines the government who wants the people to leave the property.

We learn that he is the only one in the entire camp with a home elevated off the ground - which means that when it rains, he is able to sleep on a dry floor unlike the homes around him that are nothing but a tarp resting on a dirt floor which turns into mud when the rainy season approaches (starting in May). He tells us how he opens his home at night to all the families who are pregnant or with small children to come and sleep on his floor to escape the rain.

We learn that he takes great pride in the entrepreneurial spirit of his committee and their ability to find opportunity after such destruction. He tells us that the best way that outside groups can help them now is to provide jobs that create money and income for the people, rather than a free hand-out which kills their ability to sell their own goods and services. Of all the organizations operating in Haiti, World Vision seems to have one of the best programs designed to do just that and provide individuals with money in return for their help to clean up the city. But he wishes that they would work more closely with the political structure of the camps so that he can help oversee that the people who are most in need of a job receive the work.

But most importantly, we learn, and witness, the strong sense of community within these walls of plastic. It is the ability to extend their understanding of family beyond a group of 4-5 people to 3,500 people. And it is that trait which will sustain Haiti despite the lack of organized aid, despite the political and environmental uncertainties, and despite the unimaginable redevelopment challenges ahead. The people of Haiti have given me that hope, and I just wish that I can share that message with those who continue to support them.

peering through the blinds

A trail of ants defy gravity as they scale down the tarred and dirt-stained wall; yellow and tan chips of paint crumbling to the floor below. Beneath them, two mice dart across the floor as if attached to a child's toy race track, electrified by the pursuit and keenly aware of the commotion around them. The lizards above watch motionless on the scene below, much like a wise elder shepherding their flock and newborn sheep.

As the wind outside rustles the coconut leaves and sounds of early-morning church rolls through the window, a rooster sings his morning praise and welcomes the rising sun. The sunlight gently opens the metal blinds and breaks down a wall of iron and steel with peace and humility. The shadows begin to stretch along the walls and race their way to each corner and nook of the room.

As the light washes over my feet, up along my legs, and engulfs me in my entirety, I am renewed for the day ahead. And I am reminded of the pressing need for hope surrounding this place.

Much like the sunlight peering through the metal bars over my window, situations of immense pain and suffering require a gentle prodding of light to break through the scars that form over our hearts. With situations like the earthquake in Haiti, those scars are more evident on the outside. From the pain caused from loosing your entire family, to the anger and bitterness towards a less-than-perfect system to aid in your recovery - Haiti is a country with scars that are clearly visible. Raw and exposed to the world around them.

But each of us wears our own scars; and unlike clothing, scars are not something you can choose to take on and off depending on your mood. And many times, those scars are invisible to the world around us.

As I talk with the people of Haiti and those who have been here for a much longer time than my short trip - the need for peace, gentleness, and humility in dealing with these scars becomes so evident. Yet our human nature is to handle situations in such a different manner.

We often forget that God works on a different time frame than our earthly clocks. Whenever a disaster strikes, we all desperately want to provide hope and comfort to those affected; God included. But God doesn't hand out temporary or transitional relief - he offers eternal and lasting hope - throughout the entire process. And that kind of hope operates on God's time.

Sometimes our urgency for bringing relief to those in need results in rushing, forcing or dictating our solution for help, We see the scars over people's hearts and much like the metal blinds over a window, we feel as if we must forcefully tear them down to get to the root of the problem.

But God has a different way.

He brings in a ray of light - and patiently, gently, and humbly, breaks down the scars over the window. He doesn't use force, but rather offers a peaceful alternative. He doesn't act out of urgency, but rather out of necessity. Let us remember to reflect on the patience of God's ways and not force our help on others, or God.

story upon story

There are a lot of good people in the world. I'm talking about the kind of people who are willing to sacrifice themselves at all costs in order to help the greater whole. People who open up their homes to accommodate others. People who simply leave their homes to rebuild the homes of others. People who are willing to forgo the familiar comforts and stretch their bounds into the unknown.

Every time I am blessed with the opportunity to travel to another country and live the life of another culture - I am reminded by how many of these kinds of people there actually are in the world!

For the last few days, I've been living in Haiti and working alongside an organization called GrassRoots United. GRU does incredible work. They were in Haiti immediately after the earthquake hit and have been working ever since to unify the work being done by countless international aid groups. Not only have they been a tremendous asset in coordinating this work - but they have also worked tirelessly to ensure that their operations are eventually Haitian run - the current plan being to hand off operations by the end of the year to locals.

In the meantime, New Leaf has been working to assist GRU with our resource and talent base back home on a variety of projects. During our time here this week, we are working entirely on their base to construct proper toilets. As the base is home to numerous volunteers and partner organizations - two composting toilets often is insufficient for the growing demand - so we've been spending our days digging poop holes. It's not a glamorous job, it's doubtful to become a news headline, but it's one more important piece in the complex puzzle of disaster relief.

What I am quickly coming to realize in my short time in Haiti is that despite the sound bites and headlines we receive around the world - no situation like this could be summed up in a few words or pictures. Journalists and media can only do so much. This blog can only do so much.

I won't have the time to visit many places or talk with lots of survivors - but what I have been able to do is talk with those who have had those encounters over the past few months. And in just 3 days, I have come to appreciate the vast magnitude of stories upon stories that have arose because of the earthquake.
Stories of rappers who write with stinging truth to paint the scene of the refugee tent camps.
Stories of men who sneak into the women's health clinics to steal a simple bar of soap.
Stories of international organizations who refuse to provide food to refugees to encourage them to move to more permanent shelters.
Stories of young men and women who dream of creating opportunities for their children to travel and improve the lives of others around the world.
Stories of a land that no longer smells like rotting flesh.
Stories of a country that longs for peace and stability.
Yet stories of families who are no longer whole.

As I walk the streets of Port-au-prince, I am left mesmerized by the amount of rubble left behind from the quake. Each concrete chunk that I step over, each piece of brick and mortar crumbling from the walls are a reminder of how many stories surround this place.

But as my mind seems to fixate itself upon the destruction all around me, I hear laughing bouncing off the rooftops and cascading down the ally ahead of me. With each laugh, a child skips from rooftop to rooftop, gleaming under the star-lit sky.

I believe in a God that creates beauty from ashes. But while I may think and write about it, these children are living proof of that beauty.

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