All posts in “mission trip”

When the Going Gets Tough

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By Paul Young

Sometimes, in the middle of trying to be servants to the Lord, we run into obstacles that obscure the path and make progress difficult. Just because we feel called to serve doesn’t exempt us from challenges. Indeed, it can be those challenges that help us reach a deeper clarity about what we are really doing, and for whom.

Whether as a part of a mission team in Fond Blanc, or as a year round partner in the Lord’s service to those children and that community, we are all going to get worn down at times. We all experience moments when we want to throw up our hands saying: “Lord we are here for you. Where are you? This is so hard. Why aren’t you helping?

As disturbing as these trials may be, they are some of the most intense, exciting experiences for any servant. The causes of our doubt and frustration are God’s tools for stripping us bare of our self-reliance and preconceptions. Our distress can help to expose our hearts and souls, clearing our vision and reminding us of what we are really doing, and why. Many of us who volunteer for mission trips are surprised to discover how profoundly the experience is about…us! We thought we were going to help the less fortunate. Who knew how much we, too, could be helped?

Quo vadis, Domine?

Quo vadis, Domine?

Quo Vadis, Domine? This Latin phrase translates: “where are you going, Lord?” and is famous because it is the title of an even more famous painting. It is the sort of question we still ask today – in modern English, of course – during our own tough times.

The painting depicts the scene of Peter fleeing persecution in Rome. On the road out of town, he is surprised to encounter Jesus heading the other way – toward the trouble. Peter looks afraid and small. Jesus appears strong and confident, even as he carries his cross.

To Peter’s question: “Where are you going, Lord?” Jesus replies: “ I am going to Rome to be crucified – again.” Really? Again? Wow! In this moment of flight and preoccupation with himself, Peter is given the chance to reconsider his own circumstances in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice.

From among all the disciples, Peter had been called out early by Jesus to become a servant to his followers. Three times Peter had chosen himself over his Lord and yet Jesus still embraced and encouraged him: “If you love me, feed my sheep.”  (John 21:17) A careful reading of the text confirms that Jesus did not add: “only so long as you are comfortable.”

We all have the human capacity to sink into our own frustrations at times and lose sight of the greater purpose of “feeding his sheep.” As missionaries serving the Lord in Haiti today, we all have moments when things get tough and we are tempted to walk away from our “Rome”.

Even in an idyllic place like Fond Blanc, with these wonderful children and such a dedicated staff, it is not always easy to serve. This June saw some of the hottest weather on record. The entire Caribbean is experiencing a drought, depriving us of the cooling, life-sustaining rains. Building the new church is hard work, and “carrying dirt” can seem pointless (and endless). At times the Haitian way of doing things seems frustratingly inefficient to process-oriented Americans. Our teams are faring well this summer, but everyone encounters tests in the effort to serve.

St. Paul understood such trials better than most. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul encourages us all: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9) That “harvest” is the Lord’s harvest, and the “proper time” is his time. It can all seem elusive – particularly when obstacles interfere with our service efforts. Sometimes the harvest is seen in the faces of the children of Fond Blanc. Sometimes, the harvest is found in our own hearts and spirits.

As the summer progresses in Fond Blanc, my prayer for all participants serving Fond Blanc is that they will see evidence of the Lord’s harvest from their efforts, and that they may realize that they are a treasured part of that harvest.

Coming Soon: Our Summer Guests!

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by Paul Young

Even though it feels as if spring is still getting underway here at home, we at the Fond Blanc Foundation are busy preparing for the summer “mission trip season”. People come down to visit and volunteer with us at all times of the year, but it is those back-to-back-to-back trips which really keep the orphanage spinning all summer, like a perpetual motion machine.

This will be the third consecutive summer that Next Step Ministries will manage the summer mission teams at Fond Blanc. As one of the principal founding partners in the Fond Blanc Foundation, Next Step handles every aspect of the team visits during the summers, and is singularly responsible for much of the progress we have made at the orphanage in the last few years. They have an enthusiastic staff in place to lead the guests in work, play and worship. Some of the staffers are themselves returning to Fond Blanc, and I understand many of the missionary groups are on their second or third trip to the orphanage as well. When so many folks are eager to return, it suggests the Lord is doing something special in Fond Blanc.

The biggest project underway at the orphanage right now is the as-yet-unfinished new church. We hope to see it completed this year and we anticipate that many volunteers will do at least some work on the church. However, the church project has progressed to a point where a good portion of the remaining work may be too technical, too strenuous or even too risky for most of our volunteers; so we have been revisiting our always-lengthy wish list of other projects as we consult with Next Step about where else to aim our energies and talent.

When you ask mission trip leaders about their own goals for the teams they lead, a common answer you hear is that they want the team to go home feeling that they really accomplished something. When tackling a big project like the church, one that cannot be started and finished in a week, that sense of accomplishment can be a little harder to grasp. All the more reason for teams to tackle smaller tasks as well.

Next Step is still finalizing the project list, and there are some fun and impactful tasks on the list, but one “building” project which we, and they, always emphasize is building relationships. Perhaps this is one reason that explains why so many of our teams are making return visits to Fond Blanc. They may have planned to build a church or some other structure, but along the way they certainly have been building real relationships with the children and staff – relationships which they want to refresh and renew.

We are passionate about building these relationships. The children and the staff pour so much of themselves into us, it is a joy to give our hearts back to them. The fact that our teams sleep just one floor above the kids’ rooms means that visitors are really going to be with the kids. Volunteers will have many chances to get to know the children, worship with them, play with them, help them with English words and phrases, and maybe learn a bit of Creole from them as well.

Have you noticed that the Lord does some of His best work in the connection spaces between people in relationship? Relationship takes our acts of service, adds personal meaning and context, and converts them into acts of love. People who come down intending to help are themselves helped by having their hearts broken for the Lord and for “the least of these” – His children. If we had a dime for every time a missionary volunteer has been unexpectedly drenched by feelings for those they serve… well, our real reward is the privilege of being a part of those personal transformations!

So we approach the upcoming season with excitement for the chances to see so many of you, and with anticipation for all that God will do to and through you in Fond Blanc this summer. And for those readers who are not yet scheduled to visit, the Fond Blanc Foundation will be hosting other teams and individuals who come to see us throughout the fall, winter and spring; so contact us if you would like to know more about being a part of all that.

Returning to Fond Blanc

 

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by Paul Young

A few of us have just completed a short visit to the orphanage where we worked on our water system. We were joined on this trip by a returning visitor and longstanding friend of Fond Blanc, Mike Verheyen, who was making his third visit to the orphanage in the last four years.

Mike had reached out to me a couple of months ago at a time when he had the children of Fond Blanc on his mind – and they are always a pleasant distraction from those northern winters. We were so pleased Mike could join us on this trip and I was curious to get his thoughts to share with all the friends of Fond Blanc. We found time to sit under the mango tree and visit.

Q: Your abiding affection for the children of Fond Blanc is well known around here. What brought you on this particular trip?

Mike: Every time I am with my grandchildren, I see the faces of the Fond Blanc children in them, and every time I am with the children of Fond Blanc I see my grandchildren. I just love being around these children. Their unconditional love just shines through in everything they do.

Q: You have been here twice already on “mission trips” with your church. How is the experience different for you coming back without a big team of folks?

Mike: Well, I honestly did not know what to expect. When we come down to work as a team, the focus is on the work project. For me, this trip was more of an opportunity to spend more time building relationships with the kids. [Note: Mike is obviously an experienced grandparent. He always had a crowd of children playing with and around him.]

Q: On your first visit to Fond Blanc in 2012, we did not yet even have a place for mission teams to sleep here and you had to “commute” from Cabaret on a team bus every day. You saw a much earlier version of Fond Blanc four years ago. Can you reflect back on those days and comment on the overall changes since 2012 that stand out to you the most?

Mike: The changes are so much for the better. Just staying here gives us more time to intermingle with the children and the staff. The facilities are so much better for everyone. The growth has been phenomenal. I noticed the future housing for the staff under construction. The new church is progressing. Everyone’s quality of life is so much better. The new kids’ showers. The healthier meals. Just look at the vitamins they take now! They never had that in the past. Movie night for the kids was special. Bags of popcorn for everyone! Things we take for granted at home are such a special treat for these kids. By the end of the movie everyone on the grounds was there watching, even Pastor Shmy. And the adults were laughing just as hard at the movie as the kids were. What a great sense of community there is now! I wonder how it would work if we did that [movie night] down in the village? Maybe we could show the movie for all the kids in the town and the mission team could help with crowd control.

Q: Some visitors worry that they will be forgotten. How have your personal relationships with the children held up over time?

Mike: I remember many of the children from our previous visits and they obviously remembered me. As soon as I arrived, they saw me and started calling out: “Canada! Canada!”, so there is no doubt they remember me from earlier visits. I’ve had fun with a lot of the children before, but I’ve built more relationships this time because now I am not so focused on trying to complete a “mission” job as I was before. I have learned in my life that the relationships are the far more important thing. On this trip, in the mornings when the day is just getting going and I am connecting with the kids, we try to converse using my broken French and their broken English. It works surprisingly well, but sometimes I think just holding them in my lap is the best part.

Q: Even without a team, you’ve still been a big help with the “project” work on the water system this week. There is always a long to-do list around here. What jumps out at you in terms of things that you think need priority attention?

Mike: I did not realize that just changing the location of the water pump and changing the water system would have such a big impact on the children’s lives. It seemed like a small thing at first, but re-plumbing the water intake system and dramatically increasing the water flow into the tanks on the roof – now there will be a dramatic change in the whole system. Now the kids can use their new showers without a fear running out of water. Now we can use the new washing machine more frequently. Now we can treat the water [with chlorine] before it gets used.

In terms of priorities, I have to say I was shocked when I looked in the kids’ toilets. They are in dire straights down there. I also think they need a bigger play area just to be kids. If I could see two things fulfilled those would be the top two.

Q: What would you say to people who are thinking about a return trip to visit the children of Fond Blanc?

Mike: Definitely come down! The unconditional love you receive from the children is really second to none. You can see the hand of God working on them and through them. I think it means a lot to return. They may not remember your name but they remember you. You can really tell they keep us in their hearts and minds. There is something very special about living with the kids around the clock while we are here.

For me, the visit brings it all down to reality to see how happy these kids can be with so little materialism and so few possessions. It always warms my heart to see that. I try to take that back with me to Canada and I try to spread that message that stuff is just stuff, and at the end of the day it doesn’t mean all that much.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mike. Please come back as often as you can. You are a real friend of Fond Blanc. As the children sing: “we love you in the name of the Lord!”

Child Sponsorships at Fond Blanc

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By Paul Young

We get a lot of inquiries from supporters about helping sustain the orphanage by sponsoring the children. As we are preparing for visits from so many volunteers and friends this summer we thought revisiting this topic might be helpful.

The Fond Blanc Foundation has initiated a child sponsorship program to help support the children at the orphanage. It is a primary way we raise support to care for the children. But we are not primarily a child sponsorship organization, and so our situation may need a bit of explanation. Where other organizations may cover many more children, in more locations and over many geographical areas; our focus is on this one particular orphanage and the needs of these specific 54 children.

We also want to be completely clear and wholly transparent about our sponsorship program, and how we use the funds that sponsors provide. Because our process may be different than those of other organizations, we are anxious to avoid any confusion. If you want to sponsor a child but have any questions about our process, please contact us directly.

We think the sponsorship process can do two important things well: provide financial support for the children, and help them to have personal relationships with people who care about them.

Meeting the needs of the children through sponsorships presents a few challenges. We cannot provide the daily essentials to one child who is sponsored, while ignoring those same needs for another child who may not yet be sponsored. If a sponsor wants to do something special for a particular child we can help with that, but when it comes to using sponsorship funds for general care, please think of us as a bit like the Musketeers: All for one and one for all.

In our sponsorship figures, we have aggregated all the costs associated with the orphanage (food & clothing, hygiene, education, health & general care). That means that our requests for sponsorship support are both higher and more all-encompassing than most traditional child sponsorship programs. We suggest that a donor simply pledge the amount they want to give. A donor does not have to fund the child’s entire expenses in order to be a sponsor. Sponsors should also know that 100% of sponsorship contributions go exclusively to meet the actual expenses that directly benefit the children’s lives.

We also allow for multiple sponsors per child, which can mean that one child may have many sponsors while another may have few. Fond Blanc is blessed to have hundreds of missionary volunteers visiting the orphanage every year. We are delighted when people develop special connections with specific children during those visits. These relationships have come to mean a great deal to the children too. We don’t want to limit anyone from continuing in those relationships just because someone else has already chosen to sponsor that specific child.

On the other hand, some children naturally attract more attention than others, so we also encourage supporters to think about using sponsorship as a chance to get to know a child who is new to them. Anyone who is interested in sponsoring a child -and especially those who have not yet visited Fond Blanc in person – can still get to know the children individually. Each of them has a space on our website with a picture and a brief bio. We will be adding updates to these children’s folders as well.

The financial support is critically necessary, of course, but we also want to do everything we can to help sponsors build an individual connection with any child they want to help. When you sponsor a child, there are opportunities to get postcards, letters, pictures and videos from that child, and if you want to write to the child, we will help you communicate with them directly.

Guidance for sponsoring a child in the Fond Blanc Orphanage is calibrated around several different giving levels. Please visit our website for more details on this. We are still new at this, so let us know if you see a way we can do something better. And make plans to come see us in Fond Blanc. That is where the sponsorship relationship really takes root and grows.

Going From Comfort to Cost

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By Paul Young

Many Christians in America tend to think about faith in terms of the blessings we receive, but Christians in other parts of the world must often measure their faith in terms of what it costs them. My pastor pointed this out to me recently, in the context of mission work and news reports of widespread Christian persecution all around the world. While I am offering up prayers of thanksgiving for all my blessings, other Christians are praying for the Lord’s protection and the strength to endure suffering and mistreatment.

It is a sobering observation; one made all the more bracing by its obvious truth. Many of us have been fabulously and unfathomably blessed by God in life, and the idea of going beyond those blessings and pushing our faith until it costs us something is not an idea embraced easily. Ever since the pastor challenged me with that observation, the questions I have been wrestling with are these: Have I ever managed to cross beyond the boundary between comfort and cost in my faith journey? And: How do we get to that place where our faith entails some true personal cost, and what does that look like anyway?

I suspect that part of the answer can be found in mission work such as the Fond Blanc Foundation does in Haiti. Whenever we go down to serve in Fond Blanc, we are well out of range of the “comfort cocoons” that we rely on every day at home in the USA. Haiti days are hot. Nights can feel even hotter sometimes! They have hurricanes; even earthquakes! The work is unfamiliar, tedious and strenuous. Progress feels slow, and it seems that something is always going wrong. “That’s just Haiti,” we frequently say to one another. If it were not all so challenging they would have gotten it all straightened out long before we showed up.

However much or little we may think we accomplish as short term missionaries, the whole focus is on helping others. There’s nothing in it for us – at least in the materialistic terms the world understands. However, we are given an opportunity to flourish spiritually, and to embrace our exhaustion and discomfort as the welcome cost of living out our faith as Jesus asked us to do.

When we embark on mission trips to places like Fond Blanc, I think we are moving toward that boundary between comfort and cost. Leaving home for Haiti, we give up some familiar pleasures of life, but we also break loose from a buffer that can cause us to become spiritually desensitized. Jesus has better access to us when we are not so deeply enmeshed in our comfort zones, or so distracted by our whims and appetites. I think we become more receptive to the Holy Spirit as well. As we step out of our own safe little worlds, the presence of the Lord can become stunningly apparent. Suddenly our souls are more alert to the gentle companionship of the Holy Spirit. As a result of this sort of shift, we’ve been privileged to see more than a few personal spiritual awakenings at the Fond Blanc orphanage, I can tell you.

Going from comfort to cost is a lot easier to write about than it is to do. The cost that other Christians endure is still a daunting proposition for me. I am not sure I would have the strength to be able to face the extreme persecutions that Christians around the world willingly face every day. I pray that God would grant me courage and grace in that situation, but, to be honest, I also pray that I might be spared from experiences with such high costs in the first place. So it is some consolation to think of the many ways I do get to encounter the Lord in the mission field of Fond Blanc.

So, if you get to thinking about the distance between comfort and cost in your own faith journey, please consider joining us in Fond Blanc sometime. Yes, you will probably be physically and emotionally stretched as you live out your faith, but time spent with the children and staff at the Fond Blanc Orphanage will refresh a weary spirit in ways that can surprise you. Some of us refer to these mission trips as “vacations for the soul”, so perhaps the cost isn’t so great after all. Jesus said: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11: 30) Maybe this is an example of what he meant.

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