Thursday, January 30, 2014

Devaluing Women in America

One of the most obvious contrasts between Haiti and America is the culture surrounding women.  Upon returning to the states in late November, I immediately noticed the clothing the women were wearing, and the message it was sending.  I was bothered by it, but reminded myself that I had just come from a culture that is pretty modest when it comes to how women dress.

Throughout my time in the states, I found myself worrying more about my weight, what I was eating, how I looked, acne, my hair, etc.  I was concerned about speaking in front of churches without the right attire or hair color, or makeup.  I did not want to come across as lazy, unprofessional, or any other negative connotation I could come up with.  I found myself battling my self-image and feeling ugly...and I felt more this way each passing day.  I did not even realize it for the first few weeks, but the longer I stayed it became apparent.

When returning to Haiti, I had to once again adjust to not wearing makeup, not doing my hair, and being okay with the fact that I am not a size 6 - or less for that matter.  I had to come to terms with the way that I look, the acne that I struggle with as an adult, and the extra weight around my mid-section since having 4 kids.  I had to once again learn to accept that I will not look like a teenager or regain the shape my body had before having kids.  I had to remind myself that it is okay to never be a size 6 again.

This got me really thinking.  If the American society is telling women that it is ugly and not acceptable to look like you had children, no wonder so many struggle!  Those of us who do not retain a pre-maternity figure struggle with trying to get it back.  Meanwhile, others may decide it is just better to not have children so that they can keep the figure they have.  Some will go to great lengths - even dangerous ones - to look "better."  It disgusted me as I realized this, and saw the part I played in it and how I bought into it.

Then, Gami had a conversation with a friend here.  He asked him point blank why American women are so insulted if someone says they are big.  He said it is one of the best compliments you can give a woman in Haiti, and he just could not understand why American women are so upset by it.  He knew that they did not like it, but could not understand why.  Gami explained it to him, and reminded him that we do not necessarily think it is right - but it is how our culture is.

I realized the power this has over so many women in America - and in many other cultures too.  It gave me a new burden for women who are facing this struggle and this cultural norm.  It is simply normal in America to assume that a woman should be able to lose all the "baby weight" and still be super skinny.  It is perfectly normal to assume that a woman who leaves the house without their hair done and decent clothing on is lazy, or "sub-par."  It is perfectly normal to assume that a woman who does not have the perfect makeup must be lower than those who do. 

I want to tell you - these are lies from the devil!! Please do not let them have a hold on you.  Be comfortable with how God made you.  Be healthy, active, and let your internal beauty be what draws people to you!  I have found that I never could wrap my mind around that phrase in America - not truly.  I felt I had to let my internal beauty shine through while also making sure I looked the part.  This is not at all what God's word says.  He says your beauty is ONLY what comes from within.  He says not to even bother with the outward adorning - because your heart is where your focus needs to be.  So, fellow women, let's start there.  If you struggle to find time with God, but can spend 30 minutes, an hour, or even more each day to "get ready," I challenge you to fast from that!  Take a fast from the appearances that we fight to keep up, and focus on the heart.  I recognize most women who struggle with this will probably read that and think, "But I can't..." and finish the sentence with plenty of reasons why "I have to look that way."  The reality is that many women are falling into this trap.  We can easily spend an hour or more "getting ready" for the day, when that time would be much better spent getting our hearts ready for the day!  My heart breaks for all the women who feel trapped in the "normal" culture that is devaluing women in America, and around the world.  My prayer is that you would see the beauty within that God sees, and that you would feel empowered to let that be your priority - above the outward adorning!  This does not mean that I do not enjoy doing my hair and makeup and looking nice.  Once again, it is all about the heart.  If it takes priority, default to the time with God!
Many blessings ~ Cathi

Monday, January 20, 2014

Christmas in Haiti

We bought a few small gifts for the kids of a family who has really adopted us. We wanted them to know we were thinking of them while we were in the States. The kids just had a blast playing together with our kids. It was extremely nice to have a Christmas here with them too.
Here are a few videos of that day with them.
Kids got some bouncy balls, matchbox cars, nail polish, playdoh, and toddler books.
We also got them some glowsticks, candy, and some of those little capsules that dissolve in water to release a sponge-creature... they got a kick out of that!

The Visitor

The Friday after getting back to NVM, I received a phone call from a friend in Onaville. At one time, Onaville was the largest IDP camp and tent city in Haiti. After the earthquake, some 600,000 people were displaced to this mountainside. This man lived in Port Au Prince and was one of those who displaced by the earthquake. Our second campus is in Onaville - a 20 minute drive from our campus. While I was there visiting one afternoon, I met Mark-Arthur. After telling him I was a pastor with NVM, he got excited and led me to his home, which was on the other side. While a large part of Onaville is now made up of cinder block homes, he and his wife still live in a tent made out of sticks and blankets. When he was displaced here, he quickly realized he was the only Christian in his new surroundings. Rather than be discouraged, he began preaching the Gospel. He saw every one of his neighbors in the immediate area come to Christ. He now leads all of them in prayer and Bible study each day. 
On this Friday, Mark-Arthur called me around lunch time and told me he wanted to come by later that day. Late in the afternoon, I began getting sporadic phone calls from him, asking about the exact location of our campus. He finally called me at 6pm—dinner time—to say that he had arrived. When I went to meet him at the gate, I realized that he had walked the better part of the afternoon to come see me!
I invited him to come have dinner with us in the dining hall. While we ate together, he begins telling me of his church and how they’re still meeting together at 5pm every night and 6am every Sunday (before the sun gets hot, because they have no building). Then, he asks me to be their pastor. I was floored by this request. At the same time, I was afraid that I would upset him when I turned him down. For the next few moments, I affirmed what he was doing with this group of believers and tried to help him see that he is their pastor! He was very apprehensive to be given that title, because he said he really wasn't a pastor. So, I asked him to be a part of our Pastoral Development Program, where we can give him some tools and resources to help him do what he’s already doing in that community. He agreed to come this Saturday to our seminar and insisted that I come to the church on Sunday to visit. I’m excited to see what God does through Mark-Arthur in Onaville!

Journey Back to Haiti

Our travels back to Haiti were quite rough. It started with a drive from Oklahoma to Michigan since we were flying out of Detroit. This was two weeks ago now, the same time we had the big snow storm in the Midwest. I ended up driving through the night to make up for how slow we were going. After a night of sleep, we left for the airport and ended up needing a truck to pull out of the snow before we'd even left town! The trip to the airport was slow going and, when we were just miles away, we turned onto an off-ramp that was pure ice. Ahead, two cars had already been stranded. One started backing up into on-coming traffic and when I hit the brakes, even at 6 miles an hour, there was nothing that would stop the van. The back end of our vehicle was heavy with our luggage, so the van turned around and we hit back-end to back-end. By the time the police came and did their report, we had one hour until take-off. The only way we made our flight was because the gentleman at the curb-side check-in took care of our bags and printed our boarding passes with "TSA pre-check" so that we could get right through security and to our gate. We made it with only 5 minutes to spare! Stress levels were high, but we were thankful to make the flight. We spent the night in Miami and flew out again the following day to arrive in Haiti. After arrival, we got in yet another car accident on the way home from the airport. Nothing serious, but it added to our stress. We arrived on campus to two teams already here, so we hit the ground running.
Tap-tap on right
The day after arriving in Haiti, I went to the airport to pick up yet another team. It was a larger team, requiring the use of our tap-tap, a big box truck turned into a people mover. We have some pretty experienced drivers and the one I had that day is one that I trust absolutely. On the way back from the airport, we hit traffic. We have a policy that we won’t let vehicles sit with teams in traffic for too long. Following that policy, our driver turned the truck around and took a turn down another road. We followed the bumpy road before trying to take a turn to get back on the main street again. However, 3 dump trucks were backing out of this alley, so our driver kept on going. Pretty soon, we were in an area that I’d never been before. The road was narrow due to property walls—to the point that no other vehicle could have passed going the other way. The narrow road finally gave way to a downward slope with piles and piles of trash on either side. Eventually, we were driving through the trash. Now, if we’d stayed on the main road, we would have driven over a bridge. But on this bumpy dirt back road, there is no bridge. This was the trash piling up on the side of the river… and we were headed for it down the river bank. We’re in the dry season right now, so the river is at about knee-depth. The driver gunned the engine to get across the river—only he wa not trying to get across the river. He was driving along on the river bed to get further down. So, yes, we got stuck. The wheels turned but the vehicle wasn’t getting good traction on the river bottom. At one point, the team that was riding in the vehicle all moved to the very back in order to put some weight over the back tires. Finally, the tap-tap got the traction it needed to move and get up the other side of the river bank. Several turns later, I recognized where we were and soon after, we arrived on campus.
Any one of these events is just a bad day... but the string of circumstances keep piling. I could keep going on events that have happened since we arrived - literally every day - that threatens to discourage us and beat us down. It should be no surprise... we're in enemy territory and he doesn't like it. Please keep us in your prayers that we would stay encouraged and full of the peace that only God can bring.