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Communiqué #061


to the PEOPLE of HAITI

June 2, 2009

It has been several months since I last wrote.  The months have been packed full of blessings and events.  It seems there are too many to recount on these few pages.

At the end of March, Léon and I returned to the states for a two month period of time.  We had many speaking engagements and fundraising events.  These took place in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.  We also traveled to Ohio for a weekend conference with several of the team leaders/team members/future team members who have come, or wish to come, to LesCayes on various mission trips.  What a blessing it was to me to see all those people gathered together in one room.  Many times I feel alone in my efforts, but after seeing all of the faces of those gathered, I received a renewed strength in knowing how many people are actively involved in making a commitment to the work here.  Born from this group were several task forces to help make things happen!  The group chose a name for themselves…Building Hope in Haiti! We are now hoping that this initial weekend meeting will be an annual event.  Already, several blessings have been bestowed upon us … of which you will hear more of in a future communiqué.  A special thank you goes out to Tim Kaufmann and Jackie Rychel in the planning of this inaugural event!

Along the way, we had the opportunity to interact with some youth groups.  The time spent at St. Marcus Lutheran School in inner city Milwaukee WI, at an inner city church in Grand Rapids MI, and at a camp for troubled youth in Hersey MI all brought unique and touching experiences not only for the kids but also for Léon and me.  It was wonderful to see the hearts of these young people open to the needs of children from a different culture and country.  When a young listener walks up to me after the presentation and tells me that he will be praying for the children of the orphanage EVERY day, it melts my heart!  One never knows if there are future missionaries in the group that will one day serve on the mission field!  It is never too early to plant the seed about serving God in this way.  Career planning should not be so much about how much money one will make, but rather on what God wants you to do with your life!  In my own life, it took me too long to figure that out!  Joy abounds when you do so!

Some of our time in the states was used to thank the faithful donors to Caribbean Children’s Foundation.  We had time to visit a 91 year old man who regularly contributes to our ministry.  I was able to present him with a small gift of a metal cross that was hand crafted in Haiti.  We were able to visit some of the churches who financially make it possible for me to live in Haiti!  Each and every donor is precious to us!  We thank God for you and assure you that we take seriously the use of the money that you have entrusted us with!

We met with new groups of people who are now interested in helping too.  Some will send teams to Haiti.  Some will help in other ways.  The upcoming Building Hope in Haiti website will be useful to those wanting to know how they can help.  For those wishing to come to Haiti, there will be hints on the logistics of how to make that happen.  For those wanting to help, without leaving their homeland, there will be other ways listed. My thanks go out to the persons who are putting the website together.  It will be a helpful tool for many!

While home in the USA, we were blessed by the many families who took as in under their roof, gave us financial gifts, those who fed us meals, showed us their cities, transported us from here to there, allowed Léon to job shadow with several veterinarians, and most importantly shared their friendship, their encouragement and their prayers!  For all of you, we are VERY grateful!

Near the end of May, Léon and I, once again, arrived back to flood damaged country.  It was questionable whether or not the plane would be flying from Port-au-Prince to LesCayes, so we decided to try the new bus that is running between the two cities.  Just as we were approaching the city of LesCayes, we could see the huge areas where banana trees and cornstalks had been flattened by the rush of the water.  The torn up river banks, on the normally small river at the edge of town, indicated the might of the recent flood.  This time, the water rose up in homes in an unexpected manner.  It had not been raining for long, when a retention wall gave way and resulted in families leaving behind everything in order to save their lives as the waters barreled through their homes.  Trying to make light of the situation, I joked that maybe Léon and I had better not return from the states because each time we do, we come home to flooding.  Schools had been cancelled for a week.  The road to the boys’ orphanage was covered by an impassable lake of water.  The marketplace was empty, as buyers and sellers were dealing with other flood related problems.  Rain is always expected in May because it is the rainy season, but rarely is flooding like this seen when it is not hurricane season.  As we head into hurricane season, please pray for a summer of calm.  Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean nations need a break!

I was home for only a few days before I felt like it was time for another vacation.  Water not only flooded the area, but people’s needs came flooding out as well.  The first day that I was home, endless knocks came to our door.  The requests for money for food, for medicine, for school, for sandals and a multitude of other things came tumbling my way.  Two of the children that had previous medical problems were now experiencing complications.  Another mission asked me for logistics help with a young lady who had been thrown from a horse.  It was probably a blessing in disguise that we had previously planned for a trip to Cap Haitien, on the northern most coast of Haiti, for less than a week after our return to Haiti.  Although we would be traveling with a group and doing some sightseeing, my hope was also to visit a Lutheran Church in Cap Haitien and the House of the Lambs of God Orphanage in Ouanaminthe, on the northeastern border of Haiti right next to the Dominican Republic.  Caribbean Children’s Foundation has been financially assisting this orphanage for quite some time, but it would be my first time to visit the site of their new orphanage campus.

The travel, itself, was quite an experience.  Fifteen people, with all of their luggage, piled into one pickup truck and one SUV for the long, hot, interesting trip to the north of Haiti.  Most of the seats meant for three people squished four people into place.  The road from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince was an accustomed 4 hour ride for most of the travelers.  It was the road from Port-au-Prince to Cap Haitien that brought on new memories.  Just outside the city of Port-au-Prince, we were met with newly asphalted, lovely wide roads.  Wow!  If the road is this way all to Cap Haitien it would be a dream of a ride!  And a dream it was!  After one short hour, the roads turned to gravel as we entered the dusty, dirty roads of the desert, where we were greeting by towering cactus on all sides.   The air conditioning had burnt up and it was far too dusty to have the windows down, so we sweltered inside the steamy interior of the car. We periodically made stops to fill the radiator with water from jugs tucked in the back of our vehicle.  When traveling through the Gonaives area, the evidence of the 2004 and 2008 floods still remained.  People were still living in tents, complete sections of the road had been swept away with the swollen river and new roads were just starting to take shape, with the remnants of the old asphalt teetering out into open space at the top of the open river bank.   It was somewhat of a relief to come to the mountainous area, where the roads were again paved and allowed us to re-open our windows.  But to our dismay, the roads were pocked with numerous, deep potholes where cars would sink up to their chassis unless your driver zig zagged down the road.  Our chauffeur delighted in taking these zigs and zags at 80 mph.  If you have ever traveled on the Road to Hana on Maui in Hawaii, you have a 50% chance of knowing what this road was like.  The Road to Hana is like a merry-go-round ride compared to the ride to Cap Haitien.  Our chauffeur gleaned enjoyment from challenging everything on the road from a chicken, to a goat, to a motorcycle, to a 14 wheeler.  His passengers were none too delighted as they shouted at him “Go slowly”, “Sound your horn before going around this hairpin turn” or “Pay attention!” as he looked at the beautiful women walking alongside the road.   The only thing that finally slowed him down was the mountain top cloud burst that resulted in heavy

BEFORE & AFTER the storm!

rains and a heavy fog.  We were forced to turn off the road at a small market at the peak of the mountain.  Our vehicle had not even come to a complete stop when a man ran up to us wanting us to buy a freshly butchered baby goat.  He proudly showed us his handiwork, complete with hoofs and a skinned tail that had a tassel of fur still attached to the very end.  The chauffeur toyed with the seller, telling him he only wanted a goat with its head still intact.   Several others rushed up to the vehicle wanting us to buy mangos or pineapples or some other item.  Eventually the fog lifted and we returned to the road, leaving the man still dickering with us to buy his goat carcass.  Actually, the scenery on the mountain road to Cap Haitien is very beautiful and looks quite similar to the mountain road to Jacmel.  I noticed a few differences.  The Cap Haitien area has long bamboo poles for sale, where Jacmel has lumber.  The goats in this area have a pendulum shaped yoke around their necks, with long poles of wood extending out from each side.  I suppose this prevents them from getting caught in the thicket on the mountains.  I noticed Queen Anne’s lace growing here, never having noticed it anywhere else.  More houses were made of wood than of cement block.  One might as well enjoy the scenery, as to be fretting about the means of travel would not get us there any sooner.  Eleven LONG hours later we arrived at our destination.  Each of us slowly unfolded our bodies into a standing position as we longed for something to eat, something cold to drink and a place for a good night’s sleep.

The next day we would head east to the towns of Fort Liberte and Ouanminthe.

Fort Liberte is the site of an ancient fort perched up on a hill on the coastline.  A common sight in this area is small wooden carts being drawn by three small donkeys.  Many times, the carts were driven by young boys sitting on a small bench on the back of the carts which were transporting loads of rock or dirt.

Ouanminthe brought us a chance to visit the border crossing on the river dividing Haiti from the Dominican Republic.  On Mondays and Fridays, both countries allow their people to cross over to the other country in order to buy and/or sell items.  We had arrived on a Friday.  The crowds were unimaginable.  The pushing and shoving and trampling over of others was prevalent everywhere.  Heated disputes erupted all too often.  One man holding his partially consumed bottle of alcohol was just being rotated in place by those pressing by him on all sides.  People on foot, people with wheelbarrows, people with large wooden pull carts, semi-trucks all converged onto the bridge and narrow tunnel of the adjoining country.  One could easily have been trampled or packed into the crowd like a cork in a wine bottle.  Alcohol and cocaine smuggling is very prevalent in the area and just adds to the mixture of chaos.  I made my way only about 10 feet into the Dominican when I decided I had no need to go further.  I could say “I’ve been there, done that and I am ready to leave!”  I did snap a few photos along the way.  Some met me with angry shouts.  Others hid their faces from the camera.  I found the river below to be one of the most interesting sights there.   People, who wanted to avoid the “push and shove” of the bridge, forged their way through the waters instead.  Some were neck deep in the river, carrying their goods in a bundle or basket on top of their heads.  They would fight the current and would arrive wet, but safe, on the other side of the river!   What a life!  What a hot life, under the baking sun, amidst the foul smells and rising tempers of the people at hand.  All this to just survive!!!

We would return to the same area a day later on a non-market day!  The difference was quite a contrast to the day before as people were now leisurely sitting under shade trees or doing laundry in the river.  Both visits, however, got me stopped by police.  My first impression was that I was seen as doing something wrong.  Léon explained that quite the opposite was true.  I was being protected.  As the only white woman there, they wanted to be sure I was there of my own will and that nothing was going on that should not have been.  .

We parted with the group to spend some time at the nearby orphanage.  It was a joy to see the work of Pastor Daniel Paul and his wife Clynie!  The House of the Lambs of God Orphanage is home to 24 girls, ranging in ages of 2 ½ to 14 years.  The Paul family has three young daughters that add to the mix.  One lone boy tops off the group.  Wilson came to live with all those girls by default.  It seems that while the orphanage was being built, he would hang out at the property.  He ended up never leaving.  He has no father and life was too difficult for his mother following the 2008 flooding in Gonaives – an area that suffered even more severe flooding in 2004 that they still had not recovered from.  He now is going to school and helps in the three huge gardens that the orphanage has.  When the Paul family learned that he also had a 13 year old sister, she was invited to join the orphanage family.  For the first time ever, in September, she will be attending school.

I met and interviewed all but two of the children living at the orphanage.  Two of the older children were still away at school, so I would not have the chance to meet them.  Most of the orphanage children are young enough to attend school on the orphanage property, where Pastor Daniel Paul holds school for grades kindergarten through 4th grade.  Some of the children have sponsors from a church in Washington and a church in Oregon.  I am hoping that the upcoming posting of the children’s photos on my website will help generate more funds for this orphanage.

A guesthouse is also located on the orphanage property.  It can house a small team of five people, those willing to bathe by the well and endure very limited generator powered electricity.  The need is for construction teams to help with an addition to the orphanage!

We rejoined the group that we were traveling with in time for an evening meal in the city of Cap Haitien.  The little café even served chocolate ice cream, so, of course, I indulged!

On Saturday, we traveled to the town of Milot.  This is home to the Presidential Palace and the Citadel, back in the days when Haiti had three presidents (one in Port-au-Prince, one in Les Cayes and one in Cap Haitien).  The Presidential Palace grounds were enormous.  The grounds included the President’s residence, a residence for his wife, a church, a botanical garden, soldiers’ quarters, stables and various other buildings.  Higher up in the mountain sits the Citadel from the days of Napoleon.  We took our vehicles up a narrow rock bed path to a landing where one could chose to walk the remainder of the trail up to the Citadel or take a horse.  I was determined to walk up, regardless of the fact that the midday sun was beating down on us.  I wanted to prove that I could!  I wanted to see the sights along the way!  And, I wanted to have the time to take as many photos as I wanted.  Léon was very patient with me as I stopped under every shade tree and huffed and puffed my way up the steep incline.   An elderly tour guide insisted on following us halfway up the mountain to tell me horses were available, but leaving when he realized that I was determined to walk to the top.  The tour of the Citadel, perched high in the mountains, was very interesting, the view breathtaking.  The original cannons and cannonballs were still in place.  It took quite a genius to build these magnificent buildings back in the day when no modern equipment or materials were available and everything had to be carted up to this high point in the mountains.  Much to my relief, the return trip down the rock bed foot path was much shorter than the journey up had been.  We arrived back at our vehicles where vendors were waiting with their wares and where the purchase of cold drinking water was irresistible.

Sunday morning greeted us the next day.  Léon and I would worship at the Lutheran Church in Cap Haitien.  Pastor Eliona Bernard lives and works there with his wife and two young sons.  The worship service is held in the school.  The site also boasts of a nice medical clinic, that is financially self-sufficient and a sewing and baking school.  The grounds are well kept and a garden flourishes in one corner of the property.  Pastor Eliona and I talked about his work and the desire for a construction team to come help with finishing the addition to the school.  A foundation has been laid but the exposed iron rods are oxidizing and will be unusable, if they are left to the open air for much longer.  A combination construction/medical team would also be of great service to him.

The time for leaving the area came.  I was happy to have had the opportunity to visit the sights, but more importantly to visit the people who I know who are doing the Lords’ work in this area.

Ahhh!  But now the road trip home to Les Cayes!  It is true the road you travel one way, must be traveled back upon your return.  Sigh!  Here we go again!  Another eleven hours!   I once again tried to concentrate on the scenery and the people we would encounter on the way.  Probably the most striking sight to me was the pickup that was ahead of us during part of the journey through the mountains.  Through the mud splashed glass of our windshield, I watched at what I assumed was a family.  Many of them were piled in the back of the pickup.  An elderly lady, in particular, caught my eye.  She was finely dressed and with one hand was caressing the coffin that was tilted into the back of the pickup.  I could only assume the coffin was being carried to its final resting place at either a cemetery or more likely to a family plot on the property of one of the relatives.  No fancy hearse to carry the coffin.  No grave digger to prepare the final resting place.  It was only the family and the body of their loved one traveling this final journey together.

Further on, we encountered not one, but two, other funeral processions.  Mourners dressed mostly in white, followed on foot the flowered wreaths being carried by children at the front of the procession and the coffin of a loved one being transported in a vehicle!  Death is such a part of life, especially here in Haiti!

I am back in Les Cayes and again answering the knocks at my door and preparing for our next mission team that arrives on June 20th!    Thank you for remembering the work here in your prayers!

Nora Léon

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time ………….

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