Friday, November 20, 2009

A Haitian wrap pictures

So, there is much to still process about Sweet Sleep's recent scouting trip to Haiti. There were so many things that reminded me of Moldova and many other things that reminded me of parts of Africa. While Haiti is different in its own way, there are always parallels when it comes to children. They need to be loved. They need to be nurtured. They need to know Jesus. They need to feel safe. They need healthy beds to sleep in and remind them of all these things.

There is a great need for our ministry in Haiti. Here, for now, is a wrap up of our experience. In pictures. Your heart can take it from there.

I didn't really know what Haiti would look like. It's really pretty.

Drivers, start your engines!

The market where everyone goes to get their goodies. I loved this lady in the middle with her giant straw hat.

Mass transportation in Haiti....

In the fall of 2008, Haiti endured a series of hurricanes, rains and rock and mud slides that left devastation across the country and countless deaths. This river, peaceful looking now, was cause for much loss of life and property. This picture was taken at an orphanage whose walls are against the banks (you can see a little of what I'm talking about on the far left). Last hurricane season, in the middle of the night, orphanage directors heard a "rushing" sound and realized the swollen river had broken through the concrete walls. Caregivers managed to flee the orphanage with all 125 children and, literally, climb up a nearby mountain where they had to wait for three days for helicopters to rescue them. See my earlier blog about this for more....

These are some of the children from that orphanage. I'm not going to say they swarmed us, but they certainly wouldn't let go of us.

See what I mean.....

This is an aerial shot (from my eyeballs). This teeny little girl never let go of the front of my skirt unless I picked her up, which I did a lot because otherwise-- with her in front of me and all the other children holding on to other parts of my skirt, shirt or arms, walking was just not going to happen. They were so precious. I wish I could have sat and held all of them for as long as they wanted me to.

I mean really, don't you want to hold this little one?

Or, try to make this sweet traumatized little boy try to smile?

Sweet kids from another orphanage in the mountains.....

...who sleep inside this building. Just wait until you see their beds.

A little girl from another orphanage we visited. I know, when I saw her I said the same thing too, "Oh my gosh!"

But when I saw where she and others had to sleep, I said, "Oh my gosh" in a different way.

We saw many makeshift mattresses like this: a simple plastic tarp used to provide a barrier to the children's little skinny bodies and the harsh cold metal bed frames.

Many of the beds Haitian orphanages actually do have were purchased long ago with very little money, which means the beds were poorly constructed of cheap materials. Add the the fact that many times multiple children sleep in each bed, and you've got looming problems. Here, the corner of this top bunk has separated from the frame and is only being held up by this piece of fabric tying both together.

When I walked into this room and saw this my heart became so sad. The older girl on the floor was sick and was sleeping. As I was surveyed the rest of the room and tried to think of how Sweet Sleep could provide beds for these children, this baby just went over and sat next to the little girl. Oh how I hope we can put beds into their orphanage.

This was about the only orphanage we visited which had mosquito nets. Some of the children at the orphanage those two little girls live in do have beds however, most didn't. The girls in this building who don't have a bed have to sleep on this concrete floor under these nets. Gosh, imagine yourself here. How incredibly uncomfortable for their little bodies. And, not very healthy or loving.

Remember those sweet little children a few photos above who are growing up in the orphanage in the mountains? Well, they sleep here. Just thinking back to what their beds were like makes my eyes well with tears.

The 20 children in that mountain orphanage sleep on beds like this. As you see from the earlier picture, the children are all ages ---and there were many older children living there who didn't pose for this picture. Their bunk beds are the size of toddler beds and many kids literally squish onto these beds. It seems abusive to me to cram children onto beds like this. Some beds had old mattresses. Some had no mattress at all, forcing the children to sleep on the metal grid and others were "lucky" enough to fashion mattresses out of plastic, like this.

And finally, here's a behind the scenes shot of Stuart talking with two Haitian welders as we discuss the materials available in their country and work to develop our bunk bed design for this country.

A person can never really understand something until they experience it for themselves. We know not everybody will be able to see the children's great need for beds, that's why we make these trips and share these pictures. We want to bring the need to you so that you can have the opportunity to provide these children healthy beds which remind the children of God's love for them.

I recently explained to somebody that Haiti was the Africa of this side of the world. This side of the world....that actually means a two hour flight from Nashville to Miami and then a two hour flight from Miami to Port Au Prince. Who knew. I didn't. But, now we all do. How will you help us be an answer to these children's prayers?

See you in the next blog....or, over coffee or email to talk about what that can mean for you.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

you can help this weekend...

hello all:

if you're in or near springfield, illinois this weekend then check this out:

you can come to an open house to get information on how you can "give the gift" this christmas. if you have to shop for a gift for anyone (friend, neighbor, loved one, colleague, client, vendor, get the idea) this can help save your sanity while also helping change the lives of orphans.

you simply make a contribution in honor (or in memory) of someone. you choose the card you'd like and include a personal message and sweet sleep sends the gift to them. there is also a video which shows the recipient what their gift is helping do this year.

you can even have sweet sleep take care of sending out your holiday christmas cards. the principle is the same as give the gift and addresses are not added to any mailing list. contact sweet sleep for more on this.

the 2009 give the gift is providing for 450 beds to children in northern uganda who have been living in a war-torn region for over 22 years. the war is now in a time of peace, however there are over one million people who are displaced; 3/4 of them are children in child headed households.

each bed is $88 and you can donate whatever amount you would normally spend on that person's gift, or whatever amount you would like. i will be spending several weeks with those children over christmas distributing their beds and sharing about what they represent: god's love, hope, protection, provision, redemption.....

attached is the information on the open house. for more on give the gift, visit

if you'd like to host an open house in your area, let me know!

see you in the next blog....with more on haiti!

you are invited to the home of

John & Maggie Colbert
sunday, november 15, 2009

2-5 pm
springfield, illinois

For the last six years we have been supporters of an organization called
Sweet Sleep, which provides beds to orphaned children around the world.
This Christmas we have decided to help provide beds and mosquito nets to 450
orphans in northern Uganda, thanks to an opportunity called “Give the Gift”.
When you give the gift of Sweet Sleep to in honor of someone you know,
you not only honor them—you change the life of a child in need by
giving them a healthy and comfortable place to sleep.

Please join us as we open our home to our friends and colleagues to share how
you can help “Give the Gift” to your friends, family, fellow colleagues.
Additionally, you will have the chance to purchase hand-crafted Ugandan
jewelry. Our friend, Jen Gash, is the President and Founder of Sweet Sleep and
will be here to share more with you and help you get your holiday giving off to
a meaningful start.

regrets: 217.698.9708

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The flood

Last August Haiti was battered by several hurricanes and subsequent rock and mud slides. Then, to add insult to injury, massive flooding from the heavy hurricane rains. If you’ve read my blog from Monday on how our work in Haiti began, then you already know some of this and, you know our ministry began in Haiti as a result of these natural disasters.

More than a year later Haiti is still struggling to return to “normal”. As I go through the areas which suffered damage I can see many people have managed to start over. It’s not until I go to an orphanage that I can see the aftermath of the catastrophe is still very real.

Tuesday afternoon we drove about an hour or so outside of Port-au-Prince to an orphanage with 120 children who range in age from newborn to teenager. On the way I began to learn their shocking story. One night last August the children and their caregivers were sound asleep. Suddenly, around 2 in the morning, they were woken by a “rushing” sound. Their orphanage sits directly against the banks of a large river that flows through Haiti. The director knew instantly that the concrete walls holding back the river had broken and that in a matter of minutes they would be flooded.

Somehow they managed to wake all 120 children and run with them up a mountain across from their orphanage.

The flooding from this river caused many deaths and wreaked havoc everywhere. Roads were flooded or washed out and there was no way to escape. The children and caregivers stayed on top of the mountain for THREE days before choppers could get to them and rescue them. Once rescued, they lived in UN tents for a while before moving to an abandoned building. The kids were quite sick during this time and clearly very traumatized.

The children we saw there were honestly some of the saddest looking children we’ve ever been around. For sure they were absolutely the quietest. They came right to us and pretty much just clung to us as much as possible. So much so that is was almost impossible to walk. I had a tiny little girl at my tip toes holding on to my skirt for dear life and just looking up at me. I had another child to the side holding my skirt and two more in the back. There were kids holding onto my shirt and my arm. And then there were kids all around them just wanting to be close.

The children are back in their orphanage, but are sleeping on the floor because their beds were washed away. They desperately need 60 new bunks, sheets and mosquito nets.

Gosh, I'd love to be able to put beds in their orphanage. Any takers?

See you in the next,


The first orphanage we visited Tuesday was one with an industrious director who had lived in the States and saved enough money to return to Haiti to build an orphanage. While in the States he also made enough contacts to help fund the ongoing needs of the orphanage.

In addition to the orphanage, the campus holds a school, church, hospital and get this…a hotel for relief teams to use for lodging. Besides the opportunity for team lodging, the other reason we wanted to visit the orphanage is because we had heard the director welded his own bunk beds because of the poor quality of the ones that are sold on the street.

His concept was better than what we would later see at most orphanages, but still isn’t a design Sweet Sleep would want to use for our Haitian model. The metal is just too thin and therefore unable to withstand lots of little bodies for years to come. The orphanage did need a few more bunks and many more mattresses.

The next orphanage was vastly different (see the two pictures above). We were welcomed by 40 bashful little children in their yellow school uniforms. They were gracious enough to allow us to interrupt their school day for a few minutes before we went to see their living situation.

Under the banana trees was a little lime green and pink cottage which was home to 16 girls who lived there (only girls live here because there is no building for the boys to live in). You could tell by the slant of the structure that it had been there forever. It had a little bit of a Swiss Family Robinson feel to it---until you walked inside. If these children lived with the Robinson family they’d be sleeping in beds cleverly fashioned from natural resources. The director and his wife have gentle loving hearts and were orphans themselves. Now they have these 40 children they educate and care for (what they call a “small number”) and make do with what they can. This means that the 18 girls share two very small rooms with only 5 beds among them. Bunk beds would make their simple home a much more livable space.

The next and last orphanage we visited Tuesday needs a blog all of its own. And, since we’re about to leave for our last day of discovery, I’m going to have to post that later.

Pray for what God might show us today and that He would direct our path to the places we are supposed to direct teams to this summer.

See you in the next blog,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 haiti

There’s really no way for me to sum up what we’re learning or seeing, other than to just share it with you as we have experienced it. So, welcome to our Haiti scouting trip.

As everyone at home began to hear we were going to Haiti we would get one of two reactions:
1. “Oh, you’ll love it. The people are so kind and the need there is so great.”
2. “Oh, you’d better be careful. Haiti is dangerous.”

We arrived and had no problems at the airport. Security randomly picks people to go through their bags (for those of you who are old Moldovan team members, it’s kind of like that). Stuart and I used the ol’ “don’t make eye contact and act like you know exactly where you’re going” trick and walked right on out.

Our on the ground partners and guides for this trip, Sandra and Pastor John, were outside waiting for us and off we went.

I remember when I was a little girl I thought New York City had to be the most dangerous place in the world to be. I didn’t have any experience to back up this thought, but it was the conclusion I let myself come to from hearing news stories or people talk about things that happened there. One summer, while growing up, my family drove through NYC on vacation. I vividly remember sitting in the back seat with big eyes and a racing heart. I looked at every store front , every car and alley I could---just waiting for the moment when I would see an armed robber jump through the glass window to make off with a bag of money or plastic bag full of Statue of Liberty figures. I remember being really disappointed: New York just didn’t live up to the hype.

Haiti reminds me a little of that trip to New York. The hype that half the people had reported to us had my little mind expecting to see Haitians running down the street waving guns in the air or mobs setting fire to cars. On the contrary, everyone in Haiti seems to be too happy or too busy doing whatever in the world it is they’re doing to brandish a gun or burn anything.

We’re staying at a mission house which shares a compound with a children’s home that is on the opposite end of the property. In the two days we’ve been here there’s been a revolving door of people who’ve made our meals more interesting. The property is extremely close to the airport, so It’s an ideal place for people to overnight as they are coming or going. Each of 18 or so people we’ve talked to have been coming to Haiti for a number of years. In fact, a woman named Betty has been coming here for mission work for 41 years (confession: as I watched her this morning at breakfast I wondered if that would be me 35 years from now, sitting at the table with a bunch of people visiting Moldova. The thought made me really tired!).

We’ve had fascinating conversations with them on the topic of safety in Haiti. There were 3 unrelated people/organizations who have worked in Haiti for at least 20 years. All said they remember when Haiti was considered to be one of the safest countries in the world. I thought that was interesting. Even more interesting to me was when they came to the conclusion that they felt part of the reason for the violence Haiti has experienced has happened as a result of Haitian people living in and traveling to the United States, learning the violence in America, and bringing it back home with them. Understand, we weren’t sitting around the table with a group of anti-American rebels, but with 2 missionaries and a director of a faith-based relief organization who, collectively, shared over 90 years of ministry to the people of Haiti. It made me stop and think. I’d not thought of this before, but I suppose it is true; if western styles and fashions can spread around the world, if our American pop culture becomes Europe or Asia’s pop culture, our violence can also serve as a model to other countries. We don’t just share the good things….we also can share the bad. Interesting to chew on.

Later on in our breakfast conversation I asked the director of the relief org if he would mind sharing the page from their team manual which talked about safety. He happily agreed and asked if I wanted to know what the first rule was: “If you’re concerned for your safety while on this trip, then we do not recommend you leave the Miami airport during your layover.” Amusing. And, true. At the end of our conversation, all of them, with all their decades of ministry experience in Haiti, agreed that the country is much safer now than it has been in a long time.

Those who know me know I’m THE biggest scaredy cat ever---I mean, I’m so scared to fly I don’t even unbuckle on the airplane. But, before bringing groups here I really wanted to and needed to experience Haiti myself to properly gauge the issue. Stuart and I were just talking about this and both agreed that neither of us have felt uneasy or that we were in danger at any time we’ve been here.

While talking about this, it’s worth noting that our teams don’t ever mill about on the city streets anyway. We work our teams hard: they wake early, have breakfast and team devotions, pack the vans and head out to the orphanage where they spend the day with the children. Sometimes the team will bring the goods for sandwiches and eat somewhere on site at the orphanage, and sometimes we’ll load up with our translators and partnering local church members and take over the local pizza place or small restaurant. At the end of the day we load back up, fall asleep in the vans on the way home and then unload, eat dinner, talk about the day, have prayer time, shower and pass out. The only trouble makers we generally ever see are about 8 or 12 years old and can be easily deterred with a soccer ball and some attention.

So, all that to say….teams….bring it on. These kids need you here. Jesus needs you here. Bad.

See you in the next blog,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Tonight I’m sitting in Haiti ready to tell you some stories, but it’s occurred to me I might start at the beginning.

Over the last couple of years as we’ve prayed for direction on where else we could minister, many countries presented needs to us. In my world we’d give beds and bedding to every kid who sleeps on a broken metal bed, urine-soaked thin cotton mattress, filthy piece of Styrofoam, on the floor or in the gutters. Our budget makes my world a hard place to live, and so I wait for God to lead us and pray for patience.

Haiti was a country which had been in our prayers for a long time, however I just never really felt God give me any confirmation that was our place to serve. About this time last year, Jon came into the office telling us he thought we really needed to prayerfully consider Haiti again. We listened to him tell us about an orphanage which had suffered extreme damage from the recent hurricanes and subsequent rock and mud slides. The children had lost nearly everything.

A couple days later Jon had pictures of the orphanage, the splintered beds, cars covered with rocks and mud just everywhere. He said he had heard the lead singer of Audio Adrenaline, Mark, share about this need on his drive in to the office. Turns out Audio has a nonprofit called Hands and Feet which supports an orphanage, this particular one, in Haiti. Again we listened and looked over the pictures. Jon seemed certain we should respond and begin our ministry in Haiti. I needed to pray more. I needed the proverbial “sign”.

Two weeks later, just before Thanksgiving, we were exhibiting our Build-a-Bed program at a Children’s Pastor Conference in Nashville and were headed home from a long day. As we were leaving the event we heard a band close a song and somebody began to talk. Stuart said it sounded like Mark from Audio. I looked in the room as we walked by and saw their Hands and Feet logo on the screen and said I thought we should just listen to him talk.

Mark shared the story we had listened to Jon tell us…showed the same pictures. It was good to hear the story from him, but I stood there telling God I just wasn’t sure if “this” was where He was leading our ministry. Then, Mark shared another story and changed all of that.

On July 8, 2007, a young boy watched as a pregnant teenage girl walked up the hill past his front porch on her way to the latrines up the road. A while later this boy saw the same girl walking down this hill…except it was clear she was no longer pregnant. Instantly the boy knew what had happened. In Haiti many newborn babies’ lives end when their desperate and destitute mothers literally throw them away at birth. The young boy knew this girl had gone into the outhouse to deliver her baby and leave it there.

The boy quickly ran up the hill and opened each door, looking down into the deep concrete hole to see or listen for a baby. Finally, in the third toilet, he found what he had prayed he wouldn’t: a newborn baby’s faint cries coming up from the deep, dark, wretched sewer hole.

He tried frantically to think of a way to reach the baby and finally ran to get some friends. They tried desperately by lowering each other as far down as possible, but the hole was much too deep. Finally they ran to look for help and found it in the form of some UN soldiers from Sri Lanka.

The soldiers carefully broke apart the concrete walls of the sewage hole so it was large enough to lower a man into the depths to reach the baby. Much time had passed and the cries from the infant were quieter and further apart.

Shockingly, there’s footage of this rescue. Once the soldier had been lifted down into the excrement and found the baby, he wrapped the infant in a sheet that was then secured to a rope and lifted up onto the surface. Once unwrapped they found a baby girl, still alive, and rushed her to the hospital. Incredibly, the baby girl didn’t have a single broken bone, cut or problem. What a miracle.

That story, combined with the video footage they showed, is without a doubt heartbreaking and moving. However, what got me more than anything else was the date Mark had said all this happened on: July 8th, Galina’s birthday.

Galina is a young teenage girl from Eastern Europe I’ve had the blessing of watching grow up over the 5 years—now two of which have been with me here in America. I brought Galina here because I absolutely felt God telling me to do so. Honestly, it was such a leap of faith for me and didn’t make sense to anyone, certainly not me. What was I, a single woman who traveled a lot and didn’t make a ton of money working for orphans and Jesus, going to do with a teenage girl? Apparently God didn’t really care about that and so opened the doors for her to come live with me and have opportunities she wasn’t going to have in Moldova: a chance for a high school and college education.

At the time I heard Mark’s story Galina and I were just shy of her first year in America. For the sake of this story, I’ll tell you the first year was beyond any difficult experience either of us had ever had. There were so many times I asked myself if any of what we were going through was worth the struggle, how things might turn out and what on earth God was doing to each of us in the process.

From what I can see, there’s really no reason Mark needed to mention the date when he started his story. Who knows if that’s always how he shares this miracle, but that night as I stood in the back of a room leaning against a wall crying, I knew God had let him share that date with me for a very specific reason: to remind me if we give everything to save just one life, that is a life everything is worth. There was my sign.

So, Haiti. More on our work tomorrow. Oh, and that little girl…today she is the absolute most precious little girl who has been adopted by Mark’s parents who run the orphanage she was taken to after leaving the hospital.

See you in the next blog,