Sometimes we are called to love beyond our capacity- to the standard of His measurements. Learning the measurements of God's love are so vast, unconditional, know no bounds, and are poured out beyond understanding makes it hard to attain the equation for this bold kind of L O V E. However, once we are recipient of His love, it is ingrained within us.
He gave us His son Jesus to be the standard we must replicate. He gave us a perfect love that we are called to give freely. The only way to give this love in abundance is to realize you must Love Anyway.
Love Anyway the ones who cannot possibly love you back.
Love Anyway the ones who have nothing to offer.
Love Anyway the ones who are in need.
Love Anyway the ones who are covered in pride.
Love Anyway the ones with which you do not agree.
Love Anyway the ones who have wronged you.
Love Anyway the ones who have no idea you are loving them.
Love Anyway the ones who might disappear from you quicker than you met them.
Love Anyway the ones who might reject you.
Love Anyway the ones who need it (hint- as you look around you'll find this is everyone you meet!)
Starting at the beginning of the year we met a very precious boy in a tough situation. He came into our home with a quickness and left it just the same. He visited on weekends but this too became not enough to keep him from choosing the streets. We lavished a lot of love on our little buddy only to have him take a small piece of our hearts with him when he left. There was an opportunity where he showed back up and I realized- though this boy was not mine, I had much love for him and in return wanted nothing but the best for him. A small glimpse of the Father's love for the return of the prodigal son.
Reflections on 2019 led us to the realization there is a time for Everything Under the Sun. These times have led us even deeper into the revelation of this next blog.
Fast forward to a small baby girl, fighting the monster of malnutrition. This baby was not known to many of you but there was a time when we thought this precious little one was going to be our daughter. Upon finding out about her situation we tried hard not to get too attached because in Haiti these things can change abruptly- so we proceeded with caution. Our first visit- we "cautiously" showed up to meet this joy-bundle and the walls we had built around our hearts crashed down as we saw each other holding the embodiment of hope for us as a family. Upon leaving that first visit we arrived home with tears of joy and the hopes of what could be welled up inside our souls. Simultaneously, we were overcome with the fear of failure and not feeling quite prepared for another let down. We prayed together and knew that God was calling us forward to LOVE without BOUNDS and without FEAR. He quickly reminded us that love is something we must freely give even when there is a chance of loss.
Our hearts continued to fall more and more in love with baby girl everyday until a couple months later when things unexpectedly changed and she was placed back into a situation that was less than ideal.
I began to regret the caution we had willingly abandoned at the tiny, precious feet of this little one- this is me, being vulnerable. Instantly the Lord began to bless me with the realization that although this was hard- it was ok. Although it was painful, it was part of our journey. Although it did not go how we had hoped we loved anyway. It was something God really desired for us- to soften, to embrace, to love anyway.
There it is friends- the way to Abide in Love- love anyway.
Love anyway, the ones who are incapable of loving back. Love anyway the ones who reject you. Love anyway when it is the hardest because that is exactly the Abiding Love- the direct replica of a Father who Loves YOU Anyway.
"There is a time for everything,
And a season for every activity under the heavens"
2019 was a year full of many things for us, many hard things.
Transition, loss, abrupt evacuations, and many unknowns.
God used every single instance of uncertainty to grow and mold us to rely more on Him. He continuously shows us there is a time for everything under the sun.
"... a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot"
Reflecting on 2019 is only the beginning and honestly one of the hardest parts of laying foundations for this next year is to look back on all that we have experienced and know that God is good through it all.
There, I said it. It is still extremely hard to remember God exists outside of circumstance. He exists even when my world seemed to be falling apart, this is the best way He can hold us together. We planted roots and beliefs through 2017 and 2018. There was a time for planting and 2019 was the year where God said it was time to uproot. Dreams were born and some had died but there was a time for that too.
"...a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build"
Last year was a time to destroy lies we believed, tear down walls around our hearts. God used a few instances that were difficult to tear down the Jericho walls we have developed on our hearts: A sweet, sweet boy who became a weekend visitor, a boy (who found himself almost a man) facing tough decisions, a young woman who was on her own for the first time, a mom who loved her boy so much she wanted to give him a chance, a father fighting the monster known as poverty...
God used these stories to show us more of the Father's heart for discipleship in Haiti. To remind us of Himself, the Good Shepherd leaving the ninety-nine for the ONE. So we let the walls be torn down and now we watch as God builds away at our vision ONE person at a time. Through this trusting God process we find Him to provide a time to heal.
"...a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance"
Mourning and weeping were no strangers to us last year- we grieved many losses from the beginning of the year to the end. Friends moved away, movements to adopt fell through, and we even experienced the heaviest grief- loss. We lost a baby last year, unexpectedly my grandpa, and even a friend. So much loss in just the twelve months of 2019.
Also many times, despite the gripping sorrow, found us full of laughter and dancing. Times where regardless of the sadness, you could find us joyful. That could only be the power of God in our hearts working by His abilities not our own. We learned to lean into God in all things ugly and beautiful. Not everything under the sun is easy, but you can almost always find a moment to dance.
"... a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing"
Many people may not understand why or where you are scattering your stones- if the Lord is calling you scatter instead of gather, take the time to un-embrace what the world says. We learned a lot this year about embracing and refraining from embracing. Embrace only what the Lord calls you to- and I can almost guarantee you He is not calling you to embrace the opinions of others or what is popular. Do the hard thing and do it fearlessly because if God calls you to it- no matter if it is time to scatter or gather, He will lead you forward and there will be a time for everything under the sun. Embrace Him.
"... a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away"
Giving up, throwing away- sometimes God calls us into these seasons. Often they are uncomfortable, sometimes they are lonely but God is in those places too. He leads you forward with grace and gentleness. He shows you when it is time and He is with you while you make that toss or exhale and surrender. Then there are the times God calls you to search and to keep. The times where fighting forward makes all the difference, He is in all these moments under the sun. He is in everything and is good, merciful, and just in all things beautiful and difficult.
"... a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak"
There is a time for everything under the sun. No matter where you find yourself in the verses, it is always time for God to use what is going on around you for His glory. In the year two-thousand-and-twenty I hope that you are able to see God is in the details. He is the big picture. The hard days are saturated with mercy and the breezy days are dripping with joy.
"... a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace."
In every season under the sun, God can be found along with His grace abundant grace.
Here we are- in a cold, somewhat snowy, wintery world.
The contrast to my vibrant, tropical, sunshine-y life is hard most days.
There is also peace- my soul needed rest.
2019 was a year to remember but probably one of the toughest years we have faced so far. We experienced much loss and in many forms. We endured the hardship of evacuating and the unknowns of when we could get back to our little island home. We grieved much in 2019- loss in all forms. Death was no stranger to us this last year, taking loved ones from us and leaving behind sorrow.
So here we are, putting one foot in front of the other as we walk this road. It feels a little hard sometimes and just when we begin to feel completely alone or broken down, God brings us hope and confirmation in Him alone.
Reflecting on 2019 and the hardships is easy but it is not the focus. I share these sorrows and trials with you because I want you to realize we are oh so human- fleshy and broken. The strength you might think we walk in is actually not ours but something we are graced with by God alone. We can do none of this by our own strengths or plans but only by God's.
This last year has taught me many lessons and none of them were learned lightly.
"Here is my heart, Lord, I open it vulnerable to glorify you Father."
God has been faithful countless times- over and over again. The things He sometimes uses to remind me of this make me laugh (like socks when my few pairs are all but destroyed from being washed in Haiti). Sometimes His faithfulness is exemplified in late night conversations with a friend, or a Christmas card given after a fun day out bringing joy back to the smile lines on my face. His faithfulness is always displayed when one of you sends an encouraging word or a thoughtful donation. We have such great needs and lack of funding for those needs and boy does God really enjoy showing off as He provides ways that only He can do. His faithfulness also goes beyond our physical needs and wants but in the ways He carries us gently through this life.
The biggest lesson we have learned this year is about L O V E.
The last year has been difficult but the Lord continues to guide, mold, lead, and speak to our journey. He provides for us, He makes a way where there seems to be none. He does all of this (not because we are worthy of it) but because He loves us. He desires for us to grow in His love and for it to spill over to empower the Haitian people. Though there were hardships and loss, we still cling to God's goodness because no matter what God is still GOOD.
We are thankful for the ways God confirms our visions and the scriptures He lays on our hearts to form the foundations of our community center initiative:
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power. together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and how long and how high and how deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:16-21
We are so thankful for the Lord's faithfulness to us and our mission in Haiti. We are thankful to Father God for all of you, too. For those of you who have listened, prayed, donated, encouraged, hugged and blessed us in more ways than we can even count. Together through Abide in Love we will bring glory to God and further the kingdom. Together we will teach everyone we work with to Abide in the Love of the Father.
Stay tuned for how God used this last year of loss to teach us about "Everything Under the Sun", and to teach us to "Love Anyway."
As always dear readers- Abide in Love!
"He lets me rest in quiet meadows; He leads me beside still waters..." Psalm 23:2
Two months ago the Lord gave me a dream of this exact verse. To understand the context of why I so desperately needed this we have to look back on the situation we were (and still are facing).
Haiti has been experiencing political unrest and outbursts of protesting/country lockdowns (peyi lok) since July of 2018. Starting in August of this year the country has been consistently locked down and blocked up most days, with a few "calm" days sprinkled in between protesting to allow everyone to get supplies (well sort of).
We had just begun our own nonprofit organization and were in the middle of transitioning everything- including donors and funds so we were in Haiti with next to no money. On top of that during the calm days there was a trending lawlessness. Thugs still blocking the road but not in protest, really just to get money as the unpaid police force already has their hands full.
"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...."
Two and a half months ago before things had really flipped upside down for us, I was laying in bed arguing with God and letting Him have IT. I was already tired of the continuing struggle in Haiti. I was already tired of the constant battle that is fundraising. I was already tired of facing my fears daily and wrestling the what if's of our lives. We knew (and still know) the calling we have to be exactly where we are, doing what we are doing... but I am human and I still have flesh and a heart and fears, worries, anxieties.
So there I am begging God to give me peace for my weary soul. I was sitting up in my bed and I heard it. I heard running water. Instantly my fears and struggles began to be louder than the water and I found myself near a stream with God as my Shepherd. I yelled to Him to turn up the water, like you would turn up a radio. My Shepherd did just that and He reminded me He leads me beside still waters. And there I sat at the most beautiful natural spring enveloped in greenery and Love Himself. And none of the struggles of this world, of my life compared to that P E A C E.
I woke up from that night and the most wonderful dreams- I rose with peace, well-rested. And I wish I could end this blog post right there... but God knew what was coming in my life. He knew the storms we were about to walk through and the real life fear (the kind thats not just in your mind but when the what if's become reality).
Just a couple days after soaking in those Still Waters I found myself crying in my shower trying to cling tight to what Jesus had said to me but it was already slipping from my reality. An hour previous to those shower moments Alex was robbed at gunpoint. They stole his phone, his moto (our only transportation), and most importantly our peace. We were thankful he was unharmed as there are plenty of stories coming from Haiti right now where this is not the case, but we were left so broken. As he filed the police reports the next day we learned NINE other motos were stolen not too far from us and countless people robbed of money and personal belongings in our own area. Alex was sad for himself but disheartened at the desperation of those around him in the police station. Motos are a source of income, the only source of income for these men and some people were robbed of their wages they earned that week which means their family would not eat.
"He makes me lie down in green pastures...."
Our hearts were devastated and struggling to stay positive. We lost sleep and the what if's just got worse. We were dreading telling of what happened to us. Honestly, when you love something so much it is hard to share of its flaws and hardships. Ironically a month before this happened we were talking about a friend who was robbed in a different part of Haiti and we had actually said we did not think we could stay if that happened to us. I look at this moment and see how God protected Alex AND strengthened our faith in Him while confirming the plans He has for us.
"He leads me beside still waters...."
It was not sunshine and roses trying to push through the trauma of what happened. It was very hard to actively cling to a God who allowed it. But all through the struggle we just put one foot in front of the other. We found reasons to be thankful no matter how small they were- being locked in the house was a challenge all on its own. We watched as our entire missionary community began exiting one by one.
We felt alone and discouraged a lot but would spend entire days worshipping the Lord and His faithfulness. The situation going on around us does not determine the Goodness of God. A hard truth to grasp but a very necessary one.
And again, I wish I could say we replenished our vehicle fund right away and everything turned around and is good but that is not the truth. The truth is Haiti continues in this state of unrest and chaos. My friend Pauline has lived through many different eras and administrations of Haiti (horrible dictators, corrupt presidents, hurricanes, the 2010 earthquake, cholera outbreak, and more) but let me know this is the worst it has ever been in her fifty four years of living. The inflation, the suffering, the corruption, and the hopelessness of the general people as they try to ride this out. Our zone specifically was completely blocked up by gangsters while other areas were calm. We had a horrible day and night of gunfire right outside our house as the police tried to take back the intersection we live near. The gangsters were retreating into our neighborhood on motos and firing rounds and terrorizing our neighbors. We were trying to be as silent as possible while listening to the neighbor's radio call out the positions of the police officers during this fight and call for fellow thugs to come with gasoline and set the police on fire. The radio station was against the police and giving up their locations to the gangsters. It was a war zone. The gunfire was loud and unreal. As I am writing this, its unreal that we lived this. But again, God is faithful beyond our circumstances.
"He restores my soul...."
After this specific instance- the gangsters won the battle against the police and the partying and celebrating was almost worse than the sound of constant gunfire. The darkness was heavy. The following day I sat in one spot on the couch and realized after almost three months of this crazy that it was time we had a break. We were able to secure me a ride to the airport the following day and a very kind friend generously offered to fly us to their home in Florida. Alex had to stay behind until we could get a new guard to our house and trained in all things Bradshaw Household. I have been resting in Florida for several weeks now and preparing a fundraising campaign while following God's lead. Alex was able to join me after a couple weeks- a small miracle story all in its own! I will save that for another blog.
"He guides me along the right paths for His name's sake...."
And so we continue our journey in Haiti. This blog is definitely a harder one to write for me. I know exactly what you're thinking about how insane we must be to continue living this way. I know what you're thinking because I have thought it myself. When we are feeling overwhelmed and unsure about the future of Haiti we pray and we listen. EVERY SINGLE TIME we have prayed and asked God to be clear He has been. He will have all the glory and He will guide us because He knows best.
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me...."
He is with me. In almost every prayer I have prayed or song I have sang over the last several months I am reminded of my Emmanuel- GOD WITH US. And I will continue battling my flesh against fear. He is with me and He comforts me.
I do not what the future of Haiti looks like when the country is in a Humanitarian Crisis. I do not know the future of my loved ones there just trying to feed their little loves, and I do not know that this will pass anytime soon... but I do know that God's Goodness is not defined by this circumstance. I do know that He is with me and them in the valley. I know that He loves everyone we minister to more than we ever could.
"Your rod and your staff, they comfort me...."
And so I allow myself to be comforted in this period of rest.
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows...."
In faith we will move forward with all that God has planned for Abide In Love. In faith we will fundraise for our needs and the needs of the ministry. In faith we will declare war on poverty and the effects of it on families. We will fight what they are fighting. We will move forward because we trust in the Lord and our hope is in Him alone.
"Surely Your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
This last month has been extremely difficult in Haiti. It has been difficult in our living here with fuel shortages, lock downs, and increased unrest. But it is also harder on our hearts as we watch an already suffering people- suffer more and in increased ways. It is hard knowing that there is nothing you can do to stop what goes on out there and you cannot protect the ones you love. We can cushion them a little- we have given our neighbors water, bought extra supplies from our local boutique to keep her business stable, and given a few people some of those extra supplies. But other than that all we can do is pray.
And we assume the condition of our hearts God so desires from us. Completely dependent on Him and His abilities instead of our own. All I can do is trust. There is no other option except fear.
I succumbed to fear last week at the mention and rumors of a coup d'ètat. I succumbed to darkness and what ifs, sadness and grief, anger and frustration with the Lord who "holds all things together". How can this statement be so when I see everything falling apart?
And here is how God, the Holder of All Things, responded ever so gracefully to my fears, anger, and questioning:
Yesterday, our laundry lady showed up much later than usual. She walked from her house to ours through the mud because there were not many motos out. She woke up waiting to see what the day would bring before she headed out leaving her four children with her older mom. Jesula is sassy and at times an absolute pain in the butt, if I am being honest. But then sometimes we have such great heart to hearts. We often joke around and tease each other. And every time she leaves my house I think how Jesula must be God's favorite kid.
She had this job for about two years before we arrived- paid a sustainable wage to provide for her family. Then we come along and I cannot tell you how many socks have come to die terrible deaths in our laundry loads-stretched into rags. Not to mention the various clothing items that have had bleach water from the one tub splashed on them and ruined. Many underwear and boxer pairs stretched and damaged with holes. Plus any fitted jeans or jeggings are stretched beyond recognition.
It is amazing to me that we have kept her but I see the four faces she is responsible for, I see her elderly mother Rosemene working hard too providing for this family and so we keep this sustainable wage. A wage sustaining an entire family each week.
Empowering one momma.
And just when I have decided to take the weight of the country and the woes of all her people to heart and crush my spirit, well this one momma comes to us late on her work day but something is different.
She is pinning the clothes to the line, effortlessly chatting away while completing the task at hand. She is happier than I have seen her in a long time, full of hope despite what goes on outside these walls. She is also skinnier as her second job has been shut down the last month with the inability for vendors to go out selling. But she is happier. Her weight loss tells me she is making a huge sacrifice to make sure what she does have goes to those four precious ones depending on her. Can you imagine, choosing not to feed yourself to ensure your kids are eating? I have been making bigger breakfasts for my friend just hoping she gets one good meal a week. It is still so hard on my heart.
But still, what is the difference this day?
And thats when she tells me- she has been saving little supplies for herself. She has a plan.
She has a small chalkboard, one piece of chalk, and a book from her little one's school.
Jesula wants to learn to read and write.
And thats where it hits me. I have to turn around and find a dish to scrub while we talk because the tears are coming. I am beyond excited for my sassy friend and the empowerment she has felt in the last four years. We recently talked about reading and writing and I told her how much I enjoy them and she was fascinated by it. I encouraged her she can enjoy them too, its not too late. She shrugged me off but I knew the desire was there. After I collected myself yesterday morning I gave her a giant hug and the joy on her face as she told me the news will never leave my thoughts.
Her ability to dream better for herself during this time has me melted right into the hands of the Father.
A simple dream in the middle of chaos.
The joy and pride in telling me this plan and excited for me to share it with Alex is a reminder of why we want a literacy program at the community center.
There it is friend- God leaving the NINETY-NINE for the one. His little lamb who has wandered off. His little lamb who has yet to accept Him and His goodness but here He is caring for her and her needs.
This little lamb who gives up her food for her family to eat and yet she dreams not of more food but of learning to read and write.
It's simply profound.
And I am reminded of how God holds all things together- its that all things are held together through Him.
Not by my understanding of His holding, not by my efforts to hold them myself, not by the world around me.
Through this abiding in love do I see the beauty of my SAVIOR abiding in this world, leaving the multitudes for the ONE. And reminding me it was never my burden to take them all on, but to just start with the ONE. Love the ONE. Empower and encourage the ONE. Pray for the ONE.
It is the only way to change this world- begin with the ONE.
Today I feel it is time to take a break from the series I have been working on and spend a little time on why we do what we do.
I have been feeling a tug on my heart lately to go deeper into the Love of the Father and just abide there-- but this life makes it so difficult to stay in those moments.
I am writing today to share of a life riddled with God's fingerprints. As I look around me I see joy abounding in ways America never dreamt.
I see my materialistic nature shedding itself like an old crusty snakeskin.
I see my soul smiling at the giggles of kids playing with rocks as their goal posts.
I see my old heart being revived and made new in ways that do not make sense to the American girl I once was.
I see joy abounding in a suffering world.
It's in the mom feeding her baby with no shame from others around. It's in the potty training toddler half naked running through our english class. It's in the morning greetings from passerby's who view their greeting as their passport. It's in the freedom that comes from lack of busyness. It's in being neighborly as the neighborhood is the family and community is a lifeline.
I often get focused on the lack of things here but where they lack in resources here they abound in richness of things Americans are actually longing for in our hearts.
Following God might look like selling all of your belongings and moving across the world, or maybe it just looks like coming out of your house and moving your feet across the street. Whichever it may be for you- I know it will always look like LOVE.
But not just any love that we as Americans or humans have fabricated- a love that takes time for others, dies to itself, gets uncomfortable, lives vulnerable and messy without fear of rejection but even after rejection this kind of REAL love- it lasts. It abides. It thrives not because of its destination but because of its source.
The source, the place this love flows from is God who is Love. If we do anything without this Love, without the source of it, it is for nothing.
If we accomplish nothing else in this life but loving people richly and discipling people deeply while Abiding in the source of True Love- then we have done everything worth doing.
May your Joy Abound in the richness of He who is the source of Love. For joy abounds in the land of hearts for those who trust in Him and follow Him when the world around seems to have lack. I see joy abound here in a people I cannot even begin to scratch the surface of their sufferings. I see joy abound here because they choose it everyday. I pray you can grasp what I am trying so hard to convey- joy abounds even in suffering because of the abundant Love and grace God has for us, its a choice.
Yesterday was something out of a movie.
Actually, it was supposed to be a day to take a break from people, posting, planning, providing, or preparing. We were supposed to have an entire day at home without people and without stress to just play games and relax. Then we were supposed to end the night at our favorite Haitian restaurant eating some yummy food.
Instead- let me tell you about how the day actually happened...
We started early with english lessons at our house and one of our most dedicated english class students. Then we were supposed to sit outside but it was much too hot for that so we listened to music in the darkest room in the house- trying to escape the scorching heat that brings all your sweat glands to life. I put together a very easy, light lunch of summer sausage and cheese and snacks and we began to play Phase 10. During Phase 4 a knock on the gate rumbled our barking dogs to their feet and I pretty much knew our date day was about to be interrupted probably for the rest of the day.
Hopefully you have been reading all of my latest blogs on The Truth about Orphanages. If you're up to speed you might know about the incredible kids we used to work with and are brokenhearted for. This blog is actually an extension of the stories we have shared.
For all intensive purposes I will name this door-knocker Steven.
Steven left his place at the orphanage several months ago. He hated it there. He hated the constant hardship and never feeling like he belonged. He despised the constant abuse in many forms- but especially verbal. He was told he was a cockroach, a parasite, a beast on the daily. He missed his family something awful. What he missed most was belonging somewhere and a sense of protection. The things God instills in family, even in an impoverished one, are ones that cannot be mimicked in an institutional setting.
Once learning about Steven's exiting of the orphanage- that he chose to leave in an extreme way, we went out to his home village where we had been exactly a year earlier meeting his dad for the first time and watching their tearful reunion after eight years of separation and not knowing where Steven ended up. You see, he hadn't just been in one orphanage but at least two and he was exposed to many things at a young age.
Fast forward to Steven showing up at our house and staying for a few days while we try to formulate a plan for his future. He was not accepted back into his father's house for the shame of being kicked out of school by taking a knife (something he was instructed to do if he wanted to leave, because he was not allowed to just leave.) He was having difficulty living with a brother and then was staying with cousins down the road. We sent him back to his home and said come back to us in a few weeks with some living options you have found in this area.
And he did- he came back and we let him stay with us for a week. He had his own room and bathroom. We paid for his food and he spent time with Alex learning how to fix a truck, a motorcycle, and installing solar panels. He had not done his homework on the housing though so we gave him another weekend to do so and offered to help pay for it for six months until he can get on his feet and pay for it himself.
This young man left an institution that did not prepare him whatsoever for the reality of the world around him. This institution stole from him the very principals he would have acquired in a family setting. It left him and all the kids entitled without knowing how to work or provide for themselves. We see a stark contrast from the institutional living to kids who grow up in a family- even in extremely impoverished areas with imperfect parents.
Let's skip ahead to the knock...
Steven had not come for his Monday meeting with us in which we paid for a translator. Then we even paid this same translator to be here Tuesday and Steven did not show up or call to let us know he would not be coming. So I told Alex to say we are unavailable because days off are crucial to our mental wellbeing. But a simple "We're busy," does not suffice in situations like this. The rest of the afternoon was consumed in this mess of a man. He is strong, loved, and capable. He is a Son of the True King but his understanding of this life is so skewed. We let him know no longer is the offer still standing to find a house because he did not come to the meeting. We had a trust talk- a very detailed example that left Steven's face almost white with fear. After the talk he did not have much to say even when given the opportunity.
We made a plan for Steven with him for a work schedule and a time to come and learn mechanics from Alex. Except I was still concerned about the look on his face during the trust talk, my gut knew something was up.
The morning he was leaving after his stay at our house I encountered Steven up and ready sitting in our office with his back pack. I made him some breakfast and when it was time to walk out the door he had said, "Oh I left my sandals upstairs," and he grabbed his backpack off our dining room table to go get his sandals before leaving. This memory popped back into my head during our trust talk.
After he left our thunderstorm rain meeting I went upstairs to investigate. I had already checked his room when I was cleaning it after he left and found no signs of anything missing. But upon examining our office I found the remnants of a set of DVD's. The brand new plastic wrapper was ripped off the case and actually the case destroyed with neither DVD in it. We were and still are beyond bummed. (These are a Christian set of DVD's on taking charge of your mental & emotional health. Something I had planned on watching this weekend, but it was nothing exciting for a Haitian boy, just something to sell to someone else.)
This might sound like nothing to you but in Haitian culture- theft is not taken lightly. Street justice is a real thing here and now we are faced with a serious lesson that needs to be learned before it is learned any other way.
Devastated, I write this in tears. A constant battle of the heart for the truth to be made known. For all of us to realize the importance of a family setting. For us to not take lightly the things we have and the ways we were raised. I will NEVER stop waging war for the twelve kids who have forever impacted my heart. For the heartache they suffered to not continuously repeat in some twisted cycle of what we Americans believe constitutes for orphan care. Let it be made known the only orphan care there is- is to put an orphaned child in a family and to support those families. Had Steven grown up in a family setting he would have most likely been taught about stealing, he would have learned the Haitian proverbs telling him things like Sa ou fè se li ou wè (What you do is what you see) or Pa janm koupe dwèt moun k ap ba ou manje (Never cut off the finger of the one who gives you food), and in love the meaning would stick. Being a number in a group makes it much harder for these life lessons to have an impact on these children.
During the storm yesterday I found beauty in the rain and in the getting soaked. There is a love that runs deep for these kids, a love so profound and its source is far beyond our human capacity. As I sat there trying to unclog the drain that keeps our yard from flooding, I was drenched through and through. Thus is the love of God- refreshing, intense, and all the way through. Here we are in this life, in the middle of the storm, and we are just getting soaked but it is painful and beautiful all at the same time. A simultaneous chaos and loveliness I cannot convey to you any better than with this extremely lengthy blog post
As for Steven, we will meet with him Tuesday and do what any good parent does and follow up with consequences. As I wrote this blog today, the song "I Wish You Pain," by Andy Grammar came on and I had never heard it but the words got me right in the feels. If you familiarize yourself with the song you will indeed realize I am not a horrible person.
"Cause I love you more than you could know and your heart it grows every time it breaks. I know that it might sound strange, but I wish you pain." -Andy Grammar
So often we avoid hard things. We miss out on countless opportunities because we refuse to leave our comfort zone. And this boy of mine is strong- he will overcome the obstacles. I believe in him but we have to give him a healthy nudge and some tough boundaries for all of us. We will do so tenderheartedly and with humility not taking lightly the different ways God has called us to be here. The call to do the hard things is not wasted on us and we hope it becomes an example to him from people who love him as more than just some number in a line up.
So friends- be in prayer for us as this is not the first or last time one so precious to us will betray our trust or take advantage of what we offer. Pray for us as we are learning too. We are learning Se bon kè krapo ki fe l san tet (Its the heart of the frog that made him foolish).
Abide in Love. Abide in the One who loves you through and through and is not afraid to teach the tough lessons for our benefit.
Abide in the One who is with you while you are caught in the storm.
My last blog was filled with a lot of information about our personal experiences here with orphanages.
Now I want to combine my perspective with a book I am currently reading called "Orphan Justice" written by Johnny Carr.
Have you visited an orphanage on a short term trip?
Have you held precious kiddos in your arms and played with them- laughter bursting forth?
Have you spent any time in a Children's Home that is known for being "one of the good ones?"
I have spent time in many different orphanages here in Haiti and it fuels my desire for orphan care TO CHANGE. Johnny Carr says it in his book:
As followers of Jesus, we cannot be satisfied with children living in orphanages as a long term solution.
If you have visited, or if you have not, the reality of playing with children and you bringing them joy simply because you are visiting is NOT ENOUGH to offset the lack of quality living that only a family can give.
Imagine yourself as that child's parent. Would you be content with TONS of strangers coming into your home to love on your child and maybe take pictures? To play with them and bring out their joy but not have any boundaries? Then add in the fact that these strangers do not speak your language so there is no possible way for them to share teachable moments with your child. These strangers are coming in with the best of intentions, however, they are only bonding and then leaving the attachment behind.
"Perhaps you have fond memories of holding an orphan at one of those orphanages. But as we investigate what orphans need, I want to challenge you to be willing to consider the idea that while you might have good feelings associated with visiting orphanages, living in an orphanage might not be the best option for children."
Aside from attachment issues or whether or not you want to shut all the orphanages down (side note: I am not endorsing that because that would create a whole separate crisis at this time), I am simply suggesting we reconsider our stance on building orphanages, opening orphanages, funding orphanages that keep the children in the orphanage for their entire upbringing.
The only way to truly care for "orphans" and believe me- there are situations where children really are orphaned, abandoned, or the family is not fit to care for them- is to push for every child to have a forever family where they belong.
Look around you in your community, adjacent community, throughout your whole state and I will promise you that you will not find an orphanage. This next statement might sting a little but after living here and living out orphan care firsthand I am here to tell you it is the absolute truth and it needs to be shared.
"After all if we don't allow orphanages to exist in the United States, why are we content to build and sustain them in other countries? The goal of orphan care is caring for orphans, not the good feelings we get from our generosity in building or supporting an orphanage. Orphan care is not about us; it's about them."
The point of this blog is not to make you feel guilty, ashamed, hateful toward me for educating you on the hard truths, or make you want to shut down all the orphanages. The point of this blog is to relentlessly pursue justice and quality care for these kids. The children who find themselves victim to poverty, desperate for a momma's hug, missing the smile of their own brother or sister who Dad decided to keep, longing to belong and be loved unconditionally in a family setting.
No good-hearted person should be wanting to keep children in these institutional settings, deprived of all their basic needs. We should want better for them, we should want family for them.
In a blog to come, I will explore with you the ways Alex and I feel led to empower families here. I will share with you the heartbeat of this next year.
But for now, one last quote for you to chew on:
"Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children... He never intended for the growth, nurturing, and development of childhood to happen in an institution."
All of these quotes are mainly from chapter four of this book. Please consider looking into statistics of orphanages or reading a few books on the issues.
Prayerfully consider finding new ways to empower these kids to Abide in Love. Prayerfully consider how your impact can be one that truly mirrors God's heart for orphans and orphan care, instead of how man-made orphan care looks.
Thanks for checking out the tough stuff with me <3
Well it kind of began all magical and fairytale like, except not at all.
I can look back on our first year here and realize we had NO CLUE of what was going on around us and no idea of what Haiti really needed. At times, we even felt like we were helping when instead we were just hurting. We learned the hard way to humble ourselves and stop trying to save these kids- we will never be the Savior they need, that's what Jesus is for and what He alone can do.
We were rounding out our first year of ministry at the orphanage. Early on we learned the kids do NOT view us 'white American visitors' as family. They actually ALL had families of their own, most even had parents and none of them were a fan of our 'American Way.' Our rules and systems were wasted on this institutional living where attachment disorders of many kinds run rampant. They heard and mostly participated in our nightly bible study. Who knows what they thought of us as we implemented ourselves into their daily living. We had high hopes and BIG hearts for changes to be made and "orphans" to realize their true potential as Co-Heirs with Christ. We still have those desires for them; however, we learned in the first few months the kids we thought were "orphaned" by terrible/incapable or dead parents were really just "orphaned" by poverty. Despair and a better chance of being taken care of led these loving momma's and papa's to give over their children to the orphanage and its caretakers.
Sure their living situations were not ideal at some of the houses they came from but these children (along with 80% of "orphans" worldwide) are poverty orphans. The term poverty orphan comes from the fact that a lack of money or resources will lead parents to give up their children in hopes that they can find a better life. While trying to meet physiological needs (and not doing a fantastic job at even that) the orphanage was neglecting the rest of Maslow's Heirarchy of needs. The children were not cared for in ways that promoted their safety needs, their sense of belonging or being loved, their self esteem and importance was neglected and belittled in every way possible, and their self-actualization (the drive to become the best version of themselves) was not there. In fact, a few of the kids struggled with suicidal thoughts on a regular basis and self worth issues which included eating disorders. We learned about the mistreatment of the kids in the orphanage, previous abuse from nannies who watched them, physical abuse from various people, and molestations between the children themselves. After almost an entire year of staying in it for the sake of the kids and trying to change how things were- we realized after many conversations with trusted missionary friends- we were only supporting what was going on and not thwarting it.
Our funding, our positivity, our rules and regulations, our American mindset was aiding vile behaviors because we truly had no control over the situation. Toward the end of the year a lot of truths came out we were unaware of and recently even more has been made known to us.
As Maya Angelou said:
"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better DO BETTER."
So here's how we are following Maya's advice:
After stepping down from our "fake" position as administrators (which was never official at an unregistered orphanage anyway) we have begun our pursuit of orphan prevention through family preservation and job creation. These fancy terms made simple just mean we do not want families to feel so desperate that they must hand over their child to the first place that can meet their physiological needs better. We want to help create jobs and expand businesses here in Haiti for Haitians. We want to pursue opportunities for families to learn and grow together to find hope that God will do exceedingly and abundantly more than their family could dream of!
We do not want the desperation poverty brings to send parents knocking for someone else to care for their beloved baby. We want to not be the Saviors just because we are white and more priveleged but instead we want to point them to the one and only Savior who is mighty TO save. #amen!
Stay tuned for the GIANT dreams God has placed in us to begin this year! Stay tuned for how they unfold.
We are about to embark on a whole new adventure and are excited to pursue God's Goodness to His people in new ways. We are praying for an enormous impact on families to want to stay together, for children to not be orphaned by avoidable circumstance or simplistic needs, and for a wave of empowerment to rush this community!
Sure, our story is the opposite of a fairytale in many ways but especially in the sense that:
ALL OF IT IS REAL.
We live in a messy reality, a heavy world full of suffering, and we are no longer sugar coating the truths we are learning. I love a good, fluffy fairytale but I LOVE a true story of heroism, inspiration, and empowerment EVEN MORE. Join us in the nitty, gritty messy life we live and just know we are not the heroes I am referring to above... but you'll see ;)
As always friends- Abide in the one who leads us into deeper waters, not to fear, but to walk with Him!
Today July 10th, 2019 marks our two year anniversary since we moved to Haiti. Let me tell you a story:
Once upon a time in a land far, far away...
Let's go back two and half years to when we visited Haiti and fell in love with an orphanage. Many of you know our story, many of you are still walking it out with us.
If for some reason you have not been following- WE NO LONGER WORK WITH THE ORPHANAGE. (A lot of people ask us when they see us so here is our current story).
We moved here in love with the idea of having twelve kids become our family and in many ways they have. These kids changed our hearts and the entire rest of our lives in ways they may never know. We have cried with/for, prayed over them in ways only a parent can, we have been broken for them and that will never change.
We were rounding out our first year of ministry at the orphanage and had been learning so many things about the reality of orphanages. I will get into those details some other blog post so stay tuned. Our biggest revelation was that Jesus says in John 14:18, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." We began realizing that the set up of this situation was keeping the kids as orphans. The orphan mindset was used to oppress them and steal their worth as somebody's children. They were not given unconditional love from parents even though many of them had real parents and all of them had families who loved them. They were treated as less than in many ways and it wrecked us as we began realizing our presence made no difference in how they felt about themselves. Orphans are often portrayed in American culture and media as heroes and overcomers; however, the sad reality is that we in America have romanticized our ideas of orphans and orphan care. Orphan care means not leaving them as orphans. It means placing the lonely in families.
We moved to Haiti to become parents but learned our kids were not true orphans at all. We became all too familiar with bonding and attachment issues, self worth issues, pain and suffering beyond words, and all sorts of heartache that we only funded by putting our money and time into our idea of "orphan care". This began in us the dream of orphan prevention and a heart full of dreams for families here in Haiti.
We realized the need for job creation, safe places for families to visit and spend quality family time, bible studies, literacy classes, basic first aid, and training centers. A way for Haitians to encourage Haitians, families to rise up, and leaders to be empowered. So we proceeded to start a community center last August. We fundraised and rented the space but two days before moving in they received a higher offer and told us our deal was off. We did receive our money back but then we had nowhere to live or do ministry.
We began our crazy hunt for a house which took about a month and a half. Through that process we were able to realize we needed a ministry partner and a year to just learn Haiti. That brought us to work with Upstream International. We have spent the last year well- we have built beautiful relationships with our neighbors, we have met many amazing people through the work Upstream does, we have improved our language skills tremendously from the first year, and we have been able to help a handful of families start up business or increase the ones they already had.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
We are excited going into this new year of ministry to announce God has revived the community center dream in our hearts. He continues to give us visions and hopes for programs to come. He instills in us a heartbeat that families are our first ministry and a peace that surpasses all understanding when we are DREAMING SO BIG. He is not done with us here yet and has been reminding us the best is yet to come for the Bradshaw's.
Please continue to cover us in prayer! Catch up on our blog posts, stay tuned for more updates to come on social media, and prayerfully consider partnering with us financially! We are in awe of what God has done in and through us already and confidently expectant in what He has to come!
We are also hoping for some visitors this year (a shameless plug to let our friends and family know your presence in our home would mean the world to us <3 )!
Thank you for continuing to support us as we humbly learn to Abide in Love!
Kristen & Alex Bradshaw