Thursday, November 22, 2012

“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  Jesus

One year ago today I was in Haiti helping transition and care for 40 traumatized diseased children rescued from a horrific orphanage/trafficking situation. I had no turkey and only one sparse and simple meal for the day, but I entitled my Thanksgiving letter:

Thanksgiving is not a holiday here in Haiti, but it is a way of life

Here is an excerpt:

"Tonight, as I sat on some concrete in the dark (no electricity) with 19 orphans surrounding me, each one angling in for the privilege of touch and presence, I marveled at the fact they were singing worship songs at the top of their lungs. I only had one meal today because food is running out and the kids are constantly telling me they're hungry, but in the midst of lack, there is still laughter and joy and thanksgiving. One little girl kept saying, 'Merci Jesus' to everything I said and she meant it."

This year I am not in Haiti, though I honestly long to be. I miss my kids. But for now, my assignment and privilege is to help my parents through some health challenges and to work on a unique grad degree that will allow me to more effectively minister (physically and spiritually) amongst those who have less than $1 a day to live on. (There's opportunity to return to Haiti in December perhaps, but even if I can't physically go there, I have 'ambassadors' on the ground who will minister to my children for us.)

So today I think of Jesus words that seemed so applicable to my Thanksgiving last year:

Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

What did the answer turn out to be? 
Well it was a profound life lesson that is most often a daily reality for me rather than a theoretical truth. After all, the situation looked overwhelming. The food supply looked insufficient. Yet still, Jesus showed no stress. He knew the Father's provision, and even more, He knew His Father's heart: "I want you to share your food with the hungry...." Isaiah 58:7

The take-home for me is that though I don't have enough money to buy food (or shelter or medical supplies) for all the 'least of these', my part is to see what little bit my friends and Facebook crowd can add to mine, and to then move forward in faith and compassion.  If contributions only turn out to be 2 fish and 5 small pieces of bread, I can still give thanks to my God, just like my Haitian children did last year, despite the seemingly lack of resources.

So, today if you think you can spare some breadcrumbs from your Thanksgiving table to help feed those who do not get feasts, please please please don't hold back because you think it is too little.   Honestly, God takes a bunch of our breadcrumbs and makes it into something bigger and better.  A small contribution in God's hand multiplies.   That is the magnificence of our God: that our mustard seeds, our crumbs...when given to God, can become something beautiful for God.  As Mother Teresa so aptly noted:

"What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God."

Together, John 6:1-11 reminds us that we can be a part of providing for the hungry and our little bit can become such an overabundance of provision that there are baskets and baskets of leftovers!

Now how's that for some true Jesus-style Thanksgiving leftovers?!!!! :-)

(If you want to add your breadcrumbs to mine to feed the hungry this Thanksgiving, feel free to contribute through Paypal using and making note it is your Thanksgiving offering. 
If you need a tax-deductible receipt, you can write a check out to Northside Community Church, but be sure to add a note it is for Melinda/David Nelson's ministry. 
Address is: 
NCC, Attn: Kindal Spearin,
1800 N Hoskins St., Newberg, OR 97132)

Does our worship have hands

Does it have feet

Does it stand up in the face of injustice

Does our worship bow down

Does it run deep

Is it more than a song that fades with our voices

Does it fade with our voices?

...After all the songs are sung

And our prayers for kingdom come

...Did we bring honor to the words we sing?

So if we raise our hands high

Let us also reach them out....

From the aptly named album, "Everything Sad is Coming Untrue" by Jason Gray

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Please pray for those suffering in Haiti:
"The death toll rose again in impoverished Haiti, reaching 29 late Friday as word of disasters reached officials and rain continued to fall.
Joseph Edgard Celestin, a spokesman for Haiti’s civil protection office, said some people died trying to cross rivers swollen by rains from Sandy’s outer reaches. While the storm’s center missed the country as it passed by Wednesday, Haiti’s ramshackle housing and denuded hillsides make it especially vulnerable to flooding."

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." Edmund Burke

Monday, October 22, 2012

What a difference a year makes!

Wow!  One year ago today a traumatic but necessary event occurred in Haiti that not only had my attention, but much of the world too.  I was part of a consortium of people working  to close a corrupt orphanage which was housing children I loved who were being severely mistreated.   It took almost a year of effort and a sting operation to get that place closed.  It was one of the most emotionally gut-wrenching experiences of my life to have to 'wait' while evidence was gathered and investigations launched and children like 6 year old Kettia wasted away to 25 pounds.   It took a lot of hard work and was mainly done by some friends of mine, but 1 year ago today a bus arrived at the front door of that evil place and removed the children.

Everyone had their parts to play in prayer, advocacy...but in the end, the real credit goes to our Lord:

God in his holy habitation is a father of the fatherless and a champion of the widows. Psalm 68:5

 The LORD preserves the strangers; he relieves the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.  Psalm 146:9

Though the moving day was traumatic for the kids, it was necessary.  The staff at this place were trafficking children and kids were being physically and sexually abused.  The trauma eventually gave way to relief when the children realized they truly were safe.  40 of the girls were moved to an existing orphanage of 40 girls (making for 80 girls).

I was privileged to spend a month with them right after this time to help them during this initially frightening transition.  There were also many major medical needs to attend to with the malnutrition, scabies and staph infections. In addition, the new facility had only 1 bathroom available for the girls, which was a pit-type toilet in a dark dirty corner, and no water available for washing hands near it.   But despite the challenges- laughter, smiles and eventually better health returned.  There's still a long ways to go, but I trust there are still those who care.  Right now we have 40 girls we are looking for sponsors for ($32 a month), so let me know if you or your family or a church group or motorcycle club...would like to help. 

20 of the boys were moved to a 'religious' orphanage of 400 children which though better than the previous orphanage,  is still not a 'safe' place.  Charges against the head priest were filed and published in the newspaper regarding rape of some of the teenagers.   Wendy, who wants us to adopt him (still not legal to do so), tells me when I visit him that he and the other younger boys are being beaten up daily.

Corrupt government officials make it difficult for me to see Wendy and the other boys, but God is on our side, so I persevere.   It is costly, but what is the worth of one life?  Twenty lives?  In God's accounting, these orphans are of infinite value, so I know that for even one He would spill His blood, so certainly I can suffer some financial losses for their sake.

 My prayer is that by Christmastime David and I can return there to reassure them that they are not forgotten and forever loved.  If you have free miles to give or any way to help us get there and bring some supplies, please let me know.

“You and I and every single human being in this world is a child of God, created in the image of God, created for greater things, to love and to be loved.  That is why today we have so much suffering in the world because we forget that we have been created for greater things, 
 that we have been created to love and to be loved.   
How do we love God? Where is God? 
Jesus has answered:
 “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”

As I often say to people who tell me they would like to serve the poor as I do, ‘What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.' Mother Teresa

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hot Sauce in Haiti

Everyone expects that if you're a missionary you will have some really gross food stories.  And with 25 years of mission experience under my belt, yeah, my stomach could tell you some stories you'd rather not hear.  But this blog entry by Barbi Boots, a physician assistant in Haiti, far surpasses my story-telling abilities, so I will let her do the speaking. 

By the way, this was all triggered by a recent meal in which David couldn't make out the taste of the meat chunks, and it being Haiti, I volunteered that it was likely goat. 

And to think I used to believe monkey brains were the worst thing I ever ate for the sake of the Gospel.  Silly me!

As always, praying before my meals,
               Menudo-eating Melinda (but only when I have to) and David

I am so immature.

I stare down into the bowl of brown meaty chunks floating in a greenish brown watery chum, littered with specks of this and that, surrounded by a slick of swirling oil. I have a sudden flashback to the Louisiana gulf coast, and the BP oil spill catastrophe. The meat bobs like so many slimy, contaminated pelicans in a sea of sticky black crude.

Stew. Oh, no. Please...not stew. No no no. Not stew.

I stand in the dinner line and tap one of the brown floating blobs with the ladle and watch it momentarily sink, then bob resiliently back up to the surface. A strange, stringy, brownish floating leathery substance.


This appears to be Estelle.  The goat.  Last seen tied by a short rope to an overturned toilet out in a distant corner of our compound.  Looking a little different now...her brown fur coat, elongated pupils, little goat smile...all stripped away.  Literally.  Oh, Estelle.  Mwen regret sa.  You have become a stew.

It's not that I'm a picky eater with stringent criteria for meals such as flavor and nutrition.  I eat my own cooking for heaven's sake. And it is a rare day when my culinary efforts contain both items simultaneously.  I learned long ago to be grateful for any food that is put in front of me.  So, though I have never been a fan of most meat, and turn pink and wheeze at the thought of certain shellfish, I will rarely push away a meal that has been prepared for me. At least outwardly. Inwardly, however, there is sometimes a whole lot of resistance going on.

There was that great dish "slaninia" when I lived in the former Soviet Union. That's raw pig fat with skin and, yes, coarse spiky hair still attached. A favorite of the locals, especially fresh from the slaughter. (Sometime, let me tell you the story of a disease called neurocystercercosis... from a 10-plus foot tape worm acquired from eating raw pork. But that's another story for another day.)

Ah, yes...nothing like the sound of a screaming pig as it is slaughtered deftly in a neighbor's yard, hanging from its hind legs from a tree. As it exsanguinates into a bucket from its recent machete slice to the carotids, there is also -- unfortunately -- nothing quite like the sound of a thoughtful, neighbor, generously hacking off a slab of warm fatty flesh and skin, and calling out to you over the fence, "Friend...friend....would you like some slanina?"

I can't say that I ever "liked some slanina."

Thanks, "friend."

But, would I blankly turn my lips upward into a pseudosmile of pseudothanks, force my hand into extension, take the proffered still-warm, hairy, rubbery pig fat between my index finger and thumb, slowly lift it towards my reticently parting lips and shove it deftly at my clenched teeth until they reluctantly parted, then chewed wide eyed with an "mmmmmm..." sound that, depending on one's interpretation, could equal either pleasure or a suppressed whimper?
Yes. Yes I would.

The dance of cultural culinary acceptance.

When I lived in an Alaskan native village, did I similarly extend my hand to the generously proffered dish of raw seaweed, raw sea snails, and some sort of pea-sized raw fish eggs collected in honor of the coming of spring?  Did I pseudosmile as I chewed, each fish egg popping like a small eyeball in my mouth, squirting out a gelatinous sharp fishy ooze that simultaneously caused sweat to pop similarly from the pores of my brow, a reflexive gag in my posterior pharynx and sharp tears to sting the corners of my widely held, unblinking eyes as I whimpered internally?

Yes. Yes, I did.

And, when my friend -- a native Alaskan -- grinned knowingly as she watched me slowly chew and pop with a watery-wide-eyed "mmmmm," pseudosavoring the fishy slime, then quietly reached over and wordlessly scraped the remainder of the mix into her own bowl...did she become one of my heroes for life?

Yes. Yes she did.

Like the Native Alaskans and Native Americans that I have known, I am an omnivore sometimes out of necessity.  But, as a not-avid meat- and living- creature eater, I acknowledge the sacrifice of the creature that gave its life for mine.
So, I will quietly eat what is lain before me...and be grateful for its generosity.

Or, so I try to tell my so-called-noble self.

This intellectual challenge to the palate is far more acute when one spends the day staring at malnourished children. Ten pound 2-year-olds. Young teenagers no taller than a first grader.  Mothers who grab at my arm and say, "Dokte...I cannot feed my children. They are starving.  Can you please help me?  Can you give me food?"  Orange-haired Haitian children...with scaling skin, bulging bellies, protruding ribs...evidence of protein malnutrition.  Marasmus Kwashiorkor. Starvation.

I am lucky to be eating.  Even luckier to have protein.  I am so overtly well fed. Overly fed.  More than fortunate.  What a hypocrite I am, I think, as I balk at the proteinacous floating bits before me.  Hungry sunken child eyes and flaccid skin and bony ribs flash behind my eyelids.  Selfish hypocrite.

And so, I take a deep breath and face the bobbing oil-slickaceous goat stew.

Thank you, Estelle the goat, for the days tied without dignity to the toilet, fattening yourself up for this day.  That can't have been an inspiring life for you.  Thank you cooks, who raised, slaughtered, skinned and slaved to prepare this stew for me today.  Because you are honoring me as a volunteer in your clinic and a guest in your land with this gift of meat. Because you take the time to caringly cook for me.  In a land where so many go hungry every night.

Thank you for this food today. And for the contrast of my lot in life...with those that I meet every make me realize how fortunate and comfortable I truly am.

Don't let me forget that.

And, well, in a flash of extreme immaturity, here's a shout out to Louisiana Hot Sauce.

You are the ambassador of the international food ingestion challenge. The peacekeeper.  The great leveler of the experimental palate.  Creating peace, understanding and culinary tolerance wherever you set your beautiful red-orange glass-bottled self.

Glad to have made your acquaintance here in Haiti.
You single-handedly retrieved the shards of my wavering idealism while effectively suppressing my overly zealous goat-induced gag reflex.

Today, you -- in your uniquely fiery, spicy, distractingly vivacious nature -- are my hero.  Perhaps, starting today, I will endeavor to be more like you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I will be telling the 'miracle' story of Wendy soon, but since I haven't had time to write it in it's entirety yet, wanted to pass on this recent blog entry from John McHoul of Heartline because it is a clear reminder why your prayers do indeed matter to us:

"...ministering in Haiti can, at times, be rather difficult. We daily can encounter situations, heartache, sadness and unjustness that can seem overwhelming and which, at times, can seep into our beings.

Just this week among other situations we had the bio mom of a child that went through our adoption program come to our house to see me. I had seen her about two months ago when I gave her money sent by the family that adopted her child. She told me that on the day that I had given her the money, she left our house and got on a public transportation vehicle to go home. A man who got on the vehicle with her, confronted her, and demanded the money that she had received. It seemed that he had seen her when she counted the money while standing on the street in front of our house. He grabbed her purse, and when she wouldn’t let go, he pulled out a gun and shot her three times. All the other people in the vehicle fled and the driver took this women to a hospital where she spent three weeks. She by God’s grace survived and now she stood before me, showing me the three bullet wounds and wanting to know how I can help her.

This week, as well, the sister-in law of one of our dear, long-term staff members was kidnapped by men that broke into her home at two in the morning as she, her husband, and six month old child slept. The men cut the electricity to the house, broke in, made her and her husband lie face down on the floor, and forcibly removed her, leaving her husband and child. This is not a rich family, but rather a young couple who are trying to make it in a country that often seems inhospitable to those that are trying to build a better life for themselves and for their children. The initial ransom price is two hundred thousand dollars American. A ridiculously absurd amount from a family that perhaps takes in five hundred dollars a month. The family has yet to speak to her to verify her condition.

Today I received a call from a woman, that I had last seen at the funeral service of her daughter who had died of AIDS. She’s coming to see me this week.

Today I had a Haitian policeman come to the office to see me. I have known him and his family for a number of years and consider him a friend. Three weeks ago he was on a moto taxi when the driver lost control of the motorcycle. The moto hit a vehicle parked on the side of the road and my friend in the collision sustained broken ribs, and a broken arm. He came for help with his hospital bill and to know if we could help his family with food.

As I believer I firmly believe that God’s word is not just good advice to help us through trying times, but rather, it has the power to strengthen us in times of weakness. It can empower us to hold on when holding on seems the most difficult thing to do." 

Matthew 11:28
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Galatians 6:9
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Heaven in Haiti

Today I had another slice of heaven in Haiti. Some people who have been here find that hard to imagine, yet others who see beyond the rubble, grime, and poverty understand completely, because those who have eyes to see know that the treasure of Haiti is it's people. 

Today's 'slice' came in the form of children.  Not so surprising for those of you who know me well. Actually, those who don't know me deeply still discern that pretty quick.  So yeah, though I and almost 200 other kids were crammed into a space about the size of two American  master bedrooms,  I was happy as a looney lark. These children all live in what the world would call a slum, but every Saturday afternoon, they forget their environment and focus on Jesus.  They come running, smiling, dressed in their finest, just so they can be embraced by Jesus' love that we carry to them.

I had to walk 2 or 3 miles over uneven garbage-covered dirt roads, to get there, but it was worth every step.  I kind of relish walking such roads where I see chickens, pigs, cattle, goat and lots of people. On one small rickety bridge we had to make room for both motorcycles and cattle to cross before us.
Though I don't speak much Creole and was mainly there just to help my two  Haitian friends with their 200+ participant kid's club, I marveled at the fact that the children hung on me afterwards like I was their best friend.  These children are so eager, so hungry (physically and spiritually), and so open, I wonder why there aren't armies of Christians here seeking them out.  They certainly aren't hard to find.  

Nonetheless, I thank God for the opportunity to participate in what He is doing here.  It truly is amazing and the fact that the local voodoo priest, Jonas Joseph, came to the meeting underscores that fact.  We met him on the way in, shook his hand and prayed for him.  He was curious and spiritually hungry and admitted that the only reason he was a voodoo priest was because he couldn't find work in any other business.  

If you want to help this work continue, please contact me.  The two Haitians who run it do so at their own expense, and neither of them can 'afford' to do so.  Their hearts of compassion though tell them they can't afford not to, so they move in faith for the sake of the children, Jonas Joseph, and Jesus.  I personally know that the 35 year old man who started this has no money in a bank or in his pockets.  In fact, we are staying with his family and we'd have no food tonight if we hadn't brought some packaged food from America.   Haiti is recognized as the third hungriest nation in the world and that reality was highlighted once again  as I walked the roads and strangers greeted me time and time again with, "I'm hungry."
Thank you to each one of you who has prayed or contributed.  It is humbling to be here amongst His servants and I couldn't do it without your support.

Monday, April 16, 2012


"It might well be that the greatest threat to human survival now confronting us is not the loss of energy or the increase of pollution, but the loss of compassion. We are confronted daily with the pain of human tragedy- the breakup of family or the sunken face of a starving child- to such an extent that we soon learn to turn off what we see, In order to cope with our feelings of helplessness, we teach ourselves how not to feel. The tragedy in this response, which is probably more widespread than we dare believe, is that we also deaden our capacity for love, For Christians, the cross stands as an ever-present reminder that love and suffering are two sides of the same coin." James C. Fenhagen

I cannot sleep when the rain falls without thinking of the ones I know who get soaked because they have no roof, or at least no adequate roof. As I lie warm and dry in my bed, I think of the slum community I lived in where soggy mattresses were dragged out into the mud when the rain stopped.

I have many many memories that God has given me in 25 years of ministering amongst the poor, and some of those recollections cause me pain. But I choose not to run from those impressions or the suffering they evoke, because the greatest tragedy of all, would be to distance myself from the hurting. C. S. Lewis reminds me why:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Perhaps now you understand my daily prayer in this loud distracting grieving brilliant beautiful world I live in: "Lord, let not my heart grow numb."

As David and I prepare to return to Haiti next month, will you pray with us that God continues to enlarge our hearts, so that we truly have His love to give.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Am I my brother's keeper?

Yup, I'm alive. After tag-teaming with a friend to care for the former Son of God orphans, I journeyed back to America in time for Christmas. Though I'm still on US soil, I expect to find out today when I get to return to Haiti and love up on my kiddos in person.

One reason that return might be delayed is because there is still an ongoing investigation by a government agency (IBESR) about what happened to these children - and IBESR doesn't take too kindly to missionaries, especially since there's corruption in their midst.

I don't want to put the pastor caring for these 37 children (and the 40 other children he already had) in any danger, so though I want to wrap my arms around these precious gifts of God and clean their wounds and wipe their tears and laugh at their jokes and feed their bellies and soothe their souls and break up their fights and check their homework and remind them by my presence that they are not forgotten and are worthy of His love, care and attention, instead, I find myself in consultation with various people who have been on the ground there about when to make my comeback.

What matters to me most is not for my Haiti-hurting heart to be coddled or soothed, but for these children who have been through so much to not be further traumatized.

Would you pray with me for His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven- and that I'd have discernment about this particularly as it relates to these kiddos?

The first pages of Holy Scripture contain a dreadful saying which
people use an excuse for themselves: 'Am I my brother’s keeper?'
question, with its implication of irresponsibility permeates the whole
history of humankind and the life of each of us.

Each one of us has to
take issue with such reasoning : ‘My horizon is limited. So-and-so is no concern of mine. I can take no responsibility for him.’

cleverly we try to pass this off as logic, but in our heart,
faithfulness says: That is not true. We are obligated to do everything
we can for others, for friends and strangers alike. Jesus impressed
this upon us, in his moving way when He said that everyone who needs us
is our neighbor. Everything we do for anyone is also done for Jesus
and will receive it’s blessing from Him.

Albert Schweitzer