Sunday, October 18, 2015

Good for all of us.

Pre-note:  As I mentioned in my previous post, our family is staying in the States for the time being to address my mental illness.  This is a whole new ball game for us.  We miss the kids in Haiti, but are very thankful they are doing well and are in the loving and capable hands of our staff members. We are realizing a new phase of life is upon us, and so, as we reimagine what life looks like over the next year or so, we are struggling through uncertainty and an undefined picture of what the future looks like. Although I haven't been blogging much, I have been writing for myself a lot lately.  Those thoughts are not for public consumption, as they are raw and private.  But I thought I'd share a story that I adapted from my journaling.

Our family is a low income family. We've been low income for the past 6+ years.  But this is the first time we've been low-income in the States, and it's a different paradigm.  Nick, who was a programmer before moving to Haiti, now has little interest in programming.  He doesn't want a life of keeping up with the Joneses. Instead, he wants to be employed in a vocation that takes into account all we've learned and fought for in our Haiti lives. And so, we are, a low income family, mostly by choice, since the meaningful employment he has found is not gonna make us rich.  This has proved troublesome, honestly, more for me than for Nick.

Our income is so low that we couldn't get approved for a lease on a house.  We wanted to be in a house, not an apartment.  And we chose something that we knew we could afford.  It was in a diverse section of Apex and we were excited about the vibe of the community there.  But because we didn't make three times the rent they wouldn't even consider us.  Not even if we had a cosigner.  It's a bummer to be poor.  (This was just the beginning of the bummer realizations we would come up against-- more on that in another post.)

Next, we looked at less expensive houses in Durham.  They were right in the inner city.  I liked it there, for the most part.  But we still couldn't prove three times the rent.  Plus an additional month's rent up front as a security deposit. They didn't care that our credit is great and that we've never missed a rent or mortgage payment in our life. It was just a non-starter.

So we began to look at low-income housing.  And knowing that we wanted to  be in a diverse neighborhood and we wanted to be close to our church, it made sense to look at The Grove.  What is The Grove, you ask?  The Grove is a low-income apartment complex smack dab in the middle of West Cary.  The average home in Cary is valued at $438,000.  And there are some that are much, much more expensive.  Cary's median household income is $91,349. When this area began to become more developed, I have heard that the Town of Cary agreed to build all these really nice neighborhoods in this western Cary area, only if there were lower-income housing options available.  And so, The Grove.  It gets state subsidies (apparently, average rent here is about $200/month below market value.)  And they also accept Section 8 subsidies.

And so we started to look into the possibility of living at The Grove.  Here are some of the things we found online...

(Following is taken word for word from

Question: Anyone have an opinion about the Grove at Cary Park community? I am looking to rent there in the future. Thanks.

First answer: The Grove would not be my choice by any means. If it's all you can afford then I can say the location is great. If you can afford more, then look accross the street at Courtney Reserves. My family stayed at CR for 9 months while we shopped for a house and it was very nice.
I am pretty sure the Grove does affordable aprtments based on income and section 8. There seemed to be alot of problems over there that required police to come. It never affected us accross the street, but seemed to be a problem within the complex itself.

Response from original asker: Yikes! Thanks for the input. I really need a four bed and we thought it was a great price. We may be looking elsewhere then.

Response from another person: Four BR in an apt is normally only found in projects.

Blurbs from reviews of the apartment complex on  (Note: It has an overall rating of 2 out of 5 stars.)

  • Neighbor issues are a major problem here. There is a mix of middle class people who are reasonably behaved and ignorant, lower class people who lack common sense, disrespect everyone, are selfish, don't give a hoot about anyone else except friends and family and train their kids to make a lot of noise and not respect adults (at least 50% of tenants). 
  • Noise is a major problem from ghetto kids yelling and outside apartments, subwoofers and 8 am landscaping. 
  • This place is AWFUL! Loud music had to call the police many times to breakup fights, teens making out in the breezeways and stairs, children running all over the parking lot chasing/ throwing toys/balls, hitting cars and shouting profanity. The family that lives below me frequently shout and blast the TV loudly at all hours. When I first moved on there was a guy that hung around at night at my building selling (what I suspect to be stolen) cell phones.
  • This place has a bunch of drug dealers hanging around it all the time, and teenagers who run wild and damage the cars and property. No supervision of any of these kids or teenagers so they are free to damage what they like, start fights, etc. I moved and would never recommend for anyone to live here. This place needs to be shut down.
And then there was this comment, following a crime issue in NW Cary--

Can they just get rid of The Grove apartments or at least the folks that receive section 8 housing subsidies there? I have a business and when I have a "problem" employee(s), I just get rid of them. Last time I checked there was no Murder/drug deal gone wrong, armed robberies, and suicide by police committed by anyone that lives in Cary Park, Amberly, nor surrounding neighborhoods.

Being a minority myself I am all for diversity, but not at the cost of lowering mine and my fellow neighbors' quality of life. I wonder how many people are hesitant to walk/jog to our local shopping center after recent incidents?


As you can imagine, these were not ringing endorsements for us.  But, well.  This was our option.  And so we went in with good attitudes.  Also, we came to the table wanting diversity.  And for us, diversity doesn't just mean different skin colors.  It means different cultures, different socio-economic levels,  different religious backgrounds.  And, not for nothing, given the experiences of our past several years, we were not feeling nervous about the concerns mentioned above.  Most of it just sounded like douche-baggery (especially the guy that's "all for diversity, just not at the expense of lowering his quality of life").  And so we started the application process.  And let me tell you what-- that was an experience.  

All in all, we had to fill out no less than 15 pages of information on ourselves, our finances, our rental/mortgage history, and all sorts of other random information.  (For reference sake, when we applied at our short-term housing, we applied over the internet, were given immediate acceptance, and never even met the staff before we moved in.)  But since this complex deals with state and federal subsidies, there is SO. MUCH. RED. TAPE.  Nick went in no less than 5 times to drop off more pay stubs, drop off copies of social security cards, drop off the kids'  birth certificates, drop off photocopies of IDs, drop off Nico's adoption papers, and probably lots of other things I am currently forgetting.  Just to be clear, we are not even getting section 8 subsidies, and so this apartment is actually the SAME PRICE as the house we were denied for due to our low income.   I was feeling a little bitter because I really wanted a yard.  And I really didn't want to live in an apartment with 3 active boys.  But, like I said, this was our option.  So I put my chin up.

We were approved for a 4 bedroom apartment, which rallied my spirits.  At 1400 sq. feet, it would be the biggest place we've ever lived in the States. (Including the house we owned in our pre-Haiti days.)  Having that 4th bedroom meant that we could have a designated space for the school room/play room, and that was game-changing! Also we later learned that getting a 4 bedroom was nothing short of a minor miracle, considering the waiting list is usually about 6 months long for a 4 bedroom.

We had great friends help us move all our stuff in.  (It's amazing how much furniture we've been given in the past 3 months!)  Our apartment (despite being on the dreaded second floor,) was very close to the playground, and our living room windows provide an unobstructed view.  Nick and I started to feel more hopeful.  The first day we were there, we were blown away with how many kids live in the complex.  And how many kids were playing at the playground right by our apartment every single weekday after school, and all day long on the weekends.  But it wasn't just that.  There were also kids and teenagers who play basketball and football out in the parking lot.  I have never seen an apartment complex that really embodied community this way.  Once a week, a local church comes to see us in "the projects" to serve a free "community dinner." (It is weird to be the person on the receiving end of an outreach to the poor. But hey, free tacos are free tacos.) Next week is international night when everyone brings in a dish to share from their culture.

We made a point to meet our downstairs neighbors and pre-apologize for our noisy kids.  After welcoming me, the mother in the family said they have 3 elementary aged children and they would never complain about noise coming from kids.  Nico has already claimed a best friend in a little boy named Richard and has told me that I don't need to worry when they go play in the woods because Richard is a boy scout and "knows everything about the woods."  (Side note- It's only 100 feet or so of woods, so I wasn't particularly worried.)  

This has been a soft place for us to land in so many ways. We were out to eat the other night talking about the new apartment and I asked each person to share their favorite thing about it.  I said mine was having a school room, Nick said being close to the church, Nia said having her own bathroom (and I don't blame her, those boys pee everywhere), Josiah and Schneider both said being so close to the playground.  And Nico, bless his heart, said this, "I don't know if you noticed, but there are a lot of other brown people around at this place.  And I just think that will be, you know, good for me."  

One of the important things that is stressed to transracial adoptive parents in pre-adoption counseling is the importance of making it a priority that your child isn't the first/only minority you know.  I think the quote is this-- "Your child should not be your first black friend. " (See this article.)  Living in an area where he is the not the minority (like we were in Haiti), feels good to all of us.  This is a community we need around us. As white parents of black boys, we can only teach our sons so much about what they may face in the "real world."  We need this community because the homogeneous life we lived in the Triangle before Haiti is not indicative of the rest of the world.  We need this experience and this community because we need people to tell us when we are accidentally relying on our white privilege without even realizing it.  

But it's even more than that. We need this whole experience because we want to live the kinds of lives that encourage positive change and justice for those living in poverty.  But until we were a food-stamp-qualifying low-income family we didn't really understand the struggles, despite living in a third world country for six years. We didn't understand the injustice, because even living in "poverty" we still had ALL we needed and more. Haiti is one of the only places I know of where immigrants come in at the highest social status.  But now we are beginning to understand.  

We're understanding what it means to have $30 in the checking account to get through the week until the next pay check.  We're getting what it means to have to tell friends we can't go along on outings because we can't afford it.  We're getting what it means to have to put off dental work because we can't afford the out of pocket percentage.  We're getting what it means to not be able to give our kids things like a bicycle or a scooter.  I am learning what it's like to only have 2 bras or 1 pair of jeans that fit well.  I am learning, that despite my record of paying my power bill on time for the past 3 months, I have to pay a $300 deposit if I want electricity turned on in my low-income apartment, simply because it's a low-income apartment. (If I am low income, how the hell can I afford to pay an EXTRA $300?)  That's not fair.

None of this is a pity party.  This is not a round-about way of asking for a handout. Please don't buy us bikes or bras.  That's not my point.  I am saying that, while uncomfortable, this experience is the very beginning of a new journey into understanding the issues of poverty.  

And it's good for all of us.  Even when it sucks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Where in the world are the Mangines?!?

Hello friends.

It's been a while since an update and I know a lot of people are wondering what is going on with our family.  While I am not sure this update will give you a firm answer, I thought I'd share what we've been up to and some of our current life events/decisions.

We've now been in the States for almost 3 months, and this is about the time that we'd be starting to pack up and head back home to Haiti.  Except it's not happening that way this time.  We just aren't ready.  I am still struggling through trauma-related issues and I am not ready to go back.  We are still wading through the long-term plans.  We are still trying to figure out the best path forward.   Nick has just accepted a (non-permanent) part-time job here in NC.  We are very cozy here in our little corner of NC, and loving introducing Schneider to life in the US of A.  He is only here temporarily.  We are still working on his paperwork in Haiti, but feel extremely fortunate to have been granted a visitor's visa so that he can travel with us. We aren't sure why we were approved when many others aren't, but we are not taking our good fortune for granted, and we continue to empathize with our many friends in Haiti who have not yet been able to travel with their Haitian kiddos.

We've had time to catch up with our families-- spending good time with both my parents and with Nick's parents on this trip, as well as our siblings and their families. The American kids are doing really well.  Nia has hit a growth spurt recently and is growing inches daily, it seems.  Nico is also getting a lot bigger, and we've seen a lot of progress with his reading and overall comprehension of school-related things.  And Josiah is, well, Josiah.  He's still a ball of energy- emotional as the day is long.  Before Schneider came from Haiti a few weeks ago, we had started letting Nia "babysit" Nico and Josiah for short periods of time while Nick and I got out together.  Not having to get a babysitter was a game-changer.  The freedom was short-lived, however, as we don't feel comfortable leaving Schneider quite yet.  And so yeah, the dynamic of "America life" is very different with him here.  It's good different, but it's a whole new paradigm.  We still haven't gotten into the groove of 4 kids stateside-- especially when every single thing we do here is full of new experiences for Schneider, who still doesn't have a great grasp on English.

Some of Schneider's favorite discoveries in America are carseats (surprisingly, he doesn't mind it-- he likes having a seat all to himself), carpets (he loves to run his bare feet all over it), warm baths (I am with him on that), and going to a church where you get to play.  His Krenglish is hilarious.  We feel really blessed that all of us speak both languages and so it's been easy for us to understand his needs and wants.  This a totally different experience than when Nico came to the States as a 2 year old.

We are still homeschooling-- in fact, we just started a couple of weeks ago.  This year seems like it's a lot more intense for Nia (7th grade), but she's also able to do a lot of the work herself with supervision and re-direction from time to time.  That's helpful since Schneider is here and I am working with him on preschool and English this year as well as the boys.  The whole homeschool scenario is different here in the States, but really, really good.  We love having the access to libraries, museums, historical sites, and tons of recreation activities.  It is so much fun.

The kids in Haiti are well, for the most part.  They are back to school as well.  Nick was in Haiti a few weeks ago and pre-celebrated Fritzie and Wildarne's birthday, (as well as our nannies, Felecia's and Marijosette's birthdays!)  Last school year, Fritzie really struggled in her second try at 7th grade.  When she got encephalitis in January, she had no choice but to miss months of school and, in doing so, was not able to finish the year.  We had talked with her at that point and told her we wanted to try to set her up in a job (which was the business we developed, Smoothie Cubed).  Being 20 years old (21 now) and only in 7th grade.  We thought it might be a better fit to try some vocational training and opportunities like that that would help prepare her for future.  However, when school rolled around this year, she begged us to go back.  Nick told her that we didn't plan for/budget for her to go to school and we thought that now that she was settled into a job, she would be good with moving on from that.  She really wanted to go back to 7th grade, however, and she had saved nearly ALL her money from working this past year and ended up being able to pay for school entirely by herself.  We are so proud of her and are wishing her well.  It's going to be a challenge because she is still planning on working in the afternoons.  But we admire her tenacity and the way she is sticking to it!

We would love your continued prayers as we navigate the steps forward.  October will be a month of decisions and hard calls as we try to figure out how we can live in as healthy manner as possible, and still care for the foster kids we so genuinely love in Haiti.  We appreciate your continued support as we walk on.

With a very grateful heart,

Gwenn (for the entire Mangine Many)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Redefining joining with "the poor" (written by Nick)

Poor is code for different. At least the way we use it. "The least of these" are those that aren't like us. At least that's what we think. Ironically, they think the same thing. They are the "Axis of Evil," we are "The Great Satan."  Lines get drawn between "us" and "them."  We paint with broad brushes of "black" and "white," "rich" and "poor," when all of us, really, live somewhere in the middle. Even colonial Haiti, one of the most racially charged societies in history, recognized dozens of "levels" of "blackness," each with it's own set of rules and expectations. We have two, (three?) and all of us get lumped into one.

I heard an interview with a man who was born of an American father and an Iranian mother. "I," he described himself, "have the blood of both the 'Axis of Evil' and 'The Great Satan' pulsing through my veins." How do we begin to identify more like he does?

In our family it's been lived out through adoption. One of "them"-- black, Haitian, poor, abandoned, unhealthy, underdeveloped-- becoming one of "us". But maybe that's the easy part, "them" becoming "us," that is. We call it conversion. We get to keep our assumptions that our way is better, that we are "right." The harder part, maybe, is "us" becoming "them."

Too often, we mistake visiting "the poor" with joining with "the poor" (whatever that even means). Our mission trips and soup kitchens are nice. They can be life changing for us. They introduce us to a culture very different than our own, but if we walk away thinking we understand, if we walk away thinking that we fulfilled our obligation, then maybe that trip has done more harm than good.

So how do we join with the poor? I don't know that I have any answers. Honestly, I've tried. My family moved to Haiti and tried to do this for more than six years and I stand before you now at a place of failure. Nothing worked the way it was "supposed to." Yet I am not afraid of that word because I'm becoming more and more convinced that the gospel lives in our failure.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mangine Family Update- August 2015


It's been a while since I have given an update on us. I mean, sure, I have uploaded pictures of the kids doing their "America stuff," but it's been a while since I have updated on how we are really doing. We have been in the States for about a month now after I came dangerously close to burnout in Haiti in June/July. Because of my history with PTSD, we decided to be proactive and moved our furlough up so we could work through this round of exhaustion and trauma.

This past Sunday our church started a series about lament. The basic premise is that within that church, (and especially in vocational ministry), we do not talk about the hard times and the moments of questioning, wrestling, and doubt until we are through with the hard time. Only then it seems safe to express the challenges and how we overcame them. But we often do not express them in the moment, in spite of the fact that the Bible is full of these kinds of moments, and even Jesus himself was not too proud to show his lament.

All of this is to say, this process for us has been going well at times, and has been really difficult at other times. More often it's the latter. We feel a real tear between "there" and "here." We miss the kids in Haiti, though we know they are in capable and loving hands. But mostly, we feel a need to address these emotional issues with a wider lens. We need to evaluate our goals, our abilities, our passions, and our health, and find a way to make the pieces fit together properly. There is great dissonance in our souls when we start to look at how these things might have to play out. Please don't try to read too much into that statement. It's not a vague way of saying anything. It is what it is-- we are examining all of our options and trying to seek out a way forward that takes into account all of the factors.

It's hard. It's REALLY hard. Nick is not experiencing the same kinds of struggles I am. And so while that is a really good thing as our family relies on him as the leader, as we discuss, process, seek counsel, and attempt to make sense of things, we sometimes struggle to stay on the same page. We struggle with putting each other first. We struggle with what we want and what we may have to give up in order to make the other happy.

My point in sharing this is simply to share it. Not because we have an ask to make, but just to humbly lay the truth before you, our friends and supporters. We are in a season of questions and doubts and stretching. And we feel there is value in being vulnerable and admitting that. And we are not sure the outcome other than to say we are committed to God, to one another, and to our family.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why I don't like adventure.

You know what I am sick of?  Adventure.  Lots of people talk about wanting to do these adrenaline-pumping activities-- cliff diving, bungee jumping, off-the-grid wilderness backpacking,  riding motorcycles cross country... whatever.  None of those things sound fun to me.  In fact, my main goal in life these days is to find activities where I can lower my adrenaline levels for fun.  And it's not that I am an old lady, although I am getting there. It's just that I have used up a lifetime of adventure already.  I have reached my quota.  Why?  Because everything in Haiti is an adventure.  Eating, driving, getting anything done.  Adventure.  You never know what awaits.

And last night was no exception.  We were hanging out in our yard after having a busy day.  Our kids, the neighbor kids, and our staff member's kids were all playing on our playground.  Nico was having races across the monkey bars with some of the older kids in the neighborhood.  And Josiah wanted in on the action.  And he did great.  Without knowing that he could do monkey bars, he did!  I was so excited for him.  He said he was scared, but he did it.

Now, here's where it is appropriate to mention that the aforementioned playground equipment is new to us.  A few years ago, my friend Sarah had a team come in to install a community playground in her neighborhood.  A resident there had an open lot, and said he was donating it to be used for this purpose.  Except just kidding, because a couple of years later he decides to sell the land and gives Sarah a couple of days to remove the equipment.  She obliges, and knowing we have a big yard and the kids from the neighborhood always come into play in the afternoons after lessons, she offered it to us. We were happy to accept.  And this playground equipment has made our yard the happiest place in the Breman zone of Jacmel each afternoon.  A teeter-totter, a swing set, and monkey bars. All heavy duty stuff like I grew up with before playgrounds became illegal in America because of accidents and broken bones.  And, to lower the bar on safety even further, ours is concreted in to our concrete yard. And the monkey bars are about 10 feet off the ground. (You can probably see where this is going.)

So yesterday afternoon, I was pushing Schneider on the swings when there's this terrible thump followed by a scream.  I ran over the source of the scream and it was Josiah.  One look at his wrist told me it was broken.  It was all deformed looking.

Nick and I grabbed some ice and some money, and ran out the door to the hospital.  And here, my friends, is where the adventure began.

We arrived at Hospital St. Michel (the only hospital in the area that is open and does x-rays on a Sunday.)  It is also the public hospital for the region.  It's nickname is "The Morgue."  (I didn't make that up.  Check Jacmel's Wikipedia page if you don't believe me.)  Let me start off this adventure by saying that the public hospital in Haiti on the best day is a terrifying proposition. But there have been a lot of good changes lately.  And we knew this was our best choice, short of traveling 3+ hours into Port Au Prince.

We walk into the ER, and immediately don't have a good feeling, because there are no lights on.  It's just starting to be dusk, and so there's enough light to make things out.  We head to the front desk and say that we need an x-ray. She told me there was no power and so no way to do an x-ray.  I push a little bit.  The nurse looks at Josiah's arm and orders an x-ray and says we can wait for the power to come on.  She gives us the bill to pay ahead of time (500 gourdes, or about $11.00US.)  Before the x-ray can be done, we have to go pay and bring the receipt back to her.  We do so.  And then we go back to radiology. I am saying silent prayers for power in my head because still no lights are on.

Magically, by the time we appear in radiology, the lights come on! The doors are locked, however, and a piece of paper is taped on the door with a hand-written phone number.  Before I can call that number, the guy (to whom the number belongs) came up to us and told us he was the x-ray tech.  I told him that we needed an x-ray.  I showed him the script and the receipt.  And he said that it couldn't be done because of the power.  I told him the power had turned back on.  And he said that was generator power, not city power.  And we couldn't do it on generator power. (As an aside, I understand this concept.  One would think "power is power"... right?  Not so much in Haiti.  You have to be careful what electrical devices are on and drawing power depending on what kind of power you are on. There are between 3-4 options- solar, inverter/batteries, city power, generator.)  I showed him Josiah's wrist and he seemed convinced it would be okay to do just one x-ray.  And so he did.  He shows us as he's handing over the x-ray, that there is a small fracture.  But he said it was no big deal and to go back to the ER to see the ortho doc to get a cast.

We head back to the ER, feeling quite accomplished and proud of the fact that we got seen so quickly, power came on at the right time, etc.  But as we are heading in, a vehicle zooms into the ER parking lot and a body (dead or alive, I do not know) was carried into the ER in front of us by about 5 running people.  We go back and sit down.  There is great drama unfolding before us with the patient that was just brought in.  There is screaming and pushing and wailing.  Josiah starts to shake and looks at me and says, "Mommy, bring me home.  I am scared. Bring me home."

I hold him tighter, plugging his ears and covering his eyes.  Then a very sick little old man is wheeled in and I wish I could cover my eyes and ears too... the ER is an open ward.  No curtains for privacy.  Finally the nurse gets back to us.  She says she's been trying to call the ortho, but he's not answering his phone.  So, they can admit us and Josiah can be seen by him in the morning. I told her we couldn't stay the night, that we'd try to find another hospital/doctor now that we had the x-rays done.  She agreed, but said we couldn't leave until we splinted up his wrist for support.  She writes me another prescription -  this time for a splint.  Nick goes off to the cashier and pharmacy to pay for it, but they are out of splints, so we leave without one.

Nick calls an orthopedic surgeon we know in Cay Jacmel-- about 30 minutes away from where we were downtown.  He answers and says that since we have x-rays, he'd be happy to see Josiah.  Only, his car is broken down, so can we come pick him up at his house and then go on to the hospital from there?  No problem.  He explains where his house is and we pull up about 40 minutes later (after a quick stop at our house for some ibuprofen).  He wants to see the x-ray before we head to the hospital so that he can know what we're dealing with.  But it was pitch black.  No worries, he heads to the front of the truck and uses the headlights to read the x-ray.  He says we can go get it taken care of and off to his hospital we go.  It's about 10 minutes from there on bumpy backroads that make Josiah wince and contort with pain.  We finally arrive, and upon seeing Josiah's wrist in the light, the doctor decides it's too swollen to cast.  So he has us sit down while he goes back into his storage room to look for a splint.  The only problem was that he didn't have one that fit.  But TIH- (this is Haiti), so he uses the smallest one he has-- an adult medium. We bring him back to his home and then drive home, him telling us to keep the splint on it and come back in about a week for casting.

By the time we got home, we realized that the too-big splint won't be a finished product.  But it was all we had.  Josiah slept in our bed and groaned throughout the night in pain.  I put out the alert this morning trying to find a more appropriate-sized splint.  Initially, we got two that were also the wrong size, but then I started getting texts about other options.  We headed down to the new clinic in Morne Oge (about 20 minutes away) that is run by some friends of ours.  And we were in luck.  They had a US doctor in town.  (Of course, he was an OB/GYN, but to a certain extent, a doctor is a doctor, right?)  Either way, he hooked us up with the new splint which is just slightly too big rather than ridiculously too big.  And now, we are all set.

Josiah hates only having use of one hand and he's still in a lot of pain. But we're all squared away for about a week.  Then we have to figure out how to get a cast on him.  But we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Can you understand why I don't like adventure?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Six year Haiti-versary

Six years and one day ago we got together with our life group to say goodbye.  These were our people.  The people we "did life" with. They were (are) the best.

The very next day (that's six years ago today to be exact), we moved to Haiti. 

We were young and naive.  We were hopeful we could change the world.  We were following a calling we believe God placed on our lives, and we had NO IDEA what was coming.

Enjoy a few snaps of the early days, when we were the carefree Mangine 5.

We had far fewer wrinkles and much less sun-damaged skin.  Look how fresh-faced we were.  Awww...

The first several days, weeks, and months were full of learning and discovery. 

We learned new ways of doing all the things we thought we already knew how to do.  Like speak.  And be married.  And drive.

And eat. 

Our kids were babies. Like, really. Josiah was only one year old. What were we thinking?!?

And now- six years later, we are older.  We are wiser.  We are jaded.  We are (way) more tired.  We are (far) less fresh-faced.   And while we might now know how to speak here, drive here, and subsist only on carbs and fat (well, and smoothies), we are still learning every. single. day. how to live in a new way. 

We still believe in the God that put this calling in our lives all those years ago, and we still have NO IDEA of what is coming next.

Six years and one day after that top picture was snapped, we find ourselves  surrounded again by a group of people that we "do life" with.  It is a different group now.  And to be honest, we miss all those people from the good ole days-- every single one of them. We (I) sometimes (a lot) fantasize about moving back to NC and have a "normal" life again- I long for the simplicity of things like 24 hour electricity and, you know, getting a normal paycheck.  But knowing what we know now, we know that "going back" would be in no way normal.   

This is what our life group looks like today.  It's far more complicated now.  To be honest, many/most days it is less enjoyable.  But our life here is good.  Really good.  We feel like we are really living. 

We now know that we can't do something big and dramatic that will change the world.  But we also now know that we can "do small things with great love" as Mother Teresa said. And so that's our goal.  

Thank you to everyone who has stood with us on this journey.  Feel free to have a tasty beverage today and raise your glass to our celebration of six years in Haiti. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Untouchables.

While scrolling through facebook for the millionth time the other day (I really need to get that under control), I saw this image that was a collage of 6 images by a Cuban artist names Erik Ravelo.  (See full size images on his website).

The purpose of these images are to raise awareness about child protection from the varied attacks children face around the world.  From top (L-R) abuse of children by priests, sex tourism, the war in the middle east.  Bottom (L-R) organ trafficking, gun violence in schools, and the fast food/obesity epidemic.

These images really touched me. According to Ravelo's website, the message of these pics is that "the right to childhood should be untouchable." Now, I get that they all have their own political statement. But I am not writing today about these specific political statements.  I think the point that was so poignant to me was the fact that there are innocent people (including children) being crucified at the expense of every cause.

And this got me to thinking, "What kinds of children are being crucified similarly where I live (in Haiti), and at the hands of whom?"  And I started scanning my brain for the images that could be the subject of similar photos.

First, I thought about the media.  (That's an easy target.)  I pictured a poor, swollen-bellied, malnourished child hanging with his arms spread on the back of a journalist or a photographer with a big telephoto lens. I thought about the way that Haiti is portrayed in the media, often robbing the dignity of her children.

Next I thought of the UN.  There are an array of different images.  A sexually molested child on the back of a UN soldier.  A child dead from cholera on the back of a UN soldier.  A light-skinned baby with a single mom as the result of UN soldiers impregnating young women and girls.

I thought about pictures of slavery, and restavek, and big NGOs, and the abuse of lower class Haitians by upper class Haitians.  But the images that couldn't leave my mind were the ones where children were on the backs of missionaries.  Hear me out here.  I am a missionary.  I am not saying that all missionaries are abusing or taking advantage of children. I am not even saying that MOST missionaries abuse children, because most of them don't.  (In the same way all priests do not molest children and all tourists do not rape children, etc.). But, you guys, some, albeit a small percentage, do. And getting a front row seat to view the trauma is a tough place to live.

The images I see in my head are of all different types of missionaries; the ones with business suits that breeze in and out in first class seats, those with safari gear to tackle the cement jungle of Port Au Prince, the short-term matchy-matchy t-shirt crews, the long term missionaries in their ripped pants and faded, stretched out t-shirts from years of hand washing and line drying, the nuns in their habits, the Mennonites in their bonnets, the Mormons in their sacred underwear, the hippies going to live in a tent or a house made from garbage, the first-world rejects looking to re-create themselves in a new place, the fresh-out-of-Bible-college kid who majored in missions, the bleeding hearts on a journey to find social justice.

In their arms they hold the tools of their trade: hand sanitizer and bug spray, Camelbacks, Nalgene bottles, Bibles, free rice, vaccines, medical supplies, cash, religious tracts, Evangicubes, used shoes, new shoes, used clothes, new clothes, art supplies, Christmas presents, school supplies, soccer balls, candy, and giant green army duffels stuffed with all the former.  (And goodness knows what else.) Oh! And don't forget the camera.  They all have a camera.

My point is this-- it is tough to know what the actual photos of these abusive missionaries will look like.  It could be any variation of all of the above.

And the children hanging on their backs could also present in any number of ways. It could be a child who has lost her family because a missionary built and orphanage needed orphans to fill it.  So her mom, in the desire to ensure she had food and clothes and school, abandoned her.  It could be a former street boy who lives in an orphanage and is being sexually abused by the missionary in charge, and is threatened to be kicked out onto the street if he tells. It could be the negligence of a missionary who supports a church/school/orphanage/etc. where the children are being abused by staff members.  It could be a child beaten by his father because a short-term team member gave him a $20 bill.  This enraged his father who works more than a week hauling buckets of cement for 12 hours a day to make the same amount of money.

But there's are some other equally frightening images that come to mind-- the images of missionary kids hanging on the backs of their mothers and fathers.  It's a boy that wants his dad's attention, but does not get it because the dad is always too busy serving others.  It's a little girl who is behind grade level on her school work because her mom is too busy serving the poor (or surfing facebook) to get homeschool done every day she should. It's the kids that can't return to their home culture and feel comfortable, because their parents never taught them about their birth culture.  It's missionary kids with a mouth-full of cavities and rotten teeth because their missionary moms were too always too tired to take the 1 minute it would take to brush their teeth.  It's the missionary kids abused on the mission field because their missionary parents did not realize the risky situations their children were being put into.  Or missionary kids who only 40 years later could forgive their parents for sending them away to boarding school so that they could be on the mission field unencumbered.  It's the missionary kids who raise themselves and tiptoe around their parents because they know how exhausted the parents always are from "serving the Lord" and they just don't want to upset them.  It's the missionary kids whose parents never do devotions with them in spite of being out spreading the gospel all day long to anyone who will open the doors they knock on.

These things on this list are all real-life things that have been either observed in my own house, observed in other missionary households, or told to me by other missionary kids.  I think that all missionaries should heed the message these scenarios tell.

But this cautionary tale is not just for missionaries.  I encourage you to think through what your life looks like, whether you live in the bush of Africa or in the suburban Bible belt of North Carolina. What is it that your life is marked by?  What roles do you identify with?  It could be your occupation, your political views, your religion, something you do for entertainment, or some cause you support. It's essentially the same question I asked myself about children in Haiti. "What kinds of children are being crucified similarly where I live, and at the hands of whom?"  And as your mind scrolls through examples, take note. 

This kind of self-introspection is difficult.  But to paraphrase a pastor I heard long ago teaching on parenting, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose the souls of his children?"  Let's think on that together.