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Rhonda from the ReachFM Morning Show has been in Haiti with Compassion International to discover more about the needs of Haiti’s most vulnerable citizens, to see how your Compassion sponsorship in making a difference, and to deliver hundreds of bracelets of hope in your name.
Her latest entries are on the top. Be sure to scroll all the way down to see the incredible ways God is using you to provide His hope to Haiti.
RHONDA’S TRAVEL BLOG
WHAT YOU DID FOR A STRANGER THIS SUMMER…
One of the best parts of working at a Christian radio station is that I get to play great music that moves hearts to do miraculous things. Things like…give hope to a stranger in a foreign country? Yes, that’s what YOU did this summer for a bunch of kids in Haiti who really needed it.
At Reach FM, we call it partnership and it’s our favorite thing to do with you. We presented a need, and you responded! I was blown away by the number of listeners who said, “Yes, please! I want you to take a bracelet of hope to Haiti in my name.” I took that responsibility seriously and accounted for each and every one of you!
On this trip, my hands and feet became yours as I delivered those red bracelets of hope to hundreds of children. I may not get to shake your hand in gratitude, but what I can do is give you a glimpse of what it looked like.
Here’s just one of those stories.
She had blown me away earlier that day reciting her favorite verse (Psalm 117) by memory at Compassion International’s Child Development center. After she received her red bracelet, she quietly asked me for another one. I was trying to be fair and stick to the “one for everybody, please” rule but something in me said, “Oh, just give her yours Rhonda.” I don’t even know how I ended up with one, as I never planned to keep any. Trying not to let the other kids see, I slipped it into my hand, and quickly moved it into hers.
Thank you for listening, thank you for praying, and thank you for sending bracelets of hope that right this minute encircle so many wrists in Haiti as a tangible reminder of the message-Mwen gen espwa Jezi- I have hope in Jesus.
SATURDAY- THE HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST
A strange thing happens when you travel outside the U.S. into a third world country. You are either immediately overwhelmed or it creeps up slowly. For me, the first two days were my honeymoon stage. I was excited by all the new scenery and people I was meeting. But today, the honeymoon phase was over and I woke up feeling helpless and overwhelmed by the extreme poverty I had seen. As we drove for an hour outside of Port Au Prince to our second child development center (Cabaret HA-295), the best part of the drive was seeing the beautiful coastal views.
The worst part was seeing where thousands of bodies found after the earthquake were dumped. At that time, the city couldn’t handle the stench and disease, but had nowhere to bury that many people so the bodies were taken out to the countryside on trucks. It now looks like a landfill lined with crosses. We stopped for a bit, said a prayer, and then drove away in complete silence.
Arriving at the center, thankfully the mood lightened when we were greeted by a band of students playing the American National Anthem. Their teacher told us they’d been practicing for weeks and were proud to perform what they’d learned at the program. Afterwards we quickly broke the ice by heading to the play yard. I’ve learned that no matter how far you travel, kids are the same. They love to jump rope, play Frisbee, kick soccer balls, dance, tell secrets, play hide and seek, and show you their toys. I found myself letting them use me as a jungle gym while I sat on an ant pile next to a tree. At the moment it was great. Afterwards…not so much. I quickly bonded with a little girl in pink who asked me to tie her shoe. However, once lunchtime was called, she dropped me like an old shoe to get in line with her plate. Later I learned it might have been her only meal that day.
Nutrition and hygiene are an important part of the Compassion International programs so the students are fed balanced meals when at the program. Today’s lunch was chicken with vegetables, beans, and rice.
While they were having lunch, we had a chance to meet some parents who are part of Compassion’s Income Generation Beneficiaries program (IGA). Andrea Alexia’s son Jules is sponsored in the program and learning to play the trumpet. Andrea has learned from watching her son that trade skills are important. Through the IGA program, she’s able to learn skills and take out a small loan to open a business. She took us down the street to her beauty parlor and photography studio. She was proud to introduce me to one of her clients and announce that she will be paying off her $2,500 loan this month. That money will go back into the IGA program to help the next family in need.
Also down the block was Joseph’s computer lab. He is a former sponsored child who told me, “I thank God for Compassion International and their IGA program for giving me the loan to take classes at a tech school. If it wasn’t for Compassion, I’d be on the street doing nothing. I now have a business that is teaching others computer skills as well.”
While in the neighborhood, we visited the home of a sponsored child. Nine-year-old Selena lives with her mother Vanilla and six-year-old brother Messy in a two bedroom house that’s the size of my laundry room. Selena and Messy were so excited to invite us inside their home. There were no windows or door, only curtains to protect from the mosquitoes. Messy, was quite the little hostess as he grabbed my hand for the grand tour. First stop, the bedroom. He pulled back the white linen curtain, eager to show me the bed. Yes, I said THE bed. Messy and Vanilla share a single mattress and Selena wraps herself in a blanket next to them on the floor. Beside the bed is the box spring…aka the couch. Like any good hostess, Messy insisted I sit down on it. The walls were concrete, but the roof was made of tin siding so it was hot inside that tiny bedroom. I was trying to be polite and not wipe the sweat off my brow. I could see the sun gleaming through the holes in the roof and wondered how they slept when it rained.
Selena was proud to show me her favorite part of the house, which was the kitchen. A single shelf held their few pots and pans, next to a tiny charcoal grill and small table for three. In the corner were buckets of water equipped with a filtering line provided by Compassion that has kept the family safe from the many diseases that run rampant in Haiti. Behind the house was a banana field and community commode shared by the village. Messy waddled and quacked like a duck as his geese walked by. I’m not sure if they were his pets or his dinner.
Before we left, we dropped off a bag full of groceries. It was like watching kids at Christmas as Messy grabbed the bag. It was half his size but somehow he managed to drag it across the kitchen floor. As we left them standing on their porch waving goodbye, I overheard Messy’s mother ask quietly if he could someday be sponsored as well. On the drive back to our hotel, I couldn’t get his face or his mother’s voice out of my head. I wasn’t interested in the sights of the city, but more in finding out if I could sponsor him. The process doesn’t happen overnight, and I’d have to make a special request for him. I decided to take that time to pray about it. That evening I sat and thought about my finances for a bit. Could I afford sponsoring another child through Compassion?
Scrolling back through my pictures later that night, and seeing a picture of Messy sitting on the floor in his house, my question was answered. It suddenly wasn’t a matter of if I could afford it, but more a matter of how could I afford not to. A request has been made.
That night was our final dinner in Haiti. Again, we had guests from the Compassion International program. This time they weren’t kids, but young adults who had graduated from the Child Sponsorship Development program. They’d been accepted into the Leadership Development Program to further their free education at the local college. All of them would be the first in their family to get a degree. Compassion’s hope is that they will not only grow spiritually, but become leaders in their communities so they could impact the future of Haiti. Previous graduates now work as engineers, teachers, business owners, and technology instructors as well as in Haiti’s Parliament.
It didn’t make sense to me that Marc, Yoldie and Enickson were so young, yet spoke with such confidence and wisdom. Enickson is a master of languages and he is working on his learning his fifth, Yoldie teaches Sunday school at her church between studies, and Marc plans to build two schools and become the Minister of Education upon graduation. When asked what helped them the most to achieve their goals, all three of them said “letters of encouragement from my sponsor.” I felt like sliding under the table as they discussed the loving letters they’d received from their sponsors. I write to my sponsored child in Bangladesh, just not often. I ask questions and tell her about me, but I never thought to encourage her. I learned a lot that night about the opportunity I have to make a lifelong impact on my sponsored child’s life.
I went into this trip with a passionate heart, but also as a naïve American, wanting to save the world. In reality, this trip saved me a bit from the self-absorbed, ungrateful life that I dwell in way too often.
I’ve come to realize, poverty is not just a condition of broken finances, but more a condition of a broken heart. When we allow our hearts to break for theirs, God saves us both. When I got back home, dark rain clouds were moving across the sky as I walked into my house. I paused and pictured Messy, Selena, and Vanilla huddled in their tiny house. As I poured myself a glass of fresh clean water from the fridge and plopped on my couch with my slippers, I stopped to thank God, not just for material things I take for granted, but for giving me His eyes to see, to experience and to learn on this trip how He uses us to help build His kingdom across the world. And now, I have an awesome opportunity to share all of this with you! Thank you for being part of my trip by your prayers, for traveling along with me by reading my posts and for your willingness to send your hope to the children in Haiti. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did!
FRIDAY- WOW, THAT’S AMAZING!
We loaded into the van at 8:30 this morning and headed to a Compassion International student center (Tabarre HA 804) in Port Au Prince. The center was only a few miles away, but because of the condition of the roads, it took almost a half an hour to get there.
It isn’t uncommon to see a dozen people in a tap tap (a rainbow painted pick-up truck that serves as a Haitian taxi) headed straight toward us to avoid meteor-sized pot holes. Other jaw dropping sites included women carrying fifty pound bags of rice on their heads, men with machetes and bananas walking down the street, dead chickens being dried out on the sidewalk, 5 year olds cleaning car windows at intersections, and female street sweepers using corn husk brooms on trash piles along the road. Just a typical morning in Port Au Prince with hundreds of Haitians out doing business as usual, which means selling whatever, wherever and however.
As much as I was enthralled with the chance to people watch, the bumpy roads were playing with my tendency to car sickness, so I was thrilled to finally arrive at the student center. When we entered, sounds of kids singing drifted through the hallway from a nearby classroom. The Pastor and local staff members greeted us and gave an overview of the project. It’s one of 245 projects throughout Haiti, and hosts close to 250 children.
It was an eye opening experience to see the preparation Compassion puts into the process of child sponsorship. I found myself repeating “Wow, that’s amazing!” over and over as they explained everything from locating the children, to sponsorship procedures, letter writing, financial stewardship, and the unique approach to child development. It doesn’t just mean giving the kids some rice, a flu shot, a backpack, teaching them to pray and then hoping for the best. It means investment in their health, their spiritual growth, their families, their education and their dreams. Yes, Compassion believes even kids in Haiti should have dreams! I realized how serious they were when they opened the filing cabinet holding all of the children’s “Dream Books”, which encourage the child to pursue their God given talents and use them to contribute to bettering their community. The books are used to record the children’s aspirations from the time they are little in order to help develop a follow through plan. Again, “Wow, that’s amazing!”
After our tour, we headed to a classroom to greet the children. We didn’t know the singing we heard earlier was in preparation for the greeting they had planned for us. We slipped into the tiny desks next to them as the kids took turns center stage dancing and singing hymns for us. I was instantly smitten when a 12 year old boy serenaded us with one of my favorites- James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” They performed in their classroom where student activities like language classes, instrument lessons, bible study, painting, singing, and writing happen. (Go ahead and say it, “Wow, that’s amazing!”)
After the talent show, I took some time to try and get to know them. It felt like a game of charades as I tried to communicate in Creole. Good thing I had been practicing and brought my cheat sheet! After I managed to find out their names and ages, I quickly realized my list of phrases was useless beyond that. Thank goodness our translator was there to help. The children didn’t seem to mind as they were more enthralled with touching my blonde hair, jumping on my lap, hugging my legs and seeing themselves in my camera screen.
One sentence I did know how to say in Creole was “I have hope in Jesus.” I kind of cheated on that one since it was written on their bracelets of hope. As I handed them out with high fives, I realized these kids hold the future for Haiti in the palms of their little hands. After meeting them I’d say…yeah, there’s hope!
THURSDAY EVENING- Name Games, Beauty Secrets and Ice Cream with Compassion Kids
After we checked into our hotel, we had just a short time to get settled into our rooms before we met again for our big dinner. We couldn’t be late because some very important people were coming to be our guests. Over dinner, we would have the chance to discuss important topics like….”What’s your favorite color? What games do you like to play? What do like learning about most in school? What songs do you sing in church?” Compassion kids were coming to dinner!
Woodly is an eight year old boy whose identical twin brother has almost the same name. Woodly insists there’s a big difference between Woodly and Woodley, between him and his brother. See it? I don’t, but who am I to argue with an adorable eight year old? We did agree on many other things like pizza being the best food on the planet, Slinkys being way cooler than video games, and that soccer is called soccer….NOT FOOTBALL!
We got to say grace and break bread with this adorable munchkin thanks to Allen, Woodly’s sponsor, and one of the media guys on the trip. The chance to meet your sponsored child has to be one of the coolest opportunities Compassion offers their sponsors.
For Woodly, meeting Allen for the first time was probably like going from the book to a 3D movie! All the letters of correspondence between them came to life tonight and I’m not sure who was most affected by the whole experience- Woodly, Allen …or me?
Our other special guest was Shenaida. She is sponsored by a friend of Mark’s (our Compassion trip coordinator) and she was a bit late for dinner. But hey, when you’re 12 and approaching those teen queen years, you take a bit longer to put on your best. For Shenaida, that meant a hot pink sparkly top and rhinestone denim skirt. Shenaida and a Compassion representative traveled four hours to meet us and we agreed that called for a real celebration not to mention something to cool her off after her journey. Ice cream for everyone! It was only Shenaida’s second time tasting ice cream so naturally she was extra choosy with her flavor- chocolate!
Shenaida was thrilled with the life-size doll we brought her from her sponsor, mainly because it had braided hair just like hers. Just like any other pre-teen, Shenaida is into hair so naturally I thought I’d lend her mine to braid. She was much faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. She smiled sheepishly as I apologized for my knots. I have to say, she’s my favorite hairstylist so far and I let her know it.
Saying goodbye to Shenaida and Woodly was hard, but I know God will be keeping an eye on them when we’re gone. I gave them both a bracelet of hope to help them remember that.
Tomorrow we’ll be meeting more children and Compassion representatives. I’m not sure what the day will look like, but I know where there are kids, there will be more giggling, hugging, loving… and knowing me, probably more goodbye tears.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON- ARRIVAL
THURSDAY MORNING- EXPECTATIONS
WEDNESDAY- ONE DAY BEFORE THE TRIP
Over the past several weeks, for every “like” on Facebook, Rhonda added another bright red bracelet with the Creole message- “I have hope.”
Thank you for praying for each child who will receive a bracelet- that they would come to know the love and hope of Christ.
God’s Already At Work-
Earlier this week, Rhonda was able to connect with a listener who sponsors a little girl in Haiti through Compassion. As they talked, she shared that during last year’s ReachFM Compassion event, Rhonda’s description of this little Haitian girl being raised by a single mother touched her heart since she is also a single mother. As Rhonda talked about the little girl’s photo, her blue dress and her need for someone to make sure she would have food, medical care, the chance to go to school and someone to share the love of God, the listener knew God was telling her to choose this girl.
When Rhonda got on the plane to Haiti, tucked into her luggage was a special package from this listener- inside is a new blue dress, little white sandals, hair ribbons,and a doll house- just a symbol of the amazing way God has connected a woman in Florida with a little girl in Haiti.
To sponsor your own “girl in the blue dress”, Click Here