Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 1- HF arrives!

Dear friends and family,

Today is the day many of us looked forward to. Months of preparation went into this trip and we are all very thankful for the support that you have given us. Whether it be financially, morally, spiritually, emotionally, physically, we sincerely THANK YOU.

This trip means everything to us. Many of us were fascinated at the opportunity to go to Haiti ever since Mr. Dols' convocation on his Haiti experiences. For some of us, this trip is an opportunity to improve our spiritual life and relationship with God, for others its a vacation and an opportunity to unwind and to relax after the rigorous ending weeks of quarter #3. Whatever our reasons for going on this trip are, we are all here for one purpose - to experience a new perspective of life - and to apply these experiences to not only our classmates and fellow travel partners, but also to the world around us and to all people.

Our first day was a rollercoaster of emotions. Beginning the day, many of us felt groggy and exhausted from waking up so early. We were unprepared for the toll little to no sleep would have on us. We started our first day off by arriving at the airport at 3am, all eager to see each other and socialize. Feeling prepared and ready for the day, we complied with the instructions Dols, Witchger, and Doobie had for us. Their instructions and help allowed us to get through the beginning stages of air travel in a breeze. Arriving at the gate, we found ourselves doing various activities with each other. Some of us played card games, others dozed off, some even wrote in their journals explaining their feelings and anticipations for the day. The hour of waiting went by extremely fast and we were all caught by surprise when they started to board passengers for the Minneapolis flight to Miami. After saying our morning prayer and intentions, we boarded our plane. Our flight from MN to FL was fantastic! Some of us found ourselves encapsulated in the complimentary movies, games, music, and information about the trip. Others finding ourselves sleeping and trying to catch up on the lost hours from the nights before. Before we knew it, we arrived in Miami and were excited by the gorgeous weather we hoped to experience in Haiti. After finding some breakfast/lunch, we waited about a half an hour at the gate that would take us from FL to Haiti. This flight went by faster than the previous flight! Everyone was beyond eager to reach our destination. After filling out the travel documents needed to enter Haiti (some of us in pencil), we looked at the clock and we were minutes away from landing. Every single one of us was looking out of the window and taking in the scenery. We have now arrived in Haiti!

The Haiti Airport was a struggle because many of us filled out our travel documents incorrectly (some people wrote in pencil and we won't name names....Mark). After paying our entry fee and correcting our mistake, we headed down to pick up our baggage both personal and our donations. This process turned into waiting about 20 minutes to finally step out into the Haitian weather and scenery. After waiting a while, our Tap-Tap arrived. The Tap-Tap is the open-air bus like vehicle that we are going to be using for our transportation this week. After stuffing our luggage into the Tap-Tap, we found ourselves scrunched together with minimal space as it is a small truck. This is where we experienced first hand the driving style in Haiti. Haitian driving is very different from United States driving. In Haiti, there are no stoplights, there are no stop signs, there are no warnings or guides to go by, no rules or regulations, driving was a chaotic mess. People can travel as fast as they want, as close as they want, and as reckless as they want because it is their style and way of life. After driving about 15 minutes in the Tap-Tap, we arrived at our house! It is absolutely stunning. Rolling into the driveway, we are greeted by an array of flowers, trees, and architecture that is so unique and surprising for many of us. After stepping out of the vehicle, we are greeted by the lovely Healing Haiti staff and they explained some of their rules and the background of the house. The compound is composed of 2 different houses in our section: a 1 story house and a 2 story house (includes a balcony). These two houses hold different Healing Haiti groups and we will be participating and socializing with them throughout the week. After settling in, we meet outside in a small circle of chairs which we decide that it will be our meeting spot for the week. There, we held a small prayer session and quick meeting before we headed to a swimming pool at a local hotel! The opportunity to swim and to relax after a long and stressful trip was very fulfilling to us. We then returned home and ate dinner. Each night we will be having different meals and tonight, we started off our week with a delicious Shepherds Pie with peppers, tomatoes, and dinner rolls. After having a wonderful meal, many of us decided to walk around and get a better understanding of the scenery. Then, we met up for one final time as a group in our usual meeting spot where we discussed our plans for the week in a brief manner and held our extended prayer session hosted by a pair/group of students each assigned a night. After prayer, we then had a final two hours of free time: some played games, others wrote in journals, others fell asleep on the couch, and others decided to go to bed. Our bed time set for tonight is 9pm. Our anticipation and excitement for the upcoming week is massive and we can't wait to share our experience.

To all our family and friends reading our blogs and condensed summaries of our day, we just want to tell you how excited we all are. This opportunity to travel to a different part of the world and to experience an entirely different culture and lifestyle is surreal. We appreciate all that you do for us and from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. We are excited to share with you our experiences in the coming week!!

Written by: Mark

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Thank you, Haiti!

Today was our last service day in Haiti and like every other day we have been here, we made sure to fill it. We started out the day in Cite Soleil. Our first water truck stop was busy! As our truck pulled to a stop we could hear the kids chanting "Hey you! Hey you!" When we opened the tap tap door, little arms were everywhere looking for someone to pick them up and hold them. Kelly and I were on the water hose filling buckets and anything else people could use to hold water. About half way through filling buckets, the kids started bathing. They would run over to the hose, fill a pail and dump it over their heads. They laughed and laughed as the cold water ran down their little bodies. It was almost like the water washed away a little of the stress for a few moments. In those moments they were just kids playing in clean water. They weren't kids living in one of the poorest areas in the Northern Hemisphere. They were just kids. I got caught up in the moment and when I came back around I realized I had tears streaming down my face. These kids have very little, some don't even have a full outfit or shoes, and yet, they find such pure joy in the simple things. As we drove to our next stop I thought about what I had just witnessed and reflected on my own life.

The Haitian Initiative was our next stop as we waited for the water truck to refill. We got a tour of the building and the practice field. As we walked onto the field, the soccer players beamed with pride in their field. Maddie and Sherri played soccer with some of the boys, and we will just say it's a good thing they weren't keeping score because those kids a quick! The laughter on the field was carefree. Once again I was moved to tears, because these kids were able to just be kids for a little bit and our team was lucky enough to be a small part of it.

After we were done with the water truck we headed to an orphanage. We helped them make bracelets, jump rope, blow bubbles and toss a Frisbee. About half way though I looked around and was encouraged by all the smiles and fun we were all having. We didn’t speak the same language but still we could spread God’s love and let the kids know we truly care about them. The kids sang us some beautiful songs and we sang them some silly ones, which made them thing we were either funny or crazy, but either way they all laugh.

After we said our goodbyes, we headed out to Fleri for a team dinner. Watching the amazing scenery pass by I was yet again inspired to reflect on this week and really my life. I know those of us who have made this journey will not go home the same person. I know we were all changed by what we saw and the people we met. What I don’t know is how it will affect our lives once we return home. I don’t know how to thank Haiti for teaching me what truly matters in this life or how to thank God for breaking my heart so completely in 5 days and putting it back together as it is meant to be. I don’t know what the road will hold once we return to Minnesota, but I do know, thanks to this incredible country and its spectacular people I am going back a little less broken and a lot more blessed.

Glwa pou Bondye!

Friday, March 10, 2017


Man.  What a week.  Day five in a country that has stolen our hearts and touched our souls.  A country that has so much beauty -- beautiful people, beautiful landscape, beautiful and generous souls -- and so much faith and hope.

This morning we went to Church on the Rock prayer service at 6 AM.  As we entered their simple building, we could hear the worship team playing praise music.  We walked in to people with their arms raised and praising God.  Giving thanks for all that they have.  Humbling.  Thanking God that they can breathe.  Thanking God for oxygen.  Thanking God for water.  And praying for those in Somalia who don't have enough to eat.  Wait, what?!  Yes...these people who have gone through natural disasters and devastation, homes destroyed, unemployment, and malnutrition are praying for others in another country who don't have enough to eat.  Faith.  

After rejuvenating our souls, we made our way to Carrefour Haiti Hospital for the Sick and Dying. We spent time with some men, women and older children patients there and painted the women's/girls' nails, and massaged their legs and arms with lotion.  There was that darn language barrier, but that didn't stop us from trying to communicate that they are important.  Amidst their illnesses and pain, their smiles of thankfulness were beautiful reminders of their graciousness.  Faith.

Among all of this beauty came chaos in the form of traffic.  And let me tell you...the traffic here is CRAZY.  And on top of the normal crazy traffic it became even more complicated because their former President Rene Garcia Preval passed away on March 3 and his body is lying in state near the national palace -- which was right in our path of where we traveled today, The driving just baffles us - because apparently you can just drive, pass on either the left or right, and completely ignore "Stop" signs...or at least ignore the two Stop signs we have seen in this city.  There are no stop lights.  Everybody just drives and goes.  But in some strange way it works out just fine.  I mentioned to our driver that in America we had "Road Rage" and that in this kind of traffic people would be screaming, cursing, arms waving, and fingers flying.  He just looked at me and quietly said, "We just have to remember that we are Servants of God."  Huh.  I guess it really IS that easy, right?  Faith.

We eventually made our way to an orphanage where we brought supplies to make bracelets, some soccer balls for the kids to play with, bubbles, and face paint.  They LOVED the face paint.  A little too much.  And by me saying they LOVED the face paint, I mean they LOVED face paining US.  Alright then.  

But it really was a long day.  The day seemed to be more humid than the other days and pretty hot.  We are tired. Mentally and physically.  Emotionally.  It has been a week of confusion, observation, joy, tears, smiles, and processing. Not only trying to make sense of Haiti, but trying to make sense of our own lives.  What do we do with all of this?  Especially when we return home?  We need to help those who need our help.  We need to speak up for those who need our support.  I think we all feel a responsibility like we've never felt before.  Our hearts are changed...more full.  Thank you, people of Haiti.  Thank you for making us think and take time out of our lives to see who the "poor ones" truly are.  We will continue to pray for you and hopefully watch you soar!  Faith. 

Bondye Beniou!

Your friend for life - 

Kelly Branch

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Diamonds in the Dust

    I woke up at my usual time of 7:55 this morning (breakfast is at 8) and crawled out of bed. Everyone was in their usual “It’s early” moods as Carol rounded us up for breakfast. We ate an amazing breakfast of eggs and pancakes then climbed into the Tap-Tap. Dust caked our arms and faces as the city faded into the country side and we all turned to watch as beauty flashed before our eyes. The drive was our longest with 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back, however, we laughed so hard we almost cried and sang our hearts out. Finally, we reached Grace Village. Grace Village was started by people who saw the need for education in Haiti. When we arrived, the children were doing their usual routine with soccer games in two places, girls giggling with each other, and boys being boys. As I looked around, I saw all the potential the kids have. They happily laughed with each other and ran up and down the playground with not a care in the world. Our tour guild told us about Grace Village and how they are trying to provide education for Haitian children and adults so they can go home to provide for their families or grow up to be successful and happy.
After Grace Village, we went to see the Elders. These people brought smiles to our faces and eagerly invited us into their homes or their yards. We set up instruments and washed the hands and feet of God. We sang songs to them and prayed for their health as they closed their eyes and let us comfort them. In the last Elder’s house, children from the neighborhood came to be with us. A little girl grabbed my hand and sat beside me and in the moment, all I wanted to do was pick her up and dance. I found my feet tapping or my head bobbing to the music. We sang in English but the Elders didn’t seem to mind. The first Elder closed her eyes and amongst all the chaos, she lifted her hand above the rumble to God, and danced.
To end our day, we went to Fleri, which is an organization run by Grace Village which is their job creation ministry. At the bakery, the most amazing goods are made by hard working Haitians. They make the baked goods with confidence and happiness which really shows in the treats. I smiled as cookie crumbs fell onto my shirt and frosting caked my face. On the ride back, I fell asleep to my thoughts.

-Team Member Abby

P.S. Team Member Sherri says hi. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Revealing. Today God removed a blindfold from my eyes. We visited Cite Soleil and distributed water to the people there. Cite Soleil is a city in Haiti that lives in great poverty. It was astonishing to see all the people there just simply get water and all the little kids who were just seeking attention and love.
We live in a society that has all essential needs that we acquire and we get without even having to ask. While we go into our kitchen to get a glass of water or snuggle with our family on the couch watching a movie, the Haitian people not only in Cite Soleil but all over Haiti are considered lucky to even get food and attention each day.
We went to three water stops through the course of the day; getting off each one of them was a completely different adventure, but each time we got off there were little kids surrounding us with their arms raised in the air. I always immediately had a child in my arms from the age of one to seven, maybe even older.
Going back to Kelly’s blog yesterday where she said her word was simple. The Haitians were all so happy to just see us and for us to just simply hold them and help them grow. That makes me think about how difficult Americans make life. How amazing it is to see the happiness in all these kids even with the bare minimum. They don’t fret about the little things because they don’t have the opportunity to have the stuff we do, yet they are still content and make a good life out of what they have.
Something that really stuck out to me was walking down a pier looking on to the ocean and see how beautiful it was and then looking back at the city and my heart dropping.  For me this is the perfect metaphor for life. All of us see the beauty of the world and everything we want to see, but that is only a small portion of reality. We all need to take the time to let God remove that blindfold from our eyes and look out at the rest of the world; to see all the imperfections. Nothing and no one is ever going to be perfect no matter how hard we try, but with every imperfection we uncover and accept there is a new awareness revealed.

It took today seeing all the happiness of the people throughout Cite Soleil and what they made of life even though they only had what we consider the bare minimum for me to realize; maybe we are the ones who lack happiness because of everything we materialize and the fact that we need to take a step back and thank God for the clean water and comfort we get from people every day. Beni Sousa Letenel.

Team Member Maddie

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


If I have to use one word to describe our day, the word I come up with is "simple."  Not in the sense that it was an easy or unimportant day, but in the sense that all that was asked of us was to simply be present. Simply smile.  Simply love.

Today our team of 13 spent the morning playing with children at an orphanage.  Their playground consisted of a tire swing, small merry-go-round and slide, and a little playset. However, they were much more interested in reaching up to be held, holding our hands, smiling, simply being recognized as a beloved child of God.  None of them spoke English, and most of us don't speak Creole, but the universal language of simply caring was what was spoken.

One little girl who appeared to be about 3 years old was standing off to the side.  No smiles.  Very serious look on her face.  Not interested in playing.  She started whimpering and tears started forming.  I reached my arms out to her and she came to me.  I held her and she put her head on my shoulder.  I found a quiet shady area, and as I stood there I found myself instinctively rocking back and forth.  She coughed a few times, and I heard a rattle in her chest as she was breathing.  Her eyelids started to get heavy and eventually closed.  I continued rocking her as she slept and I watched my team as they interacted with all of the other children.  It was pretty simple.  All we were doing was being present and loving these kids the best way we knew how.  I looked down at the child I was holding who was sleeping in my arms and I was surprised at the tears that started forming in my eyes and the lump in my throat.  All I could think of is that every child deserves to be held and rocked -- particularly when they aren't feeling well -- and if that is the one thing that I could do for her, then I would gladly do that until my arms fell off.  Pretty simple.

We also spent some time interacting with children with special needs.  We were outside with no play area whatsoever.  But they all had smiles on their faces as we sang and clapped to songs and giggled as we gave them rides in wheelchairs.  One little boy in a wheelchair would motion to us, and as we would lean our heads in to him to see what he wanted, he would put his little hands on either side of our face and give us a kiss.  Wow.  These beautiful children were singing praises to God and showing US how to love the only way they knew how.
Simple, right?  Not really - in fact I really don't think there are words for that.

Bondye Beniou!

Kelly Branch

Monday, March 6, 2017

We are HERE and ready to go!

Bon Jour from Haiti!

It feels so good to be here.  We had a wonderfully smooth travel day and are thankful that all of our 13 donation suitcases and personal luggage arrived safely too.

Our spirits are high and we are ready to start our week of service.

Here we are God use us! This morning we are off to serve at the Home for sick and dying babies and Dare's Home for special needs children.  This afternoon we will witness hope for Haitians at the Apparent Project through job creation.

More to come.....