Haiti with the Girls

It’s hard to put into words that which has become a part of our every day life. Haiti is an entire culture that has collided with ours over the past 4 years. I no longer see going to Haiti as a mission, but rather as something God is doing in our lives and at the same time, their lives. I’ve learned more about who God is through Haiti than most things in my life. I have learned over the years that sometimes our mindset on what is important in life has to change in order for God to permeate the broken places in our heart. We live in a great nation. Visit a 3rd world country, or any country really, and you will see more clearly what you have rather than what you don’t have…at least for a little while anyway. I received a question several times before taking the girls to Haiti. The question was “do you think your girls will understand.” Usually my response went something like this…”To be blunt, no, they aren’t going to understand.” They aren’t going to understand that they have more than 99% of the world. They won’t understand that they are the 1%. They won’t understand that people are starving in front of them…because most of the time starvation can’t be seen, only felt. They won’t look at the homes in the village and think it’s any less than what they have in a home. But we didn’t take the girls to Haiti to understand themselves better or to come home completely changed and thankful for what they have. Even if they had come home changed by those things- they are lessons that are usually short lived. We wanted the girls to go to Haiti so that they might also build relationships with those that we have come to love so much. We wanted them to see the culture and embrace that we are all different. To understand that those living outside our own culture are no different than us. We wanted the girls to see and understand that we live in a world that goes far beyond the four corners of our own home. We wanted them to understand that across the world there are people who know God and those that don’t….and we can share Christ wherever and whenever called. We wanted them to see that America is beautiful because within our one culture are many cultures. There is a beauty in being the melting pot of the world where we are surrounded by hundreds of heritages and cultures. Because isn’t that what heaven will be like? Everyone coming together to worship One God- the only One. We wanted their eyes to be open to that which God allowed for their little hearts to comprehend. We took Presley because she had been asking. And we took Hope for Presley.

Hope built a bigger relationship with the animals in Haiti than she did with any of the kids. And that’s ok, because in a moment of a child hurting one of the dogs in the village Hope spoke out and spoke up for what she saw as an injustice of something helpless. And in her moments of uncertainty, she stepped outside her comfort zone and ran around and played “follow the leader” and “chase.” She taught “school” to a group of 10 kids sitting outside their tiny orphanage. She didn’t change their lives, but she made them laugh and brought a smile to their face…and ours.

Both girls touched sand on the beaches of the Caribbean for the very first time alongside 3 other girls who also saw it for the first time. Together, they felt the salty air stick to their hands and feet, and plucked shells out of the ocean for the first time. They were given food that most of the kids living there needed in order to nourish their bodies- and instead chose to eat the rice and beans that the kids get on most days- and they loved it.

You can’t change a heart by sitting down and doing nothing. You can’t change your view of the world by staring at a flatscreen or reading a few books. You are changed when you stand up and go. When you do for others. When you listen to someone’s story and embrace, not only their culture, but their differences. Learning about other countries- by immersing yourself in different cultures (whether it be here or there) and learning from others and about them is what opens your heart to the differences among all of us. We didn’t take the girls to Haiti to show them that they can make a difference, but to show them that there’s only One who can make a difference in our lives and in our hearts and that is Jesus. I would rather their eyes be open to what God can do rather than what they can do.

Presley built relationships and was thankful that she had 100 friends instantly. Three years ago, God placed in her a desire to hold a lemonade stand and raise money to pay for a child to go to school in Haiti. I didn’t find this as something amazing. Kids desire to help others- especially when a lemonade stand is involved. It’s up to us to nurture that kindness and generosity. Most of the time our children are more willing to give away that which we cling so tightly to. If we desire for our children to be kind and generous and appreciative of all they have then show them and allow them to give. Have them set goals. They will learn far more from opening their hearts here- than being spectators across the world.

When Presley met Tueslyne they became instant friends. I truly believe that it was God who built that relationship and nurtured it and brought them together. And I’m certain that the reason is far beyond what I could ever imagine. And I’m certain it’s for God’s glory and not our own benefit. The relationship that Presley built with Tueslyne, her sister, and cousin was worth the trip. To see full circle what God has done in the hearts of these two girls-to the bond and buckets of joy and laughter they created together 3 years later did my heart good.


To My Girls- The Beauty of Being a Woman

May both my daughters always know the beauty of being a woman.

That her identity in Christ is far more valuable than the words of men; and her beauty runs far deeper than what our society paints as beautiful.

May she always look up to women of courage, strength, grace, and kindness rather than those in power and position.

May she never find shame in being weak where others are strong; and strong where some are weak. May she always understand that her equality comes from being equal in worth, but know she is made uniquely perfect by God- who loves her fully.

May she always know the beauty of a woman is found in her character, and strength in character far outweighs strength in beauty. May she rest in the knowledge that spiritual gifts are given and character is built…and it’s usually through mistakes and brokenness.

May she understand the power of her words. That she holds the power to encourage others and guide her husband with wisdom…and yet, still be confident enough to listen and accept wise counsel from him.

May she always gracefully accept the respect given to her…

when a door is opened,

a seat pulled out,

when a man stands up for her.

May she always find comfort in the protection of her husband’s arms. And always understand that her worth is not built on what she can do, but who she is….

And if someone tells her she can’t achieve something may she hold firm to the truth that she can do nothing apart from God and everything through Him …that He has called her to do.

I pray that her identity in Christ will always be the stronghold in her life; and May she stand strong when that identity in Christ is mocked by a nation who is always fighting against it. May she always know that God’s design for who she is is far beyond what the world has crafted her to be.

And may she always strive to be more like Christ – and less like man.

Blessing Upon Blessing- Canton 

We met these two precious people in Canton this past weekend. God’s goodness and grace poured out, blessing upon blessing. After retiring a few years ago, they heard a calling from the Lord and obeyed. They live on the least amount of money they can and donate the rest to church missions and other charities. 
As my sister and I sat in our lonely little booth in Canton we knew we were supposed to be there because it had been given to us for free by the owners who we met at our Garage Sale for Haiti the month before. However, we decided about an hour in that 1-selling things is not our gift and 2-we should just pack up and go home….after shopping a little, of course! It seemed that the two of us together was intimidating because the only time our little booth got visitors was when there was only one of us tending to it! All of our displays and items seemed to slowly make their way outside our given space…surely someone would stop and look if there was a roadblock in the middle of the walkway. By noon we had four visitors, two that literally ran once I came out from behind the “curtain”. Another woman who told me she was glad that our education program actually provided an academic education and wasn’t centered on the gospel because “needy people do need food and a real education.” I scared her away when I explained that we do all three and that in each of our villages we build a church in the center as we are centered on gospel truth and sustainable help. She quickly responded “that’s great, but I’m not going to buy anything.” 

Finally by mid afternoon we had sold 6 pieces for the women in the village and felt somewhat productive. Of course, once again, God reminded us that “it’s really not all about us and what we do”. 

While I was at lunch, a vendor walked by our booth and shared with my sister his heart for Missions. He and his wife go to Africa often with a group from their church. As he shared his heart for the people in Africa, we shared our heart for Haiti. As he left our booth he mentioned that he was going to send his wife “a lady in a cowboy hat” to our booth to buy a piece. 

Later that hour, a lady in a cowboy hat showed up and shared with us that she and her husband felt lead to buy all of the pieces that were left at the end of the day. “Box up what you have left and write up a receipt” she said. At the end of the day there were 35 pieces left! 

This January every embroider in the village will be receiving money for their hours of work. Once again I am reminded that it’s not us, but Him. He ministers to us as we obey and He continuously reminds the women in the village that all is done for His Glory, not ours; that He is their faithful provider, not us. 

The world will tell you “give and pay it forward” so that you will be given much in return. I have learned that obedience in giving is far beyond any earthly blessing. God asks us to give so that we might see Him more clearly. 

A House for a Widow

A House for a Widow and What She Taught Me…..

“Mesi Jezi, Mesi Jezi”  
“Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus”
These are the words my husband, Joey, heard as he stood underneath a tiny hut looking up at a worn out battered roof held together by portions of broken walls and dried out corn stalks. The team gathered around the widow living in this tiny hut, asked her about her faith, shared the gospel with her, and prayed over her.
“How does someone live in these conditions and repeatedly thank Jesus? Would my faith be the same if I were in her shoes?”
This question continuously ran through my husband’s mind after returning from a week long trip to the remote area the Haitian people often refer to as “Deye Mon” – “Beyond the Mountain.” It is beyond this mountain that Dr. John has been visiting for over 30 years; and it is here that my husband met Lerosa for the very first time in November of 2014.
“She is a beautiful woman,” he told me. “Her heart and faith in the Lord has changed me forever.”
One year ago Dr. John shared with us, as board members, that Mercy International purchased the land in the remote area of Deye Mon with the hope of duplicating Village Merci De Dieu. We would rely on God to provide the donations to build the 20 homes in the village, filling them with the widows living in the surrounding area. It wasn’t long after this announcement that Joey and I began to feel a tugging in our heart to give more. And after much prayer, we knew that we were called to donate a house to a widow.
I remember the day Joey shared with me about Lerosa… her heart for the Lord, her courage, and her faith. How her face wore a beautiful peace-filled smile even though she had nothing and struggled through each day just to see another tomorrow. It was during this time that it became clear to us that we would donate the house to Lerosa and dedicate it in memory of my mom, Victoria Axtell.
In the dedication, I knew I wanted to incorporate my mom’s favorite verse…
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6
A well-known verse that is loved, memorized and often recited. Many of us could claim it as a life verse. Some may have even had a time in their life where this verse gave them the strength to get through hard days.
This verse is on my mom’s headstone above her grave. It is the verse that led her through life…when making difficult decisions, when walking through the challenging days of motherhood, and into the daunting days of living with terminal brain cancer. But more than that, it was a verse she lived out- always leaning on the Lord for guidance, strength, and understanding. Watching my mom during her time of struggle no matter when it was, she taught me to rely on God for comfort, peace, joy, and so much more. She taught me that when the world brings you discomfort, pain, heartbreak, and loss, it’s in those times that God reaches for our hand and proceeds to grow our perseverance and our desire for Him even more.
In the same way, the people of Haiti have also taught us…
How to love deeper despite the heartache.
How to be grateful when you have nothing.
How to give all to Christ because the burden is just too heavy.
How to depend on Him for all things because the world’s promises are empty.
And just as Proverbs 3:5-6 was etched into the stone above my mom’s grave, it was etched once more into a rock plaque that hangs beside the doorway of a house that now belongs to a beloved widow. When the keys were given, I wasn’t there. I have never met this woman who has made a lasting impression on my husband. But, I have watched the video – a video that show the moment she realized who this house was dedicated in memory of and why. When I saw her face, her hand on my husband’s shoulder- I felt her love and I saw her heart.
I saw that she understood the pain and grief that comes from loss. In that moment I could see that she too could claim Proverbs 3:5-6 as her own…knowing that trusting in the Lord also means trusting in His perfect plan, will, and timing.
It wasn’t just in this moment of receiving a house that she claimed God as good.
He was Good before she had a solid roof over her head.
He was Faithful before she stepped foot into her new home and laid her head on a soft bed for the very first time.
And it wasn’t men she praised or gave glory to. She may have thanked my husband for the keys but she praised God for His provision.
“The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.”- 1 Timothy 5:5

Where Do I Fit?

A guest post written by my dad…

April 15, 2016 by Alan 
“So, Lord, where do I fit?” That was my simple prayer to the Lord as Jean and I headed off to Haiti.  

Why would I ask that question? Here is why. My wife, Jean and two of my three daughters and their husbands have become immersed in ministry to Haiti, specifically at the Village Merci’ de Dieu, in Haiti. Together they are involved with sewing classes, educational development of children, Bible school, arranging English classes, providing food for needy children, occupational training, and just hugging on kids in general.

But Alan? Let’s see…sewing? Nope, that’s not me! Educational and occupational training! Already covered by my girls and their husbands! Teaching vacation Bible school to young children Maybe when I was 30! Just hugging on kids? Maybe a little, but I’m really not the hugging type.  

“So, Lord, where do I fit?!? Just show me, and I will do exactly when you want me to do.”

We arrived Saturday evening and after a great night’s sleep, we headed to church. I had already heard great reports about God moving in the Village and I was looking forward to spending time at the Sunday morning worship service. And I was not disappointed! There was a new vibrancy in the church. People were singing their hearts out with frequent hallelujahs and smiles everywhere. And, although I did not understand what Pastor Clifford was saying, I could tell he had a genuine passion for the Lord.  

Pastor Clifford and his family live very close to the village. When he heard the Village no longer had a pastor, he felt God’s leading to make himself available should the Village leadership council so choose. As God would have it, the council placed him in the role of interim pastor. Pastor Clifford asked for no financial support. He simply felt blessed to serve.

Now…fast forward a few days after the Sunday worship service. Dr. John and two other men (with the blessing of the Village leadership) decided to meet with Pastor Clifford to hear his heart and to ask him a simple question, “What are your top three needs?”  

After their interview I quickly cornered Dr. John and the others with him. What they told me revealed volumes about this man of God. Pastor Clifford’s top three needs were church related needs and nothing about his financial needs. With that, I was convinced that God wanted me to raise the needed support for this man of God and his family!

“So Lord, where do I fit?” God’s answer was as clear as anything He has ever asked me to do. As soon as I returned home, I began sharing with close friends about Pastor Clifford’s heart and his financial needs. God moved mightily in the hearts of several men (including me!) and within two weeks of returning home, Pastor Clifford had his support for the year. Praise God. But there is more…

At the most recent board meeting of Mercy International the Board selected two other Haitian pastors to be supported as God provides the funds. Pastor Wilford and his wife will minister in the newly developing village in Deye Mon and Pastor Etienne will receive a long deserved increase in his financial support. I am happy to report that through the efforts of the Board, Mercy International has received cash and pledges covering all but $400 per month to support all three pastors! If you would like to support any part of the remaining need, simply mark your check, “Pastoral Support”. I cannot begin to express how excited I am about having God ordained, Haitian pastors and their wives serving the people that all of us love so dearly.  

“So, where do you fit?” Just ask, and He will let you know.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

My Mom –

She saw strength in my quietness and soft spoken spirit. She saw it as patience- the ability to stand still and wait on the Lord. I saw it as weakness. I saw it as a fear to trust others, a fear to move forward- always questioning God’s leading. What I saw as weakness she saw as beauty and strength. 

My beautiful mom, who was always able to see deep into the heart of those hurting, saw life through eyes of grace. She understood that in brokenness comes a humbled heart, a willingness to be changed- That it’s in our weakness that we are made mighty in the eyes of the Lord. 

She never expected perfection in her children, only a willingness to be changed- to be molded by the One who Saves.

She’d say she was lacking in so many areas of her life. She’d say she had a weakness of an unforgiving, worrisome heart. But I saw her unbelievable ability to admit her faults, to pour grace upon others, and love them in their weakness. 

She worried, but in that worry she cared deeply for others. 

She worried about her husband- desiring for him to find someone when she was gone. 

She worried about her children- desiring for them to stand together under the umbrella of knowing the depth of God’s love for them. 

She worried about her daddy- that he would have the strength to move forward in caring for the needs of others even as his heart broke for her.

She worried about her family- desiring for them to see and know Christ as she had come to know Him. 

She worried about her friends- desiring for them to be united in friendship that was created by the grief of loss.

She worried her death would fall during the holidays, or worse, my birthday. She underwent a risky 2nd brain surgery just to extend her life through the holidays – even with the knowledge that it could take her life or paralyze her…..and it did, causing partial paralysis.

She was strong-willed and stubborn; always doing what she saw as best.

It was in her worry that she layed all of her loved ones at the foot of the cross, knowing without a doubt, that God would make all things beautiful in His time. He would make beauty from the ugliness of the death she would experience here on earth. 

To her – it wasn’t about living a perfect life. It was about living out a faith made perfect by a Holy God. It wasn’t just knowing about faith- a faith that was born in her daddy’s church. It was about experiencing faith with eyes that could bring about a revival of hope found only in Christ. 

She saw grace extended to her- and she knew grace. What everyone saw as ugliness and weakness- she saw redeemable by a gracious God. 

I grieved my mom as a child. I grieved what I lost as a child- a mom who brought comfort and security. I had the blinding eyes of a child when I was in the midst of taking care of her…of watching her fade into the long days of her nearing her day in heaven. 

Now I grieve her in my motherhood. Things I couldn’t see as sacrifice when I was a child- I see clearly now. As a mom, I can not imagine how she had enough strength to live in courage; to walk through each day with her eyes lifted upward in joy- 

To still claim “God is good” during her darkest moments of a wavering body and fading memory. 

It’s always how she lived….seeing good in the bad, seeing strength in weakness. 

An Answered Prayer

Living in America we have access to excess. We have access to all we need and all we want.  I am not sure if it’s a cultural mindset or just my own, but the majority of the time I plan my course, and then ask God to guide me, to steer me away from making a wrong decision, and protect me from bad decisions. Working with Mercy International, God has made it clear that it’s not “us” creating something and then inviting God in to direct our steps. Rather, it’s God inviting us in and allowing us to see Him work. It has nothing to do with “us” and everything to do with Him.

Every year as I step foot on the plane that sends us off to Haiti it becomes more apparent that God is our great provider. From the teams that are formed to the work that is done, God controls all. In the past year I have seen Him work in a land that most consider hopeless. I have seen Him answer prayers and give abundantly more than we could ever imagine. I’ve watched as He’s brought support from likely and unlikely places;  And I have seen Him withhold needs and plans just to reveal it’s not His will because He has something better.

One year ago, we (as the board) prayed for a new pastor for the church in the village. We all had the same desire and we all had ideas on how to “get” this person who would help shepherd a people craving the goodness and hope found only in the Lord. God provided. He called us to pray and that’s what we did. He did the rest.

If you could sit and listen to this young pastor’s testimony…how he tried to reject God and live his life the way he wanted, but God continuously sought him out preparing his heart for Him. If you could hear how he was brought to a house that sits at the bottom of the hill right outside the village long before it was there- you would see. You would know that God planned this course long before we showed up. Long before we desired this.

Is it not God that places His desires within us? There’s no greater joy then when our longings are, not only fulfilled, but also from the Lord.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

-Proverbs 13:12