Wedding Cake

Tomorrow there is a wedding.  Today I was given the job to drive the wedding cake to the church location. I don’t know much about Haitian weddings, but heard that the cake is a big deal. 

Toward that end, this morning I meandered over to the Women’s Center kitchen to watch the skilled Heartline ladies finish icing said cake, surreptitiously snapping photos of them at work (all photos taken with my cheapo cell phone camera):

Starting the IcingMaking the Cakes

The cake was 3-tier and quite impressive.  Here is a picture I took after the icing was finished, still at the Women’s Center:


Next, the three pieces of cake were carefully transported into Beth’s pickup (in the cab).  The drive out was about an hour each way and besides the cake and other wedding paraphernalia, we also had four Haitian ladies and myself all in the four-door cab.  They didn’t put anything in the bed, guess it was too dirty back there for wedding shtuph.

After arriving in Kenai, a dusty shanty looking community where many previous tent-city dwellers have been relocated into better housing, the cake was carefully carried into the bridal suite (a plywood structure converted as such for the occasion).

 Unpacking on Location

In the following picture you can see the base of the cake has been carefully set down on the table, as well as the top of the cake. 

However, the middle piece was still being carefully held by an unnamed person. 

Moments after this picture was taken, disaster struck…

Moments Before Disaster Struck



Yep, I saw it happen right under my nose, the cake just flopped out of her hand and landed ker-plop on the cement floor!

What is left after scraping it off the floor:

The Middle Section

After the shock wore off and the ladies recovered from their heart attacks (even I may have covered my mouth in dismay) they tried seeing what the cake might look like demoted to the rank of “two-tier.”  

I thought it looked great, who needs thee levels anyways?  Overkill. 

Two-Tier Cake

Then, to my surprise, they went ahead and attempted to fix the remnants of the ruined one!  I was wondering about germs and all from the concrete floor, but guess if we’re following the 3-minute rule it was probably still OK. 

Their skill reminded me of that part in Ernest Goes to Jail where Ernest whittles a machine gun out of a bar of soap.

With patience and ingenuity, they contrived the following:

GrossFixing ItGood as New

Despite how traumatic it was for the ladies at the moment it happened, I was glad to see the bride-to-be at least appeared unperturbed. Later, on the ride back to town, the humor of the situation set in and I was regaled with peals of laughter from the back seat. 

The only girl who never seemed to snap from her deep funk was the one who dropped it (sitting )next to me in the front seat). 

But, I won’t reveal her name Smile

Below is a picture of where the wedding will take place tomorrow. 


The bride-to-be is on the left wearing white. I only met her today, but was impressed at how pleasant and nice a lady she seemed.

An interesting factoid is that after the earthquake one of her legs had to be amputated and she now has a prosthetic, but appears to get around pretty well regardless!

What Should Wealthy Churches Do (and Not Do) with Donated Money to Avoid Creating Unhealthy Dependency

I’m currently reading through a book by Glenn Schwartz entitled, When Charity Destroys Dignity.

I thought the content in one of the chapters was particularly solid enough to bear repeating.  So this information is mostly from chapter four of that book.  I think the advice is mostly relevant for individual Christians as well as churches.

The first point is to define “wealthy.”  The definition given is, “those who have more than needed to live on.”  So “wealthy” doesn’t just mean “western,” but rather any church (or person) who has more than they need for themselves. In some cases, by that standard, many westerners are not wealthy.

The second point is to think about where financial unbalances come from in the first place.  Especially when there is a potential that wealth was created in a questionable way.  Schwartz writes, “In other words, someone may not have received a fair price for the raw materials that were sold to those who manufactured them into items for sale.”  He goes on to add, “Those who are benefiting from this imbalance end up with more than they need to live on (excess spendable income) which they then decide to give back in the form of charity.”  Then Schwartz makes this anecdotal point, “Would Ugandan farmers prefer the charitable handout, or would they rather have a fair price for their raw materials?”  Probably the latter. 

This is a complicated factor, but the bottom line is that, “all of us should look at the income we get and ask, ‘Has it been gained in a fair way?’”

Glenn’s List of Positive Ideas:

  1. Preach the Gospel Where it has not been Preached (particularly the 10/40 window)
  2. Consider Providing Full Missionary Support for a Missionary Family (instead of supporting many partway)
  3. Invest in Cross-Cultural Training for Missionaries (more important than many realize)
  4. Invest in Mobilization Efforts (“wherever there are sleeping Christians, waking them up and motivating them to make the Kingdom of God their highest priority is a worthwhile investment”)
  5. Invest in Ministries that do not have a Natural Giving Constituency (e.g. radio broadcasting, campus organizations, Bible translation)
  6. Help Refugees (but sensitively, being mindful of their dignity)
  7. Invest in Preventive Health Programs (rather than curative health)
  8. Invest in Breaking Dependency-Not in Creating it (investing in employment projects, job creation schemes and revolving loan funds)
  9. Never do for Others what They Can and Should Do for Themselves
  10. Don’t Forget about Outreach in Your Own Community

Others I would add to Glenn’s list that I also don’t think create unhealthy dependency are:

  1. Disaster relief, particularly if it has a gospel emphasis (eg Samaritans Purse)
  2. Organizations that combat worldly thinking (eg Focus on the Family, Answers in Genesis)
  3. Prison Ministry (eg Prison Fellowship, CEF)
  4. Supporting the Persecuted Church (eg Voice of the Martyrs)

Items to Exercise Particular Care With:

1. Child Sponsorship Programs. Often there are extended families intact to care for their own children.  “If outside child sponsorship is used in a place where the extended family could and should be doing such things, the outside funding becomes a substitute for the family.  It is here that the seeds of dependency can easily be sown.”

2. Don’t send money to individual church leaders. “Frequently when individual church leaders get outside funding, their own church members don’t know how much has been received or how it is used.  If local believers suspect that funds are coming in from the outside, it can easily destroy local initiative for giving.”

3. Don’t subsidize literature which reduces its value in the eyes of those who buy it.  “This principle has to do with Bibles and other Christian literature.  Some years ago a person who was becoming aware of the dependency problem said, ‘But our whole ministry is to give away literature.’  Without realizing it, they were reenforcing the idea that people are too poor to pay for what they want; in that way, free literature exacerbates the problem of dependency.  The end result is that eventually people begin to think that Bibles and other Christian literature should be free of charge, not realizing that somewhere, someone is spending a lot of money to produce it.”

4. Be careful about providing scholarships for people to be trained outside of their cultural context. “Sometimes those who have been educated outside of their cultural context find it difficult or impossible to go back and minister among their own people.” (reference Pius Wakatama’s book Independence for the Third World Church: An African’s Perspective on Missionary Work)

5. Avoid building church buildings for people who can build them for themselves.  “Building church buildings is one of the biggest areas of abuse in the dependency syndrome.  Once while in Capetown, South Africa, I was doing a seminar, and a man stood up and said, ‘I know what you are talking about. We went over to Namibia, built a church building and gave it to the local people.  We had taken enough money and people from Capetown to complete the project.  We gave the building to the people assuming they would use it as a church.  After we left, the people divided the building into four parts and four families moved in and used it as a place to live.’  Consider this: If local people had built that buildingi n Namibia with their own hands and with their own resources, is it conceivable that it would have been divided up and used as a place for several families to live?  It is most unlikely.”

“Regarding church buildings, remember this principle: People can have a church building equal to the houses in which they live.  If they live in a house that is made of sun-dried bricks with a grass roof, they can have a church of sun-dried bricks and a grass roof.  If they live in a house with burnt bricks and an iron roof, they can have a church with burnt bricks and an iron roof.  If they live in a house with carpet and air conditioning, they can most likely afford a church like that.  The problem is that many of us as westerners look upon people who live in modest houses and conclude, ‘You shouldn’t have to worship in a church that looks like the house you live in’ – and then the problem of dependency gets a foothold and is perpetuated.”

5. Avoid glittering projects such as satellite dishes, etc.  “Sometime ago I heard about some well-meaning westerners who gave a satellite dish to a bishop in Central Africa.  While the pastors for whom he was responsible were hardly getting any salary, he had something that was very much out of character in his community.”

6. Be careful about food aid projects which may have the potential to affect local prices. “One of the dynamics … is the long time between the identification of the need and the delivery of the food aid”  [referring to food aid corresponding with a farmers yield which can decimate local markets – reference Travesty in Haiti for a good example of this]

Glenn’s Conclusion

“There is no simple answer to the question of how resources should be used in the Christian movement.  The challenge is to keep the love of money which is the root of all evel, from looking like the Good News of the Gospel.  Another challenge is to use resources in a way that does not create or perpetuate a dependency mentality.”


I just read the latest marathon-bombing news this morning.  At least some of it.  Was surprised at the level of some of the response.

Two kids shut down Boston?  And got the attention of the entire nation?  And were killed/apprehended almost live on nationwide TV? 

After the latest suspect was arrested, residents of Watertown, “took to the street en-masse… cheering on emergency workers and chanting ‘USA! USA! USA!’” (source)

It’s like the end to a movie, except real people were killed.  With this much attention, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are copy-cat crimes, though I sincerely hope not.

The LA Times wrote an article, Boston bombings: Social media spirals out of control, with the subtitle, “Web sleuths cast suspicion on innocent people and spread bad tips and paranoia.

From my limited perspective, there was a fair share more paranoia than necessary, considering the threat.  Shutting down the entire city of Boston, population 4+ million, was perhaps out of proportion to having one man running around with a gun (or, as the facts would show, a wounded 19 year old hiding under a boat).

In the greater Boston metropolitan area, all businesses were closed and everyone told to stay inside.  This article described the city as a ghost town, adding, “John Fox, the official historian of the FBI, said that the shutdown of such a major city was virtually unprecedented in recent U.S. history.”

From photos of empty Boston streets, “Cant believe Mass Ave is so dead today On a Friday This is unreal” with the Instagram picture below:

Mass Avenue

I was glad to read one jogger had the nerve to leave his home and face the danger dire to go running along the Charles river on Memorial Drive, in outright rebellion of the standing orders.  Perhaps he was a descendant of an original Boston minuteman.

My friend here, Beth McHoul, reposted the following quote on Facebook: “If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target” -unknown

Beth is a native of Boston, and has run in that marathon more than once herself. She is an amazing woman. Last Monday, her sister was running and only a mile from the finish when the bombs went off. I’m not trying to downplay the awfulness of the attack.

But in light of how things went down the last couple days, I just have to wonder, “Are Americans at large prone to overreaction?” 

For contrast, here’s a local anecdote:

One day last week our Haitian worker Pierre arrived late to work.  He said he ran into a police/gang shootout on the street.  He turned his motorcycle around and waited it out at a nearby gas station.  When the shots died down he drove through the mayhem, continuing on his way to work, dodging several bodies laying on the road.  Pierre noted that business was as usual at the next intersection (Jerald Batay), as if nothing had happened right down the street. 

In light of a story like that, when I read about the drastic measures taken in Boston, I have this distinct impression us American’s are becoming soft

Logistically, it’s even surprising to me Boston could be shut down with so little notice.  Apparently, residents were awoken to reverse-911 telephone calls instructing them to stay indoors.  I didn’t even know they could do that.  Reminds me of Orwell’s 1984.

Something else that reminds me of Orwell’s 1984 (and while I’m on my soapbox) is how smartphones are changing the world. Whether in regards to how an investigation is done of a terrorist attack like the Boston Marathon, or whether it’s the Pope’s inauguration:


I’m thinking there is no going back.  The times we live in just ain’t like the olde days. 

Second-hand Compassion

I’ve heard it said in order to go live in Haiti it’s a nice idea to either be crazy or have a clear calling from the Lord.  And preferably both. 

Not sure if I have either of those, but this past week I’ve had strep throat, which wasn’t near so exciting.  On the mend now, thankfully.  Taking antibiotics.

One afternoon I was out running errands, fighting traffic, and feeling particularly sick (consequently, grumpy).  At one point while walking a short distance was accosted by three different beggars (two young kids and a very old lady), each telling me how hungry they were.  I shrugged them off, being hungry myself, not having eaten all day – for one reason because my throat hurt too bad to swallow! 

As annoying as the beggars were, I got to thinking about them and feeling more compassion… “I’ve only missed two meals today and feel this hungry, wonder how many meals they haven’t had?  I’m sick and grumpy, but I bet they’re often sick too without access to medicine like I have, or to clean water, a comfy bed at night, a refreshing fan, 24hr electricity, the occasional slice of pepperoni pizza, etc.” 

So, after working up my compassion, I went into a nearby store and bought three loaves of bread.  On my way back to my car I handed a loaf to each of them, in turn, as they came up again asking for food.  The kids were happy, but the old lady complained it wasn’t enough. Or perhaps that she couldn’t eat the bread with no teeth, but my Creole wasn’t good enough to know the difference.

I asked a middle-class Haitian who speaks English if beggars often accost her too.  She said, “Yes,” and sometimes she gives them something.  But oftentimes, she continued, people don’t give beggars anything because if one stops to talk to the “awousa’s,” they might find their money and/or important documents gone afterwards. I assumed she was referring to the risk of being pickpocketed. But no, she explained, stuff could be stolen without them even touching you! through voodoo.  I was skeptical, but she assured me this was the truth.   

In some ways voodoo is below the surface; in other ways it is right out in the open.  I took the following picture of bizarre-looking voodoo doll trinkets I saw for sale one day:


While I can’t say I’ve had any of my things disappear through voodoo spells per se, Haiti does seem hard on stuff, in general.  For example, since coming here my trusty Gerber pocketknife has fallen apart, my cell phone cracked open, my expensive pocket flashlight broke, my DeWalt cordless drill locked up (what, DeWalt?!), both pairs of sandals I brought from the States disintegrated (sad days), my shorts now have holes in them and are stained, and my laptop keeps giving me the blue screen of death… heck, even my nose-hair trimmer broke.  Oh well, who needs a nose-hair trimmer anyways? I haven’t cut the hair on top my head in about six months.

Flip-flops are essential though, so after mine bit the dust I went to a local outdoor market to look for a new pair.  Couldn’t find ones the correct size that I liked, but did buy a pair, which is mostly what I’m wearing these days.  They were six dollars.  Though a little small, I feel more like a local wearing shoes that don’t fit.

 My new flip-flops

At that same market I also bought a new hat because I’d lost mine.  Was excited to find a nice, fashionable, brand new baseball cap for only three dollars.  But when I got home realized the bill was sewn on crooked.  I’m guessing it was a factory reject, and therefore made its way to Haiti as a charitable donation.  A charitable donation for me to find scrounging around in a boxfull of caps in an outdoor market. I still wear it frequently; it keeps the sun off.

Not sure why we sometimes think it’s OK to send rejects as donation items.  Recently, a guest showed me a purse she wanted to donate and asked if I knew someone whom we could give it to? perhaps one of our Haitian staff?  Problem was, one side of the purse had an obvious hole with the inner stuffing coming out.  I was like, “Well, I don’t know…”  Noticing my hesitation, she said, “Well, that’s OK, I’ll find someone to give it to before I leave.”  In my head I was thinking, “Is that the type of gift you would want for yourself?”

On the other hand, I can’t be too harsh, I just admitted to giving out loaves of baguette bread to beggars, and that’s not the type of meal I normally eat.  Though the loaves did look yummy.  I’ve always enjoyed French bread, as this picture of a younger me shows (taken in France, ironically):

French bread

While I’m on the topic of food, Melissa and our Haitian staff arguably make the best pizza on earth.  About once every couple weeks we’re treated to their crackerjack culinary arts.  It’s always a highlight, anticipated many days in advance. 

These pictures from last Tuesday:

Creating the worlds best pizzaFinished Product

Ok, so this post turned out eclectically random.  But that’s ok, I just felt like writing.

More Driving Stories

Filling stations in Port-au Prince have been out of gasoline for five days.  That’s 3 million people with no gasoline. 

They say the reason is because an oil tanker from Venezuela is two weeks late.  Probably Venezuela forgot to send out the boats after Hugo Chavez died. 

The prediction is we’ll have more by Sunday. 

In the meantime, traffic is thinning out on the roads.  Diesel is still available, so most vehicles out running now are diesel.   

Our cars were out by like Wednesday.  For some reason we always run them on quarter tank anyways so it didn’t take long.  So much for preparedness.  Except then, in a back corner somewhere, a few extra gallons were found yesterday, so we dumped them in our Montero.  Now we’re back in business! 

Except today Ryan and I got stuck at the hardware store because the Montero wouldn’t start.  The starter is bad.  We just took the starter out last week and brought it to a starter repairman.  He repaired it, but now it’s broke again.  I’m not thinking he did a very good job.

John and Pierre came and towed us home.  That was exciting, getting towed halfway across Port-au Prince.  I was driving the Montero getting towed (with no power steering or power brakes) and Pierre (red hat and shirt below) drove the pickup truck pulling us.  Sometimes Pierre drove faster than comfortable, all while dodging traffic and potholes.  At one point he drove off the road to avoid some obstacle… without slowing down! 

Ryan was with me and couldn’t watch.  He kept trying to occupy himself looking down on his phone.  He did take the following pictures though:  

Towed Vehicle

Ryan and I are always getting into adventures (and he takes the pictures, thanks Ryan!).  In the photo below, I’m arguing with a HNP (Haitian National Police) over a tail light that was burnt out.  He wanted me to pay “a little something” in exchange for not getting a ticket.  I refused, but also didn’t want a ticket either – it’s a big pain and plus they take away your drivers license.  He didn’t want to write a ticket, just receive a bribe.   We both stalled about five minutes.

It’s hard knowing just what to do in these situations.  I wish the police would be decisive and either give me a ticket or give me a warning.  Instead, they stand around hemming and hawing, trying to get cash. 

One ploy is to pretend to not know Creole.  Unfortunately, I do know some, and when the policeman pictured below asked me for “de mil gourde,” I about went through the roof.  That’s $50 US and there was no way I was handing $50 to a highway robber.

Eventually I won and he let me go with only a warning.

Refusing a Bribe

To prevent this type of thing from happening again, I took it upon myself to fix all the lights on the 4runner.  Front hazard light, back tail light, and one of the headlights were all burnt out.  Now everything works. 

Naturally, a good number of cars in Haiti are missing lights and the police do nothing about them.  But they do enjoy picking on “blans” since they can frequently obtain bribe money out of ‘em.

Well, I’m still having fun driving around the Caribbean.  Finally got my picture taken behind the wheel:

Driving Canter

“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see.”

– John Burroughs