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The Current State of the Discipleship and Bakery Programs (from my perspective)

May 25th, 2014

A you may (or may not know) I am working within Heartline’s bakery/discipleship program.  The first discipleship class finished on May 10th.  We had a big graduation event and the guys were pretty excited!

Looking back at how the first class went, we were a bit frustrated with how much time the guys spent working in the bakery.  Running a full-fledge bakery took much more time and effort than I think anyone anticipated.  Not to mention since we were starting it from the ground up no-one really knew what we were doing!

Now that the first program is finished, we have hired a number of the young men from that first program to come work in the bakery.  They accepted, and now the bakery is running autonomously and providing jobs for 9 people. 

Currently we are in the process of gearing up for our second discipleship class, which I am personally pretty excited about!  We will have a smaller number of guys (just 6, versus 10 in the first program) and they will spend most their time in spiritual formation activities.  Two hours each morning they will spend working (sometimes in the bakery, sometimes other work like cooking, yard work, or whatever needs to be done).

In the first program we also offered 3 months of English classes and helped each guy obtain his Driver’s License.  For this next program, we have decided to cut both these out and keep the “main thing the main thing.”  The title of the program is, “Discipleship,” and that’s what we want to focus on.

Nevertheless, I could see the benefit of a follow-up program that focuses on vocational training following the successful completion of the first 6-month discipleship program.  Helping provide means for men to find employment is vitally important here, where so many guys sit around for lack of opportunity to work.

Here is a picture of the six guys selected for the next program:

Group Shot

Please be in prayer as we prepare the logistics for getting everything ready for these guys to start the 6-month program.

Our goal is to provide space for God to work in the lives of these men.  They will have daily times of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, and honest work.  We hope they will be challenged to grow in their walk with the Lord, to learn to hear his voice better, and to have their faith strengthened. 

Chikungunya & Air Conditioning

May 16th, 2014

A new virus has swung into town.  It is spread by mosquitoes, so you have to get bit to contract it. (full story on Fox)

People who come down with chikungunya get a fever, rash, terrible body aches, etc. for about a week, though the symptoms can linger for months and in some cases even years.  Rarely is it fatal, though I heard of a child dying of it a few days ago.

Chikungunya made news in Haiti last Tuesday (May 6th) when the health department said there were 14 confirmed cases.  Now they are saying there are 1,529 confirmed cases, but in all likely-hood I suspect many tens of thousands here in the capital have it.

I base that on anecdotal evidence that every ministry I know here across town has employees/staff down with it.  Here at the bakery, at least two of my guys have gotten it already. 

I’ve never seen an epidemic spread like this first-hand.  It reminds me of the plagues I’ve read about back in England hundreds of years ago, where so many people would suddenly come down sick when a new virus swept through the area.  The Black Death, they called it.

I’ve been trying to wear more Off and do a better job at killing ‘dem mosquitoes.

Right now is rainy season so they are out.  I purchased an electric mosquito zapper that looks like a tennis racquet.  It works superbly, blasting them out of the air when they fly through the mesh screen.

However, the zapper has added a bit of stress to my life.  Now whenever I see a mosquito in my apartment, I quick run to get the zapper and hunt it down.  Sometimes they hide so I can’t find them, which is frustrating because then I know there’s a live mosquito somewhere waiting to pounce. 

I think the mosquitoes around here have learned that whenever I have the zapper in my hands it’s time for them to hide.

So it’s been getting hotter here, as we approach the summer months.

I’ve been thinking more about air conditioning.  My apartment is only 260 square feet, so maybe it wouldn’t be too hard to cool?

Power is the problem.  We don’t have much power here.  Recently are city power has only been on about 3-4 hours in a 24 hour period (usually during the night). 

I have 4 deep cycle batteries that store current when power comes on at night.  I also have 220 watts of solar panels on the roof to charge my batteries during the day.  Additionally, there is an 11k generator we sometimes run, but usually when it’s running it’s not hooked up to my place, but charging somewhere else on the compound.

It’s difficult to even keep my refrigerator cold, much less run an air conditioner.

But I’ve been thinking…. What if I could air condition just the area of my bed?  What if I put a Styrofoam roof and Styrofoam walls around my bed, and hooked a window unit into it?  That way I could use a super tiny window unit.

My other idea is to buy an aftermarket automotive air conditioner system and hook the compressor up by belt to a wind turbine mounted on the roof.

I’ll keep you posted.

More Bank Fun

May 16th, 2014

At one point I was having a hard time finding change, and I went to the bank to exchange large bills for small ones.  I wrote a post about that.

Now I’ve been having the reverse problem: I have too much change and small bills and want to change them for large bills.  “This should be a piece of cake,” I thought.  “The banks are in a dearth of small bills, so this will be a boon for them.”

Wrong.

After waiting in line on my first visit, I made it to the counter.  I explained what I needed and began pulling out piles of small bills and putting them on the counter.  The clerk looked at me in horror and was saying, “No, no, no, we can’t change those here.”  What?  He then went and got a manager who also looked quite put out and re-iterated that they couldn’t change my small bills for large ones. 

“Why not?” 

“Because we don’t have any large bills at the bank.”  Yeah right.

“So where can I get this done in Haiti?  Where can I change my small bills for large ones?  What can I do?”

“The only thing we can do is let you deposit all that in your account.”

“Ok.  Let’s do that.”

“What’s your account number?”

“I don’t know, but here is my Driver’s License, just look me up on your computer.”

“We can’t do that on our computer, come back another day when you have your account number.

With that I was unceremoniously given the boot.

Bank Visit 2:

Armed with my account number, I went to the bank again.  There was the same resistance to help, and they showed much angst that they were going to have to count all these small bills, but after much discussion and persuasion they agreed to do it.  About twenty minutes later, the deposit had been put into my account. 

With a sigh of relief, the bank clerk said, “Fini!” as she handed me deposit slip.

“Not quite.  I still have one more transaction I would like to do today.”

“What?”

“I would like to do a withdrawal now, for the exact amount I just deposited.”

More looks of horror.  “No! You can’t do that!”  Once again the bank manager was summoned and she seconded the clerk, “It is against bank policy to do a withdrawal and a deposit on the same day.” 

I told them I didn’t need to wait for this deposit to clear, because I already had that much money in my account already.  They didn’t budge.  “Come back another day if you want to get money out.”

Visit 3:

After waiting in line about an hour, I was once again in front of a bank teller.  I had a withdrawal slip in my hand which had been dutifully filled out, including my bank account number.

“We’re sorry, you can’t pull money from your account with only a withdrawal slip, you must write a check to yourself.  That’s the only way to get money from your account.”

I was incredulous.  The only way to get money from my account was to write a check to myself?? 

“Where are your checks?”

Luckily I had thought to bring them, they were in my pocket.  Before coming to the bank I had grabbed them from my backpack.  Now, I pulled them out of my pocket and opened the checkbook.  To my dismay, only the complimentary transaction slips were in there, not any checks!  The check had fallen out in my backpack, which was back at home.

“If you don’t have checks we can’t give you money.”

“Is there anything you can do?”

“Nothing,” she said curtly as she rang the little bell for the next person behind me to come to the window.

A bit depressed, I left the bank for the third time.  That was today.  We shall see if a fourth visit will finally yield what I initially wanted, “To simply change some small bills for large ones.”

I had about 1,000 small bills.  Thank about going into a US bank and having a 1,000 ones and asking for ten hundreds?  It wouldn’t be a big deal. 

Oftentimes there are frustrating situations here and it is important to keep things in perspective.  This isn’t a life and death scenario.  Everything will work out ok in the end.

My Brush With Hatian Healthcare

April 8th, 2014

We were getting ready to start devotions when one of the young guys came in holding his hand and obviously in pain.  I asked what the problem was and he said his little finger had got stuck in the door of a van and had been “torn off.”  I was dubious it had been “torn off” because I could see there was a finger-like shape underneath the bandage on his little finger.  I went ahead and asked him to take the bloody wrappings off so I could look at it and clean it.

Turns out the end of his little finger was torn off on one side, but still connected on the other side.  I figured the bone was ok, though it was hard to tell.  I rinsed it out, applied some antibiotic ointment, then bandaged it tight with gauze and tape and told him it would heal on it’s own, just change the bandage daily.  He said he was going to go lay down.  He was in a lot of pain.  There were some tears shed (by him).

About an hour later he came back and the thick bandage I had tightly put on earlier was totally soaked through and blood was dripping off his hand on the floor. 

I applied another bandage over the old one, this time even tighter.  I told him we should probably have a doctor look at it.  He agreed.  I went to get my stuff ready, and when I met him by my motorcycle about 10 minutes later, the new bandage was already soaked through with blood too and dripping.  So I went and got him a rag and told him to press it on the wound while I drove him to a hospital.

Before leaving our property I asked where I could find the nearest hospital.  We live by Croix-des Bouqets, so I figured that would be where I should go.  One of the other leaders confirmed there was a hospital by the Artisan Market in Croix-des Bouqets.  I asked, “Is the hospital before the Artisan market, or after?”  “Oh, it’s IN the artisan market.”  I was skeptical, having visited that market a number of times and never seen a hospital therein. 

When we arrived at the Artisan market I started asking around.  I was directed down a side street.  Then another side street.  Then through a labyrinth of neighborhoods.  Finally we arrived at a two-story hospital building.  It didn’t look open.  I asked stander-bys when the hospital would open.  Not today, they said, because this hospital has been closed a long time.  They directed us to a St. John’s Hospital back in town.

After navigating through Croix-des Bouqets and asking more directions, we eventually found St. Johns.  It was a beehive of activity.  Long lines were everywhere.  I walked in with Kelson in tow and was told to go to the pharmacy window.  There we cut to the front of the line, seeing as we had an urgent, bloody problem.  The lady behind the bars peered out and asked Kelson to take off his bandage so she could see it.  He started by removing the rag.  That was all she needed to change her mind and say they couldn’t help us at this hospital, we needed to somewhere else.  Where?  She said try St. Damien’s in the nearby town of Tabarre.  I was annoyed, but we left.

15 minutes later we arrived at St. Damien’s.  We were directed to the emergency entrance.  At the emergency entrance we were finally ushered into an area that had a sign saying “Urgent.”  This seemed promising, there were people milling about in pain, so I figured that was a good sign we were close to help.  In the emergency room where were sheets hanging up partitioning off beds.  A lady came over and began talking with us and looking at Kelson’s hand, but not removing the bandages.  About then I got a phone call asking me if I knew any tricks to starting my pickup truck because they were having a hard time getting it going.  After I finished troubleshooting those issues, I got off the phone just in time for the nurse to usher Kelson and I out.

“What did I miss?  Why are we leaving?”  I was annoyed.  Kelson (who speaks only a little English) told me they couldn’t help us here today and he wasn’t sure why, something about they didn’t have surgeons.  I was thinking, “We don’t need a surgeon, we just need a few stitches and a band-aid, he just closed a car door on his finger.”

In any extent, we were directed to yet another hospital, St. Luc.  Unfortunately, from there we were directed to Doctors Without Borders.  You might think that Doctors Without Borders would be located somewhere on a main street, but that wouldn’t be true.  It’s hidden in some back neighborhoods where you have to go through flooded streets to reach. 

By this point I was a little annoyed.  It’s wonderful Haiti has so many hospitals, but what’s the point if they can’t fix anything? Through this entire search I had poor Kelson on the back of my motorcycle in pain with a hand covered in soppy bandages holding a rag over it which was now also soaked with blood. 

At Medicen Sans Frontiers, we were met with a less than friendly entry man.  I couldn’t figure out where to go and he wasn’t helpful, so finally I raised my voice at him and asked where we were supposed to go to check-in.  He absently pointed towards a building.  That building turned out to have an emergency room, and unbelievably Kelson was given a bed.  A pleasant nurse came in, took off his bandages, cleaned up the finger and applied new gauze.  I noticed that almost immediately the new thick gauze was already permeated with blood again.

She told us to go get a number and wait in the waiting room.  We went to get a number, but they were out of numbers.  The numbers went to 100.  We told them they didn’t have any more numbers, so they said just go wait in the waiting room without a number.  I looked in the waiting room and it was quite the menagerie of suffering people on crutches, etc.

I had other errands to do, like visit the bank, so I left.  The first bank I went to had a line of about seventy-five people.  The line was stretching outside.  All I needed to do was deposit a check, and I knew they had an expedited line inside for that, so I knocked on the door and when the guard opened it I asked if I could please go the expedited line because I just had one little thing to do.  He told me to stand back and then…. closed the door on me.  So much for that.  I left the bank and drove to another branch.

At the other bank branch the line was even longer, perhaps 100 people.  So I gave up and went back to the bakery to eat lunch.  After a few hours, I headed back to the Doctors Without Borders hospital to see how Kelson was getting along. 

Upon reaching the hospital, I was directed back to an “Observation” room.  Many patients were in that room on gurneys lined up along the walls.  I found Kelson in a gurney wearing a hosptital gown.  His finger had a temporary cast on it.  He told me they were going to operate on it in a few hours… I was thinking, “Operate!  That seems a little excessive.” 

Sometimes here in Haiti it’s either overboard or underboard.  The first hospitals wouldn’t even look at him, which seemed underboard, especially considering he was bleeding in pain when we arrived and they are a hospital so I would think they could at least do first-aid. Now this hospital wanted to put him under the knife, which seemed a little overboard for having just closed a car door on a finger.  I was thinking, “How about a few stitches?”

That evening Kelson called me to say they hadn’t yet operated so he was spending the night.  But they didn’t offer food so he was hungry.

The next morning he called and said they had done some work on his finger during the night, about 1am.  Apparently they stitched it up and put a finger cast on it.  He said he was ready to leave.

I went to pick him up.  After an argument with the guard to let me into the hospital, I finally located Kelson.  He was still in the back observation room.  He didn’t look ready to go, especially as he still had an IV in his arm.  I was told they were thinking of keeping him there a few more days.  After waiting awhile I was told they changed their minds and were releasing him now.

Then I was called back to talk with a doctor.  He said the tip of Kelson’s little finger had broken off.  He showed me the x-ray on his computer.  In order to re-attach it they would need to put a pin in the two bones, he explained.  I couldn’t believe there was actually a computer in the hospital.  He said it would be a few days before they could get Kelson in for the surgery, and they couldn’t keep him at the hospital because there wasn’t enough room.  No problems, I said, and asked how much this operation was going to cost.  The answer was about $20 US.  That seemed inexpensive.  Especially since they hadn’t charged anything for the work they’d done already: cleaning, x-ray, and overnight hospital stay.  Yah for Doctors Without Borders!  Too bad the Haitian hospitals couldn’t be a little more on the ball too.

So that’s the saga for now.  I’m getting an education in Haitian healthcare, if nothing else. 

Finger x-ray

What is Rest? Harder than you’d think!

April 6th, 2014

Rest.  I’m thinking about it today.  Rest is one of the 10 commandments, and is given in the Bible more than once:

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.” Exodus 34:21

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20)

What is rest?  Have you ever tried resting?  I’m trying today.  It’s hard work, really.

Yes, today I have self-decreed a day off.  Lately I’ve been feeling exhausted.  Not just tired exhausted, but weary exhausted.  So today I didn’t even go to church, opting to rest instead.  I find church un-restful.  Church makes me tired.  In fact, sometimes it makes me so tired I go to sleep during the sermon.  Not to mention, driving to church is against the Jewish rabbinical prohibition of not travelling further than 1/2 a mile on the Sabbath.  Nevermind Sunday isn’t technically the Sabbath, and nevermind the rabbinical rules aren’t in the Bible so I don’t go by them.

When I lived in Israel I was exposed to the Jewish version of the Sabbath.  It starts sunset on Friday and lasts until sunset on Saturday.  The country of Israel grinds to a halt during this time, even today in the 21st century.  Public transportation stops and many stores close.  While the country is mostly secularized, there is still a certain amount of oddities like elevators which automatically open at each floor without the need for pushing the buttons (which would be work).

I remember there was something nostalgic in the greeting exchanged during this time of week.  “Shabbat Shalom,” Israelis would all say to each other, which means “Sabbath Peace.”  Just now looking it up I discovered the word Sabbath itself comes from the Hebrew verb shabat that means, “to cease.”  The idea is we are supposed to “cease” for one day a week.  It has been pointed out that God didn’t set the precedent of “resting” so much as he did of “ceasing,” because of course God doesn’t need to rest.  But… we need to rest.

Like most things in life that appear easy until one tries to do it themselves, resting is one of them.  If I’m restricting myself from work for a day, the big question becomes, “What is work?”  The Jews have struggled with this question since Moses gave the 10 Commandments, and have made up many a rule to define it.  They went overboard, and Jesus on more than one occasion called out their hypocrisy on the matter.  “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Jesus asked rhetorically.  I killed a bunch of ants today, if that counts for anything.  I even sprayed ant poison around my bathroom, which was a double wammy as it was both work and destroying lives (ant lives).

I believe the heart of the matter was revealed when Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)  If the Sabbath was made for man then it wasn’t made for God or anyone else.  The sabbath wasn’t meant to be a burden, it was a gift.  It is given as obligatory common sense for humans.  God is our creator and he wired us up to work better with a day off each week.  Apparently he thought a little downtime was beneficial.

In America we have the weekend of two days off.  Having lived in several cultures where the weekend is only one day off (ahem, here in Haiti) it makes me appreciate the two day weekend.  Yesterday was Saturday, but it was a work day for me.  I was in the bakery at 6:30am, worked on and off throughout the day, and was wrapping things up in the bakery after 8pm. 

So today on my day off, I did do some laundry, which was work, but not too taxing because I just put it in the washing machine… and then hung it up on the line…  Then I’ve written two blog posts which might be work, but hard to say because I find that therapeutic.  I made some chocolate pudding, which was a little work, but at least I got to eat the pudding.  I made supper which involved slicing an onion and opening a can of spam with my knife.  I also watched a movie on my laptop: The Man From Snowy River which wasn’t work, but wasn’t very spiritual either. 

I think the idea of the Sabbath is to sit still and relax.  Decompress.  Think about life.  My problem is I could get used to taking a Sabbath every day.  I have to remember the other half of the commandment, “On six days you shall work.” 

Life is too short to rush through pell mell.  I am trying to live by the Bible, and the Bible clearly tells me to be lazy for one day a week.  Ok, time to publish this post so I can take another nap… zzz…. :-)