Haiti Blog

Brent & Letitia Jefkins

Life After Haiti – And a Little Bit About Risk…

The last time we wrote on this blog was back in May when we were saying goodbye to Haiti. A lot has happened since then. We took a couple of months off in the summer and then did a 5 month School of Ministry in Toronto, which included 3 weeks in Iceland where we preached and led worship.

When coming back from Haiti it was very surreal, but not only coming back to Barrie, but finding out how much everyone else’s lives had changed. People had moved, got married, had kids, bought houses and in a lot of ways we were coming back to less than what we started with. Our things had been in boxes for years, we had no jobs, our friends were scattered all over. It was weird. Not to mention that we had been through a lot in Haiti emotionally, physically and spiritually.

We decided to go to school and be older than almost all of the students and married, in Toronto (I really didn’t want to be in Toronto). This was a risk but we really felt led by God to do this (it wasn’t cheap either, especially for returning missionaries who hadn’t had real jobs in 3 years). The truth is that this school has changed us. I would argue that it changed me and matured me even more than working in Haiti did.

I wanted to write about the joy of living in risk.

We have not lived a normal life in the last few years.

We started a normal life. Went to college. Got married. Got an apartment.

Then we decided that a life at it’s fullness is a life of obedience and risk. We quit our jobs, moved to Haiti and loved it. We came back, chose not to go back into life’s dragging stream of work and money right away and rested and enjoyed simply being together and with friends.

Then school was just another step in high risk – high reward. God has directed our journey and it has been so much better than anything else. We are so thankful for each experience God has given us. We have matured so much, grown so much, seen so much, given so much.

And we are going to continue doing it!

Our next step is that we are moving back to Barrie on Friday. We are going to be helping plant a church with an amazing couple and Catch the Fire. Letitia is going back to finish her degree. And we are going to be looking for jobs (praying to find these quickly). It is scary because though it is old – going back to Barrie – it feels unknown and weird.

This is our plan for this season. We are excited about the unknown of our future. We are excited that we don’t have to plan our entire life out. We just need to listen to God and be obedient when He calls. This can feel risky. But God never fails and I choose to trust in Him rather than myself, any comfortable plans, or anyone else for that matter.

One thing I definitely learnt during school and in Haiti is that living in fear will snuff out your dreams. Go big and be risky or live small.

– Brent

Oh… and here are a few pics of our time in Iceland. Leading worship, preaching, sight seeing.

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Life in 3 Suitcases

I don’t know why, or if it means there is something inherently wrong with me, but I find getting rid of the majority of my things and packing my life into a few suitcases invigorating.

I love packing. Packing for vacations. Packing to move (…to another country. Not packing to move to another house in the same country, because you don’t end up getting rid of that much stuff, you just pack it all into so many boxes and then have to lug your stuff around from place to place. In fact, that’s the opposite of what I like doing.)

It’s kind of a challenging to learn to live with only a few necessities. I like the challenge.

Brent and I like to call ourselves minimalists, but I don’t think we are naturally. We know we don’t need a lot of things to live well, and our chosen lifestyle allows us to live within the boundaries of minimalism because every few years we’re forced to purge our stuff. But I think naturally we want to horde because we think it makes our life easier.

Anyways, this isn’t a post about why everyone should get rid of their stuff, because frankly Brent and I end up benefiting from all your stuff because we don’t have any 😉

I just wanted you to have a glimpse into one aspect of what the next week will be like for us. (Yes that’s right, I said WEEK!!) We’ve already gotten rid of so much stuff, and we still have so much left to give away. And I’m not sure if we’ll manage to fit everything we want to bring to Canada into 3 suitcases and 2 carry-ons. But it’s fun for me to try!

Well if we don’t write again before we leave, see those of you who live in the wonderful country of Canada in 7 days. (Well at least we could see you in 7 days, but probably not realistically!)

Brent at our last staff beach day :(

Brent at our last staff beach day 😦

-Letitia

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One Month: A post about how weird we will be when we return from Haiti!

I’m not sure I really want to say this ‘out loud’, but just in case you didn’t do the math from our last post I’ll do it for you quickly…

…we have a month left in Haiti.

I also managed to outdo myself and go even longer than 2 months without writing a post for you, my faithful readers. I swear to you there is some sort of time vortex going on here, that sucks time away faster than usual. I was actually surprised when I saw that it had been so long since our last post. I could have sworn it had only been a month. It’s a big mystery to me!

If you have ever anticipated anything in your life, which I’m going to assume you have, you know that the one month and one week countdowns are the worst and best (depending on if the thing anticipated is good or bad). After a month, it changes to weeks. “Only 4 weeks….3 weeks…2 weeks…” We can really grasp how fast a week goes. And after one week, it goes to counting days. And man…they go by fast!

We’re finally at the part where leaving has become an imminent reality. There is no pretending we have all the time in the world.

So in the spirit of accepting the undeniable fact that: yes it’s true, we are going back to Canada…I want to give you a heads up. We want you to know what these transitions look like for people returning from living and working in another country (especially an under developed country). And maybe it’ll help you to understand why we’re probably acting weird. 

Currently I have 4 equal but conflicting feeling about this transition:

1) I don’t want to leave Haiti.

2) I can’t wait to get out of Haiti.

3) I don’t want to go back to Canada.

4) I’m excited to go back to Canada.

You may only see 2 conflicting ideas, because wanting to leave Haiti, and wanting to go to Canada seem like the same thing…but they are very different. They each have their own list of reasons.

So if you can start by understanding that we’re making this transition with many conflicting and strong feelings, than that’ll be a good base! Now I’m just going to list some things that come to my head about what getting back to Canada will be like for us.

We’re not going to be eager to jump into anything 100% once we get back…because we’ll feel confused; perhaps we’ll seem a little distant.

We’ll say common English phrases wrong because we haven’t used them in awhile.

And we’ll word things strangely because sometimes we’ll translate a word/phrase we’re used to using in Creole into English…but it’s not normally how someone would say it in English.

For example:

English: I’ll be right back.

Creole: I’m coming. (literally translated from Creole)

We won’t always know how to respond to simple questions about our time in Haiti and about being back in Canada, like “How was Haiti?”, or “Are you happy to be back?”, because it’s hard to sum up complicated emotions and experiences in one word. Imagine if we asked you to sum up your last 2 1/2 years in Canada…for us it wasn’t just some trip, it was our life, and is still part of our life.

We also will feel conflicted when people refer to Canada as “home.” We understand that people assume that because we grew up in Canada that it means it is home for us, but we’ve had to learn to adapt to life in Haiti, and have inevitably taken on some cultural aspects that we now feel might be with us forever. And for our first while (who knows how long that will really be) Canada will feel less like home than Haiti because we’ve gotten so used to being here.

We’ll come back feeling like different people (in some ways), but people will expect us (not consciously) to be the same people who left. We will probably feel conflicted and confused about who we are now, and how do we live in this ‘old’ setting as ‘new’ people. Just give us a little time and understanding as we figure it out.

We might be randomly emotional. Pretty much for all the reasons I just said. But the emotions will be different for each of us. I’ll be honest: I’ll probably cry a lot and you may be completely baffled as to why I’m crying! Brent probably won’t cry (at least not as frequently as me if he does), but he’ll have his own of dealing with everything he is processing!

I have gone through this process before, when I moved back from living in the Dominican Republic, so I can anticipate some of my own reactions. But as you know every experience is different, so who really knows!!

Yet we cannot forget about the fact that God is faithful. He has been with us through our entire time in Haiti, and we know that we need to trust him through this phase too!

-Letitia

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101 Days

I am sorry, dear readers, for not writing a new blog post in over 2 months.

I did write a newsletter in January, which was full of exciting things we’ve been up to. You can read that here: Jan2014update

Otherwise, you might be wondering what’s going on with us.

What’s going on in our hearts? What have we been processing?

Honestly I’m not even sure I know.

As of today, we have 101 days left in Haiti! We’re thinking a lot about leaving- the good and the bad. But I’m trying not to focus on that. I’m trying not to let “leaving” affect how I interact with people around me…I’m trying not to detach earlier than 101 days from now.

So leaving Haiti is only a small part of what I’ve been thinking about.

Forgiveness has been a big theme in my life lately. I’ve been seeing how hard it is for many of our teens to forgive those who offend and hurt them. They tell me they’d rather hold on to it forever and lose a friend. And no matter how much I tell them it’s not worth it, that grace is better, I don’t think I’ve convinced anyone yet!

I can understand where they’re coming from…because over the last few years I’ve been working on the voice in my head that says, ‘Don’t forgive! You’ll just get hurt again.’ I feel like the only authority I have to tell these teens to forgive is because God has told me to forgive…I’m just passing on the message.

If there is anything I want to pass on…it’s the message of reconciliation. Us to God. Us to others. If there is anything Haiti needs…it’s to learn the importance of reconciliation.

A part of this whole forgiveness thing…is asking others for forgiveness when you hurt them.

I had a perfect opportunity to demonstrate this to one of our teens when I said something seemingly innocent, but as it turns out, very offensive, to a Haitian. I don’t want to give you all the gory details, but I made sure I went to this boy and apologized. I explained that my intentions were not to harm him, but that I now understood that what I said was hurtful and assured him I wouldn’t ever say that again.

You might think, ‘A silly cultural misunderstanding would be easier to forgive than an intentional jab.’ And maybe easier is right, but it still took 3 days for him to talk to me again…and I wasn’t even sure he would because of this great difficulty with forgiving.

But I’m okay with feeling and looking like a big idiot for a few days if that means I have a chance to show our teens how to ask for forgiveness. I’ll be the sacrificial penguin.

Leaving.

Forgiveness.

I’m pretty sure that’s just scratching the surface. But there you have it! And just because I’m nice, here are a few cute pictures of us and our friends a few weeks ago at the movies!

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Bacteria in a Petri Dish…2 Years Later

11/11/11

The day we arrived in Haiti! A day that’s not hard to remember!

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We were so fresh!

We moved to Haiti without ever visiting, without knowing the language…with a two year contract!

We had spent so much energy, experienced many frustrations and joys in the almost 2 years it took to prepare for Haiti, that we were beyond excited the day we laid eyes on the new country we would be living in!

When the honeymoon phase of living in a new, exotic country was over, reality struck! Learning a new language is one thing, but being able to communicate proficiently is another thing…it’s not just fun, it’s hard work…it’s exhausting.

Building relationships with 120+ new people (children, teens and adults) while speaking this foreign language is challenging, and the number of funny and frustrating miscommunications are countless!

Now we’re not so fresh! (Unfortunately in some ways, quite literally!)

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I’m not sure if the average eye can see the difference. Maybe only we can. But the difference to us is enormous. The things we’ve experienced and learned in just 2 years I feel has grown us by 5 years (maybe 10 in some areas)!

Don’t get me wrong, I know that 2 years is a drop in the bucket when working overseas, and building relationships. Add a zero on the end of that and I think we could call ourselves ‘veterans’.

But I can’t begin to tell you how different we feel. How differently we think. How differently we see the world.

I think intense situations (if you allow them) speed up your growth process like bacteria in a petri dish.

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We grew a lot in the 2 years it took for us to come to Haiti…which we felt put us in a good place to go. But now, comparing the growth rate seems silly. It’s not even comparable! Both were obviously important and necessary!

So I guess upon reflecting on 2 years of living in Haiti…I realize we’re like bacteria 😉

But surely the good kind!

Here’s to 11/11/13! Thanks for staying on the journey with us!

-Letitia

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Home: Part 2

I’m starting a 2 part blog post series with Part 2 about our time home (Canada) and our return home (Haiti)!

Brent will follow with Part 1…backwards, I know, but being backwards is sometimes way more fun!

We had just gotten off the bus in Cap-Haitian after a long day of travel from the Dominican Republic, it was hot and muggy, but we were so happy to be done with all the travelling. We got into our Kids Alive driver and friend’s car after loading in all our suitcases, which included 3 extra hockey bags filled with school uniforms we were transporting from our site in the DR. As we began to drive down the road away from the bus station, what others may have considered chaos with cars weaving in and out of everywhere, Brent and I were both overcome with the feeling of being home!

We were back in a place that makes sense to us.

Its smells and sounds familiar.

We’re one and a half months short of living in Haiti for 2 years. After 2 years, I wouldn’t even come close to saying we’ve adapted to or understand “the ways of the people”, but we’re maybe more used to certain things in Haiti than we are in Canada.

Before we left for Canada in August we were feeling a little exhausted. Everything everyone did irritated us, and we weren’t willing to look at things from another perspective. We just felt like: “GET US BACK TO CANADA NOW!” We had a busy but good time home, but we weren’t sure if we felt ready to come back to Haiti. But the second we stepped off the bus, we knew we were ready! It was great being home, but it was great to be home!

paradox |ˈparəˌdäks|noun: a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.

It might be hard to understand if you’ve only ever lived in one place, or it may be pretty understandable, it depends on the person I guess. Let me tell you though, when you are the one living it, it feels awkward.

We are from one place, but move to another and don’t belong. We get by, build relationships, enjoy life with others and with God, but we don’t quite fit in. Then we go back to where we are from, but carry with us some new ways: new ways of communicating, beliefs and traditions which aren’t from where we are from. We can learn to feel at home anywhere, but we also don’t feel at home anywhere! It doesn’t feel right, but I think it is.

I think this might be what Paul and Timothy are getting at in Philippians 3:19-21 when they talk about our citizenship being in heaven. We’re in this world, but were not from this world. You get by, but you don’t fit in 100%. It also makes me think that a citizen of heaven probably exhibits characteristics from lots of different cultures!

If you’re a Christian, you probably shouldn’t feel too comfortable where you are, because you could lose your awareness of your true identity. There probably should be a level of tension in your life. After all we are from a backwards Kingdom. The first go last and the last go first. There is victory in love not in war. If you want to save your life you have to give it up.

I think we’re going to have to embrace being weird…all of us! Since it’s not just us who are backwards, but anyone who pursues Jesus will be a little backwards too!

-Letitia

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Thoughts on Life, Change and a Good Friend.

Sometimes I wish I could freeze moments of my life so that everything stays the same. When the perfect people are in the perfect place, and you dread the day it has to change.

Today it changed for me.

Now, if you froze your life so that it would stay perfect…there would be no change. And despite how the majority of us feel about change- especially while it’s happening- in the end we know that change is good.

Beautiful, even!

Something you thought was perfect can become more perfect in time. And you just continue to add to your life more people and moments you can cherish.

It’s tricky being human…because inside we can feel eternity. We know that one relationship, even a “temporary” one, feels longer than the time frame our life sets it in. But we live in a world that has endings.

How do our hearts compute? We know that something is more enduring, but we see it end.

You hear people say “endings aren’t ending but new beginnings”. Ya, I believe it…but they are still also endings…and endings hurt. I think you have to properly grieve an end before you can graciously accept a new beginning.

But as I’m seeing a lot of “endings” and “beginnings,” and change is just apart of the life we have chosen, I’m beginning to see them differently.

You see, today my good friend (a.k.a. coworker, teammate, ex-roomie, and partner in crime- err, I mean tutoring) Kristen, got on a bus and is about to “begin another chapter of her life”.

For us here Kristen isn’t done and gone. She’s still here in inside jokes, in hearts and in changed lives. Her impact…and may I even say legacy…doesn’t end when she leaves. It continues!

And for her Haiti isn’t over and done with. Haiti is in her blood- and let’s be realistic, it’s probably in her lungs too 😉 . She’s going to carry a piece of all of us in her heart everywhere she goes. Haiti has shaped who she is and is going to be.

This doesn’t look like an end at all to me. Or a beginning.

It looks like the continuation of something beautiful. Not a book with chapters, but a painting that is in process. With every new experience, every relationship, every encounter with Jesus, the painting becomes more and more beautiful and you can begin to see the whole picture.

I imagine when we’re close to the end (the real end-or the real temporary-end) we’ll see the painting almost complete and see how beautiful it really is. And all the pain we endure in moments of change make sense.

I know this isn’t an original idea, but reminding myself about it is comforting in the face of the unpleasant.

If we froze our lives in a good moment, and didn’t accept change…the painting would never be finished. It would never be as beautiful as it was meant to be.

Kristen and the 8th grade boys that never stopped making us laugh!

Kristen and the 8th grade boys that never stopped making us laugh!

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Jesus, help us to trust you, even when we don’t know why, or what’s next. Help us to let go of our need to figure it all out and just let you lead us. Because deep down we know that the painting you are creating with our lives is more beautiful than anything we could come up with ourselves.

-Letitia

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7 Hours Without Resposibilities

One of the hats that I wear with KAI-Haiti is “Planner of Random Meetings and Events for our House Moms”- this is obviously my official title!

Since our parents are the core of what KAI does…we need to make sure they are taken care of. And not just with food, and a home, and hopefully a sense of fulfillment, but surprisingly enough, rest and support too!

Once a month I get all the moms together, or at least attempt to get them all together, and what we do ends up being random. It usually follows the format of:

1) talk a lot in really fast Creole about the kids that are driving us crazy that week-(I’m excluded from this part for more than one reason)

2) pray

3) sing

4) talk some more

5) maybe do a small Bible Study

6) maybe teach them a new skill like crocheting, or a recipe like cookies or bread

7) pray again

8) talk more while waiting for our driver to bring them home

Sometimes we just pray and sing. Because frankly, when you’re living in a house with 10+ kids, who more than likely came from rough backgrounds, and they decide they don’t want to listen to you or respect you, praying for wisdom, peace and patience is definitely the most effective thing you can do!

You can tell the moms need each other once they get together. I’m not even sure if they’ve realized it yet, but I think being in a group with 7 other women who are going through pretty much the same things they are, is a breath of fresh air. Without having to use many words, they know they are being understood. Obviously they still use lots of words though…because they’re women! (Somethings are the same cross-culturally!)

This month’s event was not in typical format. No, no! It came in the form of sun, sand and OCEAN! (the praying and singing did still happen though- this is one of many reasons why I love Haitians)

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We’d been talking about this for a while, and we finally made it happen. Even though the kids are in school, the moms don’t get a break, they cook (Haitian food for a million little people takes a long time to prepare), clean (do I even need to explain that cleaning up after a million little people IN HAITI also takes a long time?), do laundry…you get the picture! The work is never finished, despite having a helper come 3 days a week!

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So we planned it!

It happened!

And it was awesome!

My first time to a black sand beach!

My first time to a black sand beach!

Unfortunately, only 4 of the 8 moms were able to make it. I did give them lots of notice though, because Haiti is a crazy place like that…something ALWAYS comes up!

But can I just tell you that it was still 100% worth it for those 4 moms! And I loved being apart of it!

Without having to be responsible for little people, it’s like they turned into kids themselves. They were giddy with excitement before we even got there. When they got into the water they were jumping into the waves and giggling!

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We ate fresh fish, fried plantains, there was even a plate of octopus being passed around. I tried it…it’s delicious, a little chewy, but delicious!

Plantain and fish being fried over charcoal!

Plantain and fish being fried over charcoal!

Octopus!!!

Octopus!!!

 

MMMmmmm!!

MMMmmmm!!

We napped…well they napped, I read. Then we went swimming again!

We were supposed to have started home around 1 or 2 so they didn’t leave their husbands with the kids for too long by themselves, but I checked the time when we got back in the water, after the napping, and it was 3! I didn’t want to say anything because they were enjoying themselves so much, so when one of them finally asked, and I told them, they all started laughing, like belly laughing!

They thought it was hilarious that they were out past their “curfew”. Such rebels they are!

Freedom from responsibility for just 7 hours was what they needed. A day dedicated to them! I’m just glad I got to witness it!

Since school finished on Friday…I’m praying that was enough to recharge them for the full summer ahead!

-Letitia

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