We started the month off with the biggest part of our move to the mountains. Due to our schedule with teams, the house still being under construction, and the distance between Montrouis and Delice, we knew the move would not be a quick process, but that it would likely stretch into the month of March. After months of being apart so much, with Stephen working in the mountains for several days at a time while Autumn and the kids stayed back in Montrouis, or sometimes accompanied him and camped for multiple days, we decided that even if the house wasn’t finished, we were more than ready (and needing) to all be in the same place again. Even if that meant roughing it for a while. So, we packed up as much as we could get into a couple truck and land cruiser loads and headed up with everything we anticipated needing for the next couple weeks, and left things that were less important for the time being. Drywall had been hung through the majority of the house, but there were (are) still several places where it has yet to be hung because we ran out of sheetrock before our first team came in in the beginning of February. We made do by tying sheets to metal studs in our master bedroom to give us some privacy from our boys’ bedroom. There are still several projects that are unfinished. We are living more or less like pioneers and only able to bathe with bucket or camping solar bag showers every 4-5 days (or sometimes more) because our water cistern isn’t finished yet and we can’t collect much rain water yet. We also are unable to flush toilets after every use, so that has been interesting as well. Thankfully the rainy season hasn’t officially begun so we have a few weeks to get gutters up and the cistern finished and sealed before the heavy rains start that will provide all of our necessary water on the mountain for drinking, bathing, washing, flushing toilets, etc. For now, Stephen has jerry-rigged a piece of metal into a makeshift gutter and catches as much rain water as he can into a 55-gallon drum. So, when it rains, we get excited because that means we “might” get showers! We may be roughing it to a degree, but our first 6 years in Haiti were full of times where we had to “rough it” in one manner or another, so we’ve really all handled it pretty well. It is nice to no longer have to deal with the crazy heat and massive amounts of mosquitoes. Roughing it in the mountains just looks different than it did in Port-au-Prince or Montrouis. We are all so happy to be together and the kids are so happy to finally have outdoor space to play in (rather than being trapped in by a large wall), that we have been able to handle the stresses of living in a house that is still under construction very well. We’ve been very impressed with our kids, and though they are missing the Agape House kids immensely, they are so excited about their new home. We know this will only be a season, and it will make us appreciate the luxuries of flushing toilets and running water and finished walls EVEN more when they are able to be finished. Another huge part of the decision to go ahead with the move was because we knew the final push of completing the house could go faster with all of us there, rather than Stephen having to continue to go back and forth. This means the sooner our house is in a functioning state for our family and teams (even if some projects remain), the sooner we can break ground and push forward with the construction of the Agape House homes, and the sooner we can get all the kids moved up to the new property with us.
We are extremely grateful for the invaluable role that Torie Schaefer and Dago are playing in overseeing the care of the Agape House children when we can’t be as close by during this time. Torie is living at the AH, and Dago, as the director, is checking on the kids on a daily basis. We are grateful for their oversight, but also for the mama’s, cleaning ladies, security guards, and cooks who are carrying out their responsibilities well, whether we are able to check in every day or not. This has always been a goal of our’s to make every area of our ministry able to function without our constant involvement or interference. We believe that is how we can most effectively train leaders and develop a ministry that has the potential to continue long into the future, and be well-maintained through seasons like this when we aren’t as close by. If we don’t train them well and have confidence in their ability to carry out their responsibilities well, then if we have to go to the States to update supporters, or are obligated to be away due to a health issue for a couple weeks (like we have had to in the past unexpectedly), we can be assured the wheels won’t come off and the quality won’t be compromised. This season of building and transition, though absolutely necessary and the best for their futures, is hard on all of us as seasons of change often are. We are eager to push through this season and get the kids moved into their new homes in such a calm and beautiful area. We are hopeful that the move to a rural location won’t only allow for opportunities to run and play outside more, learn agricultural skills, and how to raise animals, but also will provide a more calm, and peaceful atmosphere that will be conducive to the healing so many of these kids need.
Our first team in February came from our parent organization, Together We Can, Inc. out of Raleigh, NC. They bring a medical team every year, usually sometime in January or February. A few of our board members are always on the team, and they come so well-prepared and organized that they are always tremendously effective in their ministry endeavors. This was the first clinic we held on our new mission property, rather than traveling down to the villages nearby every morning. We were unsure how many people would show up, but on the morning of the first day, there were approximately 150 already there waiting at 7:30 a.m. In only 4 and a half days, this team saw more than 1,400 patients. It was absolutely astounding to hear how far many of them would walk to see a doctor. There were a few men in their mid-sixties who said they had never seen a doctor before in their lives. Women and children and families walked 2-3 hours to see a doctor because the closest medical facility is a 8-10 hour walk, and most people can’t get a moto because the area is so remote, and local taxis are non-existant. The day before the team headed back to the States, a woman showed up with a bag of oranges to give to one of the nurses because she was so grateful for the love and care that this nurse showed to her baby earlier that week. She walked 2 hours. Just to say thank you. These people are so deeply grateful. So many got to not only hear of Christ, but see His love manifested through the loving arms of the providers who came to serve so tirelessly. It was a profound thing to witness. On the last day, it was very, very wet, foggy, and cold. People stood in line to see a doctor shivering. One of the doctors discreetly gave his own jacket to an older man who was shaking from the cold. We are always so grateful for the way TWC brings teams that are so prepared and who serve with such an outpouring of the love they themselves have encountered from Christ because they desire for that love to impact the lives of those they are there to serve in the same way. They add so much to our continual, long-term ministry efforts by the way they so effectively come alongside of us and serve until every last patient is seen. They communicated and showed more than 1,400 people that not only do we love them, but so does Jesus. We were able to get some power issues worked out, electrical wiring done, water pump figured out, toilets installed, and lots of odd jobs taken care of thanks to the help of a guy on the team named Mike. He was a lifesaver in many ways as we hosted our first time in our yet-to-be-finished home. We also had a flat tire on our way down the mountain trying to get them all to the airport on time, but thankfully, because we had allowed for a cushion of time, Stephen was able to improvise and successfully delivered them to the airport on time. There’s a creole word– “degaje” that basically means, “figure it out” or, “make it work”– and that’s what we had to do! Thankfully Dago was at the base of the mountain waiting with the bus, so we unloaded everyone in the Cruiser along with their luggage and Stephen took off to rescue the rest of the team and their luggage from the currently crippled pick-up truck. All we can say is, God works things out! We’ve seen it over and over again.
A picture of the patients waiting on the second morning of clinic.
It was astounding to see how many people came,
and how far they walked to get care.
After they departed, we had day or two to get the house and routine (a normal homeschooling schedule can be difficult to maintain when we have teams here) back in order before Stephen’s mom arrived and Autumn flew out the following morning. Autumn’s uncle covered her flights to get her to Dayton to surprise her dad for his 60th birthday. The surprise was pulled off without a hitch and there were many grateful tears all around. He was completely surprised–as were Autumn’s brothers. It was a short visit, but it was a good one. Autumn was able to help pull off a surprise party for her dad, and was able to finally meet her foster sister that has been fighting for her life for the past 3 months. Living on the mission field full-time, we have to miss a lot of important moments in the lives of our loved ones, but we were thankful that this wasn’t one that Autumn had to miss. Stephen’s mom helped hold down the fort while Autumn was in the States, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed having her here. They got in LOTS of play time, she helped further develop Abby’s sewing and crocheting skills (even helped the girls make their own dresses), sang songs with Asher, and helped Stephen can tons of tomatoes and spaghetti sauce that will be so helpful to us as the closest grocery store is at least 2.5 hours away from our new home. The kids were sad to see her go home, like always, but they were so happy she was able to come.
Two days after Autumn returned and Grammy went home, a group of five from FBC New Lebanon out of Ohio came to help us with whatever projects we needed to help finish our home and get us better settled. We were overwhelmed that people would volunteer to come just to minister to our family in such a huge way, and they went above and beyond what we could have hoped to have accomplished in their time with us. The back of the white pick up truck was giving up after hauling so many loads of sand and gravel, so one of the guys on the team (who also happens to be a welder), built a new flat bed on the back of the F-250 that will serve the ministry well hopefully for years to come. it was a huge project and a huge need and he knocked it out of the park. Jason (the welder on the team) also built a small luggage rack on the back of our Land Cruiser to help provide much-needed additional luggage space when transporting teams to and from the airport. Another guy on the team is a very skilled mason and helped us finish our fireplace. Asher may or may not have helped a little too much a couple times, but it is beautiful! He also skillfully poured our concrete countertop on the island in our kitchen. Chris, (the mason on the team) gave Josiah and Abby lessons on laying block too, so they’re both considering masonry for their future careers now. Our cabinets still needed to be stained and dishes organized, so the women on the team spent lots of time planning it out with Autumn and organizing it all to best suit both our needs, and the needs of future teams that will be staying with us. We still have pretty long way to go before the drywalling will be all hung and mudded, but they helped us put a big dent in the amount of mudding that needs to be done. On top of all of that, they brought a bag full of kitchen utensils and supplies that Charity (Autumn’s good friend) had gotten together by throwing a Pampered Chef party and people in their church and Autumn’s home church came together to bless us with things like knives, mixing bowls, cooking utensils, baking sheets, etc. She was blown away and so grateful. Our time with teams from FBCNL is always, always encouraging. Beyond the physical tasks we were able to tackle together, they were a blessing to just have their company in our home for several days.
Abby and JoJo helping build the chimney and getting some block laying lessons with Chris.
Our very first fire in the fireplace! Still so weird that we can still be in Haiti and be this cold!
These additions to the vehicles will be incredibly helpful to the ministry.
If you have tried to contact us via facebook, email, phone call, imessage, or text message over the past month or so, please bear with us as we have no internet service and no phone service without walking up to the hill next to our house in the mountains. Stephen checks his phone at least once a day and can usually receive SMS text messages, but usually cannot access anything requiring internet signal unless we have come down the mountain for a day to get supplies, check on things in Montrouis, or take/pick-up a team from the airport. We do our best to catch up on every message that comes through whenever we have the opportunity to, but it can be a week or so between opportunities to do so. If you have an urgent need to contact us, please get in touch with our Stateside director, Phililp Dail at firstname.lastname@example.org as he checks his email very frequently. We are working hard to get HughesNet internet established up on our property and are hopeful to have the necessary equipment and have it up and running sometime in the next month. We will see!
We are also preparing to launch our Agape House Ambassador program as a new approach to raising necessary support for the children’s home over the next year. We will need people to step forward and commit to being an ambassador and an advocate for the care of an individual child. This will help to significantly reduce costs of us traveling in an effort to raise support for the care of the AH children, and will help to alleviate the huge burden of raising necessary funds to cover the comprehensive needs of all the children by breaking it down into manageable amounts for those who would wish to advocate for these children as ambassadors. If you are interested in receiving an informational packet on how you can become an Agape House ambassador, please email us at; email@example.com so we can be sure to put you on the list. So far, Nakicha and Klimako are covered, but the other children are still in need of ambassadors.
We are also working hard to update all of the short-term mission team packet information and will be sending that out as soon as we have it all together. There are some necessary changes that have been made as far as how we manage teams, transportation costs, and what to pack (i.e. it’s a little bit colder in Delice!). We will be getting that finalized soon and sending it to team leaders so you can prepare accordingly. If you would like to be added to the list of those who receive the packet, just let us know!
We love you all so much and continue to thank God for the way He provides for our family and our ministry even when we aren’t sure how ends will meet, He is faithful. We continue to covet your prayers as we push through this busy and difficult season of building. Thank you for how so many of you rally behind our family and the Agape House children. We can’t do this without you.
In His Grip,
Stephen & Autumn