Genuine partnerships. Long-term relationships. Sustainable ministry.
Those are the three pillars of Praying Pelican Missions. Those aren’t marketing slogans. As I’ve seen over and over again those pillars are the secret sauce of what sets PPM apart from everyone else doing short-term missions. Hearing those values pour out of the mouth’s of staff and then seeing those lived out on the field each time I’m here… this is why, I believe, they’re the best at short-term missions. It’s so simple and difficult at the same time.
They don’t have values on a wall. They live them out every day.
Wrapping Up a Special Summer
I was here at about the same time last year. My trip last summer was great. But something is noticeably different in 2016.
At this point in the summer most of the trip leaders are in their final days. They’ve been welcoming teams and shepherding them through trips week-after-week since early June. Some of them are able to get away for a few days while others run from start to finish with little more than a day off to do their laundry, handle some paperwork, and get ready to welcome the next team.
It’d be totally understanding if they were a bit cranky. Since we’re friends I’d expect them to share daydreams with me about getting back to their daily lives. That’d be perfectly natural, right? Instead, every staffer seems to be dreading the end of the summer season.
Sure, they’d like to catch up on sleep. Sure, they’ve each got a few wounds to heal. But everyone I’ve hung out with over the past few days is sad to see this summer end. It’s been special. When Annie, Mel, and Anuel picked Megan and I up on Wednesday morning they were sleepy, it was 7 o’clock in the morning, but they were downright cheerful about our 4 hour drive up to Hinche. Later that night, when I first saw a veteran leader and full-time PPM staffer from Ohio named Lonnie, he first told me how dead tired he was after a week of ministry. Then, with his body melting steadily into his bunk, he proceeded to talk my ear off for an hour sharing stories of all that he’s seen God do on trips all summer.
He was ready to go home. But he was still holding onto the summer.
This summer about 70% of the staff are Haitians. These highly skilled, highly trained, and highly motivated local leaders serve teams at every level. In some cases, the only American PPM staff serving on trips come along as assistant trip leaders, helping make sure everything translates across language and cultural barriers and posting a daily trip journal. Why? Because the national leaders have learned how to do everything. Haiti Operations Generalist Annie Schoessler shared with me, “I’ve almost worked myself out of a job and I love it.”
One of the things I love about working alongside PPM is how fair they are as an organization to their staff. If you’re excellent at your job you can earn more responsibilities and opportunities regardless of nationality.
I want to introduce you to a couple of these amazing leaders who I had the chance to interview recently.
I first met Nadege in 2015. One quality that sticks out to me about her is how sensitive she is to the Holy Spirit as she works in ministry. For example, I was with her last summer as she lead a group of Americans around a community in south Haiti doing tree ministry. Tree ministry is a modification of door-to-door evangelism where teams go around the community meeting with neighbors on behalf of the church, offering to plant a tree in their yard, [deforestation is a major problem throughout Haiti] and asking community members if they’d like prayer.
As you can imagine, tree ministry puts a lot of pressure on the Haitian staff because they are trying to keep track of their group PLUS trying to translate conversations and prayers PLUS trying to make sure that the experience is a positive one for both the trip participants and community members alike. Our group did a lot of walking, lot of talking, and a lot of tree planting. While our energy faded in the withering heat hers increased. While we felt awkward meeting new people her disarming smile and straight-forward way opened up hearts and removed suspicion. She was tender and pastoral and inspiring.
You might think someone like that grew up in church or was a pastor’s kid. That’s not the case with Nadege. While she went to church off and on growing up she didn’t really get serious about her faith until her teenage years. When I asked her about her church life now her face lit up, she loves her church and goes year-round with some fellow PPM staff, in many ways they are her adoptive family.
Like lots of people her age she’s enjoying ministry while also pursuing her career. During the summer and during breaks she works with PPM, but otherwise she is studying to be a nurse.
Nadege is super positive so I had a hard time pulling out of her something that she finds hard or frustrating about her work leading trips. Finally, after some prodding, she shared how managing teams expectations is hard. Teams sometimes use language about bringing God to Haiti and it can be hard for them to wrap their minds around the fact that God is automatically active everywhere, all the time. Teams learn that they aren’t coming to bring God to Haiti but to encounter God outside of their own culture. When I asked her what she hopes teenagers will take home from their experience here, she paused for a long time to make sure she said it just right: “I hope teams go home with a vision to do what we’ve done here back home.”
That’s my hope, too.
Over and over I’ve seen people come with a heart to give, postured to pour themselves out– but they go home filled up in a new way, having been ministered to as they serve. When they try to pour themselves out their cup is filled, overflowing. Like Nadege said, my hope is that they take that experience… that new thing they learned about serving God… and do it back home. In a week you can make an impact. But in a lifetime you can make a difference.
James grew up as a church kid. Except for a time in his teenage years when he wanted to learn what like would be like outside of the church, James has always gone to church with his mother, brothers and sisters– being involved in all sorts of aspects of his church.
Today, after living for a while with his brothers on their own, one of his older brothers got married so he had to move back home with his mom. When he’s not working for PPM he’s working on his carpentry skills, there’s tons of building going on throughout Haiti and a skilled carpenter stays very busy.
A couple of years ago his brother Rudy, another PPM staff member, asked him to get involved leading trips. It took a little convincing but after his first summer he really fell in love with it. “The best part of working with PPM I get to use all of my gifts. For example, I play guitar, I love to talk, I have some leadership skills, I speak English, I try to make people comfortable by being funny. By being in a place where you can use all of these gifts is great.”
I asked him, “If you weren’t leading trip with PPM, what would you be doing?” With big smile he said, “Um, leading trips. I love it.”
Jokes. James is full of jokes.
When I asked him to describe more about what he likes in leading trips he said, “It’s getting to know new people, making new friends, and also seeing old friends come back– I love those reunions. I enjoy the challenge of getting to know people, each team is different, and them leaving at the end week wanting to come back and request me to lead their next trip. I also love working with the children in the communities.”
Why do kids come out of the woodwork here?
“It’s part of our culture. They enjoy people coming and meeting people. They want to try everything. They want to grab your phone and try the filters on Snapchat. They just want to have fun.”
That’s been my experience, too. Haitians love languages and learning about different cultures. There’s an inviting innocence to that which makes it fun and easy for everyone.
Is there something that drives you crazy about Americans?
“To be honest, the biggest thing is assuming things. I don’t find that a lot but I do find it sometimes. People get so caught up in what they think about our country that they aren’t even really here. If you are here to experience something, you need to be fully here, you can’t be thinking about home. You need to be open to experiencing the full potential of the trip. Another other thing that is hard is when teams think they are going to bring God down here. I don’t like when people think that they are bringing God here. Think about it… “Where isn’t God?” It’s OK to come here with some expectations. But the problem is when you are trying to live into your own expectations instead of what’s really happening. People are sometimes looking for moments that they expected, like “Haiti is a dirty country.” They are looking for that and sometimes that’s not true, so it becomes a distraction as they look for it. They get to the point where they so believe in their expectations that all they are looking for is to validate what they already thought. And that’s hard.
What are you hoping they take home?
“First of all– God. To know that He’s everywhere, that they need to rely on Him. Second of all, you should never judge a book by it’s cover. You have to read it first. I want them to come down here to find God, or maybe find him in a different way, and know that He is everywhere. I also want them to go home knowing that we are all the same. We are real people, we have feelings, the differences that we have are just cultural. God has placed us where we need to be because He knew where you needed to be. He loves us the same.
Investing and Celebrating Local Leaders
These are two example of PPM’s Haitian leaders. There’s an incredible team being built here with much to be celebrated.
But it’s not without it’s challenges. For example, at the beginning of the summer Praying Pelican Missions gathers it’s top leadership in the United States to build into the staff, to cast vision, and to share encouragement across all of the countries they work in. But because of the costs and visa situation it’s not been possible to get all of the Haitian staff who would normally be invited to those meetings.
But, like ministry often teaches us, when something comes up as a difficulty you end up seeing it as a opportunity. Full-time missionaries Almando and Cassie Jean-Louis are hoping to gather the Haitian staff this fall, to celebrate all God has done and continue building into their team as they look forward to fall 2016 trips and the 2017 season.
Their hope is to create a gathering of Haitian staff (and their spouses, kids) at a resort for 2 days for encouragement and celebration.
That’s where you and I come in. To do that we need to raise about $3000. (enough for 30 people) I hope you can join me in investing in the continued development of these leaders by pitching in to help make this retreat happen. Whether you and your team have been personally impacted by this team or whether you’re just learning about the ministry of PPM in Haiti for the first time, together we can help this hard-working team finish off their summer right.
Make sure to add a note to indicate that the funds are for the PPM Haiti Staff Retreat. If you want more information about the cost of these events or just want more information about them, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me through my blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.