Four Years.

This August, I will have lived in Haiti for four years, and what a roller-coaster adventure it has been. However, my current season in Haiti is coming to an end and I’ll be moving home as my four-year anniversary rolls around. This has to be one the hardest – if not the hardest - decisions I’ve ever made in my life. People think moving here was a hard decision.  They look at me like I’m crazy, with their mouths wide open, as they learn how long I’ve been here, that I live alone in a village and I speak the language.  On the contrary, moving to Haiti was the easiest decision to make.  A new adventure, living in the Caribbean? Where do I sign up! Leaving this island I’ve called “home” for the past four years, and leaving people who have become my family and saving grace is literally going to rip my heart out. Just writing this now, my eyes are struggling to stay dry.

I decided a little over a month ago that I was ready to move back “home” to the states. Home is a strange concept I’m currently having trouble wrapping my brain around.  New Mexico, Texas & Haiti are all “home” to me.  How can I feel so deeply connected yet so detached from three different places at the same time? I’m sorry to burst your “happily-ever-after” ending expectations, but this move is not because of some great job opportunity calling me back home or the result of some major event here sending me home.  It’s just time. These past four years have taught me some of the hardest lessons and also given me some of the most amazing memories of my life. Just as radically juxtaposed as Haiti is, so has my time been here. An island filled with breathtakingly beautiful beaches, mountains and scenery and yet just a couple miles away stench filled neighborhoods covered in trash and filth. Outstanding ingenuity, artistic ability and resourcefulness, making masterpieces and miracles out of nothing and then complete lack of basic common sense like putting your car in neutral and pushing it out of traffic when you break down. (Oh Lord!!! Don’t get me started!) There are extravagant displays of wealth in the city and the beaches, and then just around the corner, heart-shattering poverty.  A people whose generosity and hospitality is comparable to none and on the other hand manipulation, theft, entitlement and hands-open constantly begging for money. How can one country be so ridiculously opposite from one moment to the next, from one neighborhood to the next? And how can I be so in love, yet so jaded and sometimes even hate this same country?

 I haven’t been able to actually announce it for quite a few reasons. It feel as if I cannot quiet the battle going on between my head and heart long enough to gather my thoughts and organize them into an eloquent blog post to officially announce the news.  There is rarely a full 24-hour period that goes by that I am 100% certain I’m ready to move back. It’s more like short moments of certainty followed by uncertainty. So forgive me if even in this post you find my thoughts bouncing around. Announcing it publicly makes it so final and that’s what scares me.  Leaving Haiti is not as easy as moving around the US. I cannot just rent a U-Haul and move home because, if I change my mind six months later, I cannot just pack up and move back.  I moved to Haiti one suitcase at a time over the past four years and now, I have to move my life back to America one suitcase at a time in 2 short months. I just sent three suitcases home with friends this past month and I wept alone in my car after handing them off… why?? I am the one making this decision to go home. Nobody is forcing me against my will. But you see, I finally have a vehicle in Haiti and a house with my own appliances and furniture. I don’t know if you have any idea what it took to buy and move those appliances and furniture without a vehicle and what it took to get that vehicle down here. AND I’m almost fluent in the language! Well fluent enough to understand and make belly-laugh-inducing jokes, flirt my way out of a ticket, negotiate prices in the market and fully enjoy a rap or kompa concert singing Creole lyrics at the top of my lungs. Heck! Even my dog is bilingual! I don’t know where else I’m going to use this language so I’m praying the Lord place lots of Haitians in my path once I move home!  OH! And I love, love, LOVE my job working with Haitian artisans through ViBella & Three Cords. I finally have a paid job where I don’t have to beg for donations to live here. Have I mentioned these employees are kicking butt and making amazing products? I really don’t want to leave my job and I’m sure I’ll still be buying and bragging about the products to all my friends in the states.  These are the moments I feel crazy for wanting to leave.  So much has been accomplished and acquired with a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

But then there are the other moments. The moments I know it’s time to go. I’ve had a handful of people who have told me that they really appreciate my vulnerability and honesty in my posts. So here goes…. I should have probably left Haiti about six months ago. I wanted to leave Haiti before I hated her, well unfortunately I’m almost there.  Haiti’s hard. It’s not all gorgeous beaches, fresh coconuts, great food and cute “orphan” kids to take selfies with like some posts would lead you to believe. I’ve had people tell me I make missionary work looks so glamorous – they tell me I’m always at the beach or they wish they could live the life I was living. My least favorite and the most popular question is “Are you just LOVING it out there?” Actually, no, I’m not! I feel like Haiti chewed me up and spit me out. I’m exhausted mentally, emotionally & spiritually and experiencing a level of loneliness and isolation I have never experienced in my whole life.  I am a single female living alone in a village with my dog. When there’s no power, I drag my generator outside and rev it up.  When the water runs out, I have to call a water truck and wait for them to bring me water, sometimes an entire day. Two months ago was rainy season and my ridiculously engineered house flooded every single night when it rained.  My house is a black hole and there is no service or internet to contact my family or friends or even call someone in case of emergency. The iPhone I just bought when I was home in January got hot one day, went black and never turned on again, and there’s not exactly an Apple store in Haiti to walk in and do a warranty exchange. My car was in the shop for almost two months because someone who is not a mechanic, who said he was, welded a bolt in place because he’s actually a welder and that’s all he knew to do. This bolt snap, ruined the crank shaft and cost me $2000 worth of repairs and two months of using motor cycles as my main form of transportation and cake deliveries. During this motor cycle season, while waiting for a taxi, I witnessed a taxi driver get robbed for his moto at gun point. This shook me up a little bit because it was broad daylight, in front of witnesses, in front of a mission with armed security guards, and I almost chose him as my driver before he pulled away and got robbed.   I can’t make all this up, but I wish I could. I have been hurt numerous times by the very people God sent me here to serve, as well as fellow Christians and Missionaries who have inflicted pain upon me and left some confusing and unexpected scars.  The local church is all in Creole and my brain hurts translating it simultaneously into English, which makes it kind of hard to hear from the Lord.  My relationship with God has really suffered in Haiti.  I am fully aware that is nobody’s fault but my own. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will never leave me, His word says so! However I really spent a lot more time in the past two years talking about God than I did talking to Him. People who serve others cannot pour out of an empty cup and the only filler of our cups is Jesus. Corny – I know right? But I realized my cup was more than empty and that’s why I was so tired, angry, joyless and easily offended. I miss my first love and in this coming season of rest I cannot wait to just focus on me and Him again. Haiti was awesome but it was also so hard. There really aren’t words to ever make someone who hasn’t lived here understand. So, I ask that you just pray for me and anyone else you know living in a developing country. It’s no joke.

So…. Now what??

When am I moving home? I don’t have a set date. I’m shooting for August 1st but that all really depends on how fast I sell my car and other belongings. I also haven’t figured out how I’m getting my Rottweiler Rocky home and that’s pretty high on my priority list. He’s been my little best friend and he’s coming with me! If you have American Airline miles sitting around and you want to get rid of them, send them my way to help me and my luggage get home.

Where am I going? First, I’m headed home to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I want to spend the rest of the year resting, processing, healing and just enjoying my family. I missed my nephew’s whole first year of life and my niece is making her debut in August and I cannot wait to spoil them. I’m also so excited for Fall. I haven’t seen fall in four years and I’ll be first in line for our annual Balloon Fiesta this October! I’ll also be bouncing around the US visiting friends, with Texas on my list as the first stop!

What’s next??  I’m not really sure. I have some ideas. God has been stirring some things up in me but I don’t really know what He’s got for me yet. I DO know that He has not wasted my time here in Haiti. He will not waste the pain, hurt and learning experiences. I know I will be using creole in some capacity, I just don’t know how yet. I know that He has lit a raging fire in me to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. I’m still very passionate about creating dignified jobs and supporting fair business in developing countries, keeping families together and lessening the number of corrupt orphanages and making others aware of the child trafficking going on around the world. He’ll make it all clear soon.

How can you help? Pray for me, a lot! This is going to be a heart-wrenching transition and I’m going to need all the prayers and encouragement I can get. Pray for my family! They’re welcoming home a culturally confused, exhausted, crazy person to live with them (Haha)! But seriously, pray for our relationships as a family that they only get stronger during this transition. Check on me, message me. When I get home I’d love to meet up and catch up. Ask me questions about Haiti and my time here.  It warms my heart when people are genuinely interested in what’s going on in this country I love so much.

I’m starting over completely so if you know of a job, a car for sale or a rental that will accept my big dog, please let me know!

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for following along on my journey in Haiti! I could not have lasted this long without all your encouraging words, donations, prayers, sweet, thoughtful gifts and letters sent through others traveling through and just your interest in what God did here and is doing here. Thank you!

 

 Exciting things are coming! Stay tuned……

Good News

For the past couple of months, I have felt like I haven’t had one ounce of good news to share. I couldn’t think of one “God story” or “praise report” in regards to the bakery. I didn’t know how to talk about the bakery and what’s really going on without being a total Debbie Downer or completely fake and stretching the story to what I thought people would want to hear. I went home to visit family and friends in October and December, and each time, I struggled to respond when people asked me the infamous question, “So, how’s the Bakery?” My insides turned because I wanted to be honest and tell them, “I’m drowning! I don’t know what I’m doing! It’s not working! I feel like it’s sucking the life out of me!” But who wants to hear that? That kind of response doesn’t get you followers or customers and sure as heck doesn’t bring in the donations. So I smiled and said, “Oh! It’s been an adventure!” I wasn’t lying, right? 

For those of you who haven’t been following along on our little bakery journey, here’s a quick history lesson. The bakery was gifted to the community in 2012. It had been opened and managed by men from the community three different times and each, within three to four months, was closed. I joined forces with a generous donor and a small ministry in Simonette to reopen the bakery in September of 2016.  The first year was a dream – beautiful status updates and pictures of which great Facebookposts are made. We received free flour from the local flourmill every week. The summer months came and my good friend moved down to Haiti to help out, we had visitors every other day touring the bakery, loving on my staff and buying our cinnamon rolls and iced coffee. It was a blast! Summer drew to a close and we were nearing the end of our first fiscal year. As planned, it was time to reassess the bakery as a business with the ministry I was partnered with to decide whether we would stay open another year or cut our losses and close up shop. But my ministry partners didn’t see the worth of the bakery as a for-profit business, so they pulled out and let me have a go at it on my own. Now you see, this is where the Lord was giving me the first open door to get out and move on. However, as my mother would tell you, I’m the most stubborn, rebellious person you’ll ever meet and I love learning things the hard way. So I chose to move off the ministry’sproperty, rent a house, keep the bakery open and operate this business, for profit, alone. How could I not? I had ten men and women working for me with names and families and stories. I couldn’t just close the bakery because it wasn’t a good “business move”. It was never about the money for me because my staff was worth it. Boulangerie Liberté’s vision was always to provide jobs. I strongly believed and still do believe Haiti doesn’t need any more free handouts from yet another organization or another orphanage opening its doors for kids with parents. Haiti needs business and Haitians need jobs to provide for those kids. But my problem, as my Pastor helped me realize one day over coffee, was that my missionary heart was getting in the way of my business mind. I cared more about my staff personally than I did in making smart business decisions for the longevity of the bakery because at the end of the day, if the business aspect of the bakery was failing, no ministry could be accomplished through it either. I was doing it alone. I didn’t have a board or committee to help me make decisions so, unfortunately, I made the decisions, often emotionally. In conclusion, I chose to forfeit all profits made up to that point to my former partner ministry in exchange for use of the equipment they owned that was purchased for the bakery. 

I parted ways with the ministry, dusted myself off and focused on my staff and the bakery’s first birthday that was quickly approaching. September 20, 2017, Boulangerie Liberté turned one year old and I was so proud. We had a little party for the community with music, balloons, streamers, ice cream and patè for everyone! I couldn’t believe we actually made it a year. The previous bakery managers barely made it four months and we had already tripled that amount of time. I was so proud of the bakery and my staff. Reaching our first birthday was a very surreal moment. I felt deep in my soul God saying, “I promised you this, remember?I’m so proud of you. Well done.” I believed this then, but I’ve been having a really hard time believing this now. 

I always knew we would make it to our first birthday, but to be honest, I hadn’t seen or heard from the Lord much beyond that. 

Shortly after, in October, it all started falling apart. A group of greedy bullies in the village heard from a little birdie that I was no longer partners with the local ministry, so naturally, they assumed I was now making loads of dough (pun intended) and they wanted a piece of it. Our first meeting went well.  I explained the separation from the ministry, that the bakery was now a for-profit business, and that I was basically starting the bakery over again on my own and there were no profits to be shared. The committee knew I was no longer being gifted free flour and it was now the slowest time of the year. I offered other non-monetary ways the bakery could help the community but they wanted no part of that. I promised that when we started to make a profit we would love to give back to our community.  Two weeks later, they invited me to another meeting. This meeting wasn’t so friendly. They resorted to bullying and threats, shouting and spitting in my face. I walked out. I didn’t deserve to be treated like that and I wasn’t going to be bullied. It was a Wednesday. The next Monday came and I had just left the bakery and was driving home when I received about 10 frantic calls from my staff and friends in the village. The group of bullies had forced themselves into the bakery with a “judge” and a couple of crooked cops. They stopped production, bullied my staff and made an inventory list of everything in the bakery. They wanted to make sure that when they seized the bakery from me in the following days, I wouldn’t try to take anything with me. But the bakery property was as little mine as it was theirs. My heart raced as I rounded the corner and drove into the village. I called everyone I knew that could possibly help me but I was alone. I was scared. This kind of thing can get out of hand quickly in Haiti. Rocks thrown and tires burnt, I had no idea what was about to happen. But the good news? The Lord flooded me with perfect peace. I drove into the bakery parking lot and got out of my car. I didn’t yell. I didn’t scream. But I said, “if you don’t work here get off my property.” Surprisingly, they began to leave. Of course, not without a couple insults and name calling, but they left, nonetheless. I locked myself and my staff inside the bakery and asked them to give me a play by play of the event. That afternoon, I decided to close the bakery for a week for our safety. A week later, after reopening our doors, we had a meeting scheduled with the committee and the owner of the bakery.   We were going to put an end to the bullying and the owner was going to make it very clear he was standing behind me. We waited for 35 minutes and not one of these big, bad bullies showed up. Not one. The president of the bullies, however, hid in his business next door and watched through the window. The minute we pulled out of the bakery my phone was flooded with ugly messages, name calling and threats from the committee. The same committee that didn’t show up to the meeting was calling me a capitalist and a thief and warning me not to step foot in the bakery again.

That afternoon I started to question the Lord. Why did you bring me here? Why am I killing myself, volunteering my time in this bakery for a community that is manifesting against me? What am I doing here?

The weekend passed and we opened for normal business hours on Monday. Monday night, however, was anything but normal (at least for me anyway). I got a call from my roommate who was dropping off friends in the village. “I just left Simonette and theres a huge town hall meeting going on and they are playing your voice over a loud speaker. I’m sorry, what? To this day, I still don’t really understand why, but the committee played a recording of our first meeting for the entire village to hear. As you recall, the first meeting went really well and I was cooperative and promised as soon as we made a profit, we wanted to give back to the community. The committee’s plan backfired and the village became angry. In true Haiti fashion, people in the community began to throw rocks in our favor and the committee ran for cover. Our committee problems were over. We won! But  the victory was also bittersweet. I never wanted to cause division in a community or be the reason anyone threw rocks at another human being. I left Haiti the next day for three weeks to see family, attend a wedding and celebrate my nephew’s first birthday. Where’s the good news? I had been feeling unsettled about everything that had happened with the committee and all the rock throwing and was praying for hearts to be convicted. A couple days later, I received a message from the president of the committee apologizing for his words and actions and thanking me for helping him to realize how corrupt the committee was. He had resigned. 

After three weeks in the States, I came back to find the bakery in debt. We had lost customers while we were closed during the community unrest and we just couldn’t get back on our feet. My staff was discouraged and unmotivated. They were hardly making any sales. Some of the village was still boycotting the bakery and others just bought from the bread truck that passed early in the morning. Payroll was coming up and I had no idea how I was going to make ends meet. Bread is a very fragile, time sensitive product to sell. We don’t use any preservatives in our simple recipe; therefore, shelf life is only about three to four days without refrigeration. Bread was molding and turning hard as rock on our shelves. We threw out 15 to 20 bags of bread a day. We were wasting our time, money and energy. A couple of my employees really fought hard to keep the bakery open with me. We brain stormed new ideas and found new ways to cut costs but the rest of my staff had given up. I knew it, but I just didn’t want to believe it. 

Just a week after my return in November, our oven exploded. This would set us back $400 and we were forced to close again, but this time for two weeks. The good news? A church from my hometown had just raised funds for the bakery and we were able to pay for the oven repairs – Amen, Hallelujah! While the oven was being repaired I did some homework and visited some other Haitian bakeries that were staying above water. I got some great new ideas and knew I had to revamp the way we were operating our bakery. I decided to start paying my staff a commission based on sales versus a set day rate. I wanted to motivate my staff to sell and find more customers and really take ownership of their community bakery. We stopped selling individual pieces of bread and began only selling by the plate to create more opportunity for the local vendors to make money selling our bread by the piece and reduce our material and labor costs. I couldn’t wait to tell my staff! I made graphs and charts to show them how much money they would be taking home when we made two, three and four sacks of flour a day. This would be easy for them. We used to make three sacks of flour before noon just two months prior. They could do this with their eyes closed. I believed in them. But the problem lied not in whether I believed in them but in whether they believed in themselves – they didn’t. In just three short weeks, I was headed to the States again to spend Christmas with my family. I did everything in my power to set them up for success while I was gone for a month. I put it in God’s hands and I went home for a much needed break. 

Now let’s fast-forward to my return to Haiti this past weekend. I showed up to the bakery Monday morning, so excited to see my staff and ready to see the sales numbers while I was gone, good or bad. To be completely vulnerable and open with you, what I came back to was a bakery completely run into the ground.  My staff thought I was coming back the 19th and they were shocked by my return. The bakery was closed for business and totally trashed inside. Our water pump had apparently burnt out on Friday and we had no water in the bakery so it wasn’t cleaned, swept or mopped. There were still remnants of dough in the kneading trough and flour everywhere. All three of my bread makers had quit. The delivery driver responsible for making sure the contracts we have with orphanages and ministries that receive bread had quit weeks back and these orders hadn’t been filled. I was completely out of the loop on all these new developments because there is no cell service in the bakery. Most of my staff don’t have phones and the ones who do only have signal about 10% of the time. Communication while I was away was a nightmare and nearly impossible.  A couple of my employees were still hanging on but what could they do without bread makers and a delivery driver?  The rest of the motorcycle taxi drivers in our village were uninterested in selling bread for us. The profit wasn’t worth their time or mileage in and out of the village. I understand why they were forced to close, I really do.  But I was speechless when I walked into that bakery Monday morning. I wanted to cry, scream, yell, fire everyone and then beg them all to come back and work for me. I spent the afternoon alone. I took my dog for awalk, I blasted worship music and I begged God, in tears, to make the decision for me and tell me what to do. I felt like a failure. Where did I go wrong? Why don’t they want these jobs? Isnt this what people ask me for every day?  

That night, I poured out my heart and my tears to a good friend who had lived in Haiti for over 5 years and who, by no coincidence, is visiting this week. Clearly by divine appointment, this friend was also visiting the week the village manifested against us so she is no stranger to my bakery struggles. I cried out to her - I felt as if this bakery was sucking the life out of me. I didn’t see God in it anymore. I wasn’t doing any ministry. I was just putting out fires and trying to survive the day. I was investing my own money that I didn’t have into this bakery every time we were short. My staff had completely given up and I knew it was time to close but I just couldn’t pull the plug. It was a bad business decision and unsustainable without aid, but I didn’t want to run a business dependent on donations and aid. That’s not a business and that won’t last when I move back home to America one day. We’re doing something wrong if we can’t at least break even. I didn’t want to be the one making the decision to close the doors. Why? I have a list of ridiculous reasons why we shouldn’t close the bakery, but my pride is the biggest reason and that is certainly not good news. That’s Satan telling me people will see me as failure and that nothing good came from this bakery. I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. I didn’t want to accept failure and defeat. I didn’t want to face social media and have to make this big announcement that the bakery was closing its doors. I was and I am heartbroken.

So here is the good news. I have decided to close the bakery. I know God is not disappointed in me but is proud of me and accepts me. I know lives were impacted, even if only for a year and a half. Heck, I taught my staff how to make cinnamon rolls in the middle of a rural village in Haiti and they mastered it! I also know that God was in control before I ever visited Haiti, he was in control while the Bakery was open, and he will be in control long after it closes. 

You want some more good news?  Cinnamon Rolls are still available! The Lord provided an amazing opportunity and partnership for my personal cake business, Patisserie Justina, with Lafito Grill in Minotri, a restaurant providing jobs in Haiti. I don’t know Haitian bread and apparently, don’t know how to run a Haitian business but I do know cakes, cupcakes, cookies and cinnamon rolls and how to do business with North Americans.  So come on by for a burger and some sweet treats!

But even better news? My best employees who held on and fought until the end are coming with me! Three of my girls will be joining me at Patisserie Justina and learning all I know about baked goods and decorating. Two of the guys will be assisting the chefs at Lafito Grill in the kitchen and serving customers as their English improves. 

And perhaps the best news? I was offered a part-time PAID position with an established company passionate about creating jobs in Haiti and keeping families together. When I felt like everything was falling apart, God was already preparing the next season for me and taking care of my every need. 

And the last but not least bit of good news is freedom – liberté! I feel free - free from the unattainable standard of acceptance by social media, my peers and those who failed to see the bakery’s worth; free from the guilt that I failed myself, my staff and the community of Simonette; free from my pride that almost drove me to burn out. Freedom from the pressure of comparison to other missionaries and ministries doing it the right way and raking in the donations.  Freedom in knowing I am NOT responsible for bringing freedom from poverty because God will do that. I AM responsible for loving the people God places in my path for seasons that he ordains, whether they are long or short.  So I will continue to love others like I loved my bakery staff for the past year and a half. My good friend who just made the brave decision to leave Haiti and move home encouraged me as I doubted my decision - “Sometimes our time in Haiti is for our own change and growth, rather than changing or growing anyone or anything else.

You can’t change Haiti, she changes you.

Help Wanted - Inquire Within

I’m leaving Haiti, the Bakery is closing its doors and 10 people will lose their jobs….if I don’t get some help soon.

Did I catch your attention? Are you listening now? You might think I’m being a little dramatic, but honestly it’s the truth. I need your help! My bakery staff needs YOUR help! We’ve been open for 6 months but we will not be open for much longer if something doesn’t change soon.

The bakery was opened 3 times before our ministry partner Touch of Hope and I reopened the bakery in September 2016 with a new name and new face. Oh the joys of managing a business in a developing country!! I now completely understand why this bakery has closed its doors multiple times before. Don’t get me wrong! It’s been a joy managing Boulangerie Liberte and watching my staff grow and develop, but it definitely has not been a walk in the park, or rather a walk on the beach I should say.  There are obstacles we have had to hurdle that would not be an issue running a business in the states. Some days, as my assistant manager and I are pulling our hair out trying to solve a problem I ask myself is this really a problem right now?  It can’t be!! There are days we have run out of running water because the water in the village is “standing”. What does that mean?? Why is it at a standstill? How can we fix it? Who should I call? Where is the village plumber?? All questions that just receive shrugged shoulders and a blank stare. So we either fetch water one bucket at a time from the pump at the other end of the village, pay a water truck to come fill our 400 gallon tank or track down a vehicle in the village and fill every single bucket we can get our hands on.  (We are currently fundraising for a vehicle! Please contact me if you are able to give) Water has been a big issue in our first six months. How do you run a food service business without clean running water??

Another hurdle we’ve had has been electricity. I sure miss the days I would just call PNM (for my New Mexico fam) and just set up an account and they send a technician out and Boom! Let there be light and a bill in the mail! (Oh how I miss the US Postal Service haha I NEVER in my life thought I’d say that!) Anyway, in my village we are supposed to receive free power from a large cement company in the neighborhood 12 hours a day. If this goes as “planned” (haha what is planning??) the city power should charge the 8 batteries connected to my inverter and we should have power to last us all day! Now when Haiti happens and we don’t receive city power all night we run out of power at the bakery and the heat lamps in our rise room go off and the oven shuts off and production stops! Thankfully the Lord has answered this prayer last month and provided for our power needs through a bakery partner who purchased a generator for the bakery!! So now when we lose power we just hook up our own generator, buy a couple gallons of gas and we’re back in business!! Mesi Jezi!!! *Praise hands in the air*

Our other biggest headache and hurdle has been “The Beast” our sheeter and dough press. We inherited this large piece of equipment with the bakery and it kneads large quantities of dough. The motor was rigged to function and we spent the first couple of months tweaking, pulling and kicking it into gear. We had parts on order coming from Europe so we made do with what we had, but it couldn’t handle high volumes of dough. If the load was too heavy it would just shut off. I am so grateful NOW that we did not get this problem fixed when I wanted to have it fixed because, unfortunately mid-December there was an accident. One of my two bread makers was kneading dough with “The Beast” on a Saturday morning and the dough doubled over on his hand and pulled his hand into the machine crushing three of his fingers. It was awful, one of my worst days in Haiti. He was rushed to a hospital on a motorcycle because ambulances are not readily available in our neck of the woods. The first and second hospital turned him away because they couldn’t handle the wound or just plain didn’t feel like dealing with this. Welcome to health care in Haiti. He was finally accepted at the third hospital and was finally given some pain meds. Emergency surgery was needed but they wouldn’t start anything until the bill was paid in full before. I was across town about an hour and a half away from the hospital attending one wedding and delivery cupcakes to another. I rushed home to get money for his surgery and rushed to the hospital to get him into an operating room. By the grace of God there were no bones broken or major damage and he was sent home the same day. Please join me in praying for complete healing for Techelet. He has returned to work and is doing a great job. After a long day his hand is tired and has some pain but we are praying for complete healing and restoration.

After the accident we needed to hire a replacement for our injured “bread boss” and a week later our motor caught on fire. Oh the Joys!!! Now that our motor had completely given up on us we needed to rent a manual dough press and hire an extra person to help us crank this manual sheeter. I’m so grateful ever time I’m able to provide jobs in the community because that’s what this bakery is here for - Job Creation! But this was not what I had in mind Lord! We were taking more time to produce less bread with more labor. The math was not adding up, our account balance was dropping and I was panicking.  We finally decided buying a brand new motor was going to be better in the long run than continuing to fix this ancient motor, but now we just needed to wait for it to arrive in Haiti. Our new motor arrived, was installed and running beautifully! It ran for a half a day and shook the concrete loose. Since then we’ve tried 3 sets of motor mounts and our little friend running the manual sheeter has had many, many days of work. Just last week we think we found the glass slipper of motor mounts, our motor is up and running and we’ve starting to catch up on production. 

We’ve been blessed with an amazing partnership in our first year through the flour mill, Les Moulin d’Haiti, in our neighboring village of Minotri.  Currently they gift our bakery 2/3 of the flour needed every week. As planned, the gifted amount of flour has slowly begun to decrease and will no longer be gifted as we finish our first year of business in September. It is imperative that the bakery be self-sustained by September of this year or it will be closing its doors. The flour mill will still allow us to buy a small quanitity of flour at whole sale price and continue training and supporting our bread makers. This partnership has been a huge blessing and we are grateful for our partners at LMH.

Frantz Techelet LMH.jpg

I share all these nitty gritty truths with you to say this - we need some help! How can you help the bakery in Simonette Haiti stay open and continue to provide jobs?

  1. Prayer – Pray, Pray, and then Pray some more! Satan would love nothing more than for a Christian Business to close its doors. In the name of Jesus, this will not happen! Pray against theft. Desperate people do desperate things and we are no stranger to theft in a small village like Simonette. Pray for me that I would lead my staff well. Pray for discernment for our management team as we make decisions. Pray for my staff and their families that this job would bless them well beyond their paychecks and this job will teach them skills to last a lifetime. Pray for customers. The more bread we sell the more jobs I can give.

  2. Support Justine – Support me so I can focus on supporting them! I do not take a salary from the bakery. There are a number of ways you can support and partner with me through a one time monetary gift or a reoccurring monthly gift. One HUGE misconception a lot of people have is that their small gift will not make a difference. Not everybody is able to give hundreds of dollar at time but give what you can on a regular basis and watch how the Lord will use it.  Give $20 or even $10 per month! I’m sure there are many, many people who feel like their $10 or $20 per month will not make a difference but if everybody thought that way I would never have donors. Give what you have and the Lord will multiply it.  Support Justine HERE! (Please note "Justine Otero" in the special instructions)

  3. Sponsor a bag of flour – A 110-lb sack of flour is about $30usd and we go through 25 sacks a week! This is our most expensive ingredient. If you’d like to help the bakery in a tangible way buy a bag a flour! This will free up some money for unplanned expenses or help us recover from the problems we’ve run into in our first 6 months. Paypal link HERE (Please note "Flour for the Bakery " in the special instructions)

  4. Purchase Artisan Products – We sell products in our bakery that are made in Haiti by Haitians –Job Creation! You can purchase these items during your visit to the bakery or they can be shipped to you (Shipping requires a good measure of patience and grace haha) We have Aprons and pot holders for sale made by The Denim Project. Your purchase is supporting job creation through a neighboring ministry in Minotri as well as supporting Justine as a missionary in Haiti. You can also purchase coffee, vanilla extract, almond extract, raw sugar & powder sugar for all of you bakers who would like to add a little bit of the Caribbean to your next batch of goodies. We also sell beautiful handmade metal décor for your home or kitchen made by an artisan in Titanyen – Job Creation again!    

  5. Send cakes & cupcakes! In searching for new clients and markets I’ve found a market that has not been tapped into YET! The area of Haiti that we are in does not have any type of reliable postal service. It’s nearly impossible to send flowers, a birthday card or small gift to friends and family in Haiti.  Now you can! Through Boulangerie Liberte & Patisserie Justina. You can order your cake or cupcakes online, pay through paypal and your friends and family can pick up their birthday or anniversary surprise at our Bakery in Simonette, Haiti. As soon as I have raised all the funds needed for a vehicle we will be able to provide delivery as well! This is yet another way you can support job creation in Haiti! People don’t want a hand out - they want a hand up, an earned income and a job to be proud of and you can be a part of that movement!

Thank you! Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post and hear the cry of my heart. Thank you for your interest in our little bakery in the small fishing village of Simonette. Thank you for praying for us, telling your friends about your visit to our bakery and sharing this blog post. Thank you for your purchase! Every bag of bread, every cake and cupcake and vanilla extract makes a difference. Thank you for every single dollar that has been given from a generous heart – the Lord sees your gift and has blessed us through your obedience to give.

Boulangerie Liberte is open for business!

I am excited to announce that our community bakery, Boulangerie Liberte, opened for business September 20th!

I moved to Simonette in the beginning of July. The first two months were spent making relationships in the community and lots of deep cleaning. The bakery had been closed for months so the layer of dust was thick! Many members from the community were showing up and helping out. Everybody was excited to hear the bakery was opening again.  I had a list a mile long of people in the community who needed and wanted a job in the bakery. I met people who wanted to wash dishes, clean the yard and assist the bread maker. Only problem, I hadn't found somebody who knew how to make bread. So I put the word out in the community that we were looking for a bread maker. A couple weeks later Frantz & Techelet showed up at the bakery "So we hear you're looking for bread makers?" I told them to come back on Tuesday for a working interview so I could see them in action. Tuesday September 20th they made a variety of different styles of bread from one 110lb sack of flour. I was impressed with their talent and abilities. At the young ages of 28 and 18 I was shocked. Frantz, 28, had been making bread for 8 years and his partner Techelet for as long as he could remember. As I watched Techelet knead the ingredients together one day I asked him "How long have you been making bread? And how are you so talented at such a young age?" He told me "My mother makes bread. I've been watching her make bread my whole life. This is all I know." Word spread fast  in the community that we had fired up the oven and were making bread that day. Later that afternoon people showed up and asked if they could buy from our first batch of bread. They couldn't wait!! Our first customer, and next door neighbor, came and filled her basket. My heart was full!

After our first day Frantz and Techelet asked me "So are we making bread again tomorrow?" I immediately knew these two were the ones for the job and we've been making bread everyday since.

We started with one 110lb bag of flour and by the end of this year, just 3 short months after opening, we are making five and even some days six 110 pound bags of flour! Its amazing to me what the Lord will do when you give Him all you have even if all is not much. When I moved to Simonette in July I had no idea when the bakery would actually open. Anytime I spoke with members of the community I always received the same two questions "When is the bakery opening?" and "Can I have a job?" There is a saying in creole "Bondye konnen" which means God knows. Every time anybody asked me when the bakery would open I always had the same response "Bondye konnen" because I really had no idea! This blanket statement made it easy for me not to commit to a date or time. To be honest I was afraid to commit and afraid I'd miss my carefully scheduled Grand Opening date. There was so much to do and I was overwhelmed and not ready to commit. I told friends and family Fall of 2016, also a very non-committal response.... November is still considered fall right?? Realistically I told myself October, however, opening day turned out to be about a week after the interview. I realized it was still September and all I could do was laugh. BONDYE KONNEN The Lord does what He wants and when He wants and that's alright by me.

Boulangerie Liberte is dedicated to providing families in Haiti freedom from poverty through job creation, orphan prevention and the pursuit of Jesus Christ.

Boulangerie Liberte currently employees 9 men and women from the communities of Simonette, Titanyen and Cabaret. My goal for the year 2017 is to double that number and give 9 more men and women jobs this year.

All profits from our bread sales go toward purchasing ingredients, bakery supplies and employee salaries. Eventually, with profits from the bakery, we will be able to give back to the community of Simonette through an elder program and help members of the community when a need arises.

All of my time at the bakery is volunteered and I do not receive a salary from the bakery. I am raising money for myself to be able to continue living and working in Haiti so that I may continue to give more job to Haitian men and women with profits from the bakery. I am looking for partners who believe in the mission and vision of Boulangerie Liberte and would like to give toward my monthly support. Is that you? Would you like to be a part of lives changing in Haiti? You can give a one-time gift or a reoccurring monthly gift. Every gift large and small makes a difference! Contact me at boulangerieliberte@gmail.com with any questions. Please make sure to designate your gift to "Justine Otero" in the special instructions.               Make your tax-deductible donation HERE!

 Visit and "like" our Facebook page to stay connected on the most current happenings at the bakery HERE!

I would like to thank every partner who has already commited to stand behind the vision for Boulangerie Liberte! Whether you have been praying for me and my staff, donated materials for the bakery or given a monetary gift - Thank you, Thank you THANK YOU!! Your investment into this bakery is an investment in the kingdom of God and that gift will never go unnoticed. I pray that God will bless you abundantly in this new year as you have blessed me and the staff of Boulangerie Liberte. Mesi anpil!    

Under Construction...

Bakery construction is well underway!

I'm excited to share with you some updates about what's going on in Simonette, Haiti. Thank you for all your prayers, words of encouragement and for sharing in my excitement for what God is doing through this bakery!

A little background on this bakery….

There is a generous man, Mr. Behrmann that owns a large car dealership in the city, Port-au-Prince, and his weekend beachhouse is right next door to our quaint little village of Simonette. Mr. Behrmann gifted the community of Simonette with this bakery a couple years ago, unfortunately, the bakery has never run well. I've heard many reasons and ideas about why this bakery has not been successul in the past. My favorite explanation of why the bakery has not run well is much the same as any unexplainable phenomenon in Haiti….voudou! Some people in the community believe there is a voudou curse on the bakery causing it to not run well. I loved hearing this reason because I can confidently say that Our God is bigger than any voudou curse.  I can only hope that my confidence in The Lord is contagious to those around me who are less than confident in this bakery opening again.  

I am so grateful for the non-profit organization Touch of Hope, who have partnered with me to see God's vision for this bakery become a reality. Thanks to family, friends and sponsors like YOU we have begun renovating the bakery in preparation to sell bread to the community of Simonette and to provide jobs. Some of the updates include: new plumbing, we've added a water tank inside the bakery and a new updated toilet, replaced the burner in our giant deisel oven, covered our work tables in concrete, replaced the cracked tile basin for kneading dough with a concrete basin and a new bright white paint job inside!  Take a look at some of the exciting photos from our renovation!  

We don't have the funding yet but our next set of renovations will be outside. I would love to repaint the outside of the bakery and give it a fresh, exciting new look that mirrors the exciting new things going on inside. I am also hoping to add a shaded cover to the front of the bakery where we will add tables and chairs for cliens to sit and enjoy our fresh bread or wait for their order to be prepared. I will also be ordering uniform shirts, hats and aprons or our staff when the funds become available. I will be seeking and asking for financial support for the bakery until it becomes self sustaining. I am also looking for financial support for myself to be able to continue living in Haiti and managing Boulangerie Liberte. I do not receive any type of salary from the bakery, all profits are used to pay our employees, purchasing ingredients, packaging, marketing, maintenance and materials needed for the bakery. 

We need partners who are ready to join the team! Is that YOU? If you have any questions about where your gift will be used or how to partner with Boulangerie Liberte please do not hesitate to email me at BoulangerieLiberte@gmail.com. 

If you are ready to start giving today you can give through Touch of Hope's paypal HERE!  

Please be sure to designate your donation for Justine Otero or The Bakery. You can give a one-time gift or if you are interested in giving monthly please don't forget to check the reoccuring giving box! Touch of Hope is a registered 501c3 and your gift is tax deductible. 

Thank you again!!! For those who have been praying and for those that have been giving! Sponsors who give and sponsors who pray are equally important and needed to accomplish the vision God  has given. I am confident that God has already provided everything we need for this bakery, it's just in the hands of His people. Will you be a part of what God's doing to bring freedom in Haiti??

30 years. 30 jobs.

God prepares.

This is what I'm learning. This is what I'm seeing played out in my life. This is what I remind myself of on hard days and what I celebrate on good days. This is what I trust and know. My God has prepared me for this. This calling. This moment.

"And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Esther 4:14

I just celebrated my 30th birthday at the end of June.  Let me be honest, this is not where I thought I'd be at 30 years old. Starting over, AGAIN! New Job, new home, new roomates....new everything! I'm sure I'm not the only one who takes a stroll down memory lane when my birthday rolls around. I was reminisicng about all the jobs I've had in my 30 years of life and suprisingly, if my count is right, I've had over 30 jobs in my life! Jobs ranging from retail stores, a day spa, food service, apartment leasing, marketing, a bridal store and even a barber shop at one point! haha You might call me a Jill of all trades. The other day, I'm scooping ice cream at my friends adorable little shop in Haiti,  Rosie's Boutique, and I laughed. My first real job with a paycheck and paying taxes when I was 15 years old was at Dairy Queen, an ice cream shop in Albuquerque, NM. Here I am 15 years later serving ice cream. Oh how my life has come full circle. God has a funny sense of humor like that! In that moment God spoke to me (Through ice cream...I know! I'm rolling my eyes too. I'm one of THOSE weird Christians that thinks she hears God in weird moments. Anyway..) He said, "I've prepared you for this." I laughed but as the day ended I really begin to process what God was speaking to me. All of the jobs, moves, roomates, failed friendships and relationships, heart aches and lessons have all prepared me for this moment, this time! 

A couple months ago, I had a late night kitchen convo with my roommate Holly. I told her that I think God is speaking something to me but I can't really put my finger on exactly what it is. All I know is He is preparing me for adoption. I dont know what that means or when it's happening but I want to share it with someone who knows and loves me well so that when God does make it clear, we can celebrate that God moment! I shared it with my Mom when I was home too, in hopes to share an amazing story of God's provision one day. I've known for years that I would love for my future husband and I to adopt children as well as have our own. However, I know God is telling me "Be patient. It's not going to happen exactly the way you would want it to be. It wont be an ideal situation." I've had my words with Him about this don't worry lol "Jesus, I'm not even close to being married yet! Why would you prepare me for adoption before preparing me for marriage?? This is dumb! It doesn't make sense." (Side Note: a lot of the things God has done in my life never seem to make sense. I should expect this!) In my moments of confusion that week I turned to God's word. What does the bible say about adoption? Lord, I want to see examples of adoption, show me! I turned to the stories of Moses, Esther & Jesus! Moses was adopted. He should have been killed but his mother wanted more for him. His life was spared and he lived on to do monumental things for the kingdom. Esther was adopted. Her parents died and she was raised by her cousin and would go on to encourage the Jews to pray and fast for deliverance and eventually save her people. Jesus was adopted.... by Joseph! Duh! I know right!? Obviously I knew Joseph was not Jesus' biological father but it never occurred to me to see Joseph as an adoptive father. Joseph accepted and loved a child that was not his. Lastly, Justine Marie Otero was adopted. I was adopted into a royal family when I gave God complete control of my life.

"For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, "Abba Father!" Romans 8:15

While speaking with my pastor about dating and mixed families, it dawned on me again, God prepared me for this! I worked for over a year in the orphanage at Mission of Hope and grew to love kids that are not mine with my whole heart as if they were my own. He prepares. I still don't  know exactly what He is preparing me for when it comes to adoption but I know and I trust He will take care of me and He has me here in this life, with His people for this time. I am confident of that!

So, here's to the next 30 years, hopefully not 30 more jobs! haha

Exciting Update! BAKERY COMING SOON!!

Last year after Easter weekend I made an exciting announcement about a new season of my life which involved moving to Haiti full time to work in the orphanage at Mission of Hope. I wrote a blog post (read it HERE) recalling many of the life changing mile stones I have experienced over the last few years at Easter time. Coincidentally, or we could say divinely, my life is changing yet again with an exciting announcement at Easter time down to the date exactly -April 8th! The anniversary of our Savior’s resurrection has also become the anniversary of the Lord resurrecting dead and buried things in my life too!

 I’ve been offered an amazing opportunity to open and manage a bakery in Simonette, Haiti!

The village of Simonette is a neighboring village only 10 minutes away from Mission of Hope near the water but still close enough to see the kids and my MOH friends on a regular basis. This bakery has been open before but not managed well causing production to stop. The owner of the bakery has a desire for this business to give back to the community of Simonette.  The bakery’s primary focus will be making bread for the schools and orphanages in the area as well as creating jobs to empower Haitians. I know I speak for many when I say that I believe job creation in Haiti is a giant step in the right direction toward ending the cycle of poverty. The more jobs created can give desperate parents the opportunity to raise their own children rather than feel the only hope they have is to give them up to an orphanage.  You would be shocked to learn that 80% of children in orphanages here in Haiti have living parents or family members. Family reunification and job empowerment is my dream and desire for this beautiful island in Caribbean.  My vision for the bakery as it grows would obviously be to expand to making cakes, cookies and other Haitian pastries while continuing to create more opportunity for employment. The possibilities are endless, because we serve a limitless God!!

So, let me share with you the story of how this all came about:

In the fall of 2014 I was an intern for MOH and I had a team spending time in the village of Simonette. My good friend Kayla, Jesus lover, wife, mother and owner of Rosie’s Boutique, made a comment to me after seeing a recent cupcake or cookie post on my Facebook. “I didn’t know you bake! There is a closed down bakery here in Simonette. You should re-open it!” Her comment was so ridiculous to me I laughed! I didn’t know the first thing about opening a bakery nor did I have the money saved up to pour into a project like that. I didn’t think it was possible so I hardly gave it a second thought.

At the end of my 2014 internship I knew in my heart that my time in Haiti was nowhere near coming to an end. I was praying about the opportunity to stay in Haiti and a position in the orphanage at Mission of Hope became available. I applied and accepted the position in the orphanage in April of 2015 and moved to Haiti in May. I am so grateful for the year and a half I spent at Mission of Hope.  The year I spent in the orphanage with our 62 kids, young adults and 20+ orphanage manmis is a year I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was a roller coaster of emotions and experiences but JOY overshadows them all. I have learned how to be a better employee, sister, friend, mentor and God-willing mother someday soon (fingers crossed, prayers for my future husband appreciated! lol)  I have gained lifelong relationships and friendships here in Haiti with other North American missionaries as well as Haitians in the surrounding villages through my time at MOH. My first short term mission trip in 2013 radically changed my life and I’m thankful for the journey the Lord has walked me through here in Haiti.  Now in 2016 The Lord is expanding my vision and mission here in Haiti and exceeding my wildest dreams and expectations. I will be concluding my time at Mission of Hope at the end of May, coming home to America for the month of June and returning to Haiti just before my 30th birthday to see a dream of opening a bakery come to life and bringing jobs to Haiti in July of 2016.

God is truly giving me the “sweetest” desires of my heart. (Pun intended)

Why a bakery you ask??

My mother taught me everything I know in the kitchen from whipping up quick miracle meals for our family, traditional Mexican food to cakes, cookies and pies. I grew up loving our time together in the kitchen learning new recipes, especially around the holidays when we would bake hundreds of goodies for friends, family and holiday parties. I loved baking for friends’ birthdays and bridal and baby showers even after moving out and graduating from my mother’s kitchen. One day a friend told me, “Your cupcakes are really great you should sell them!” In 2011 I started a small home business in Albuquerque, NM called Jus’ Cupcakes, selling my cupcakes to anybody who was willing to give me a chance. I moved to Dallas, TX in 2012 and almost immediately gained a new clientele ready to buy cupcakes and cookies! I dreamed of having a bakery one day but, to be honest, I was intimidated about the thought of starting a business. I was sure you needed a business degree and time spent at the best culinary arts schools in the country, neither of which I have. I assumed I needed to start small with a food truck then expand to a store front one day. As the Lord opened the doors for me in Haiti I made peace with the fact that my love of baking and dreams of having a bakery were just a distant memory. But God is so good, He still blessed me with many opportunities to bake here in Haiti.  I have had the privilege of making the birthday cakes every month for our orphanage kids as well as many cakes and cookies for my roommates, bible study friends and friends here on campus. The game changed when my home church Calvary brought my KitchenAid mixer to Haiti last November, Mesi Jezi!!! (*Inserting flailing arms of praise here) There have been times I get frustrated with myself for all the years I wasted in my life not serving Jesus Christ, not going to school or getting married and starting a family. But God is the owner of time! He can fast forward, pause and rewind time. What has been lost, can be replaced, including time and I can say that because I’ve witnessed it in my own life.

My request from you, family and friends, is simply PRAYER.

I ask that you pray for my transition. Pray for my heart as I leave the orphanage and the joy of seeing these kids every day changes to only once or twice a week. Pray for my kiddos at Mission of Hope that they would know how truly loved they are and regardless of who comes or goes God never changes and never leaves us. Pray for the man or woman of God that is being prepared now to come and take over my position. I trust that God has already chosen him or her and is sending them our way. Pray for the community of Simonette and my relationships with those living in this new village, that they would accept this crazy, creole speaking Mexican coming to run their bakery! lol

Pray for HAITI! That the violence, spiritual warfare, poverty and despair, none of which comes from God, would flee at the mere mention of the name of Jesus!

Thank you for reading this post and for praying, supporting and encouraging me along every step of this crazy journey my Father has called me on!

I will be working for the non-profit organization Touch of Hope in Simonette. If you would like more information about this organization please visit touchofhopehaiti.com. If you are interested in partnering with me financially you can send a check or money order to:

205 Old Mill Lane Rock Rapids, Iowa 51246 (Memo: Justine’s Bakery)

Mesi Anpil!! Bondye beni ou - Justina

Thankful for tears. Five years later...

It’s Sunday morning and I am in church with my family in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We’re standing together singing praise and worship and tears are running down my face. But this time these tears are coming from a heart full of joy. I am reminded of where I was 5 years ago, almost to the day, in this very church. The church where I rededicated my life to God in 2010 during a very painful time in my life.

When I first rededicated my life to The Lord I cried all the time. Literally every service. I’m talking like ugly, mascara running down my cheeks, snot nosed crying.  I started to wonder why I even bothered wearing makeup to church anymore. I cried from a place of pain and hopelessness. I was embarrassed because I cried so much. I snuck in late, sat in the back row of this huge church, cried my eyes out and then left a little early to avoid running into someone I knew. After almost a year I was frustrated with myself that I cried so much. I wondered if there would ever be a day that I would not cry my eyes out during worship. Will this feeling ever go away? Is this what having a relationship with God looks like, crying all the time? I witnessed other people around me with hands lifted high, worshipping from a place of joy with smiles on their faces.  Why didn’t I feel the same way?

One Sunday during a sermon the pastor compared our tears of sadness and pain to a jack-o-lantern. He explained after experiencing some cuts (pain in our life) we need to remove all of the yucky, messy things before the light can shine through. That visual gave me hope. Hope that this season would end. Hope that I would not be weeping every Sunday in the church pews.  I knew the Lord was allowing me time to cleanse and get all the mess out. I embraced the process and let the tears flow.  At a very dark place in my life when I felt like I had hit rock bottom my sweet friend Tory told me “You are in the middle of your testimony. Don’t give up!” I have never forgotten these words.  It had never occurred to me that all these bad choices, regrets and pains could be used for something good.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those that love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28

This year I’ve reached a turning point.  Yes, I still cry in church. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to change, at least I hope it doesn’t. One day in conversation one of the orphanage Mommies told me in creole  “Justina, you love to cry.” This wasn’t a question, but rather a statement accompanied by a look of confusion. I laughed and I told her “Oh manmi you have no idea what I’ve been through.”  She was right, I do love to cry. I cry in church, in movies, when other people cry or just because I haven’t cried in a while. Haha It’s refreshing! However, the difference now is my tears come from a heart full of joy. Joy and gratefulness to be alive, to be free to worship, and to be walking in the purpose the Lord has for my life. I still have problems and fears. Some days the tears come from a broken heart, but those days are far and few between.

It’s been five years since I rededicated my life to the Lord in October of 2010. A lot has happened in five years.  Since 2010 I moved from Albuquerque to Dallas, found another amazing church home, met friends who became family away from home, my brother Christopher got married and I finally have a sister, my younger brother Nathan graduated high school and has started Pharmacy school, my parents have been married 35 years and they’re really enjoying this whole empty nest phase, and in 2012 my Haiti journey began which has lead me to where I am now.

 I am living in Haiti, serving with Mission of Hope in the orphanage. My position includes mentoring young girls and supporting them in their relationship with the Lord, child sponsorship within the orphanage and, just recently, teaching English classes to our kids.

I could also list all the hurts from the last five years but the mile long list of victories completely over shadows the short list of heart breaks. So when you see me crying in church just know that 95% of the time it’s from a heart overflowing with joy and gratefulness for what the Lord has carried me through and where He has purposed me to be today!

Flashback to that Sunday morning in church with my family…

As we finished singing praise and worship my mind is racing as this blog post about tears of joy and tears of pain was brewing in my thoughts. I knew I had to write it down as soon as possible.

And wouldn’t you know it, in the sneaky little way the Holy Spirit works, today Pastor’s message was about tears!

“Those who sow with tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” Psalm 126:5

Our Pastor opened my eyes to the beauty in this scripture. The act of planting is confusing because it looks like burial. We may feel like we’ve been buried but really we’ve been planted. When water is introduced to a seed it forces change. Our tears water us, the precious seed, and cause, rather forces growth in our lives.

I was planted! Many times I felt buried, six feet under-no hope kind-of buried. But it was all a set-up, all my tears were watering a dream the Lord had planted long ago and I’m just seeing the beginning of the harvest!

Reflecting on the last five years of my life I am so grateful that I am not in charge of my future! I am grateful because I would have not picked this path for myself. I would have probably taken the easier, less bumpy, cheaper road but where’s the fun in that? Where is the faith required to travel that road? When I look back at the last 5 years I know beyond a shadow of a doubt it was God that carried me through. There are things I have experienced and blessings that I’ve received that I don’t deserve.  I am in a teaching and leadership position, that in the world’s opinion, I am completely unqualified for. But you know who qualifies me? GOD. He had a plan for me long before I was born and He will see to it that it’s carried out, I just have to be obedient, flexible and trust Him.

After graduating high school I went to the University of New Mexico to pursue a degree in elementary education with a minor in Spanish. My dream was to become a bilingual teacher. Along this bumpy road I changed my major, went from being a full-time student to only taking a couple of credit hours and eventually dropping out of college. Life took a twisted little turn for about 4 years and I had completely gotten off track…or so I thought. The next couple of years were actually training for things I wasn’t going to learn in a classroom. Here I am, 10 years later speaking Creole, a language I never studied, teaching English classes, living in the Caribbean without any type of degree or formal training. You can’t tell me that isn’t God. My dream of being a bilingual teacher wasn’t dead and buried it was just planted waiting til now to bear fruit.  Sometimes, ok ALL the time, God shows off and gives you even more than you asked for…Seriously,  Haiti Lord!?! This beautiful Caribbean country…I don’t deserve this!

I am THANKFUL for all the tears in the last 5 years.

Drafts & Unpublished Posts

So we have this phrase at Mission Of Hope, “raw & real”, which basically means give it to me straight, tell me where you’re at, how you’re feeling or what’s on your mind. It’s meant to make you feel like you’re in a safe place with family and friends who care about you and you can be vulnerable around.

Well this is me being raw and real:

I have so many blog posts started but never finished. They're everywhere: in my phone, laptop, journal and in my thoughts, but I don't post them. They have not been published for a number of reasons:

1.       I’m nervous. I am self-conscious about my skills as a writer. I read other people’s blogs in amazement and doubt myself. I think to myself “Wow! This is so beautifully written, I definitely don’t write like that” or “Her blog is so funny and witty” or “This blog is so colorful and has the perfect picture to go with every post! Which came first this great picture or this phenomenal post?”

2.       I over think it.  I write down what I want to share when it’s fresh, genuine and right at the tip of my tongue…err fingertips. But then I edit, and edit, and edit!!! Why you ask? Because I’m so concerned with what it will sound like. What will people think? Will I offend anyone with this post? Are there any grammar errors, misspellings or run on sentences?! Can I use that many question marks and exclamations points???? Is it totally unprofessional to say “haha” or to say “totally”? haha (Ok I laughed out loud on that one) The pressure to have the perfect blog is ridiculous! 

3.       I just don’t have the time. Ok I’m lying. I do have the time I just choose to waste it doing other things, like binging on social media, pinning thousands of crafts and recipes I have yet to complete on Pinterest or watching a movie I’ve already seen ten times.

One of my sweet, new friends here in Haiti, Kayla, wrote an amazing blog post last month (Read it HERE) which really blessed and encouraged me. This isn’t the first time this girl has encouraged me with her gift of writing. Before I came on my first trip to Haiti in 2013 I was following Kayla on Facebook and being encouraged by her pictures and posts. The Lord has used Kayla’s gift for articulating her experiences her in Haiti to bless me and countless others I’m sure. I have these thoughts and stories bubbling up inside of me waiting to be shared. Stories of how the Lord is working in Haiti, in my life and in the lives of those around me.  I know from past experience that if you make yourself along with your gifts and talents available to the Lord He will definitely use you. I believe the Lord can use me to encourage someone else just like He uses my friend Kayla (and a couple other blog rock stars listed below) to encourage me and so many others through their writing.

So, here’s what I’ve learned this week.

1.      There is no perfect blog.

2.    We have all shamed our grade school Language Arts teacher at one time or another. You have permission to point my grammar and punctuation errors out to me. Be gentle. 

3.    I probably will offend someone at some point. That’s life. It’s not intentional, hopefully I will offend less than others, but it happens unfortunately. So if I offend you… ooops I'm sorry friend!

So from this moment on I’m just going to write! When the thoughts and stories come I’m just going to get it out in all of its genuine, raw and realness form.  I hope that the stories and thoughts that I share with you will bless and encourage you. As so many of my friends have done for me in the past and continue to do so as they just write what’s on their hearts.

Cheers to imperfect, raw and real blog posts!

Enjoy! 

Check out some of my favorite blogs about whats going on here in Haiti written by my sweet friends and partners in crime ...I mean ministry!

Good Hope Through Grace by Grace Heymsfield

Good Hope Through Grace by Grace Heymsfield

....just to name a few!

Love is....

I’m learning a new language here in Haiti, and I’m not just referring to Creole.  

My love languages to others have always been words of affirmation and gifts. Now living in Haiti it’s not as easy to tell someone exactly how appreciative you are of them when you only speak about 250 words in their native language.  I mean you can only say "Mesi Anpil" so many times. It’s also not so easy to go out and buy a sweet, thoughtful gift for a friend’s birthday, graduation or Mother’s Day when you don’t have a Target around the corner or Starbucks to buy a quick, dare I say last minute, gift card to say “Thanks!"

So, with that being said, I am learning new love languages. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Love is in a name.

If you’ve visited Haiti before you will learn very quickly upon your return the value in remembering a name. Whether you have visited for a week or three months the people you’ve met will remember your name, and you better hope you remember theirs when you come back.  In a country where material possessions are few for most, the pride and ownership in a name is invaluable. I love meeting young students at school and when asked “Kijan ou rele?” (What is your name?) they respond with pride with their first, middle and last name, and they will have no problem correcting your pronunciation multiple times until you get it right.

Surprisingly, love is also receiving a brutally honest nickname. As you can imagine it took me some time to learn everybody’s name here in the orphanage which is quite the challenge with 62 kids and over 20 mommies and one daddy. Unfortunately, the name game does not end there. Now that the kids are more comfortable with me I have the pleasure of learning everybody’s nickname. If you think the kids have not given you a nickname you’re sadly mistaken or they just haven’t said it to your face…yet! The problem with learning these nicknames is that I want to correct the kids for calling each other not-so-kind names but I can barely control the laughter or smile on my face because although they hurt, they’re true! I’m not going to reveal real names to protect the dignity of our kiddos haha but I will share with you some of the funniest names I hear on a daily basis. For example, they call one of the girls “Baguette” because she has long skinny legs like baguettes, or one of the guys “Bus” because he has a long head like a bus. My sweet friend Holly’s nickname is one of my favorites “Fontenn” which literally means forehead because, well, you guessed it, she has a big forehead!  I was dreading the day I received my nickname because I know how brutally honest our kiddos can be. That day has come and there are a couple names for me that I know of at least. They call one our older boys “kwys kole” and they call me “kwys kole #2” which has something to do with the way we walk or my thighs touching, I’m not completely sure! Haha Brutally honest I tell ya! Hey that’s fine with me, I know my thighs touch and that means I’m just that much closer to being a mermaid, right??  Love is being given a nickname. 

Love is food.

I’m positive the love language of food is pretty universal. In Haiti I felt the kids warming up to me when they began sharing their food with me. And by “sharing” I mean shoving a soggy, half eaten Chico in my mouth at movie night even if I REALLY don’t want it! One of my favorite days here every week is Sundays. I’m not just saying that because it’s The Lord’s day and I want to sound super saved haha I love Sundays because after the beautiful worship service I attend at the bottom of the hill at Church of Hope I spend the rest of the afternoon with our teenage transition girls making a traditional Haitian meal for the visiting teams. Some weeks we make food for as few as 50 people to as many as 300 people in the busy summer weeks.  This time has become so precious to me because it’s more than just making chicken, rice & beans every Sunday. It’s learning new words in creole, conversations about our faith in God, dating, dreams and goals, jokes and more nicknames as well as mastering traditional Haitian recipes.  Here in the kitchen there is also more “sharing” of food whether I want it or not! Praise the Lord for a strong stomach, thanks to two separates occasions of having worms during my internship. It's not as bad as it sounds I promise.

Many times my Haitian friends have asked casually in conversation if I’ve eaten today, which was confusing and a little offensive at first if I’m being honest. Why does this person care about when or if I ate?? Are you calling me fat!? Haha One day it just cliqued! *Aha! moment* This is a term of affection! Someone who loves and cares for you wants to know if you’ve eaten well today. Love is food.

 Love is keeping a promise.

One of the first things I learned in Haiti is you do not make a promise you cannot keep.  This is harder than you think. For example, in creole if you say “see you later” (Na we pita) that literally means later that day. That’s a promise made.

What I love about Haitian culture is that when they say they are going to do something they keep their promise. It may be on “Island time” but it’s done! Come rain, tap tap or moto they will keep their promise whether that’s to meet you at church, meet you in a village, help you find a friend from a previous visit, or just as simply as greeting a family member for you.

I am so grateful for a number of promises my Haitian family has made to me and kept their word. This has made me very aware of the words that come out of my mouth. Not that I was speaking recklessly before, but now I am very careful not to make a promise I can’t keep or gets someone’s hopes up for something I’m not 100% sure I can deliver.              Love is keeping your word. 

Love is attending a funeral.

We have one daddy in our orphanage who lives with our teenage boys in the Hope House. The beginning of this summer in May his young wife past away unexpectedly. We were all shocked and heart broken at the news. The day of the funeral we loaded up all of the kids who were out of school, put on our Sundays best and set out to support our family member. A couple weeks later upon returning to work, we were decorating for a graduation party and he stopped me to tell me “Justine I just want to say it meant so much to me to have your presence at my wife’s funeral.” My heart was so full I couldn’t hold back the tear trickling down my face. Here we were celebrating a joyful event of one of our kids graduating while he thanked me for just being there to celebrate his wife’s life at her funeral. I told him “Hey that’s what family does! We celebrate with each other in the good times and the bad. We are family Jean Remy.” He just smiled and said “Yes we are!”

Love is celebrating life together, in the good times and bad.

 

Love is fixing your hair when you look crazy.

There are many days I’m running around the orphanage doing little odd jobs here and there, wrestling with our toddlers, talking to mommies and then one of my girls tells me straight faced “Justina ou gen tet poul!” Which literally means “you have chicken head” as they proceed to fix my hair. This, also another term of endearment, makes me feel oh so loved as I play back the day and how many people I talked to with my hair looking crazy.  Love is also picking flakes from your head when you’ve left your braids in too long. Haha Yes, guilty! *hand raised*

Funny Story – I took a little weekend trip with friends to north Haiti to serve with a ministry and orphanage in Cap Haitian. One day I was having a conversation with one of the older boys, who use to live in the orphanage, about his family. He has a young son and soon–to-be wife and we were talking about the ways he shows his fiancé how he loves her. Some of his examples included washing clothes, making her dinner, telling her she is beautiful and my favorite-removing the flakes from her hair. I died laughing at the strange answer he gave me, but then I completely agreed with him because you really have to love someone in order to pick flakes out of their hair, right!? In that moment I thought about my girls in the orphanage and how they love me. Love is not letting you look crazy.

 

Love is Jesus.

This seems like the obvious answer right!?  I mean it should be the first thing we say when asked what love is but many times, and for many people it is not the first thought that comes to mind.  That can also be the fault of “the church” Have we really been an example of the love of Jesus to our brother and sisters and neighbors? If you watch the news for any amount of time the answer to this question is a quick “No!” 

It breaks my heart to see the fear and pain in people’s heart which leads us to hate and harm one another.

I was LOVED back to life, back to a relationship with Jesus. When my life was a wreck and I was making very selfish, reckless decisions the family, friends and coworkers around me loved me when I was hurting and unlovable.  

You can have all the money you desire, power & fame, prestigious education, perfect attendance at church and bible study, court rulings in your favor or the perfect family you’ve always wanted but if you don’t have love…you have nothing!

 I’m sure most people know the very popular verses about love from 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 “Love is patient, love is kind…Love never fails…these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is Love.” I actually sited this in a previous blog post, but take a look at the verses right before these very popular go-to wedding verses.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that can move mountains but I do not love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr but I do not love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
— 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 MSG

Love heals. Love saves. Love wins. I hope this blog post encourages you to love the people around you in a new way. I'm not just talking about the people who are like you, who agree with you or who you can benefit from, that's easy! I am talking about people who are very different from you, people who annoy and inconvenience you, people whose life styles and choices you don't agree with, that's love.

One page at a time...

I know all of my adorable pictures on social media make it hard to believe that building relationships with these kids is not so easy. Getting to a place where these kids open up to you and show a vulnerable side has been quite a challenge. However, it’s a challenge I am excited about and so grateful for the opportunity to tackle. I thank God for the strength and glimpses of hope to endure.

 When my internship began in August 2014, it was difficult to make friends with the teens and pre-teens in the orphanage and understandably so! These kids meet a new set of interns three times a year. I am sure they don’t want to waste the time getting close to another intern who will leave after 3 to 4 months and possibly never come back. Can you blame them?  Let’s be real, I would have a wall around my heart too.  I am so grateful for a leader like Justin who encouraged me to push through and pursue a relationship with the girls in the orphanage early on in my internship.

My relationships with the girls started out slow.  One night I heard the girls were baking - my area of “expertise” - so I thought I’d join in. I’ll be honest, the first time wasn’t a homerun and there were a lot of awkward silent moments and side conversations in creole. I knew this was going to take more effort on my part than just one night of cupcakes and sprinkles. I wasn’t going to give up easily. I began to join the teenage girls every Sunday afternoon as they prepared a traditional Haitian meal for the teams. The relationships begin to slowly blossom. A couple of the older, more outgoing girls were easy to talk to, laugh and joke with. I learned that some of the girls were distant and withdrawn, not because they had no interest in becoming my friend but simply because their English was not as strong as some of the other girls, which is intimidating. So Sundays quickly became our English/Creole class, as well as teaching me how to make Haitian food...in preparation for my husband, as Manmi (Mommy) Roseline repeatedly reminded me.  Let me tell you, these girls sure know how to cook! Their expertise in the kitchen gave the girls the confidence they lacked in their English skills to interact with me.

One girl in particular, Diona, took me right under her wing in the kitchen. I learned most of my tricks and secret ingredients from this beauty. She doesn’t speak much to anybody, in English or Creole. This girl has this mysterious beauty about her that is magnetic. Manmi Roseline told me one day, in Creole, Diona must really love you because she doesn’t get close to any “blan”. "Blan" is literally translated from Creole as the color white. This is a term used to describe any person of the lighter skin tone that isn’t Haitian. So this observation from Manmi Roseline was actually a compliment and I was smiling from ear to ear and doing a little happy dance inside.

As irony would have it, my relationships with the kids really began to flourish just a couple weeks before my internship was coming to an end. How could I leave now!?  All this progress made with these kids and it’s time to go? You can imagine my heart break! So as the news of an open position in the orphanage came to my attention, I couldn't help but apply immediately.  I hoped to get back to Haiti to continue working on these relationships that I cherished so much. I didn’t want to be another person in their lives that came and went for such a short season. I am so grateful to be back here in my Haiti home and so excited to see these young men and women again. I am humbled and honored that God would entrust me with the friendships and hearts of these young people.

Upon my return I was nervous as to what these friendships would look like. Would we pick up right where we left off? Would I have to start all over again? Would they remember me?  Let me just say upon my return it doesn’t feel like any time has passed since I saw them last. I arrived on a Saturday and the very next day at Church of Hope, my sweet friend Diona drug me out of church to meet someone. She introduced me to her older brother, a brother I had never even heard about!  (Cue the silent happy dance inside again!)  Diona is the oldest of three siblings living here on MOH campus. She has a younger sister and brother and is very protective of her siblings.  Some of our kids here at Village of Hope have family outside of the mission. However this is a sensitive subject you just don’t bring up unless the information is offered to you. Yet, here I was meeting her brother and his girlfriend. I was honored and overjoyed to be given another small glimpse into my sweet Diona’s life. 

Each one of these children, young men and young women, has an amazing story written by the greatest Author, Jesus Christ. They might have had some rough chapters in the beginning, chapters that I haven’t even begin to scratch the surface of, but I can attest to the beauty that is unfolding in each of their lives today. Slowly, day by day I get sweet glimpses into their lives.  One paragraph, one story, and one page at a time and I am so grateful!    

Throughout this journey there are small victories every day that encourage me to keep pressing on. They encourage me to continue praying for these kids and loving them even on days they really don’t want to be loved or love me back. 

 

If you would like to learn more about the Village of Hope Orphanage please visit Mission of Hope's website

Are you interested in making a donation or supporting me on a monthly basis while I live here in Haiti? 

Support Justine!

 

"Wait!? You don't get paid to be a full time missionary!?"

As you can imagine I get asked a lot of questions about moving to Haiti. However, the most asked question is "How much are they paying you!?" and then my family and friends are shocked to hear the answer. I am not being paid an hourly or salary wage to move to Haiti, this is a full time support-raised ministry position. If I'm being honest I swallowed hard too when I learned this about the position I accepted in the orphanage in Haiti. 


However, I am completely confident that God has called me for this time and this place to live with and minister to the kids living at Mission of Hope's orphanage in Haiti. My confidence in God's calling also comes with a confidence in God's provision. If He's called me to this mission He will provide, I am sure of that! I'm not sure how He will provide but I know my financial, physical & spiritual needs will be met. 


I read a great article this morning about raising missionary support that I wanted to share with anyone in full time ministry and my supporters, family & friends. Article Here!Hopefully this answers some questions about why I am raising support and what the bible says about it. 


I really like the truth in this quote below! Trust me this process hasn't been easy but I can promise you God has already taken care of it and He's loving me through it every day. 


"“So, missionaries don’t get paid! I’m willing to leave my nice job, my family, my friends, and my home to tell people about Jesus, the most wonderful treasure this world has ever known and on top of all of that sacrifice, I have to pay to do it or raise missionary support?” About 80% of all missionaries on the mission field serving these days have to raise missions support to cover their own living and ministry expenses."


Thank you for reading! 
If God has urged you to give towards the life transformation taking place in Haiti or you would like to support me as a full time missionary in Haiti CLICK HERE! (Choose Staff Member Justine Otero) You can give a one time gift or you can set up reoccurring giving. 


Thank you for your prayers, words of encouragement and your generous giving! God bless you!


Mesi anpil! Bondye beni ou!