Monday, June 10, 2013

Haitian Hair Handiwork

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese)
The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

I think I need to teach my girls this term Cafuné  as "tenderly" seems to be lost on them.  In fact, they were taking great delight in putting my removed hair follicles on their own heads and laughing at the color and texture difference.  When they play with my hair, I end up with 50-100 less hairs due to their aggressive pulling.  I am constantly saying in Creole, "Gentle please!" but of course, that lasts about ten seconds before it is forgotten.  

Some of you with healthy heads of hair might not recognize the extreme cost  this is for a thinning fine-haired middle-aged woman.  Most remarkable is when you understand my hair was "my thing" growing up.  I didn't care about a beautiful body or face nearly as much as  I coveted a beautiful head of hair.  I was constantly desiring the long straight locks of my Latino and Asian friends.  My nightmares as a child were that someone snuck into my room in the middle of the night and cut off my hair.   I woke up crying more than once due to this recurring dream.  

A few years ago I was shocked when looking at my high school yearbook and I noticed how incredibly long my hair was.  You see, if you had asked me in high school if I had long hair, I would have responded, "No, but I'm trying to grow it out."  Yet those yearbook photos aren't lying.  Remember, these were before the days of Photoshop and hair extensions.  And they most certainly reveal my hair almost reached my waist.

So why do I let these girls abscond with my precious and few remaining hair strands?  Simply because these girls are worth so much more than the hairs on my head.  I have no desire to hinder their love and joy - so when they want to run their fingers through my hair in attempts to make me into a Haitian beauty, I'm not going to stop them.    Most of you know the previous trauma of their lives, so I love letting them "be girls," even at the expense of my scalp.

Thought you might enjoy a few photos of their most recent handiwork- and I do mean HAND-iwork.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Hearing, Beating, Praising, Passionate Heart in Haiti

Before I even emerged out of the airport, the sweat was dripping down my back.  Actually, the more accurate description would be that it was rushing in waterfall fashion down every nook, cranny, crevice and curve of my backside and frontside. 
But here is a snippet why neither heat or humidity will deter me.  And why a salad-loving  woman will put up with rice and potato crisps two times a day, six days in a row:

Interviewed 18 people on Saturday for micro-loans and tomorrow a full day ahead with 30 slotted in. The little I can say at this hour of the morning with an early wakeup time soon to follow is this:

 God is at work in Haiti. 

Amazed and discipled by the people here who give testimonies that many Americans would place in the category of hardships. 

One woman shared about losing her baby in the womb, but she still had reason to praise God because He spared her life. Another summed up the sentiments of many with: "If I am living, I can thank God." 

Reminds me of hearing a Haitian pastor declare shortly after the January 2010 quake: "No famine, hurricane, earthquake or disaster can keep me from praising God. Even when I sleep, my heart will beat out its praises to God."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Heaven or Hell? Homeward bound to Haiti.

 Heaven or Hell? Homeward bound to Haiti.

After a 2 day delay due to a plane going off the runway in Port au Prince, we expect to be landing in our hot humid other home.  As I was anticipating and reflecting upon this- the phrase "Heaven or Hell" popped up in my mind.  It reminded me that Haiti is a place of extreme contrasts, and to some it reflects hell, to others, slices of heaven.  It is truly a matter of perspective.

Sure, you can notice the obvious poverty and the violence and desperation that sometimes goes with it, but you can also be aware of the beautiful beaches and a people who value relationships.  I think about my friend Manno- and how his life is wrapped up in the contrast of this country.

I first met Manno twenty-five years ago- on my very first trip to Haiti.  He was assigned to my team as a translator, and I wasn't the only one who noticed the intelligence, kindness and wisdom of this then young man.  In fact, some of you who have known me from that ancient time ago might remember me sharing the story of visiting a poor family and discovering there was one orange for them to eat for the entire day.  But when my team of three came a'visiting, that ENTIRE orange was given to us.  I call that "Generosity Defined."   In fact, "REMARKABLE Generosity Defined," as Manno knew that my three member team was staying at a ministry center where we were served food three times a day.  Nonetheless, Manno gave us ALL he had that day when he sliced the orange into 3 separate servings and handed it to each one of us.

Honestly I didn't want to eat that orange as the sacrifice it represented was so great, yet I also knew it was a gift I must accept.  Though Manno and his family had little to give, they wanted to give it all.  They knew what Christ had done for them, and they wanted to love in as deep a sacrificial manner.  Some would say, "Ah, it's easy for him to give all as he has so little."  Clearly a sentiment belonging to someone who has never been on the brink of starvation.

So fast-forward to 2013, and you would find that the 'investment' I and some friends made in helping Manno further his education has paid off in ways none of us could imagine.  It took ten years, but due to his persistence and hard work, Manno became a doctor.  And when cholera hit his nation for the first time, and as of now, 7000 people died, Dr Manno kept his clinic doors open while others shut theirs.  After all, cholera is not a pretty disease, so many doctors simply refused to treat such patients.  But not Dr Manno.  Though most of his patients could not pay, Dr Manno refused no one.  Yes, the same man who decades earlier had given all - was still doing the same thing as he still knew the same Christ.  In fact, during the height of the infection, he was working almost 20 hour shifts- for he knew the battle was for life or death.

So Manno is a man  I believe represents the best of God in his country.  Though he could live in the USA, Canada or the Dominican Republic, he has chosen to stay in a poor remote area of Haiti, servicing people with health care needs- whether they can pay or not.

Do you remember I mentioned earlier that Manno's life represented to me an intersection between that Haitian tension of life and death, heaven and hell in a country of contrasts?  Here's why.   You see, earlier this year, jealous co-workers decided that even though Dr Manno lives in a modest home no bigger than most American bathrooms, they decided since he knew Americans and Canadians, he must be hiding suitcases full of cash.  So, they plotted to steal his medical clinic and car (used to get to even more remote villages where he conducted medical clinics)- and to kidnap him as well.  The first plan succeeded, the second one failed.

Dr. Manno continued to serve the people out of his front door, and the medical clinic he had labored over for so many years deteriorated in the hands of the greedy ones.  Eventually though, Manno could no longer take care of his own needs since hardly any of the sick ones who ended up on his doorsteps had the means to pay him for his expertise and care.

Why do I recount this story?  Simply because it represents both the best and worst in Haiti- and I for one want to encourage and invest in the best.  Would you join me in encouraging Dr Manno?  If he doesn't get some help (and he has not asked for it), he will be forced to move to America or Canada so he can support himself.  Haiti suffers one of the worst "brain drains" in the world with many of its finest educated citizens living outside its confines.  But Dr Manno is different.  He believes his mission is to help those who can't help themselves, and he has sacrificed his life, in a manner of speaking, by doing so.  Most people with his talent and education leave for "greener pastures" in North America,  but Dr Manno has stayed and suffered with his people- at great personal cost.

David and I arrive in Haiti later today, and one of the many "assignments" we feel God has given us is to bring Manno some seed money for his future in Haiti.  As I mentioned, Dr Manno does NOT want to move to America.  He wants to stay in Haiti and serve the poor- so I am asking, "Will you help me keep this servant of God where most needed?"

First off, if you want to help, pray for Dr Manno and his family. One of the reasons he feels he might have to move is because he has a wife and two children to support- otherwise, he wouldn't even be considering leaving the country.

Second, if you are able to make a donation of any size, please let me know.  You can contribute by making a contribution to my Paypal account ( and making a notation it is for Dr Manno.  If you want a tax receipt though, you can write a cheque out to R U Rede Ministries, Inc and make a notation that it is to be given to Dr Manno.  You can send encouraging notes and prayers and /or contributions to:  Melinda Nelson, 13866 Dow Lane, Beulah, MI  49617.

As always, I could never to this ministry of caring without you, for as I've said many a time:

"I can't do what you do, and you can't do what I do.  But together, you and I can do something beautiful for God." (Mother Teresa)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  Jesus

One year ago today I was in Haiti helping transition and care for 40 traumatized diseased children rescued from a horrific orphanage/trafficking situation. I had no turkey and only one sparse and simple meal for the day, but I entitled my Thanksgiving letter:

Thanksgiving is not a holiday here in Haiti, but it is a way of life

Here is an excerpt:

"Tonight, as I sat on some concrete in the dark (no electricity) with 19 orphans surrounding me, each one angling in for the privilege of touch and presence, I marveled at the fact they were singing worship songs at the top of their lungs. I only had one meal today because food is running out and the kids are constantly telling me they're hungry, but in the midst of lack, there is still laughter and joy and thanksgiving. One little girl kept saying, 'Merci Jesus' to everything I said and she meant it."

This year I am not in Haiti, though I honestly long to be. I miss my kids. But for now, my assignment and privilege is to help my parents through some health challenges and to work on a unique grad degree that will allow me to more effectively minister (physically and spiritually) amongst those who have less than $1 a day to live on. (There's opportunity to return to Haiti in December perhaps, but even if I can't physically go there, I have 'ambassadors' on the ground who will minister to my children for us.)

So today I think of Jesus words that seemed so applicable to my Thanksgiving last year:

Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

What did the answer turn out to be? 
Well it was a profound life lesson that is most often a daily reality for me rather than a theoretical truth. After all, the situation looked overwhelming. The food supply looked insufficient. Yet still, Jesus showed no stress. He knew the Father's provision, and even more, He knew His Father's heart: "I want you to share your food with the hungry...." Isaiah 58:7

The take-home for me is that though I don't have enough money to buy food (or shelter or medical supplies) for all the 'least of these', my part is to see what little bit my friends and Facebook crowd can add to mine, and to then move forward in faith and compassion.  If contributions only turn out to be 2 fish and 5 small pieces of bread, I can still give thanks to my God, just like my Haitian children did last year, despite the seemingly lack of resources.

So, today if you think you can spare some breadcrumbs from your Thanksgiving table to help feed those who do not get feasts, please please please don't hold back because you think it is too little.   Honestly, God takes a bunch of our breadcrumbs and makes it into something bigger and better.  A small contribution in God's hand multiplies.   That is the magnificence of our God: that our mustard seeds, our crumbs...when given to God, can become something beautiful for God.  As Mother Teresa so aptly noted:

"What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God."

Together, John 6:1-11 reminds us that we can be a part of providing for the hungry and our little bit can become such an overabundance of provision that there are baskets and baskets of leftovers!

Now how's that for some true Jesus-style Thanksgiving leftovers?!!!! :-)

(If you want to add your breadcrumbs to mine to feed the hungry this Thanksgiving, feel free to contribute through Paypal using and making note it is your Thanksgiving offering. 
If you need a tax-deductible receipt, you can write a check out to Northside Community Church, but be sure to add a note it is for Melinda/David Nelson's ministry. 
Address is: 
NCC, Attn: Kindal Spearin,
1800 N Hoskins St., Newberg, OR 97132)

Does our worship have hands

Does it have feet

Does it stand up in the face of injustice

Does our worship bow down

Does it run deep

Is it more than a song that fades with our voices

Does it fade with our voices?

...After all the songs are sung

And our prayers for kingdom come

...Did we bring honor to the words we sing?

So if we raise our hands high

Let us also reach them out....

From the aptly named album, "Everything Sad is Coming Untrue" by Jason Gray

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Please pray for those suffering in Haiti:
"The death toll rose again in impoverished Haiti, reaching 29 late Friday as word of disasters reached officials and rain continued to fall.
Joseph Edgard Celestin, a spokesman for Haiti’s civil protection office, said some people died trying to cross rivers swollen by rains from Sandy’s outer reaches. While the storm’s center missed the country as it passed by Wednesday, Haiti’s ramshackle housing and denuded hillsides make it especially vulnerable to flooding."

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." Edmund Burke

Monday, October 22, 2012

What a difference a year makes!

Wow!  One year ago today a traumatic but necessary event occurred in Haiti that not only had my attention, but much of the world too.  I was part of a consortium of people working  to close a corrupt orphanage which was housing children I loved who were being severely mistreated.   It took almost a year of effort and a sting operation to get that place closed.  It was one of the most emotionally gut-wrenching experiences of my life to have to 'wait' while evidence was gathered and investigations launched and children like 6 year old Kettia wasted away to 25 pounds.   It took a lot of hard work and was mainly done by some friends of mine, but 1 year ago today a bus arrived at the front door of that evil place and removed the children.

Everyone had their parts to play in prayer, advocacy...but in the end, the real credit goes to our Lord:

God in his holy habitation is a father of the fatherless and a champion of the widows. Psalm 68:5

 The LORD preserves the strangers; he relieves the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.  Psalm 146:9

Though the moving day was traumatic for the kids, it was necessary.  The staff at this place were trafficking children and kids were being physically and sexually abused.  The trauma eventually gave way to relief when the children realized they truly were safe.  40 of the girls were moved to an existing orphanage of 40 girls (making for 80 girls).

I was privileged to spend a month with them right after this time to help them during this initially frightening transition.  There were also many major medical needs to attend to with the malnutrition, scabies and staph infections. In addition, the new facility had only 1 bathroom available for the girls, which was a pit-type toilet in a dark dirty corner, and no water available for washing hands near it.   But despite the challenges- laughter, smiles and eventually better health returned.  There's still a long ways to go, but I trust there are still those who care.  Right now we have 40 girls we are looking for sponsors for ($32 a month), so let me know if you or your family or a church group or motorcycle club...would like to help. 

20 of the boys were moved to a 'religious' orphanage of 400 children which though better than the previous orphanage,  is still not a 'safe' place.  Charges against the head priest were filed and published in the newspaper regarding rape of some of the teenagers.   Wendy, who wants us to adopt him (still not legal to do so), tells me when I visit him that he and the other younger boys are being beaten up daily.

Corrupt government officials make it difficult for me to see Wendy and the other boys, but God is on our side, so I persevere.   It is costly, but what is the worth of one life?  Twenty lives?  In God's accounting, these orphans are of infinite value, so I know that for even one He would spill His blood, so certainly I can suffer some financial losses for their sake.

 My prayer is that by Christmastime David and I can return there to reassure them that they are not forgotten and forever loved.  If you have free miles to give or any way to help us get there and bring some supplies, please let me know.

“You and I and every single human being in this world is a child of God, created in the image of God, created for greater things, to love and to be loved.  That is why today we have so much suffering in the world because we forget that we have been created for greater things, 
 that we have been created to love and to be loved.   
How do we love God? Where is God? 
Jesus has answered:
 “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”

As I often say to people who tell me they would like to serve the poor as I do, ‘What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.' Mother Teresa

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hot Sauce in Haiti

Everyone expects that if you're a missionary you will have some really gross food stories.  And with 25 years of mission experience under my belt, yeah, my stomach could tell you some stories you'd rather not hear.  But this blog entry by Barbi Boots, a physician assistant in Haiti, far surpasses my story-telling abilities, so I will let her do the speaking. 

By the way, this was all triggered by a recent meal in which David couldn't make out the taste of the meat chunks, and it being Haiti, I volunteered that it was likely goat. 

And to think I used to believe monkey brains were the worst thing I ever ate for the sake of the Gospel.  Silly me!

As always, praying before my meals,
               Menudo-eating Melinda (but only when I have to) and David

I am so immature.

I stare down into the bowl of brown meaty chunks floating in a greenish brown watery chum, littered with specks of this and that, surrounded by a slick of swirling oil. I have a sudden flashback to the Louisiana gulf coast, and the BP oil spill catastrophe. The meat bobs like so many slimy, contaminated pelicans in a sea of sticky black crude.

Stew. Oh, no. Please...not stew. No no no. Not stew.

I stand in the dinner line and tap one of the brown floating blobs with the ladle and watch it momentarily sink, then bob resiliently back up to the surface. A strange, stringy, brownish floating leathery substance.


This appears to be Estelle.  The goat.  Last seen tied by a short rope to an overturned toilet out in a distant corner of our compound.  Looking a little different now...her brown fur coat, elongated pupils, little goat smile...all stripped away.  Literally.  Oh, Estelle.  Mwen regret sa.  You have become a stew.

It's not that I'm a picky eater with stringent criteria for meals such as flavor and nutrition.  I eat my own cooking for heaven's sake. And it is a rare day when my culinary efforts contain both items simultaneously.  I learned long ago to be grateful for any food that is put in front of me.  So, though I have never been a fan of most meat, and turn pink and wheeze at the thought of certain shellfish, I will rarely push away a meal that has been prepared for me. At least outwardly. Inwardly, however, there is sometimes a whole lot of resistance going on.

There was that great dish "slaninia" when I lived in the former Soviet Union. That's raw pig fat with skin and, yes, coarse spiky hair still attached. A favorite of the locals, especially fresh from the slaughter. (Sometime, let me tell you the story of a disease called neurocystercercosis... from a 10-plus foot tape worm acquired from eating raw pork. But that's another story for another day.)

Ah, yes...nothing like the sound of a screaming pig as it is slaughtered deftly in a neighbor's yard, hanging from its hind legs from a tree. As it exsanguinates into a bucket from its recent machete slice to the carotids, there is also -- unfortunately -- nothing quite like the sound of a thoughtful, neighbor, generously hacking off a slab of warm fatty flesh and skin, and calling out to you over the fence, "Friend...friend....would you like some slanina?"

I can't say that I ever "liked some slanina."

Thanks, "friend."

But, would I blankly turn my lips upward into a pseudosmile of pseudothanks, force my hand into extension, take the proffered still-warm, hairy, rubbery pig fat between my index finger and thumb, slowly lift it towards my reticently parting lips and shove it deftly at my clenched teeth until they reluctantly parted, then chewed wide eyed with an "mmmmmm..." sound that, depending on one's interpretation, could equal either pleasure or a suppressed whimper?
Yes. Yes I would.

The dance of cultural culinary acceptance.

When I lived in an Alaskan native village, did I similarly extend my hand to the generously proffered dish of raw seaweed, raw sea snails, and some sort of pea-sized raw fish eggs collected in honor of the coming of spring?  Did I pseudosmile as I chewed, each fish egg popping like a small eyeball in my mouth, squirting out a gelatinous sharp fishy ooze that simultaneously caused sweat to pop similarly from the pores of my brow, a reflexive gag in my posterior pharynx and sharp tears to sting the corners of my widely held, unblinking eyes as I whimpered internally?

Yes. Yes, I did.

And, when my friend -- a native Alaskan -- grinned knowingly as she watched me slowly chew and pop with a watery-wide-eyed "mmmmm," pseudosavoring the fishy slime, then quietly reached over and wordlessly scraped the remainder of the mix into her own bowl...did she become one of my heroes for life?

Yes. Yes she did.

Like the Native Alaskans and Native Americans that I have known, I am an omnivore sometimes out of necessity.  But, as a not-avid meat- and living- creature eater, I acknowledge the sacrifice of the creature that gave its life for mine.
So, I will quietly eat what is lain before me...and be grateful for its generosity.

Or, so I try to tell my so-called-noble self.

This intellectual challenge to the palate is far more acute when one spends the day staring at malnourished children. Ten pound 2-year-olds. Young teenagers no taller than a first grader.  Mothers who grab at my arm and say, "Dokte...I cannot feed my children. They are starving.  Can you please help me?  Can you give me food?"  Orange-haired Haitian children...with scaling skin, bulging bellies, protruding ribs...evidence of protein malnutrition.  Marasmus Kwashiorkor. Starvation.

I am lucky to be eating.  Even luckier to have protein.  I am so overtly well fed. Overly fed.  More than fortunate.  What a hypocrite I am, I think, as I balk at the proteinacous floating bits before me.  Hungry sunken child eyes and flaccid skin and bony ribs flash behind my eyelids.  Selfish hypocrite.

And so, I take a deep breath and face the bobbing oil-slickaceous goat stew.

Thank you, Estelle the goat, for the days tied without dignity to the toilet, fattening yourself up for this day.  That can't have been an inspiring life for you.  Thank you cooks, who raised, slaughtered, skinned and slaved to prepare this stew for me today.  Because you are honoring me as a volunteer in your clinic and a guest in your land with this gift of meat. Because you take the time to caringly cook for me.  In a land where so many go hungry every night.

Thank you for this food today. And for the contrast of my lot in life...with those that I meet every make me realize how fortunate and comfortable I truly am.

Don't let me forget that.

And, well, in a flash of extreme immaturity, here's a shout out to Louisiana Hot Sauce.

You are the ambassador of the international food ingestion challenge. The peacekeeper.  The great leveler of the experimental palate.  Creating peace, understanding and culinary tolerance wherever you set your beautiful red-orange glass-bottled self.

Glad to have made your acquaintance here in Haiti.
You single-handedly retrieved the shards of my wavering idealism while effectively suppressing my overly zealous goat-induced gag reflex.

Today, you -- in your uniquely fiery, spicy, distractingly vivacious nature -- are my hero.  Perhaps, starting today, I will endeavor to be more like you.