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Called to help in Haiti

    Her eyes shine and her expression glows as she talks about her “kids in Haiti” and how it all started. For Mickey McRoberts “it” started in January of 2012 on her first trip to the earthquake-ridden land. God spoke to her. “I heard His voice. He told me I was ‘home’ and I thought ‘Really? Here?’  Don’t get me wrong…I didn’t doubt for a minute, I knew right away that yes, I was home and I understood when He said out loud to me, ‘these are your people.’” From that point on there was no turning back.

McRoberts had initially made that 2012 trip to Haiti with a church friend, Tammy Hagstrom. Backing up, Hagstrom had made a mission trip to Haiti in 2010 and had met Pastor Dan Firman, his wife Magalie, their six biological children and their 14 “adopted” children who had been orphaned after the 2010 earthquake. Upon returning Hagstrom put a vision team together at Catalyst Church in Alexandria, specifically to find 20 sponsors to stabilize Pastor Firman’s family needs.

McRoberts’ calling and fortitude could not be ignored when she travelled with Hagstrom to Haiti for her first trip. When the two returned to Minnesota they worked for several months to form an organization called Bread to the Nations. “Alexandria-based, Bread to the Nations is a Christ-centered nonprofit organization working in Carrefour, Haiti, to break the cycle of poverty and restore God’s model to communities and families. At Bread to the Nations we believe that God’s plan for the raising of children is for children to remain with their own families whenever possible. Instead of encouraging the placement of children in orphanages, Bread to the Nations is committed to maintaining existing family structures by assisting with physical needs, educational opportunities, and most importantly, by sharing the love of Christ and raising up disciples in Haiti,” explained McRoberts and Hagstrom.

“On my first trip I saw how people lived. In structurally unsound huts, tents and dirt floors, temporary plywood shacks. The Firman family had a small home with three rooms, one sleeping room for 11 boys, one sleeping room for nine girls, and one room for everything else. They set up school under a tarp and on a picnic table,” McRoberts explained. She sensed the family’s struggles and saw that Pastor Firman is “a Godly man who was transparent and needed help. He has no salary, only donations, for his work in the church. I saw the behind-the-scenes struggles.”

Last spring the semi-retired McRoberts returned to Minnesota, sold her property near Kensington and moved to Haiti. She has a small apartment in Alexandria and returns every three months to continue work on her mission, finding opportunities to share the story, generate donations and keep sustaining the medical, nutritional and educational needs of Haitians and the families they serve through the organization. Hagstrom has traveled back to Haiti, but lives in Alexandria with her husband, Steve, and their young family, continuing the work of the organization through their church, Catalyst Church, prayer warriors and local ties. “We have a ‘just in time God’ and He continues to answer prayers,” Hagstrom smiled, adding, “we take the Lord’s lead, we cannot turn our back. I ask God to show me the way, through prayer and fasting, and learn that food has been brought to them just in the nick of time.”

By autumn of 2012 Hagstrom was able to enlist medical assistance with the aid of an area doctor and nurse. Malnutrition is a huge concern. In three days they saw more than 430 patients. Hagstrom also discovered Medika Mamba.

“Medika Mamba is a ready-to-use therapeutic food made from peanut butter, powdered milk, oil, sugar, vitamins, and minerals. It is ‘peanut butter medicine’ in Haitian Creole,” explained McRoberts. “It is a Haitian product and Meds and Food for Kids is the company that produces it. They buy peanuts grown in Haiti by trained Haitian peanut farmers and employ Haitian workers in the production and packaging of the mamba in their factory in Cap Haitian. This product stimulates the Haitian economy while savings the lives of its children at the same time,” according to McRoberts. (Bread to the Nations is also working with Kids Against Hunger to provide meals for families).

“We are seeing miracles as a result of this program. In addition to seeing children being healed, we also are witnessing the spiritual repercussions of this program. Our fabulous translator, Pierre, is constantly evangelizing the caretakers on the program. We have had numerous mothers accept Christ for the first time and many other self-proclaimed “backsliders” have returned to the church community. Isn’t God good?!” smiled McRoberts. She also asked her daughter, Liz Peterson, to join her in Haiti.

Initially Liz said, ‘Mom, don’t make your calling my calling,” but after her first trip in March 2012, Liz knew her calling as well, moving to Haiti in September of 2012. Liz utilizes her gifts and training in education, teaching English as a Second Language and providing educational needs to children and parents alike.

“Superstition, curses and voodoo are part of the Haitian culture and many moms think that if their child is not thriving it’s because there is a curse on them. We are educating them,” explained McRoberts. Many mothers are single and need assistance in finding ways to raise their children. Peterson can speak Creole, the official language of Haitians.

McRoberts, Peterson and Hagstrom are continuing their work, “Fighting hunger is just one goal to succeed. Education, family planning, nutrition, literacy, must also be continued. I would love to be able to build a combined school, clinic and church. Big dreams. We will chip away at these dreams.” McRoberts and Peterson live in Haiti at three-month intervals, returning to Minnesota for a few weeks before going back to their “permanent home in Haiti,” explaining, “we want to help rebuild Haiti and impact the next generation. We see God working every single day.”

May 3 Update In the past 6 months of running a Medika Mamba malnutrition program, we have treated approximately 200 children with moderate to severe malnutrition – children who are skinny, often have red hair, and are underdeveloped both internally and externally. We have seen very few cases of severe edema and kwashiorkor. Kwashiorkor is a severe form of malnutrition characterized by edema (swelling) in feet, legs, hands, and face, and a severe breakdown of skin due to the swelling. Kwashiorkor is caused by a severe protein deficiency coupled with bacterial abnormalities in the gut. As of last week, we had not had a full blown case of kwashiorkor pass through the doors of our clinic. That all changed on Friday when Etina came in.

Etina was brought into clinic by her grandmother and a distant relative who has been caring for her. Her mother is “crazy”, according to them. She left her home to live on the streets and abandoned her daughter. The first thing we saw of Etina was her uncovered bottom, with most of the outer skin peeled off. As seen in the picture, the skin on her legs was also in various stages of breakdown. Her upper arms were extremely skinny, but her hands, feet, forearms and legs were extremely swollen.

We have often considered and planned what we would do when confronted with a full blown case of kwashiorkor, and now that day had arrived. Our Medika Mamba clinic is outpatient only, and a child of this severity needs inpatient care for the best chance at recovery. Thankfully, we had previously made contact with another organization, Real Hope for Haiti. Real Hope for Haiti is one of the best treatment centers for children with severe malnutrition. We emailed photos of Etina and asked if we could bring her to them for treatment.

Praise God, they said yes, she was certainly a candidate for their inpatient program. The severity of Etina’s kwashiorkor makes it life-threatening, and we impressed this upon her caregivers. If they refused to take her to Real Hope for Haiti, she would most likely die. Thankfully, they agreed. We made plans to meet at eight o’clock the next morning to take her up to Cazale (a 2 hour drive north).

The next morning, eight o’clock came – no Etina. Eight thirty, no Etina. Nine o’clock, no Etina. We waited and waited, called and called the phone number they had given us. There is a general suspicion of doctors and foreigners in Haiti, and we worried that the 16 hours that had passed since we last saw Etina was enough time for them to change their minds about sending her to Real Hope for Haiti. Pierre Richard, one of our clinic staff members, went out in search of them. We hadn’t found out exactly where they lived the day before, so he went out to try to find their house and ask them to come. In the meantime, we were all praying that they would show up. “God, just get her here, whatever it takes. You sent her to us, now will you let her not come back?” Our souls were grieving that we had let her get away from us the day before, and we had possibly lost Etina for good. (We have another severely malnourished child, Judeland, whose mother has refused to bring her back to us for treatment after her first visit.) God is good, though! About nine thirty, Pierre Richard called to tell us he had found them coming down the mountain road to meet us. We all were so elated that she wasn’t lost! We loaded into a tap tap (pickup with benches in the back), and off we went!

When you’re trying to do a good work for the glory of God, the enemy will always push back against you. We already had almost not gotten Etina back to us, and then as we set out, our tap tap started having problems. Every time the driver would come to a stop, the engine would kill. It killed a number of times, a couple times in the middle of downtown Port-au-Prince traffic. Cars and trucks were zooming around us, and our truck wouldn’t go. Getting stuck on the side of the road in Port-au-Prince is not something you want to happen, especially with a sick child and a couple of obvious foreigners as easy targets. We continued to pray that God would make a way for us to get this child to Cazale for treatment. We did eventually make it up to Cazale, though we continued to have engine troubles the whole way there. (Interestingly enough, after we got Etina to Real Hope for Haiti, the engine ran perfectly.)

In addition to helping us with Etina, we and some of our clinic staff members were blessed to get a tour of the RHFH facilities and learn more about their treatment procedures for malnourished children. We hope to build an ongoing relationship with this organization, and be able to work together towards our mutual goals of saving malnourished children and bringing the gospel of Jesus to the lost in Haiti.

Etina is currently in Real Hope for Haiti’s ICU center and will remain there until she is well enough to be transferred back into our Medika Mamba program.  On average patients stay at RHFH for 2-3 months. Her grandmother and caregiver are coming to us frequently for updates, which we are able to give them thanks to the wonderful RHFH staff. After being in treatment for almost a week, Etina has now lost some of her edema, but she still has not turned the corner towards certain recovery. Please keep her in your prayers and check back for updates.

Bread to the Nations: Medika Mamba: Real Hope for Haiti:

May 13 Update

For the second time in as many weeks, we’ve had to take a child up to Real Hope for Haiti in Cazale. This is Jamesley, he came to us two weeks ago in mamba clinic with a raging infection. We didn’t bother to admit him, but sent him right to the hospital. His test results came back last Monday, and we found out Jamesley has typhoid. His infection was so bad the doctor ordered a daily injection of antibiotic over the course of a month.

 In the same day we learned that his mother is eight months pregnant and was being put out of the place she had been staying. Myself, I couldn’t imagine being in her situation. As an organization, we try to remain true to our mission and not get pulled in too many directions. Help is needed almost everywhere in this country, and as much as it pains us, we can’t help everyone. Housing is generally something we try not to get involved in with families that are not in our Building Strong Families program, but this case seemed to be an exception.

Pastor Firmin reminded us the Bible says “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). This was certainly a circumstance that called for our help. Always ready to help (usually at cost to himself), Pierre Richard volunteered a spare room in his already cramped home for her to stay until she has the baby and Jamesley is healed and she is able to find another place to live.

The next Friday Jamesley came to us again, still sick and not eating. We also noticed his legs and feet were swollen due to his sickness and malnutrition. I happened to catch a glimpse of his bottom and saw the skin starting to peel off just like Etina’s had. He was in earlier stages that she was, but it was the beginning of kwashiorkor. The severity of his typhoid infection combined with the kwashiorkor was enough to convince us he needed to go up to RHFH. Jamesley’s mom agreed, and insisted she wanted to come along. We warned her about the extremely bumpy ride she would have to endure, but she was determined.

The next morning we went up to RHFH with Jamesley and his mom. We brought along a makeshift birthing kid just in case the baby decided to come on the ride up (it didn’t.) We also didn’t have car trouble this time, hooray! While we were up there we got a chance to check on Etina, who is continuing to improve. She’s lost most of the swelling, and her skin is beginning to heal. She’s settled into life in Cazale and reportedly calls everyone “mama.” On Tuesday Mom and our Mamba staff went past the Cazale turnoff on the way to get a new supply of Kids Against Hunger food for us to distribute. Etina’s grandmother and caregiver came along and were dropped off so they could go visit Etina and see how she’s doing for themselves. When her grandmother got back into the truck on the way home she said in response to Etina’s improvement, “now I know there is a God.”

Jamesley also continues to improve at RHFH. His fever has come down and the diarrhea is better. He is healing, but very slowly. He’s starting to eat now and we have high hopes that he will survive this illness. We are so thankful for the wonderful people at Real Hope for Haiti that help us with these severe cases. Please continue to pray for their healing and both of our ministries!

May 31 Update

Bread to the Nations team members in the US and Haiti are hard at work preparing for our next medical clinic in Pastor Firmin’s church community May 31-June 3! Here is a repost of a blog from our last medical clinic in October 2012 written by Tammy Hagstrom. Look for a new update soon on our most recent clinic! Also, a week after this medical team leaves Haiti, Liz and Mickey will be returning to the states for a short visit. We will be doing presentations in various locations – look for an update next week on when and where! God bless!

Our medical team returned just over a week ago from our trip to Haiti. There is so much to process and it will take several more weeks, possibly months and years to process all that we experienced. But one of the coolest things for me to watch was how the Body of Christ, all parts, came together to work towards one goal and that was to serve each other all in the name of the Lord.

It truly takes all parts to accomplish His work. We could not have done it without those who stayed behind to pray. We could not have done it without the members of the church in Haiti who gave selflessly of their time and energy and we could not have done it without the financial support of dozens and dozens of people. Despite language and cultural barriers, we were able to function as One Body, working in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our team had the privilege of serving alongside our Haitian physician, Dr. Lejette. A follower of Christ, Dr. Lejette performed her duties above and beyond anyone’s expectations. Over the three days that we operated the clinic, she managed to see 430 patients!

Another hero in the group that stands out for me is church member Pierre Richard. He lives in a small home a short walk from the church building. He coordinated the efforts to build a temporary shelter to register, weigh and measure our patients. He was there when our team arrived each morning until the end of each day, greeting patients, coordinating tasks and lending a hand wherever he was needed. To this day, he stores all of our Medika Mamba supplies in his home. I will be forever grateful for his serving heart.

On our second clinic day, God sent us a Haitian nurse, Yasmine. She came alongside our fearless pharmacy team members Jill and Mark. She was a lifesaver, helping our team read and fill the doctor’s orders with much more ease.

God also sent us the most amazing translators. Gregory came with prior experience in registering patients at medical clinics, so he sat right down alongside our team member Mandy and filled that role well.

When we had a patient who needed to be transported to the hospital another translator, Ricardo, volunteered to take the child and his mother on his motorcycle (our other form of transportation was already en route to a hospital with another very sick child).

There were several church members who showed up each day of the clinic and gave of their time and talents. Magalie was there each day for crowd control and managing the order the patients were seen. Firmin was present each day as well, greeted the patients and delivered our boxes of Kids Against Hunger food that was given to us for free to hand out to each family. Our team members had the privilege of praying over each patient as they received their food.

Our main focus for the clinic was on malnutrition in children. We enrolled 40 children in a life saving treatment program called Medika Mamba (MM). Liz and Mickey continue to operate a MM clinic out of the church several days each week. They now have 55 children enrolled in the program who are anywhere from moderately malnourished to severely malnourished. Because we want to ensure we have the time and resources to care for the children already enrolled, we are delaying further enrollment until after Mickey and Liz return to Haiti in December (they leave at the end of November).

In an effort to serve more in this community, we enlisted the help of our nurse Yasmine and our translator Pierre. They have now been trained in administering the MM product and will serve our patients while Mickey and Liz return to the US.

We see the MM program as a key on-going effort to combat malnutrition in children in this church community. When Mickey and Liz return in December, we plan to grow the program so that we can serve more children. Expanding the program means more Medika Mamba product and enlisting the help of more people to do the work.

We have already seen the success and impact of the MM program on many of our patients. We don’t know of any other product that can treat malnutrition better than MM. Unfortunately, we were too late for the young child who was rushed off to the hospital on the motorcycle. He went home to live with Jesus the next day. His little body was too weak to recover from his severe malnutrition. We have another patient, a 4 year old boy who came to our clinic weighing 18 pounds, currently fighting for his life in the hospital.

Remember Pierre Richard, the young man I mentioned earlier in the post, the one who gave of his time selflessly during our medical clinic? We enrolled both of his children in the MM program. What an honor to give back to him by serving a basic need for his family. We are able to serve him because of your prayers and financial support.

The work continues and the opportunities to serve families like Pierre’s are countless. Part of our bigger vision for Bread to the Nations is to bring a school to Pastor Firmin’s church community. At this point, however, we need to get these kids healthy.

As the part of the Body of Christ, please consider coming alongside BttN to help serve our brothers and sisters in Haiti. We do not want to show up too late for another child. Even more, a parent should never face the difficult decision to give up a child because they cannot provide for their basic needs.

Our MM program is in effect preventing orphans.

Today is Orphan Sunday, a day set aside for us to reflect on how we can advocate for orphans.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress . . .” James 1:27

God doesn’t call just certain people to care for orphans. He commands all of us to look after orphans! Furthermore, orphan care is NOT just adoption! It starts with orphan prevention, and includes adoption and foster care.

It will take all parts of the Body of Christ to continue the good work God has begun in this church community.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2:10

Will you join us?

Tammy Hagstrom, October 2012

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