Cheryl Lewis » Cheryl Lewis

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  • I’m a mom of two teenagers and the wife of an amazing man and, at heart, a loner who doesn’t like to be alone. Some days, I want to jump on the bed and laugh joyously and, other times, I can barely suppress the temptation to crawl under the bed and hide from the world. Bi-polar? Nope… just a girl! Truly, if I wasn’t me… me, the one whose path veered, no CAREENED wildly from what I envisioned as a kid instead into disarray and dysfunction and, at times, even self-disgust… if I WASN’T me… I’d wish I was! I am exactly who and where I am meant to be … right here with you!

This Could Be The Day!

The next 90 minutes of waiting may be the longest of my life.

But, lest you think something horrible has happened, let me say up front that the reverse is true: Something miraculous is afoot!!

Yesterday, I decided that enough was enough. I was going to take some of the money that my Sunday School girls raised to send Markenley, the child I met last year in Haiti, to school and I was going to find him.

If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know well the obstacles that surely block my way to achieving this impossible goal. When we spent our day together, nearly exactly a year ago, he was only 10 years old, living on the streets in post-earthquake chaos. Somehow, he touched my heart and then my life. During the 12 months that have crawled past, there has not been a day when I didn’t wonder where he was or how he was living – or if he was still alive.

Haiti, after all, is broken. The streets, the government, the economy, the population – all splintered by years of corruption, misfortune and infirmity.

To find a child who was in a slum so long ago amongst the ever-writhing sea of shifting masses is surely a silly dream.

Silly is a word we use in America.

I doubt if they have a parallel in Haiti. Nothing is silly there. Everything is achingly serious. Hunger. Cholera. Upheaval. It is an island of the vulnerable and damned.

But I haven’t been able to get that kid outta my head.

Somewhere, if he is alive, he looks for food each day. He tries to survive. He does his best to remain safe. And dry. At night, I imagine, he sleeps. Do the roosters wake him, too? Does he have any hopes of education or dreams that extend beyond daily survival?

For awhile now, I have longed to know the answers.

My dream – my fantasy, perhaps – has become to help him.

He smiled when we were together, after awhile, and I want to see that smile crease his face, again. I’d love to see the worry leave his brow. Can you imagine getting to witness his slender frame filling out as frequent food finally nourishes his body? To see his intellect shine as education strengthens his knowing?

So, yesterday, I went down to Western Union and I transferred some money to two young men in Haiti who promised to help. To me, it seemed a little. To them, it is a lot.

That’s a long shot, isn’t it?

Trusting someone you’ve never met in a foreign country – a fourth-world one, at that – and expecting good results also seems silly. Foolish. Frivolous.

Faith is crazy that way, sometimes.

But they came highly recommended by someone I admire and, besides, I could feel God nudging me: “Now!”

I knew the search would begin today and I felt energized.

That was before I got the first text from Jay Louis last night, asking me already, “Guess who did a good job today?”

My heart started racing.

“Tell meeeeeee!” I insisted.

What he shared next can only be called miraculous.

Miraculous.

In this crazy, same ol’, same ol’ world, where we’ve grown to believe that only what we see is possible and only the probable makes sense, something ever so special is about to occur!

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It Has Been a Year, Haiti

January 12, 2011

Helpless.

That’s how it feels when you can’t help someone you love.

But we are not helpless, are we?

We have the ability to come and go as we please. Our homes are secure and bellies generally full. We can educate our children and trust that their futures are bright. Medical attention, when needed, is easily accessible and, even for minor boo boos, our drawer of Band-aids is full.

When all else fails, we can leave. If we want to go far, far away, Delta is ready when we are. We can apply for a passport and, within weeks, receive one. We can step onto that aircraft and step off wherever we want.

We have planes, trains and automobiles.

All it takes is a little bit (ok, sometimes a lot) of money and the desire.

So I’ve been yearning to go back to Haiti.

A year ago today, their world collapsed – literally – in ways that horrified even their jaded sensibilities. The earthquake took away for many the few signs that they were a human race. Buildings were reduced to rubble that remains a full year later. Families evaporated in one fell swoop. Livelihoods and provisions and security and God seemed erased.

It was apocalypse now.

Perhaps if a nuclear disaster struck America, we would understand. If it decimated our buildings, killed our men and mothers and children, erased any certainty we’d ever felt about another meal or any right to protect our own bodies, we may glimpse their fear and desperation.

That hasn’t happened, so we can’t quite bring ourselves to care enough that life is already that way for an entire nation just two hours from our southernmost. In so many ways, it seems just another horror thriller we see on the big screen – Hollywood’s finest.

Sure, we “do what we can.” We throw our pocket change at “the problem,” when we aren’t saving for something sparkly. We take a deep breath and drop ourselves into their midst for a week or two, weathering the sweat and mosquitoes and culture and feeling oh so proud and even awed by how changed we feel upon return.

Sometimes, we ache for those we met and yearn to change their plight.

Most of all, we feel helpless.

I don’t know what to do with what I brought home when I returned from Haiti last March. Memories of a 10-year-boy who smiled into my eyes with quiet trust and took the first pictures of his life now live within me.

He looks out of my eyes and sees the food I throw away and the home I take for granted. His brow wrinkles and his pleasure dims.

I don’t even know if Markenley is still alive. We met for a brief afternoon in the dirt of a devastated orphanage just a month after the earthquake. I was visiting and, as it turns out, so was he. Hunger made him hopeful and he found a way in. He had intelligence in his eyes, but they were shadowed by horrors most of us have never experienced.

I placed my camera strap around the neck of a little boy whose eyes lit up with gratification and something more – recognition that he was, for a moment, truly seen by a world that cares.

I’ve been looking for him ever since.

But how, exactly, am I meant to accomplish that? My world usually feels secure, but his isn’t. Trekking through Haiti is dangerous, especially for a woman. I cannot do it without protection and translation and transportation – where all of those things are vulnerable to abuse.

When I think about it, I feel helpless.

So I remind myself – I’m not. With enough resources, each of those obstacles can be beaten. I can hire a guard and an interpreter and a truck. Sure, it takes money, but that’s no hill for a climber. There are lots of us and, eventually, I will have enough dollars to pay the bill.

I will find him. If I can adopt Markenley, I will. But if their broken system clings to him and I am unable to free him, I will find a way to send him to school and ensure housing there and, together, you and I will offer him a future of hope.

He may be helpless today, but we’re not.

Will you help me?

I’m selling the images that Markenley shot while behind the lens of my camera. All proceeds will go to him when I find him. They are, after all, his images and he owns them. You can order any of the images on the Haiti slideshow on this site.

To place an order or donate, please click the Markenley Edouard Haiti Fund Paypal link above. We also welcome your fervent prayers.

P.S. If you are near Atlanta, I will be exhibiting additional images shot during my time in Haiti and using those funds to search for Markenley. Barbara Barth is generously featuring them at the grand opening of her new antiques shop at 94 Main Street in Lilburn, Georgia on Saturday, January 22, and during the month of February. My middle school small group from church is hosting a bake sale to help raise funds for Markenley’s education. We would love to see you there!

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Because He Matters

When I was in Haiti in February on a mission trip, our team spent a couple of days at an orphanage in a Port au Prince slum called Carrefour. What we saw there would surely break your heart. It tripled any sad scene you ever saw on “Annie.” Dozens of preschoolers and toddlers were crawling around in filth, with flies buzzing relentlessly around their eyes. They were underfed and crying. Their caregivers had vacant expressions and gave little attention to the babies with sodden diapers. It had only been a few weeks since more than 50 children in their care had been crushed or slowly suffocated in the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians – children and adults alike were still traumatized. One small girl squatted in the dirt, in the midst of a dozen people, to defecate and no one even blinked. Most of the children had skin conditions and our small medical team did what they could to give treatment with few supplies.
Because I have no medical training, I spent time playing and interacting with the kids at each of the sites we visited. One of the things that seemed to inspire wide smiles was their seeing themselves on the display screen of my digital camera. So, for hours, I took pictures of their smudged-but-oft-beaming faces and presented their own smiles back to them as entertainment.
As we played, I noticed a young boy sitting quietly to the side, observing our every move. He wasn’t participating – just taking it in. Bit by bit, I made my way near him, taking and showing pictures along the way. Finally, I was sitting on a bench across from where he was perched. I looked directly at him and smiled. He didn’t move.
I aimed and took his picture, then turned the screen in his direction and patted the seat beside me. Still nothing.
I shot another image and showed it to a child nearby, who smiled broadly and pointed at the young boy. Finally, a hint of curiosity showed on his face. I patted the bench beside me, again, and he slowly scooted over to see himself on my screen.
We sat that way for awhile – me taking images of the kids around us, him peering at the screen and smiling at each shot. Slowly, I put the strap around his neck and showed him how to properly hold the camera.
He timidly shot a couple and we looked at each one, then I modeled how to better fill the screen with each scene before clicking. A quick learner, he took a few well-composed pictures and sat there, beaming as I praised him in a language he couldn’t understand.
I nudged him and waved my arm, showing him it was fine to wander around, capturing images of his choice. At first he was hesitant, but soon he was shooting away, returning to me from time to time to show off his work.
Eventually, it was time for our team to leave. Reluctant to go, I took out my Blackberry and attempted to add his name. He looked at my screen and corrected the spelling of his name and age. He was 10.
I gave him a big hug and smile and he joined the others in waving to us as we left. Then, when we pulled beyond the guarded fence into the bustling street, our driver stopped to speak to someone he knew. I looked back and there was my new friend, smiling and walking behind our van.
I was puzzled, since surely the orphanage children weren’t allowed to wander such dangerous streets. I couldn’t stop worrying about him and mentioned it to my husband, who was also on our team. That evening, we called the orphanage to ask whether there was any way we could help the boy.
We were stunned when we were told they had no child by that name or age living at the orphanage.
How could that be??
Baffled, I insisted that we had spent the day together and described him more thoroughly. Yes, they acknowledged, there was a boy who lived on the streets nearby with his mother and sometimes came in, because he was hungry, but she was unable to care for him. They would ask his sister to find out more.
So he at least has a mother and sister. Family.
To most of us, that means safety and solidarity. Who knows what it means to a child who roams the streets of Haiti – when few are lucky enough to even have tents for housing? When many are snatched for child trafficking or slavery? When food is practically nonexistent, water is tough to get and the potential to find either is slim?
I have called the orphanage many times, but no one answers the phone. I’ve tried to hire someone to see if they can find the boy and identify his circumstances, since I would like to send him to school and keep his family together, but have only met with a shifty opportunist who demanded thousands of dollars as monthly payment and the purchase of a car. I’ve exchanged letters with a man who says he is freelance media in Haiti. He promised to look for the boy that same week – but didn’t and then stopped answering my emails. A fellow team member who was scheduled to return to Haiti promised to look for him, but then her trip cancelled, because of the increase of violence there.
I feel worried and disheartened, but my God is BIG and, for some reason, He has given me this kid’s back to cover. I want to be there for him.
I need to be there for him.
So why look for a 10-year-old child who probably can’t be found in the chaotic, ever-shifting street masses of Haiti?
Why be haunted by the memory of someone with whom I only spent an afternoon?
Why bother?
There only seems to be one answer:
Because he matters.

P.S. I’ve just read the most amazing blog entry from someone who arrived at this orphanage the day after it collapsed! He rescued some of the same children I held. Please read his story and listen closely to God’s urging: http://www.redeemhaiti.org/haiti-earthquake-relief-update-12010/

Jeannette - Thank you for sharing this story…. I hope and pray you find this young man!

Dion Evans - I sit here reading this as I wait for my carpool and my eyes are holding back tears. That is a beautiful story and a big example of what it means to show love to those in Haiti

Shellie Tomlinson - I am so touched, and so crying, and so thankful that Father has crossed our paths. It is no mere coincidence. He doesn’t operate in ’em, amen? Hope to talk to your more soon. Blessings…

Chloe - I really like all the pictures of Haiti and it makes me remember that everyone does not have enough money to have a shelter or have anywhere to rest their head. I wish I could help!! I’ll keep praying for them.
<3 Chloe from small group

Lisa Wines - I noticed your very funny Twitter name when I was responding to a follow request (you follow the same account) and clicked through to your blog. I allllmost ran away when I saw the Christian reference, until I saw fun&mental versus fundamental. :-) Love that. Unfortunately, the fundamentalists who get the most press in the US seem to be destructive versus creative. While Christians like you, travel to Haiti and connect, as Jesus did, with the lost and forgotten. Thank you for being so loving, so interested, so gentle. You may not find this boy again, but you changed his life. If you do find him, can we send him a camera and whatever equipment or connections he needs to upload and publish his work? I was taken aback by the photos he framed & captured.

christina - My heart is breaking. Please let us know of your progress. Prayers.

Dustin - Wow, thanks for sharing this. Those are some great pictures!

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Remembering Haiti

Every day, I think of the people we met in Haiti. I think of the rain and the misery that follows. I think of the mosquitoes and the thousands who don’t have DEET. I think of Markenley Edouard and wonder if he’s safe and fed and dry and loved. I think of Mirdrede and her new baby and the challenges they’ll face. I think of the women and children and disabled and elderly who are vulnerable to sexual violence when they go to the latrines or are eyed by evil. I think of the government that can’t win for losing and has learned to prosper only through its capacity for corruption. I think of the little girl at Notre Dame Orphanage in Carrefour who is listless and wasted away with malaria and whose life will likely end without clear meaning. I think about the members of our team, who went from being strangers to family in a week, and wonder how they’re faring now that they’re back in what we once thought was the “real” world. I think about God and His love for each of us and wonder why so much was given to me and how I can best honor Him with that ridiculous abundance.
I watched “We Are The World” for the first time last week and cried all the way through it. I felt frantic to pack my bags and return to a place that is unsafe, especially for women, to sleep on the ground and wear the same clothes three days in a row and eat little more than protein bars in the blazing heat. I want to be among them. I want them to see us among them, to know that God has sent us, and that they are far from alone. I want to teach them something productive that will save their children’s lives and spirits.
I’m not going back to Haiti right away, because of the rise in sexual violence and kidnappings, and that reality that I’ll be aching from afar just about reduces me to depression. I want to be in that truck, racing along that pot-holed road, heading to Ms Evelyn and her kids, so that I can help them smile and function and then, as soon as I can convince someone to accompany me, I want to go outside her compound and find Markenley and his family. I need to see whether he’s in a tent or a tarp and whether his mother and sister are healthy and if they have protection from predators. He haunts my dreams and I want him to know there is a lady in America who cannot and will not forget him, even though that seems more than a bit crazy. He is 10 and needs to know that, in an impossibly expansive world of millions, he is the one I think of when my eyes open each morning.
Jim and I are throwing ourselves into Portlight Strategies’ initiative to convert former shipping containers into housing in Haiti (http://portlight.org/). The specifics are taking shape and soon funds will be raised and a prototype built. I hope that, when the first step is taken by a formerly homeless Haitian into their new, secure home, I can be there to capture the laughter.
I wonder if I’ll be able to hear theirs above my own.

kim sisto robinson - You are Amazing! :) xxxxx

sherri - I am going to Haiti July 4-13. My first trip. My friend Alecia Settle adopted a Haitian girl many years ago and has been traveling there for about 10 years. She authored the book VISUALIZE HAITI. 100% of the proceeds go to her humanitarian efforts there.

Love your heart.

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Teamwork and Tents

There are many things for which I’m grateful while in Haiti.I’m thankful to believe in a loving God, despite all I see. He continues to produce miracles before us each day. Ask me how and I’ll be happy to share.

I’m relieved that I have another world into which I can again step tomorrow, where my children are healthy and have plentiful opportunity to carve out lives of purpose and abundance. Where my mattress is double stacked with a downy cushion and perpetual comfort. Where even my dog has more food than he can eat.

I’m grateful for the Haitian people, who are unlike anyone I’ve ever known. They rise at dawn to sing, despite unspeakable loss, and sweep the leaves that have fallen during the night to the dirt that lines their world. They hand wash their clothing in metal tubs and are always tidy and composed. On Sundays, the women wear heels, despite the challenges of dirt floors and hazardous streets. Women and men alike carry gear and baskets of produce from place to place atop their heads. They are quick to smile.

I’m thankful for Mirdrede, our hostess, who speaks English well and laughs easily and is a reliable anchor in a broken country that is filled with corruption and despair. She is also a volunteer and talented at braiding hair. No one messes with Mirdrede.

I’m grateful for the security guard who walks round our property, rifle slung over his shoulder.

I’m encouraged by the communities who stand behind us at home, making our journey possible through prayer, support and roll-up-your-sleeves-and-create-a-solution-from-afar tenacity. (You know who you are!) Even people none of us have ever met continue to improve Haitian lives and our own daily. It’s not because they’re trained in such things; it’s because they care and choose to dive in.

I’m thankful for Markenley, who reminded me today that even a 10-year-old orphan can teach an old girl new dreams.

I’m awed by the members of my team. We had barely met before coming here and yet already they seem like family to me. No one leaves another behind and all are quick to work and laugh and pray.

Beverly is a pediatrician but, first, she is a wife and mom to seven children – five of whom are adopted. She will dance and skip rope with orphans as quickly as she checks their heartbeats and temperatures. She is fearless, fun-spirited, competitive and wholly impressive. Several years my junior, I want to be her if/when I grow up.

Mark is a burly fella who will climb atop a collapsed building to swing a sledge hammer alongside locals, rather than stand around to wait for an official assignment. Even his past two heart attacks haven’t slowed him down. He loves MREs and prefers flavor over healthy, anyday. He is the guy you’re glad to have beside you when inching down broken roads in the back of an exposed pickup truck near dusk with thousands of hungry, restless survivors eying your bounty.

Debbie adds trinkets and crystals to clothing when home but, here in Haiti, she is anything but fragile. She is quick to communicate and laugh with all who draw near and her determination to learn Creole is earnest. Two days ago, a Haitian who she befriended begged her to take his precious son, who he said was the most important thing in his world, with her to a better life. His wife was crushed in the earthquake. Debbie was crushed by his offer and the sacrifice it contained.

Brad is the big brother that every woman wants. He is fiercely protective – fiercely, fiercely protective – and, with his shaved head and imposing hunting knife slung always from his waist, convincing. As a proud American, he served in Somalia and Desert Storm, then lost his employment in construction, thanks to the failed economy. He has turned to the lawn-care industry to support his precious wife and children. While in Haiti, he has become quite the mobile clinic pharmacist. We also call him our prayer warrior. Mostly, we call him our friend.

Dana wasn’t sure whether she should come on the relief trip. She is rowdy, in her own spiritual way, and confesses everyone says she’s a bit of a wild child. She is the baby of the group and yet her tenacity is fierce. Her son asked her to stay home; her husband assured her he knew she would be in good Hands. She is quick to roll up her sleeves and dive into the dirty work, whether it is helping to change the sagging bandages surrounding a festering wound, holding a soggy-diapered kid or flinging herself into the mix with a bunch of sweaty guys in a makeshift game of soccer.

John walks the talk without having to say a word. He is quiet, but wry and funny. He is always watching, listening, but is slow to judge. His research and advice before our trip even began has gone miles in keeping each of us safe and well. His heart is bottomless. His safari hat is ever-present.

JP is always smiling. Big. Given the opportunity, he generally has two or three kids in his arms. He is not camera shy. He has the patience of Job and plays a mean duct-tape soccer game. He respects women, speaks adoringly of his wife and praises even his female boss. He is genuine.

Howard is our fearless leader. He naturally gravitates to people and is quick with a prayer and welcome. Not your typical preacher, he wears sleeveless tee shirts and shorts, whenever possible – hence, his perpetual farmer’s tan. Networking is his specialty, social media is his hobby and genuinely making a difference, in ways large and small, is his heart. He is good at all of them.

And then there is my husband, who did not hesitate to jump into Haiti beside me. A tireless worker, Jim thinks on his feet and is a hungry learner. He is fiercely protective of me and devoted to stepping into God’s unfolding Plan. He has the heart of a father and the obedience of a son. He and Howard have seen more of this country and its chaotic bureaucracy, as they have tirelessly fought to free our donated supplies, than the rest of us put together.

Let me say it, again. In one short week, I love our team. I’m a bit of a loner, by nature, and sometimes savor too much my time behind a camera lens or keyboard, but I can genuinely say that I’m the biggest fan of those God tapped to stand alongside me on this wacky, spirit-filled journey to Haiti.

Speaking of crazy, I’m also happy to have a driver who, though hot headed and quick to launch into argument (and has even disappeared on a couple of outings), delivers us in a vehicle so that we don’t have to be one of those trudging in the rubble-strewn gutters and densely peopled edges of ceaseless shacks and tents.

Ah, tents.

Perhaps even more than food and water, I’m grateful to sleep in one that is watertight and sealed from mosquitoes and peering eyes.

Here, there is a sea of tents, and yet there are not nearly enough. For every tent you see, there are 20 makeshift, ramshackle lean-to’s alongside.

When it rains, which it did – heavily, for hours upon hours – last night AGAIN, I’m filled with horror when I think of the masses who are scrambling to find cover for themselves and their wee ones.

The knowledge that Menard, a young girl I met a few days ago, is now struggling with her family and community to hold aloft – for hours on end – the tarps sheltering their limited belongings horrifies me. The weight of the water will otherwise collapse upon them.

The same children who dance around me during the day are scared and miserable when it rains. It is nearly impossible for their parents to keep them well.

Before I came to Haiti, I saw lots of discussions about tents and whether they were truly the best option for families who had lost their homes.

What I have learned is that many Haitians never had houses – even before the earthquake. To give a tent is to give the first home some of them have ever had – and will ever know. It is a gift of dignity and protection and hope.

A tarp will never, ever be the same.

And neither will I.

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Harold Skaggs - Hi Cheryl,
We are continuing to pray for you. We are proud of you guys for going to Haiti. I assume you are heading back today or tomorrow. Megan sends her love from Buffalo (she at a meet there till Sunday afternoon) along with the rest of the Skaggs family. Be safe! Hope to see you soon.
Harold

Isais Sylvestre - Hello Cheryl
I found that your writing expresses the resilience of the Haitian people. Your group was very helpful and compassionated for the devastated country. I would like to say thanks to all of you who were predisposed to assist the vulnerable country after the tragedy. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Amy - Here’s your story; here’s your book. In the dark of the night on a tiny Blackberry keypad, you’ve typed out words that have brought us all with you on your journey. Thank you for being your group’s historian and using your gift.

Bruce - Hello Cheryl
I found that your writing expresses the resilience of the Haitian people. Your group was very helpful and compassionated for the devastated country. I would like to say thanks to all of you who were predisposed to assist the vulnerable country after the tragedy. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

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