Friday, January 6, 2017

A Tapestry Woven: part 2 (aka All Justin's Fault)

{First things first: If you haven't read part 1, you can find it HERE.}

Like I said before, it was all Justin's fault.

He had volunteered me to teach women to sew, but after my first trip, I was much less apprehensive about going. I gathered a team of wonderful seamstresses and we had worked hard raising money, collecting donations, and preparing to help set up this program. Little did we know how things would pan out.

It had been unclear what was going to happen before we arrived, but all of my expectations started unraveling:

I thought there were going to be six women; there were three.

I thought we were going to be making garments, but ended up focusing on making small bags.

I thought we had a Haitian sewing manager that was going to be there, but she was in the US when we arrived in Haiti.

I thought there was a plan for the program after we left, but it had gotten waylaid.

Things were not lining up the way we assumed they would.

The thing about going on a trip--really any trip--is that things often go differently than planned. Flexibility is the key. In addition to teaching the three women who had come, we decided to invite some girls from another orphanage down the road to learn to sew. It was perfectly chaotic and amazing.

I can't tell you the emotional exhaustion that comes from teaching sewing to women, especially in a foreign language. I tried to twist the same Creole phrase in order to communicate a multitude of things. I think I sounded like an idiot. But I tried.

Then came a pivotal moment for my life, although I didn't know it at the time. 

The president of Chances for Children, Kathi, broke the news to me: the Director of the Women's Empowerment Program had resigned and there was no one to oversee it. It would not go on after we left. She said, "It's great that you taught these women to sew, but I don't have time to oversee it."

I thought about University Fellowship who had supported our team, donated a ton of money and supplies to help make this happen. I thought about how this wasn't even my idea in the first place! We were there because it was what the Director of the program wanted to do! I thought about the money and time sacrificed by the team of six women who had come to teach sewing. I thought about the women who were counting on having a job to support their families.

No, the program had to go on. "We will oversee it," I told Kathi.

In my mind, the "we" in that statement was a multitude of people somehow. A village. A church. The "we" was certainly not a "me." After all, I did not think I was coming back, or was I? Details about the "we" in my promise was all starting to get a little fuzzy.

to be continued . . .

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A tapestry woven: part 1

Here's the story in a nutshell:
It's all Justin's fault.

He made me do it.

I have witnesses.

It was August 2014 and I got a call from Justin, who was in line for US Customs in Miami. (Isn't that illegal?) He told me that he had volunteered me to teach women in Haiti to sew. 

Thanks a lot. I've always wanted to go to Haiti. Except not really at all. 

Justin had already been on multiple trips to what I (and others) sort-of think as a godforsaken place. Ravaged by poverty, hunger, and natural disasters, Haiti wasn't on my top 150 countries to visit. Ever. 

I half-heartedly agreed to go. 

But the trip kept getting cancelled. 

Cancelled? You know, things like elections. Riots. Everyday Haiti crazy stuff.

February 2015--text from my friend Renee, "Do you want to go to Haiti with Krista and I in 2 weeks?"

And that was it. It was the trip I was destined for. There were only 5 American girls and we were there to go to three feeding programs. Our jobs were to take pictures of the kids and weigh them, which seems simple enough except that it was Haiti--and if you ever get there you will know what I mean. Utter chaos. Plus, I was seeing what I had never seen before: starving children.

Here's a little trip inside my head while I was there:
Breathe. Take a deep breath. Do not cry. These kids should not see me cry. Oh my goodness! That kid over there is sharing his food with another. He's hungry I'm sure, but for whatever reason still shares his food with another. {I have to turn my head and hold back tears at this point. This is not survival of the fittest; this is serving one another in love. Wow.}

I knew that there were starving children in the world, but to see them was appalling. Another girl, Krista, was walking around the church building where the feeding program was held in Massikot. Looking around, I was in true amazement. If they are so hungry, how is anyone here even alive at all? I asked Krista, "What do they eat?"

"They make cookies out of the clay dirt, mixed with water. They dry them in the sun and eat them to fill their bellies." she answered. It was and still is unfathomable to me. 

The other thing I knew about Haiti was that there was an orphan crisis. What I didn't realize was that 80% of children living in Haitian orphanages had at least 1 living parent. Why? In most cases, because they can't afford to provide for them. Doesn't this seem preventable to anyone else? Chances for Children was fighting against this crisis, first--providing an essential need: food. In their own villages. But they were also going a step further, offering jobs to empower parents to provide for their families. I would soon understand so much more . . .

I went home and had a lot on my mind. At the time, I had no idea what God had in store for me, for Chances for Children, for what I would come to know as Zel (translated "Wings" in English).

Then it finally happened.

You know, the trip.

The one that Justin volunteered me to go on--teaching women to sew.

The one that turned into more than just a week of volunteering.

And it's all Justin's fault.

to be continued . . . 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Haiti Trip Take 2: Part 2

I had a mission: teach women to sew. 

 It had been unclear what was going to happen before we arrived. I was told there would be four women ready to sew, although we had been told earlier that it was going to be six. There were three. We thought we were going to be making garments, but ended up focusing on making small bags. We thought we had a manager that was going to be there, but she was in the US when we arrived in Haiti. Things were not lining up the way we assumed they would.

It was our first day in Kenscoff, Haiti. We had organized all the sewing supplies the day before and the room was ready to go. Then the news came: there was a miscommunication and some shuffling around, but there were only three women coming the next day. Not only so, but the manager of the sewing program was in the US and we would only get one day to train with her at the end of the week. We had worked hard raising money, collecting donations, and preparing to help set up this program; this was discouraging to all of us. We decided to invite some girls from another orphanage down the road and teach them to sew!

The next morning was exciting! The first woman to come through the door was Adeline. She is a beautiful woman with a contagious smile. She greeted each of us with kisses on each cheek. Side note: How I love this greeting! It's so personal and warm. It makes me miss Kambiz--those of you who knew him, know what I mean. Adeline is a single mother to five children and is in the sewing program to provide for them. There were two others who came, although only one of them remains in the program, and her name is Denise. What a wonderful lady! She is married with three children.
This is Denise in the skirt she made!
The older girls from the orphanage came and we taught them to sew a skirt that fit their bodies. It was absolutely awesome! They loved it. Honestly, the first day was crazy with all the high school girls, in addition to the women who were there to earn a living, but it was exactly what was supposed to happen that day and it was good.

I can't tell you the emotional exhaustion that comes from teaching sewing to women, especially in a foreign language. I tried to twist the same Creole phrase in order to communicate a multitude of things. I think I sounded like an idiot. But I tried. Next time, I will try harder. I am continuing to learn Creole, so I can communicate more clearly and to show the women and other Haitians I meet that they are important enough for me to learn their language.

By the end of the week, the women had made several types of small bags, a skirt, and headbands. They were thrilled, it seemed, with their new skill. Currently, they are working on a few things and so far have made over 150 small zipper pouches and over 50 headbands. They are working on an ipad/journal bag that is pretty awesome. We will be selling the items IN THE US, so I will let you know when and how asap. Their debut appearance, however, will be in Scottsdale, Arizona, at Chances for Children's biggest fundraiser, Night of Hope. I will be there, and I'm thrilled to stand with Philona, our manager and show what they have done.

We are still ironing out the details of what the sewing program will look like. We want to make their sewing skills count, helping them come up with some items that are can easily be replicated, marketed, and sold. More details to come.

Thank you all for your prayers and support. One way you can support the women is to pray for them. Their names are Denise, Philona, and Adeline. They are each wonderful and I am overjoyed that I get to work with them.

If you want to read more about my trip, please click HERE for a story about a girl in a remote village.

Team of women I couldn't have done this without! Nicole, Alison, Emily, Robin, and me.

Friday, October 2, 2015

My Birthday Wish: Dress Sweatpants

My husband thinks I'm disgusting. Let me tell you why and what my birthday wish is.

My part-time job is teaching group exercise classes. On days I don't teach, I try to work out (although I've been slacking a bit of late.) I am often that person wearing yoga pants, running tights or something else completely inappropriate all day long because I actually do workout AND . . .

wait for it . . .

I rarely shower right after I workout. I mean, I DO shower, but later.

So there it is. I am disgusting. The fact is that my sweat dries, I wear deodorant, and I have more pressing things to do. If I shower, I have to dry my hair and fix it, which takes FOREVER when you have errands to run, kids to pick up, make dinner, and naps to take a house to clean.

Which brings me to my birthday wish: Dress Sweatpants.

These are what I call "Dress Sweatpants."

Let me explain. My dad was a farmer. He wore overalls everyday, except Sunday mornings to church when he usually wore dress pants or corduroys with a collared shirt. On Sunday nights, we went to Sunday Night Church--which Jen Hatmaker refers to as SNC in her amazing book For the Love. Go read it right now; you will laugh til you cry and be encouraged at the same time! Anyway, my dad would wear what we referred to as his "Dress Overalls." These were the overalls that he could wear to work, but they were reserved for going places like restaurants, social gatherings, and SNC. Dress overalls were completely appropriate to wear in public because they were clean and looked nice, yet they were comfortable for my dad to wear.

This is why I want these sweatpants. They are comfy. They reflect what I do, yet I wouldn't have the constant dilemma of underwear (or no underwear) lines and the possibility of stinky, dried sweat from the pants in which I wore to work out. I could just slip these babies on after a workout and feel like a new woman without having to dry my hair!

But my husband's question remains: why in the world would I need to pay $43 ON SALE for SWEATS?! Somehow, the Nike swoosh makes all things sleeker, cooler, and public appropriate. Wearing Champion sweatpants gives off the vibe that I may actually be one of those moms who watches TV and eats bon-bons all day, which isn't AT ALL the case. I really prefer Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate PB Cups.

All this to say . . . I may be slightly disgusting, but I'm working on that. If I put on clean Dress Sweatpants, I will be taking a step in the right direction. And that is why I want them for my birthday. The end.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Poverty: Haiti Trip Take 2, Part 1

Nothing can prepare the average American for the level of poverty that she will encounter in some parts of Haiti.

After a long dusty drive in the L'Artinbone Region, our group cautiously exited the vans. The region had been in severe drought so the ground was dry and heat seemed to seep from all sides. Because I had been to L'Artinbone in February, the shock of poverty wasn't as severe, but nonetheless sobering.

As I stepped into the church filled with kids of all ages, my body responded quickly to the sweltering heat, causing my clothes to cling to my sticky, sweaty skin.  Make-shift benches held big kids, holding babies and toddlers. My Creole is atrocious--which may actually be an generous description, considering I had only completed 8 out of 30 Pimsler's Creole lessons. Nevertheless, I smiled big and went around the room offering High 5's, kisses, and hugs with a robust, "Bon jou!"

Some children responded with shy smiles and High 5's, others greeted me with "Bon jou," while others shouted out, "Blan!! Blan!" ("White! White!") Looking around the room, there were signs of malnutrition, but thankfully, many of the children were looking healthier after faithfully coming to the feeding program that had started a year ago, in the Spring.

I began attempting conversation with some mothers who were huddled in the corner of the room. They seemed happy to "chat," and were animatedly trying to communicate something with me. One of them rubbed her belly and thought she was trying to communicate that she was pregnant. After a few minutes of several of them rubbing their bellies, I finally realized they wanted something to eat. Hungry. They were hungry. Of course. The feeding programs target the children, but parents leave without anything. I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is.

The kids ate their meal, a fortified rice dish, then we all went outside to play with them. I had a gang of kids around me, including one sweet girl who began tugging on my hand, clearly wanting me to come somewhere with her. I didn't know where she was leading me and frankly, I was a little nervous about how far we were going to go. She led me to her home.

 Girl holding my hand led me to her home.

It was a very small house (size of a very small room) made of dirt clay and rice stocks. Her father was sitting in a chair just outside the house under a tiny piece of shade that one could theoretically describe as the covered patio. There was enough space for me to join him on the patio and shake his hand. My favorite part, though was that girl wanted to show me her house. It was hers. It was her father. It was her home. I felt privileged to be invited in her home. It reminded me of a blog post my sister-in-law just shared about how our kids simply love their parents--despite the haves and have nots, or the successes and failures. (You can read her blog post HERE.)

As an American devastating physical poverty brings me to my knees. But poverty is not just physical. Poverty can be found lurking in so many places. Mother Teresa said, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty." It was in L'Artibonite that I saw some of the worst kind of physical poverty. But that girl showed me that she wasn't poor in every way. And that is the glimmer of hope that I can take away from L'Artibonite.

Thankfully, there is hope that the people of L'Artibonite can climb out of physical poverty. A water filtration system that can service many people in the community is set to be built in the next couple of months. In addition, Chances for Children (C4C) hopes to build a school by the end of 2016. These are baby steps and nothing seems to happen quickly. But I am thankful that there is progress--and it truly will be life-changing progress.

I want to thank those who have supported Justin & I on our trips to Haiti. I assure you that our heart have only grown larger for Haiti and that your investment, both financially and prayerfully, is being multiplied as we continue to work alongside C4C to help them achieve their goals.

If you want to take action, and help more, check out C4C's webpage HERE.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Putting a Bandaid On

  I wanted to share this experience from Haiti. As I get ready to go again in less than 2 weeks, I think about these people, who are just like you and I. They crave love, acceptance, forgiveness, hope, and comfort. They desire close relationships and value their families.  Remembering that we are created equal, in the image of God--Imago Dei--is essential in how we approach these beautiful people.  They may be the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, but their lives, hopes, and dreams matter. 
Our view as we begin our trek.

Boys from the village met us and wanted to help carry our things.

The sun slowly made its ascent as we worked our way up to Massikot. It was a rugged 3 hour hike up a mountain.  While the land was barren in so many ways, there was still beauty as the sun rays shone over the valleys behind us. We traveled with donkeys which were laden with “Manna Packs,” bags of dry rice/soybean fortified blend. We occasionally passed a dwelling, saw a few locals, heard babies crying, saw smoldering fire.  When a local woman would pass by, often with a basket on her head, she would look so serious until she sang her greeting with a wide smile, “Bonjou!”  

When we finally reached Massikot, we began immediately. The feeding program had begun in December. Kids who had been registered for the program in November had been receiving meals twice per week. “What do they eat the rest of the week?” I asked Krista, volunteer coordinator for the Artisan program. “They use clay and make them into ‘cookies’, dry them in the sun, and feed them to their children to fill their bellies.” My mind still is uncomprehending.

We began to work immediately, getting children’s names, ages, and pictures.  Getting the system organized is a huge task in itself. Children had been filing into the mercifully cool church building hours before the meal, sitting patiently on benches. Older kids—elementary age—held their baby siblings and shushed the younger toddlers. It was a scene not familiar to me in the U.S.  A few parents stood in the back or outside the building.  I wondered how they felt about us coming in? Humbled? Humiliated? Thankful? Relieved? Hopeful?
The kids were so happy eating!

While we were methodically working through the process, local women were in the outdoor “kitchen” cooking food.  When we were done, they came in and served the kids.  It was amazing how the kids’ energy level rose after eating!  We went outside, where the kids sang, and we taught them The Wave! 

Going home, many kids without shoes.
Before leaving, a young child (not wearing shoes, like so many), had scraped his toe. Thankfully, I had brought a little 1st Aid Kit from the Dollar Tree. I cleaned the scratch and wrapped the little toe with the help of Renee, who traveled with me from Eugene.  Soon, another small child was screaming after scraping his foot. I cleaned it off and applied a band aid. This was becoming a cool thing. Before I knew it, a mom came to me, showing me a very deep wound on the top of her foot.  It was not “fresh.” I imagine it was several days old. I cleaned her foot with an antibacterial wipe and found a large band aid in that little cheesy first aid kit.  I carefully laid it over the wound, wishing I had brought Neosporin.  Friends, it was in that moment that I realized that we were literally putting band aids on the problems.  It was a sobering thought.  And at the same time, we are bringing them Jesus, and he is bigger and better than anything else I can offer.

Seeing the kids in the 3 different feeding programs is heartbreaking—distended bellies, orange hair—signs of malnutrition, parasites, and bacterial infections.  Yet, it is amazing to see that the program is REAL, it’s happening, and kids are getting fed, even if only twice a week. I am excited that I get to go back to one of the programs in a couple of weeks.  I look forward to seeing how this program is making a difference.

In addition to going to the feeding program, I will be with a team of women, teaching ladies how to sew.  I'm still raising support for my trip. If you are interested in helping, please make a check to "UFC" with my name in the memo-Jessica Ubel Haiti Trip.  You can mail it to 25 W. 25th, Eugene, OR 97408.

For more information on the feeding programs and how you can help Chances For Children, here is their website. They are an amazing organization.  

Finally, here is a list of sewing items we need, preferably before Sunday 8/9, but we can accept items though Sunday 8/16.  Thank you!
The cooked meal is ready!

Fabric--need nice, clean, fashionable fabric to create clothing, purses, and bags.  Please nothing smaller than a "fat quarter" (18" x 22").  Larger pieces, at least 1/2 yard and bigger would be great for skirts, bags, and dresses.
Scissors--mini scissors, dressmaker's scissors, and regular scissors, new or in good condition.
Straight Pins
Needles--hand sewing
Needles--universal sewing needles
Fabric Pens (for marking patterns, not permanent)
Seam rippers
See-Through Rulers
Scotch Tape
Drawstring (cord)
Elastic (3/4"-1")
8" x 10" batting pieces or larger
Interfacing (light fusible & medium sew-in)
12" zippers
Sew-in Snaps
Extra bobbins or other parts for BROTHER sewing machines (Walmart carries some of these products.)

Will also take some ribbon, rick-rack, bias tape, and other decorative trim.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Back to Haiti Again!

Before three lovely children entered our lives, Justin and I had the distinct privilege to travel on two mission trips to Guatemala together.  It’s been 10 years since that last trip! But God has been moving in our hearts and lives (as always!) and we both feel that now is the time for us to serve in another country together.  

Justin began traveling to Haiti in 2011, first to install a water treatment system in a community center.  It was one year after Haiti’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed 220,00 people, injured 300,000+ and displaced 1.5 million. The extent of the damage in Haiti was evident as they drove through large tent villages on roads that can best be described as “rough.”

Since then, Justin has traveled to Haiti four more times; once with a local missionary and three times with an organization that we and our church have since build a partnership.  Chances for Children, a distinctly Christian organization, has a mission to help solve the orphan problem one child, one family, one community at a time. While Chances for Children runs an orphanage where kids are found forever families, they believe that the answer to Haiti's orphan epidemic is not just adoptions.  They have invested in Haiti through education, providing students with tuition scholarships; orphan care, providing orphans with nutritious meals, education, and homes; and strengthening communities. This is accomplished by funding the construction of schools, providing child sponsorship for orphans, creating a fresh water supply, strengthening faith through a community church, providing medical care at a local clinic, and implementing vocational training, artisan craft programs and community based agricultural projects.

Last February, I had a unique opportunity to travel to Haiti with a friend and several of Chances for Children’s staff to visit their three feeding program sites, two of which are in remote villages where the people are literally starving.  God opened her eyes to the vast need for redemption in this impoverished land, which was key in knitting her heart with Justin’s ever-growing heart for Haiti.
This August, Justin will be leading a team from University Fellowship Church. The majority of the team will be working to finish a building that is intended to house the toddlers in C4C’s orphanage.  There is a fairly long laundry list of projects that need to be completed, but the hope is to move the toddlers at the end of our time there. 

A smaller part of that team will be led by me. Five women will be teaching a small number of women to sew. The women will be part of an ongoing artisan sewing program. The ultimate goal is to learn to make scrubs to sell in the States.  This trip will just be “Part 1,” learning to work with a sewing machine and doing small projects.  We are still seeking the right vendor for the proper fabric that is needed from which we can make scrubs. The artisan program is KEY in helping keep families together.  The women who have applied to be part of the program are women who may otherwise have to give up their children for lack of resources to feed and take care of their own.  We hope to keep children where they belong: in their first families!

We would love to partner with you in this venture.  We bring nothing to Haiti that was not first given to us by God’s grace, so we humbly go. It is truly a privilege to let God use us in this way. We desperately desire that our hearts are open to the Lord, that we go as servants, and that we follow God’s leading. Would you be willing to pray with us? 

In addition, perhaps you are able to financially support us.  The trip costs approximately $1600 per person. We believe that this is a small amount to pay for what we hope to do and for who we hope to help.  If you feel like this is a good eternal investment and you are able to give at this time, you can make a tax-deductible gift in our names to University Fellowship Church (with Jessica & Justin Haiti in the memo line) and send it to PO Box 12083, Eugene OR, 97440.

Finally, we are taking sewing supplies. If you are interested in donating, please contact me.

Thank you so much!


Justin & Jessica Ubel

Specific Prayer Needs:
1.       Ubel kids as they stay at home. Prayer safe, healthy, & energetic children & grandparents!
2.       Safety and health of the team
3.       Spiritual readiness
4.       Haitian artisan women learning to sew—relationships with them