Therefore Having Gone

Therefore Having Gone

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A NEW NAME






Somewhat akin to God renaming Abram as "Abraham" in order to reflect the reality of his identity as "the father of a multitude of nations", our School Board has determined that Cowman International School will this year become "Cap-Haitien Christian School". This new name is meant to reflect at a glance both who we are and where we serve.

Over the last few months, I have discovered that most people - even many of our students - have no idea where the name "Cowman" even originated. I have taught here six years now and it has never been clear to me whether the school was named after Charles Cowman (the founder of One Mission Society) or Lettie Cowman (famous author of the devotional classic, Streams in the Desert, and wife of Charles) or both. 



Both were truly admirable believers, worthy of great respect. But neither had any connection to Haiti specifically. 

To be certain, as news of the renaming has trickled out, the reaction has been a bit mixed. (Change is hard!) As far as I can tell, though, most opposition to the change derives from a sentimental attachment to the old, familiar name - a name that folks have rightly taken great pride in.

Nevertheless, with the school separating legally from OMS this year (a completely friendly separation at the behest of OMS), our board thought the time was ripe for a name change - a bit of a fresh start for a new era in the school's history. 

Here are a few other considerations that motivated the switch:


  • There is another school within walking distance of ours that is called "Charles Cowman School". This causes frequent confusion looking for our campus for the first time, especially since their name is painted across their front wall in bright, bold letters. 
  • The word "Cowman" is a bit tough for Haitian tongues: Creole has no "ow" sound! Plus, some students have told me that they end up translating the name into Creole very literally for their neighborhood friends and so it becomes "Neg Bef", which is sort of like saying "Guy Cow".
  • Finally, in the age of the internet, we want to make it as easy as possible for anybody from anywhere around the globe to find our school. 

Ultimately, though, our intention is simply to be completely up front about the fact that we are a Christ-centered school, seeking to serve Him in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.


To those who are uneasy with the name change, I can say with full confidence that the spirit and mission of Cowman School will not change, only the name. I pray that Cap-Haitien Christian School will know many years of service to the Lord in growing boys and girls into Christ-like men and women who love Him with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind.


P.S. Our new logo was designed by my very talented niece, Lauren. The center of the cross lies directly over Cap-Haitien's position in Haiti's northeast. The blue circle represents the world beyond and the arrows indicate that CHCS is a place of preparation before our students are sent out to serve Him wherever He leads.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

COMING HOME

It's 4:30 am and I'm at the dinner table with my laptop, trying to make good use of my time after being awakened an hour ago when our battery packs died. The sudden lack of fan action never fails to rouse me from sleep. I slipped on some shoes and made my way in the dark out the kitchen door up to the generator house. This morning the monster needed fuel before I could start it, and by the time I was back in bed, smelling faintly of diesel fumes, I was wide awake.

So I am missing Indiana a bit at the moment (and our kids a whole lot more) but Melissa and I are back home - at least for the next week - and that's a great place to be.

We're back home in Haiti on a special mission: to help a dear family get settled into their new home - both house and country. The Teichmers (Shawn and Jaime and their two little ones, Abigail and Keenan) knew they needed time to get settled before the school year gets started mid August,  so they booked 4 flights to Haiti for July 1st. Melissa and I followed suit because we want them to get as good a start as possible. When school DOES start, Shawn will be teaching some classes and acting as principal for the junior and senior high school. Jaime will be splitting her time between kindergarten and the library. 



July 1st was the culmination of YEARS of preparation and support-raising for the Teichmers, and the beginning of their lives in Haiti and Melissa and I thought it was well worth interrupting our Indiana summer in order to be available to help in any way possible. Besides, Melissa has some mid-summer Director work to do at school requiring some face to face meetings. (Bonus: the amount we would have paid to ship in all the school supplies and curriculum we packed in our 6 suitcases probably equals what Melissa's flight cost.) 


We met up at the gate in Miami so that we could fly into Haiti all together. The Teichmers are a fun clan anyway, but it's especially fun to see Haiti afresh through their enthusiastic eyes. We are reminded all over again why we love this place and this people so much!


Amos, from OMS, picked us all up once we arrived in Cap-Haitien and - after giving the truck a good push - we were on our way to the house. The Teichmers are going to be staying in our home over the next few weeks as they work on remodeling a house across the street. That house has been two apartments up until now, so they will need to knock down a couple of walls, apply plenty of fresh paint and remodel a kitchen.


Shawn and Jaime and the kids had never even seen the inside of their prospective home, so a tour was the number one priority after unloading all our suitcases at our house.


Melissa and Jaime immediately began dreaming about the placement of sink and stove and fridge. (We could use my mom's expertise on this one!)


Our first dinner together: a stir fry with a tiny helping of rice. The only rice Melissa could find in the house that wasn't full of bugs was a little instant packet meant to feed probably two people. 


Brandon joined us for dinner. He and his mom house-sat for us while we were away, caring for the animals and the generator. Melissa and I were so grateful to see Ginger healthy and strong after the loss of her puppies to the parvo virus. 


Yesterday morning, after sleeping in just a bit and enjoying a breakfast of banana muffins and eggs, we were ready to do some cleaning and demo in the new house. 



Ruysdael and Popote and others showed up to lend a hand. 


Popote even helped with the lunch dishes:


In the afternoon, it was time for a drive into the city to shop for groceries and appliances.


Valerio Canez is our go-to place for good furniture and appliances at reasonable prices. 


While the adults are occupied with all sorts of concerns and decisions, the kids have been champs.

Abigail has already crafted a sign for her parents' proposed "coffee bar" and Keenan makes sure we pause occasionally to visit the turtle pond. 

The most important moments so far look something like this:


Today we hope to get some paint purchased. That's the easy part. We have big questions about how to safely and effectively get electricity to the house from our generator. And plumbing questions - all WAY outside MY expertise. Just like this time last year, we could sure use some outside help from folks with handy-man qualifications if anyone is looking for an excuse to enjoy a week of July or August in the Tropics! 

All is off to a good start so far with the Teichmers, but we ask that you would join your prayers with ours that the Lord would continue to bless them in their new surroundings, that the kids especially would quickly come to think of this as home, and that He would protect them all as they begin this new journey together.

Friday, June 14, 2019

A FRIENDLY SEPARATION


Recently one of my Facebook posts about a trip to Port-au-Prince that was part of Cowman School's “separation from OMS” raised a lot of questions and I suddenly realized that we have not explained some exciting and challenging changes in the works for us and the school.

Some of our group heading toward our ride to Port-au-Prince for fingerprinting. The police station there is apparently the only place in Haiti where this can be done!

Yes, Cowman is gaining its autonomy from One Mission Society. I want to emphasize that this is an amicable separation. Indeed, it is the initiative of OMS and has been in the works for several years. In the very near future, the School Board will “own” the school.


As part of our documentation, we each had to provide a passport-sized photo. Mr. James and I had photos that got rejected by the authorities because we weren't wearing suit coats! Fortunately, just a short trudge through the mud outside the police station, some entrepreneurs had set up a photo business with spare sports coats and digital cameras. 

There are three main realities driving this separation:

1)  As a global organization, OMS has a long standing history of starting and growing various ministries and then “setting them free” when they are established enough to operate independently. I have always admired this modus operandi: in time it gives more ownership to nationals and frees OMS to move on to new horizons. Cowman was started as a one-room-schoolhouse for missionary kids in the 1960s. The student body this past school year was 180 with a staff of 60. It is as stable as any ministry in Haiti can be and ready to stand on its own.

2)  OMS has no expertise in education or in running schools.  In a sense, Cowman was a “happy accident” – a simple homeschool operation that grew classrooms, staff and a substantial student body as it spread to serve a need within the local Haitian population. There are no resources from OMS headquarters to address the current challenges of cross-cultural education or our unique curriculum and teacher training needs and there's little sense in OMS directing the director of the school. 

Happily, about 18 months ago, one of our School Board members put us in contact with TeachBeyond, a sending agency (not unlike OMS) that specializes in mobilizing and placing missionary teachers in established Christian schools around the world (very unlike OMS). The School Board signed onto a partnership with TeachBeyond which has already resulted in three new teachers – each one mobilized in two or three months rather than two or three years.

3)  Most importantly, though, for the present timing of the separation is a legal consideration. Without going into detail regarding a very complicated situation, OMS Haiti is currently motivated to protect its various ministries from being pulled unnecessarily into any legal battles the organization itself might face in the future. To be clear, there are currently no substantive threats, but suffice it to say this is protection against conceivable future perils.


Melissa had lost her photos, so she got the Glamour Shot treatment too. She refused to put her arms through a jacket that had already had untold occupants. ;-)

It has been a long, complicated, and costly experience, but it is nearly complete. The Board has worked on creating a 501C3 on the state side and Melissa has met for months with a lawyer in Haiti to work out all the details on the Haiti side. Our trip to Port-au-Prince on the Monday after the school year ended, with four Americans and five Haitians, was in order to get our Haiti-side “board” members fingerprinted. (This is a separate board from the governing board.) Hopefully, this is the last step. It will take a few weeks for the prints to be processed and a background check on each individual to be completed.


Here's the guy printing our photos. His printer is attached to a car battery at his feet!

Once the separation is complete, OMS will continue to have a presence and a voice on the School Board into the future. I am sure that the school will remain open to help from the mission teams that come to OMS to serve in various ministries. Many things won’t really change much. But in some basic sense, this separation will free the school up to move and to grow in new ways.

We shall see where the Lord takes us and the school on this new leg of the journey. As always, we appreciate your prayers and support along the way!

(Any questions? Email me at steve_gross@juno.com or call me over the next few weeks while we are in the States at (812) 900 - 2467.)

Monday, May 6, 2019

A GRADUATION TO CELEBRATE

No, not Caleb. Not yet.

I suppose quite a few people aren't even aware that Melissa has been working on her master's degree for the last year and a half through Emmaus University just down the road.

Last Wednesday she presented her capstone project in front of her class. It was her last big assignment and her topic was "effective teacher evaluation".

During Friday's morning chapel service, we recognized both Melissa and Kacie, Cowman's incredible first grade teacher and assistant principal to the elementary, who has completed the same program.



Friday evening brought the "hooding ceremony" for all those graduating this year from an Emmaus program - over 60 in all. (The yellow stole over Melissa's shoulders represents graduating with academic honors. She's a smart one!)



Saturday morning we headed to a large local church for the actual graduation ceremony. The graduates had to be there at 8:00 for photos and lining up, and the ceremony started at 9:00 with a loud and joyous procession led by a marching band. 

The whole family is very proud of Melissa's accomplishment. We, more than anyone else, recognize how much time and effort went into this moment. Praise the Lord, Who lifted her up and kept her moving forward.




Kacie and Melissa with Dr. Lucner Pierre:



The big moment we all were waiting for:


FOUR hours of ceremonious ceremony later, we had all lost a few pounds in the heat of the sanctuary, and we went home tired but satisfied. 

This may leave you wondering about Melissa's motives behind all this effort. This was not a pride thing. She was not looking to fill an over abundance of free time. It was definitely driven by academic curiosity, but that was not the sole consideration. When Melissa started as principal over Cowman School nearly two years ago, she felt overwhelmed by the size of the task and under-prepared in some key areas of administration, even though she has some natural gifts in organization. She knew she would need some further training. (We're big on the importance of training and education!) Also, our hope is that we will soon be officially embarking on the accreditation process for Cowman School as we continue to strive for excellence, and that will definitely involve having fully licensed people in place from top to bottom. 

Please keep our family in prayer during our final four weeks of class of what has been an incredibly tough school year. There's hardly time for Melissa to breath a sigh of relief before getting back to work with year-end concerns ... and prepping for next fall!



Thursday, February 21, 2019

Update February 21

An Update and a Plea

First the update: "Mwen la."

"I'm here." This is one of the standard Creole responses when asked "How are you?" and it is my current status.  Our kids left a week ago for Indiana. Melissa left five days ago. (It all seems much longer to me!) I stayed behind to tend the crowd of puppies and to monitor the situation in hopes I might be of use to Cowman as soon as life normalizes. (Besides, I knew that back in the States I would find all the half-price Valentine's Day candy had already been stripped from the counters. At least the good stuff.)

Because of the absence of fuel and the presence of sometimes violent protests in the streets, school has not been in session for two weeks and two days now. Fuel has started flowing again recently, but rumor is that protests will flare again tomorrow. Until then, it is unclear if things are back to "normal" or if we're just getting started on a "new normal". 

So we are waiting to see what tomorrow brings before we start recalling missionary teachers who evacuated. We have at least four teachers and our principal in the States, another teacher in the Dominican Republic and at least one other in Turks and Caicos. It will take a few days to regather everyone.

We are encouraged that many parents are desirous of us re-opening the school on Monday, assuming the streets are quiet tomorrow. So Melissa is currently considering what it might look like for us to open with a possible quarter or more of the teaching staff missing. For the junior and senior high, it will mean just myself and Mr. Jeffney for grades 7 to 12. It might be a tall order, but I am certainly well-rested at this point and open to any challenge if it means minimizing further loss of instructional time. As always, prayers are appreciated!

Now for a Plea:

Back on Valentine's Day, after getting our four kids safely to the airport early in the morning, Melissa and I met with any teachers who were able to travel safely to Cowman in order to discuss the school's situation, to pray, and to prepare grade level appropriate learning packets that parents could pick up at their leisure. We had a window of power at the school from 10 am to 2 pm and the photocopiers were going non-stop. The way the staff united that day, motivated by a sincere desire to serve our students and parents, was a wonder to behold!




In the course of that morning, because of the unpredictability of this present crisis and the steep rise in food prices, Melissa, as Director, offered to release payroll before the end of the month to any worker who desired it. 

EVERYBODY desired it.


Melissa knew it was the right thing to do – the only thing that could be done – but it meant a near complete depletion of Cowman’s account at a time when the influx of March tuition payments is anything but certain. In fact, electricity and other bills may mean we are already in the red here in February. 

IF the smoke clears and IF we are able to resume classes before February ends or as March begins, how many of our families will be able to make tuition payments? Businesses have been closed and prices for necessities have skyrocketed. Many families were already behind at the start of February.

Melissa is very concerned that Cowman will not be able to pay current bills or full salaries in March and the thought tears us up. And so we are reaching out for help. Your contribution to Cowman, through OMS, can put a stop to the downward spiral of this weakening economy … at least at the feet of the 50 dear Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ who work alongside us day by day for a better future for Haiti, all to the glory of God.

Would you prayerfully consider giving to Cowman in order to maintain some predictability for our staff in the midst of Haiti's crisis? OMS makes it easy to give at https://www.onemissionsociety.org/give/cowman-international-school .

Thank you for your prayers and all the support you show our family and the Cowman International School family!


P.S. In the best of all possible scenarios – which we certainly pray for – any excess funds from what is given to Cowman will be used to continue the construction of sorely-needed new classroom space (which has been largely sidelined by budget constraints the past six months). 






Monday, January 21, 2019

IN THE WORDS OF JAMES BROWN ...

"I feel GOOD ... I knew that I would."

I never confided in anyone except Melissa, but over the last six months a fear began to take hold in my mind that I might be experiencing honest-to-goodness depression: I was tired ALL THE TIME. I just wanted to sleep. I would doze at my school desk after my lunch and then sleep away half of my prep period. Furthermore, I had to force myself to do things - even things that should have been very enjoyable. And I was gaining weight: about ten pounds over the course of six weeks. (Between Thanksgiving and Christmas ... so I was holding out hope that it was normal.) I felt BLAH emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Maybe I needed counseling. Or even medication.

Then Christmas break came and the only thing to excite me was the prospect of daily naps in my own bed. I can't pinpoint the genesis of my turning point except to say that Samuel (at 14) was impressing me with his willpower. He had given up extra sugar some time last spring after studying some of the effects in his health class with Mrs. Erika at Cowman. He no longer drank sodas of any kind and typically passed on candy. When I asked him how he managed to generate the willpower, especially around Christmas, he replied that he didn't need willpower. He had simply discovered that sugar made him feel bad. So he avoided it.

Thus, I decided that I should do a little experiment on my own body ... AFTER Christmas. (Sugar cookies are a particular weakness.)

So one day early in the new year, I gave up any sugar outside of fresh fruits. Colas, cakes, cookies, candy, and even granola bars were off limits each day from morning until after dinner.

I'm telling you, I could hardly believe how much better I felt. Instantaneously. No more nap times at school and my head felt clear again. With such dramatic results, I decided to spend a week avoiding sugar 24/7 and found I was no longer achy when I got out of bed in the morning. Now I am waking up before my 5:00 alarm even has the chance to sound - feeding the dogs, turning on the generator, starting the coffee, working out for a half hour, and still having time for prayer and Scripture before making breakfast.

Going forward, I plan to indulge my sweet tooth OCCASIONALLY on the weekends but continue to avoid processed sugar during the work week. And as Samuel testified, it isn't really requiring extra willpower because I can't imagine going backwards to how I felt before.

God willing, I will be updating the blog more often again now.

In other news, here are a couple of other big developments in our lives right now:

1) Ginger had her babies on January 2nd. SEVEN puppies. The whole family witnessed the miracle of birth - in all its grossness. Fortunately, Ginger has proven to be a good mother and all the puppies are flourishing. They double in size each day while we are at school. Their eyes are now open and they are starting to find their legs. Before long, their box won't contain them, but for now, they are more joy than work for us.



2) On a sadder note, all of Haiti is struggling under a fuel shortage - both gas and diesel are available only sporadically. Our local gas station looked like this all day:


If a gas station here DOES receive a shipment, the tightly packed lines of cars, motorcycles and pedestrians lugging red cans fan out a hundred feet in all directions from the pumps. I've done some reading on the circumstances behind the shortage and, like most things here, it's complicated. I suppose it could be fixed soon (band-aid style) or it could stretch on and reignite recent tensions.

We were able to secure two-weeks worth of diesel fuel yesterday for our generator at home, so we are no longer concerned about losing use of fans, fridges and freezers anytime soon, but Cowman's electricity comes from Radio 4VEH's generator next door and there's no guarantee it has fuel stockpiled to any degree. Nor is it clear how soon some parents might find it difficult to get their students to school each day. The local electric company, EDH, has been producing even less power than normal recently and will likely diminish their output even further. Cell service and internet providers are also dependent on diesel for generators to continue operation. And food prices are bound to go up since so much of what's available here locally is driven to Cap Haitien from the Dominican Republic.

In short, there's potential for a lot of inconvenience, fear and suffering. We appreciate so much the prayers lifted on behalf of our family, friends, the school and all of Haiti. 

3) This coming week is Finals Week for our high school students. We hope the fuel shortage won't add to the pressure of these end-of-semester tests. I am certain our three oldest, Caleb, Hannah, and Samuel, would appreciate your prayers for them and their classmates.

Coming up: Early in February our 6th grade through 12th grade students will be getting away from school for a four day spiritual retreat at a campground on the beach just north of Port-au-Prince. We are so excited about this opportunity and look forward to seeing what the Lord does in our lives during this time.


I will close with some pictures from my run yesterday morning. You can surely see why I want to maintain the energy necessary to get out and about in this gorgeous neighborhood:









Tuesday, November 13, 2018

THE GREAT OUTDOORS


Soon I will post some updated photos of the house and the progress we've made in transforming it into a home for our family.

In the meantime, it occurred to me that I haven't posted many photos of the GROUNDS around the house. When things got stirred up last spring on the OMS campus where we had lived for five years (with the threat of imminent eviction of the mission) and we decided proactively to move towards more secure living space, we literally moved to higher ground. 

Those who have been to Haiti will not be surprised by the beauty of our new surroundings - Haiti is a gorgeous corner of God's amazing Creation - but we are doubly blessed to now live on this particularly beautiful property.

It was a BIG part of what sold us on this move.

Here are a few photos from an early morning walk around the grounds this past weekend - just me, my phone and my coffee mug. And Ginger.

Here's the drive looking downhill from beside our house.


Just a bit further on. Ginger turning around to see why I stopped on our walk.



This view, looking across the plains toward the Citadel on a distant mountaintop, changes from day to day and even hour to hour, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. 


Now turned around and heading back up towards the house...


The mountain continues to climb upward back behind the house.


Here's the corner of the side yard. This stone wall is Caleb's favorite new place to practice guitar.


There's a lot of construction back behind the property.



The turtle pond in the front yard of the house.


A stand of bamboo in front of the house. 


In the center are the doors that lead into the living room porch.


A closer view of the turtle pond, home to 11 or 12 turtles that enjoy eating stale Cheerios.


Front doors from another angle.


And here's the courtyard on the back side of the house, just outside the kitchen.


The back doors leading into the kitchen. The blue propane tank feeds our stove on the other side of the window.


I can hardly wait to get a bit more settled in. Maybe in the not so distant future, I will have the energy to spend a quiet Saturday morning landscaping or the leisure time to spend a Sunday afternoon swinging in a hammock. 

Right now ... well, we don't even have hot water flowing yet. There's plenty of work inside to keep us busy still. In the meantime, we are satisfied with the frequent glimpses of God's majesty during our coming and going. What a place to live! 

(But don't take my word for it. Come see for yourself ...)


"For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."  Romans 1:20