Today and Eternity: Why Where You Spend Your Resources Matters

By Abby Tice

I read a book once that said that one of the devil’s largest ploys is to get us thinking about the future. Don’t let them think about today. Don’t let them focus on what matters for eternity. Keep them bound up in what might matter tomorrow. There are three questions I ask myself when I’m about to spend my resources: “Does this matter to me today? Will this matter to me tomorrow? Will this make an impact for eternity?”

We all look for causes to support—but how often do we look for that cause with these questions in mind? When I think about spending money and other resources, I want to know that where I’m spending it will matter and what impact it will make. Here are five qualities to look for when investing in an organization, and where I see them in Project 117.

Vision, mission, values

How we empower others reflects how we feel about ourselves, but more importantly, how powerful we see our God to be. What matters for eternity is to support a group of people who are dedicated to empowering others. I’m inspired by the call we have in Isaiah 1:17 to do right, to seek justice, to encourage the oppressed, to defend the cause of the fatherless, and to fight for the rights of widows. I’m honored to support an organization that recognizes individuals as prodigies, storytellers, and change-makers, and seeks to display God’s glory through each challenge and victory.

Faithfulness in leadership

It’s difficult to be faithful. Faithfulness requires loyalty, especially in the hard times. When I had the opportunity to spend a week in Haiti during the summer of 2015, I watched a group of people faithful in their work ethic to make much of Christ. I observed them educate others in school, in the Word of God, and in kindness. I was welcomed into an environment that fosters love and encouragement at every moment. I encountered a group of people dedicated to righteous action through their fight for justice in the education system of Haiti. Faithful leaders raise faith-filled leaders.

Holy Spirit activity

If the Holy Spirit isn’t active in an organization, it’s just another non-profit looking to make small strides of change with a vision that stops with its key leader. Fortunately, we serve a God who is far greater than a human visionary, and “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength…” (Isaiah 40:29). We serve a God who is able to use us to work for His will to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). All He asks of us is to depend on His power. Prayer is the answer; an organization with a base of prayer in the Spirit will succeed through the power of the Spirit.

Honesty in the spending of resources

I love to see lives being changed. I love to see detailed reports of where my money goes, what it funds, and how it benefits lives. I love transparency in an organization’s use of the money I give. I love how I can see what my funds do for the students at Institution One 17. Check the details, check the website, check into the role your money and prayer plays in bringing glory to God and expanding His Kingdom.

Care that goes deeper than the wallet pocket

No one wants to feel like their money is the only piece of them desired by an organization. At the root of each human soul, we want to feel like we matter. I’ve never experienced another organization with such an eternal and caring outlook, one that speaks straight to my heart in the way they see each person’s value as a direct image-bearer of God. When I find a group who looks at the world through the lens of a Savior who sacrificed his very body for my soul, the least I can do is share out of my abundance.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve felt more blessed each month by partnering with this organization than $37 could bless me in my wallet. Maybe it’s that taste of eternity.

Another Narrative

By Sarah Smith

We’re closing out the One 17 Challenge, and this year it’s all focused on injustice. Every participant in the Challenge is not only raising money, but raising awareness for a particular injustice that our students in Haiti face on a regular basis.

It’d be easy to get caught up in this picture of Haiti as simply a country that’s been ravaged by injustice. While it’s true that the need in Haiti looms large and that there’s a lot of work to be done, we would be doing the people of Haiti a massive disservice if we limit ourselves to a single story of injustice. So while we continue to raise awareness of the challenges of life in Haiti, we want to spend some time focusing on the things we love about Haiti and its people.

One of the first things that I noticed about Haiti when I visited for the first time last May was its breathtaking beauty. Looking out at the countryside from our school, God’s handiwork is so evident in so many ways. From the clouds rolling over the mountains to incredible sunsets to the lush greenery of the rainy season, Haiti is home to so much beauty and one breathtaking moment after another.

But more than Haiti’s topography, we’re incredibly motivated by the beauty of the stories we see in our students and staff. In our teachers and principal, we see a group of inspired and inspiring people who believe that our students have the potential to do incredible things to rewrite Haiti’s story. Greg—our Haitian principal—has such a tangible passion for the things that our students can go on to do. It truly is contagious. I’ll never forget sitting in the back of an SUV during a bumpy ride over the mountain into Port-au-Prince, talking to Greg about his take on the problems Haiti’s facing. What struck me in that conversation was how undaunted he was in the face of those challenges. Instead, he was excited and energetic and passionate about being able to equip and empower our students to meet and overcome them. He’s infused his passion into our school culture, and our teachers have undeniably bought into it. We love how they’re pouring into our students and how their passion for education and the opportunities it brings is so tangible as soon as you set foot in their classroom. They know that the students they’re teaching to read and write will someday be the students that create complex solutions that Haiti’s complex problems demand.

And finally, we’re inspired by our students themselves. We love the grit and determination they’re showing as they chase after their education. We love soaking up the excitement of our 1st and 2nd graders as they learn about the world around them, and we’re inspired by the motivation of our adult literacy students to chase new challenges as they learn how to read and write. Whether we’re watching six- and seven-year-olds step into leadership roles among their peers or grown adults write their names for the very first time, we know that there’s something special about the group of students we’re lucky enough to have. We don’t know exactly where they’ll go, but we can’t wait to watch them get there.

Yes, Haiti is a country with great need and it’s vital that we’re aware of it. But it’s just as important to remember that Haiti is an incredibly beautiful country, full of people that have the passion and determination to write a new story for Haiti—a story that rewrites the narratives of injustice. As we take inspiration from our staff and students—young and old—we’re honored to be able to play even a small part in that story.

by Sarah Smith

At Project 117, we’re okay with going against the grain. If we were content with the status quo, we wouldn’t feel a need to fight against injustice and our hearts wouldn’t break for the students who don’t have access to education. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but it really all boils down to our desire to follow Jesus. Jesus took a stand against a culture of injustice. He built into His leaders so that they would be equipped to do the work He sent them out to do. He advocated for “the least of these,” and made sure that those who followed Him were able to do the same.

One way that we’re changing the status quo is how we’re developing our leaders. We have a Haitian staff of 20, ranging from teachers to groundskeepers to our principal and administrative assistant. We know that, just as our staff is building into the lives of our students, we have a responsibility to build into their lives, as well. That’s why we’ve developed a Leadership Team of managers at our school. Like most management teams, our leaders oversee coworkers and administrate work for their team. Beyond those basic responsibilities, we’re also commissioning our team leaders to own the development of chemistry, culture, and compassion at Institution One 17.

Through the Leadership Team, we’re creating a conversation and open dialogue on leadership and how it applies to our managers’ everyday responsibilities. We’re educating them through quarterly training sessions that instill Christ-centered leadership principles in their hearts. We’re teaching them how to be effective motivators, coaches, teachers, shepherds, and inspirers as they lead fellow staff members and and impact students. And we’re learning from them, too. We’re learning their stories and struggles. We’re learning what’s culturally relevant and what practices don’t cross-over. We’re learning what it really means to have grit, determination, and unwavering hope. We’re learning what it means to be the light of the world.

We’re giving our Leadership Team—Greg, Nicole, Wisnham, and eventually Worcarline—the resources that they need to not only be equipped, but to become equippers. Greg, our principal, is learning what it means to lead a staff, to delegate responsibilities, and to oversee over 100 students as they discover who they are in Christ. Nicole is developing her leadership skills and is making a difference that goes far beyond the walls of our school’s kitchen: she’s stepping into leadership roles at her local church as well as a sewing co-op. Wisnham is not only growing in his leadership capacity, but in his personal faith as being part of Christian community is holding him to a higher level of accountability and authenticity. Worcarline is honing her skills as a teacher and beginning to get a taste for school leadership as she is being challenged to evaluate and encourage her peers, many of whom are older than she is.

It’s so encouraging to see leaders emerge on our Haitian staff as they continue to pour into the lives of our students and the communities around them. Watching them take more and more ownership of the process of providing hope through education will never stop inspiring us.

Equipping for the Present

By Sarah Smith

Here at Project 117, we talk a lot about equipping and empowering. Whether we’re talking about what the new Prodigy Building will allow us to do or casting vision for the kind of work we see our graduates doing after school, those two words seem to come up often.

There’s no denying we have big dreams. We want to equip and empower our students to change the narratives in Haiti and to find solutions to complicated problems. A lot of times, though, I can get pretty caught up in dreaming about “the future.” To me, a lot of what we do seems to be laying the groundwork for the future. I get swept up in what that future might be instead of focusing on the stories of the present. Stories like Yvrose’s and the amazing initiative she’s taking to care for our students.

In October, a team of volunteers traveled with us to Haiti for a serving trip. The team accomplished a lot of amazing things—health care checks for each student, painting an art mural, helping to run classroom crafts, breaking ground on the Prodigy Building—but one of the most encouraging results of the team’s visit happened after they left. As part of our healthcare initiative, the team brought down medical and first aid supplies to leave with the staff so that they’re equipped to care for our students throughout the year.

Cough syrup, bandaids, and antibiotic ointment may seem like small things, but they empowered Yvrose to take ownership in how she cares for our students. She’s new to the Project 117 team this year; we hired her as an administrative assistant to help out in the school office. She has no healthcare background, and none of her initial responsibilities required that she act as school nurse. But when Phania, one of our K–1 students, developed a severe case of painful blisters, Yvrose launched into action because of a newly developed ongoing wellness system—one that makes her responsible for weekly check-ins with each teacher to make sure that kids with health issues are getting the treatment they need. She made a schedule to make sure Phania was being treated with antibiotic ointment every day and took ownership of her care. Three weeks later, the blisters were gone.

Since then, Yvrose has taken even more action as she steps up to the plate of advocating for our students’ health. Through the work of some awesome volunteers stateside, we’re equipping her to facilitate monthly healthcare workshops in each of our classes. She’ll talk with our students about the importance of hand washing, teeth brushing, and so many other things that they can do to improve their quality of life.

Yvrose’s story reminds me that we’re not just laying the groundwork for our students to be able to re-write stories in the future. We’re helping our staff take ownership and initiative in rewriting them now. That we can talk of “equipping and empowering” with grand vision, but sometimes it comes down to something as simple as bandaids and ointment.

Seth V blog cover.jpg

by Seth Vautaw

"I will never complain about potholes and 'poor' roads back home again...that's what this place has given me: a frame of reference, " said my teammate Chris as we sat knee to knee in the middle seat of a 14 passenger Toyota van. We were at max capacity going about 60 mph and had to come to a complete stop to avoid what looked like a few meteor craters in the middle of the road. Only 5 miles from the Haitian capital, we were by no means in the middle of nowhere.

The phrase he used—"frame of reference"—struck me as we were making our way to our destination for the week.

As we drove past homes that resembled campsites and dodged cattle in the middle of the road, it dawned on me: we were a long way from my comfort zone. I began to become aware of things that I didn’t want to know existed, things that my first-world American mind didn’t want to acknowledge. “People actually live in these conditions” I said to myself as we passed trenches of homes that looked more like outhouses than homes. Americans can’t fully understand the daily luxuries they live in until they experience a place like Haiti first hand.

There were 10 of us from Oakbrook Church partnering with Project 117 in Haiti, an organization that was started because of the need to build and operate schools for the country’s left behind. Our mission for the week was to assist Institution One 17 in painting an art mural, do art activities with the kids, provide healthcare checks, and implement leadership training to some local leaders in the community.

Having the opportunity to serve alongside the Haitian people and to see first-hand how they live was soul-jarring and humbling. These people have nothing by American standards. But their overall energy and zest for life would lead you to believe otherwise.

God is present in that small village in rural Haiti and His presence is evident. The local people are filled with a hope that only comes from God. They way they act in faith and continue to push forward to further God’s kingdom is inspiring. They could very easily do what is expected of them and live a life that is status-quo. However, they understand that God has something more meaningful in store for them.

Life isn’t meant to be lived in mediocrity. God gave each of us unique gifts so that we could be great for him. This Haitian community understands this. They are breaking the mold and pursuing greatness by pouring into the next generation. They are stepping out of their comfort zones to grow, lead a Christ-like life, and help their children do the same. They’re improving the situation now and for generations to come.

This is a trip that I will always reflect on when I’m feeling complacent or comfortable. I will think back to this time and understand how truly blessed I truly am. I’ve been blessed with a house with indoor plumbing and A/C... a car that can get me to and from places...the roads are crater-free (for the most part). In short, I have a lot to be thankful for.

By stepping outside of my American comfort zone, I realized that we cannot grow unless we take some steps out every now and then. We must not let our own comfort get in the way of what God has in store for us. This is the “frame of reference” that the Haitian people gave me.

By Sarah Smith

From the very beginning, we’ve been undeniably for the left behind at Project 117. In a place like Haiti, the concept of the left behind isn’t clearly defined. It’s layered and nuanced and complicated. It would be easy for us to focus on one statistic and pour all of our energy into changing the narrative around that one statistic. 23% of children in Haiti don’t attend school. There’s no question in our minds that this is wrong. Every single child should have the opportunity to attend school, to learn about the world around them, and to walk through doors that can only be opened through education.

But at Project 117, we’re also passionate about changing the narrative of injustice as a whole. The 23% statistic is just one part of that. When we look at Haiti, one of the things that breaks our heart the most is the injustice we see surrounding the gender roles there. Women and girls have significantly less opportunity to change their personal narratives and live into the amazing things that God’s got in store for them. They’re constantly being told what they’re capable—and not capable—of. They’re the victims of violence and attitudes that they have no control over.

But we know that they are prodigies, waiting to discover their true purpose. When we see the world telling them differently, our heart breaks and we know we must do something to change that. We want our girls to walk through the gate to our school and walk into a place where they’re believed in. We want them to see their classrooms as departure points, where they learn about the work that needs to be done and they’re equipped with the skills and self-confidence to do that. When the world tells them that they’re not prodigies, we want them to know that they are—being daughters of the King is the only qualifier they need.

Re-writing the story of gender injustice in Haiti isn’t just about educating and empowering our female students. It’s about educating our boys, as well. They’re living in a culture that normalizes sexual violence and tells them that their power over women is a mark of success. It’s our goal to make sure that they know that every single person—male or female—is a child of God. We’re teaching them to read and write, to develop creative solutions to the problems facing their community, and—maybe most importantly—to see Jesus in everyone they meet. When our boys begin to see Jesus in their female classmates, they will be at the center of the changing attitude surrounding women in Haiti.

This year, we have 102 primary students enrolled, each of them created by a God who loves them deeply. 56 of them are girls. All of them are prodigies.

 

The First 5 Years

In the spring of 2010, a group of people gathered together, united by their passion for the left behind. What started as a small gathering of people who saw the injustice of a broken education system has since grown into a full-blown movement of people committed to fighting for Haiti’s left behind.

It’s amazing to see how God’s worked through Project 117 over the course of its five year existence. When we look back at where we started, we’re amazed at the ways God’s provision has always come through and the ways He’s always shown up. Every year, we’re learning new things about God’s character and the ways He provides for us. But there are two things that we continue to see year after year: God is ready to use anyone who says “yes” to what He’s calling them to do, and He aligns the right people at the right time to do His work. We’ve seen this over and over throughout our five years.

Before there was a school, before there were students and teachers and grades, there was a dream. After being rocked by the 2010 earthquake, our executive director saw firsthand the brokenness and injustice of the school system in Haiti. He saw schools turning children away because their French wasn’t good enough, or they were too far behind, or because their parents couldn’t pay. This didn’t sit right. The stories of Haiti’s left behind lingered far beyond his trip; he began to tell these stories to friends, family, and influencers back home. Inspired by the vision of Isaiah 1:17, Curtis and our founders said yes to God’s calling. With that, Project 117 was born.  

If anyone tells you that building schools is easy, they’re probably lying to you. If they’re not, let us know who they are because we’d love to learn their secrets. Project 117’s second year was one marked by grit and some seriously hard work. We were challenged by the immense amount of work to be done in Haiti, but we were also incredibly determined to impact its people. We had a vision of raising up empowered Haitians who were able to rewrite the country’s story, and we knew that God would have to show up in some major ways and we would have to do some major work to see that vision become a reality.

This is the year we got to work. We built a road and a well and part of a security wall. We put in the work to prepare not only our land for the school, but our community. We began developing relationships that would shape our organization and impact our story for years to come.

The hard work of year two began to pay off. While we were still in the midst of preparing our land for our permanent school building, we had the opportunity to open school a year early by building a temporary facility on our partner’s land. We didn’t have the funding on-hand for this, but we felt God calling us to say yes. And, like He’s shown us over and over, He honored our decision to boldly say yes to Him. He aligned two new donors for us who made our temporary school building happen, and he provided some amazing volunteers to lead our curriculum team stateside.

With God’s provision, Institution One 17 opened its doors for the first time on September 16, 2013. We began serving 35 students—40 by the end of the year—with five Haitian staff members…four of whom are still on our team today! And we raised $77,000 in 4 months, which paved the way for year four…

Project 117’s next year was one marked by growth and God’s miraculous provision. We started construction on our first permanent school building…and finished building it out in 6 weeks. More than a physical building, though, was the school culture we began to develop in year four. We hired Greg as our Haitian principal, and he’s been hugely influential in developing our staff culture. Taking Matthew 5:14 to heart, he’s passionate about the vision it casts for our students lives. He sees our students as a source of light in a country that many people think is overwhelmed by darkness. He’s committed to raising up educated and passionate students who have a chance to flip Haiti’s narrative. We began to grow our reputation in our community as a school and organization that is undeniably for the left behind, for the community, and for empowered Haitian leadership.

Year five was a year of growth, transition, and influence for us, both in Haiti and stateside. Four of our original board members finished out their terms and transitioned into new roles and new impact, while three new board members got on board with our mission and our movement. Their fresh perspectives allowed us to take new ground as an organization and plan for the future in exciting ways. We were able to hire a part-time development assistant in the states, and our Haitian staff grew to 15 as they served 90 students. We continued to boldly go after the injustices we saw in Haiti with the creation of a healthcare program and an adult literacy class in the evenings.

We continue to look back on our journey with gratitude, and to look forward to the next five years with anticipation and determination. And we know that it’s only because of God that we’ve been able to do any of this work. We can’t wait to see what he asks us to say “yes” to in the future!

Melynda's Story

By Sarah Smith

Walking into Ephraim Orphanage—Project 117’s in-country partner—we were greeted with shy smiles and darting eyes. Our arrival during the Sunday morning church service meant that our first interaction with many of our kids came through sneaky smiles and stolen glances back at us. After the service finished up, personalities came out of the woodwork. Laughter, squeals, and shouts filled the hallways as the kids warmed up to us almost immediately. What caught my eye, though, was a shy set of eyes peeking around the corner of the doorway.

These eyes belonged to Melynda, and everything about her was shy. She hung back and watched as we played with the other kids. She didn’t come running up to us right away. She seemed content in her role as observer. Over the course of the week, she warmed up to us. She’d come find me when she got to school in the morning to give me a better-than-coffee smile and hug. Melynda’s laughter and playful attitude brightened my day each time I saw her.

When I learned a bit more about Melynda, I saw this small, week-long journey fit into a much larger story. In her first year as a student with us, Melynda showed significant developmental delays. This affected her time at school in almost every way: socially, academically, and even physically. In short, she was falling behind.

At Project 117, we’re about “the left behind.” Our whole philosophy is built around coming alongside the left behind and most vulnerable students in Haiti. We believe that every single person has an amazing story that God is writing for them. In other words, we knew we had to take action when we saw Melynda falling behind her classmates.

Our student care advocate began developing a year-long plan to come alongside Melynda. On trips down, she worked extensively with her to develop motor and academic skills. Melynda had a community of people come alongside her to support her: her teacher, her principal, the women at Ephraim, and the curriculum team at Project 117 all gave their time and talent to come alongside this sweet child of God. They all worked to make sure she was no longer left behind.

This year, Melynda’s improving in school. She’s growing and her motor skills are becoming more and more refined. Just like she opened up to me in the week that I knew her, she’s opening up to her teachers and coming alive within her school community. She’s leaning into and living out her Divinely-written story.

These are the kinds of stories that encourage me most about the work that we’re doing at Project 117. Developing an academic plan for a little girl who’s falling behind isn’t exactly glamorous, but it’s this kind of commitment—on such an individual level—to our core values that will empower and equip our students, like Melynda, to bring change, reconciliation, and hope to their communities.

By Curtis Stout

The older—and grayer—I get, the more I’ve learned to savor and enjoy the everyday ordinary moments of life rather than constantly seek out the next “mountain-top,” emotionally charged experience. The simple, relationally rich moments are the ones that are sustainable and are the foundation of a life well lived. Let me explain…

Most people put a puzzle together by starting with the border because it frames the photo and gives you a starting point for the rest of the puzzle. The border pieces usually don’t contain the most spectacular, visually rich part of the puzzle, but they are the easiest to identify and are often times the most enjoyable part of the puzzle…. at least for me. I’m usually bored by the time I finish the border.

In life, the simple, relationally rich moments frame everything else we experience. They give the bigger, emotionally high (or low) moments context and stability. These moments are intertwined into the day-to-day happenings of life and, therefore, are easily overlooked. They’re not the most glamorous moments and probably won’t make your lifetime highlight reel, but they are absolutely essential. They’re the building blocks—the firm foundation—for everything else.

This came to me after our recent year-end school trip. I was reflecting and trying to figure out what my trip highlight was when I decided I didn’t need a highlight. Instead, I needed to be content enjoying the small moments that made up the larger trip experience. These small moments consisted of going on breathtaking, scenic trail runs with a close friend, Greg and I celebrating our victory over the teachers in a team-building activity, being greeted by students with my Haitian name (Kerr - tees) each morning, watching a student resourcefully engineer lights onto his toy truck, cheering students on as they made it rain on the b-ball court, laughing uncontrollably as we watched a tap-tap (Haitian taxi) barrel over a huge trash mound as though it were a monster truck, and remembering why I fell in love with my wife as I watched her drool peacefully while she cuddled with a child in the orphanage. 

Take any one of these small moments out of the trip and, overall, I don’t think it would have changed my experience. Add all these small moments together, however, and I’m left with one extraordinary trip experience that was full of small moments of joy that I’ll be recalling and feasting on for days to come.

by Sarah Smith

 

When I think of a third-world country, the one word I could use to describe the picture in my head would be desolate. Dirty, broken, dusty, and forgotten are all words that swarm to the forefront in conjunction with that phrase. I was expecting Haiti to live up to that description; I was prepared for all of those things. Dark. Dirty. Grimy. Forgotten. 

God, on the other hand, had a few other words for me.

One of the first things that struck me about Haiti as we drove over the mountain from Port-au-Prince to our little spot outside of Lascahobas was how much beauty there is. The scenery is nothing short of majestic. Because we were there during the rainy season, a layer of lush greenery covered the mountains. White cotton clouds dotted a sky that was the perfect shade of blue. Storm clouds and mountains combined to form amazing sunsets. This place wasn’t forgotten by God…it had His signature all over it. 

In addition to soaking in the beauty of our location, I was also able to experience our school for the very first time. I met the staff, whose stories have inspired me for months now, and saw all the amazing work they do with and for our students. I was able to speak with our principal about the complicated history of Haiti, the challenges it faces, and the resources it already has. As cliché as it sounds, his passion for developing the next generation of change-makers for this country is truly inspiring. When he looks at our students, he doesn’t just see four-, five-, and six-year-olds running around at recess and learning to read and write. He sees future doctors, nurses, community organizers, and leaders who will rewrite Haiti’s story while writing incredible stories of their own. 

When I looked at our students, I saw kids who were dedicated to their schooling and education and who genuinely cared for each other. I saw the homework circles that happened on the back porch of the orphanage, where student leaders would help explain homework to kids who took a bit longer to grasp those concepts. I saw kids who were passionate about their “things,” whether that was sports or art or singing or dancing or the Bible stories I got to hear them read. 

After a particularly active recess one day that included both a basketball tournament and attempting to set a soccer ball back-and-forth (volleyball style) with some first grade girls, I walked to the edge of the schoolyard before it began to gently slope down. From that vantage point, I was able to look out over the mountains that surrounded our school, the lake that had formed in the rainy season, and the beautiful greenery that greeted me on all sides. It was breathtaking, but I found myself more compelled to turn around and look at the school behind me. Sure, the view from Institution One 17 was a beautiful gift from God, but the view looking into Institution One 17? Looking at the learning and empowerment and change happening within the walls of our school and the hearts of our students? I’ll take that view—that gift from God—any day.