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Getting to the Core of Coreluv

I have witnessed the droves of people who come back from mission trips with Coreluv and how upon their return, the call to defend the orphan is stamped into the core of their being. I see the t-shirts and the souvenirs and the contagious Haiti zeal that permeates this community and the local church. I had to know why and how it is that many of these short-term missions infuse a lifetime of devotion for many of its visitors.

The amazing matching sheets!
The amazing matching sheets!

I finally got my opportunity to visit with Mike and Mandy Reiszner and several of the Coreluv staff in Haiti. I was there for less than 24 hours but it was enough time for me to get my answers to the Haiti Hype. Beside the obvious answer that this endeavor can only be authored and sustained by a sovereign Father who cares for the littlest of these. I dare to offer two words about the contagious zeal: Pastor Mike. It isn’t because he is the Founder and Executive Director of this hugely favored NGO. I wouldn’t even say that he is the backbone of their operations as he has orchestrated it to where the ship sails whether he is at the helm or not. But for me, the deal was sealed when I stepped into one of the dormitories at their Mayan orphanage, I wanted to yell out, “Holy Sheets! They’re matching!”

I’ve been to other orphanages in other developing countries, but this was the first time that I had seen coordinating sheet sets with matching curtains and décor. I was dumbfounded by the staff’s ability to coordinate linens in spite of the more urgent demands of running an orphanage. Perhaps my domestic abilities are lacking, but even I sometimes skimp on matching pillowcases in my one-family household. So while the idea of matching sheets may seem superfluous in the context of meeting basic needs, this is a reflection on how well this organization is run. It goes back to my theory that the little matters MATTER. So the sheets were holy and I mean the good kind, not the kind that you can run your fingers through but the kind of holy that runs through you. In fact, the entire place settled over me and made me feel…well, a little closer to holy.

Now I know that Pastor Mike and Mandy would play down their role here and that they would be quick to point out the handiwork of God. Yet, it was more than matching sheets. The people that both serve and live there further substantiate this couple’s divine appointment to this place. Clearly, God magnifies their gifts so that He can draw others to this place.

Storyteller.

Like most people, I love a good story. From the moment I got in the Coreluv vehicle, Mike enchanted his small audience with tales of how God had called he and Mandy to this work and how other great people of faith have been appointed and weaved into the same story. As a listener, I can’t help but wonder how I too can be grafted into this great tale that reveals God’s multifaceted grace that resounds throughout the universe. Yet, the story is authentic and there is an underlying tone that says, “See, I am small but I get to be part of this unfolding plot that is Big and Eternal.”

Visionary.

My father-in-law is a visionary. He is able to share a giddy, secret hope for the future and the receiver of that little vision walks out of his office believing she can take hold of that hope and grow it into reality. A vision caster not only throws out future plans. He prays over his thoughts and asks for the Spirit’s discernment to sift out his own agenda and when he thinks he is in the cradle of God’s will, he takes what is left and lays it before the eyes and ears of others. The word “inspire” comes from the Latin word, “inspirare”, which means “to blow into” or “to breathe into.” Mike and Mandy breathe and live out the Haiti zeal that I mentioned before onto its leaders and by the looks of it….the vision has gone viral.

Friend.

Even though my time in Gonaives was very short, I was embraced with authentic welcomes and warm smiles (and bodies) everywhere. It was great hanging out with Mike and Mandy and even though there is much to be accomplished in their short span on the ground. I never felt like my visit was intrusive, though it was, or like they were inconvenienced, which they were, by my time there. They could be your neighbors, your local small-church Pastors, your family. From Mandy, I sensed a quiet wisdom and steady hand that perhaps provides the perfect temperance to their ministry as a couple. She is beautiful inside and out and I left feeling like I would love a chance to visit with her one on one. There was nothing manufactured and nothing to present; it was just a genuine introduction to their labor of love and I enjoyed every bit of it. I walked away from my visit with a desire to worship the God of Coreluv. I wanted to remain under their blessed canopy of protection and must admit that I let my heart get carried away by their work, but I knew that my work was not here in this holy place where my fellow Americans serve with bright smiles. My call is to fulfill what they list as Basic need #5: Job Skills.

Standing in front of the Mayan Orphanage
Standing in front of the Mayan Orphanage

The truth is, I, too have been appointed to defend the orphan, but my path leads to a different city. It is the story of 8 young men in Port-au-Prince that gripped my heart and drew this mother-of-five to travel to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I am so grateful that these leaders were able to share their vision through the gift of story and friendship. You mix their contagious zeal with getting to love on sweet children with a little bit of Creole chicken and you’ve got yourself a concoction for God’s explosive work. This is what it means to advance the Kingdom of Heaven; this is what it means to live out your faith in fear and trembling so that God’s good purpose is achieved throughout the world (Philippians 2:12,13).

I am waiting and listening and praying for God’s direction. But in the meantime, I got my answer to all the Coreluv buzz and next time I see the local defenders of orphans, I am going to give a knowing nod that I finally discovered their secret sauce.

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Target: A Bull’s Eye View From a Former Fan

“Carta Roja!”, I heard the manager chant in conspicuous fashion as she passed by my checkout line. Seriously? Did she just tell the cashier to push the Target REDcard onto an unsuspecting customer…in Spanish? Little did she know that my Latino ears picked up on the cheap shot and though I wanted to quip back with an “Alo? Don’t you see that I’m standing right here?”. I let the moment pass and instead told the embarrassed cashier that her manager should have used more discretion in front of customers. I then unsuccessfully tried to corner her into confessing whatever incentives she received for peddling off REDcards but she wouldn’t squeal. Certainly they get some kind reward because why else would these cashiers be so pushy? I’m pretty burnt out on the “Would you like to save some money today by signing up for our Target Debit card? “ If you politely decline, they proceed with their canned spiel about how it’s not a credit card and you get 5% discount and free shipping. It sounds great, but what’s the catch? Their typical response implies that Target hopes to attain customer loyalty by having customers tap into their credit line. Excuse me? I don’t need a card to prove my fidelity to these people. I drop at least $100 per week at Target (at least that’s all I’m confessing!). They have my loyalty. Or they did….

Please understand that for me, the red bull’s eye logo used to be a beacon of all that was right in the world. I know many of you get what I’m talking about. On the way to a party and you need a new top? No problem, just step through those sliding doors and take a sharp left or right, depending on floor plan, and voila! Need to replace your worn out doormat AND you’re low on organic milk? Target run! Your kids are stir-crazy and need an air-conditioned outing? Popcorn and ICEE’S at Target, everyone! I literally have felt the calming effects of serotonin flow through my body when traveling down the highway and catching the famous bull’s eye sign from a distance. Imagine my euphoria when right next to the bull’s eye stands the twin-tailed Starbuck’s siren. I often use Target as a pit stop on road trips as alternatives to convenience stores and fast-food joints. Hello, my perfect cup of double-tall, half-caff, one-Splenda latte and hello my little oasis of dollar store awesomeness. Just ask any Target-lover about the magical corner of goodies right next to the Starbucks. Yes! You know exactly what I’m talking about. This is consumerism glory at its finest.

But over the last year or so, my shopper’s buzz has steadily declined to the point where I no longer step foot in the fun sections of the store. Believe it or not, I actually go in to buy groceries and cleaning products and diapers…wah, wah, boring. But it’s not just the cashier’s incessant call to take up the REDcard or the fact that it bothers me that it really isn’t a bad deal if you choose to go with the debit card. There are no hidden fees and you really do save 5% with every purchase. However, look a little deeper and you find that Target is quick to share your information with both affiliates and non-affiliates, which makes you the perfect bull’s eye for pinpoint marketing.

What really bothers me, and this is where you may start to turn on me, is the un traceability of the “fun stuff” at Target and all other stores, for that matter. I’d like to know if apparel manufacturers are using ethical practices when outsourcing their labor. Who are the people making my clothes and my pretty handbags and scarves?

Why does trying to find manufacturer information have to be so complicated?

I began a casual online search forMossimo, a Target-exclusive brand in the U.S market. Here is what I found: Mossimo is actually owned by the Iconix Brand Group who has sold exclusive rights to Target for U.S sales. This “California Global” brand is a multi-billion dollar business and is one of the largest global apparel brands in the U.S. Neither the Mossimo or Iconix Brand Group sites listed any information on where the garments were manufactured. It seems to me that the origin of production may be of interest to people wanting to know more about a brand, but I guess I’m asking too much. So I dove into my closet for further research. I pulled out Mossimo shirts that were made in Vietnam, China, and Guatemala. After plugging in all sorts of word searches to try to find brick and mortar locations for where these clothes were made, it occurred to me that Target might have this information on their corporate page.

Bingo! I admit I was impressed that they have a published and updated Global Factory List and give them kudos for demonstrating this level of transparency. However, there are hundreds upon hundreds of factories published and woe to the soul who dares to embark on finding answers. I also didn’t like some of their wording in their Vendor-Conduct Guide. Their policies state that they “will not knowingly” work with vendors who use forced labor or that they “will not knowingly” work with vendors whose factories utilize physical or mental punishment against employees.

This seems too easy. I will not knowingly eat cow butt in my hot dog but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. I love hot dogs. If I wanted to know what was in them, I would scrutinize the ingredient list but I don’t so I eat in ignorant bliss. A company as big and resourceful as Target can “knowingly assure that human violations are not occurring. They can take measures to ensure that factory workers are getting paid a livable wage. They can put protocols in place to eliminate child labor and even go as far as to provide a decent health care plan for employees in developing countries, but I won’t go there today. A typical third-world garment worker hopes to make $1 to 2$ a day and that is if the factory that they work for comply with local labor laws. I know that in Haiti, many companies fail to enforce minimum wage requirements of $5.71 per day. Many apparel workers there end up making enough to cover their lunch and possibly their transportation for the day.

So while this big-box store’s Vendor-Conduct Guide looks good on paper, it could be that it is easier to look the other way. That is the reason for the mile-long list of suppliers. It’s easier to outsource production to middlemen whose job it is to get it done at the lowest price possible. I’m not just blaming the garment industry for this, we all choose to wear these blinders because if we don’t then we are forced to make hard decisions that may lead to a modicum of moderation on our part. Would it be terrible if our closets were a little less full because we paid more in order for clothes to be made in dignified fashion?

What if we went back to a four-season fashion calendar rather than new lines being introduced every couple of weeks? Everyone is a fashionista when you can literally wear a cheap blouse a couple of times and throw it away when next month’s trend takes the stage. Think I’m exaggerating? Talk to the swarms of teenagers veering away from the logo-heavy lures of Abercrombie and Fitch and GAP toward the eclectic and ever-changing racks of Fast Fashion stores such as H&M and Forever 21. They have hit the fashion jackpot because now they can flaunt affordable fashion without having to sacrifice on quantity.

I say “they” and not “I” because I’m not cool enough to be considered among the fashion gurus but on a few occasions, I have fallen prey to the trendy web of fast fashion. Although I have always lacked the shopping prowess of many of my friends, I do get excited when I see stores named “Madewell” and “Free People” because I think I can practice a little worry-free indulgence. However, I start asking questions when I get there and find out things like the name, “Free People” is more about a state of mind and less about the people making the clothes. Every item I picked up at the MadeWell store was made in China which doesn’t mean an automatic disapproval but China-made products is not a monster that I’m willing to take on at this juncture in my life.

For me it’s more than the clothes being made well but about the entire process being done well.

Many companies are aware of this growing concern so they try to pacify the crowds by implementing corporate social responsibility programs or donating a percentage of their sales toward a noble cause. I guess this is a step in the right direction, but to me, it sounds like they are robbing Peter to pay Paul. What good is to donate toward one group of people or cause when you are neglecting the very laborers who are the backbone of your amassed wealth? It appears that Target is doing their part with an outstanding corporate responsibility program and with their new line of Made to Matter Collection. But if you notice, not one of the items in this collection is apparel-related.

The joys of casual shopping have turned into more of a chore for me; kind of like eating when you have a nose-plugging cold that keeps you from enjoying the flavors of your food. So while my loyalty to Target isn’t entirely compromised as I still make my weekly runs to buy household items, it’s become more of a strained friendship that one tries to maintain but the chumminess has long since faded. That is what shopping is for me now.

However, there are industrial changes on the horizon as more and more people begin to ask where and how their clothes are being made. Didn’t the organic food movement kick into high gear when consumers started asking similar questions? We wizened up to tricky labeling and learned that seven-syllable ingredients probably meant that the food we were buying was far from being real.

I don’t claim to champion this cause because it is a self-condemning one. I am a complicit collaborator in this system we’ve created and I’m not sure how to extricate myself from it. I certainly don’t want to drape myself in the homemade, “Little House on the Prairie” look and buying resale doesn’t really address the issues at hand. Some of the Fair Trade companies out there, while selling guilt-free garments, have very limited selections and it’s difficult to pay top dollar for something that I’m not crazy about wearing. I’m trying to be a conscious shopper but I want to love what I am wearing, too. Is it possible to strike a happy accord?

I want to look good but I’m done with not taking responsibility for people suffering because of my desire to look good.

What to do…what to do. Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel and while it takes a little research, below are some shops whose stuff I actually want to buy and while none of them claim to have this system down pat — they are moving in the right direction. I don’t know about you, but I want fashion that feels good from start to finish.

Threads for Thought

Pact

American Apparel

Mata Traders

Synergy Clothing

Indigenous

Do you know of any other ethical fashion stores who aren’t afraid to talk about where and by whom their clothes are made? Let me know!

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The Luxury of Loving

As I rock my Stella girl to sleep I am mystified by the love that I possess for this mass of infinite joy that snuggles into my chest. This pudgy ball of flesh and sinew with a little heart that pumps warm blood and a fresh mind charged with bright synapses every day. I think about my affection for this baby that stems from that natural, instinctive knowledge buried inside every mother. Her life is precious because she is mine but it goes beyond this reason; her life is precious because it just is. A child’s life is precious. The invaluable worth of human life is easy to miss in a world where I am surrounded by loving mamas with their own Suburbans full of precious cargo. All around me are women who dedicate themselves to their own progeny homespun by intimacy. Isn’t this the way of the world? What is more humanly natural than this? In my neck of the woods, it is easy to feel this profound connection to the little people in our homes. At least, it should be easy.

I think about the children that I met on my first trip to Haiti; children in orphanages whose broken tales may never be fully known. As I visited with each of them, I wondered about their mothers and fathers and admit that I’m skeptical that there was ever any kind of deep connection there. A mother’s love doesn’t abandon her little girl to the streets and it most certainly doesn’t give her son away to live the life of a domestic servant at four years old.

These are distant acts of despair that invoke gasps of pity in the circle of moms that I run in. We ask questions that go unanswered, “How can anyone do that to her own flesh and blood?” But how can we know if these acts reveal another dimension of love that we don’t understand?

I forget that my sweet moments with my children are afforded to me because of things as obvious as the house we live in. We paid builders a good sum to construct this house. Go back a little bit in the process and I should thank the laborers who mined the “Country French” limestone and who fired and laid the Winewood Blend brick. A landscaping crew planted the grass, the Knock-Out roses, and the fragrant bushes. In fact, they sculpted our entire neighborhood from the ground up! Even my 8-year-old daughter commented the other day as we were driving onto our street that people with jobs made every place she looked. My point is that our family’s economic standing has allowed us to purchase an easier life.

It turns out that love comes easily when couched in the comforts of the American Dream.

Think that you are not living in luxury? According to statistics gathered from The World Bank and Poke, if you earn a yearly salary of $25,000 per year, you rank in the top 2% of global wealth. That percentage shrinks significantly if you make $75,000 per year, coming in at a narrow .11%. That’s 1/10th of 1% of the richest people in the world! Instead of measuring our wealth against the backdrop of billionaires and lavish stars of Hollywood, comparing our wealth to the billions of people around the globe may give us a clearer picture of what we have.

I’m not saying that one loves more with the increase of wealth; I know plenty of mothers who fiercely loved their children through the afflictions of poverty, including my own. Yet, there is something to be said about having the time and comfort to cultivate tender exchanges with our little ones.

As I lulled my little Stella to sleep to the soothing sounds of baby lullabies and the cool air pumping out of my AC unit, I became keenly aware of my first-world life. Days before I was holding little Haitian babies on the concrete floors of a hot orphanage. They were babies unattached to me with no shared history and no prior encounters. I tried to insta-love them with a shallow substitution for their Haitian mother’s love and they weren’t buying it.

This made me appreciate the sweet exchanges of affection and bonding that allow me to know each of my children in a way that makes me feel honored to have taken a part in their creation. Did that Haitian mother ever have an opportunity to establish that connection? Was her baby homespun in a mutual exchange of affection or a product of forced submission? Tender, loving care is elusive for a mother of small children trying to secure their daily bread with no home, husband or health care.

Hard choices must be made when living in hard places.

Life goes on, on the streets of Iron Market in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti
Life goes on, on the streets of Iron Market in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

The mother who must choose which of her children will eat for the day and which one must fill his belly with mud cakes cannot afford the luxury of affection. Risks must be measured daily like where to leave her children on the days she is lucky enough to find some scrap of labor or perhaps which man she will have to sleep with in order to secure a safe place to sleep for the next few nights. Human lives are reduced to heavy burdens when surviving the rigors of hunger and destitution. It’s too difficult to imagine what I would do if I were plagued with these choices, so I cling to the whimsical moments of affection that knit me tighter still to my children.

Yet, knowing this harsh reality expands the breadth of my ability to love in luxurious fashion not only in quality but in quantity. Instead of giving a few moments of pity toward these lives, I choose to move toward a lifestyle of finding solutions. For me, working with young men transitioning out of Haitian orphanages is my drop in the universal bucket.

In April, I interviewed young men from a boy’s home in Port Au Prince, Haiti. I pictured what life might have been like for each before encountering the founders of Grangou. They were lost boys living on the streets, without a mom’s tender touch or a father’s protection. I know that I can’t mend their memories, but I can help them put a stop to the cyclical effects of poverty. They have value because they are human beings….nothing else, because they ARE. I can’t tame the blows of their past, but I am honored to be part of their NOW. I don’t know that they ever shared those sweet, bonding moments with their own flesh and blood. This is an unchangeable truth. But there is a truth that is bigger than their pasts. A truth that says that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. I hope for a future where these young men will approach the role of husband and father with the deep knowledge of the immeasurable worth of their children. I pray that they will become protectors and nurturers and that they are never faced with the choices that require breaking the bonds of family.

Your walk toward finding solutions may look a little different. It may be sending shoes and clothes and medicine to little ones across the globe or it may even be that you babysit the child of the single mother that lives across the street. What’s important is that we acknowledge that most of us have it easy compared to mothers and fathers around the world. It’s easy to cling to our lifestyles and thank God for the blessings. But when we acknowledge that those blessings are often bought at a price, we should feel a healthy burden to give back. Whatever it is, let’s drop a dose of our luxuriant love in the bucket and love beyond the borders of our home.

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Why Global Goodness Starts and Ends with the Little Things

I once had a high school teacher get on to me for wadding up a piece of crispy paper and throwing it away. He rebuffed my actions because I chose to get up in the middle of class when I could have just as easily tossed it on my way out of the door. I was a bit indignant at his course remark because, first of all, he was a substitute teacher and second, because who cares if I got up to throw away my trash. There were worse things to bellyache about like cheaters and skippers and those who blatantly disrespected redheaded subs like him. In defense, I told him that no one had been negatively affected and that it really wasn’t a big deal.

He took a brief pause and in a bland but calculated response, he answered,

“You were not a distraction, but if all the other students in class decided to replicate your actions, then we would have a disturbance on our hands and THAT is a problem.”

His unruffled response triggered an equally unsettling reaction in my gut and I sat down, short of any comebacks.

I can’t remember the substitute’s name and recall that his voice sounded a bit like Kermit the Frog; meek and nasally. But his philosopher’s exhortation seemed unfitting for a substitute teacher and had thrown me off my game. Years passed and those words worked themselves into my sphere of logic and decision-making in a way that other words from more influential teachers did not. Why is that? While the comment has not helped me make any major life decisions it has steered the many small, unseen choices that I make and though I don’t always take heed, I have an acute awareness of the potential effects of carelessness.

These words have spilled over to decisions like choosing to put a shopping cart up in the outdoor cart deposit even when it’s a thousand degrees outside and I’m in a hurry. One abandoned cart is no big deal, but twenty roaming carts are a terrible inconvenience to people trying to park! You know that feeling when you come upon a great parking spot only to find the nose of a cart in your precious space? Heaven forbid that you get out to move it because then that defeats the point of parking close to the store so around you go.

How about public bathroom etiquette? There is a litany of bathroom atrocities that if replicated, pose a problem. You know what problems I’m talking about! What if everyone tossed their wet paper towels into a trashcan that is about to vomit out trash because it is so overstuffed? What if everyone decided not to flush the toilet because they didn’t want to touch the lever? I know these examples seem silly but ask anyone who has walked in with a full bladder only to walk out with a full bladder because the restroom was N-A-S-T-Y.

How about trying on clothes? Most of us will hang up our stuff if we know that there is an attendant in the dressing room. But what about in a busy department store when there is already a heap of garments strewn on the benches and on the stall hooks? I’ve justified it before by saying that it gives the employees something to do. It IS their job, right? They hang and fold and re-position. But most of the time, I think of Mr. So and So whose words sucker punched me years ago and end up hanging and folding the clothes myself.

His words have evolved into more than NOT making bad choices, but intentionally making good choices.

The former avoids the negative consequences to carelessness while the latter pursues a positive ripple effect.

Let’s go back to the messy dressing room. I did my part by picking up my stuff and carrying it out to the dressing room catchall. That avoided a bad decision of leaving behind a mess in a public place. But pursuing what’s best would mean taking that heap of clothes left behind by someone with bad taste (seriously, different strokes for different folks, people) and taking it to the dressing room rack. Perhaps this small, but meaningful decision catches the eye of an employee or maybe it doesn’t. But think of the ripple effect. Now, the next shopper has a clean dressing room and if your time in dressing rooms is anything like mine, you welcome unexpected graces when you can get them. But maybe a floor attendant does catch your small, seemingly insignificant gesture, and perhaps her sour view of ungrateful shoppers sweetens a little bit and for the next several hours of work, she decides to engage in great customer care. Our small choices have the potential of making a significant impact in our spheres of influence.

HandUP Global Goods is a result of choosing to replicate the actions of people who pursue what is right and good in this world. We are the inspired, the receivers of innumerable good deeds that have instilled a drive to pursue the BETTER and still more, the BEST. We seek to reach beyond our boundaries of comfy-cozy so that others can experience God-breathed inspiration and begin to perpetuate the pursuit of excellence in their own spheres of influence. I’m no longer talking about parking lots and public restrooms, but making positive, large-scale decisions stems from an uncompromising approach to the mundane and the practical, too.

We ask a simple question: How can the U.S marketplace give a HandUP to artisans in impoverished communities? Part of our strategy is to gain momentum through a series of small but significant decisions that we expect will snowball into a global movement. What kind of decisions? We invite you to take part in our story and collaborate with us as the plot of this book unfurls. We are in the preface of our venture and Chapter One welcomes us to Haiti, in the capital city of Port Au Prince.

Housing stacked up a hillside in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti
Housing stacked up a hillside in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

In the words of Apostle Paul, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.”

Let’s do think about these things, but not just think, DO. Yes, we are the recipients of people who chose to pursue the pure and praiseworthy and we benefited from their pursuits. But we are the givers, too, so let’s choose to give back the good work invested in us to those yearning to receive.

Natul Middlebrook is the Executive Director and Founder of HandUp Global Goods. She draws her inspirations from women such as Florence Nightingale, Lilian Trasher, Mother Theresa and Amy Carmichael. She can only hope to replicate their fearlessness and compassion when it comes to reaching beyond the borders of her comfy-cozy to those needing a hand up.