Saturday, September 22, 2012

Woman of Valor

Late last month I was tipped off by my friend here in Haiti (thanks Ruth!) about an essay contest that Rachel Held Evans was hosting. Rachel is running a series of posts describing "Women of Valor".  

I am honored that my essay was chosen to be published on Rachel's site today. You can read it below, or on Rachel's website by clicking HERE.  Happy, HAPPY Birthday to this woman of valor. 

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Beth McHoul, A woman of Valor

Mother. Runner. Wife. Midwife. Sister. Hostess. Grandma. Missionary. Chef. Aunt. Trendsetter. Leader. Christ-Follower. Teacher. Friend. Encourager.

Those are a few of the titles that my friend and co-laborer Beth holds. 

Beth is a 22 year resident and servant of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  You don’t live that many years in a place as volatile as Haiti unless you have valor. 

“We’re almost there, we’re going to do this!” she exclaims.  I look at her cross-eyed, wondering who taught her math.  We’ve run seven miles in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and we have thirteen left to go. It’s 94 degrees and the humidity is stifling.  “We’re almost there,” she repeats.  On some level I know it is not true, but her certain encouragement convinces me otherwise.

We met through a common love of distance running and Haiti in 2005, and my life has been richer, fuller, and much more exciting because of it. No other person has served to encourage me to take risks, be brave, and try new things more than Beth.  She frequently paves the way and easily convinces those watching that they can do it, too. 

The roles she plays and has played in Haiti are numerous. It might sound cliché to say “too numerous to count,” but when it’s true, it must not be cliché.    

As one of the co-directors of Heartline Ministries in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for a decade and a half she ran a Children’s Home helping poor and orphaned children feel loved and secure as they waited for their adoptive families to come for them.  Countless young adults lovingly remember “Mama Beth” for her delicious French-butter-based meals, her giant 200-pound dogs, and her patient concern and affection.  During those years responding to the call to place the fatherless in families, Beth loved and helped more than 250 children.

Years of caring for orphans gave her a heart and deep desire to get to the core of the matter; she pioneered attempts to reduce the number of children being placed in orphanages due to poverty.  She recognized that if women were giving up their children due to a lack of education, jobs, invested fathers/husbands, she needed to address their reasons for placing their children by offering something different: education, a way to make an income, steady love, support, and encouragement.

For the last six years Beth has been responding to a new call.  As a quinquagenarian she had the moxie to make a major career change. She left her beloved island home of Haiti to officially begin her midwifery training in the Philippines at the age of 52. Since then she has spent countless hours memorizing medical terminology, the physiology of birth, and signs of preeclampsia.

Beth is responding to the needs of pregnant women in Haiti. Her goal has been helping Haitian women have healthier pregnancies, supported labors, and safer deliveries.  The Prenatal program has grown from a dream Beth had into a reality.  Each month “Mama Beth” helps usher in precious new life and lovingly places babies into their mother’s arms. She supports new mothers through the intimidating early months, always encouraging, “you can do it!”

All of that is amazing, but her endurance and perseverance and ever-present soft heart are what touch me most. While many that come to serve Haiti get tired, cynical and sick of the battle, Beth seems to get more energetic, more empathetic and more willing to give of herself with each passing year and approaching challenge.

To quantify the numerous ways she has served would be difficult at best. From hundreds of orphans that found families, to lonely new missionaries that found a warm reception and a familiar meal, to pregnant women that are weekly being told, “You can do this, you can give birth safely and you can raise your child,” Beth has touched untold numbers.

Dressed in her trademark short-skirt, she’s often seen by the traditional missions circles and community as a rebel. She looks to God to direct her steps, ignores the chatter, and pushes forward.  She has paved the way for countless young missionaries and leads by example. Beth McHoul is a trailblazer for so many.  I have personally been inspired by her in many ways, including but not limited to: having the courage to train for a marathon in Port-au-Prince because she had done it first, having the courage to raise my children here through many trials because she had done it first, having the guts to begin to study midwifery at the age of forty - because she had done it at the age of fifty.

Always loving, hospitable, warm, encouraging, and welcoming - no one that comes into contact with her forgets Beth McHoul. She is a woman of valor.

(first) photo credit: