It was a typically hectic morning which entailed painting a house, meeting with a group of boys at Danita’s Children’s Orphanage, working on the farm with one less staff than usual, and encountering a man on the road amidst aggressively provoking two dogs to fight as elderly women attempted to pass. I smiled as Jen told the story nonchalantly, of how she came to the aid of these women, clubbing the man with her grocery bag repeatedly, while biking by. A morning in the life of missionary, Jen Wride…
It has been six-and-a-half years since Jen settled in Haiti, the west side of the shared Caribbean island of Hispaniola. After her second visit to the island with missionary friends from the Dominican Republic (two of three trips she would make within one year), Jen began to feel the call to remain in Haiti as a missionary, to use her gifts as an expression of her growing relationship with Jesus. The road getting there, however, was neither an easy, nor expected one. If you have grown up imagining missionaries or pastors as ethereal beings who are immune to the pain, suffering and mess which “normal” people encounter, I encourage you to read closely, and prayerfully consider, who our God is, and who it is that He leads and calls into ministry.
Jen recalls being a little girl who loved to read National Geographic, and as far back as she can remember, has always had a fascination with mission trips. The environment in which these interests were first birthed, however, was tumultuous and painful. The years spanning Jen’s childhood to young adulthood involved abuse from her father, the “horrible and nasty divorce” of her parents, the confusion of subsequent relationships her parents became involved in, and the scrutiny of a small town. As Jen shares about the early years of her life with me, I begin to see more clearly some of the factors which contributed to her move from Nova Scotia to B.C. at the age of 19. It also becomes apparent that God’s purposes for Jen were not separate from these factors; rather, they were intimately woven together with them.
While studying Recreational Leadership at Langara College, Jen lived in the basement suite of a house, above which lived first, a missionary couple from Port-au-Prince Haiti, and second, a family who would become missionaries in the Dominican Republic (and the ones who took Jen on her first trip to the D.R. and Haiti). While in Vancouver, Jen also began attending a Bible-teaching church, quite a contrast from the “wishy washy” teachings of the United Church she grew up in. Although Jen was growing in learning about who God was, the news she received between 1992-1995 and the years that followed would reveal to her the true state of her heart, and the loving sovereign hand of God.
“GOD, DO YOU HAVE A PLAN?”
“Why did this happen?!” We ask questions like this when unexpected and ostensibly senseless events occur in our lives…and this is the question Jen cried out to God when year after year she received news of death—the suicide of her graduation classmate, another classmate suicide, and finally the shocking murder of her stepfather. Frustration and depression accompanied Jen as she searched to understand why these events had taken place, and why her church failed to live out the community it preached Sunday after Sunday when she needed it the most. In her depression, she acknowledges, “I did not understand true relationship with God; I didn’t turn to Him because I didn’t have faith or trust in Him.” She goes on to explain how being in a place of pain combined with a fragile experiential knowledge of God made it so much easier to fall into deep depression. The painful events of these years culminated in Jen leaving the church she had been attending and the community she longed for. The next five years were replete with questions: “Am I going to be able to get it together? God, do you have a plan?” Through this time of questioning, Jen’s heart for missions persisted, and even while inactive in a church, she would faithfully volunteer at Missions Fest every year. Eventually, she began to ask, “Am I good enough to be involved in ministry? Am I good enough for the mission field?” Jen admits that it was difficult to see God at work during those years. Looking back however, she can see clearly that it was Him guiding her through the mire.
“God kept putting people in front of me,” Jen recalls, “He kept relationships with Christian friends strong all through those difficult years,” and slowly she began to re-engage in church community. After visiting Westside Church with a friend and deciding that she wanted to pursue a deeper relationship with God, built on a solid foundation, she made Westside her home. Six years later, Easter of 2010, Jen was baptized and preparing to move to Haiti as a missionary. As I listen to Jen share her story with me, through all the pain she has experienced, I hear joy in her voice, and can visibly see it shining through her eyes. I can see a joy within her, grounded in the knowledge that God never ceased pursuing her, a joy grounded in His call on her life—His assured purpose for her as His child.
In 2011, a wealthy couple involved extensively in varying humanitarian efforts visited Danita’s Children’s Orphanage. Just 11 months had passed since Jen had begun her work with the children there. This visit was also around the time that she had orchestrated the development of a small rooftop garden, planted and tended alongside the children she worked with. The visiting couple loved Jen’s vision of cultivating nutritious food for the Haitian children and thus proceeded to buy a three-acre piece of land outside the town of Quanaminthe for her to begin developing a farm. In 2012, the seed of Jen’s growing vision of practical agricultural education for the Haitians and provisional nutrition was planted, as the soil of Bonne Terre Haiti began to be tilled:
“I wanted a place where kids could come and learn about agriculture, a place where they would learn that farming the land that God had given them was not to be looked down upon.” Jen goes on to explain that given the history of their ancestors, the Haitian children grow up believing that farming and slavery are synonymous. “It breaks my heart to see how their thinking affects the decisions they make around food—they have chickens which produce eggs, and they’ll sell the eggs to buy Maggie (an MSG bouillon). I want to help change the way they think about food and agriculture; I want to help them see that this good soil (bonne terre) isn’t ours, it is given to us by God for our good, and He is guiding our hands as we farm…The principles I teach the kids that come to work in the garden, and the principles I teach my employees, are all based on us being good stewards with what God has given.”
Today, she is beginning to see the harvest of tilling the good soil of the land and the hearts of the Haitian people. Jen’s initial vision to grow food which would combat the prevalent malnutrition in Haiti has blossomed into the reality of a working farm which grows four of the most nutritious leaves in the world: moringa, chaya, katuk and cassava. Each of these leaves are a superfood in their own right, however, the moringa leaf, which grows on the aptly named Miracle Tree, is the one which Jen has targeted as her main focus for distribution. Jen tells me that just “100g of dried and ground moringa leaf has as much protein as one egg, it has 20 times the potassium as a banana, as much iron as spinach, 25 times the vitamin C of oranges,” in addition to vitamin A, calcium, beta-carotene, amino acids and 46 varieties of antioxidants. No other plant on earth compares to the nutritional qualities of the moringa leaf. The tree gets its name not just from its amazing leaves. “Its bark is also used for tea, its seeds are used for pressed oil, and the husks on its seeds can purify water.” Jen is currently growing 1000 of these provisional trees at Bonne Terre Haiti.
In the brief Skype and email conversations I have had with Jen, it has become clear that this is a woman who loves God and loves others. I have no doubt that God called her and prepared her with an ability to farm and educate so that she might impact the Haitian people who are living in such physical desperation. What is even more apparent, however, is how God prepared Jen’s heart. By allowing Jen to experience her own pain and desperation, God has enabled her to identify with the pain and desperation she lives with every day in Haiti. By opening Jen’s eyes to see how deeply God loves and cares for her, and how lavish his provision, God also prepared Jen to share His provision and love with the Haitian people. I pray that in reading about the missionary work of Jen Wride, our hearts would also be stirred up by the truth of who God is, and that we would be encouraged to till the soil upon which we stand, in the city of Vancouver.
Une autre partie tomba dans la bonne terre: elle donna du fruit qui montait et croissait, et elle rapporta trente, soixante, et cent pour un.