Part 1: My Flight Plan for Loving Haiti

by Mark Bell

My name is Mark R. Bell and I have been in the Captain’s chair of Loving Haiti four months (as of January 2017). I present myself as “Captain” as a way of starting a rich dialogue, and as a way of introducing myself to you as President/CEO of Loving Haiti Inc. As president on what I call this “flight for life”, my flight plan includes:

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1) To successfully lead people through life’s crises and toward those opportunities worthy of our time, talents and treasures, by sharing truth and by building trust forged by teamwork and professional competencies over time.

2) To create a path of inspiration where we can free up the flow from the heart (from what matters most) to the hands (to where it’s needed most), connecting, directing and transforming resources to meet tangible needs and create opportunities.

3) To provide gifts of time, talents and treasures that allow us to create and sustain conditions that are teeming with life and fruitfulness and help alleviate conditions that lead to premature death and poverty.

4) To create social and economic value by helping people make positive or desired change. Or, as State Farm Insurance suggests in their ads, “to get to a better state.”

5) To draw out the best in people, helping them to become difference makers for life. Difference makers are willing to risk their personal significance by taking the lead and deploying their time, talents and treasures toward work that is purposeful, rewarding and worth doing for a change!

6) To ask God to give us His eyes so we can see … and His love for humanity … and His arms for the broken-hearted … and His heart for the ones forgotten.

This is the first of four posts to be shared over the next four weeks – one each week, spawned by the experiences of my last trip to Haiti.  I’d like to start by sharing a little about myself, and my heart for Haiti.

As I move very quickly into my seventh decade of life (June 14th), I do so with such great appreciation and gratitude for all the good, all the bad, and even for all that defaced God’s creation and was just down-right ugly, mean spirited, and void of any true love. Why be grateful for both the good and bad?  Because my story line has a little bit of all of it. As the Apostle Paul once said, “But for the grace of God, I am what I am.”

As a young Black/Native American man born in the small town of Jamestown, Ohio, who at the age of four moved to southern California, specifically Los Angeles proper, Compton and Lynwood, I grew up having been exposed to a lot in the City of Angels. I experienced life’s beauties (oceans beaches, mountains, valleys, the education & cultural hot spots, sports centers, faith movements, entertainment, amazing diversity, Disneyland, health/wellness & fitness conscious and police protection), and death’s beasts (oil spills, toxic waste, mudslides, fires, smog, earthquakes, riots, racism, gangs, drugs, illiteracy, homelessness, corruption, murderers, thieves, poverty, diseases and police brutality).

My parents divorced when I was five. My mother raised my older brother and me. She worked in the front office of a doctor’s office as a records/medical assistant, and we moved often depending on where she could find a better-paying job. She worked a lot, and at times we shared housing with other relatives, keeping us off of the welfare assistance program and out of the projects. Money was tight so my brother and I worked paper routes, collecting soda bottles, running errands and doing special projects for our neighbors. As a family we were very grateful and learned to appreciate what we had and to use what we had in helping others. Soon a baby sister joined our family, but my mother remained unmarried. We boys learned to babysit, cook, clean house, do laundry, iron and fix small household problems at a young age.

My mother tried to move into neighborhoods that had the better schools and community centers. My brother and I did okay in school, considering how many of them we attended, but we loved competing with and against one another in sports. The weekdays revolved around our immediate family and schoolwork but the weekends were about hanging out with our extended family – Grandma, Aunts, Uncles and all of the nearby cousins. We celebrated birthdays, played games, watched TV, danced and ate lots of good old soul food! On Sundays, our mother made us go to Sunday school while she had her own day of rest at home (because she worked almost every Saturday at least half day).

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Sunday school played an important part as I was growing up. I started hearing a little of what I thought the Church was saying – love God, love your neighbors as you would love yourself. The problem was I just couldn’t consistently do it or wouldn’t want to do it all the time. Loving was seriously hard work and it didn’t come naturally, but when you experienced it you felt kind of super natural. And I sure loved those Super Heroes from the Old Testament – Moses, Joshua, David, Esther, Malachi, Elijah, Sampson, Nehemiah and folks like Daniel.

The New Testament had even more Super Heroes.  It started with Christmas and the birth of Jesus, then His disciples, His miracle-working life and the events of Good Friday (I had a hard time understanding what was so good about this Friday – Jesus’ death for our sins). But I began to understand when, just three days later, people started becoming happy again on Easter Sunday celebrating when Jesus rose from the dead!

Jesus sacrificial death and resurrection was Good News for me – the forgiveness of my sins, the resurrection of hope and a life to be lived out in a love that would never ever fail. THIS is what informs my practice and is what gives me meaning, creates value and sets my priorities in life. I don’t consider myself a religious man but I do consider myself to be a follower of Jesus Christ who is my Super Hero. And it’s through His super natural love that I can love this world and, especially, the people of Haiti.

My story continues with me excelling in sports as a young man at Lynwood High School, earning a college scholarship at Colorado State University in football (Go Rams), being drafted in the 5th round by the St. Louis Football Cardinals in 1979, and, succumbing to minor injuries, leaving professional football after the 1981 season. I then went back to school and finished my undergraduate degree in Business Management, started my second career supervising the control room of a power plant for seven years, worked as an Operations Manager and as a Business Strategy Manager for a high-tech company for seventeen years and elected for early retirement while earning a Master’s Degree in Whole Systems Design (how to design and lead organizational change). The last ten years I have been working in the not-for-profit world and, and for Loving Haiti since 2013.

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My first trip to Haiti was in 2012 where I went relentlessly solo for 50 days as I journaled my adventures and key learnings, falling in love with its people and, especially, the kids of the children’s home in Pignon. I was later asked by my daughter and son-in-law (the founders of Loving Haiti – Abby and Denny Bain) to help facilitate our growth as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit by managing the books and finances, helping with donor recruitment, managing the projects, becoming a board member and holding the office of treasurer since 2013.

I’ve been married to my lovely wife Jill for 38 years (as her coffee cups says “she’s still hot it just comes now in flashes”), with three wonderfully gifted children and eight grandkids – soon to be 10 with two more sisters from Haiti to be officially adopted and brought home within the next couple of months.

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I love what I do, and I love it even more because I’m doing it with you. My heart’s desire is for us to be Informed, Involved and Inspired…, which calls for us to Know Together, to Grow Together, and to Serve Together.

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Thank you for your faithfulness and support over these developmental years of Loving Haiti. We are a small network of family and friends who are making a real, big, and lasting difference in the lives of many of the people in Pignon, Haiti. Again thanks for partnering with us and being “Difference Makers For Life.”  I’ll be telling you a little more about “difference makers” in Part 3!