Reiser Relief Inc. is a volunteer run non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation founded by Father Bernard Reiser, who had been involved with Haiti outreach programs since 1996. Reiser Relief is a Minnesota based organization and it's mission is to provide relief, hope and dignity to the poor, elderly and homeless people of Haiti.
My word of the day is MINISTRY.We started our day at a sunrise worship service in a tent that is almost beyond description.The Haitians are so unabashed in worship and so filled with the Holy Spirit.It set the tone for a beautiful day.After breakfast we traveled to Titanyen, a village outside of Port-au-Prince where Grace Village is located.On the way there we stopped at a school with dirt floors, no bathrooms, no playground, no food, and hundreds of children.There are so many opportunities to make such a huge difference in Haiti.We also stopped at a mass grave where tens of thousands of Haitians were buried, unidentified, after the devastating earthquake in 2010.One of our Haitian guides and translators, Wilson, shared the story of how he lost 55 classmates in the earthquake.He had stepped out of his school to buy a bottle of water, and was across the street to witness the collapse of his three-story school that killed all of the students in his class.He also lost his father in the earthquake.The next words out of his mouth after describing his losses were, “I give thanks to God.”What an incredible example of faith.God calls him to great things.
In Titanyen I had the opportunity to serve the elderly through what I will call guerilla health care and meals on wheels.Guerilla health care involves 3 untrained women (me, my sister Ann, and our teammate Shelley), attempting to minister to the needs of the forgotten elderly with Neosporin, powder, basins, peaches, Spam, straws, water, washcloths, clean sheets, clothing, and wet wipes.Shelley gave sponge baths while Ann and I applied powder and distributed food and water in their shanties.My heart was broken wide open when we ministered to Antonia.A paraplegic, Antonia suffers from bedsores and a fungal infection on her feet, and was on a flea-infested blanket on a filthy mattress soaked with her feces and urine.If a dog were found in such conditions in the United States, the owners would be charged with animal cruelty.I couldn’t stop crying.We did what we could to clean her up, apply ointment, change her bedding, pray with her and give her nourishment.But it was clear that what she truly needs is 24-hour care in an elder care facility.This is not an option for Antonia…
Haiti's forgotten elderly
After guerilla healthcare I set off on a 4-wheeler with our Haitian guide and translator Andrenoi.At age 29, Andrenoi is compassionate beyond his years and ministers to the elderly.Six days each week Andrenoi delivers hot meals in Tupperware containers to 10 suffering elderly in Titanyen.He will soon expand his ministry to 20 elderly.Andrenoi supports his parents, brothers and sisters on his salary from Healing Haiti, and feels so blessed to have the opportunity to do what he does.Half way through our meals on wheels deliveries Andrenoi asked me, “What is your ministry?”I have never been asked that question before and wasn’t sure how to answer.I told him about Reiser Relief and Fr. Reiser and the ministries we support.But, after all that I have seen this week, I can honestly say that the ministry closest to my heart is the elderly.People like Antonia are beloved children of God, and as such deserve to live their final days in dignity and love.Thank you, Andreoi, for revealing my ministry to me.Thank you, Haiti, for opening my eyes and heart to God’s will.
Today was our day of endings.First of all, it was our last full day in Haiti—our last day to take in a few more pieces of this beautiful, complicated country.We started with a 6 a.m. tent service that was anything but an ending.It was an inspiring start to our day inside a huge white tent filled with people of all ages singing and praising the Lord.Haitian people are filled with the love of God, and watching them praise His name is a joyful thing to behold.Thankfully, the tent service gave us the strength to witness some of the things we experienced the rest of the day.
Our first stop was at Redemptor School, another very poor Haitian school with so many needs but yet, like the other schools we have seen, it’s filled with the smiling faces of Haitian children who seem to find the beauty in every day despite a poverty-filled existence. We then visited the mass graves in Haiti made after the 2010 earthquake.It was painful to look out at the crosses and memorials scattered over the mass grave and think of the horrific way these thousands of peoples lives had ended in the earthquake and even more painful as we listened to the stories of some of the Haitian men with us who shared their stories about loved ones lost in the earthquake.
From there, we went to Grace Village.It was such a contrast in comparison to what we’d seen so much of what we’d seen during the week—a beautiful complex of brightly colored buildings and so much more building still taking place.Besides the 43 smiling orphans we met who were so lucky to have been placed in such a love-filled environment, there is a feeding center and plans for elder care, a church, medical clinic and much more.Good things ARE happening in Haiti.
But, sadly, the next part of our day was back to all about endings.We made visits to sick, elderly people living in one-room huts who were sleeping on filthy, flea-infested mattresses on the dirt floors (if they were lucky enough to have a mattress at all), with soiled clothes, painful bedsores, little or no food and water, and little or no loving care.What we were able to do to help these elderly people in their final stages of life were so small, yet they were better than the alternative of nothing at all.In the United States, we rightfully put so much emphasis on dying with dignity, and to many poor elderly people in Haiti, there is no dignity at all in dying--only loneliness, hunger, thirst, filth, and pain.It was such a tragic thing to view on our last day in Haiti.Yet, maybe God had that in his plan for us, because now, besides leaving Haiti with a passion to help the children of Haiti, we are leaving with a passion to help the elderly.
I have truly been blessed to have the opportunity to see, hear, and touch Haiti, and I am filled with a sense of urgency to come back here.There is so much left to do, and so many hands are needed to complete God’s work.I thank Father Reiser for “giving me the nudge” to go to Haiti, and I thank the people of Haiti for being so willing to share a piece of each of their lives with me.My deepest gratitude and love to every person I have met on this trip, and my sincere thanks to those who have supported our mission and continue to do so.
I will end my Haiti blog with a quote from Mother Teresa:
“If we want the poor to see Christ in us, we must first see Christ in the poor.”
All profits from book sales will go to help the people of Haiti through Reiser’s Relief Inc.
On May 13th 2012 The Eric Hoffer Book Award Committee announced that Father Bernard Reiser’s Spiritual book, “Reiser’s Ramblings” has earned an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award Contest.
As quoted from The U.S. Review of Books website May 13th 2012: “Reiser's Ramblings”, - A collection of weekly newsletter columns from the former pastor of the rural Epiphany Parish in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, this book is a mixture of humorous, sad, nostalgic, and inspirational pieces. By turns thoughtful, provocative, or just plain funny, it is the kind of book one can sample, read and reread, or share stories from with family and friends. It is nicely illustrated with black and white photos and drawings. The columns are short, but memorable, and always provide something to think about or learn from. Never stuffy or preachy, Reiser has created an enjoyable reflection of life.”
Excerpts of reviewer comments: Each column is titled and short. So we end up with a lovely book of short, easily read reminiscences and edifying stories and thoughts. If I could offer some advice for those of you that decide to pick up this book it would be this: don't read it all at once. There is so much packed into these few pages that it requires the reader to ponder the message and meaning in each column and how, or if, it applies to each individual life.
Father Reiser Writes With Passion, Conviction and Confidence… I would like to invite you to join me on a spiritual journey that is inspiring, illuminating and heartening.
Father Reiser uses everyday happenings and pairs it to life learning lessons, something so simple and easy to do you can apply it to your everyday life. I have enjoyed reading a lesson a day, and trying to implement that lesson into the day or week. I have found this book inspirational and enjoyable to read.
This is an amazing book written by an amazing man. Fr. Resier is devoted to the children of God, be they poor Haitians, widows, the sick or the lonely. He gave his heart to God as a young priest, placed all of his faith in Him, served all God's people no matter how they looked, how much money they had, what religion they were or how sinful they had become. His love for his fellow man is without compare except to Christ alone.
There is something in this book for everyone, whether you be Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal or if you are not a Christian there may be one little column, one paragraph that will touch you in such a way that yes you will turn your life around and over to God.
Reiser’s Ramblings is a delightful book written by a priest who clearly exhibits the joy, peace, love, thankfulness, and generosity of Christ. I’d have to say “ramblings” is sort of a misnomer. I found each briefreflection on daily life,faith, gratitude, and everything from farm living to an eternity in Heaven to be thought-provoking and poignant.
I enjoyed each story, lesson, and faith/ministry reference included. The writing style is comfortably conversational. I can easily imagine Fr. Reiser writing these cheerful pieces during his evening ritual involving a huge bowl of ice cream and some quiet time to jot down his thoughts.
It’s refreshing to find someone who has experienced so much in his life, yet still gets wrapped up in the joy, wonder, and appreciation which God’s Creation truly deserves. Fr. Reiser’s undeniable awe and gratefulness for the simple things in life are as endearing as his notes about the extreme poverty and suffering in Haiti are heart wrenching.
Midwest Book Review July 12, 2011 -A story of a good man with the drive to bring more good through the world, highly recommended!
"Where there is a need for faith, he met that need. "Reiser's Ramblings: A Collection of Columns by the Founding Pastor of Epiphany Parish in Coon Rapids, Minnesota" is a collection of thoughts from Bernard Reiser as he recollects his own journey forward, founding a parish in a growing Minnesota town and traveling the world to spread goodwill and faith to those around the world. Working with victims of poverty and disaster in Haiti, "Reiser's Ramblings" is a story of a good man with the drive to bring more good through the world, highly recommended"
My word for today is RESILIENCY. Today we drove to Reiser Heights; a school that Reiser Relief supports. It is in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, so I was able to take in the beautiful Haitian countryside and even catch a couple of ‘cool’ breezes.
On our way to Reiser Heights (we rode in the back of a pick up part of our way there…brought me back to my farm days!), I noticed a woman with one leg begging for help from passing drivers. And I was struck that this was the first ‘beggar’ I have seen in Haiti. I truly see more beggars in downtown Minneapolis than in Port-au-Prince and Cite Soleil. The Haitians have an incredible resiliency that I am coming to admire. If a building is too structurally damaged to use, they pitch a tent along side it and set up shop or housing on the same land. If they need to make money, they find something, ANYTHING, to sell or peddle. If they need to pitch a pile of rocks into a dump truck and they don’t have a bobcat, they use a shovel. If they don’t have electrical lines to their home, they string their own. If they don’t have tillable land on which to grow crops, they grow them on hillsides, in pots and in crevices. If they can’t afford a butcher, they butcher on their own right in the street. If there is no seat on the bus, they hang off the back. If they don’t have a chainsaw, they use and ax. If they don’t have an ax they use a machete. They don’t wait for a hand out or assistance or aid or the Red Cross, they just make do.
The kids at the school today had no electricity, no flushing toilets, no iPads, cell phones, white boards, and sometimes no paper or pencils. But they are resilient. They learn and make do with what they have. We passed out candy and stickers, and the kids were so cute, sticking them to their hands, foreheads, tummies and noses.
There is something so incredibly refreshing in this resiliency. I live in a world filled with regulations, protective services, social services, insurance, lawsuits, ordinances, judgments, laws and programs. Not that any of this is bad; it makes us safer. But does it make us too safe? Does it make us dependent? Does it make us reliant? I’ll say this, it sure was fun to ride in the back of a pickup truck again, just like I used to do as a kid with the bull calves on our way to the Sales Barn.
I read a beautiful devotion in a book today called “God is No Stranger.”
They say I am poor.
Thank you, Father.
May I also be poor in spirit,
that I may inherit the kingdom of God.”
What kind of world would we live in if we all thanked God for everything that we view as a misfortune?
Similar to questioning as a little girl why Santa Claus didn’t bring Christmas presents to poor people, I’ve always questioned why God could allow for there to be poor people in the world. Today, as we were driving up to Reiser Heights, a school founded by Father Reiser, I finally realized that God had not forgotten the people of Haiti. As we climbed higher and higher into the hills of Haiti, God was everywhere. He was in the clouds that formed around the tops of the mountains, He was in the lush green trees and plants that adorned the roadsides as we drove higher and higher, He was in the valleys lined with crops meticulously tended by hand, by Haitian hands, and when we finally arrived at Reiser Heights, He was in the eyes of the children that greeted us. Sometimes it takes things less than perfect for us to be able to see what is truly good. And today, God looked down on the world and saw that all was good.
Change… Tonight I was
recalling an event that happened yesterday.
I paused and had to be sure—was it only YESTERDAY that we did our water
truck delivery? How could only one day
have passed and yet I have changed so much? Who could have told me even one day ago that
today I’d be rubbing lotion over the bodies of sick and dying women of all ages
ranging from younger than my own daughters to women older than myself and be
completely comfortable with it? And how
could I have known I would have the opportunity to visit a school that my
beloved late uncle helped to fund and see 625 smiling faces of children, being
taught in classroom settings that are primitive compared to what we are
accustomed to at home and they were thrilled to meet us? I visited a medical clinic so far behind
United States standards that there was no comparison, but yet I found myself
truly impressed with what they DO with what little they have. And finally, that I would go to an orphanage
filled with so many sick and dying babies, hold them in my arms and feed them
and love them and somehow be able to walk away broken-hearted at the end of the
day only comforted by the fact that I WILL be back to see them again?
Everything about today was so detached from my “real” world
but yet so completely comfortable for me to do in the world I live in here in
I think our Lord is allowing me to experience this knowing
that I will go home a “changed” person. My
picture of what Father Reiser saw here in Haiti, what moved him, and what
inspired him to want to help these people is so much more clear to me. The importance of what we are doing at Reiser
Relief has deepened. My interest in continuing Father’s mission
has turned into a passion to continue.
We ARE needed here in Haiti.
My word for today is SERVANT. We started the day riding to a home for
dying and destitute adults. The plan was
for us to rub lotion on the arms and legs of dying women while our talented
Creole guides sang hymns of praise. They
were warming up their act on our way there, and they soon started singing Fr.
Resier’s favorite hymn in Creole: “How Great Thou Art.” What an excellent moment. I couldn’t help but remember the beautiful
final verse that we sang around Fr. Reiser’s bedside shortly after he entered
eternity: “When Christ shall come, with shouts of acclamation, to take me home,
what joy shall fill my heart. Then I
shall bow, in humble adoration, and there proclaim, My God, How Great Thou Art!” What a humble servant of God; Fr. Reiser
lived to serve others. It set the tone
for our day.
God used me today to serve the dying. With massage, prayer, touch, smiles, and some
very awkward singing in Creole, I knelt before these women and offered what I
could to ease their journey. While
serving them my mind wandered back to Holy Thursday service where, like Jesus,
we kneel before each other and wash feet.
It was beautiful to hear (those who were strong enough) sing along with
great joy and enthusiasm.
God used me today to serve children. We toured Terre Promise School, and came to
learn and understand the needs they have and how Reiser Relief can better serve
God used me today to console those who were crying. We finished our day by visiting a home for
sick and dying children. I held and
comforted babies who wanted nothing more than love and attention. I fed babies who were hungry. I cried over babies who at 12, 18 and 22
months were skinnier than most newborns.
The Sisters do an incredible job of caring for these little ones, but
the needs are so great.
How can I begin to describe a day like yesterday? A day surrounded by a city made up of
dirt-packed roads, garbage everywhere, children with visible signs of
malnutrition and physical impairments that had never received medical care,
people of all ages living in tin shanties with dirt floors, leaking roofs, no
windows, no beds, no furniture and no sign of food to be eaten, many of them
living 6-8 people in these dark one-room shacks, elderly people sitting inside
dark homes or outside in the hot sun with nobody to look after them, small children carrying buckets of water
weighing more than themselves from our water trucks to their “homes,” countless
children with no clothes at all, children playing in sewage-infested waters and
walking barefoot over filth and garbage, small babies left crying and alone in
darkness while their mothers were out getting water for their families, no
bathrooms or running water, no hope for the future.
And yet, children running from all directions to greet us,
children with huge smiles on their dirty faces begging for hugs, wanting to be
held, tugging us from all sides, naked children finding joy in sitting under
the water trucks drinking the water dribbling down the back of the truck or
trying to catch it in small buckets, children wanting to tell us their names,
ask us our names, play games with us, babies that were happily willing to be
scooped up in our arms and stay for endless periods of time, children climbing
into the newly-fetched buckets of water with delighted grins on their faces as
they splash in the cold water, children joyfully following us through the
garbage-filled streets, alleys and beaches gladly posing for pictures as we
examined their lives and their homes, children who found happiness in a street,
city, country that has so little to offer and so little hope for the future.
And amongst it all, there was a presence of God…
It can’t be described.
I couldn’t bear to be there, yet I couldn’t bear to leave—all in the
same breath. Words can never do justice
to the experience. Not even pictures can
explain it. Yet I share a few with
We were asked yesterday to choose one word to describe our
day. The first word that came to my mind
was grit, probably because I was so dirty when asked to think of a word! I had grit on my hands from turning
cartwheels with the kids, grit between my fingers from holding naked children,
grit on my shorts from holding children who ran through garbage and sewage with
no shoes, grit on my face from dirt blowing from unpaved roads, grit in my nose
from breathing smells that come from no access to sewage systems. Not to mention the grit that it takes the
people of Cite Soleil to survive from day to day. It’s one thing to imagine what it would be
like to live without water, but quite another thing to carry 50 pound buckets
of water through narrow alleyways to shanties to lift that burden from a skinny
child, pregnant woman, or elderly woman, and then turn around and do it all
again and again.
But then another word came to my mind as I was reflecting on
the Gospel of John 15: “This is my one commandment, that you love one another
as I have loved you…. You did not choose me but I chose you.” This is the first time in my 42 years on
earth that I have felt like I could quite literally be the hands of Christ in
this world. “For I was thirsty and you
gave me water to drink.” It was so
simple and pure and good and true. So I
changed my word of the day to HANDS. God
used my hands to give water to the thirsty.
How incredible is that? God used
my hands to hold babies needing love.
God used my hands to play with children looking for validation. God used my hands to lift heavy buckets onto
women’s heads so they could cook, drink, bathe and feed their families. God used my hands to hold a water hose and
fill buckets. God used my hands to move
buckets into place and out of the way.
God used my hands to show his love.
It’s easy to smile in Cite Soleil because all the children
are smiling at you. In fact, I couldn’t
stop smiling for the first half of the day.
And then we walked back to the furthest recesses of the slums. Back to where the sewage and muck stagnates. Back where people perch on outhouse
structures over the ocean to go to the bathroom and where other children swim
nearby because they have nowhere else to swim.
Back where people have to struggle more than their neighbors just to
carry a bucket of clean water. Where
sharp corroded sheet metal and rusty nails poke out around every corner. Back where pigs root, and chickens squawk,
and the barefoot kids wince because the ground is so treacherous with sharp
shells and garbage. And I couldn’t smile
anymore. My face wouldn’t move. But all the kids around me were still
smiling. As Fr. Reiser said, I can’t
walk away from misery and do nothing.
Our first day! We spent most of it traveling, so we didn’t get a chance to see much of Haiti except for when we were coming in for our landing and on our short drive on our “tap tap” from the airport to the house. As we were landing, I was struck by how beautiful the city looked from the air. Largely surrounded by mountains, it was hard to believe there could be so much poverty in such a beautiful setting. But reality set in after we left the airport and saw villages of tin shanties, dirt roads covered with litter, and signs of poverty in every direction we looked. The Haitian people we have met so far are friendly and accommodating, and we are blessed to be staying in a guesthouse with delicious food and air conditioned bedrooms...
Reiser's Ramblings has received another book award! The Eric Hoffer Award This prestigious honor is a nationally recognized literary award that recognizes salient writing published by small publishers across the country over a variety of categories. Books endure rigorous judging with dozens of titles within its category. Each winner is determined to be unique, worthy and well produced in all aspects of writing and publishing. To see the full press release, go here.