Carrying Hope: Ten Days in Haiti
I'm struggling with how to start this blog post. Usually, I have all the words, but tonight none of them seem to articulate the thoughts and feelings I have inside of me regarding my first mission trip outside of the country.
I debated about starting with:
My first mission trip is in the books.
But I come up short. I wish I could take a picture of my heart and sum up the ten days I spent in Haiti.
I'm sitting here in the comforts of my home with a small discomfort I brought back with me from Haiti--a prickly heat rash. I'm trying to ignore its existence, but every time I feel the need to scratch, I remember the people who helped transform my perspective.
I remember where I have been and what I have done.
Settle in with me, if you will, as I attempt to dive into my experiences in Haiti.
We traveled by church van, driving through the night to the Atlanta airport where we caught our first flight to Miami. After an extremely short--barely had time to go to the bathroom--layover, we flew from Miami to Haiti.
Upon arrival at Cap-Haitian, we went through organized chaos to get our luggage. My bag was one of the last bags to make it off the plane. (Gulp) We were picked up by a school bus.
As we drove through Cap Haitian, I saw my first opportunity to dig out my monstrous bag of Jolly Ranchers and give candy to children on the side of the road. The smiles on their faces filled my heart with joy. Such gratefulness for a few pieces of candy.
After having lunch at LaKay Restaurant, we traveled a steep, winding, and bumpy road to our hotel. I was absolutely amazed at the amount of trash we saw on the beaches on our way to our hotel. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I later learned there's not a waste management system in Haiti like we have in the states.
After dinner and unpacking, everyone feeling exhausted from the travels crashed and prepared for the next day--the first day of meaningful work.
We visited the community where work had been done by our church the year before. The children in Haiti yell, "Blancs" a lot. It means "Whites." It's the cutest. They are genuinely happy to see us coming. Several of them gathered at the church when they saw us. We gave them bracelets, bandanas, and candy.
It amazed me seeing so many children coming from their homes with no parental supervision. The children stayed and played with us for a couple of hours. We ended our visit with them by dancing to the Cupid Shuffle. Dance was a universal language everyone understood.
On Sunday, we attended a church service in Cap Haitian. The lead pastor of the church is Pastor Henoc. The service was in Creole, so we didn't recognize most of the songs. Various people from the church spoke, and we weren't sure what was being said, but we listened with our spirits. At times, they would sing a song, and we would pick up on the melody and sing it in English while they sang in Creole. Pastor Bobby Gourley preached a message with Pastor Henoc as his interpreter.
A sixteen year old boy, Wilguen, who lived in the orphanage under Pastor Henoc's care had passed away the week prior. Due to medical care not being readily available, it's assumed his symptoms were from cancer. Pastor Henoc and his family asked us to join them for the funeral on Sunday afternoon, and we did so. The funeral lasted approximately six hours counting the graveside service. We were honored to have been asked to share in the grief of this family and this community who loved Wilguen.
As we traveled throughout Cap-Haitian and Berard, the excess we have in the states became more and more evident to me. The people I saw on the first few days had very little, but most of them had shelter, food, and clothing. They seemed to have free time, and I began to think maybe they were on to something. Maybe it wasn't about how little they had, but it was more about how much we have. Too much. Way too much. I pondered on the thought of excess during the rest of my time in Haiti.
I was informed by those who had gone before the Haitian people believe Americans worship busyness. I can't say I disagree with their observation.
Don't get me wrong, we saw some very impoverished people, malnourished children, and heartbreaking situations later on in the trip--I'll get to that.
On our first official work day, I got off the bus and spotted a little boy. I gave him candy. His smile was contagious. He was so grateful for what he had received. He showed me his hand which was obviously injured. I learned his name--Wardly. His thumb and the pad of his thumb was swollen and immobile. I had a first aid kit with me--which by the way, I used so much I got the nickname of "Fake Official Nurse" on the trip. :)
I guided him to the shade and realized his thumb was either broken or badly sprained. The actual nurse, Courtney, on our trip thought the same. I couldn't do anything for him other than pray, but I decided I would wrap his hand. Like a lot of kids, a bandage seems to make things better. I felt such compassion for him in my heart. I also felt led to give him my copy of the New Testament in Haitian.
My assignment on the first official work day was the build team, but it was also Wardly--who followed me to the build site, holding my hand the entire way.
Our plan was to build Sunday School classrooms on the second story of an existing structure. Our pastor explained how our church sends funds to Haiti to buy the materials and hire a Haitian builder and team to oversee the build and to ensure it is done correctly.
The work we did on the build team was rough. Nothing was easy about it. There were no water hoses to use to make the mortar or ladders to use to transfer the concrete blocks to the second story. Everything was done manually.
Many times I accompanied one of the guys from the Haitian build team down the road to the shared well to fill our buckets full of water. We would wait our turn as other people in the community filled their containers with water to drink and wash clothing. We would then bring the buckets of water back to the build site. Wheelbarrows were filled with sand, the sand was sifted to remove rocks, and then mixed with a concrete type mix and water to make mortar. The mortar was added to buckets and hoisted up to the second floor in an assembly line fashion.
The buckets were then emptied, thrown down, and the process began again. We could have probably filled those same buckets with our sweat. Alabama heat is rough--but as my friend and build partner, Margaritta, would say, "You ain't about that Haiti heat." Love her.
I was determined to work hard and give it everything I had in me on the build site. Like the buckets, I wanted to be emptied each day so God could fill me up again the next day. I wanted to represent our church and the United States well. The verse, "Work as if unto the Lord" kept running through my mind. I wanted my work to be an act of worship. Margaritta and I laughed a few times about how we were working like we were being timed.
I left the build site on day one and two drenched with sweat, dirty, and with muscles aching I didn't know I had. But it was worth it seeing the progress our team made.
Side Note: Our build team was amazing. Everyone worked so hard. I was super proud of the young people I worked alongside. You could tell everyone there wanted to make a difference.
Every Haitian we encountered seemed to carry a joy regardless of circumstances. They greeted us with smiles and waves and gave us their time and attention when we asked to speak to them about Jesus or to pray for them.
On the day I went with the evangelism team, we weren't sure what to expect as we were going to a new area. We stopped to pray for someone, and the Holy Spirit spoke to me saying, "I am extending the same protection to you and your team as I did Paul." When I received that word from the Lord a boldness came upon me in which I have never known. I felt the Lord's presence in a mighty way. I felt at peace and confident to do whatever he asked.
With our interpreter, we walked the streets and shared the gospel, leading several to Jesus, and praying for those who already knew Him. We even had a Haitian man following us and helping us as we traveled. He wasn't asking for pay or anything in return. He was a God-send. He spent his own money to buy water for us. It was beautiful.
We encountered one young girl who said she hadn't accepted Jesus because she had evil spirits inside of her. I was able to share my testimony with her and asked her if she was ready to accept Jesus. She finally said she was. I led her in the prayer of salvation and also prayed for the darkness to flee. After she prayed the prayer of salvation, I, along with our youth pastor, Pastor Jose, and our Madame Pastor, Toyia, laid hands on her and prayed for the spirits to leave. Our interpreter, Berlyn, also prayed for her. It was powerful! I believe she was delivered.
While praying for her, I physically felt like I was wearing the full armor of God. It felt as though it was being pelted with everything Satan had, but the armor was stronger than any of his weapons. I had full body chills while we prayed. At one point during the prayer her chest shook. I walked away with my body feeling weak but strong in Christ. A spiritual battle had just taken place, and just like God promised, He won. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced.
We decided to go up a very steep mountain to Milot. Milot--the mountain village that changed my life. The mountain in which I believe we walked in God's protection and favor. The people on the mountain were desperate for Jesus. We prayed for as many as possible, and word began to spread about our arrival. We carried hope. And the people were desperate for hope. We had a mother who had heard about us seek us out so we could pray for her baby girl. The girl was covered in sweat from a fever. At the conclusion of the prayer, all the sweat had dried up from her body. She was healed.
A grandmother sat on her porch with a metal bowl full of rice and one spoon. She had six or seven children surrounding her, and she was rationing out the rice between herself and the children, because it was all they had. When we asked if we could pray for her, she eagerly agreed. She said she knew Jesus. She wanted us to pray the family would have enough food. She trusted God to take care of her needs.
Can you imagine that being the prayer you take to the Lord each day? "Please give me enough food for my family, Father." Survival was the main concern of many on the mountain.
In Haiti, most of the people don't have options. They only have Jesus. Jesus has to be enough for them. Here, we can pray knowing if we don't get better, we can go to the nearest Express Med or hospital or we can take a pill. In Haiti, this is not an option. The people must have faith for their healing or they won't experience it. They can only put their trust in God. Some may think that sounds scary, but it's truly a beautiful dependency. It is one in which we can learn from here in America.
While I was on the build team and the evangelism team, another wonderful team was back at the church in Berard hosting Vacation Bible School for the children. Two hundred and fifty to three hundred children showed up for VBS. Amazing!
When we returned from the mountain, a lady in the community tried to get me and a few other ladies to take her small baby with us. Toyia explained we would if we could, but it wasn't an option. My heart hurt for that momma. She knew she couldn't properly take care of her baby, so she was willing to give her baby to strangers with a hope of a better life. Another lady, six months pregnant, told one of the students on our trip to come back in three months and she could have her baby.
While in Haiti, walking around the village, I kept singing, "I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet. I'll go where you send me, go where you send me...." and I meant it. I felt smack dab in the center of the will of God. It was a dream come true to carry out the great commission in another country--even though I recognize the need to continue to do so here in my homeland.
I felt a heaviness a week before we left for Haiti. At the time, I wasn't sure why, but looking back, God was preparing my heart. This trip was heavy in every sense of the word. I experienced the same feeling while in Haiti on the mountain.
A lot of you have been on my jaw pain journey with me--and I have to tell you something amazing. The entire time I was in Haiti, I didn't have allergy issues, jaw pain, headaches--except for one from laughing too hard one night (you don't want to know)--stomach issues--NOTHING. No pain. Well, hoisting those concrete blocks hurt a little, but it wasn't a lingering pain. It was like I was the healthiest I have been in a long time. And it's all because of God's touch. I spent months praying and preparing. And God honored my obedience, my sacrifice, and my prayers.
I can't speak highly enough about our mission's team. We walked in unity and love towards one another and towards the people in Haiti. My heart is overflowing with thankfulness.
My goal was to serve physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and with the Lord's help, I was able to do so. It was a dream come true for me. "He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world." 1 John 4:4
I know I am forgetting things...And some things I remember, but I have to stop somewhere. I'm actually still processing my travels, but I wanted to share my thoughts while they were somewhat fresh.
Thank you to everyone who supported me with monetary donations and with prayers. Both were essential to the success of our trip.
Will I go back to Haiti? I think so...I still have blocks to carry to build God's church and unfinished business on the mountain of Milot.