Thoughts of that time in Haiti have been on my mind and in my heart increasingly over the last couple of months. It has been almost a year since our trip. I’ve looked at the pictures and videos again and again. At the oddest moments, I’ve heard the children’s songs echoing in my ears, seen their beautiful, bright smiles and big, dark eyes in my mind. I remember the smell of constantly burning garbage, the noise of the crazy, chaotic streets, the scent of unfamiliar foods in the markets and a rooster crowing every morning around 5:20 a.m. long before I really wanted to wake up. Garbage everywhere and people living in small tents or tiny little shacks with barely anything for walls and maybe a piece of tin for a roof – naked children looking at us like they’d never seen such a sight. I remember the huge ruts and holes in the roads and the way it felt on my body when we hit the bumps from the back of the pickup trucks over and over, day after day for seven days straight and the heat, the incredible heat, that there was no escape from. I remember the mass of humanity, the poverty and the destruction and as we drove from the airport to the home where we stayed for the week, I remember the way I felt when I had taken it all in for the first time – completely overwhelmed… and I want to go back.
I want to write a summary of our time in Haiti but I also hope to write in such a way that motivates you to ask the question “Why wouldn’t I go?” That’s the question I asked myself sometime before the Haiti trip was in the planning. It was already settled in my heart by the time the opportunity came to say “I’ll go.” “Why wouldn’t I go?” Lots of reasons… It wasn’t the right time, the right season for me. I had to take care of my family. I had responsibilities at home. What if something happened to me – what would my family do without me? I didn’t have the money to go. And fears – fear of the unknown, fear of a different culture and people, fear of sickness and pain and death . These things did weigh on my mind but didn’t linger long because God very quickly showed me that any of those excuses all pointed to a lack of trust in Him. That cut me straight to the heart. Did I really not trust God? Was I holding on to my life or did God have full access to it? Because God has called us to share the gospel with all nations, to spread the good news, to reach out to the orphan and widow in their distress and to help the poor and needy, it was not a matter of whether it was God’s will or not. He’d already shown me His will in His word. Once God showed me that I was not trusting Him, my perspective changed and it became, “O.K. God, I will go and I will take steps in that direction. Show me if I’m not to go. Otherwise, I will trust that’s what you want me to do.” Those excuses, those fears should not be the reason that we don’t go wherever God is opening the door for His gospel and love to be spread.
For me, going to Haiti was about so much more than just the time there though. It was also about wanting to experience God’s supernatural provision in a way that I don’t on a daily basis. It was about purposely putting myself in a place where I had to trust God because I was way out of my element. It was about wanting to live by faith and being stretched beyond my comfort. It was about living in Christian community and encouraging each other daily.
I don’t think one can experience something like that without developing bond with the people that one is with. I was so encouraged as I watched others from our Bemidji group face fears and overcome them. I watched their hearts break and be moved by God to love, to step out even if it was uncomfortable and be willing to do whatever God asked. There was a real sense of family among us that was precious. The time in Haiti was life impacting but equally so was living with these 9 sisters and brothers for ten days. I can’t help but feel that is the way God really wants us to live every day.
Having my eyes opened to the extreme poverty – seeing it for my self was so necessary. The tin roofed shacks, tents, houses still partially destroyed from the earthquake and the people who lived in those shelters… I felt that, in seeing the extreme need, it was like putting a band aid on a gaping wound. Overwhelming. My heart broke when I walked through the door of one of the “baby rooms” at Sisters of Charity Orphanage and saw about 20 pair of big brown eyes looking at us. How could we hold them all? And how could we ever put them back down into their soiled, rusty metal cribs? The sweet spirits of the children we met everywhere brought tears to my eyes. My guess is that most of them had nothing other than the clothes on their backs. Yet, all they really wanted was to just hold our hand or to stand close or to be hugged. They were content with that. I was so convicted. The simple craft projects that we did with the children that we visited at the schools and orphanages were nothing extravagant. A coffee filter glued on to a piece of construction paper to make a flower and a few beads glued on to represent seeds. A lesson on patience, one of the fruits of the Spirit. Even the older boys were proud of their project and held it up for our cameras, their faces beaming with wide bright smiles. A profound contentedness and simplicity of life. Again, I was convicted. The Haitians that we met and spent time with are beautiful precious people.
The experience that stood out to me the most was the time at Sisters Orphanage. When we walked up to the main entrance, a man, a woman and a young child were sitting outside the door together. I smiled at them, looked at the little girl and then at her mother and said “bon”. Her child was beautiful. The woman had tears in her anxious eyes. She smiled and pointed to my eyes and to her child’s. Both blue. I smiled again and nodded. I didn’t know what they were doing sitting there at the time but I felt a great compassion for them and wished I could have sat down with them and poured out God’s story and His love on them. The language barrier was frustrating at times. We walked through the door of the orphanage. There weren’t enough arms to go around for the number of children there and they were so hungry for affection, for attention. About half the group went into a large room where older children were. I went with a few others to the two baby rooms. How can one choose which child to pick up?! I thought that I could hold one for a time and then another and maybe another. That way more children would be touched and loved on. The little boy that I picked up looked to be about 8 months old and he clung to me, desperately. There was no putting him down so I could only hold him and pet others heads or rub their backs. The cribs were rusty metal with soiled mattresses. By all appearances, the babies most likely didn’t get a diaper change very often. A nun brought in a tray full of bowls of hot oatmeal for their lunch. She motioned to us to feed them and she put some of the bowls in the cribs with the babies. Some of the babies could feed themselves. Others needed help. The oatmeal was so hot that it would have burned their mouths. Some ate it anyway. At one point after we had been in the room for some time, I looked at two others from our team. Their eyes spoke silent words and there was a lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away. I remembered something my daughter had said to me at an orphanage in Russia years ago when I asked her what I should do. I felt so helpless. She said “just love them.” I began to pray under my breath for those little ones, so alone and so hopeless. Then I felt the presence of God in that place and it was beautiful. It seemed that God “spoke” to me to not be discouraged or despairing. He is a Father to the fatherless and He was there in that room with them. It was such a powerful moment, I won’t ever forget it.
We had been there about an hour when a nun brought in a young child crying inconsolably. It was the blue eyed Haitian toddler who had been sitting on her mother’s lap outside the building. Then I realized what had happened. The mother was relinquishing her child to the orphanage. It had taken at least an hour for her to gather her courage and do what she felt she had to do. What were the circumstances in this woman’s life that she would have to give up her child? I think that for most women, they would have to be absolutely desperate to sign away their own flesh and blood. My heart broke for that woman but that is the situation for so many there. They just don’t have the means to provide for their own children and out of desperation, give them up, hopefully, to be fed and cared for by someone else. At least their child won’t starve. As we were walking out the door of the orphanage, another woman was sitting at a table, signing over her child. This child was older, maybe 4 or 5 years old, and knew what was happening. His little body was shaking as he was sobbing. There was nothing we could physically do, but I’m sure that every one of us wished desperately that we could have done something as we walked by. Even now as I’m typing this, my heart aches. It’s just not the way that it should be and it’s at times like those that I long for Jesus to return and bring justice with Him.
I had gone hoping to give, hoping to help even though I didn’t feel I was adequate or that I had much to offer. I came back having received much more than I think I left. I’m so thankful that God let me be a part of all of it.
So now can I challenge you to ask yourself the question “Why wouldn’t I go?”