Since I got back from Haiti two weeks ago, I have been struggling with how to write about my experience there and what I have subsequently been feeling. I don’t think that anything I could write, any words that I would string together, could adequately explain the depth to which my soul was stirred. But, the Lord has been prompting me more and more over the past several days to just sit down and write. To reflect. To be still. To listen. So here it goes.
When I embarked on this journey back in the winter, I wanted to go somewhere and serve. I specifically wanted to go to India. It was exotic, far away and completely different than anything that I had ever seen or experienced before. India was seductive and alluring, and there was a specific ministry that I felt God was laying on my heart for me to go and volunteer with. However, after some long and hard conversations with my parents, and after some long and hard prayer, it was clear that India was not in the cards for me this summer. I started to worry that maybe going on a mission trip was something that I was just pulling out of thin air. Something that I wanted to do, but that God was asking me to wait on.
But after weeks of prayer and talking to my parents more and through extensive journaling, the call was still on my heart. I began to look at some opportunities closer to home, and stumbled across something that had been under my nose the whole time: a trip to Haiti through Southland Christian Church. After picking a trip to Ouanaminthe, Haiti in May, another roadblock fell in my path, and I had to make a decision: pick another trip, or postpone a year. God answered my plea for a specific answer, and pointed me to a trip to Lifeline Christian Mission in Grand Goave, Haiti. I went to the first meeting, met my team, and began to fundraise, believing that if it was God’s will for me to go to Haiti, He would provide the funds. And He did. In abundance. It was clear to me that this was in His plan for my summer. So even though I was scared silly because I had never been on a plane, and even though I was apprehensive because I knew absolutely no one on my team, I resolved it in my heart. I was going to Haiti for nine days at the beginning of June.
Months flew by, and before I knew it, I was on a plane leaving Bluegrass Airport for Charlotte at 5:15 in the morning. Equipped with no knowledge of this new culture or the language, all I had was less than 30 pounds of luggage, a journal, and my Bible. With each new plane that we boarded, the knot in my stomach grew larger and larger. “What if I don’t meet any new friends? What if I don’t bond with a child? Everyone who goes on a trip bonds with a child! What if I feel an emotional disconnect? What if I come back the same person? What if I can’t do this?” Looking back, I know that the enemy was barraging my heart and mind with these poisonous questions because he knew that God had something grand and wonderful in store.
However, the questions quieted when I looked out the window of the plane to Port au Prince and saw Haiti and her mountains unfolding in a vast, glorious expanse, thousands of feet beneath me. They continued to subside when I got off the plane in a new country for the first time in my life. I felt peace….and a little bit of anxiety as we tried to navigate through customs and baggage claim (that would stress anyone out, ok?). We got our bearings and met the other two teams that we would become a family with over the next week and a half, and we boarded the bus that would take us to Grand Goave.
Looking out the window as we drove through Port au Prince, I was floored. So many people. So many houses. So much poverty. Garbage littered the roads, and animals roamed free. The air was hot and heavy, and my nose felt assaulted by a million new smells. Tat-taps zoomed past us with people hanging off of the sides and out the back as they blared their horns to let everyone know that they wouldn’t stop for anyone in the way. Women carried baskets on their heads, and children sat behind fruit stands. My mind raced to process what I was seeing, smelling, and hearing. A bold new world, the polar opposite of the one that I came from. However, despite the glaring differences and devastating poverty that I was witnessing all around me, something began to shift inside of me. I began to fall in love. Deeply.
Roughly two hours later (even though it felt like forever), we arrived at the Lifeline compound. It was dark by that point, so I didn’t have much of a chance to assess my surroundings. We ate our first meal, had a quick devotion, and soon it was time to spend our first night in Grand Goave. The room that the nine women from the Southland team stayed in had bunk beds, tile floors, community style showers and toilets, and air conditioning (I had no clue how big of a saving grace it was going to be to have an air conditioning unit throughout the coming days). Before I laid my head down on my pillow that night, after unpacking my suitcase full of knee length skirts, dri-fit shirts, and baby clothes we had brought to donate, I wrote a journal entry. “It [Port a Prince] was revolting and fascinating and alluring and heartbreaking. The most flooring poverty I’ve ever seen Even now, hours later, it is surreal. I see that Haiti, let alone the human race, cannot be fixed on a 10 day trip. We need Jesus to work and move in a major way. Jesus, break my heart for what breaks yours.” That was my prayer at 10:15 on the evening of June 4th, and that would be my prayer for the remainder of my time in Haiti.
I came into Haiti not knowing what to expect. I didn’t know that the air would have a different smell that would shock my senses at first, but eventually become an all-familiar and comforting aspect of my new temporary home. I didn’t know that I would eat breakfast and have morning devotions to the sound of Haitian children lifting their voices in a jubilant symphony of worship to their King. I didn’t know that spraying bug spray onto my feet after I had already strapped my sandals on would make the soles sticky. I didn’t know that I would get to sit on top of the roof of the compound at night and sing praises to God under His breathtaking celestial masterpiece. I didn’t know that I would make friends that I hope last a lifetime, both Haitian and American.
I didn’t know that, in loving others, I would rediscover my Creator and His Father’s heart for me.
So much happened in that nine-day period that, if I wanted to write down every precious moment and every detail, I would probably have a short novel on my hands. This post will be long enough as it is (bear with me). It was simply a jam-packed week, and we did everything. So, instead of listing every event that happened in chronological order and dissecting every detail of the best week and a half of my life, I will tell you what I learned. I knew that this trip would be a big learning experience for me, and I knew that God would challenge my previous notions of Him, my faith, and His children. However, I didn’t expect these lessons to slap me in the face and cause my heart to break because I had never been fully engaging in them or experiencing them before.
In Haiti, God taught me the importance of four specific things: Service, Worship, Prayer, and Love.
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:40
I knew from the beginning that this trip to Grand Goave would be about serving others. I mean, that is what a mission trip is: a chance to serve God’s heart and His people. I knew that we would be building a house, handing out food and clothes, and caring for infants and young toddlers. However, I don’t think that I fully grasped the depth of what we were going to be doing and how permanently it was going to impact the people we would be serving.
When my team arrived at the house-building site early on Friday morning for the first time, we were greeted by a giggling group of young boys, eager to give us fist bumps, high fives, and teach us new games. They were captivating and equally captivated by us, but we had a job to do: assist the Haitian masons in building a house for a family that didn’t have one at the moment. That day, we mixed mortar, sifted limestone, and laid the foundation of the house, getting gloriously sweaty and dirty all while laughing and singing with each other and the Haitians. We came back on Monday morning and afternoon to lay the brick and mortar. As the walls came up around us, and as the masons patiently showed us how to do things the correct way, what we had been working on finally started to take shape, both physically and in my mind. A family, a real family that didn’t have a home, was going to have one. They would have a roof over their heads, a concrete floor, a firm foundation, and a safe place to sleep at night. Seeing them finally step into their new home was an experience I won’t soon forget.
We also served by distributing food, clothing and shoes. On several days of the trip, we got the privilege of assisting with infant and toddler nutrition, where we held babies, weighed them, gave out meals like the ones we pack every year at Southland, and prayed with the mothers and their children before we sent them off. This, combined with the opportunity that we had to work in the depot distributing clothes, shoes and socks to those who were in need, worked on my heart. It reminded me of how lucky I am. Of how much excess I have. Of the fact that I am selfish. I squander, not only my possessions and my money, but my God given talents and the love that He has commanded me to share with others. In serving others that week in Grand Goave, in getting hot and sweaty and down and dirty, in loving babies and handing out clothing, I rediscovered, or really discovered what it means to serve.
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
In addition to serving, we worshipped. A lot. Really, the whole trip was just one big, grand expression of worship to God. Life is really one continuous act of worship. But specifically, we worshipped a lot through music. Anyone who knows me knows that I love music. I am always singing a song, either in my head or out loud. I am constantly drumming my fingers or beat boxing quietly under my breath. I cannot turn down a chance to listen to a UNITED or Bethel album. It is my happy place. It is how I feel God, and it is how I glorify Him. However, in the hustle and bustle of life, and due to the fact that I am a naturally selfish human, I have grown accustomed to worship. I have become comfortable. I listen for new harmonies in my favorite songs while singing when I should really be tuning everything out, even my own voice, and locking eyes with my Maker. Of course, God challenged me in this arena of my life while in Haiti.
I knew that we were going to be attending a church service or two, as well as a women’s worship night one evening. However, I don’t think that I was quite expecting the presence that music and worship would take throughout the week. It started on Saturday morning. Our team walked across the compound to the Lifeline children’s home to spend the morning with the kids. The day before, our team leaders had told us to have some sort of skit or song ready, since the kids would definitely have something to present to us. A somewhat panicky hush fell over our group and I (and I’m assuming several other people) tried to think of what we could possibly present to those kids. Finally, someone decided that we do the song and dance to “Father Abraham”, the hit VBS classic that has you looking like a dizzy and deranged Jesus-lunatic by the end. I had assumed that the kids would sing a sweet little song or two, sit down, and then we would steal the show with our American theatrics. I was in for a surprise. We arrived at the children’s home and sat down in the dining hall. After having about twenty minutes or so to hang out with some of the sweetest and most entertaining kids that I have ever met, they all walked up to the front of the room and got into formation.
And they began to sing.
They started with “You’re Worthy of My Praise”. Yes, in English. Then they sang “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”, also in English (this would quickly become the musical anthem of the week, making an appearance at every church and worship service). And then, they started to sing in Creole. I have no clue what they were saying, but it was the singular most beautiful thing that I have ever heard in my life. I was going to film some of it, but I had to put my phone down and just be in the moment. They, these children, these orphans, were singing their hearts out to their Creator with eyes closed, hands up, and heads raised to Heaven. I had nothing to do but just sit there with tears running down my face (I tried not to cry at first, but then I started to look really ridiculous, so I just let it go). Sitting there, I realized that a prayer was being answered.
Earlier that day, I had prayed with the group that God would show us what His Kingdom come looks like in Grand Goave. Sitting there, listening to these children sing, I saw it. And I saw it again on Sunday morning in church, squeezed in between my team members and a bunch of Haitian kids, and again on Tuesday night at a little country church in Jeanty, and again on Wednesday night at the women’s worship service. It looks like those children worshipping relentlessly despite the fact that they have been separated from their families. It looks like a whole congregation dancing and clapping and shouting and raising their hands in the kind of abandon that I rarely see here in America. It looks like people not opening their eyes to see what the person next to them is doing or feeling too self-aware to not let all caution go. The people of Haiti praised God with all of their hearts in the midst of the direst circumstances that I have seen in my life, and they sang with the most fervor and conviction that I have ever heard. They didn’t have the stage lights and electric guitars and elaborate drum sets, and sometimes the microphone would go out, or the electric piano would not work. But they kept going. There was no pretense of perfection or performance. It was just unashamed, unabashed worship.
Then, when we got back to the compound at nights after devotions and went up on the roof to sing to God, I felt different. I felt like I was actually entering His throne room. There, under the Haitian sky and with mosquitos and the humidity vying for my attention, I re-learned how to worship. I re-learned how to step out of myself and sing, not for others to hear or to work on my own skills, but to glorify God. To show Him how much I love Him and how worthy He is of ALL of my praises. He just had to get me to Haiti to bring my heart back.
“Pray without ceasing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:17
Of course, I knew that we would pray a lot in Haiti. I mean, it was a mission trip. We were told that we would have to volunteer to pray out loud before each meal, before being sent off for the day, and at night. We all knew that we would have to each prepare a devotion to share with the rest of the team (which I was admittedly a little bit nervous about). There were also several events on the schedule that were focused solely on prayer, namely the four a.m. (gasp!) prayer meeting, and the village prayer walk. I was particularly looking forward to the prayer walk, where we would go, accompanied by a translator, into peoples’ homes, ask what they needed prayer for, and then pray. I have seen prayer to be a very powerful force in my life lately, so I knew that it would likewise be a powerful experience to pray for and with fellow believers in Haiti. But again, God had plans in store that were bigger than anything that I was dreaming of.
The people in Haiti pray with fervor. They pray out loud. They pray so that my heart felt stirred and that the microphones in church started to crackle. They aren’t passive and they don’t use big words in order to prove their eloquence and knowledge of “Christian-ese.” They just talk to God. They ask and beg, they praise and glorify. When I woke up sleepy-eyed and groggy for the four a.m. prayer meeting, I have to admit. I was really only thinking about reuniting with my bunk bed and the darkness behind my eyelids. We all squeezed into a small space between a few houses, accompanied by the Haitians who were already there. It honestly felt just as hot and humid at four a.m. as it did at two in the afternoon, and there were goats bleating and roosters crowing. Not what I am used to when I am trying to get in the zone to pray. But when the singing started and their voices in enchanting Creole rose up over us, I felt more at ease. They prayed and sang and read scripture for over and hour. We joined in when we recognized the tune of a song, and sometimes the translator told us what was being said. However, most of it we could not understand. Afterwards, we were told that they had been praying for us, for our families back home, for our spiritual lives, and for safe travels back to America. That touched my heart in a way that nothing on the trip had yet. But I was in for more.
On Thursday, half of our team put on our Sunday best and headed out into the village to embark on the prayer walk. We visited five or six homes, all crowding in the house each time to ask the person what he or she needed prayer for, and then we would all lay hands on them and pray out loud, all at the same time. I was a little nervous about this at first, since it was something that I had never done. I also kind of expected people to ask us to pray for their circumstances to improve or for God to shower them with blessings and lift some of the burdens of life off of them. But I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Every single person asked us to pray for them to continue to grow in their spiritual life, and so that they could continue to walk close to the Lord. Some asked for healing from a sickness for himself or herself or a loved one, or for peace if healing wasn’t in God’s plan. Some asked for us to pray for safety for their loved ones who were working in America or in Port au Prince. One visit that stuck with me in particular was a middle-aged woman and her daughter. The house they lived in was one of the smallest ones that we had seen all week, and the conditions were sobering. As we all piled in, we saw the older woman hunched over on the ground with her daughter standing over her. The daughter explained that her mother was very sick, and that they wanted us to pray for God to send someone for them because they didn’t have anyone. They were alone. It was during that prayer, as we all lifted up our individual petitions to God on their behalf, that it hit me. Prayer heals. It works. It is not just a time when we string religious words together and utter them to God, only to have them bounce off of the clouds. He hears them. He delivers. He answers. He acts.
After that house, we hit two more houses. In the last house, there was a woman with a sick daughter on the bed. As we prayed for healing for the daughter and for the woman to continue to stay strong in her faith, and as tears began to stream down my face at the realization of their circumstances combined with the power of what we were doing, it began to rain. Healing rain. It had been such a hot week, void of any rain or cloud cover up until then. It didn’t pour, but it simply drizzled down, a tender reminder from God that He heard us, that He saw His children, and that healing was coming for all the broken.
Haiti and her people taught me that prayer is not something to be taken lightly. It is real and it is powerful and it works. I learned that honest and unselfish prayer does not only ask God to heal and fix and bind and protect, but it also gives thanks and praise and glory. It speaks on behalf of others and gives hope. Too often in Western culture, we get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of trying to sound religious and intelligent. That is not what its about. Prayer can be simple and short. It can be out loud and to the point. It can be bold. It just requires that we believe that God will act. Because He will.
“Let all that you do be done in love.”
1 Corinthians 16:14
Love. It is a word that carries a lot of baggage. Love one has for one’s spouse, love that one has for a brother or sister, love that one has for a dear friend…we claim to love many people, and many things. But love isn’t a feeling. Love isn’t an emotion. Love is an action. Love is a verb. Love sacrifices. Love heals. Love adapts. Love reaches across great distances. In Haiti, I learned how to love. I mean, I think that part of me has known how to love this whole time, but I just didn’t really get it. Just like part of me knew what it meant to serve, worship, and pray. But love takes on a whole new meaning when you hold an orphan in your arms, or when you bind your heart to the heart of a teenage girl with constellations in her eyes and music in her laugh, or when you get a hug and a carefully pronounced “thank you” from an old woman for simply being there. Love causes something to shift inside of you and carves another notch into the growth chart of your heart.
I knew that I was called to Haiti for a reason. I had just been emerging from a tough season of life, and I felt that it was finally time for me to go and pour myself out after being poured into for so long. But if I had to put a name to that reason before I embarked, it wouldn’t have been one unassuming and overused four-letter word. However, I would have been wrong. Love is the reason, every time and everywhere. My definition of love had been so small for the longest time, and God had to take me to Haiti to expand it until my heart had stretch marks.
I loved lots of kids. They were everywhere, between Lifeline school, the children’s home, and the kids from the village. Everywhere we went, there was a little kid to laugh with and hold hands with. However, there were three girls in particular who captured me for good. Marie Denise was 12, Thania was 10, and Lalouse was 14. I saw them three or four times a day every single day. They would wait after school, come to the gate and call for me when we were sitting outside and hanging out, and they would sneak out during classes. They were each different, and they were each lovely. Thania was young and vibrant, full of big smiles and laughter. Marie Denise was bold and beautiful and thoughtful. And Lalouse was my heart and soul. She was shy but quietly confident, with a mischievous smile and a hug that made you feel like you were in a straightjacket. Even though I could not speak Creole, and they understood only a little bit of English, it didn’t matter. Love doesn’t need a language to be expressed. We sat and laughed until we cried, hugged like we wouldn’t see each other again in a few hours, and just held hands. They taught me hand clapping games, and I got pretty good at them, much to their delight. They taught me how to say “je t’aime” and “mwen renmen ou” and I taught them “I love you.” And I did. I do. I have had a passion for women and young girls for a long time, and being able to just sit with these angels and tell them that they are beautiful and that they will never be forgotten was the pleasure of a lifetime. God sewed our hearts together so tightly that, when I saw them for the last time on Friday night after devotion and they ambushed me with ferocious hugs and crocodile tears, my heart felt like it was being ripped apart at the seams. As we stood there and held each other and cried, and as I tried desperately to convey to them that I hope to be back and that they were beloved daughters of God, I think that I felt maybe a tiny hint of what God feels for me. I would have done anything for them. I would have given anything for them to have a life free of hardship or pain or struggle. I would have parted with any of my prized possessions if it had meant that they would want for nothing. I would have given them my very heart if it could have ensured that they would never have to go through what I did in order to realize that God had called me beloved and redeemed from the beginning of time. And I’m sure that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the love that their heavenly Father has for them. I will never understand His love fully, but through loving these girls with my small and selfish human heart, I think that I grasped a small piece of it.
I love Haiti. I love my teammates. I love those girls. I love the translators that we met and made lasting friends with. And I miss it all. I miss the sky and the trees and the dirt. I miss the ocean. I even miss tarantula hunting at night. And even though I left a bigger part of my heart there than the part I brought back to America, I know that I will be back, God-willing. I know that God has just started a new chapter of my life, and that I have only tasted a spoonful of what all He wants to show me. So until I can be back with the ones I love and as I am living the life He has called me to here at home, I will continue to serve, worship, pray, and love. Because Bondye bon. God is good.