Days abroad: 175
I have been procrastinating writing this post for about three weeks because I do not know how to condense my experience in Haiti into one post. Haiti was a trip that I never expected when I was planning my exchange, and one that when the opportunity came up I never thought I would be able to go on. I went with a group of 12 UT athletes and four support staff, representing women’s soccer, track & field, men’s swimming & diving, women’s rowing, and women’s volleyball, and we served on the beautiful island for a week.
The scenes and scenery were what you expect of a third world missions trip; buildings were unfinished, trash lay everywhere, the livestock were roaming next to the road, some kids were thin, half-clothed, and had bugs flying all around them, the smells were intense and the food very basic. Part of me was very conflicted about going on the trip because I didn’t want to go spend a week in Haiti, impact nothing and come back to my life of luxury and comfort unchanged. I felt guilty about approaching the kids because I knew that in a few hours I would leave them and they would return to the exact same circumstances that they were in when I arrived.
On the first morning of serving in Haiti though, my perspective started to shift. The lady whose house we painted in the morning was so specific on how she wanted it painted and checked up on our work as we went. At first I was taken aback that she was so specific for a free paint job, but then I realised that it was because she takes so much pride in her home. When I thought about it, my mother would have done exactly the same, which made me appreciate the similarities between the two mothers and how this woman was not controlled by a poverty mindset.
Learning more about Mission of Hope, the organisation we were serving through, also changed my mind about how effective we were being. MOH’s goal is to work themselves out of a job; to empower the local church to serve the community and let the organisation be entirely Haitian run. With their feeding program they want to buy crops from local farmers, work with them to improve their agricultural techniques and serve Haitians Haitian food. The whole mission of empowering Haiti to be a better Haiti and not a little America was really one that I could get behind – it was not driven by a colonial mindset and really valued the lifestyle and culture of the people. Any handouts we gave or service we performed was lead by a representative from the local church to ensure that the community relied on the church and not on visiting North Americans. It’s a sustainable vision that also will lead to a recovered Haiti.
On the other days we planted trees, handed out solar lights and water filters to families, shared the gospel between homes as we visited villages and learnt about their health and water access, and played with children wherever we went. “Go on a missions trip, pick up a child, take a photo” was a mindset that I didn’t understand. I didn’t like the photos people posted with brown babies online because I didn’t appreciate the heart of mission trips yet. Being there though and getting off the bus to have a child climb you like a tree to be held in 0.025 seconds changed that for me. The children craved love and individual attention, they did not want to share you with any other child and wanted your full attention. One little girl that I held while some of the team played soccer against the village kids almost fell asleep in my arms. It scared me that she could feel that safe and comfortable in a stranger’s arms, but I felt so honoured that it was the case.
One of the most memorable moments for me was meeting Benchina and Stevenson at the orphanage we visited. The team had been dropping like flies with a horrendous stomach bug and the night before our orphanage trip it was my turn. I stayed back at camp the morning when everyone went into the villages again (Note: in this trip to the village one of our groups was able to lead a man that was working on one of the homes to the Lord!) to try and recover, but when we arrived at the orphanage I was completely drained of energy. I was leaning up against a doorframe at the end of our tour around the facility wondering how I was going to love on these children when I didn’t have the energy to hold myself upright. Next thing I knew a little boy came and wrapped his arms around me and leaned into me. He just wanted to be held so I sat down on the step and held him while he played with his toy car. My heart ached because, like the village children he craved individual love and attention, but unlike them he wasn’t returning to a home where he could get that in the evening. I felt so bad knowing that the love I could give would not be enough, and there was nothing I could do to make it better. One of our leaders, who was on the board for the orphanage came to tell me that his name was Stevenson, he’d been adopted and was moving to Tennessee soon! I was beyond relieved to hear this because I knew that he would soon have a mom and dad to love and care for him like he needed.
Benchina I met in the toddlers room at the same orphanage after Stevenson went off to play with his friends. She had just woken up from a nap and reached out to me smiling so I took her and sat down on a rocking chair with her. Luckily for me, she too just wanted a cuddle despite both of us dripping with sweat in the heat. I sat with her for a long time before I realised that she was missing a few fingers on one of her hands and only had one foot. While the other children played she just sat on my knee and when it came time to feed them lunch she sat on a chair while the rest clambered all over the other members of my team. Having a psychologist mother with many connections that would be able to help Benchina get a prosthetic and learn how to walk she was on my mind for a good while after having to say goodbye to her. I thought about her day and night, what I could do to help her and if there was any way I could get her out of that situation. One day after our return to the USA I could not keep asking myself these questions so I reached out to the same leader to find out her story. He said she had likely been born with those disabilities, but that she had also been adopted and will be moving to her forever home soon! I was so happy I hugged the friend I was with so tight! Jehovah-Jireh, Jesus really does provide!
One of the biggest blessings for me to take away from Haiti was our team. I have now found 12 new friends and new community on campus, found new mentors and psedo-parents.God put our team together so perfectly not only to serve Haiti effectively but also to tend to each other’s wounds and encourage each other to grow. I learnt so much from our team and had many timely conversations that took care of my heart in ways that I didn’t know it needed care. It was amazing to witness God’s love portrayed slightly differently through each of my teammates and to see their love for Him pour out so effortlessly and joyfully onto the people of Haiti!
So, to Jesus, to MOH, to the Longhorns for Haiti, to Stevenson and Benchina, to the people of Haiti, to our translaters and guides, and especially to those that supported me financially and in prayer – thank you so much for the opportunity of a lifetime! Mwen renmen pou toutan. I love you forever.