The most meaningful part of my second trip in May was introducing my Haitian family to my parents. It was their first time to Bayonnais, a place they’d heard so much about these past few years. My mom shared the following with our church upon her return:
Fred and I had the incredible opportunity to be part of the mission team in Haiti this year. Before I begin, I would like to thank all of you for making this trip possible for all of us to be emissaries of your love and His love. Thank you for coming to Loc’s Chicken and Waffles (a local restaurant that hosted a fundraiser) and supporting us with those huge tips despite the clumsy service! Thank you for your prayers while we were on our journey. We are grateful for them.
Although I think we are still processing our experiences, I wanted to share with you a brief glimpse of them. Our son, Peter, spent a year in Haiti and, in his blog, he writes, “I came to live at the intersection of joy and suffering.” I don’t think I understood that statement until this past week. Let me explain.
Our arrival in Port-au-Prince found us loading into an old yellow school bus with all of our bags and supplies, the heat and humidity even more intense than we had anticipated. We were already missing the luxury of AC. Our driver, Vital, expertly maneuvered through the throngs of people, cars, trucks as we craned our necks to look at all the tent cities and piles of rubble that had sprung up everywhere since the earthquake. A five hour hot and dusty bus ride took us along the coast until we turned on to a battered dirt road that would take us up into the mountains of Bayonnais. People stood outside their homes and watched us just as curiously as we watched them. Waves were exchanged through the windows. Donkeys, chickens, and pigs were narrowly missed as Vital weaved through muddy bogs and deep ruts in the road. We knew we were close when children started chasing the bus with shouts of joy.
One step off that bus and we fell into the welcoming arms of this rural Haitian community and it remained with us the entire week. People greeted us with smiles, handshakes, and bisous wherever we went. Fred and I were particularly blessed being the parents of Peter, who is quite beloved there. We would go on walks throughout the hill sides and they would ask (in Kreyol, of course), “Where is your mother? Where is your father?” Family is very important to the Haitians. Upon raising our hands, we would be instantly embraced. I became Mama Peter and Fred became Papa Peter! Never will we be welcomed so incredibly again! They opened their homes to us, allowing us to curiously peer into a one room hut about the size of your bathroom, dirt floor, a chair or two, a tin roof, a granary, and usually a few goats, chickens, and too skinny dogs milling about. Peter translated for us and they were gracious to answer our questions. Despite the poverty, I quickly became aware of their dignity and their desire to make the most of what they had. The floor may be dirt, but it was swept several times a day. Mangoes hung from the trees. Women would stand by the side of the road and try to sell a a scoop from a basket of rice or beans, mangoes, a few okra. Men were in their small fields with an axe, turning up the soil, removing stones, planting seeds of hope for a good crop. It is a rural sustenance farming community, living hand to mouth, and often the hand is empty due to erosion, bad weather,insects,or poor quality seeds. There’s no government aid to help here; there’s no where to turn. That’s where OFCB comes in. Men wait patiently in the early morning hours for Actionnel to come , to quietly tell him that his family has not eaten in three days, and can he give him anything to help. That’s where the Granary of Joesph has come in, that’s where our dollars to support the school have allowed them to buy food when it is a low price in Gonnaive and store it in the granary. Poverty, misery, hopelessness. Then a school opens in 1993 replacing a cock fighting arena and children now have the opportunity to get an education and break the cycle. A church is built, replacing an old voodoo site(and, yes, we did hear voodoo drums late at night) and people now have an opportunity to hear The Good News of our Lord and Savior and hope begins to take shape, dreams begin to form. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and He is hard at work in Bayonnais. In the midst of poverty, joy begins to sing.
So, where did we fit into all of this? Where do you fit in? We prayed each day that God would use us according to His will. We emptied ourselves and offered ourselves, playing with the children, teaching English, practicing conversations with those who are determined to learn the language, we painted a classroom that was recently plastered alongside the Haitians, we worshiped together, different voices rising in one song, one heart, one body. The Haitians, by the way, are beautiful, strong singers, their bodies swaying as they sing. We recorded the school choir singing so you will have the opportunity to hear them when you buy the CD that Bill Simmons is going to make. We played soccer with them, and, of course, got creamed to their great amusement. I like to think that, by our presence, we shared God’s love just as they shared God’s love with us, that we made that hope a little stronger. As with most mission trips, however, I think most of us feel that we received far more than we gave. They gave us their presence, their radical hospitality, which was all they had to give and it was such a lesson to us all.
So, where do you fit in? As the days progressed, we became increasingly uncomfortable leaving the front steps where we gathered with the children to go eat abundant meals fixed by several women in the guest house. We knew there were children outside who were hungry, but who had been told not to ask us for anything. We were eating delicious meals (which were purchased with our per diem expenses) of chicken, goat, fish while most probably rarely ate meat, if at all. Beans and rice are the staple of the schoolyard meal and it is often the only meal of the day for many. We talked about it during our evening devotions. Could we take our meal out to them and just eat a PBJ? Eddie Ledger, a Haitian American who is helping Actionnel explained that the meals they were fixing for us were their way of thanking us for our support, that to refuse it would be to refuse their hospitality. So, while some of us snuck a few cliff bars out, Julie asked Actionnel what was the best way to help. He said one word: sponsorship. Sponsor a child for 35.00 a month or a little over 400.00 a year. This supports not only the child, but the entire community with their other ministries, like the Granary of Joesph I mentioned earlier. 96% of the monies received go directly to the community, paying teachers (who often work for free when the monies run out) and providing food. Think about it. A family here could support a family there for what you might pay to go out to dinner one night. God can take our small gifts and transform an entire community, maybe an entire country! All things are possible with Him!
There are so many other experiences to share. Fred and I would be happy to share them with you, if you are interested. New insights may develop as we process the experience. I am grateful to you for your support and to God for using us. Our greatest goal, I think, was to simply share God’s love. I pray we succeeded.
I’d like to close with a quote from Henri Nouwens’ In The Name of Jesus:
“Knowing the heart of Jesus and loving Him are the same thing. The desire to be relevant and successful will gradually disappear, and our only desire will be to say with our whole being to our brothers and sisters of the human race, ‘You are loved. There is no reason to be afraid.'”