Last week, I embarked on my third trip to Haiti. This trip was the most challenging but most rewarding one yet. My heart has never been so simultaneously full and yet so broken. The only regret I have about this trip is that it ended.
Before I go any deeper, I need to say this: whatever words you may read or pictures you see can never come close to doing this trip justice. To fully understand why Haiti left such a deep impression on my heart, you have to experience it yourself. I cannot urge you enough to go on a trip like this if you’re ever given the chance.
A natural question people ask after any trip is “what was your favorite part?” For me, it started when the plane landed in Haiti and finished when the plane left Haiti. On a trip like this, so many different things tug at my heart fiercely. It would literally be possible for me to pick one moment and declare that to be the defining moment of the trip.
That said, there are some things that stand out a bit more. These moments reflect the reasons why I keep coming back to Haiti. Some are the result of the investments made 7 months ago or even last year while others belong uniquely to this trip. Some are happy, some sad, many a mix of both. While they don’t encapsulate everything that happened on this trip, they do capture bits and pieces of what makes Haiti so special to me.
A New Family
On my two previous trips, I came down with groups from my church. We didn’t have a group come down over the summer this year, so I instead came down with a group from Forestville Baptist Church in South Carolina. In total, twelve of us embarked on this amazing journey together – nine from Forestville, the man who helps organize these trips (Darrell), his assistant (Erica), and myself.
Not going to lie, I had some reservations about coming down with a group of total strangers. Sure, I’ve been down to Haiti with Darrell before and I’ve talked to Erica a little, but everyone else would be totally new to me. Given my shyness and social awkwardness, I had some worries about feeling left out of the group.
Before the plane landed in Haiti, that mindset had already begun to shift. I had the opportunity to talk so some of the folks from Forestville and get to see their hearts. On the plane, I sat next to the guy who would be my roommate for the week and we had some good conversations there. Within the first full day in Haiti, that worry of not belonging fell out of existence.
Samuel, Sarah, Kaitlyn, Kelly, Susan, Bruce, Michael, Christen, Paul – thank y’all so much for welcoming the odd Georgia boy into the fold. Getting to know you while serving alongside you was truly a blessing.
Some Old Connections
The main thing for this trip was a VBS-style club for the kids in the two orphanages we partner with. We also invited kids in the surrounding communities to come join us. Every day, we had a chance to share the Bible with these kids and provide a craft for them as a reminder of what they learned in that day’s story. We also led them in some songs – always a blast with these kids – and play some games with them.
Visiting these two orphanages always brings so much joy to my heart. Between my previous two trips, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with these kids and they have absolutely stolen my heart. Having the ability to see how they grow, physically, mentally, and spiritually, is such an incredible blessing.
The part that always gets me is how happy these kids are to see us. They’re content just to sit with us and hold our hand or play some simple game with them. Their love is so simple and yet so pure. They dole it out unconditionally. And it is the most heartwarming experience to receive that much love.
One of the cool things about repeatedly visiting these kids is that they remember us. While that may sound pretentious, it’s been 7 months since I’ve seen these kids. Even then, I only spent a grand total of a few hours with them. But the fact that they so clearly remember me makes my heart overflow. And it’s not just me, either. I had several of the kids ask about people who came in November. I hated telling them they didn’t come this time – I could tell they really wanted to see their American friends again.
That’s been one of the driving forces behind my return trips – the matchless love these kids have towards us will absolutely steal your heart. I think everyone I’ve ever gone to Haiti with has wanted to try to smuggle these kids back home in their suitcases. I definitely had to resist the temptation to do it. Their pure and unadulterated love by itself makes these trips worth it.
The Lost Sheep
Throughout the course of the week, we attended church several times. The first church we visited was the church one of our translators and orphanage caretakers, David. Their worship was nothing short of intense and genuine, a motif for every church we visited throughout the week.
At most of the churches we visited, our group handled the preaching portion of the service. The flow stayed fairly consistent. After worship, Darrell would come up and say a few words, thanking them for so graciously allowing us to visit and explaining the why and what behind our trip. A testimony or two from our group would follow. Finally, the leader of the Forestville group, Paul, would take the stage and present the Gospel.
On this first service, Paul preached on the parables of the shepherd with one lost sheep and the woman with one lost coin found in Luke 15. The message was presented fantastically. We all prayed God would move through the context of that message. But I think it’s safe to say none of us quite expected Him to move the way he did.
In attendance that night was a man named Roger. He was born in New York to Orthodox Jews and used to work with The Doors back in the 60s. Somewhere between now and then, he converted to Christianity. He moved to Haiti some 10-20 years ago in an effort to minister to Haiti.
About 2 years ago, he backslid. He didn’t give any details, but he hadn’t been to church since then. He happened to be walking around that night and heard the music from this church. He went back home, grabbed his family, and decided to attend that night.
After the service ended, he found Paul and told him this: he was the lost sheep from the parable. He gave his life to Christ that night. When Paul told us about him over dinner, the news stunned all of us. We came expecting to change lives, but I don’t think any of us we quite expecting to change the life of another American while in Haiti.
Schedules happened to line up superbly for this one. The caretaker for our other orphanage, Pastor Oscar, has been single for a few years now. His ex-wife didn’t support the idea of starting the orphanage and left him. Up until this past week, he had been running the orphanage on his own.
I don’t know many of the details, but Oscar found a wonderful woman he wanted to marry. And it just so happened that the wedding took place the same week of our trip. This was the first Haitian wedding I’ve been to and it was definitely quite the experience.
The wedding took place Sunday after church. Darrell actually officiated the wedding, so I doubt it was the most authentic wedding. Nonetheless, the experience definitely captured the beauty of what a wedding represents.
The biggest difference I noticed between an American and Haitian wedding was that the family of the bride prayed blessing over her at the beginning of the ceremony. I may not have attended many weddings, but I don’t think that’s something very common over here. It is something I’d like to see more, though.
The wedding continues like many American ones do – the typical words on marriage and what life for the couple looked like in the past and what it will look like in the future. Near the end, Darrell had the couple partake in communion – the breaking of bread and drinking of some grape drink as a representation of Christ’s body and blood – with each other. This was more of a Darrell thing than a Haitian thing, but I still appreciate its inclusion in the ceremony.
Another major cultural wedding difference – there’s usually no kissing of the bride after the “I do’s”. We did not know this prior to the ceremony. After the brief, awkward kiss, we didn’t really need to be told to realize that the kissing part isn’t a thing in Haiti. Honestly, they’re a lot more reserved in general. I didn’t see so much as a hug or hand-holding after the ceremony. I’m far from a romance expert, but I do know that a lot of American couples don’t have such reservations after saying “I do”.
Receptions aren’t much of a thing, either. They did provide a snack and drink but that was about the extent of it. I wasn’t expecting a huge block party or anything, but I did think it would be a bit more celebratory than it was.
Regardless of met or unmet expectations, the ceremony as a whole was simple and wonderful. I’m glad I got to attend the wedding for a friend who is so crucial to what we do in Haiti.
After finishing up Bible camp one day, our afternoon consisted of traveling to various places. We visited the orphanage of our dear friends and translators, Frantz, a soccer field we may use for a sports camp in a future trip, and had quick stops at a couple of other places.
The one place we visited that utterly wrecked me was another orphanage. We heard about this orphanage from another group that was working in the same area as us. Curiosity got piqued and we decided to check it out.
I was not at all prepared for what I saw. The woman who told us about this orphanage said things weren’t all right here. A woman somewhere in the states sponsors the orphanage. She only visits a couple times per year and has a 20 year old running it by himself in the meantime. Regardless of where her heart may be at, taking care of this orphanage by yourself and having someone so young take charge of it isn’t a viable long-term solution.
The place itself wasn’t terrible. Some messes lie about but they’ve got a big building with a spacious yard inside their compound. I didn’t get a chance to see inside, so I can’t comment on that. But from what I did see, that place has potential.
And then there was the kids. Just a heads up, this is one of those parts where I get really emotional and can’t nearly do justice to what I witnessed. When we first pull in, two kids are immediately visible. One of them, a girl probably around 8 years old, is just sitting there, watching her surroundings. She’s clad with a diaper under her dress and just by looking at her, you can tell she’s not all there mentally. The other kid, a boy around 2, sits in a toddler’s car seat. He’s got the most infectious laugh and smile, but his head is incredibly swollen – hydrocephalus or a similar disease. Untreated, which is likely in his case, he won’t make it much past 3 years of age.
In the next room stands a group of boys. I didn’t see them pay us much attention. While I normally would attribute that to my general obliviousness, something else stole my attention. Also in the room was a baby. Just from looking at him, you could tell something was wrong with is legs. When he crawled around, he had to pull himself along using only his arms. In his face there was…well, nothing. No hope, no joy. It’s like he was just existing.
Mercifully, our visit there didn’t last long. The guy running the place was off running some errands or something. Honestly, I’m glad he wasn’t there for his sake – all of our emotions were running pretty high and I suspect somebody would have said something best left unsaid. We prayed over the place and got back in our vans. The ride after that was the quietest and most somber our group ever had.
I’ve seen and experienced lots of heartbreaking things during my time in Haiti. This visit blows them all out of the water. I still fight back tears whenever I think about this place. The image of that baby trying to crawl around, the blank look on his face…those are images I will take with me to the grave.
Of course, there are so many other stories to tell. Maybe they’ll make their way here one day. All these stories have absolutely rocked my world in so many different ways. I know for a fact that I cannot be the same person I was before I embarked on this particular journey.
I hope after hearing stories like mine, you would consider becoming involved yourself. It doesn’t matter your age or status in life, your past or present, anybody that becomes involved with missions or volunteering makes such a huge difference in the lives of others. It may not always be easy to see, but lives always get changed when you decided to invest in others. And you also get changed in ways you would never hope, dream, or imagine. I cannot urge you enough to get involved in any way possible.