Reflections on my first week of life in Haiti…
As of this evening, I will have lived in Haiti for exactly one week. This means that with the passing of this evening, this is the longest amount of time that I have ever spent in this country. One week in the shadows of the entire year that I plan to spend here is very little, but long enough to teach me so much. I have to admit – moving day was more difficult than I thought.
I left home around 4am to catch my first flight from Louisville. Saying goodbye to my mom and dad was really tough, mostly because I didn’t want to see them hurting. I consider my mom one of my best friends and typically we communicate with each other every day. I knew it would be hard to not have that convenience of reaching out to her whenever I wanted. I do miss her so much already.
Flights from Louisville to Dallas and then Dallas to Miami were pretty uneventful. At that point, I was feeling better because I had made it through all my goodbyes and was excited to meet up with the team in Miami. However, when it was time to board the plane from Miami to Port-au-Prince, reality struck.
This is it.
My phone had to be turned off for the final time… a physical reminder that I was about to be cut off from so many comforts of home.
As I waited to board the plane, an elderly Haitian woman in front of me was upset that her carry-on bag had to be checked and put under the plane because our flight was so full. There was a lot of yelling and it elevated my already fast heart rate… I panicked.
What am I doing? Why am I here? Why me, God? Are you sure you want ME?
As I boarded the plane and got settled in to the seat that would transport me to this faraway land, my emotions still ran high. The rest of our team was in first class, so I was alone in the back of the plane with no one that spoke English. Another step away from home and my comforts. The engines fired and our plane taxied to the runway.
Oh, God. No turning back now!
As the plane finally took off, the pounding of my heart erupted into tears and I cried as my beloved home drifted farther and farther away in my tiny view out the window.
I have flown more times in my life than I can count, but something I always do during every flight is to pray during take-off and landing. Not that I am fearful of flying and feel compelled to ask for safety, (what’s the worst that could happen – we crash, I die, and get to go where I’ve always longed to go?!)… I think the tradition for me originated during the overwhelming experience of my first flight – the sheer power of a plane and its ability to transport so quickly and gracefully turned me back to thanking my Lord for making all things possible.
I usually can’t sleep on planes, but somehow, I managed to doze off about 20 minutes before we landed in Haiti. Because I was asleep when we landed in Haiti, I was not actively praying as I usually do. However, when the landing gear touched down and jolted my body awake, before my eyes opened, I distinctly heard from the Lord. One simple word. More clearly than I have ever heard from Him in my life.
Immediately, a peace washed over me and my fear and tears were replaced with an excitement and a comfort of being “home.” I confidently stepped off the plane in the peace and confidence that the Lord has given me all along about where He has called me. Because I have been to Haiti before, I didn’t experience as much culture shock upon arrival as I did during my first trip here. I do feel, however, that I looked at my surroundings as we drove through Port-au-Prince and then on to Neply through different lenses. God painted a beautiful sunset on our drive home and I couldn’t stop smiling out of the overflow of love and joy I had because I am where the Lord wants me.
Monday through Thursday, the team members that were here for the week and I assessed children from the village during a medical clinic. We had nurses, a physical and occupational therapist (me), and a dentist present to evaluate the children and begin charts with baseline health information. It was a wonderful way to jump right in to serving these people, loving these children, and getting to know names, faces, and the language! Almost all of the children had very dirty ears, eardrums scarred over from multiple ear-infections, and several with objects and scabs in their ears. Some had scoliosis and leg length discrepancies, others had vision problems or low muscle tone.
All of the children were polite, followed directions (when they understood what we were asking them to do, haha), and were so sweet. On Wednesday, someone had spread a rumor that we were giving shots at the clinic, and almost all morning, we had children crying because they were fearful of what was going to happen when they came into our rooms to be assessed. Luckily, we were able to send them away smiling! Several children in the village were identified as having special needs that I will be able to address in my therapy program! This excites me as I know that while here, I will not only serve our children in the myLIFEspeaks house, but be able to reach out in to the community as well. The potential this has to change lives and hearts and minds is beyond my imagination… but I am so excited to be here and be one of the people that God uses to love His people!
To give an example of how huge this opportunity is in this culture, I will share a quick story. This summer, our staff here discovered that a family living across the street has a three-year-old with club feet. His name is Frensky. He is severely hypertonic (his muscles are really rigid), and he is incredibly small for his age. 15 pounds actually. His mother wanted to abandon him.
In such a poor country, children in general are difficult to care for. So many are abandoned. Haiti has nearly 500,000 orphans. But children with special needs… they are a different story altogether. For one, they are obviously more difficult to care for. Even if the desire is present within the parents to provide a loving, nurturing home for the child despite his or her needs, the education and resources that we have in America to help us care for our children with special needs aren’t available or widely understood. Additionally, some view children with special needs as a curse. Because Voodoo is such an interwoven part of this culture, it is not understood that genetic differences aren’t because of evil curses, but because of science. All these things considered, the fact that Frensky’s mother wanted to abandon him didn’t come as a shock. When we told her that we would be able to work with him, provide therapy services, and teach her how to care for him, however, the shock came when she smiled. Hope in her eyes. She is not going to abandon him.
I arranged to meet with her on Monday to begin his therapy. If no other life was changed, the medical clinic was worth all the hot hours just to know that one child’s mother finally found value in his life.
Each evening on Monday through Thursday after our medical clinic, we had a discipleship conference, where men that came with our team taught at church about what it means to be a disciple and how we should disciple others. The gospel truth is needed so much here. While people here may call themselves Christians, misunderstandings and lies plague the country and the full gospel message is unfortunately not always realized. For example, Voodoo is so heavily ingrained in this culture, that even those that call themselves Christians are influenced by the belief in Voodoo and its “power.” It was wonderful to see those in attendance “getting it” and walking away empowered with the Truth.
During our time at church, in the medical clinic, helping with the feeding program here, and simply walking through the village, the greatest realization I’ve had during this week was this: The most powerful thing that we can do to help those that are struggling through life, whether in our neighborhood at home, at work, or in the poorest country in the world, is to live life with them, to walk side-by-side with them, and to offer ourselves as the Lord equips us, to change their life one moment, one sacrifice, one day at a time.
Handing someone a bucket of clean water or five dollars will not forever change a life. Going to a country where no one knows your name, preaching to people about your beliefs, and then leaving without taking the time to get to know one person’s name or story will not forever change a life. But walking together with them, learning their stories, allowing Christ’s light to shine through us each day in the opportunities He gives us to share Him through ourselves… that is what will change lives.
So as I settle in here… as I walk the dog through the village (and receive many strange looks, haha)… as I sit with our translators and receive Creole lessons… as I make plans for a therapy center where I dream lives will be changed… as I feed hungry children… as I squeeze a little girl with holes in her shoes and tell her she’s beautiful…
I pray that my presence here will be used to the fullest.
I pray that by abiding in Him, I will be filled with Jesus and that He will pour out His love through me.
I pray that the people here will see Him through me.
I pray that they will have hope for the future.
I pray that they will learn that every life is valuable to the Lord.
I have a home in the United States. I have a home in Haiti.
But my citizenship is in Heaven.
I keep my eyes turned toward Him to guide me through this life He’s given… this life that is such a gift.
Home is where your heart is, right? My heart is with Him.
Therefore, no matter my location, I am always HOME.