With the recent Hurricane Matthew hitting my beloved Haiti, I must write and tell you of my experiences when first traveling to Haiti in March of 2015. My Haiti as I know it and the Haitian people as I know them.
During Spirit Fest 2014, I had the pleasure of working with Mission of Hope Haiti and the stateside ladies of 3 Cords. What is 3 Cords? It’s a small business initiative that started in 2010 after the devastating earthquake left many people without limbs and jobs. The concept of 3 Cords was to employ amputee women and mothers of amputee children, giving them the HOPE that they were still whole, valuable, and loved by Christ. Jesus had a plan for them and Mission of Hope was going to help that plan unfold.
After hearing about the business and seeing the effect of our own Amy Byrd wearing one of their headbands in front of 15,000 people at Spirit Fest, I instantly fell in love with Mission of Hope and these women who made these amazing headbands. It was my desire to go and meet these women in person whom had made such beautiful items.
Not long after Spirit Fest, I was invited to attend a very special week in Haiti with Mission of Hope. Against my mother’s and others’ wishes, I accepted. It has become one of the very best decisions I have ever made. The trip brought five new friends into my life whom I will always treasure and lovingly call my “Haiti Sisters”.
It’s hard to call Haiti a “third world” country when, in fact, it’s worse than that. Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history. In 2010 a massive magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti with an epicenter about 15 km southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake was assessed as the worst in this region over the last 200 years; massive international assistance was required to help the country recover. Just recently, some of the villages were finally getting back on their feet with permanent housing, growing crops, and receiving education for their children. Then, Hurricane Matthew hit. Now many find themselves back to 2010. The bridges and roadways are either gone or the water is running so fast they can’t cross to get back to their villages. It makes my heart hurt because I have seen it firsthand.
I’ll never forget being overly excited boarding the plane from Atlanta to Port – au– Prince. The stateside ladies and I were all laughing and playing Five Crowns (one of my favorite card games). As we flew over Haiti, my eyes filled with amazement at the beauty. The blue waters, white sand, and mountainous landscape…breathtaking.
Upon landing, everything changed. Once we exited the plane, I quickly realized I wasn’t stateside any longer; the environment around me wasn’t American. When you arrive in Port-au-Prince, you deplane outside of the airport. The heat was overbearing (even for a Texan like me) and the intense smell I’ll never forget: burning…the burning of trash.
Our group would get through customs quickly and the Mission of Hope drivers would be awaiting our arrival. Inside the airport everything seemed normal very Americanized. Heading up the stairs, I noticed a band (seriously, when you get inside the airport there is a seven piece band playing Haitian music). Our group was welcomed by the band and we made our way to baggage claim. Backpacks in hand, our drivers introduced themselves and we headed out the front doors of the airport.
Anyone that knows me knows I am LOUD, outspoken, and very talkative. Welcome to Haiti: it was the first time in my life I had nothing to say. I was in complete shock as we exited the airport.
In front of me, children without clothing, without shoes. Dirty, sick people everywhere speaking French or Creole—confusion with our group (not normal for MOH). Next thing I knew, someone was pulling one of our group’s suitcases/backpack and taking off with it. It was unreal.
Finally, we were inside one of the mission trucks. Our driver and translator, both assured me that I was safe and would be taken directly to the mission. It was the ‘no worries’ attitude. I’m still at a loss for words, wide-eyed at what I was seeing and experiencing. Driving down the main road out of Port-au-Prince, I would start to see what I had expected: women carrying baskets on their heads, children running in the street, men on motorcycles, collapse of buildings and people selling fruit or vegetables. What I wasn’t ready for was the amount of people just sitting, staring, and looking so sad.
I remember thinking, “Father God, why have you asked me to travel here? What can I possibly do? How will I be able to help these people?” I’d pray while never taking my eyes off the streets, remembering my friend, Alice, saying do not make eye connect with anyone – Haitians really do not like visitors from other countries. And, definitely do not take a photo.
It was so overwhelming. We would arrive at the mission (which was all-contained with security at every entrance and exit). The gate would open and in that moment, I would feel the most amazing feeling as I departed the van and had people who didn’t know me grab me, hug me, and love me instantly. Their smiles were such a beautiful sight. Yes, I was still speechless, trying to process all the things I had witnessed driving from the airport to the mission.
Within minutes I felt calmness, realizing that I was going to fall in LOVE with Haiti: the landscape, the people, their love for God their love for Jesus. It was everywhere. “Bonjour,” I would say to the ladies washing towels, and they would smile with such grace and glory – no pictures though I had to capture their smiles in my memory only.
We would travel the first day to a deaf school, which was my first time to interact with the children. They were beyond excited to see us and love on us just as we were. The conditions they lived in were so very different from my own children’s custom decorated rooms; these children had few toys and sheets that were faded, but they were so happy. I recall thinking that they have one toy, a shared bedroom with so many others, but none of it mattered because they loved Jesus, they knew Jesus, and they were happy.
The next day we would travel to a local village with our village champion. This is where I would meet my “sweet pea.” Oh my heavens, was she the sweetest thing, sitting in a pot. Yes, a plastic pot. In the Haiti heat, she was sitting in a pot, in her overalls, soaked in pee. She reached her arms out and I picked her up. Two of my Haiti sisters were hesitant, but how could I not hold this little girl? Traveling into the villages I expected to see things I would be uncomfortable with, but this baby girl stole my heart. She was sick and I just held her as close as possible, praying over her the entire time. Her mother and aunt would just sit and look at us like we were crazy. The village champion would explain why we were there and ask if we could pray over them. We prayed over so many that day, people who were dying, people who were so ill, children without any clothing, bathing in dangerous water and eating out of piles of trash…my heart was so full, yet so saddened at the same time.
The days were long, but so fulfilling, we would travel up and down the main road visiting villages, other campuses for Mission of Hope, and areas of Port-A-Prince. The Haitian people were amazing, kind and loving no matter where we went.
Then it was time for church. Oh my goodness. Church: The Church of Hope, the cross made out of crates from food and water that had arrived on boats.
I proudly would sit on the front row with my group and we would sing and praise God. All the time watching the Haitian people on their knees on the cement floor praising God, lifting Him up with their entire being. Some of these people had traveled a long distance just to be at church, to experience God’s blessing. Children would run and sit on our laps and we would turn to the mothers who would smile and wave us on to hold them. I’d have a small boy sit on my lap and draw pictures in my bible. His name was Judon. Psalms 29: 5-9 was the reading that day – and everyone would shout AMEN and GLORY. I couldn’t understand half of it, but it was so moving. By the end of this three hour service, I was yelling AMEN.
“Jesus is the Lord,” the minster would say again and again. Jesus is the Lord. People falling to their knees, crying, screaming, praising. At one point, I was crying, then laughing, and then singing. It was almost like an out of body experience. During offering time, the children would all bring something to the bag; any little bit of money they could give, they would.
People ask, “Why do others want to help other countries when our own country needs help?” I always answer with, “It’s a God thing—if you feel it in your heart and soul to travel to Nepal, India, Haiti, Africa, Russia, China, sharing God’s word, His love, His passion, what does it matter if it’s shared stateside or overseas?” The Holy Spirit will take you where it sees fit; my travels took me to Haiti. The Haitian people who live without anything, but really have everything because their love, faith, and trust all come from knowing and walking with Jesus daily. I’d like to think I could be a little bit like them. I think that was God’s reasoning for bring me to Haiti.
Upon returning to Texas, I looked around my home and realized all the things we had. Things we didn’t need; things we take for granted daily. This week, I have watched my friends in Haiti suffer again. But, they will get through and we will go and help them. The stories will be sad and we will have lost people we know, but I know the Haitian people will turn all of their troubles and worries to God. They will be at church on Sunday and they will rise up again against harsh conditions. This is because of one reason: the love and the promise of Jesus.