I apologize for the length, but I want to paint an accurate picture of my trip, and that takes a lot of background. Thanks for your patience in reading this. Also I included this same post on my Facebook profile.
Romans 15:1-17 (The Message)
1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
3-6That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
7So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!
Many of you have asked about my recent trip to Haiti. It has been a little difficult to put in words all of the thoughts that continue to swim around in my head regarding the trip. I wanted to try to relay some of those though since so many of you supported me on my trip. You deserve the feedback.
Let me first say that none of the words and thoughts below can accurately depict my deepest thoughts or portray true life on the streets in Haiti. You’d have to see that with your own eyes…something I encourage you each to pray about and consider.
Most of you all know the reason why I went to Haiti. I HAD to go. I didn’t even have to flinch for a second in thinking about whether or if I was going to go to Haiti. It was a matter of when. As soon as I heard about the earthquake hitting Haiti, I knew I’d be going. Gabe and Addie, my two oldest children, are from the Port au Prince area in Haiti. It was my natural reaction I think to respond as any father would and to try to help those of my “extended family” in any way I could. Plus it was important for me to show my kids that we cannot and will not forget about or neglect their birth country. We want it to remain a very important part of their background and our family makeup.
We have various contacts in Haiti through our short term mission work in the Dominican Republic. Some of them also have a hand in mission work in Haiti. So I first tried to link up to go with them, but all of those doors closed. So next I sought out missions organizations and heard that Score International, a missions organization based here in Chattanooga, was facilitating groups (thanks to my friends Joe and Abbey Smith). So I signed up to go on their first trip. For a reason only the Lord knows, that trip didn’t work out, but I was placed on the their second trip. And I’m glad as this gave the Lord the opportunity to work on the heart of a friend of mine, who out of the blue decided to join me. He had no reason to go to Haiti. He didn’t have a huge connection. But something ate at his heart to sign up. The extra time helped him (and me) make our plans. And I’m glad, as looking back, I relied on his fellowship and support. Thanks John.
Let me jump ahead and skip over the travel, which is a story of its own. We arrived in Haiti by bus (via an 8-hour ride on the back roads over the mountains from the D.R.) and as soon as we crossed the border I knew something was different. The Haiti that I had seen was still present. Huge mountains in the background, as if created as a backdrop on a Bob Ross painting. Treeless landscapes. Tap tap trucks, with their fun Christian phrases and vibrant colors, carrying loads of people to/from various destinations. Children running around the streets half clothed but smiles aplenty. Old women selling their vegetables and fruits. The sweet smell of fruit mixed with the smell of trash. Trash lining the street sides. All of that remained the same. But what changed were the faces of the people I saw. There was desperation, despair and anxiety.
And of course, right away, you saw the effects of the destruction. We first visited a rural missions hospital that upon arriving had an ocean of tents filled with displaced and injured Haitian families. Then as we drove closer into Port au Prince, we started to see the buildings flattened and turned to rubble. And what was more present was the abnormal fog, which we later realized wasn’t actually fog, it was the dust from destroyed concrete buildings floating in the air which never fully settled.
Life in Port au Prince was surprisingly the same as before. Bustling with people trying to make a living and survive, but like I mentioned earlier now their faces were showing different expressions. We ended up arriving at what would soon be our base camp, New Life Orphanage, located on the other side of a wall from the Port au Prince airport. I was a little surprised to see that within the orphanage and school’s compound was an overflowing crowd of people on hand for a church service. We were paraded through the crowd, probably around 400 people thick, to the back of the compound. I can only imagine what these people were thinking. Probably something to the extent of “Those crazy Americans are here to ‘help.’ Let’s see if they do.” But nonetheless it was a joy to see and hear them worship in the midst of the chaos of life. And it was a good reminder that we entered into something far greater than ourselves.
After the church service, we ended up setting up “camp.” We set up our tents on the concrete porches of the school buildings. The entire complex was concrete. NO grass in site (I expected this though as I remembered from my past visits to Haiti – it’s a huge city of concrete). But we were safe and our belongings were secure.
And we felt blessed to be in an orphanage where we could also interact with the children, something each of the team members relied on I think to help fill our spirits and give us strength. Amazing how the Lord uses children, even when you can’t speak the same language.
Our work consisted of mainly food distributions in various areas in and around Port au Prince. Pastor Edmond, who owns the orphanage, also oversees a network of 22 churches and schools. His network would be our platform for distribution. He knew the areas that needed the food the most; the areas where many of the relief organizations just hadn’t reached. Places where food was hard to come by. It was such a blessing to have Pastor Edmond and his son Wesley and their hands-on connection with the villages and neighborhoods we visited. I think it is vital that aid relief is distributed by way of the local church, who knows best the makeup of their community.
To be honest, there was a part of me that didn’t like the size of our relief team, which consisted of many people from all over North America, but a large majority who came from a church in Woodstock, Georgia. There was something irritating and internally obnoxious with a group so large we had to drive around in two large tourist buses. Again, I just had to imagine what these poor Haitian people were thinking as we drove by in our huge air conditioned buses with a sea of cameras taking pictures at their “situation.” It was a challenge that I had to overcome throughout the trip, as I had envisioned that I would possibly have the opportunity to travel with a small team deeper in the city, and possibly search out people I had in my heart (Addie’s birth family and the missionary friends). But there was a huge blessing with the size of the group as well. It allowed for better and safer protection of the team and it also allowed us to set up a very well run distribution process.
We ended up giving over 2,400 bags of food to people in about six rural villages around the outskirts of the city and one neighborhood closer in. I wish we could have made 10,000 bags. We still wouldn’t have had enough to feed the people who came out in total. At one rural village, where there was no relief until we came, we ended up having to deal with a mob. Not an angry mob, but a hungry mob. Although mostly polite, this particular school/church compound just didn’t have the proper boundaries and people snuck in from all sides which forced us to lock ourselves in the church until our security team could disperse the tension. But what can you expect? These people were hungry and needed help. The risk in that situation was so worth it knowing that we helped feed those who were hungry. Especially the children, the elderly and the widows. And despite the tension of the mob and the ever present anxiety of another aftershock to occur at any moment, the people were always kind and always thankful.
The biggest challenge for me personally was the day we drove by Cite Soleil (the capital’s slum) and inside Port au Prince and Petionville, where the destruction hit hard. Every ounce of “green space,” the parks and squares scattered throughout the city, was being utilized as makeshift tent cities. And I don’t mean a tent campground like you’d see at an American state park. I mean tarps and tents, one on top of the other lined up as far as the eye could see. Tents and tarps were EVERYwhere. But not enough of them to help all of the people.
It was the only home left for over 1 million people who lost their homes. The destruction was massive.
And to imagine that these displaced people lost not only their houses and the little amount of personal belongings they cherished, so many also lost family members and friends. And at that moment is when I thought of Addie’s family. It was at that moment when I lost it the most, when I broke down and sobbed. I couldn’t help to think that somewhere in this ocean of mixed destruction and displacement were her birth parents and siblings. It was also at that moment when I prayed the most. It was at that moment that I longed to hold my kids and not let go. And it was the time when I realized that the Lord sent John to be with me through this. I don’t know how I would have been able to think of their faces and not see them and come out unscathed. I guess in many ways I didn’t. I still think of her family. We never were able to find any info about them (but hope isn’t lost).
The Haiti that I had visited and had so many memories was in despair…and still is in despair. But the hope of a new life, both physically and spiritually, provides enough hope that there’s the potential for a great movement to take place in Haiti. If the leadership, the churches and even the everyday Haitian people themselves would place their hope in the guidance of the Lord they could completely turn this destruction into an avenue for positive change. That’s the biggest prayer I have. I pray that the people see beyond the destroyed buildings and grasp onto the love of the Lord that is so evidently present all around them. I believe these prayers can be answered.
While I went to Haiti with some preconceived plans and expectations, I left with many of those unattained. But I also left with a better grasp of the situation, one that calls for a response.
So, what now? What do I do with what I experienced and saw? I call upon the Lord to help me know what to do next. I continue to pray for His calling. And I wait patiently for the avenues to use to respond. One way I have already done that is by initiating something that has been on my heart That is to showcase how people are already responding, not just to the situation in Haiti, but to the Lord’s call in their lives. To do this, I have launched a new blog that I will use to show how people are responding to Jesus’s love. Check it out at www.respondinternational.org (this site). Or follow us on Twitter at @respondtochrist.
I also commit to moving forward with plans to deepen my family’s involvement in the mission work we have already begun to do on Hispaniola (on the northern coast of the D.R. but also in Haiti). Learn more about our interest by reading the About Us section of this blog.
Mostly, I pray. I know in my heart that the Lord allowed this destruction to occur for a reason. I have to let go of any doubt I have and put my complete trust in Him and His plan. And when I do, that is the time I find peace despite what I saw and experienced.
Will I return? Most likely, but I don’t know when. But my heart will be there always, just like a part has always been there long before the quake ever shook their ground.
For those interested in going to Haiti, please consider a missions trip with one of the following organizations:
For those interested in supporting Haiti financially, please consider giving to one of the following organizations: