“Hey, want to go to Haiti with me in February?” read my favorite text of Fall 2016.
The subtle hints I’d been dropping to my friend Katie had finally paid off (I want to go! Pleasepleasepleaseplease. Take me next!!)
Katie is one of THOSE people. The kind you meet for the first time and within two minutes you know you’ve been friends forever but just finally found your way to one another.
She’s a story survivor and a story maker. She has five awesome kids and a rock solid marriage that’s weathered two military deployments. She runs marathons. And a few years ago she had this crazy idea to start Future Hope, a non-profit in Haiti that serves and loves a community of neighbors she calls her people.
No. Big. Deal.
That text led to many others, plus phone calls and a frenzy of list making. A few weeks ago I packed a carry-on and backpack for a week’s adventure in Mirebalais, Haiti to meet the Future Hope team of artisans. We stuffed 4 huge suitcases to an inch of their weight limited lives with donated supplies, materials, and gifts for the Bolins, the missionary family that oversees the day to day of this organization.
A 2:30 am alarm got our travel day started. Wichita to Dallas to Miami, where we met up with Katie’s fantastically funny pal Suzy, who happened to be another “where have you been all my life” friend.
One more air-conditioned, beverage serviced flight and we landed. (Pause: Miss Haiti, runner-up for Miss Universe happened to be on our flight. The selfie taking passengers were beside themselves. She was jaw dropping gorgeous, but because she was so tall I thought she might be a WNBA player. Doi.)
Hmmmm. How shall I describe the Port-au-Prince airport? Completely disorienting, akin to waking up in the land of Oz, albeit a much more gritty version. But I guess there isn’t a graceful or cool way to ease oneself into a third world country for the first time. Claiming our luggage and making our way through the clamoring crowd of men wanting to “help” made me grateful I was traveling with veterans of the process.
I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.
And I loved it.
I’d been asking God for a trip like this for decades. Something in me hungered to witness for myself the glory of God in a country vastly different from mine. Glory on isplay amidst people of another language and culture. I patiently fed this longing and waited my turn and God’s timing.
Now that it’s over, I’ve struggled to capture in words my week’s experience in Haiti. To try is like describing a handmade quilt one square inch at a time.
I can say this. My presence there didn’t change any lives or save any souls. I watched. I listened. I filled my phone and camera with moments.
I ate delicious food that was served, slept in a bed made comfortable for me and accepted rides offered. I received smiles and laughter and stories and gracious hospitality.
I wanted to go and give myself away. I went asking God to give me open eyes, heart, and hands to approach the experience. I left all expectations behind which was fairly easy because I had no box to pack them in anyways.
As is the way of the upside down kingdom, I received so much on my first (but hopefully not last) trip to this incredibly hard country.
Honestly, I’m still wrestling to wrap my mind around the realities my new friends live with. And how my middle-class American self could be so deeply blessed by a community of Haitian neighbors.
I do not want to forget the gifts received, the lessons learned. I write to remember what I witnessed and to share that witness with you.
The Gift of Love – I fell in love with God, all over again and with his mysterious ways, his church, his presence, his provision. I fell in love with the beautiful people who live on a side street of a mountain village on this heartbroken island. I fell in love with the ways the life of Jesus can change the life of anyone who says Yes to him. I heard a story about the way widows and children were being taken care and felt love pulse to life in the air. I felt love pounding in my ears as a young boy named Rinaldo proudly showed me his humble yet tidy room and I was told the story of how this community had wrapped their arms around him.
The Gift of Food – My homes have always had a stocked pantry. Grocery stores have been within minutes and money always available to at least buy the necessities. I’ve never known what it felt like to go days without food that was not by choice. But for many I met, this was not the case. I was reminded over and over that food is a gift. This awareness made the simple meals we shared that week feel precious and holy: from the chicken we ate out of the backyard to the bread placed into the hands of children to the protein bars in my backpack.
One of my favorite activities was breakfast time for the neighborhood kids. A few days after we returned Katie posted this story on Facebook. I think it describes the heart of what is happening there perfectly:
“So last year, two of our Future Hope Inc. members started a morning devotion, four mornings a week in the neighborhood behind ours. After a few weeks, one of our young men came to us and said he just couldn’t go over there anymore because he couldn’t handle seeing kids so hungry. We prayed. We asked God what to do.
“Feed my sheep”. So we started not knowing what it would look like or how it would happen. In the fall God provided a talented lady to design shirts for us to sell to raise funds for this program. The reality is we can feed 50 kids a small breakfast for $10/day. Bread. Cheese. Peanut Butter. Egg.
My last morning there we headed over for early devotion (6:00 AM). We sang praise to Jesus, our leaders read from scripture. The kiddos sat and listened. They stood and raised their hands high singing “Merci Senior. Merci Senior. Merci, merci.”…and they meant it.
Then they are sat down quietly and the devotion leader looked at me to pray..
I got on my knees. It only seemed right. To be at eye level with these little ones and also to bow low to my JESUS. We prayed. We thanked God for these lives, and for their little bellies that would soon be full if only for a little bit.
When I stood and turned around Jimmy handed me the bag of bread to pass out..and that’s when God undid me…
As I tore the bread I looked at each little brown-eyed baby, many in torn, dirty clothes with bugs flying around them, who patiently waited their turn, and handed them a small piece of bread, knowing good and well this may be it for the day, and chances are good that they won’t eat it all….they’ll eat some and take the rest back for family.”
The Gift of Work – Our bodies, minds, and souls are designed for work. When meaningful work is absent, a nation and its people will suffer. Future Hope was started to provide opportunities for young people in Haiti to earn a fair wage by making things to sell in the US. It was such a delight to watch this group of young people hard at work. They were diligent and cheerful. The honor and dignity earned through a hard day’s work are a natural bonus to the money. This group also worked hard to learn new things (like pushups! lunges! jumping jacks!) and to study God’s word at dawn with solar lanterns.
A bonus was getting to know Tracy and Kevin Bolin. As missionaries who’ve lived in Haiti for 5 years, I was in awe of the life they’ve chosen there. Sacrifice and service with joy seemed to be the heartbeat of their days. I was so moved by being welcomed into their home and seeing their missional work bear such good fruit.
The Gift of AND – Haiti was ugly-beautiful, the epitome of my favorite paradox. There is so much I just don’t understand. I came home with my insides packed tightly around a long list of paradoxical ANDs:
ugly AND beautiful
heartbreak AND joy
despair AND hope
darkness AND light
bitter AND sweet
different AND same
big troubling questions AND tiny baby step solutions
It’s hard to wrap a mind around the needy hope that exists in this desperate country.
Yet now at home, I’m slapped in the face with the broken need of my own country, my own people, my own soul. The paradox exists in both places, it’s just wrapped in different layers.
One gift of aging is that I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the ANDs of life. Mystery doesn’t upend me like it used to. His hands are big enough, his shoulders broad enough to carry ___ AND ___ for me and my new Haitian friends.
I already miss them. They taught me that slow is OK, the internet is not really that important, and that all of us are more the same than different.
But I found out everybody’s different – the same kind of different as me. We’re all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us. The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain’t no final restin place. So in a way, we is all homeless – just workin our way toward home.”
― Denver Moore, Same Kind of Different as Me
Please take a minute to learn more about the work that Future Hope is doing and consider helping a Haitian neighbor find hope. www.futurehopehaiti.com