I left on my mission trip to Haiti expecting to have a memorable and life-changing experience. At that point I thought of Haiti solely in terms of “the poorest country in the western hemisphere.” Naturally, I expected to have my perspective altered through serving the Haitian people and caring for the little ones. I prayed that I would have an impact on the people that I served, but I never imagined how deeply Haiti and its people would change me, find a place in my heart and consume me completely. Haiti is no longer just “the poorest country in the western hemisphere.” Haiti is real people, who have faces and life stories who began to stir in me the need for a lifetime of service.
While I was in Haiti, I felt a deep sense of peace accompanied by purpose. There is something peaceful about seeing how simple life can be when the only significant things in life are faith and relationships. I was completely immersed in the experience, in utter awe of the Haitian people. I was able to pay attention to their needs and dreams, to see their innate beauty, to let them teach me about things that I don’t know and remind me about important things that I had forgotten.
My team and I lived and served at a special needs home called the Mephiboscheth house. Mephiboscheth is the most beautiful place on earth and its name means “slice of heaven.” The beauty doesn’t lie in the building itself, but in the children and staff that call it home. The children here don’t have much. Some don’t have families, and all have disabilities that naturally should hinder them. Here these disabilities aren’t even acknowledged. At the end of the day, through countless hardships I can’t even begin to fathom, the special ones have each other and they are a family. Six-year old Dadou can’t move his legs, but he doesn’t need to because his friends Junior and Stevenson will do what his legs should. Deissant is non-verbal and makes sounds that just sound like grunts to the average person; but his friends James and Manoo understand him perfectly clear. Each one of the special ones is a blessing and they each taught me things I will never forget. The brightness in each one of their eyes and their pure smiles are forever etched into my heart.
Over and over again people talk about feeling a deep connection or an unexplainable love for Haiti and her people; now I can fully understand the impossibility in leaving the country unchanged. Haiti is a country of harsh and extreme contrast. Often when we see difficult things we don’t want to deal with we are taught to turn off the light and walk the other way. In Haiti the destitution gets in your personal bubble and breathes down your neck. It is impossible to turn a cheek the other direction. There stunning physical beauty in the landscape and the faces. Everyone you meet lives with awe-inspiring strength and grace in the midst of unimaginable adversity. They humble you and move you to tears. The goodness is the best I’ve ever sensed. The beauty so loaded, so staggering; something the demographic profile they presented to us in school failed to mention. On the contrary there is deep poverty, deep corruption, and abuse no one should be subject to. But, the society flourishes in its own Haitian way and looks away from the majority of that darkness.
This contrast was the theme I saw throughout my trip and it made all the emotions and experiences I felt all the more raw. Most mornings the team and I went to Mother Teresa’s Hospital for the sick and the dying. I had always seen commercials on television about tiny sick babies and I could dial a number and help, but now I was physically here; in a building lined wall-to-wall with cribs of crying malnourished babies who all needed my touch. I’ve never felt deeper heartache than when I entered Mother Teresa’s for the first time. They were all so small, so weak, and so helpless. I honestly wondered how some were still able to wail with just skin draping over brittle bone. I felt overwhelmed for less than ten seconds and then all that existed was me and the babies and I needed to hold and comfort and pray over as many little ones as I could. The screams would stop immediately at the touch of my hand. All they needed was love and touch. They clung to me with all the strength they had, never wanting me to place them back in their cribs. I wished with everything I had that I could hold all of them at once, but I figured out the most I could manage at once was three. Some babies I was scared to hold because I thought I might break them they were so fragile. Even to place one finger into the crib was enough to silence a baby’s cry. Human touch was all they needed and they held on tightly and refused to let go. They each looked up at me with dark, deep, innocent eyes and I felt my heart melt into a puddled mess on the floor. I’ve never felt more loved than in the moment those precious angels looked into my eyes. I was everything to them in that moment and nothing else in the world mattered. The most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do was pry the babies’ hands from me each day when it was time for us to leave. I would stay there all day, every day looking into their eyes if I could.
We had been in Haiti for a little more than a week when the truly unimaginable happened. I was on the front porch playing with the kids at Mephiboscheth when the earth began to tremble and I heard a deep, dark rumble. Never experiencing an earthquake before, it took me a few seconds to realize that the earth was not going to stop moving; that our entire house was shifting on its foundation and the school bus in front of the house was actually leaping back and forth. Clenching tightly to the wrought iron railing to keep myself upright, I didn’t feel fear. I only felt adrenaline and an immediate reaction to help the kids. Time stood still as the earth continued to tremble and we got all of the kids and staff out of the house. I don’t think I blinked or took a breath until everyone was safe and huddled together in front of the house. The language barrier seemed difficult at first, but then the children and staff began to sing and praise God that they were safe and that the Earth had stopped shaking underneath their feet. Our first reaction was to worry and to think about what our next actions should be. Their reaction was to praise God and to throw their hands up in awe and praise. Amazing. The littlest ones were terrified and just needed to be held and comforted. I held Dadou in my arms for hours and cuddled Wheat as she wept. Our home was almost completely unharmed. It was like the world crumbled all around our walls as God held his “slice of heaven” up in the palm of His hand. We felt fairly significant aftershocks all through the night and didn’t get any sleep for the next two nights. The immediate morning after the quake we didn’t venture from our home. We stayed at Mephiboscheth and helped the staff in any way we could. Staying in the thick of the work and staying busy was the key to not thinking or feeling. Even the idea of having a purpose sheltered us from the full range of emotions we were sure to drown in if we let ourselves.
It wasn’t until the next morning we finally realized the severity of the devastation. When we ventured outside our walls we saw chaos. Catastrophe at proportions I didn’t think was possible. Buildings that were two or three stories tall just yesterday, now a pile of dust and concrete slabs spewed everywhere. Haitians walking everywhere, aimless and emotionless looks on their faces as they began to sort through the heaps they called life. Every other “building,” groups of people are huddled around rubble, trying to pull somebody to out; a lifeless foot sticks out of a pile of rubble- things people should never have to see and I certainly don’t want to ever again.
But in the midst of the chaos and aftermath of the earthquake, there was compassion, self-sacrifice, and humility exposed at its greatest. Everything was lost but the greatest things in life still remained. Once everything was stripped away, the bare bones of the Haitian culture remained unchanged. Faith and relationships were still the most important things in life. No amount of destruction could ever take that away. These are the types of the things that I need to tell people about Haiti, not just so they can understand my experiences better, but so that I will never be able to forget. Life is always determined to go on.
It’s funny how your entire world can change in just 45 seconds. The idea that I was perfectly unharmed in the tumult still haunts me today. Why was I spared while hundreds of thousands perished around me? Why me? Why was I the one sent to hold little Wheat through the aftershocks as she wept; while simultaneously forty five of her family members perished? Why me? What am I supposed to do now? What greater plans does God have for me that I haven’t realized? The truth is I have absolutely no idea why I lived and so many others didn’t. What I do know is that my experience in Haiti was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but also the biggest blessing that God has ever given me. I have learned that to take every trial as being sent from God in order to give me a spiritual and eternal blessing and to make me a blessing. If I continue to do this, God will work in my life and in the lives of those around me, because at the end of the day, God is good all the time.
“Better to love God and die unknown than to love the world and be a hero; better to be content with poverty than to die a slave to wealth; better to have taken some risks and lost than to have done nothing and succeeded at it.” ~E. Lutzer
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