One in a series of posts reflecting upon the week I spent on a short-term mission in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014. For Part 1 click here. For Part 2 click here. For Part 3 click here. For Part 4 click here. For an afterthought reflection about the topic of heroes in relation to addressing needs in the country of Haiti click here.
Its been a few days since the final leg of my flight back from Haiti touched down in Charlotte and, even before then, I’d been wondering just how I could possibly take the week’s worth of experiences and translate them into meaningful words that could carry, at least, a fraction of the substance that the actual experiences formed in me. I had no misconceptions about being able to come back and just magically broaden everyone’s understanding of just how tough circumstances are for the average Haitian citizen or just how amazing and meaningful the work of The Hands & Feet Project is to the children that it cares for when people ask how the trip was. But, my hope remains that at least a few folks, even just one, will find their interest piqued by my experiences and, perhaps, become motivated to take action for the people of Haiti – whether by committing to their own short term mission trip or by simply contributing financially to those who are down there doing what truly is God’s work – being His hands and feet on the ground to a country so desperately poor and in need of help.
My first impression of the country was made when I looked out the window of the plane while descending to land in Port-Au-Prince. It was a stark contrast to the view I had when I landed in Miami for my connecting flight earlier that morning. Expertly organized, clean, brightly colored Miami stood at one end of the spectrum while the dirty and grungy, trash-laden, and haphazard complexion of Port-Au-Prince sat at the other. It became pretty clear, by the time we got to the airport that, while it was clean and adorned with pro-Haiti tourism advertisements, nobody comes to Haiti for a vacation. The vast majority of people on the flight were missionaries or people in the medical field. The two hour ride from Port-Au-Prince to Grand Goave, site of the Hands & Feet Project Children’s Village where we’d be spending the week, offered plenty of evidence as to why tourism isn’t a thriving component of Haiti’s economy, but, events yet to unfold in the coming week would make it clear that some of the most meaningful and priceless experiences come, not when we are out seeking entertainment and relaxation, but, when we allow God to empty our hands.
I was a missionary for a week, but, not the kind you might think of when you first hear the term. I didn’t bring salvation to a previously undiscovered aboriginal tribe. I didn’t go as a doctor to perform critical life-saving surgeries to those who don’t have access to medical care. No, I was probably one of the least-qualified on our team which consisted of multiple people with many mission trips to Haiti already under their belts. In fact, our team was led by Drex and Jo Stuart, who’ve been coming to Haiti since 1979, spent nine years actually living in there and eventually helped establish The Hands & Feet Project. Drex, at the age of 72 still pastors a church in Illinois. Through an interpreter he delivered the sermon at the Mission of Hope Church that we attended on our first full day in Haiti. The sermon itself was an interesting moment when, Drex pointed out a person in the congregation to stand up and hold their bible up high as an illustration for a point Drex was making in his sermon. Unknowingly, though, the person Drex randomly chose to stand and raise his bible was actually a recent convert to Christianity from Voodoo – the most prominent religious influence in Haiti. This guy wasn’t just your average convert, though. Apparently, just months before, he was one of the most prominent purveyors of Voodoo in the region. Being there to witness the moment, brought about by none of our efforts, but, by God’s providence alone, and for His glory was simply awesome.
Other members of the group had a good amount of background experience in general contracting which proved to be critical in working our way through the list of to-do items that Hands & Feet Project site directors Angie and Andrew had for us to work on. I was in awe of people like my new buddy James who was able to just listen to what the Suttons wanted, envision it and build it. I found myself, at times, just trying to find something I COULD do. For me, there was a lot of holding boards in place while screws were put in, moving wood and bins, tool-fetching, sorting, painting, and, in general, taking direction from the guys who actually knew what they were doing. As a teacher for the past fourteen years, I can state authoritatively that I haven’t worked harder, in terms of manual labor, for so many days in a row, in my adult life. The heaviest thing I ever carry on a routine day might be a stack of quizzes from the photocopier to my classroom. I slept well almost every night that I was there despite the heat because I was simply worn out. I know that, if some of my teammates read this, they’ll chuckle at this admission. I have no misconceptions about the fact that there are manlier guys out there than I am.
By week’s end, though, with all of the to-do list items checked off (plus a few that were added) I knew that what our team accomplished was helpful. The Hands & Feet Project’s vision for the care of orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti is one that is in constant motion. Thozin, the Children’s Village site in Grand Goave where our team worked throughout the week is in the process of transitioning from a campus with temporary wood-structure homes for each house family of 6-8 kids to permanent concrete structures like the Hands & Feet Project’s Jacmel site. Thozin was established when the Hands & Feet Project took in, all at one time, a group of children who’d apparently been mistreated by a less reputable orphanage. So the temporary wooden structures were the most efficient way to go. Now, however, they’re moving on and I know that the work that our team accomplished throughout the week was, at least, helpful in moving the Children’s Village further forward through this transition and I’m thankful for the hard work that my teammates invested to make it happen.
For Part 2 click here.