Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Left My Heart In Haiti

When I say I left my heart in Haiti, I really did. It's funny how one small thing can change your life forever. That was what it was like for me on our last day in Haiti. We were supposed to go to one more orphanage on our way to the airport. Traveling through Port-au-Prince, however, we hit lots of standstill traffic. I can admit that I was tired and my energy level was pretty low. I remember thinking....if we don't have time to go to the last orphanage than that is okay with me.

I sit here now thinking about the wonderful opportunity I would have missed out on simply by being tired. From the moment I stepped off the bus, this little girl grabbed my hand and stood hugging me. I discovered quickly that regardless
the language barrier, you could determine pretty quickly the personality of the children. Most of them were excited, full of energy, funny, TROUBLE =), kind. This little girl had such a sweet heart. She was so loving, calm, and patient when other kids were playing a little more eagerly. I remember finding a rock and trying to play tic tac toe with her on the ground. She told me in Creole that she would be right back. When she came back a skit had begun so she sat down beside me, and again, held my hand. I started trying to draw with the rock again and then she showed me that she had gone to get chalk. I remember thinking how precious she was that she waited so patiently for me to be ready to play (it was not always like this with the other children...lol). I fought back tears the entire time I was with her thinking, "How am I going to leave you here?"

I waited all week wondering if there was one child I would instantly bond to. I never dreamed that on my last day I would make such a connection. Her name is Jodelynn and she is 9 years old. Her clothes were dirty, she is lucky to get two meals a day, and she may not always have a bed to sleep on......but she GLOWED in my eyes! I am so thankful that the Lord allowed me to meet this little girl. She is written on my heart and I continue to think and pray for her every day!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mighty to Save

Of all the things I can say about Haiti, nothing comes close to the heart of the children. Their eyes gleamed of INNOCENCE, HOPE, and PURE JOY.
I would say that most of our time was spent with children, whether it was at the work site or the orphanage. The labor work of the trip was spent building a school/church. You can see that right now they are studying each day under a tent....a loud (open classrooms side by side), distracting (from the workers), dirty, hot tent. I think back to my years of teaching and wonder what my professors would say about the ability to retain information in this type of setting. When the children would have a break during school, we would get the opportunity to play with them. I have mentioned that language is, obviously, a barrier, but it is amazing how quickly those walls are taken down in things as simple as a smile, a high five, a fist bump, a hug. They loved our presence among them and pulled us immediately into hand slap games, jump rope, soccer, and more.

I really enjoyed going to the orphanages as well. The main one we went to was only minutes away from our "home." Sister Mona ran it very well. The kids seemed very happy, almost like a family, and while I feel like they loved having us there to play, I never felt like one of them was ready to go home with us! =) I tend to be more naturally drawn to younger children because it is usually anything goes, easy to please. With older children, the language barrier and shyness made it a little bit more of an effort to connect, or so I believed. I quickly realized that this was a "me" problem and that the older ones wanted just as much attention and love as the little children. So this is where I rediscovered my jump roping skilz....which, admittedly, are nothing to write home about! When my "Around the World" skilz failed me in basketball, jump roping was the next best thing....and a good way for me to laugh, smile, and have fun with some of the older girls at the orphanage.
The last orphanage that we went to on our way to the airport really tugged at my heartstrings. The conditions were not the same. The children's clothes were dirty, there were not enough beds for all of them, some don't even have mattresses, they only get two meals a day. Yet, we pull up in our bus and they are singing to us, "Today is the day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it." HUMBLED. We couldn't get off the bus fast enough to those children. They were grabbing us left and right, hugging us, holding our hands....and it continued that way until the moment we left. Love!

If I have learned anything on this trip it is about love. Love knows NO COLOR. Love knows NO LANGUAGE. Love knows NO LIMITS. For so long I have lived in the bubble of thinking I don't have much to give or ways to help others....when all they really needed....was to be loved. They didn't care what they were wearing, if they had socks, even underwear, or a bed to sleep on. They didn't care that their jump ropes were falling apart, that their basketball goal had no net, or that their checkerboard pieces were bottle caps. The only thing these children wanted was to be "wanted." They are the living, breathing, tangible proof that God really is MIGHTY TO SAVE!!! He is saving....every day in Haiti He is saving....in the INNOCENCE, HOPE, and PURE JOY of the children!!!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Too Close for Comfort

Don't let these smiling, happy faces fool you! While we were both smiling and happy, it was one of relief rather than excitement! We planned for Cholera. We planned for Malaria. We planned for Typhoid. We planned for Hepatitis A and B. We planned for stomach issues, what clothes to pack, making sure we had plenty of germX. But there are just some things you cannot plan for!

It just wouldn't be fitting to talk about Haiti and all the wonderful things we've witnessed without giving a shout out to our near death experience....or maybe I should say "surviving" our near death experience.We traveled by school bus everywhere.
On Sunday, we went up a very muddy, rocky road to get to the church on the mountain. I was actually taking a picture, blurry as it may be, of all of the trash that was just piled and piled over this cliff. I had no idea that within minutes it could have been the site our potential death! Ok, that may be a little exaggerated, but it was too close for comfort! As the bus went around this curve/cliff, it was not able to make it up the hill. We went up and down it a few times, before David yelled for us all to get to the back of the bus to give more traction to the back wheels. It wasn't long after that the bus driver yells for us to get to the left side of the bus. The tires were spinning and sinking in the mud, causing it to push the back end of the bus out towards the cliff. I wish I had taken a better picture later on just to show the straight down drop off. The entire time this was going on I kept thinking..."I'm going to just open the back door and jump off of this thing." So the joke has sort of become that Laura had this escape plan brewing the entire time, but failed to let anyone else in on it!
We did finally make it, thankfully, and had a wonderful church service. When we got to the top, however, and the bus driver himself told us that he had been scared too.....well, that was enough of a reason for me to simply walk back down the mountain! So we did!

Worship: Together Is Better!

Our first full day in Haiti was Sunday. The compound where we were staying was a part of a big church with many members. We were not able to attend the entire church service, as they are usually 2-3 hours long in Haiti, however we did get to experience a small piece of it. I have witnessed poverty before, but never in such extremities. It's everywhere, all encompassing....but in the midst of it is a sense of pride that I have never seen. The Haitians have an appreciation, not only for church, but for coming and worshiping God that is rare.
I watched as hundreds of men, women, and children came to church dressed in their Sunday best. All of the men were in suits, and no matter the heat, they did not remove their coats. The women were all in fancy dresses as well as the children. From the outside looking in, you would not know they were in such meager conditions. What impacted me the most, however, was gazing out of our bedroom window (remember....the open air rooms=) ) and watching the people below walking to church. Just outside we saw all of the men and women paying what little they had to get their shoes shined for church. Some were even carrying their own chairs for the service. The lengths and depths that these people go to for a Sunday service were amazing....HUMBLING. They bring their very best to the Lord each week.

One of my favorite parts of the service was singing the hymns. As the Haitians sang "It Is Well" in Creole, I was able to sing along with them in English. They were so captivating to watch because when they sang, you could literally see their hearts pouring out. They were raising their hands, eyes closed, praising the Lord! PRAISING THE LORD! I looked around at our surroundings, the depth of poverty, and wondered what kind of faith it would take to thank and praise the Lord for circumstances such as theirs. This is the FIRST moment of the trip where I actually "got it." When I looked at them my heart asked "How can you praise the Lord?" When they looked at me their's responded, "How can we not?"
We were taken by bus up a mountain to a smaller church. It was very similar to the larger one. It was a really neat experience because while we were there to see them, learn from them, experience their culture, they treated us like honored guests. You could tell that they seemed very happy to have us and tried really hard to make sure everything went smoothly. Even the children sat through the entire service (2-3 hours) and acted perfectly. We were able to take communion with them, hear their choir perform for the first time, and even got to sing to them. What touched me the most was when we sang "All In All." We sang our song to them in English, and impromptu, they sang it back to us in Creole. It is definitely one thing to "witness" the worship gatherings, but we were able to sit and worship right along side of them. It was a wonderful opportunity I will not forget. As Fellowship always says, "Together is better!"

After church we were greeted by all the children and adults alike. Language is always a barrier, but it was broken quickly by hugs, smiles, and fist bumps!!! Church really made an impression on me and really allowed me to focus back on my own life. How do I prepare for church each week? What do I bring to God's table when I come? But not only that....what do I go home to when it is over? As I sat in the small church on the mountain, I often gazed out the open door and windows to the homes that lined the hillside. I began to wonder what a typical Sunday afternoon was like to these church members. Do they get to nap? Do they have a bed? Where do they hang/keep their nice clothes? How do they get them so clean? (Everywhere you look you saw clothes line drying.) Where do they even buy clothes? (I haven't seen anything that even looks like a store.) It made me think about my lazy Sundays: how I love going to worship, going out to eat, coming home and putting the kids down for a nap (in their own big, separate bedrooms), and crawling in my big, comfortable bed and relaxing. Again.....HUMBLED!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Holy Humidity

Humbled is a word that is going to be making its appearance in EVERY one of my blog posts, but I'm not going to pretend that fell short of appearances! I....yes me....was the one who actually brought a hair dryer on this trip! Well ladies...it was a cruel joke. The humidity was so bad that drying actually made it worse! And makeup, well, other than a little around the eyes, the rest of it just made my face "gleam" with sweat even more! So....natural was my best look down in Haiti. Yes....I can shamefully admit that it took me a day or two to come to terms with this fact.....but again, I was humbled! God didn't stop short of breaking me of all of my dependencies in Haiti....and I couldn't be more thankful for that! Oh...and hats! I was thankful for hats!!!!

Haiti: First Impressions

Wow. As I mentioned this on our Watson Warriors blog, it is almost amusing reading my "pre-trip" posts. I honesty just had no idea. God did provide an opportunity...a huge one.....but I think it changed me more than I ever could have imagined. So much encompassed this trip that it is simply too difficult to summarize all that I experienced in one sitting. So, I will probably be blogging a lot this week trying to share the different aspects of our trip. Stay Tuned!!!

Haiti....First Impressions

I remember the thoughts going through my head when we began flying into Haiti. Even from the plane you could see the poverished state of this country: dirty water flowing into the oceans, small cement huts, tents, trash. It in itself began to stir the emotion of fear before ever getting off the plane.
The airport did not settle that feeling. When we got off the plane we were taken by bus to what can only be described as a warehouse (aka Customs). It was definitely unlike anything I had ever experienced...even when we went to Jamaica it felt more official. Our fearless leader, Chad, trusted a nice man and assertively led the way to our bus. We all got comfortable very quickly (packed in!!!). Chad even gave the man a small fortune for his generosity! =)

No picture can adequately describe the conditions of this country. I "knew" we were going to see some hard things, but was reminded very quickly that no matter how prepared you are....you are never really prepared. The overall dirtiness of the country is definitely what struck me first. Trash.....everywhere. Piles and piles and piles!!! Dusty dirty streets. The smell. Animals (goats, pigs, chickens, dogs) walking around. And even amongst all of these things, they sold their produce on the roads. I can understand why the warnings to "not eat anything that you cannot peel" were very enforced. Water was also commonly on the street. You would see the women selling their produce on the road holding brooms, continually pushing the trash that would wash down with the water away from their area. Upon the drive into Haiti, the tent cities and homes were hard to witness. I stared and stared and still could not grasp how people lived in them. Of course, I felt this way about the actual concrete homes as well. Where did sleep? Where did they put their clothes? Where did they prepare their food? Just the "basics" of food, clothing, and shelter were not basics to these people....but delicacies. I soon learned where they used the restroom.....simply on the ground, or if they were lucky....in what we would call a port-a-potty. One group told us of a home they worked in having this type of toilet, except they kept a plastic bowl in it for their (as we say in our home) poo poos. =) This way they could go throw it out and it wouldn't go down into their septic and make the house stink. Can you even imagine this? Only the really well off had actual working toilets/sewage system. If I'm being fair, even the nicest restrooms we used were some that we would hold our noses and not touch anything. This was a huge reality check. Something I have NEVER thought to be thankful for before.....a toilet! Humbled!!!!

I was surprised that our "home" for the week really wasn't that far outside of the city. I still felt like we were right in the middle of everything I mentioned above. Our compound was very nice. It is a church/school building. We stayed on the third floor with cement floors, open air rooms, one toilet for all the girls, and dripping, cold showers. As the days passed, I could not have been more thankful for our facilities. They really were nice and comfortable.....and it definitely became our safe haven, our home. There was one morning I woke up listening to the rain. As I thought to myself how peaceful it was, I was quickly reminded of all the tent homes I had seen, and how the rain was probably anything but peaceful to them. In that moment I thanked God for the cement floor, cement block walls, and roof over my head, realizing that even at our worst here in Haiti, it was still far better than most. Humbled!!!!
To be honest, my first impressions of Haiti were pretty spot on. It is dirty...filthy in fact. The housing, roads, and places of business are not only inadequate but life-threatening. But that is only a small piece of what the country of Haiti contains. It is an "outside" view. Spending a week amongst it I saw kind spirits, hopeful hearts, unfathomable faith. I saw joy and innocence pouring out of children in even the most desperate circumstances. I saw people who thrive when the world says they shouldn't be. I witnessed generosity and thankfulness in a way I have never given or received. I am so blessed that for one week I got to be on the "inside"....and that I got to take this journey with my amazing new friends in the picture above. Humbled!!!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An Opportunity

Over the past few months, I have prayed many prayers.....for "time" with God, for solitude, for perspective on what really matters in life, for finding who God made me to really be, for daily strength, for help, for ways to reach out to others, for friendships, for my faith to grow. In so many ways I keep turning my eyes to God and waiting for Him to "zap" me with all of these things. Wouldn't it be nice if it was just that simple? But what I am realizing is that God has and is still answering my prayers....by giving me an opportunity. With MUCH hesitation and MUCH resistance, God has provided the fuel, the funds, and the fellowship to take me to Haiti. I leave in a few short days for an adventure I have never dared to take. My heart is as excited as it is nervous.
Excited for the risk.....having to rely on complete faith that everything will go smoothy.
Excited about spending a week totally and completely free of the trivial things of this world.
Excited about getting to just love on other people.
Excited about getting to spend time with God, and getting the opportunity to see the world as He sees it daily.
Excited about growing relationships among friends.
Excited about getting to know the high school girls....to be a listening ear, an encourager, and a friend.
Excited about where God will take me. I am not going on this trip to change the world. I am going on this trip to change mine.
Nervous about flying....I don't like to fly.
Nervous about getting sick.....it tends to always find me.
Nervous about my kids back home....that they are healthy and safe and don't cause themselves any bodily harm while I'm gone.
Nervous about the lack of communication during the week.
The great thing about opportunities is that they are endless. When we pass on one, another will soon follow. But the question is.....what are we missing with every chance untaken? So as I walk blindly into the next week, I go ready and willing to be taught, grown, even changed. I am so thankful for this given "opportunity," but also for having the courage to seize it!

Good Songs....

Two songs that have been stuck in my head......good lines!

"You lift me up when I am weak
Your arms wrap around me
Your love catches me.....so I’m letting go.
You lift me up when I can’t see
Your heart is all that I need
Your love carries me....so I’m letting go."

~"Lift Me Up" The Afters

"I am the thorn in your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas' kiss
But You love me anyway
See now I am the man who yelled out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then I turned away with a smile on my face
With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night I still call out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life."

~"Love Me Anyway" Sidewalk Prophets