|Haiti: June 2010|
I was in Haiti this past December. Then on January 12th the earthquake struck, destroying buildings, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving many thousands more homeless. A small team from UCLA went in March, bringing thousands of dollars in donations and doing a lot to help our Haitian family. I didn't go on that trip, but I heard the stories and saw the pictures. There has been some progress with cleanup efforts and a huge amount of aid has poured into Haiti, but you can still see crumbled buildings everywhere and the thousands of tents we saw just on our drive illustrates the extreme need that still exists. [1.5 million people are living in tents and the large majority of those tents will not be able to cope with hurricanes. Hurricane season is coming and is predicted to be bad this year.]
There are a few basic objectives that always exist when we take a trip to Haiti. We aim to minister well in the name of Jesus, seeing both salvations and spiritual growth among believers. We bring as many resources as we can - clothing, food and cash to address needs. And finally, we are determined to let our lives be a blessing by bringing our unique abilities and gifts and by purposefully spending time with and investing in our Haitian family.
Our team this trip was the biggest ever with twenty-one people! On two occasions we actually split into two groups to do multiple church services in an evening. In all we did seven church services as well as a youth service. In addition, on a few different days, we split into groups and went out walking to witness to people and invite them to church.
There were a few situations where God turned miscommunications into blessings. One of the evenings when we split up, both groups experienced this. Pastor Winston's group headed to the mountain church, but when they arrived they discovered that the pastor had thought they were coming a week later. He was very apologetic and sad about the missed opportunity. Instead of just heading back to join the other group at the orphanage church, they went looking to see if there was any other opportunity available. They stopped at a couple of churches we know well, but no one was around. Then they stopped at a new church that was recently started by someone we know. There were a few people there having a Bible study and they were excited to turn it into a full service. Winston and Sara headed opposite directions inviting people and within twenty minutes, service started! The best part is that several new people we had never met decided to come. Meanwhile, the other group at the orphanage church waited. Service was supposed to start around 6pm, but nothing happened until after 7pm. And oddly, David (one of the Haitian boys) led worship, which he never does. Later that night, he told me that he had been gone in the afternoon and when he arrived back home and was eating dinner, he heard a voice tell him to hurry down to the church and to take his song book instead of just his Bible. God had spoken to him and he obeyed quickly, resulting in a blessing for many people (a lot of the time, people come to the church when they hear worship starting instead of at the time service is supposed to start).
The most memorable service of all was at a church we've never been to before located on the opposite side of the valley from the orphanage. Our team piled into a rented bus and made the drive off of the main highway across the valley and up to the church. When we arrived, we were surprised to see a large tent made from tarps up in the yard. There were a couple dozen people around already, but enough seating for a couple hundred. We learned that this was the last night of a weeklong revival. Earlier that afternoon, they had slaughtered a cow and fed a lot of people, so they were expecting a large turnout. Shortly after worship started, the people started coming! Pretty soon all of the seating was taken and people were standing outside of the tent where the light from the three bulbs in the tent faded to darkness. Several of the team members testified and then one of the students, Matt, was scheduled to preach. During the testimonies, the wind started picking up. Off in the distance down the valley, we could see lightning that was heading our direction. The wind intensified and starting whipping the tarps around. A major storm was eminent! When it rains in Haiti, church is cancelled. We had already experienced a couple rain cancellations earlier in the trip, so if it started now, we knew the people would scatter as they rushed to get home. Probably everyone on the team started praying, but my specific prayers were that 1) weather would not hinder what God wanted to accomplish at the service that night and 2) everyone would get home safe. Pastor Winston sent a message to Matt to keep his message short, but even with that, before he had finished his first point completely, it looked like we would be dumped on at any moment. Pastor Winston told Matt to wrap it up quickly, so he mentioned his last two points and quickly presented the gospel and then turned it over to Winston for an altar call. The first altar call was for salvation and hands went up all over the place. The second was to come forward for prayer. Most people came forward and we started praying (quickly). God held off the rain until we were all the way back to the orphanage - truly a miracle based on all the signs we could see!
Haiti was hit with hurricanes a couple years ago and then devastated in January by earthquakes. There is tremendous need and many people in the community look to the ministry at the orphanage for help. Knowing the need, many people in the U.S. (and even Germany) were generous and gave to help our team rebuild and restore. Because of this support, we were able to pay for repairs and even take care of a couple projects that have been on hold for years. Additionally, we gathered and brought supplies, clothes and toys at an unprecedented level (21 suitcases x 50 pounds adds up!). A couple of things really stood out to me at the end of the trip. First was when we brought all of the food into the kitchen and filled up their shelves. Second was when we gathered all of the clothing and shoes into a truly massive pile. These stockpiles won't last forever, but they're a huge blessing and will be used to the maximum possible.
Letting our lives be a blessing
We are always purposeful to spend time with the Haitians. We play games, we take them to the beach, we play soccer, we act silly and basically make our time there fun for them. In the last few years, something else has developed, though. Several team members really make an effort to talk with individual Haitians to get to know who they are, what they struggle with and what their dreams are. Also, some team members have certain practical knowledge and skills that they are either able to apply or teach.
Personally, I know computers and I've been studying business. Last summer we brought David a donated laptop and then in December, we brought him an all-in-one printer so he could start his own printing business. During my last two trips and this one, I've spent a lot of time with David teaching him about using and maintaining a computer and running his business. He's applying this knowledge, gaining clients and turning a profit! It's a small operation right now, but it's a beginning. He's in a learning process for being organized, leading an effort, and more importantly breaking out of a pattern of waiting for a handout that many Haitians are trapped in.
Beyond this one example of changes coming, our team is looking toward the future of the orphanage. We've already built a bakery and chicken coop to help provide food and income. And they already are running a strong church and have been running a school to serve the community. Kimberly, Sara and Uwe took the opportunity on this trip to talk with Poppy, Mommy, and their children Vickie and Marc-Alain about some other projects to help make this ministry self-sustaining and be a greater blessing. These are some big dreams that will take a lot of resources, but nothing is impossible with God!
The future grows from the present
Our Haitian family has been hit hard. They've suffered through a lot. But, their faith is growing stronger, their vision is getting bigger, and their resolve is strengthening. I believe that in the next couple years we're going to see some significant improvements as ideas are implemented, more people take ownership, the older kids lead the way for the younger ones, and more people contribute to the effort. Steps may be small at first, but they are important steps. Momentum will grow. More lives will be blessed, more souls impacted. Children will grow to be men and women of God, equipped and ready to impact the world as they go forward.
One of the team members this trip was Kaiya, Pastor Winston and Kimberly's two-year-old daughter - her first trip. We weren't sure how well she would handle it since it a drastically different environment and a lot of unfamiliar people. Within minutes of our arrival, she was walking hand-in-hand with a few of the young girls who were excited to show her around. There were moments where the attention got to be a little much and she retreated to someone familiar for comfort, but overall she seemed to have a great time.
Also, this was the first time in five years that Kimberly was able to go to Haiti. She's been very much involved in everything that has happened over that time, but it was great for her to actually reconnect with everyone in person and meet all the new kids.
The team: Winston, Kimberly, Kaiya, Sara, Jessica, Uwe, Mitch, Clint, Angela, Brian, Elisha, Tim, Matt, Joy, Jennifer, Alicia, Rachelle, Raul, Phanie, Curtis and Aaron… The veterans continued the work they have been doing. The new people quickly took on their own ministry efforts in Haiti. Everyone contributed.
It was a record-setting team in several ways. We had the most people ever, stayed the longest, had the youngest team member ever, included the most Latinos ever, were rained on more, brought and gave the most, and probably set a standard for many more things I can't think of right now. The most powerful statistic of all, though, is 70 salvations - many of them from the service at the valley church, but others at the youth service and even one while we were out witnessing. That's seventy people who made a decision that alters their eternal destination and enters them into the greatest relationship they could ever choose - one with Jesus. We accomplished much, but it's important to remember that we truly are ordinary people who stepped out in faith to follow an extraordinary God and He deserves all the glory for everything that happened.