The first 24 hours I arrived in Haiti my eyes gazed up the horrors of:
orphans roaming the streets
the apparent lack of sufficient infrastructure
roads that were completely gone
My ears heard the sound of …
cries of pain, agony, and death
screams of hopelessness
the lament of loss
My heart ached for the nation of Haiti and a people in such despair and utter desperation.
These 24 hours were truly eye-opening, revealing, and painful to bear
And the thing about these 24 hours were that they occurred before the earthquake!
On Jan 4, a team of 15 from my church headed down to Port-au-Prince, Haiti for a week of service and ministry. I have traveled to this island for the past 10 years, ever since I spent 3 months there as a missionary during my college years.
We had a truly remarkable and heart-touching week. To read the journal entries of our team members, you can visit the link below
The images, pictures, faces, and eyes of the people spoke and ministered to us.
What I would like to reflect upon was the change inside of me. I write, in truth, more of a personal journal than anything else. Writing helps me sort through my thoughts and emotions and make sense of certain experiences.
So…here we go.
24 hours before our flight left from JFK, I was enveloped in another world.
I was still in the post-Christmas phase of taking down decorations and sorting through my gifts. I was trying to figure out where and when to spend my gift cards.
I was actually stressing that I would not get a chance to see Avatar before I had to leave for Haiti.
I was upset that my car did not get washed.
I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to watch my Patriots in the playoffs that weekend. (although as it turned out I was glad I didn’t watch!)
I was cranking up my writing and was excited for some great upcoming speaking and writing opportunities available to me. They could become my defining moments and help secure my identity as one of those youth min “guys”.
And, to be 100% truthful, I was going to miss watching TV.
You see, my wife and I just started getting into the show Lost, and had spent the last few days watching the first two seasons. Too bad we were not watching the show 24, because that title would really fit in well with my theme.
Anyways, these were the thoughts that consumed me before departure, and I was already making plans for my return that included trips to the mall, the movies, and of course heavy dosages of Lost.
24 hours later those things seemed completely irrelevant.
Even though I was watching and conversing about Lost during the entire flight to Port au Prince, something hit me upon arrival. Once we left the plane and walked across the sunny and hot runway towards the masses of Haitians at the airport, I quickly found myself back in another world. (I suppose the Avatar concept could apply here).
But, what I discovered was that though the environment changed, I changed also.
All of a sudden, Lost didn’t seem to matter.
What I was wearing had absolutely no significance.
Sports seemed a bit trivial to me when people around me had no clothes or food.
And for a place that had no electricity, let alone movies theaters, the need to see Avatar disappeared
All throughout the week, our team served those living in the poorest of the poor villages, garbage dumps, and orphanages.
Tom Osbeck, a missionary and founded of Jesus in Haiti Ministries Jesus in Haiti told us on day one that “In Haiti, God has a way of taking your heart, breaking it into a thousand pieces, then giving back to you and asking what you will do with it.”
That is exactly what God did in our hearts while in Haiti.
As I did training with Tom’s leadership team, preached a sermon at a packed church on Sunday, helped lead a village youth group, and simply walked through the dirt paths meandering through the dusty villages with young Haitians attached to me, I began to realize just how unimportant I really am.
What made me important in Haiti was simply my obedience to God and willingness to love with abandon the people of Haiti.
My theological degrees did not matter.
My complex thoughts about youth ministry is a postmodern age did not matter.
My future speaking and teaching engagements did not matter.
This blog did not matter.
And you know what? It was such a freeing experience. I had put too much stock on what others thought. I had found value in what I perceived were my contributions to the world of ministry.
My real value was found in Haiti in the smile of an orphan when I threw him up in the air.
My real value was discovered sitting down next to a starving girl as she eat her only meal of the day with her hands
My real value was revealed to me simply as my identity in Christ, as a son and as a servant.
Now, this service does include, first, my wife and also my family, my church, my students, etc…
For being my 8th time in Haiti, this experience seemed as profound as my first encounter. Perhaps God was teaching me valuable lessons in preparation for something.
Perhaps Haiti speaks to me in powerful ways unlike back home.
Or perhaps I become more available, open, and sensitive to God’s Spirit without the common distractions of busyness, ambition, selfishness that I easily succumb to.
By the end of the week, our team pledged to raise money to help build some orphanages and a sports complex. Our prayer was to restore hope in Haiti and see lives transformed by the love of Christ.
We met Monday, Jan 11 in the airport to discuss the next steps and a sense of excitement and urgency was in the air.
Our flight was delayed and we took off about at 5:00 PM from Port-au-Prince airport.
24 hours later everything changed.
Within the first day back my excitement level was through the roof as I eagerly anticipated the beginning of our vision unfolding.
5:00 PM on that Tuesday, a massive earthquake shook Haiti to the core.
Our team had an emergency meeting. We embraced each other, prayed, and cried for the country and people we loved. Fortunately we received word that our friends and family down there were all safe, but still are hearts were not.
I was able to secure a flight down to Santo Domingo the next day and spent the week working with Air Calvary Air Calvary- aviation rescue and relief
helping organize and coordinate helicopter flights to and from Haiti for relief workers and missionaries.
This time, Haiti was even worse off. The problems that existed just a few days earlier were all magnified on a scale like never before. What was already a desperate situation now seemed like utter hopelessness.
However, even in the midst of tragedy, good can and will come forth. Within 24 hours of the earthquake, the entire world was watching Haiti. All eyes and hearts were now centered on this one small country. Prayers were offered, aid and money given, and people’s lives forever changed.
It has been just over 2 weeks since the earthquake hit Haiti, and although the situation is still dire and over 200,000 lives will be lost, Hope for Haiti is in the air. The people are turning to God like never before, and finally the world has taken notice of Haiti and addressing its foundational issues and problems. My prayer is that attention will remain long after the news crews depart.
I am now back home, although my heart remains on that small piece of land in the Caribbean.
I am in a difficult time of transitioning back to this world and reality and trying to discern what to do next.
Youth group goes on, budgets and annual reports have to be written and reviewed. I have youth events and retreats to plan and yes and some more writing to do.
And if you are wondering, my wife and I started watching Lost season 3, but it has less appeal.
My speaking and teaching engagements…..do not carry nearly as much weight or clout as before.
Everything was put into perspective for me 24 hours in Haiti.
Lord, may I live with that same perspective and passion.
Lord, may I see with the same eyes, hear you with the same hears, and may my heart be as wide open, tender, and broken here as it was in Haiti. Merci Jezi!