Our fourth Haiti trip team returned the last week of June, and it included a good friend of mine on his first globalX trip. I asked him to share about his experiences. Check them out below and experience Haiti with him. Thanks Walter for sharing so well some of the cool stuff that happened with your team and the people of Haiti. And thanks for being open to this opportunity to GO when it presented itself just a few short months ago.
This was my first mission trip, and I was blessed to be part of a team that had many members who have served on mission trips before. The team bonded strongly throughout the week, sharing in meaningful and daily prayer and devotionals, singing worship music, and taking communion together.
After reading the blogs from prior teams’ trips to Haiti, we experienced many of the same things as them: the shock of experiencing abject poverty, the intense heat and humidity, the adjustment to not having the personal conveniences we take for granted every day, the complete destruction of mile after mile after mile of building, roads, homes, and businesses – to drive for over an hour at a time, and witness the same level of destruction as when you began the journey. That first taste of goat meat. Armed guards with shotguns at the doorways of city businesses, streets jammed with cars, few stoplights, few road signs, and few road markings. Diligent and proud roosters who faithfully serenaded the Haitian mountainside every morning at 4:45am. The specialness of the Haitian people.
Our work activities were similar to the other groups, and therefore, I will be brief in describing those here, but will focus on providing detail regarding the unique experiences our team had while performing the tasks. We helped on two construction sites building homes for widows, helped make burlap sacks, and tended to children in the orphanage. The men served largely on the construction site all four work days, clearing sites for building homes and moving the materials needed to build homes. The men were able to make a few enjoyable trips to the orphanage after finishing the days’ construction work to play with the children.
The ladies’ work, however, requires special mention and recognition. They served across all three work areas over the length of our stay. Their contribution on work day 1, however, was immeasurable. Because work day 1 was on a Saturday, the bag making operation was closed. The women assigned to make bags that day served instead on the construction site with the men in the fierce heat and humidity. To say they just served, however, would be a dramatic understatement of fact. They worked with vigor, stamina, and with a servant’s heart that inspired all of the men in the group. Work day 1 was the hottest of the 4 work days, with the heat index roughly at 115 degrees. The women hung tough all day. Was it irony or divine intervention that the most arduous day for the men working construction, that the bag making operation was closed and the men were aided on the site by these “wonder women”? The men believed the latter.
Our team leaders brought us together for several very helpful informative meetings prior to the trip. The conditions discussed in those meetings did an excellent job preparing us for the week. I think some of us really struggled with figuring out how to get a week’s worth of clothes, lunches, and personals into one carry-on size backpack. Somehow we managed, but the above seat baggage areas were bulging after the backpack “stowing” occurred. We were all thankful for no turbulence on the flights!
Traveling during the FIFA World Cup was an amazing experience. While the purpose of our mission was certainly not soccer, one cannot travel to a foreign country during the World Cup and not experience soccer during the mission. We had two noteworthy experiences …
Whether traveling in the Atlanta and Miami airports, or traveling in the country of Haiti, there was an unmistakable site of people huddled around TVs, cheering for their country, or for one of their favorite teams. We exited the plane with time to view the last 25 minutes of the US/Slovakia match in the Miami airport. As the US came from behind to tie the game, the passion and intensity grew. Then, for an intense, manic, magic couple of moments there elicited screams of “Goaaaal,” “USA,” and thunderous applause up and down the length of the terminal. The screams died out quickly as the sound of disappointment echoed as word passed down the concourse that the US game–winning goal had been negated. The end result was a tie for the US team against a marginal opponent. Another soccer experience awaited us in Haiti.
Just before our plane landed in Haiti, we were greeted with a beautiful rainbow. We interpreted it as a sign of hope, a sign of welcome, a sign of something special to come.
We were surprised at how small the Port au Prince airport was, how old and worn it was, yet it was still functional, serving its’ purpose. This was an important lesson for the week in Haiti, be thankful for anything still functional and serving its’ purpose. Most things there, understandably, were not.
As we stepped off the plane onto the tarmac, one could not help but experience sensory overload. Despite being late in the afternoon, the heat and humidity was intense. The distinct, yet difficult to describe, smell of uncleanliness was overpowering. Our ears rang with the sound of loud honking of horns from vehicles in “rush hour” traffic in front of the airport. A 5-piece band wearing Wyclef Jean shirts played a bluesy-zydeco song for the arriving guests. Habit had us reaching into our pockets for change to throw in their tip container, when we realized we almost broke a “no-giving” rule for the trip and we had only been off the plane for one minute! Could we possibly make it six more days?
We took the 80-minute drive from the airport to Dr. Barnard’s impressive guesthouse, in complete awe of the breadth and depth of the devastation. For the most part, our waves, thumbs-up gestures, and verbal encouragements were well received by those on the street, and returned in kind. We were careful not to be insensitive and photograph in a disrespectful manner throughout the trip.
Jumping a bit forward to Wednesday, also known as work day #4, we arrived at our worksite and saw just down the road from us, the distinct, familiar site of people huddled around a TV. As a few of us walked up, we saw that they were watching the US/Algeria World Cup match. We could tell upon our arrival that the local sentiment seemed to be for Algeria. There was about 10 minutes left in regulation time, and the US was in a 0-0 tie. The US needed to defeat Algeria to advance to the next round. The local Haitians watched members of our team frantically cheering for the US to score one goal at the end to win the game.
But the US missed chance after chance. Groans from our team emerged. Then something began to change. Perhaps it was appreciation for the passion with which we supported our country. Perhaps it was seeing Americans eagerly standing next to their Haitian hosts enjoying the game with them. Perhaps it was the realization that Americans were there in Haiti working side by side with them rebuilding homes, helping make bags for sale, and playing with the native children. Perhaps it was connection that all of the US AID tents with “From the American People” on them, were contributed from the country these visitors were cheering for.
But as the game clock drew closer to the end, the local Haitians began to cheer for the US and shout encouragement and support in English, French, and Creole. Then magic struck, the US scored! A celebration erupted that certainly rang loud and clear throughout the village. “Goaaal” and “USA” chants began. Maybe even a “Do you believe in miracles” comment (me)? It was just like in the US airports. Only this time, it was Haitians and Americans celebrating together, doing high-fives, chest bumps, random dancing. Is it possible that Babel might have been a little like this?
It is cliché – that sports can transcend politics and ethnicity, but we experienced it. It is unlikely that a Haitian who witnessed our team walking across the street after the celebration with them, donning our work gloves and helping rebuild their homes, could believe anything other than that Americans deeply care about the Haitian people.
The other area that is cliché is that music transcends politics and ethnicity, but we witnessed that as well. On the afternoon of our first day at the construction sites, we broke for lunch and returned to our parking spot just outside the village, hoping to find shade and relief from the aforementioned 115+ degree heat index. The road our bus parked on outside the village was a road where children walked to get to school. We greeted the children, spoke some English, and even spoke a little French. The children were very charming and welcoming, dressed to the nines in their very impressive school uniforms, and they were extremely interested in the music coming out of our bus while we ate lunch. Several of the team members and children then began dancing. One of the men on our team had an idea, and said he would be right back.
Within another minute or two, he and several team members returned with concrete blocks, the kind we had been stacking all week. They were used again for building, although not for a physical structure this time, but rather, to build relationships. The most delightful game of “musical chairs” broke out with cement blocks being used as chairs. The bus radio was DJ’d by our interpreter to stop the music as the race for open “chairs” began. When in Rome, do as the Romans, and when in Haiti, well, you make do with what you can!
It didn’t appear the children needed any coaching on the rules for musical chairs. They took to the game immediately, and with gusto. And they are competitive. As the number of cement blocks dwindled, a few of our team members needed to be reminded in a friendly manner to let the kids win. And the children won, several times in fact, but we all won through this wonderful experience.
Music helped transcend politics and ethnicity that afternoon. A cement block was used for a secondary purpose that day: to cement not structures, but relationships. One of our team’s takeaways was that while we all have a primary ministry and gifts we can serve with, we should not overlook the secondary purposes where we can add value. If a concrete block can serve multiple purposes, imagine what we can do armed with God’s gifts? Much like the rainbow we saw coming into Haiti, perhaps we left Haiti with something as well – with a better understanding of the many colors, or gifts, we each individually possess that we can serve God’s will with back at home.
We came away recognizing that there is no quick fix to Haiti’s problems, no magic pill, no easy solution.
But our team left with the knowledge that God was present in Haiti, as demonstrated by the faith, hope, and love we experienced among the Haitian people in the toughest of conditions. We learned a lot about ourselves as well, seeing these three fundamental things practiced amidst our team during the week.
Andy Stanley once suggested that we should always “Pray Big” in life. Haiti definitely needs each one of us to “Pray Big” for them into the future.