All summer long, we’ve been telling our work teams on their last night in Haiti that when they go home, they need to have a 3 minute speech prepared to tell when people ask, “How was Haiti?” I’ve put that off because I had all summer. But now I’m home, and people are asking, and I’m struggling with my answer. I have so many thoughts, saw God in so many (every) ways, learned so much, and was stretched beyond what I ever thought. So many thoughts but few words to express them (or more words than necessary to try and describe what’s going on in my head =). Here’s my attempt:
- There is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is based on our circumstances, but joy comes from the Lord and is renewed each morning. Life after the earthquake for the people of Haiti did not bring happiness. Each day is still a struggle for most everyone. To say that there is great need in Haiti is an understatement. The people there are hungry, need a safe place to live, healthcare, and education. Life is burdensome, onerous, and unyielding. But this is not the end of the story! Despite these things that are true, for basically everyone, the people that know Jesus have so much joy and put me to shame with my lack of joy. They find their joy and their strength in the Lord each day. With every right to complain, they don’t; they praise. Gaston, one of the masons who can work endless hours nonstop mixing concrete recites over 40 verses and passages from scripture by memory. Madame Therese who lost her sister a few weeks ago to malaria continues to dance and sing for the Lord with joy radiating on her face and cares for numerous people in her house beyond her family. The little kids from Jeanty church sing in church from the bottom of their hearts at the top of their lungs, eyes closed, hands raised to the heavens, all praise to Jesus. The adults from the church meet five days a week at 4:30 in the morning to pray, study and memorize scripture, and sing for over an hour. The teens meet at 5:30 in the morning on their own to pray and sing.
Joy does not come from circumstances. It comes from the Lord. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.” Psalms 86:3
- You can’t save everyone. This was a hard lesson, especially as I did therapy. You can’t come to Haiti and not be overwhelmed by the need and devastation. It would be so easy to walk away from it feeling hopeless because even if you could do something, it wouldn’t even seem to make a dent in the problems. But I heard a story this summer that stuck with me and showed me the approach we [I] need to have (in Haiti and everywhere). There was a grandfather who saw his grandson off in the distance along the beach throwing starfish who had been brought on the shore by the tide back in the water to try and save them. The grandfather went to his grandson and told him he might as well quit because he could walk forever along the shore throwing starfish back in the ocean and he’d never save them all. The grandson picked up another starfish and said, “But to this one, it does matter because his life has been saved,” and he threw it back in the ocean.
I wanted to save everyone, but I couldn’t. But God didn’t send me to Haiti to save everyone. He just wanted me to love the people he put in my path every day because to that one person, I could make a difference and touch a life.
- We’re really the same. Every other time I’ve gone to Haiti, I’ve been hesitant to do certain things because I realized I was the foreigner and felt the need to just watch, observe, and learn from them. I did not want to impose my American ways on them or offend them because of my cultural ignorance. However, after being there three months this time, I began to feel a part of the community. I saw the cultural differences, but those seemed to be just that- cultural. At the heart of most things, we really are more similar than different. One way I saw this was in the example of beauty. The beginning of the summer, I had my hair braided by some girlfriends of mine. When they were done, I had twelve random braids sticking ridiculously out of my head. But, oh, it was so beautiful they told me. I wasn’t sure I saw that beauty. Cultural difference: what they think is pretty in Haiti isn’t necessarily pretty in the U.S. and visa versa. However, in my last weeks in Haiti, I had the opportunity to meet with my group of teenage girls. As we talked, I learned that girls everywhere desire the same thing- to feel beautiful and know they are loved. This is not cultural; this is the way God made us.
To my dearest family and friends in Haiti and at Lifeline: I love and miss you so much. I’m realizing more and more that home is not where four walls meet and a bed lies within those walls. Home is where the people you love are. The U.S. is my home because I have many people I love here. But Haiti, you are my home too. Thank you for welcoming me in as one of your own. I cannot wait for the day when the Lord presents me with the opportunity to return to you. Until then, know you are constantly on my heart and mind and in my prayers.