“Haiti? You want to go to Haiti?? What do you know about Haiti? Let me tell you know what I know about Haiti: Haiti is cursed. It is by far the poorest country in the entire western hemisphere. Google ‘The most dangerous countries in the world’ and Haiti will be in the top 10 of every list. They haven’t had a stable government in decades. Wyclef Jean is running for President. Yes, THAT Wyclef! There’s a cholera epidemic killing thousands of people, not to mention malaria, typhoid, and AIDS. The overwhelming level of desperation has resulted in uncontrollable violence, corruption, and lawlessness. Aid workers have been killed, assaulted, and kidnapped for ransom. Things can’t get any worse than that, right? Let’s throw a massive earthquake into an already horrible situation; one that kills over 250,000 people! Honey, that country is cursed! If you gave me a list of every country in the western hemisphere to do a mission trip, Haiti would be the last one by a mile. Pick another country…ANY COUNTRY and I am on board. I’d even take Columbia! Haitian’s practice Voodoo! Have you heard of Haitian Zombies? They have ZOMBIES!”
This was my rebuttal when my wife, Kristen, first presented the idea of going to Haiti. We shared a growing desire to do a mission trip but the only question was where and when. She told me about People for Haiti and the numerous trips her friend Tammy had taken (and survived) with the group in an effort to ease my mind, but it wasn’t enough to convince me. I held my fingers far too steadily on the pulse of world news and current events to be swayed on this decision. If she only knew what I knew; if she simply understood that the risk far outweighed the reward, then she’d see where I was coming from. At that moment Kristen personified the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss.”Every effort to dissuade my wife was met with an impenetrable defiance. Her passion and persistence were unwavering. No amount of begging, pleading, compromise, logic, or scare tactics made a difference. It was a lost cause…her heart was set on Haiti.
All I could do now was pray. I prayed for guidance, direction, insight, anything to help provide clarity to this increasingly stressful situation. As I prayed I was overcome with an indescribable feeling of peace. It was going to be OK. While my mind couldn’t rationalize the concept, my soul told my mind to take a back seat, assuring me that we were in good hands. The stress, anxiety, and fear were washed away for that one brief moment. I opened my eyes and quickly sent Kristen a text asking if she thought she’d be able to raise enough money for two people. With those words (and her ensuing recovery after passing out from shock) we were Haiti bound.
In the months leading up to our departure I began doing my homework. I wanted to be as prepared as possible for this journey. I wanted to know what to expect, what to prepare for, the history, the culture, the language, and the risks. I went so far as to scour the landscape of Haiti on Google Earth to get an aerial perspective of what we were getting ourselves into.
My first lesson of the trip: Read all the books you want, watch every news channel, visit every web site on the internet; memorize it, live it, breathe it…NONE OF IT will prepare you for what you will experience once you step foot in Haiti. You have a better chance finding out what a homemade apple pie tastes like by cutting a picture of one out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine and shoving it in your mouth.
Take your perceptions, your perspectives, what you think you know, what you’ve learned, what you’ve seen in a book, on a TV screen, on a monitor…crumble them all up into a ball and toss them away.
In the 2 days I had between our return from Haiti and my first day back to work I pondered the inevitable question I knew I would be asked repeatedly, “How was your trip?” In nearly every other “vacation” circumstance my reply would have been immediate and fairly textbook with generic responses like “Great!”, “Relaxing!”, and “Seriously, thanks for posting bail, I owe ya one.” However, this was no ordinary trip and the adjectives that usually flow easily off the tongue were now lost. For 2 days I tried to craft a response to this question. I was stumped. It is impossible to justifiably convey this experience in a few short words. Every conceivable emotion at one time or another was experienced on this trip. Take any one of them singularly and it would have defined any other ordinary trip. For a man who typically has no problem crafting words to paint a picture of an event or experience, I was simply left speechless.
As I now look back on our experience, the lessons I have learned and the perspective I have gained will endure with me forever…
- I learned the value of following your heart. Give your mind too much authority and it will cast a shadow so big your heart will walk in darkness. Kristen wasn’t living in blissful ignorance; she was being lead by her heart. My “worldly knowledge” produced anxiety, fear, and doubt, in an effort to push me away from one of the most impactful experiences of my life.
- I learned our comfort zones are nothing more than road blocks. The places people would never step foot in; the ones that produce the most fear; the most destitute and desperate; the places that destroy the boundaries of your “comfort zone”; these are the places we are needed most. We are presented with opportunities like Haiti because, in ways we may not recognize or acknowledge, we are ready. It’s not about “us”, “our” fears, “our” apprehensions, “our” comfort…it’s about helping others at the sacrifice of one’s self.
- I learned to never again underestimate the power of a smile. More times than I can count, a simple genuine smile turned the most hardened, stern, weary face into a momentary glimmer of light.
- I learned the true meaning of strength and resilience. The people of Haiti possess an enduring strength we simply cannot fathom. Haitian children are the bravest and strongest I have ever witnessed. If they don’t move you to tears, you’re probably a Thrift Store mannequin.
- I learned it’s not how much you make, but how much you give that counts. The Doctors and Nurses on our trip left me in absolute awe. If I had taken a trip like this 20 years ago I would have taken a different path in life and followed in their footsteps. 1014 people, who otherwise would have gone about their lives with ailments and illnesses, from minor to life threatening, were either healed or given much needed relief and comfort. Witnessing firsthand the impact this team made is something I will always remember. It’s easy to write a check and hit the golf course. The selfless commitment and sacrifice these individuals make is inspiring beyond words. I am a better person for having spent time in their presence.
- I learned that the true power existing in Haiti resides in its children. If given an education and an opportunity, the heart, spirit, and resilience each child displays in abundance will turn this beautiful nation into an empire.
- Above all else I learned that nothing in life, no matter how how vivid and clear an image it may portray, can be depicted with any ounce of accuracy from a far. Our thoughts and perceptions of the world are often formulated by lifeless two-dimensional images and black & white print written from the perspective of a solitary individual. In a society where tragedy and shock value boost ratings and advertising sales, the information we receive and the images we see serve to sensationalize the worst elements of a society. Tossed to the editing room floor are the words and images of humility, strength, endurance, kindness, hope, love, and unwavering displays of faith…this is the Haiti I now know. This is the Haiti every God-given sense within me experienced firsthand. This is the Haiti you don’t see on TV.
Then again, these are simply my words and my perspective written in black & white on a screen. I encourage everyone to validate my words if you have an opportunity in this lifetime.
We will be back…whatever it takes. Our work has only begun. God bless the people of Haiti and ”People for Haiti” :)