At 6:30 am, our team of 12 left the church office in New Jersey to make our way to JFK. With thankfully very little drama, we hopped onto our packed flight and made the 4-hour journey down to Port Au Prince, Haiti.
Even for those who had traveled to third world countries in the past, every single person on the team encountered extreme culture shock: the lack of personal space, the smothering humidity in the steel customs/baggage claim/immigration room (which, half-way through, lost all power), the swarming of taxi drivers trying to take our bags…it was overwhelming.
Fortunately, we were not alone, as a representative of Grace International Inc. was there to meet us, along with two armed guards who escorted us out of the metal building and towards a little white van and blue truck with a metal-grille covered bed in the back. Half of us experienced the dusty trip to the hotel from the open-air bed of the blue truck, while the other half experienced a street-level perspective of Haiti in the white van.
After a quick debriefing at our hotel, we were taken to Grace International’s headquarters and given a first-hand tour of the facilities, schools, orphanage, and tent communities within the commune. We broke bread together with the representatives at dinnertime, and as the sun set, we were escorted back to the hotel, where our group sat down to debrief.
Now, what happened to us logistically (as stated above) simply could not compare to what impacted us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And we were shocked to find that the magnitude of what we experienced had somehow occurred during the 6 short hours that we were actually in Haiti. Our accounts are summarized below:
Culture shock. For more than half of us, this was our first missions trip to a third world country. You watch documentaries of people living in third world countries all the time, but as we were driving through the heart of it all, it truly dawned on us how real it was…what we saw on TV was not just impacting a small group of people. As we drove, we saw that what was being shown on TV was happening on every single block we passed.
Needless to say, our drive to our hotel was impactful. We saw people living next to blackened polluted streams of water, with smells of sewage and clouds of diesel and construction dust consuming us. But the people living in those conditions were active: always moving, and living their lives.
“Despite the conditions they were in, everybody was doing something to survive.” Jung noted. We realized just how sheltered Americans were. The people of Haiti were not just fighting, but they were fighting HARD and with PURPOSE to survive and live fully.
While several of us were prepared to witness the kind of devastation that existed in Haiti, we were unexpectedly shocked by the attitudes of the local people.
As we walked through the tent communities, people brightly walked out of their shack homes to wave at us, all the while laughing, smiling, and welcoming us in Creole. Their attitudes showed that they were grateful for what they had, despite what the earthquake had taken away. And we were all humbled by their welcoming spirit.
Jen gave us an account of her drive to our hotel: “Our van stalled at one point during our drive, and when I looked out the window…I accidentally made eye contact with a lady who was carrying a large bundle on the top of her head…and to my surprise, she gave me the most genuine smile. She didn’t have to smile at me…she didn’t even know who I was! And it struck me, as she had no reason to be nice to me…just how warm the people are here.”
The levels of poverty and destruction were nevertheless grave. “I’ve been on missions in the past, but this was by far the worse I’ve seen. It broke my heart…” Abe shared.
“You think you’re worlds apart, from what you see on TV, but in reality, we are only 4 hours away from Haiti They’re our brothers.” Danny said.
“Little kids are getting heavy buckets water from the well and carrying it on their heads to bring home, like an adult…it makes me feel bad.” Jenny shared.
Scott brought to light what the situation was and really, what the heart of our purpose was in Haiti. “It’s more like they’re the ones reaching out to us. Like the little boy that unexpectedly reached up and grabbed Jung’s hand, just to hold it, they’re reaching out to us and welcoming us. We should be the ones reaching more out to them.”
We were in awe of how much Grace International was doing for their community. Over 25,000 people were being sheltered in their tent communities and provided unlimited safe drinking water, guards at every entrance gate, livable conditions, and a community they could be proud of living in.
“It’s so great that families are lucky enough to get access to clean water. It completely blew me away. We take for granted the fact that we get clean water every day back home.” Steph noted.
All in all, we had arrived in Haiti, feeling so small and insignificant, and overall, hopeless for the situation at hand. But after meeting the people who were passionately serving God by being Jesus’ hands and feet to Haiti, meeting the warm people who were fervently and joyously living their lives, we felt so much more hopeful for the future of this nation.
Our goal this week is to not limit God by taking control of what we think we can and can not do. Instead, we will simply love without thinking, reaching out first without hesitation, and going with the God’s flow and seeing just how much He will be able to use us during our short time here.