I’m a writer, but for the past few days since I returned from Haiti, I’ve been trying to put into words my experience. I can tell you how there are no traffic lanes in Haiti (you make up the lanes as you go, and if you’re a pick-up truck or bus, pedestrians will probably hop on and hitch a ride from you for a block or two). I can tell you about how clear and warm the ocean (and also very, very salty if you get it in your eyes and mouth). I can tell you about the delicious food we ate—including goat! I can tell you how HOT it was there (always carry water and a rag to wipe your face). I can tell you using an outhouse was not as bad as I thought it would be. I can tell you about my new favorite game, “Actor-Movie-Actor.”
But I can also tell you about the unconditional love from the 25 orphans we met. How they squeezed their little arms around my waist as they hugged me. How they kissed my cheek. How excited they were just to see our faces and when we handed our bookbags filled with school supplies, their big smiles.
I can also tell you about the 400 children who came to Vacation Bible School. They played games, sang songs, recited Bible passages, made arts and crafts—and when we ran out of supplies for that, they were happy with the coloring sheets we gave them. Something as simple as a colorful rubber bracelet also gave them joy. We also handed out kazoos and they hummed and danced along to “Jump into the Light”.
I can tell you about the 50 Haitian Youth Leaders—some who traveled five hours away to the training session—and their willingness to learn and apply their skills. They were such a big help during Vacation Bible School and if you watched some of my videos on Facebook, they worship with their entire being, which is beautiful. We had a game night on the beach our last night and it was such a joy to laugh and play with them. These young men and women (they were in their 20s) make me so proud about the future of Haiti and especially with ministry in Haiti.
I can tell you about Pastor Samuel and his vision for Haiti. How a land deal to develop a school and orphanage was approved while we were there. We were able to visit the land and see the property ourselves. He was kind enough to give me 20 minutes for an interview, where he opened up about his plans to teach the young people of Haiti technology skills (such as opening up a Cyber Café) in order to free their minds and let them know there is a bigger world out there. At the same time, his main goal is to have the children of Haiti apply their skills in their home country and lift the nation up.
From what I saw in the 400 children and the 50 youth leaders we served, the future of Haiti is in good hands.
I can tell you all of this—the sights we saw, the things we ate, our daily routine—but I would not be telling you everything.
Going to Haiti was my first time out of the country. Many of the team members had traveled for vacation to Europe and outside of the U.S. Not me. Just Canada and Mexico. So, for me to get my first passport stamp in Haiti was pretty cool.
Haiti was the first of many things for me.
As much as I knew I was being called to serve in Haiti, I also knew a big part of me was holding myself back—emotionally and spiritually. I’m content with being an observer. I’m content with being the listener. I ask questions for a living—I don’t answer them or share my stories—I much rather tell the stories of other people. I’m a writer, a journalist. I live behind a notebook and pen. But in Haiti, I had to step off the sideline and participate, experience, and BE IN THE MOMENT.
Before I left for Haiti, I knew I still had walls up about the trip. I told people I felt calm and collected, when deep down, I was afraid I wasn’t feeling enough. Why wasn’t I excited or nervous? Was that the correct way to be feeling? Was feeling calm and collected wrong? Even when I was making my Facebook videos and sharing my thoughts before the trip, I think I was still filtering my thoughts. I meant every word I said, but there were things I weren’t sharing. I was keeping a distance or dismissing some of these feelings: fear, doubt—these strongholds that sound like my voice, but they don’t belong to me.
I wanted to serve in Haiti by telling their story, work on the blog, take pictures, make videos. But it was still a filter. I would be experiencing everything though a keyboard, a pen, a lens, not through my own eyes, my own touch, my own memories.
Then, when I sat down to write the first blog entry in Haiti, my team leader Terry said, “Nu, I want you to experience this trip too.” She noticed I was being an observer, not a participant. “It feels safe to you, so you go there.” Whoa. I’m telling you Terry has a gift. I met with Terry only a handful of times before we went to Hait and she immediately saw through my mask and broke down a wall. As soon as she said those words, I knew it was pointless to keep these walls up.
So, I put away the camera, put down the pen, and LIVED IN THE MOMENT.
Before I knew it, I was IN the story too. The author had become a character, you can say.
At our last dinner, our team shared how the trip had changed us. I was able to share MY story: how I heard God’s voice urging me to go to Haiti, how I had a dream to go to Haiti and now here I was IN Haiti, how I kept hearing God’s voice in Haiti in many ways…I broke down in tears because I was able to let go. I surrendered and instead of questioning my feelings, I just FELT and let it be without dissecting the emotions first. I also shared how the trip had taught me about trust. I have been hurt many times in the past, stayed in and pursued broken relationships, and it taught me that whenever I try to reach out, when I try SO HARD at being “myself,” I still end up getting knocked down. That’s when the walls come up.
In Haiti, I learned I could trust my team members–these 11 other people who were also going through own experiences. Even though we only met twice before going on the trip together, I felt safe and at peace with them. I learned I could trust the Haitian people—I saw their unconditional love and support, how much joy they received from simple things. There were no agendas, no ulterior motives. Not all relationships are broken. Not everyone will hurt me. Not everyone will let me down.
It was a refreshing thing to experience.
Each night, our team affirmed each other, and let me tell you, when you think people aren’t watching you—THEY ARE! The things people said to me made me smile, humbled me, and made me glad I had taken down these walls because they could really see ME.
Since returning from Haiti, I see things in a different way. There is no more filter. There is no more standing in the sideline. I create moments now and I live in them. The walls have stayed down and I have stayed on my feet.
In the three days since coming back from Haiti, God reminded me about the good people in my life. I attended a friend’s birthday party, went dancing, caught up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, a guy stuck in his tongue in my ear, but hey, it was in the moment! I attended a rock concert with another group of friends and lived in the moment by becoming lost in the music. I bumped into old friends at church that I also hadn’t seen in a long time and told them a little bit about Haiti. It was like God was reminding me about the good, healthy relationships in my life in addition to my new Haitian family and friends and team members. It made me realize how blessed I am.
There are risks when you meet new people, go on new adventures, experience different things…but you still need to take those risk to know if it’s worth it. You might crack open a window or a door, wave your hand outside to “test” the weather, but why not swing that front door wide open? You never know who or what will be waiting for you.