In some ways it’s hard to believe it’s been two weeks since our plane landed in SFO bringing us home from a week in Carrefour, Haiti. In other ways it seems like forever ago. I think I experience more culture shock returning home than I ever do when arriving in a foreign country. Everything that was familiar a week earlier, prior to leaving, suddenly looks brand new. I find myself shocked at how many options for peanut butter we have at the grocery store. My two bedroom home with the never-ending cleaning list suddenly looks immaculate, spacious and luxurious through my post-missions trip eyes. And the silence of our neighborhood seems strangely deafening in comparison to the constant cacophony of club music, open-air markets and dogs barking.
I went on my first missions trip when I was sixteen, to Mexico. I was hooked from that point on. I honestly can’t even remember anything about that trip except the ridiculous thirty-some hour bus ride, cockroaches at 1am in an Oklahoma gas station, and being overly excited about seeing my first palm tree when we reached the border. But the impact of the trip on my heart was not lost. Since then I’ve been on short-term missions trips to a handful of other nations and now Haiti. I’m a believer in short-term missions.
Yet while I was preparing for this trip I had moments of wondering, “What’s the point of short-term missions? Does it really matter?” You’re probably not supposed to say or think that as the team leader of a missions trip and church staff member, but it’s how I felt. When you look at the scope of poverty in Haiti it’s easy to start to feel hopeless especially if you are an “all or none” type of person like myself. After all, we weren’t building any homes or digging any wells. We had no medical expertise to offer, nor any other special skills. We weren’t even going to teach or preach. Was our goal simply to be personally impacted, add another notch in our proverbial missions trip belts, and come home with some nice stories to share? If so, there must be a cheaper way to do it. Wouldn’t we be better off donating the thousands of dollars we collectively spent on the trip to the organization we were going to work with? Many would answer that with a resounding ‘yes.’ Still, there was a part of me that knew we were going with a purpose.
While we did do some painting projects, most of our time was spent hanging out with the kids who live at the Good Shepherd Orphanage. Each afternoon a bunch of neighborhood kids joined them for a meal. For some it was the only meal they received that day. We began to learn their names and personalities as we attempted to make balloon animals for them, let them braid our hair, and pushed them endlessly on the swings. “YOU! PHOTO!” they shouted in their limited English to convince us to take iPhone pictures of them while they flashed peace signs and cheesy grins.
Amidst all of the fun and games there were many that simply wanted to be with us. To have us put our arm around them. To rub their foreheads. To let them climb up on our laps. During recess one day at the school a ten-year old boy, Angelo, came and quietly sat down about ten inches from me as the younger children unabashedly piled around and on top of us. After a long couple minutes of internal debating and hesitation I put my arm around his shoulders. Immediately he inched closer and leaned against me. Soon after he was peacefully resting his head on my knees until the bell rang signaling it was time for class. We went our separate ways and as I struggled unsuccessfully to hold back the tears, suddenly it was incredibly clear to me what our purpose was in Haiti.
Our culture so highly esteems the tangible and quantifiable, often above that which is unable to be measured. And I get that. Kids need food and shelter before they can even really begin to think about much else. We need our most basic human needs met before we can focus on love and friendships and self-esteem. But we often underestimate the impact of love and affection. We underestimate the impact of a half hour of quality time. It was my own underestimation of these immeasurable qualities that kept me from seeing our purpose in Haiti.
In his book Soulprint, Mark Batterson says that,
“Life is like a game of connect the dots, where the dots are defining moments. Some of them are big dots that stamp our soulprints in indelible ways. Some of them are little dots that shape our subconscious….Our outlook on life is determined by a dozen defining moments.”
He then quotes Graham Green saying, “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
Our hope is that our week in Haiti was filled with dots. Little dots or maybe even some big ones that were defining moments for the kids we encountered. For the one who has never experienced the physical loving embrace of a mother or father, we offered our arms and our hearts filled with the love we’ve received from the creator and definer of love. Our prayer became that they would know how deeply and personally they are loved by their Father.
That is the kind of love that can change an outlook on life from hopeless to destiny-filled. From abandoned or forgotten to cherished and loved.
Love like that, from the one whose love never fails or runs out, changes lives.
Lives that have the potential to change nations.
Of course food, water, safe shelter, adequate healthcare and other such things are crucial but those in and of themselves don’t have the power to transform a life beyond the physical. The love of God has the power to transform a heart and inspire hope that the most dire of circumstances can’t crush. The understanding that you were created with a plan and a purpose for your life can grow an ordinary child into an adult who is ready to take on the issues their nation is facing with confidence and boldness.
Love like that changes lives. Love like that changes nations.
So while we may have left minimal tangible evidence of our time in Haiti, our hope and prayer is that the love we poured out translated into defining moments. Moments that opened the door and let the future in.
Side note: Our church is currently working on how we can meet some of the felt needs of the children we encountered through helping fund feeding programs as well as raising awareness and support in our local area. You can learn more about Good Shepherd Orphanage or donate online by clicking here. Or if you are interested in going on a trip yourself check out Praying Pelican Missions.