(Originally written after a heart-enlarging, perspective-shifting week in Haiti with Food for the Hungry in 2011.)
“How was Haiti?”
They told me I should prepare two answers for this question… one for casual inquirers who are mostly being polite and another for the hard-core, those who really want to hear the story.
The short answer is easy enough for me. Haiti is beautiful, the poverty and the earthquake’s devastation (even 15 months later) are heartbreaking, the children are (like children everywhere) energetic, playful and full of hope for the future.
It’s the long answer that causes me trouble. I so badly want this experience to be wrapped up in a single, unifying theme. I want you, those of you who really care, to see what I saw, hear what I heard, feel what I felt. I want the 60 pages of rambling in my journal to make sense to someone other than just me. It’s a weird kind of isolation, especially for someone who prides herself on precise vocabulary… having this crazy, hard, powerful experience and not having the words to describe it.
But the long answer is important because the long answer is part of who I am and also who I want to become. The long answer is the one that Douna and Christina and Bebe and Forlencia deserve. The long answer is hard. But it is the right answer, the truth. And so I persist, groping for the right words (and failing often), remembering and praying and sometimes holding back tears.
So, how was Haiti?
Haiti was love in the challenge from Julio—come not just to give, not just to see the need. Come to see the joy and potential alive and well in our children and families and communities. Haiti was love in a dad’s prayer not for a new house or a better life, but simply for his neighbors to know Jesus. Haiti was love in the little one (she couldn’t have been more than three) with her arm around the even littler one, comforting him and drying his tears. Haiti was love in the eyes and laugh of Bebe, the tiny one so easily amused by my glasses and my crazy antics that she would lunge into my lap again and again. Haiti was love in a teacher’s joyful spirit and confident leadership, content and fully alive surrounded by his kids. Haiti was love in the gift of coconuts and conversation shared by the beautiful mama, sitting cross-legged on the ground, cleaning rice. Haiti was love in the elaborate meal prepared by the women in Hoy Hose and shared in the pastor’s dining room. Haiti was love in bubbles blown, beads strung, floors mopped, furniture moved, mosquito nets mended and feet washed. Haiti was love in the words of affirmation from friends in whose prayers I felt content to rest. Haiti was love in the vulnerable conversations and the connections made with teammates who took the initiative to serve.
Haiti was listening to the dream and potential of a prospective college student. Haiti was listening to William’s story of losing all of his possessions but feeling blessed because his family escaped unharmed. Haiti was listening to FH’s approach to AIDS prevention and care and wanting to learn more, to engage my brain in this important fight. Haiti was listening to the hurt and frustration of the community leaders in Boicaiman, even when I had no answers. Haiti was listening to the voices of the children with “Praise ye the Lord, Alleluia” on eternal repeat. Haiti was listening to words of adoration and petition uttered in Creole and agreeing even when I didn’t exactly understand. Haiti was listening to a little girl with two small nephews and a baby niece—just like me, though worlds apart. Haiti was listening to the quick thinking and good judgment of leaders in a situation that seems more dangerous in retrospect. Haiti was listening to the hope in despair, the light in darkness, and knowing whose voice I heard. Haiti was listening to Johnny retell the story of that horrific day, of choking on the dust, of pulling bodies from the wreckage. Haiti was listening to my teammates’ desire to engage their minds and hearts and hands in making a difference. Haiti was listening to the dedication and hope of those committed to community transformation over the long haul.
Haiti was surrender of my family (and my anxiety) to a God who is infinitely more capable of protecting them than I am. Haiti was surrender of my tendency to rush ahead with my impulses to help. Haiti was surrender of my competing tendency to lag behind with my desire to be cautious and wise. Haiti was surrender into the beauty and the hurt and the hope of the moment, this moment, and the next and the next. Haiti was surrender of relying on words and release into relying on grace. Haiti was surrender of my teacher identity to embrace the role of student. Haiti was surrender of expectations as plans changed and kids just kept coming. Haiti was surrender of comfort as vans were full, mountains were steep, and streets were vaguely paved. Haiti was surrender of control as food and supplies multiplied somehow to always be enough. Haiti was surrender of task-orientation (or, more accurately, selfishness) as people became the main focus, my main focus. Haiti was surrender of sarcasm and judgment, surrender into speaking words of life. Haiti was surrender of my ideas of how to give and “do missions” best. Haiti was surrender of my emotional walls as I was challenged to love well, even when I knew the time was short. And, ultimately, with my view of Port au Prince suddenly obscured by clouds, Haiti was surrender of the beautiful ones who captured my heart to the Father who will continue to passionately love and pursue them long after I am gone.
That is the long answer. That is the truth.