As I get ready to leave for Haiti tomorrow, I reflect on my journey to mission work.....
In spring of 2013, I was asked to donate a family photography session for a benefit to help support a couple wanting to adopt a little boy from Haiti (he is still in Haiti). The family who purchased the session are friends of the couple. The family I was photographing was very involved with Haiti missionary work. During the 2 hour session, we had plenty of time to talk about their faith journey in Haiti. They invited me to go to Haiti with their organization, Healing Haiti. In the back of my mind, I thought "yeah, someday that'd be cool" maybe in 5-10 years. I had envisioned doing mission work in Africa since I was a teenager. Later that year, my good friend Eileen signed-up with Reiser Relief for her first to Haiti January 2014. After her return, I made the decision not to wait, it was my time. Fast forward...
Tomorrow, Jamie & I will be taking Alex with us on our 4th mission trip in a little over 2 years to Haiti with Reiser Relief, my first trip as a co-leader with Eileen. I feel extremely blessed that I listened to my call to Haiti. I have learned so much from the people there. My only regret is that I didn't go when I was younger/sooner. I have several friends and family with a genuine desire to go somewhere to serve others. My advice is, don't wait, just "go!". If you don't have money, raise it. If you don't have time off work, ask for it. If you're not sure it's your time, pray about it. Some people go once and that's enough for them. Others have a seed that plants inside of them. That seed can grow depths of roots in each person. If you want to learn more about trips to Haiti let me know. If you or your friends/family are doing mission work somewhere else, I would love to hear about it.
Friday, November 25, 2016
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Last week we had our first Reiser Relief board of directors’ trip to Haiti. We had planned the trip long before Hurricane Matthew, and it seemed God’s timing that we went when we did. We are blessed with so many who pray for my team during trips and who want to learn about what we saw when we were there. The trip was not all about Hurricane Matthew. We had a school board meeting at Reiser Heights. We met with other three other ministry partners in Port au Prince to celebrate joys and check in on needs. We were honored to meet Fr. Rick Frechette and learn more about the work of his organization. We connected as a team. We laughed (a lot), drank Prestige, and even sang a few silly songs.
But what consumes my thoughts is the portion of our trip to Jeremie and Marfranc Haiti, areas devastated by Hurricane Matthew. We traveled west from Port au Prince via a 7 hour bus ride. Around Port au Prince Haiti looked like Haiti and I could see no evidence of the storm other than dirt roads were more washed out than usual. A couple of hours into our bus ride the scene changed. At first I saw lopsided palm trees. Branches were all pointed in one direction. Then there were missing roofs on some buildings. Then trees blown over. Then trees with all leaves blown off. Then missing roofs on most buildings. Then concrete walls blown over. It is difficult to put into words the enormity of the destruction we saw. It looks like photos I have seen of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped. And I can only witness to what was visible from the road. There are mountain villages that are still cut off from aid and witness. “The October 4 hurricane…smashed fishing villages and shredded mountain hamlets with the force of a bomb blast, obliterating crops, killing livestock and leaving fruit trees as bare as matchsticks…In some towns, 80 to 90 percent of homes were destroyed by Matthew’s 140-mile-per-hour winds. The Category 4 storm converted tin roofing panels into flying razors and broken tree branches into spears.” Nick Miroff, Washington Post
|Before & After Hurricane Matthew|
A couple of days after we returned from Haiti the US State Department issued a warning:
“U.S. citizens are advised not to travel to the southern peninsula of Haiti, commonly referred to as the "southern claw." The U.S. Embassy has currently banned unofficial travel to the southern peninsula and allows official travel only after consultation with its security office. There is widespread devastation throughout the southern claw with the most affected areas on the western tip of the peninsula. Travelers can expect difficult travel conditions with roads made impassable by landslides, damaged roads, and bridge failures. There is also widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure, including gas stations and cell towers, loss of electricity, and shortages of food and potable water.”
|Before & After Hurricane Matthew|
Even more telling is what we didn’t see. No city trucks were surveying damage, no government convoys were offering assistance, no insurance agents were filing claims. We saw no chain saws, 4 wheelers, or front end loaders. There was little more than Haitians in muddy flip flops hacking at downed trees with machetes, scavenging for tin and tarps to keep the relentless rain from once again soaking their few possessions.
|Before & After Hurricane Matthew|
At Asile Marfranc, where just over one year ago Reiser Relief entered into a partnership with the Little Sisters of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, the devastation nearly took my breath away. Elder care dormitories were destroyed. A funeral was in progress for one of three elderly who had passed away during and after the storm. The 32 remaining elderly and vulnerable adults were sleeping in a neighborhood school that had a roof, dirt floor, and little else to offer for shelter or comfort. The sisters’ beds were crammed in a tiny area of their house that still had a roof. The rest of their residence is a patchwork of tarps, moldy corners and buckets catching rain. The school, that was dedicated with much fanfare in March of this year and just recently received its first class of 57 kindergarten students, lost its roof. New books were disintegrating in a soggy pile. Ruined mattresses were piled high, twisted steel and lumber lay dangerously askew. What was once a lush landscape filled with beautiful shade trees was transformed into a barren vista of leafless or toppled trees.
I came to offer prayers, comfort, support and a listening ear to Sr. Evelyne who manages the ministry and others. When I couldn’t hold back my tears, I instead received comfort and an admonition from Sr. Evelyne to keep my chin up and my head high. And with eyes lifted I began to see signs of hope. New leaves were sprouting on seemingly lifeless trees. There was singing and laughter in the air. Hammers were pounding on an occasional new tin roof at homes along the road. Downed trees were being turned into charcoal that can be sold for a profit. Sister Evelyne was singing hymns and the elderly sang us an upbeat welcome song complete with clapping and dancing from those who were able. The new bathrooms that we fundraised for last year at this event were entirely intact!
We spent time with Bishop DeCoste of the Jeremie Diocese. All of the 45 parishes in the diocese have severe damages. After sharing the many needs, the Bishop translated a sign in Creole that hangs on his wall: Do all the good you can, All the time you can, Everywhere you can.
So we focus on the good that we can do, right now, in Marfranc. We can partner with the sisters to shelter and feed the vulnerable and elderly of the community, we can re-roof the school so that the children can return to their routine, we can repair the convent so the sisters have a safe place to live. We can pray for the sisters and the community and share their story with others.
Thank you for your support and love. Forgive me when I struggle to answer your question, “How was your trip?” I want to share. I often don’t know where to begin. It was an honor to witness. It’s difficult to put into words. I’ll do my best.