We arrived in Port-au-Prince on Thursday, July 22, and traveled from there to the Kaliko Beach Club in Cote des Arcadins. Friday we traveled up the coast to Gonaives, an area that even Haitians call the armpit of Haiti. While in Gonaives, we visited three orphan villages, delivered some clothes and supplies, and interacted with the children there. On Sunday evening we returned to Kaliko and then on Monday morning we returned for a bus tour of Port-au-prince before boarding the plane home. What I saw and what we did has changed me. A friend recently shared with me the song, “I Saw What I Saw”, by Sara Groves and her lyrics about her trip to Rowanda have captured my feelings in reflecting on Haiti.
I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it.
I heard what I heard and I can’t go back.
I know what I know and there’s no denying.
Something on the road cut me to the soul.
Your pain has changed me.
Your dreams inspire.
Your face a memory.
Your hope a fire.
Your courage asks me what I’m afraid of and what I know of love (and God).
While in Haiti we saw devastating poverty and we heard stories of miraculous hope. Pastor Benoit, a pastor who was raised Haiti, told us of his life growing up the son of a voodoo priest and priestess. He described his life in voodoo, a religion still followed by about 65% of people in Haiti, as a life filled with fear and hatred. He said there was no peace for him in voodoo. He described hearing of peace and hope in a relationship with Jesus through a radio broadcast. He came to know that peace and hope and now has a church, a school, an orphanage, and a senior adult home in Haiti that by next year will be fully funded by his concrete block business. He is an advocate for Haitian financial independence, but a huge advocate for physical visits by people from the U.S. who can share their love and their skills with the Haitian people.
Pastor Benoit also recounted the story of Haitian independence from France and how the people made a pact with the devil with a promise to dedicate the country to Satan if they won their independence. I am not usually a very devil/spiritual-warfare kind of person, but I could not help but think that if there were ever a place controlled by evil, this would be it. This is a place where the government conspires to keep the people illiterate and poor. This is place with little infrastructure and little hope. Haiti is a place of “dog eat dog” mentality and people struggle for advantage and survival. I could not help but thinking of Alice Cooper’s song, “Nothing’s Free”, in which he imagines the attitude of the devil who has enticed someone with a deception that only turns out to be prison of another sort and in the end, says, “But you’re free. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
Though we were not in Haiti for a long period of time, I am grateful for those like Pastor Benoit, the Thompsons (a missionary family) and others who are making a long-term commitment there. I do not think that our time there was a waste, however. We went to demonstrate the love of God to some of the most vulnerable in this society. We brought supplies to help with their health and education. We made an investment in the future of Haiti. There are thousands of orphans in Haiti. Some who have lost their parents to disease, accidents, and natural disasters and some who have been voluntarily given up by parents who can no longer care for their children. Many of these are not in orphanages. Those that are in these orphanages, have varying levels of supplies and care. Just in the three orphanages we visited, we saw a huge disparity in resources. In one village (Mapou), there are four rooms approximately 10x8 where children sleep 20 to a room. There they have only 4 bunk beds and the children sleep two to a mattress. The others sleep on mats on the floor. In another village, Fayeton, the children have four dormitories where each child has their own bed. In each of these villages we played with the children and did crafts with them on very hot days. Our people had their water bottles when we were hot, but these children never had a drink while we were there. We saw children with toothaches and infections that were not adequately treated. There cooking conditions were questionable and their surroundings filthy.
While we were there, our group leader (Bob Sparrow) challenged us to reflect on James 1:27 which says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows, in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (NRSV). Our religious practice is not meaningful – or does not exist – if we do not care for those most vulnerable in our world. One of my personal mantras is the last line sung in the musical, Les Miserable, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” As I experienced the need for compassion and love in the children the past 5 days, my heart has been broken and felt the love of God for these little ones. I could not help but think that I was truly seeing the face of God. I do not know how a person can visit a place of such devastation and poverty without being changed forever. I will be challenged in the months and years to come to figure out how to integrate this awareness into the things of my life here and I look forward to a time when I may be able to return to Haiti.