One month ago, I was in the most unfamiliar place I’d ever been in my entire life. As I sat on the concrete roof of our house in the middle of a busy street in Carrefour, Haiti, it was hard to take it all in. After only three days in this country, I was already feeling emotionally and physically drained. I had seen and heard so many new people and stories that it all just felt so unreal. I didn’t really know what to do with all of these new experiences. So I journaled. A lot. Every day at the end of our ministry time (around 4:00pm), I’d head up to the roof and catch the last sun rays of the day and try to get all of my thoughts out on paper. I’d write about the ways I’d seen God work that day, the amazing people I’d met, the prayers I had said over and over in my head throughout the day’s events. I was far from home and far from everything I’d ever known. But God was there, in the hearts of some of the most kind and joyful people I’ve ever met.
One month later and I’m still processing it all. I’ve dreamt about Haiti and my fellow missionaries almost every night that I’ve been home. The memories of everything we experienced are still so fresh in my mind… it’s just so difficult to put what I feel into words. After four weeks of thinking it over and trying to come up with some way to narrow it down to something that can fit in a single blog post, I’ve come up with a few “life lessons” that I believe I’ll never forget. And I’m not sure if lessons is quite the right word. These are more like realizations… or maybe affirmations… of things I’ve always felt to be true but never had the proof. When I was in Haiti, I was the farthest I’d ever been from a spiritually familiar place. For hundreds of years, Haiti has been covered in darkness by the malevolent powers of voodoo and evil spirits. And if you think that stuff isn’t real, it is SO real to the people of Haiti. I have many voodoo stories but I’m not going to share those today. I want to share about the powers of God overcoming these forces in Haiti. Something amazing is sweeping this nation off of its feet in revival. And witnessing firsthand a revival this powerful is something that changes you from the inside out.
I got on the plane heading to Haiti one person and stepped foot back on American soil a completely different one. My outlook has changed. My purpose has shifted. But perhaps most importantly, my faith in God and His kingdom has grown stronger than I ever thought it could be.
There must have been a hundred new life lessons Haiti taught me. But if I had to narrow them down, here’s what they’d be.
#1: God is always with us and wants more than anything to guide us along the right path. I know this seems rather rudimentary for Christians to hear. But I actually felt and saw with my own eyes this truth come to life. Here in America, we all tend to get caught up in the many trivial matters of life. In Haiti, where all we focused our hearts and minds on was following wherever God wanted to lead us, it opened us up to entirely new possibilities. It was like opening a door that we had the key to all along but never took the time to try to unlock. The secret to hearing God’s quiet and still voice is in quieting our own. Our thoughts, our own worries and desires, need to be forgotten. We also need to silence the voice of the world (which does not belong to God but to Satan- 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9) in order to listen and hear what God wants to tell us.
In Haiti, we practiced this kind of “listening prayer” on several days of the week scheduled as “ATL” days (ask the Lord). Yeah, it sounded weird. I was more than a little skeptical– why would we have an entire morning not already planned out? Could we really rely on “asking the Lord” where to go when we’re here in a potentially dangerous foreign country?
But we did… and those were the best and most successful mornings we had during the entire trip. We would all close our eyes and just try to quiet our own thoughts and the noise of the world to hear God’s voice. Our project leader Megan said we may see images or pictures that might not really make sense, but should write them down and share with everyone anyway. I saw lemons. “Seriously?” I thought, “this has got to be my own mind daydreaming about eating lemons.” I also saw a red ribbon, like a hair bow. I thought that one was because my journal bookmark was red. Like I said… I was skeptical. I think most of us were. Tessa saw an afro, Michael saw a basset hound (we all laughed at that one–“you’re not gonna find a hound dog in Haiti!”), and Cece saw a sick child. All eighteen of us had something to share, and we wrote them all down. Then we ventured off onto the streets in groups of four, each with its own translator, to see who the Lord would lead us to pray for and speak to.
My group walked around for about thirty minutes before something crazy happened. We had prayed over half a dozen people or so already, but hadn’t really seen anything we were looking for. We walked past a house that had two women and three children sitting outside on the porch. We walked past this house. But the woman sitting inside with a child in her lap called for us to come back. She invited us inside and welcomed us, asking if we could pray for her family. Her child was sick, you see. Both of her children were–one with chicken pox and the other with a fever. Cece started to pray, laying her hands on the children’s heads. During her prayer, I looked up for just a second… and saw a tablecloth balled up in the corner that I didn’t notice before. It had dozens of bright yellow fruit–lemons–printed all over it. And as I realized it, an older girl walked out onto the porch to join us… with a red bow in her hair.
That wasn’t the only vision that came to be on that day. Michael found his basset hound–one of the houses they’d gone into to pray with a family had a stuffed animal basset hound lying on the table. Later in the week, as we were answering the prayer of some young Haitian women who’d been in need of the proper clothes to go to church (we gave them some skirts), a girl walked downstairs with her hair combed out into a giant afro. At least three fourths of what we’d all “seen” popped up somewhere during the week. And these small signs just served as little reassurances that we were headed in the right direction, that we were doing God’s work, and that His hand was present, even in a place this foreign and outside of our comfort zone, He was with us.
#2: When we sacrifice our time for God, He knows–and may even respond with an earthly reward. I am NOT preaching the prosperity gospel here. God calls us to suffer for the good of His kingdom, as Jesus did… and the only thing we are promised is a heavenly reward. But maybe, just maybe, God might provide a little earthly reward for our hard work every now and then, just to remind us that He is there, that He sees our hard work, and that He loves us.
This is a cassette tape. It’s pretty ordinary and probably worth next to nothing to most people. But to me, it represents God’s quiet whispering in my ear that He truly is here with me, all of the time, even when it may not feel like it. One of our first days of ministry consisted of deconstructing a tent church to start rebuilding its foundation that had been destroyed in the earthquake. We were picking up rubble and moving boulders by hand, digging in the dirt, picking up trash we found under all of the debris along the way. I noticed that there were cassette tapes lying under some of the rubble here and there. I thought to myself “that’d be cool to bring home.” A relic of sorts that survived the earthquake and lay in its same spot for years, forgotten and unnoticed. I kind of forgot about them for a few minutes, though, and when I came back to the trash pile, it had been taken away. I was a little bummed as we left for lunch, but thoughts of the cassette tape soon left my mind.
Later in the afternoon, when we went back to keep picking up rubble, some kids from the surrounding neighborhood started to stop by. Little girls sat most of us girls down to start playing with and braiding our hair. Some put on my sunglasses and hat, playing dress up. But right before we wee about to leave, I felt a tap on my arm. I turned around to see a little boy, probably only six or seven years old, holding something up for me. In his right hand, extended as far up as he could reach, was a cassette tape… just like one of the ones we had found in the rubble that I’d wanted to bring home. “Merciii!!” I smiled at him in disbelief… he had come up to me out of everyone in the group to give me a cassette tape. Now it’s displayed on a shelf in my room, a simple reminder that God sees everything we do and knows the desires of our heart… and wants to give them to us when they are aligned with Him (Psalm 37:4).
#3: There is a difference between happiness and joy. I think people often confuse the two. Happiness is dependent upon your circumstances. Americans chase after happiness by trying to achieve success– in the workplace, in relationships, at home–and gathering up material things like nice cars, bigger houses, fancy vacations, and ever growing bank accounts. This is essentially the key to happiness for many people. But JOY is something that doesn’t care about any of those things. I saw more joy in the faces of the children, mothers, fathers, widows, orphans of Haiti than I see in the faces of wealthy Americans walking down the street every day. The Haitians had nothing… but they had everything. They may look poor to our standards, but they are much richer than the majority of us. You know why? Because they know that no matter what happens, they have Jesus. They have such a strong faith in God–they KNOW that He is a REAL and LIVING, all-powerful God–that nothing else in life can take away their joy.
How humbling it was to see that people here, without the every day luxuries like electricity and running water that so many people think they can’t live without, are both happier and more joyful than some of the richest people on the planet.
When I got home, I got a lot of the same responses from everyone:
“Oh wasn’t it just devastating over there?”
“It must have been so sad to see all of those people who have nothing”
“Don’t you just feel so bad for the Haitians?!”
Each time, this is what I wanted to say…
Yes, the earthquake was devastating. And yes, they still have a lot of work to do. But a lot has already been done and is still being done. Haiti is spiritually in a much better place than they were before the earthquake. God has shaken the nation and started a revival that, as a result, has brought more joy and safety and comfort into the hearts of many Haitians that didn’t have the joy of God before. So you know what’s even more devastating than Haiti? Walking down familiar streets at home and seeing people that are absolutely miserable despite all of the blessings and opportunities they’ve been given.
So no… I don’t feel sorry for the Haitians as much as I feel moved by compassion to help continue to bring God’s kingdom to them. God’s love has swept through Haiti because His people have brought it there with their smiles, kindness, generosity, and brotherly love. All of those secular organizations that brought aid to to Haiti? They were doing God’s work too–they’ve been a HUGE part of it and may not even know. God works in mysterious ways. The Haitians seem to know this more than anyone. Their country is in shambles, but they are boldly picking up the pieces and setting forth into a brighter future entering God’s kingdom.
It was a crazy, reckless idea. Signing up with an organization I’d only just heard of to go sleep in a clay house in the middle of Carrefour, Haiti because I felt God calling me there. But how wonderful the feeling of knowing that the risk was worth it. We can never know just how great our impact was on everyone we encountered, but our prayers are that the seeds we planted continue to grow and bear fruit for generations to come.