My daughter and I just completed a 7-day mission trip to Haiti through our church in collaboration with Mission of Hope. As an organization following Jesus Christ, Mission of Hope exists to bring life transformation to every man, woman and child in Haiti. To say it was a life-changing experience would be an understatement. I learned so much in my week there, and will always have the people of Haiti in my heart. It was an amazing trip that was filled with lots of opposites. Since returning, I've told people it was rewarding yet exhausting at the same time. I encountered things I had never seen, smells I had never smelled, and dealt with inconveniences that I normally don't deal with in my everyday life. Yet, I met people I will never forget. People whom I didn't catch their name, but their story will forever be etched in my memory and heart.
What made this trip even more memorable is the fact that my daughter was able to make it with me. She worked really hard to raise money from friends, family, and our community to be able to go on the trip. She saved Christmas money and birthday money too, in order to be a part of this mission team. I'm forever grateful that my first mission trip at the age of 40 was one that included my 11-year old daughter. I tell people she did better than most adults 3 times her age. She definitely has a heart for mission work, and I'm pretty sure this is not her last trip!
Many of y'all have asked what we did on the trip, and I thought I'd share some of our daily schedule with you, as well as pictures and videos we took on our phone to document the trip.
Saturday, March 10-Travel Day
We started at 4:00 am at the Nashville International Airport and made our way to Port-Au-Prince. If you've never been on a mission trip, you would be shocked at the number of suitcases that are required for the trip. Everything from our food for the week to the supplies we used in the village to the games we took with us to the orphanage had to be loaded up on the plane. We had mosquito nets, portable fans, bottle after bottle of bug spray, snacks, Bibles, and more. Luckily, we had a veteran mission trip expert leading our crew and we just followed her lead. It was her 21st trip to Haiti, so as you can imagine, she ran a well-oiled machine.
We arrived in Haiti mid-afternoon and I cannot begin to describe the sights and sounds when we got there. We were warned ahead of time (through pre-mission trip meetings) that Haiti can be quite the experience for the first-time visitor. I'm honestly not sure I was prepared for what I saw as we made our way to the campus of Mission of Hope. But before I describe that, let me show you what we traveled in! It was a vehicle that we all sat on benches inside the bed and all our luggage was crammed on one side. LC said she felt like she was on a roller coaster ride!
On the 45-minute drive to Titayen (the village we would call home for a week), we passed sights I had never seen before. (I lived in Mexico so I'm not immune to seeing a foreign country. But Haiti was unlike anything I had ever seen in Mexico). There is no sanitation so trash is everywhere. People live in makeshift houses, they bathe in river waters and there are no traffic laws. I've never heard so many horn honks in my entire life EVER. After a very interesting ride, we arrived at the main campus of Mission of Hope and started unpacking. The best way I can describe our room is what I imagine summer camp for adults would be like. We had 12 bunks, 1 bathroom, no air conditioning and the tiniest mattresses you'll ever see. Each bunk was covered in mosquito netting and had a portable fan at the end (remember no air conditioning?) Also to conserve energy, we only had electricity from around 6:30 pm to 3:30 am, and then again from around 6-8:00 am. I never really knew exactly the time schedule for electricity-other than the fact that at 3:30 am most nights I was there I woke up in a sweat because my portable fan had turned off. If you know me at all or have read this blog for a while, you know I don't "camp." Seriously I might "glamp" but roughing it is not something I enjoy. So to say I was out of my comfort zone when I saw our sleeping quarters for the next week is an understatement. But, God doesn't call the equipped-He equips the called. I managed to "rough it" for a 8 days, and God rewarded me with some amazing interactions with the people of Haiti.
Pictures from Mission of Hope
Below, you'll see pictures from where we stayed for the week. You'll see our mosquito net covered bunk bed, our school bus we took each day, and the views from the rooftop above our room.
Sunday, March 11
Sunday was a great day! We started the morning with breakfast in the open-air "mess hall" and we ate on picnic style tables. We had a tour of the main campus, including the warehouse where they had all the supplies. One thing we saw that spoke to me was all the Toms shoes that they give to Haiti. I'm a huge fan of Tom's Shoes, and I always knew they advertised "Buy a Pair and we give a pair." Well, I saw it first-hand. We saw case after case of Tom's Shoes in the Mission of Hope warehouse that were there because people bought in the U.S. and Tom's donated pairs to the less fortunate. What's funny is a few days later the kids in the orphanage were looking at my Iphone pics. They saw the picture below and said "Toms?" in perfect English. They knew exactly what was in those boxes!
After touring the warehouse, we headed down the hill to a Haiti led church service. It was a building with simply crafted pews and all open air. As the Haitians started arriving, tons of missionaries from all over the world gathered in the same church. Most of us didn't speak the same language, but we could all understand what was happening. My favorite moment was when one of my team members started crying listening to the worship songs sung in Creole. As she did, the little Haitian boy next to her, looked up and wiped away her tears. It was such a simple act, but had profound meaning for all of us.
After church, we ate lunch and then loaded up on the bus to see the other campus for Mission of Hope, as well as another village. Some of the highlights from that afternoon including visiting a nursing home at the Beresy Campus. We visited with the elderly (who unfortunately are often not taken care of) and we witnessed people loving on others even though we couldn't understand their language. One of my team members took one of the ladies and went dancing underneath the pavillion. It was such a sweet gesture to get to watch, and one of the moments I will always remember when I think of Haiti.
After leaving the nursing home, we were able to take in the view of a beach on the campus of Beresy. Next to the beach, Mission of Hope had built a group of houses called "Blue to Block." These block houses were an upgrade for families who had been living in the blue tents that Samaritan's Purse gave to residents following the massive earthquake several years ago. The blue tents were meant as a temporary living solution for residents, and unfortunately people continued living in there for way longer than 6 months. The "Blue to Block" housing was extremely impressive.
Here are beach views LC and I were able to capture:
Here's where Haiti gets interesting. After seeing the beauty of the ocean, we hopped back on the bus and went to a village where we saw kids living in poverty you can't imagine. We saw those blue tents we had just heard about, and we witnessed kids in conditions that are hard to put into words. I saw children wearing dingy old clothes, no underwear and no pants. I saw a little boy pulling a Coke bottle with a string that he had made into a car. I saw kids who probably just learned to walk come press their faces against our bus door. It's still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that these kids are allowed to wander the village alone, and they'll come up to strangers to seek affection. Here are some of those pictures we grabbed on my phone.
Monday, March 12, 2018-Thursday, March 15, 2018
Our regular daily schedule consisted of eating breakfast at 7:00 a.m., then getting on a bus to head to the village of Williamson for Strategic Village Time at 8:00 am, 9:00-12:00-Strategic Village Time, eating lunch at noon at a church in Williamson and then heading to an orphanage at 1:00. We would usually be back to Mission of Hope by 4:30, dinner at 5:30, and sometimes a night-time activity, such as worship. We ended the night around 8:00 pm with a devotional led by one of our church pastors.
After a very interesting bus ride each morning (I'm seriously not kidding-I prayed for safety and our life every time I got on a bus), we arrived at the town of Williamson. Each day we unloaded our supplies from the bus (huge jugs of purified water, coolers with our lunch, and any supplies we needed for the day). We hiked up the rocky road to the local church which was our home base for the day, and got ready to go into the village.
The local villagers speak Creole French, so we always had 1-4 translators with us. Most days, with the exception of the day we painted a house, we broke up into two teams. During our Strategic Village Time, the Village Champion took us to houses in the village and we talked with the residents. We tried to understand their living situation, where and how they got their water, if they had any health issues, if they had access to food, if their children were able to attend school, what they did for a living and if they had a relationship with Jesus. Our goal was to help them with as many of these things as we could, including letting them know how to clean their water, giving them Aqua Tablets to purify their water, explaining how to register for the Mission of Hope Schools, explaining about the Mission of Hope mobile clinics and inviting them to their local church. Strategic Village Time was one of the "hardest" things, in my opinion, that we did all week. And by hard, I mean mentally and emotionally hard. I met people who hadn't had access or been to a Doctor in 25 years. I met one man who had a latrine (not even a bathroom) that he couldn't use because it was full. He had several children and couldn't afford to send any of them to school. If you didn't know, Haiti doesn't have a public school system, so parents either have to pay for school or they have to send their children to orphanages where sponsors will pay for their school. It was heartbreaking to talk to a father who has health issues, no job and cannot get his child to school. While in the village, I met a woman who had given birth to her 3rd daughter in what was a "hut" with a dirt floor. She handed me her 6-week old, and it was a moment I'll never forget. When we asked how we could pray for her, she simply asked to pray that she be able to provide better housing for her three girls. When I asked if they had access to food, she said through friends, she's able to feed her children. These are things that so many of us Americans take for granted. Seeing it first-hand really opened my eyes to everything that we are blessed with in the U.S.
During Strategic Village time, we met so many families and learned of so many hardships they deal with on a daily basis. But we also discovered people smiling and laughing-despite all the hardships.
There were lots of Animals EVERYWHERE! We saw goats, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats everywhere we went. We even saw turkeys when we were in the orphanage. LC had to snap a picture of a super tiny kitten while we were in the village.
The last picture I'm sharing from Strategic Village Time is of a little infant asleep on a porch. We were taken to meet his grandmother who was lying on the porch taking a nap. I was concerned something might be wrong with her health since she was literally laying on the porch, and she said no she was fine. It wasn't until we got ready to leave that we saw the infant lying behind her. He had a mesh shirt on, no diaper or pants, and was covered in flies. He was taking a nap outside. It was the complete opposite from the way we raise our babies in the U.S. Our babies usually lack for nothing. We have Baby Bjorns to carry them in, sound machines to soothe them, swings that rock them to sleep and ensure they are comfortable everytime we lay them down for a npa. It was such a hard site to see this little infant on the porch outside in the heat covered in flies.
Fixer upper-haiti style
While we were there, we also painted one of the villager's house. He and his family were able to choose the colors they wanted, and we provided the paint and the labor. Y'all know I love a good DIY project, so this was right up my alley. What I wasn't prepared for was how hot it would be on a ladder painting the exterior! The women on the team had to wear a skirt or pants in the village, and it was so H-O-T. But, watching that man's expression when we finished the house was so worth it. He and his wife were extremely grateful for our work, and prayed over our team when we finished. We not only did the exterior, but we painted the four rooms in the interior. Check out the Before and After pics below.
Spending time with the kids of haiti!
One of the highlights each day of my trip for both my daughter and me was getting to interact with the children at the orphanages. At both orphanages, we played games with the kids, loved on them, took pictures with them and had an amazing time with all of them.
I want to share the link for both orphanages so that you all can see the amazing work they do. Both organizations Poverty Resolutions and Fontana Village are invested in the children of Haiti. They want to feed, clothe and educate these kids so that they will be the next generation of Haiti. Both organizations were founded by Americans who want to see a brighter future for the kids of Haiti. I was honored to get a glimpse into what they do with these children.
Here are some insights I gained while visiting with kids in the orphanages:
- Many of them have families-they aren't orphans like Americans know orphans. However, oftentimes, their families can't afford to feed, clothe and educate them so they have to send them to an orphanage.
- These kids are smiling and happy and full of life.
- They crave hugs and interactions-which LC and I were more than happy to share with them!
- They get excited by little things. I saw a group of boys sharing a bowl of mismatched Legos. Literally a tiny cereal bowl housed all the Legos they all owned. I immediately felt sick thinking of all the Legos my son has in his collection.
- These kids literally would play with anything! They kept trying to take our mosquito bracelets off to play with each day.
- The future of Haiti looks bright if organizations like the ones I encountered are raising up the next generation.
Here are some videos from the days we got to play with the kids!
Our Final Day in Haiti
Our last full day in Haiti we were able to spend doing some leisure activities. It gave our team a chance to rest before returning to the U.S. We had been going non-stop since arriving, and I'm not going to lie, I really enjoyed some leisure time on Friday.
We had the opportunity to do an Artisan Experience. Mission of Hope works with Vi Bella and 3Cords. They employ Haitians and teach them skills like jewelry making and sewing. We fell in love with not only the merchandise in the store on campus, but also the "Why" behind each piece. LC and I were able to get to meet the women and men behind the merchandise, and we got to make our own 3Cords headband. One really awesome thing about the company is that they employ several hearing impaired Haitians. It's extremely hard to get a job in Haiti, and even harder if you have a disability. We interacted with many deaf people who were employed as artisans for the company.
We spent the remainder of our last day at Wahoo Beach in Haiti with our whole team. It was sunny and hot and relaxing and perfect! It was a great week to end a very rewarding week.
And...just like that...our week in Haiti came to a close. I learned so much during this trip, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to go. Here are the complete links to all the organizations I mentioned during the post! If any of my readers ever has any questions, please message me!