Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thoughts on Haiti

A steaming cup of coffee sits on the table next me. A newly turned four year old busily plays with all of his new toys a room away. He sings a song that he recently learned in Disney World and has started talking this morning about Christmas already. The TV plays in the background. I would usually be interested in world news, but today I just don't care.

Forty eight hours ago I was catching my last glimpse of Haiti through the window of a plane. I am ashamed to admit that I was happy to watch it fade away, as if the more distance that grew between my feet and the ground would make any kind of difference in the raw emotion that had not so subtly overtaken me.

I spent only 5 days in Haiti. A team of 17 people went there for one love orphans. I knew long before I arrived that the trip would be difficult for me. I knew what we would be doing. Puppet shows with the message of God's love, playing soccer, face painting, crafts and lots of hugs and hand holding. I was excited to be able to spend time with orphans in Haiti, but dreaded what just being there would do to me.

I expected to see devastation. I expected to see poverty on a scale much greater than I am used to in Guatemala. I expected to be disturbed and thought I was prepared for it. But the news is only photos and videos and the opinion of others and tent cities look a little different when seen through the lens of a camera. I expected to come back unchanged because I was already broken for those suffering around the world. Instead I came back shattered and barely able to speak about it at all.

There is no way to prepare for this and unless you have seen it first hand you will never truly understand it.

We spent time in five orphanages, one of which our church is partnered with and I have no doubt that the growing relationship we have with the pastor there will continue to be strengthened and lives will be changed because of it. As an advocate for orphans I expected the time we spent with the children to be what effected me the most. It was not. I enjoyed the time we spent with them, but everyone that knows me knows that what gets me the most are those vulnerable families that are on the brink of falling apart. Those families with children that without some type of intervention they will end up in orphanages, on the streets or dead. Those that struggle to survive. I loved the children, but every moment I ached to get outside of the walls of the orphanages. But that was not the purpose of this trip and I tried to push the thought of what was going on on the outside out of my mind.

Still, I can't.

I had no idea that tent cities (that are everywhere you look) would make such an impact on me. Knowing what goes on every night makes it hard for me to think about it, yet I have no right to feel the way I do because no matter how bad I know things are, I still have no idea what it is really like for those living it. In so many ways Haiti is just like what we are used to seeing in Guatemala. People wander the streets just wasting time. Many are unemployed, have no education and no safe place to rest. So many do not know where their next meal will come from. They are vulnerable to whatever the next disaster will be. The government is so corrupt that so many have no chance of ever seeing the other side of poverty. I am used to seeing street vendors lined up with their goods to sell and trying to bite my tongue when outsiders bring in all of the things that they are selling when we could be providing them with income instead. Because truly, just like Guatemala, every thing you need can be purchased in Haiti. There is no need to ship shoes, clothes, hygiene products, soccer balls, you name it. Every thing is there, on the streets, waiting to be purchased by someone that is trying support his family.

The crime is not the same as in Guatemala. I do not believe Haiti is as dangerous as Guatemala. There are gangs in the city, but nothing in comparison to those in Guatemala City and throughout the country. There are drugs there, but again, nothing like in Guatemala. But still, risk is everywhere and things have the potential to go horribly wrong all over the world. Haiti is no exception.

But even with it's similarities and the fact that overall it, in some way, is less "risky" than Guatemala, it is experiencing a small part of hell on earth. No one deserves to live the way people are living in Haiti. What bothers me the most is that even though I have seen it, I have no desire to go back.

I've talked to those closest to me, those who have a heart for missions like mine, and I know they are right when they say that I should not feel bad about not feeling the need to return to Haiti to work now, maybe never again. Our call to Guatemala is for sure. My pull to Cambodia has never faded. Those two I am certain about. But why when I know the need is there do I not feel called to work in Haiti other than on an occasional mission trip there and maybe not even that? Because I cannot be everywhere and it is so obvious that I am not called to spend a lot of time in Haiti despite the desperation there. A while back I wrote No Conditions. Now I get it. I had no idea then that I would travel to Haiti, but the Lord knew and I am clinging to Him knowing that it is OK for me to be feeling the way I am today. My heart is broken for the people of Haiti and I believe, as much as I hate to say it, that no organization has the answer and none of us are able to fix what has been so horribly broken. Without the Haitian people rising up, nothing will ever change and until then all we can do is pray and support the pastors there in their ministry efforts.

It may sound as if I regret visiting Haiti. I do not and I never will. Being there opened my eyes so much more to the needs of the world. That is what I prayed would happen, I just didn't realize it would be so intense. I was privileged to worship with people that have been through so much more than any of us and have an unbelievable faith and to wash the feet of one of the moms that has dedicated her life to the children in one of the orphanages. I did not deserve to ride around Haiti in an air conditioned bus, taking pictures of earthquake damage, rubble still piled on the road sides and looking into the eyes of people that surely wondered why we were there. I was blessed to have the dirtiest little hands braid my hair and to hear the sounds of the sweetest voices in a language I am not familiar with.

And I came back more certain than ever. I still need to see other parts of the world, but for now I have caught just a glimpse of what must be the worst of the worst. I love orphans and believe we have to care for them, but making sure vulnerable children never end up orphans is where the biggest part of my heart is. That means working to alleviate poverty. For us, that means physically working in Guatemala for now and praying for those that are called to other parts of the world and the countries where their hearts are.

I'm not sure when I will get pictures posted, but will try to do it soon for those that have asked.

Thank you for your prayers while we were in Haiti. Please continue to pray for our team as we continue to process this trip. And please, never forget Haiti.