In years past, missions to Haiti sometimes involved intricate travel plans. In 2010, we had to spend the night in Miami. This may not seem like a hardship, but when each team member has a 50-pound suitcase full of ministry materials as well as their own suitcase - likely weighing the maximum 50 pounds as well - having to break your trip, claim bags and haul them to a hotel, only to get up after a few hours of sleep and haul them back to the airport, well, that can be a bit of a drag. Sometimes literally!
Our Alabama teams have previously driven to Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville to embark on Haiti trips. It all depends on ticket cost, how many people are traveling, departure and return times, and the details of everyone's life schedule. This year, there were only two American travelers, so we flew directly out of Huntsville (HSV). Yes, the flight still left early - as you can see from the sunrise shot above - but it was nice to have a local departure and we were definitely looking forward to a local arrival on our way back.
Let me add a word about planning. As a writer, I am what other writers call a pantser. That means I often don't outline my stories ahead of time and rather let them grow organically, which allows the narrative to take the lead. I would not recommend this approach if you are planning a trip to Haiti. Although the country has recovered significantly from the 2010 earthquake, it is best to have transportation, lodging and other details confirmed prior to arrival.
If you've read this far, you may already be thinking, 'What's the point? Why did you go to Haiti?'
As I've noted on this site's main Haiti page, we've previously served in a wide variety of capacities. This year, our mission was to work with Pastor Pelege and L'Eglise Evangelique du Bon Berger or, in English, The Good Shepherd Evangelical Church, located in Marianie, Haiti.
During last year's trip, we visited Good Shepherd as part of our mission to determine where in Haiti God is calling our church/teams to serve. This summer's mission included construction of simple rain water collection systems and distribution of family water filters.
Take a moment and imagine what American life would be like without our easy access to water.
I don't know about you, but I am personally guilty of wasting water. I leave faucets running, I wash our cars, I water our lawn, and so on. I even pour out partial glasses of water so I can get a fresh glass full. A thirsty person would be abundantly satisfied simply having the amount of water we waste on a daily basis. Water is a requirement for life, yet it is something that is hard to obtain and sustain through daily life in Haiti.
The Aeroport International Toussaint Louverture in Port au Prince is vastly different today than it was in 2010. I recall walking into the ground floor area where immigration, baggage claim and customs were all jammed together in a dark, cave-like atmosphere, with only the daylight filtering through cracks in boarded-up windows to provide illumination.
Today, most of the airport's functions have been restored and modernized. That said, Delta apparently doesn't rate use of the jetways, so we still had to hoof it across the tarmac and into the terminal. After paying the obligatory $10 entrance fee, clearing immigration while trying to dust off our meager Haitian Creole vocabulary, and eventually retrieving our bags and passing through customs (not without paying some helpful gentleman another "fee"), we hit the exit.
Remember what I said about planning ahead?
A driver was scheduled to meet us. I had been told that he would have a placard clearly marked so we could identify him as a CMBH (Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d'Haiti) representative. Granted, there are A LOT of people surrounding the airport exit, but no matter how carefully we scanned the crowd, our driver was nowhere to be found.
My mission partner, however, had spotted a friendly face - Berdy Jean Mary - one of the two Haitian men who would be working with us during the week. After greeting Berdy, he led us to the side where we exchanged warm greetings with Patrick Jean, our other ministry partner. But the biggest surprise came when we saw Jean Bildad Michel - a young man with whom we had previously worked in the village of Minoterie. Bildad is now the director of the Joseph School and he was at the airport picking up a team of folks arriving to work on classroom construction.
Berdy and I took another turn around the exit area outside the airport, but were still not able to locate our driver. Bildad kindly offered to take us to the guest house where we would be staying. After unsuccessful attempts to call the guest house and discover what had happened to our planned pick up, we gratefully accepted and set off.
There are all sizes of accommodation at the CMBH Guest House in Port au Prince. We were shown to our home for the week, which ended up being a small room with two sets of bunk beds - perfect for our four-person team. After stowing our gear, we headed downstairs to find Pastor Pelege. Warm greetings were followed by an informal discussion, talking about general details for the week.
We were chagrined to learn that Pastor Labranche, the country director for CMBH, had driven to the airport to look for us. We still don't know if Pastor Labranche was the driver or if he went because something had happened to our originally scheduled driver, but I felt terrible that Pastor Labranche had made the trip for nothing.
After dinner (rice with beans, meat, etc.) we met with Pastor Labranche and Pastor Fito to go over plans for the week. There were still a lot of details up in the air, like where we would get the materials we needed and exactly what some of those materials needed to be, but we covered as much as we could and laid out the plan.
One not-so-unexpected outcome of the meeting was when Pastor Labranche asked me to preach at the Good Shepherd church on Sunday morning. I say it was not unexpected, but I discovered that mine was not to be just a brief message of encouragement to the church - I was the sole message for Sunday morning's service!
I had some studying - and praying - to do.
The CMBH Guest House does have WiFi with an Internet connection. That said, with several other teams in residence, the connection is really only good for quick updates on social media, email and so on. I did discover that, somehow, the (text) messaging app on my Verizon phone worked via the WiFi, so I could simply text my wife back in Alabama instead of having to utilize Facebook messenger or something of the sort.
The first day had indeed been a long one. After reaching out to my wife and letting her know we had arrived and were safely ensconced at the guest house, it was time to hit the sack and get some rest. Tomorrow promised to be busy.