EVERY trip to Haiti comes with its share of challenges, lessons learned, epiphanies, stumbles and joy… pretty much like everyday life. As I’ve noted in previous articles from this year’s mission, for all those who travel to serve (whether it’s around the neighborhood or around the world) it’s important to remember: we need those whom we serve as much as, if not more than, they need us. We are not the answer to all of life’s problems. Jesus is the answer.
So, what were the challenges this time around?
The traffic in and around Port au Prince, all the way through the market areas of Carrefour, was worse than we encountered last year. On our discovery trip in 2016 we didn’t experience delays as we drove to Marianie. Even though we planned for some delay, travel time seriously cut into the amount of time our team could utilize for hands-on ministry work.
Speaking of work, the scope of work changed significantly from what we originally expected. Please don’t misunderstand; we are quite used to scope creep on missions to Haiti. This year’s goals were planned out with the understanding we would have to purchase a certain variety and amount of materials. We just didn’t realize that the shift in project environment(s) would create a need for us to go to market almost every morning and/or evening.
Time challenged us.
In addition to traffic and the delays caused by multiple trips to multiple hardware stores, we encountered two days during which we could accomplish no work. Losing two full work days really impacted our accomplishment quotient.
On mission, as in life, challenges present phenomenal learning opportunities. One of the reasons I journal every day in Haiti is so that I can present an accurate depiction of each day in these blog articles. I also journal so that I can look through my notes months after our trip and use lessons learned to shape our planning for the next journey.
Here are some specific lessons we learned during July 2017:
If you’re going to bring fancy tools, bring extra batteries. Battery-powered tools make good looking paper weights when the batteries die
If your work/ministry requires long hours, find somewhere close by to stay. The CMBH guest house in Port au Prince is awesome and the staff is amazing. Last year, it was the perfect base of operation. This year? Perhaps not so much
Don’t make concrete plans when you haven’t seen the actual work location(s). We did a lot of homework before finalizing the list of materials we bought in the States and that which we planned on buying in-country. We didn’t totally blow it, but the type/size/elevation of houses that we ended up working on did necessitate significant changes to our plans
There are many more lessons I could share, but you get the idea. The final lesson, one which I learn anew each year is: don’t give up devotional time because of schedules – God is the reason you are there in the first place; at a minimum, start and end your day with Him.
I touched on my biggest epiphany in yesterday’s blog: as a leader, I need to be helping grow new leaders. A good place to start will be compiling mission history along with preparing (and maintaining) a list of current resources that will help those who come next.
One epiphany that keeps coming around is: we can’t do this alone. This one has a variety of meanings, from the basic truth that we need to work within (and with) the local Haitian community - and under the leadership of the local church - all the way to the need for partnerships that allow teams to tackle larger, more complex projects.
The day after our primary vehicle broke a wheel bearing or axle or whatever it was, we discovered a back way up the mountain because we had a lot of material with us. But, that said, it was absolutely the right thing to do for us to walk up and down the mountain every other day. Sure, it would’ve been easier to drive up, but we would have totally missed the interaction we enjoyed with a number of community residents.
I don’t recall too many stumbles this year. Taking into account all the literal and metaphorical lane changes, detours and traffic jams we encountered, things went pretty well. However, the last day I stumbled and let frustration bubble over. It’s always a great idea to have mundane details like luggage, personal documents, tickets, etc. organized and I thought I had it all together. Suffice it to say, when the moment came and I had to open my already-packed bags to get something out, and then re-close… the physics and geometry were beyond me and frustration won for a few minutes.
Ephesians 6, especially verses ten through seventeen, is what I typically highlight when people ask about my favorite Bible verse/passage. Well, the enemy won that battle, but he did so when he caught me without my armor on – a mistake I wouldn’t repeat later that evening.
Which brings us to joy.
It’s easy to look at the physical work we accomplished and feel a little disappointed that we didn’t get everything completed that we had planned. However, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we accomplished what God had in mind for our trip. We – myself, Keith, Berdy, and Patrick – can rest easy in the knowledge that we made a positive impact on the Marianie community. It’s not up to me, but I’m pretty sure that impact is still being felt and I know that long after we’re gone, the people there will thank God for any positives that they experienced as a result of our visit – and that’s the way it should be.
Be the donkey…
The last thing I want to share from this year’s mission to Haiti is an event from our layover in Atlanta. We had an afternoon flight out of Port au Prince and a late connection back to Rocket City. The long layover afforded us the opportunity to grab a relaxing dinner in the airport while we waited for our connecting flight. After the usual immigration and customs rodeo – the one that involves collecting and rechecking your bags, and passing through security… again – we happened on a TGI Friday’s restaurant. I was not so much excited at the promise of Nouveau American cuisine as I was at the prospect of watching a preseason match between Manchester United and Barcelona on one of the many televisions around the bar area.
We chose a high-top by the window that gave us a good view and ordered from our server, Margo. Although focused on dinner and the game, I caught glimpses of Margo working around the small restaurant. It seemed like she was upset about something – or maybe just concentrating on work; she was busy. In any case, I started hearing that still, small voice; and it was urging me to ask Margo if there was anything we could pray with her about.
After settling our checks, I spoke up and asked Margo the question. The transformation of her features was amazing. Her smiled lit up the area and she eagerly shared some details of her own faith, while asking us to pray for her son, who is in the army. I threw caution to the wind and asked if she would like to pray with us. Again, invitation gladly accepted and we had a swift, but sweet time of prayer.
Afterward, there were hugs all around and we went on our way… with the joy of the Lord filling us much more than any dinner could.
Planning is already underway for next year’s trip. We are hopeful that God will equip us to help Pastor Pelege and his team drill a well for the Marianie community. If you are interesting in learning more about this project and how you can help, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Although it will likely be summer 2018 before we can make it back to Haiti, it’s best to be prepared in case the door opens sooner!
Thank you for letting me share the details of our Haiti 2017 mission. It’s already mid-October and National Novel Writing Month – NANOWRIMO – is looming! My blog will likely revert (mostly) to subjects more germane to various literary pursuits, but I’m always available to talk with you about Haiti. Don’t be shy about leaving a comment!