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Reflections from Haiti

It has been almost two weeks since I returned home from Haiti. My trip started off quite rough. After traveling from 2:00AM until about 1:00PM on Tuesday the 22nd, we arrived at the airport in Port au Prince. The line for immigration wound back and forth in the room and lacked air conditioning. I felt faint and began praying that I would have the strength to make it through the next hours of waiting. Steve graciously shared his water bottle with me, and it was enough to keep me upright. As God would teach me over and over on this trip, God’s grace is sufficient for me; His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This was to be a theme for me. After an evening of getting acclimated to our housing and getting the lay of the land from the Poured Out leaders, Levi Adams and Carlee Greene, we crawled into beds under mosquito nets in 80-something degree heat. I have been to El Salvador and the Dominican Republic before, but never remembered the heat to be so stifling. I do not say this to complain, but as Paul so often boasted in His weaknesses, I “boast” in my slowness in adapting to Haitian climate.

On our first day, I could not eat much for breakfast. Part of a banana, mango, and peanut butter sandwich. I told others on my team that morning that I wasn’t sure how the day would go with my stomach still irritating me. Thanks to some medicine from Bobbie, the rest of the day was much more bearable.

We learned how to install filters–one Hydraid filter complete with tubes. Ensure that the filter is level and in a place the homeowner deems acceptable. Add a layer of large gravel and water, always keeping water above the level of solids. Be sure to pour water in through the diffuser plate so as not to displace the gravel. Skim the water for floaties. Add a layer of smaller gravel. Skim. Add two 50-pound bags of sand; skim. Make sure the sand is two inches below the filter’s full line. Allow the first five-gallon bucket of water to pour through and measure its flow rate. Then pour it in again. From then on, you have dlo pwop (Creole for clean water).

Over the course of the week, our team installed 35 filters in the mountain villages of Pomme and Verger, as well as Fondoux. It was great to see each person in action, each person supporting others on the team, working together, making sure we stayed hydrated, and discerning how God was at work at our nightly debriefs.

Each installation involved us taking a picture of the person with his or her filter, writing down some tracking data and taking GPS coordinates of the filter, and the actual installation. One person colored with any children present, another taught the homeowner the basics of how the filters works, and another went through an extensive questionnaire with him or her. This questionnaire helps track the changes in people’s lives in terms of how much time and money is spent on treating illness due to waterborne diseases. We found that it was incredibly humbling to ask people about what kinds of sicknesses they had experienced, who worked outside the home, whether they had soap or not, etc.

Being in Haiti also necessarily means a new speed of life. We called it Haitian speed, and the constant joke was that we would be to the next place in “15 Haitian minutes.” In reality, I found myself walking slower and much more methodically. There was no need to speed along to the next task either. In Haiti, relationships come first. The kids wanted us to play games with them; the adults who knew a little English wanted to converse; and we quickly found that installing filters was only one component of our trip. The God-moments were slower moments.

greg 8At one home, we played with the kids outside the house and I immediately noticed a boy, maybe 5 years old, whose eyes mirrored my daughter’s. One eye was lazy and moved to the middle. I knew that he would not have access to the same kinds of vision therapy Isabelle is receiving. And I could already see he was being excluded from play by the others. His own (older) brother seemed to direct him around. He broke my heart and simultaneously made me well up with joy and love for my daughter. That was another thing all week–I could not help but imagine my children living in Haiti. We are blessed to be Americans.

On Sunday, our team visited the Wesleyan Church in Petit Goave, a church that was packed with an estimated 750 people. We were ushered to the front row five minutes into the service and caught bits and pieces of the message from our translators. A sermon from Ephesians 5:1-2 on imitating Christ rather than people who have been held up as models in our world today coincided with some of my devotions earlier that week. The pastor preached with passion, saying that if we stop imitating Christ, we have lost our identity in Him. I have a feeling he could teach pastors in our area a thing or two about preaching (and no, Peter, not a jest!).

I have repeatedly told others since coming home that God assembled our team as only He could. Tom and Greg used their skills to repair a water house in Fondoux that provides around 600 gallons of water to a church, school, and community. Nicole, a physical therapist, was able to assist a Wesleyan pastor who had broken his leg four months earlier–and who hadn’t been able to get back to his church yet! He now has hope to be walking and back to church within the next few weeks.

By the end of the week, I found God had given me more grace than I needed, and He worked in me and through me in the midst of my weakness. No fainting. No dehydration. He gave me the physical strength to climb a mountain twice and to play in a midday Sunday soccer game with a group of extremely gifted Haitians from the Fondoux Wesleyan Church. In case you’re wondering, we lost 3 to 10. I thank Him for all that happened on our trip and for whatever impact we made in His kingdom.

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Getting Ready for Haiti

I am preparing to leave on a trip to Haiti with my church this week. 8 days. Away from family, away from routines, away from comforts I am used to.

Actually, I’ve been preparing for this trip for almost a year now. It was supposed to have happened in March, just three weeks after my daughter’s birth. God rearranged the timing, and we leave Tuesday. In all my preparations to go, my oldest daughter, Isabelle, age 5, has been asking questions and excited about it.

“Dad, what will you do in Haiti?”

“Can I come?”

“What kind of water do the kids in Haiti drink? Why do they get sick?”

We’ve prayed together as a family, and I’ve enjoyed seeing Isabelle’s vision for the realities of this world enlarge. Life is not confined to what she knows of North Branch. I’m struck by the kinds of prayers she prays now. She wants the people in Haiti to have clean water so they can live.

When she left today to visit grandparents, she didn’t want daddy to leave. We cried, kissed, and prayed. While I miss my family already, I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for my daughter to see firsthand God doing something bigger than her imagination.

We are going with a group called Poured Out. They had a start several years ago after the earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti, and now they travel on a regular basis to install water filters in homes and schools.

The fifteen people from ouPoured Out Leadersr church are a mishmash. Some have international travel experience; others have barely left Michigan. Some are teens, others are in their 60s. I’m convinced that none of us will be fully prepared for our week away.

But isn’t that just how God wants it. No matter what the preparation, no matter what knowledge we try to gain to “control” the situation–in the end, this trip is a matter of faith.

So is life. A short-term mission trip is just a microcosm of life. We make plans. We learn what we need to learn. We go in with expectations. We come away changed, hopefully having practiced the presence of God and met Him in the process. And so one of my prayers is that we will take away that lesson: The things we think are unique to a mission trip aren’t unique; they’re magnified expressions of God at work in the same ways He is at work everyday. 

If you read this and want to pray for us, we would appreciate it. And I promise to give you an update when we return.

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