Kirk: When we first started thinking about this trip, Shaun kept telling us, this is going to be a really different mission trip! And it was! When we took off across Port au Prince on that bus, I thought, “What have I gotten us into?” But by the time we got on JUST MERCY’s boat there at the shore, the difference was so, so vast. It was a beautiful evening sail to the island!
Shaun: We all had the feeling of oppression as soon as we arrived in Haiti. It was as if a fog of gloom had settled over everything. Seeing the absolute poverty, unlike anything you see in the United States, breaks your heart. Seeing the trash everywhere makes you want to turn around and go home.
We covered planes, trains, automobiles, motos. and a boat to get to Ile a Vache. When we arrived on the island, we entered the Just Mercy “Base”, and there was an instant sense of calm, of peace. This place is like an oasis in this beautiful yet ugly country.
The “Base” is two buildings surrounded by a stick fence. One building had a rooftop deck that we nicknamed “The Upper Room” where we ate our meals. While the buildings are solidly built, it wasn’t that sense of “Security” that gave us the sense of peace. It was the overwhelming feeling of hope, love, and calmness in that place. It was the eye in the storm.
Bill played “In the Eye of the Storm” on the morning we were going to the mountain and he played it again when we were coming back down. In the Eye of the Storm, God is in control. In a country that is a storm, their little mission is where people come, where we went, where the villagers would come to hear about Him, and you know that they felt it was a place of peace.
Greg: This was my first mission trip. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. We‘re celebrating our 30th anniversary this year and my idea was ‘Let’s go to Mexico, sit on a beach for seven days, eat nachos and pizza! I’m going to have a good time.” God had different plans. He said, “Greg, you’re going to Haiti.” Aww! Well, at least there’s a beach. Then He said, “Greg, you’re going to the mountains.” “Oh God, come on! This is not what I want to do!”
But once we got to the mountain, I knew of course, God was right. This is where we were supposed to be. This was a 3 ½ hour hike. I’m in pretty good shape but then a woman seven months pregnant passed me in flip flops with a box on her head.
Once we got to the little village of Janou, (the village Bill visited last year that no white person had ever visited) the people were so hospitable. While we were in a room separating the seed and food that we had brought, we asked what the biggest need that they had was. Without hestitaiton, the pastor said, “Roofs”. Well, that night we found out why they needed roofs. As we were sleeping it rained and the drips started hitting me on the head. I understand their biggest need. You can’t sleep with water dripping on your head.
The next morning, they took us on a tour of the village to show us their homes and the roofs. It just breaks your heart. The simple thing of keeping dry. They’re farmers and they need the rain but they need roofs!
We’ve heard Chad (MCC’s pastor) say time and again, “What practical thing can we do to show God’s love?“ I can’t think of anything better to do than help these folks put roofs on their houses.
Pam remembers: Never once on the climb to Janou were we alone, whether it was a school girl helping me up a steep part or the pastor encouraging us of a shade tree just ahead and of course, Bill offering his walking stick steadied me, “for thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”.
Just across from the foundation of what had been their church (destroyed in the hurricane) was a small patch of green grass where we rested and watched as the food and seeds we had brought were divided. Children gathered around Shaun and Kirk as they took pictures of them and then showed the children their faces. Lots of giggles and hugs.
Back at the Pastor’s house, “He prepares a table before me…” we were fed a bountiful meal of chicken and rice, more than any of us could consume from the food we had brought with us. After showing the Jesus film in Creole to the villagers, the pastor and his wife insisted we all (twenty some) stay in their “home”. The family graciously gave up their beds for us strangers.
I’ll never forget the pastor and his wife and 3 babies sleeping on the floor at the foot of our bed and once everyone was in their place, they pulled a plate of cold food out from under the bed and consumed their supper meal in the dark. They had been too busy seeing to everyone else’s needs earlier to eat before then. Such hospitality!
As Kirk and I lay there thinking this would be the longest night of our life, I remembered Jesus was born in a stable and these were by far better conditions. A long, cold, wet, rainy night on the mountain of Janou followed. We greeted the day in His presence as we listened to the pastor praying and his wife singing before the sun even began to shine. The rooster crowed and a chicken encouraged me to rise and shine as it flew on to my bed from the rafters above! The pastor’s wife quickly shooed it off of me. Breakfast was served and the hike back down began. Villagers made the hike with us to help carry the ‘load’.
Cynthia recalls: The children tug at your heart. That’s the first thing that you notice. The most interesting thing is they are such a contrast in their emotions. The children who came to us for medical treatment never shed a tear, never made a sound. They never said a word. One little boy had his leg gashed open and had to get stitches. Another little boy came. His older brother got irritated with him and threw a pot of boiling water in his face, burning off the side of his face, and he just….sat there.
But the other side of it is they laugh so easily. And they have nothing to entertain themselves. A few boys played soccer. Some girls played with marbles in the dirt.
After we spread the word, it seemed like a jillion children came one afternoon because they have nothing else to do. Janet read them a Bible story. Then we asked them to draw a picture with the index cards and crayons we had brought. They don’t seem to have the critical thinking skills to process the fact that “I just heard a story and now I’m going to draw a picture of it.” They had no clue. Shaun even drew a picture of a lion’s head to show them. (The story was Daniel and the Lion’s Den.) They still couldn’t put it together so they started drawing things they knew like flowers and boats. You draw what you know.
For a moment it just made me feel at peace because I thought for a few minutes these kids can be kids. They loved having their pictures taken with their drawings. You just don’t know what to do for them except love on them and pray for them and we just tried to show as much love as we could by holding their hand or giving them a hug or touching their face or patting their head or sharing our water. They get in your heart.
We’ve all had dreams about these kids since coming home and we know that God is in control with them and they do stand a chance through Him.
I’m so grateful to Bill and his family for giving so much of their life and so much of their time because he is that light. They follow him around like the pied piper. Everywhere he goes, he just has a parade of children following him. Because they know that there is something different about him. This was such an amazing experience for all of us. We have to continue to pray for those sweet babies.
We watched the most amazing sunrises and sunsets from the “Upper Room”, sitting in beautiful Adirondack chairs made out of native woods made in JUST MERCY’s wood shop, listening to the waves lapping on the shore right in front of us. In the midst of the chaos and suffering of the storm that is Haiti, we were in the eye of the storm.
The cool thing was that the calm in the storm went with us as we walked all over the island. We took food to some elderly people and as “Daddy Bill”, as the locals called him, walked by, people would come out to see him, to shake his hand and talk to him, to hug him. The people would invite us into their homes, what we would call huts, and ask us to sit and talk. We didn’t speak Creole, but with the help of Bill and our interpreter, we communicated. Children followed us, often taking our hands and walking beside us.
Isn’t this what we are called to be on earth, the eye of the storm? They will know we are Christians by our love, and we live in a world filled with hate, evil, pain, and darkness. The darker things are, the brighter the Light we bring is. If I am truly being the Light, the reflection of Jesus, then there is light wherever I go. Evil hides in the shadows, but people are craving for the light. God alone is the anchor when our sails are torn and our ship is being tossed by the wind and waves of the storm.
Whether I am at work, at home, or on the island of Ile a Vache, I should be casting light into the darkness, bringing hope to the hopeless. Sometimes, there are special places where the presence of God is so real, so palpable, you can feel a difference between them and the surrounding world. I want to BE such a place!
Epilogue: Monett Community Church has decided to “adopt” the village of Janou! They are raising funds to put roofs on the 20-30 huts still needing them in the village. Then they hope to rebuild the church, use it as a school also, and hire a teacher for the children as those few out of many who are fortunate enough to go to school have to hike three hours EACH WAY. Please continue to lift JUST MERCY and the people of Haiti up in prayer. (More pictures are below and a short slideshow at the very bottom about two injured little boys.)