Often on medical trips there are team members who have never journeyed to Haiti before, and Haiti can be quite challenging on any number of levels. On the 5th or 6th of the 7-8 night trip, we usually discuss the “re-entry” process and what that can entail upon arriving back home. I encourage my teammates to develop three answers to the inevitable “How was your trip?!” query. The first, most often used answer should be brief, no longer than 30 seconds, and typically sounds something like, “Oh, it was great!!” The second answer is usually around 2 minutes long. This is the answer given to the majority of friends, co-workers, and family. It tends to include an anecdote or two from the trip. The third answer is the real answer, reserved for a very special few. This answer may take some time to get words wrapped around, but the listener is safe and doesn’t mind waiting. This answer probably requires continued processing and perhaps even grieving as it is spoken aloud, so it is truly important the recipient be truly interested as well as willing to get “real” deep and dirty if needed.
What follows is a part of my real answer, five plus years and my whole heart in . . .
There are big moments in life, and there are defining moments in life. Our time in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was one of those big moments. Our experience with a gravely ill Maggie and her extraordinary, nay, miraculous recovery was life defining. So too, were the early trips to Haiti.
For most of Greg’s first trip in late 2008, I was a hot mess. I do not mean an attractive mess. I mean a sleepless, anxious-as-all-get-out, “he’s coming home in a body bag” mess. It was probably my roughest, toughest wrestling match with God to date, and generally speaking, wrestling matches with the Creator of the universe are losing endeavors. When I finally gave in and acknowledged my husband is no more “mine” than my children are, and God really has this whole thing under control, I was blessed with peace. A restored sensibility touched my bruised heart. My “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy,” was now the whisper of a faith in the throes of growing pains.
My first trip to Haiti in late 2009 served to confirm the truth of Greg’s and my collective call to serve and be in relationship with the Haitian people. The earthquake of 12 January, 2010 wrecked us both like no other disaster has before or since. Greg flew down less than a week later and spent a week helping in anyway he could. The only reason I wasn’t with him is my mister did not want his bride in the chaos.
Our next trip, in September 2010 brought the paradigm shift of true life altering proportion. My father joined us, anxious to see and understand WHY. He did not relish his own time in country, but, as the truck pulled away from Camatin on the last morning, I asked him if he understood now why I have to be in Haiti. My dad looked at me and said, “Oh, you have to be here! You MUST come back!” Add to his confirmation the miracle we witnessed that week. . .
As the second clinic day wound down, Greg and I were near giddy with fatigue and some despair, knowing how much more we could have offered our patients in the US. We were heavy with the great and true need of these people. Patient #169 was the final patient of the day. She was a bright-eyed beautiful little old lady, who had probably walked hours to get to us, somewhere around sunrise. She had then waited all day- it was now between 5:30 and 6:00 pm- to see us and would likely journey home in the dark. Who knows if she’d had anything more to eat than the small peanut butter wrap a team member gave her at some point during the day. Greg decided we needed to give her something, anything, just for being the final patient and for being so patient with us. He asked her, through his translator, Garel,”If I could give you anything in the world what would it be?” We expected her response to be shoes, or rice, or beans, or both, something of that sort. No. She looked at Greg and said, again through Garel, eyes shining as she spoke, “Why, I don’t need anything. I have the love of Jesus in my heart.” She had come and waited all day just to see us. what? Greg’s knees hit the concrete floor. Everyone on our team stopped whatever they were doing to lift this woman up in praise and thanksgiving. In all of our trips to this area, we never saw her again. . . Do you hear the paradigm as it shifts? It is not about us, or the “blessing” we have to offer. It’s simply, and completely about the Giver of blessings. He chooses how and when they are given.
Between my dad’s affirmation, the encounter with that precious woman (angel?), and the general experience of being in country over the past several years, my love for Haiti and her people has done nothing but grow. Haiti calls . . .
Now, how does she call? This is one of those phenomena more easily explained by what it is not in order to come to the understanding of what it is. . .
Haiti does not call to my vanity. You see, I am almost as girly girl as they come. I don’t like camping , and I really don’t like being hot, sweaty, and dirty. I am bidden to die a little more to myself every trip. And, since sometime in 2012, one of my favorite spots on the planet is in the back of Hypollite’s white pickup truck, sunscreen and sunglasses on, iPod playing “road trip” or “Bondye Bon” playlist, face turned toward the sun, wind blowing hair into small knots for the 8+ hour ride from the airport in Port au Prince to our hotel in Les Anglais. To say I am dirty at trip’s end, layered in sunscreen/road dust/diesel soot/and whatever other gunk is in the air, is ummmm, a bit of an understatement. But that space in the back of the pickup truck is one of only three truly safe spaces in my life. Safe. Sacred, really.
Haiti does not call to my professional vanity either. I am pretty much totally over my head when there, if not for some protocols written by dear friends and Providential guidance. There is so much need. So much disease. So much struggle for health. If the medical team lengthens or betters just one life on any given trip, there is enormous trickle down benefit, and we are blessed to see hundreds of patients every trip.
Haiti does not really even call to my sensitive “bleeding heart,” because sentiment all too easily gives way to anger and frustration at the corruption, the lack of operating infrastructure, the violence, the looking out for oneself, for any opportunity to “better” one’s lot in life, no matter the cost or hurt and shame inflicted. But, I have seen miracles. I have made precious life long friends in my translators who are young men trying hard to care for their families and friends in a life affirming, incorruptible way. And I have heard rain so loud no hearing aid was necessary and therefore the joy of that sound all the more sweet to my tired, less than perfect ears.
Haiti’s call is not about Lenia, though it is the call and our obedience to it that led us to her. The call of Haiti is a primal one. It is, in philosophical terms, prelinguistic, primitive beyond even language. The call’s presence and force in my life has been there always and already, just waiting for my ears to hear it. It is a part of the base, foundational level of who I am. This call, this work, is what I was created for. It is a soul-call. It is a God-call. The events of my life, so many of them, led me to her beautiful shores and mountains. Our gratitude for Maggie’s health, our willingness to go, my precious family’s willingness to commit and support are all essential elements of my ability to answer her. Ayiti Cheri mwen (my dear, beloved Haiti), has beckoned for such a long time. I pray to be worthy of her patience. I pray I will hear her always.