March 12, 2010

Haiti and Me - Part 2

I have so many other things I should be doing right now, but I just can’t get away from Haiti. I don’t know why I feel so sad today, but I do. My thoughts are there. My heart is there. My fingers feel compelled to tap away on the keyboard to get it out.

I mentioned in my last post that Haiti wasn’t what I expected. Keep in mind that I saw a very small part of the earthquake situation. Haiti is still very much in crisis. The rubble in Port-au-Prince will take years to clear away before they can even start to rebuild. Hundreds of thousands are homeless. Needs far exceed the help available. Haiti very much needs our support for years to come.

But in my small slice of this desperately poor country, I saw hope. On a remote, arid acreage I saw the birthing of a community guided by the loving and capable hands of the American Refugee Committee and specifically one amazing young woman named Leah Elliott. At 28 years old, Leah has seen and done far more than most of us will do in a lifetime.

She flew to Haiti from a camp she ran in Rwanda. She came on a UN flight days after the earthquake and hasn’t left since. She doesn’t go home at night to a comfy bed, running water or cable TV. She sleeps in one of the tents right alongside the refugees (technically they’re internally displaced people or IDPs). Every day Leah works tirelessly to collaborate with other aid agencies, guides the camp community to run smoothly, and looks to build a future for the residents of this camp, Camp Hope.

Today I received an email from Leah and she said they’re looking to rebuild the local school across the road from the camp. Ideally they’ll expand the school to accommodate both the town and camp children. They’re also looking to support teacher fees and materials for the students (uniforms, books, supplies, etc.). She wrote, “I think it is an exciting project that will make a lasting change in the community — both camp and Fonds-Parisien.”

Exciting indeed! How awesome this is. Please lift Leah and this project up to God’s capable hands.

As I wrote last time, there was much I expected to see in Haiti and I didn’t. But what surprised me most was what I didn’t expect. Love.

For me Haiti was about the love between people. Between an army of international volunteers and the residents of a devastated country. Between our Foundation for Peace colleagues. Between our security guards and cooks. Between the eight of us volunteers on our team. And most of all between all of us and the Haitian residents in Camp Hope.

Haiti was about Jude. Junior. Eben. Guyenson. Jessica. Agate. Marcellus. Francoise. Patrick. Lovely. Lucsum. Jean. Ehock. Robinson. Valentin. Nadege. Manite. Paul. Beniel. Dave. It was about the newborn babies, born since the earthquake. And it was about all the others, especially the children, whose names I forget or never knew.

Their faces flash through my mind like an endless slide show. I see their smiles and hear their laughter. I feel the little ones grabbing for my hands as I walked through camp. I see the way their faces light up when I call out greetings in my broken Creole/French. (I’m pretty sure I murdered both languages, but they accepted me nonetheless.)

Haiti cracked open my hardened heart. An earthquake devastated a country but being there crumbled the concrete walls around my heart. In Ezekiel God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (36:26) In Haiti, God did that for me.

From the Haitians I learned about faith. Even though, by our standards they have nothing, they praise God for what they do have instead of cursing Him for what they don’t. They have an enduring spirit that shines brightly and perseveres. Isn’t it strange we traveled far from the “blessings” of America only to experience blessings far more precious and long-lasting?

At night, in the house we stayed at in Jimani, we’d gather for worship—Americans, Dominicans and some of our new Haitian friends. On our last evening we enthusiastically sang the newly-learned Haitian and Dominican songs. We clapped, prayed and even danced a little. At one point Valentin, a truly remarkable man from Port-au-Prince, started to sing in Creole. Soon the Dominicans started singing in Spanish. Then us Americans joined in and sang in English.

Three languages lifted together in praise to our mighty God. Over and over we sang. While we couldn’t all speak to one another without a translator, the Holy Spirit translated our offering into the sweetest worship I’ve ever experienced. All any of us could say was, “Wow!”

Haiti is in my heart. I am a better person—a changed person—from the experience. I pray for Camp Hope and our Haitian friends daily and hope I see them again this side of heaven. For now I treasure our time together and trust that, while I didn’t accomplish heroic feats, just showing up to love and be loved in the name of Jesus is enough.

As Mother Theresa said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

Enjoy the pictures. (I have 1,283 more if you want to stop by and see them!)

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ” (Philippians 1:6)

Be blessed and be a blessing,


JerryLyn said...

Kelli, You are such a blessing and as usual, through your writing I see the vivid pictures in my mind (and not only the ones you share). Your experience of hope and love and faith are extraordinary. God is doing so much within you. I'm so grateful you had this experience. And I honor the fact that you wish you were there. God transforms our lives and hearts in the most surprising ways.

Susan S said...

Thank you for sharing and extending our mission through your precious experience. The slideshow in my head still plays, one month later. Please send me Leah's email; we met on her first day back from Rwanda. She is just incredible! And yes I want to see all 1000 pictures. Can't get enough.

Cheryl Barker said...

Wow, that evening of worship must have been incredible. Thanks for sharing the pics and your stories of Haiti!

Dan said...

When I was about to return from my trip two weeks before Kelli's, the question I feared most from people was, "So, how was it?" I knew there would be no clear or succinct way to answer that. Then, a friend asked the RIGHT question..."How did it change you?" Kelli, you just captured that way better than I've been able to so far. Thanks!

Kelly Combs said...

Catching up on your blog, Kelli, after having a hard drive crash over here.

Seems like a wonderful trip and I pray God ministers to your heart.

xoxo -

Runner Mom said...

Oh, darlin' girl! I wish that I could pop over for some tea and a chance to see all of those pictures and to hear your stories...all of them! Thank you for sharing this with us.
Love you!

Sue J. said...

Not that I have had an international missions experience, but I think any time God has put me on a mission that He has also stripped away all that would hinder His ministry to the people I'm there to serve. I find that no matter the circumstances, people are people, and that's about all you need to start up a relationship.

I'm thinking that it must be very difficult to be back in your environment, no longer living with them, and thinking, again, about things that don't have--years worth of things to rebuild and change. What will happen yet this year?

As you said, the true blessing was when you were there, in their midst, seeing the hope. Pray that their hope-filled hearts will never change and that God will continue to use your experience to minister to you and to others--which you do every time you write!

Laura said...


wow. these pictures, these words--they take my breath away. good work. amazing.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

A heart cracked wide-open...

Sometimes it takes an earthquake. It did for me. When the earth moves beneath our feet, shifting the soil and forcing our notice, hearts change. Some for the good; some not so much. I'm glad for the earthquake you've known.

Undoubtedly, it has changed your heart and perspective forever. I imagine and am not surprised by your grief. When a heart-shift occurs, a deeper level of feeling accompanies the movement.

As it should be.

As it should be.

Thank you for taking your heart to new places, friend, and for sharing this journey with us. I loved the pictures, especially the dirty-faced little boy. Wanted to scoop him up and give him a big hug and then a bath.