What was supposed to be an 8-day trip filled with visits to Hope for Haiti’s Children’s 10 schools and 2 orphanages has turned into a 6-night hotel stay with daily reports of protests in the streets and a decision to stay put.
But… protests, many of them paid protests, have brought this country to a complete standstill. Tap-taps (public transportation in Port-au-Prince) are not allowed on the streets, and motorcycles are the only mode of public transportation tolerated. Still, motorcycle drivers go at their own risk with the possibility that protestors will throw rocks at them. They go, that is, if they were able to purchase gasoline. Most pumps are closed. If they have gas, the lines are long and the atmosphere is tense. In some places, a gallon of gas is $10. Very few can afford it. Schools are closed. Parents dare not send their children to school for fear they will be hurt or unable to get there/return home safely. Businesses are closed. There are very few street vendors. Small roadside stands are the way that they buy/sell food each day. It is also the way they purchase school supplies, clothing, car parts, water, and just about everything. I can only imagine that families are rationing what food and water they have at home. So people have no way to earn an income, and they all just wait. It is a crisis that is affecting them economically, physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
This week has not gone according to plan. What I have learned is there is always a nugget of beauty to find in Plan B. Plan A included traveling many miles, going to remote locations at the very top of a mountain, crossing a river by a small wooden boat, and best of all, experiencing the joy of seeing 2,500+ children being educated, fed, and cared for in the communities where they live. I count these visits a privilege and a blessing. However, Plan B emerged, and the team and I invited the principals and our HFHC staff to travel by motorcycle to the hotel to have a meeting. We asked each of them to come only if they felt it was safe. To our surprise, every one of them came. We were honored to spend time with them individually and collectively talking about their schools, their successes, their needs, and new initiatives. In addition, we were grateful to share a buffet meal together, seated at a large table. It felt like a family gathering, and in many ways, it was!
Thankfully, over the weekend, there was a period of calm and we were able to go to HFHC’s Thomazeau Hope Center to spend two nights. We walked around our 21-acre property to see all of the many improvements made and to talk about the goals, hopes, and dreams for 2030.
While we missed an opportunity to see many of the children, we did get to be with the 12 children at the Thomazeau Orphanage. I loved being a part of their Saturday where they did chores, washed their school uniforms, hung them out to dry, played in the back of a truck, braided hair, did homework, and said their nighttime prayers. At bedtime, little 8-year old Esther came up to me for a hug. She wrapped her arms around me and buried her head into my body. She hung on for the longest time while I just rubbed her back. It was as though I could feel her heart reaching out to receive as much comfort and love as she could out of that hug.
On Sunday, I had the great honor of teaching the Ladies’ Class at church. I love these ladies. Some, who walk so far to come, some are widows, some have babies, and most live in tiny homes with dirt floors, stick walls, very few possessions, and little food. Usually, I notice big smiles when they walk in. The smiles were still there, but less bright this time. Their eyes seemed sad and their shoulders a little more stooped than usual. The hardships of 2019 are catching up with them. Nevertheless, for 45 minutes, we talked about Jesus’ love for them and we laughed, kissed cheeks, and prayed together. It was a precious time.
At church, children jockeyed for positions to sit next to me. From all sides, I felt little hands stroke my hair, my nails, my skin. I just sat and closed my eyes. I savor these moments and love this with my whole being. Two little ones cuddled up next to me and one fell fast asleep on my lap. The other little boy leaned over and soon, both were sound asleep. The temperature must have been 100 degrees inside the church, and before too long, all three of us were sweating bullets. But it was worth every sweat drop.
Then, there was this little girl. I usually keep a few small toys in my backpack just in case I see someone who just seems to need additional attention and love. And there she was. I slipped a small baby doll into her lap. She looked at it and just stared. Soon, she picked it up and began to touch it gently all over. I told her it was JUST for her, “Poppet pou ou selman”. I made sure to say it loud enough so that the other kids could hear and so that they would not take it from her. After church, I was walking back to the Team Center and saw her. She was dancing with the little baby doll. She saw me and came up to me and sang me a song. It was her way of saying thank you. Girls like her are “My Why” for being here.
Our team’s plan was to be at Thomazeau for the start of school on Monday morning so that we could see all 450+ kids walk to school by 8 a.m., line up by classes, sing the national anthem, and raise the flag. Unfortunately, Nasson our security guard got a call on Sunday night that said we needed to be on the road by 6 a.m. at the latest. Protests were to start back up again by 7 a.m. We were in the car that next morning heading out. Sleepy little children from the orphanage caught wind that we were leaving and some came out to say goodbye along with the staff.
We had hoped to stop by the Cazeau Orphanage to see houseparent Sonia and her 72 kids, but as we were on our way, Nasson’s phone was ringing (again). Blockades made the roads to the orphanage impassible. There was no way inside. Back to the hotel we went.
We should be home by now, but yesterday, we went to the airport 4 hours early to find many people standing outside, including airport personnel. As we started to go inside, we heard that there was a fire inside…. Evidently, the fire was small and had already been put out. You could smell the smoke though. Police, news reporters, and people were everywhere. Everything was being cleaned up and they said to wait…and so we did. The only concern we had as we waited outside was the mass of people who would all eventually squeeze through the ONE door to get inside the airport when they received the “All Clear.” Ken, Rhonda, and I strategized on how to get safely inside without being trampled or smashed against the wall. Then, flights were cancelled. Nasson and Bwa, our driver, had been waiting in the parking lot until they knew we were safe and on our way home, and so they were right there within minutes to pick us up and take us back to the hotel. So, we are all checked back into our rooms at the hotel, and I said “hello” again to my little friend, the gecko, who hangs out in my room on the wall and chirps and clicks throughout the day and night. I will admit that I have grown fond of him now, and if he were around, I would take a picture to send with this update!
We finally got tickets home for Thursday and I am very anxious to get home to my family. They are very anxious for me to be there. The thing is, I CAN leave. Haitians have no options. They stay, hope, pray, and survive.
The Haitian people have suffered so, so much, but their resilience and faith are unmatched. I have had the great pleasure to work alongside them for 14 years now, and I can truly say that they are some of the most intellectual, wise, resilient, gracious, giving, Christian people I have ever met. I learn more about living a Christian life from them than anywhere else. I receive more blessings when I am here than I could ever give.
Besides the earthquake in 2010, I believe this is the worst I have ever seen the conditions in Haiti. Some Haitians have said that THIS is worse than the earthquake. What’s more, few can foresee a solution. Some say that if the president steps down and leaves office, that will solve things. While the problem is much, much deeper, some believe that is the first step. I don’t know the answer.
My Bible lesson for the Sunday morning Ladies’ Class was about the woman from Mark 5:25-34 who touched the hem of Jesus’ clothes and instantly was healed after 12 years of bleeding. Jesus felt the power leave him, and although there were many crowded around Him, He looked for her. He wanted her to know that He saw her and that she mattered. He called her “Daughter.” She had been ostracized for years and cast aside, but not by Jesus. It is the same for all of us and for each man, woman, and child in Haiti. They are seen. God knows. He cares.
As I have heard many times over the last few days, “Only God can fix this.”
And, they pray. They hope.
We Pray. We Hope.
Please join us in praying for Haiti.
To help during this time of crisis, donate to the Children’s Food Fund. Learn more here.