Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Degaje: Make Due With What You've Got

As December approaches quickly, so does the one year anniversary of my trip to Haiti with FCA. Last year, I had no idea what to expect. I had never flown in a plane before, I had never been out of the country, and I had never been put so far outside of my comfort zone. I prepared for the trip by raising donations, getting various vaccinations, and looking for guidance. Why was I going on this trip? Why was I chosen as one in a group of 30? Little did I know, this trip was going to change my life forever.

On December 28, I boarded my first flight alongside half of our group of 30. We began our journey in Charlotte, and then flew to Miami. From Miami we flew overseas to the Haitian airport Port au Prince. Arriving at the Haitian airport was extremely intimidating. Many locals earn money by loading passengers luggage, so we had men tugging and pulling at our bags constantly. I had no idea what was going on, but I held on to my luggage as best I could.

Our drive from the airport was the bumpiest and quietest 2 hour ride I've ever experienced. Cars drive on both sides of the road, so it is a constant head on situation. So many people were living in tents on the side of the road. I had no words, I was blown away by what I was witnessing. We arrived at our home for 10 days, one that is guarded and sheltered from the outside world. The house itself was so much more than we expected. It actually had air conditioning, running water, and food we recognized.

Our room that bunked 7 girls in a room together, so much fun!
During our first day in Haiti, I had no idea what my purpose was in being there. I felt homesick and I realized how reliant I was on things and people form home. I was so uncomfortable and felt so distant from everyone in the house, I felt that I was the only one experiencing hesitance and doubt. I found out later that I was wrong, but in that moment I felt extremely weak.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and we stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength {Isaiah 40:29-31}.
The second day we visited the current and new orphanage for the first time. The new Lamb Center is under construction. Visiting was a little intimidating because there were Haitian men working around the site, and they had angry looks on their faces. I felt tense and uncomfortable. Our group and the Haitian workers got into a circle and listened to passages from Matthew first in Spanish, Creole, and then English. We were given the words to "Blessed Assurance" and sang the song in both English and Creole. I have never realized how big God is until that moment, He has no language barriers.

Our first day at the current orphanage was pretty chaotic because we had not been given much instruction. I spent the day shoveling gravel and cleaning up the orphanage grounds. When I wasn't working, I was spending time with two Haitian children that had taken to me quickly. Johnny and Jeffmina stayed by my side that day, and the remainder of my time at the orphanage during the trip. Jeffmina treated me as one of her best friends. She was constantly pushing hair out of my face, teaching me words in Creole, and making sure I knew that she loved having me there. She served me more than I could ever serve her.

Our second day in Haiti was spent at the construction site. We dug a trench all day long alongside the back of the property. While looking off at the mountains I realized just how far I away I was from home. With that brings fear, and I had anxiety about being in a foreign country. Maybe it's normal for us to feel isolated when we first go on our first foreign mission, or maybe it's just me. One thing I know is that I was so homesick and all I wanted was for the Lord to comfort me. And that He did. I realized that I had been called to Haiti for a reason, and although I didn't know that reason, I knew that He would reveal that in His timing.

I had never realized just how simple life could be if we'd just let it. After one day in Haiti, my eyes had already been opened so much. The Lord had taught me just how blessed I was and how much I don't even notice it in my comfortable surrounds. The Haitian children truly have nothing. They have each other and only possess a bed that they love, and even with so little, they have so much joy.

On the last day of 2011, we spent our day at the Samaritan's Purse base in Haiti. When I heard the word "base," I couldn't help but think of an army base. I was so off. This base was once a resort, so we were right on the ocean amongst the mountains. The day was spent exploring on the beach, hanging out with one another, and trying new things (like fresh coconut). We were literally in paradise. At one point in the day a donkey and goat decided to join us on the beach. No, that is not normal, but apparently in Haiti it is!

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory. {Isaiah 6:3}

To bring in 2012, we had a spectacular seafood feast that we each helped to prepare. We were well fed our entire stay in Haiti, but this night was one for the books. We had options of hot dogs, hamburgers, and fresh lobster tail along with various fresh sides. After dinner we thought it'd be a great idea to return the unused lobsters back into the ocean, well, let's just say it was turned into a fun game. We watched Iron Man 2 on the big screen under the cabana. Soon after the movie was finished I headed to our compound to journal for a little while. I loved having so much time to reflect on the trip. We were told that there was a huge surprise for us at midnight -- so I made sure to journal quickly so I wouldn't miss out.

It had taken a few days, but I finally felt comfortable in Haiti. My friends had become family, and our temporary housing had become a home. I will never forget the relief I felt in that moment, the moment where I finally felt at peace with my purpose in being in Haiti. Sure, it was tough thinking about all my friends at home celebrating the New Year together, but I was in Haiti. That's a once in a life time shot, and the Lord blessed me with that opportunity.

With less than an hour left to bring in the new year, we all headed out on the beach. We lit 2012 on fire, literally.

We watched it glow, and as soon as the clock struck 12 there was a huge fireworks display. I'll never forget how bright the stars were, it was such a beautiful backdrop to all of the fireworks. We sang "Deep deep, oh deep down down, deep down in my heart, I LOVE YOU JESUS" to bring in the New Year. This song had been the soundtrack to our trip. We sang it almost daily with the children and the Haitian works, it was our special way of celebrating our love for Jesus all in one language.

We spent the next few hours shagging away under the cabana. Our wonderful friend and mentor, Nat, had wanted to learn how to shag. So naturally, we made it our mission to teach him how to dance. New Years was his time to shine, and he showed us just how much he had learned. I couldn't have asked for a better new years in a better place or with better people.

The next day we spent with the children. Jeffmina braided my hair and Johnny wrote me letters and drew me pictures. They are so selfless, so joyful, and such a blessing. These two will forever hold a special place in my heart. I never would have guessed that my heart would open up so much for children I had just met.

That night, January 1, Nat and Tom devoted our evening to worship to bring in 2012 the right way. We spent time signing and between a few songs we would open it up for prayer. In this moment, the Lord was breaking my heart for what breaks His. There are so many people in the world who don't know Jesus, and we who have been saved have been sent unto all of the world to be alight in their lives. We discussed how the Chinese have to worship at a mere whisper, and we so easily take our freedom to sing for granted. It's moments like these that make me realize just how good God is. He is our Father in ALL of the world, not just in America.

Nat decided to take groups of 10 to the mountains each day. I went on the second trip, but the first group did a great job on keeping the surprise a secret. I'll let the pictures do the talking..

Each little piece of blue is a Samaritan's Purse tarp. Each of these homes have been restored or built by SP. How amazing is that?
 The locals from the village came up to the mountain top with us. The children were not as open or affectionate as the children at the orphanage, but they still enjoyed spending time with us.

The next few days were spent at the current orphanage and the construction site. To recap these days, I thought I'd just mention the tasks we completed for the new Lamb Center Orphanage. We lined the back wall of the orphanage with steel and rebar. I became a rebar expert (not really but I'd like to think so), and I spent my time with some of the Haitian men at a table tying rebar over and over. It was a tiring job, but I loved getting to speak with each of them about their family and their relationship with the Lord. I'll never forget when Eric, one of my new found friends, introduced me to one of the other men as "This is Jessi, my friend, and my sister in Christ." That was such a special moment.

Another big job for us was to level the ground for cement slabs. These slabs were going to hold various trailers that would be used for medical and storage purposes. I remember looking over the rocky area thinking that it was an impossible job. We each took hold of a shovel and started digging. Rocks on rocks on rocks. It definitely wasn't impossible. It's amazing how quickly we finished that portion, and moved on to pouring cement. I have so much respect for what these workers do every day, because we were all exhausted by the end of the day. I've got to say, looking at the finished product was such an amazing feeling. We helped to provide this for the orphanage, something that will forever have our stamp on it.

I would steal moments while we were working just to feel the sun on my skin. It was so amazing to feel the hot sun in the middle of December. Plus, I got a pretty good tan.. and burnt.

Every day was a job well done. It was always tough and very physically demanding, but it was always so rewarding to see our work turn into a success. During our stay in Haiti, we organized our house, helped lay the foundations for the back wall for the orphanage, poured the cement slabs. Of course, that is only the physical labor we did. Our time was mostly spent with the children and the Haitians, we built so many wonderful relationships with them.

Our last day in Haiti was so bittersweet. I couldn't believe that I would no longer be in the warm weather the next day, that I'd be back in the US, that I'd get to see my mom and Braden again. At the same time, I knew that I would probably never see Jeffmina and Johnny again. I wasn't ready to leave. I wasn't ready to leave the wonderful community of people, Haiti's beautiful surroundings, or the simplicity of it all. Nat told us to take mental pictures, to save the moment, and those words rang in my ears our final hours in Haiti.

That night we sang "I've got peace, love, joy, and righteousness in the Holy Spirit." There is so much truth in that song. I will always find peace, love, joy, and righteousness when I'm walking in step with the Lord. From this experience I have learned that my joy knows no bounds. The Haitians went through a catastrophic earthquake, and still they have so much joy. This trip has signified relationship building at it's finest. I made so many new wonderful friendships, and strengthened those that were already in existance.

Simplicity is they key. God is so loud and clear when there are no distractions - but I wondered how that would carry over back home. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but looking back, I know that the Lord totally blessed me this year and filled me with courage and boldness. Haiti encouraged me to be uncomfortable, to be patient, and to be bold.

I am so thankful that I was blessed with this opportunity. The friendships I made in Haiti have continued throughout this year, and I know that they will continue to grow. Each member of our Haiti team will forever hold a special place in my heart. To Nat and Tom: I am forever grateful for their wisdom and guidance, but most of all, I am thankful for their friendship. We learned the word "degaje," and it means to make due with what you have. Friends, we are all blessed more than we realize. Make due with what you have every day, be thankful for your blessings, and don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.

Jezu renmen ou. Jesus loves you. Au Revoir.

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