December 16, 2015

Haiti: More Than New Paint

**I shared this post on my Haiti team's blog. Once I have the link to other members' stories, I'll share!**

Every time I sit and think about how to put my story into words I’m met with faulty writer’s floodgates rather than writer’s block. I have so much to share! When I think about Haiti, my experiences come rushing to the forefront of my mind all begging to be spoken of. I know in my head what I want to share but it’s a lot harder to put pencil to paper. I had the chance to experience a new culture and meet new people in Haiti but more than that my heart and my life were molded into a better me. This is one of many stories that beg to be shared. This is my life transformation in Haiti.

On the fourth full day of our team’s stay in Haiti we had the opportunity to return to the village of Leveque. This particular village has been served many times by previous Avondale teams and holds a special connection to many people who are directly and indirectly involved. On this day our large group split into our smaller teams of about 7 people and were each paired with a family whose home it was our job to paint. On the surface it may seem like all we did was paint, but each home and family served up something much greater than just new paint.

My team was introduced to a woman, Mary, whose husband was at work and her children at school. A couple of the neighbors, who are like family anyway in Haiti, were over when we arrived. Armed with newly donated paint supplies and limited Creole--but trusty translators, we set to work. We worked for a while painting the bare cement walls with the cream color chosen by the family. Mary liked to check in on us and was quick to help or get anything we needed—bricks to stand on, rags to clean up with, etc. Before breaking for lunch my group was able to talk with Mary and her neighbor Amos and get to know them a bit. Mary has 4 children, her oldest son currently living in Brazil.  I learned that the family had moved from Port-au-Prince to Leveque about a year and a half ago. They moved to be safer and away from violence. The 2010 earthquake had also affected their home in Port-au-Prince. The Red Cross took down their names to receive housing but that plan never came to fruition for them.

After lunch and back at the house Mary’s children had come home from school. I met her son Schneider and daughter Sephrina. Mary was so proud and happy to introduce us to her children. Once we got back to work I could tell that Amos and Schneider were eager to help. They let us do our thing in the morning, but something that I noticed on more than one occasion is that the Haitian people are not ones to sit back and let somebody else do all of the work. Even though we were there to be servants of Jesus for them, they wanted to work. In one of the rooms I had a chance to make conversation with the neighbor, Amos. I had no translator and had already exhausted the few questions I knew to ask. But instead of an awkward exchange of I don’t know side-glances, Amos tried his best at finding the English words for what he was trying to convey and I focused on comparing my basic knowledge of French to his Creole. Though not much was spoken in our conversation we smiled and happily worked alongside each other. I was so thankful for Amos in that moment. He opened the door for me to continue making connections with people even though we are strangers who don’t speak the same language.

As our departure time rapidly approached, my team was working hard and fast to finish a second coat on all of the rooms in time. The task of finishing seemed a bit daunting. Our team, the family who had stepped in to help willingly, and some additional team members worked right up until the absolute last second. By the true grace of God we finished!

Mary and Amos were genuinely thankful and so full of gratitude toward my group. They told us not to worry about the cleanup from the drop cloths and moving the furniture as they continued to want to help us out. I felt so loved by this family and amazed that even though I was there to serve them by painting their house they continually wanted to give by working just as hard. I experienced this genuine compassion from strangers many times while in Haiti. Through our Western eyes it’s easy to look at the Haitian people and see how bad things are or see how little they have. But after being with this family and seeing their hearts for Jesus and the complete trust in him no matter the situation, I see the Haitian people differently. They are so fulfilled by their faith and in their hearts and they hold onto that every day. I wish I could say the same for myself.  After my experience with Mary and her family and neighbors, I found myself thinking about how they glorified God and were so grateful for us. Haitians who have very little will pray and ask for God to provide, but they do not complain in their waiting. The people I met seemed to expect little but appreciate everything big or small. Experiencing their love and gratitude challenged me to ask myself, “Do I put God first?” Do I fully rely on him and trust him for all things in my life?” I couldn’t truthfully answer yes. After working that day an idea began running through my mind. The idea that maybe I hadn’t come to Haiti just to change lives of people in need but that maybe God saw a spiritual need in me and knew I needed the Haitian people just as much as I thought they needed me.

Painting up until the last minute only gave us a small bit of time to exchange goodbyes. We came together and prayed with everyone that God may protect Mary & Amos and their families, Mary’s husband and his job, and that He would continue to provide for their needs.  I asked for a photo and Mary happily obliged by staging us in front of the beautiful pink flowers in her yard. I gave each person a hug and on my way back to the group Mary told me that she wished I could come back on Sunday. Nothing would’ve made me happier. I told her that I wished I could too. It may not be until we get to Heaven one day, but I hope I do get to see Mary and Amos again and I want them to know that while I was contributing to Mission of Hope’s vision to bring life transformation to every man, woman, and child in Haiti, they were part of the life transformation in me.

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