Monday, June 18, 2012: Los Angeles, California
We are finally on our way to Haiti. What an experience this is starting out to be! Thank God we arrived at the airport four hours prior to our flight. We had such a hard time checking in with our 26 bags! The airline was giving us a hard time with our luggage because we had boxes in our bags. A new embargo law is preventing travelers to check-in boxes. We had to quickly “de-box” most of the supplies. We had spent half of the day on Saturday trying to organize the supplies and package them in a way that would be convenient for transport.
All of our hard work organizing and taping was quickly shattered when we had to re-open the bags, take out all the boxes and re-arrange the supplies. At one point one of the employees had even told us to take out all the bar soaps from their individual boxes! Ridiculous! That’s when I knew we really needed to pray. I quickly sent the girls choir a text message to pray for us so that God would intervene. I also asked Lori to forward the message to the youth choir. Approximately ten minutes after the text messages were sent and the prayer chain started, the airline managers finally let us check in most of the bags without giving us anymore trouble. (Nick has the honor of hauling 50lbs of Spam as his carry-on… not much of an upgrade from last November, when his carry-on was a giant piñata.) Praise the Lord! I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store for this trip! What a blessing it is to see the power of prayer!
Wee morning hours, Tuesday, June 19, 2012: Somewhere over the continental U.S., American Airlines we’re on the plane. By “we”, I mean all ten of us in the HMT3 Team: me, Damaris Secrian, Debby and Sandy Bohunita, Mimi Muresan, Dina and Paul Prunean, Gabi Ilioi, Nick Gaboras, and Cornel Nicorici (Fratele Nelu is on a different flight—we will meet in Miami). I’m sitting next to Cornel on the flight to Miami. He’s knocked out and I’m bored. I have so many mixed feelings about this trip. I can’t sleep. I can never sleep on flights. I’m excited and nervous. I know that God is with us—the experience at the airport sealed that guarantee. And I know we have an army of prayer warriors back home who are constantly lifting us up in prayer. Even little Abi Blaga promised me that she would pray for me every day! But I can’t help fighting the fear that danger is looming in Jacmel. The emails from the Tower of Refuge and Pastor Medit about the recent armed robberies targeted at white missionaries were recorded in my memory—permanently serving as a reminder of the reality and gravity of the situation. We were told that the pastor and Tower of Refuge (TOR) have taken measures to secure the orphanage: making the walls around the buildings higher, adding barbed wire, and hiring two armed security guards to increase safety. But more than staying safe, I want this trip to be significant in the difference that we make. Can we even make a difference? I know this trip will change me. Every mission trip does in a way. I have a feeling that this trip will be different, though. I guess it’s just nerves that are keeping me up. Lord, I pray that You use us for YOUR glory. And please… give me peace.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012: Jacmel, Haiti
It is so surreal to believe that I am back. Though it’s been a year since my first visit, I can already see changes. From the moment we stepped out of the airplane into the airport, I had already seen the results of construction and remodeling to the earthquake-ravaged airport. The heat did not hit me as bad as last time, and almost came as a comforting, warm, welcome. It was interesting to look at the newcomers’ faces and expressions as they were hit by the sweltering humid air. Fratele Nelu was especially amusing in his long-sleeved sweater! And I have never seen a human being sweat as much as poor Cornel! Getting our luggage this time was so easy. The team came up with the idea to number our bags—making the process quicker and much easier than last year. As soon as we got out of the airport, we were greeted by a plethora of red-shirted airport workers willingly offering to help us with our luggage in order to make a few dollars for the day. It was a comfort to see Pastor Medit again. He is such a wonderful man of God who has dedicated his life and family to the service of the Most High. We got into a large van/bus to make the long trip to Jacmel. Damaris and Debby passed around some Dramamine for motion sickness, which I gladly took to avoid getting sick on the winding mountainous road. As we were driving through Port-au-Prince, I noticed further changes right away. Though the 2010 earthquake and poverty had flooded the city with trash, waste, and destruction, I saw that the people had started to clear away some of the rubble and organize the chaos a bit more. Last year, the people seemed to be in a lingering state of shock and many of them stood around dazed among the ruins. This time, the city was bustling with activity. Though it is summertime, I still see groups of school children clad in their uniforms walking on the streets. Fewer tents in the slums and more housing projects stand out in the city. From a public health standpoint, I was able to see sanitation efforts in place and more health clinics dispersed through the city. This brought me joy and hope for the trip. Even though there is so much to do and sometimes efforts seem useless, there are changes occurring. I am so blessed to see this happening at my annual return. I don’t remember much more from the ride to Jacmel because the Dramamine did a great job of knocking me out for the majority of the ride. However, once we arrived here at the orphanage my drowsiness dispersed at the sight of the children, who were all joyfully waiting for us. It is so nice to see them again! I was really astonished that they remembered me! Even little Mia! I was pleasantly surprised to see changes to the pastor’s house and orphanage. The “Bread of Life Orphanage” is part of two buildings: The “main” house, where the pastor, his wife, and the boys stay; and the “children’s” house with the girls’ and caretaker’s rooms and outside eating area/commons. Each house is enclosed by brick walls that had been heightened and barbed wire added for security. The dirt on the ground was covered with rocky gravel and thus looked much neater and more organized than last year. The main house where we stay has a large kitchen, a refrigerator, freezer, outside dish- washing facilities, three bedrooms and two bathrooms for us to use downstairs. After we unloaded some of the luggage and settled into our rooms, Pastor Medit and his wife Jelda welcomed us with a tasty traditional Haitian meal and freshly prepared natural juices atop the roof of the main house, which had been transformed into a beautiful master’s suite and large outdoor balcony area. The meal was so good! Thank God. We ended the day by visiting the beach and cooling off in the gorgeous Caribbean Sea. As nightfall came, the security guards took their posts and we started unpacking some of the supplies before going to sleep. Love my roommates: Debby, Sandy, and Damaris. Blessed to be here!
Wednesday, June 20, 2012: Jacmel, Haiti
What a long, tiring, yet blessed day! We woke up bright and early at 6am. We actually awakened before Gabi had a chance to rouse us with his resounding “Deşteptare!!!” It was Mimi who went around yelling “Aşteptare!” to everyone. She’s so cute. We had our essential time of morning devotionals led by Paul and prepared to go to our first mountain. We journeyed using two trucks to a small village where we saddled onto dirt bike-like motorcycle taxis that we used to travel up the mountain. There were segments of the road that were so harsh we had to get off the bikes and walk. At least it was a great workout! Mimi was my partner—she makes a great trainer! Once we arrived at the village, we provided some of the local women with rice, beans, and chicken to prepare for the villagers (and most importantly, the children). The town all gathered and we had our first evangelistic service. We had a beautiful time of worship, our group sang one song, and then Fratele Nelu had a short message. I noticed that many of the villagers had a reasonably bad cough, which concerns and distracts me a bit from the service. After the evangelism, we had a chance to play with some of the village children (they LOVED the bubbles and game of dodge ball!) and then helped pass out food to the children and villagers. This is always a very difficult thing to do. Although it is a joy to be able to serve the villagers in this way, it is impossible to not get frustrated at the way that they push and shove and how the adults serve themselves before the children. I guess it’s different because I grew up in a culture where children come first in everything. In this third world nation, it is hard to understand that they have a different culture and a different way of viewing children. Adults have lived longer. Their future is NOW. Children have an unknown future which is secured in poverty. It is a challenging concept to behold. As we tried serving everyone, we realized that we had quickly run out of meat and soon resulted to passing out boxes with only rice and beans. It’s heartbreaking to see a shortage of food. Coming from a nation that lives in an overabundance of food, has a food CULTURE, and does not understand need… the concept of hunger and starvation hits me straight on once again. On our way back down the mountain, I had another great workout with Mimi… our motorcycle guy let us do more walking on the way down as the terrain was more intense. There was a time where Mimi and I were completely alone on the road as the motorcade went ahead of us. I must admit, I was quite terrified. One of the most important rules on this trip was: DO NOT GO ANYWHERE ALONE. (Meaning, ALWAYS stay with the group). Well… in this case, we were abandoned by our driver to walk up the arduous terrain. Good thing Mimi is always in good spirits! Her demeanor, constant coaching “Keep running!! Go! Go! Go! Use your toes!!” and battle songs “Pentru evanghelie luptӑm!” were a comfort and encouragement. Finally our team realized that they were missing some precious cargo, and our motorcycle driver returned to obtain us. Gabi got some pretty good footage of me and Mimi on “The Biggest Loser: Haitian style”. On the way back to the pastor’s house, we all squished into one truck for about half of the trip, and then split up when the second truck met up with us. This truck was the same one that Nick and I had taken on our way up the mountain. The driver was an ex-police officer and had a tough-looking big guy in the passenger seat. Mimi and I went with him on the way home. Because we were a bit delirious with exhaustion by this point, Mimi and I decided to try and start some conversation with the driver. Turns out, he speaks excellent English and has extended family in Miami, FL. He was a police officer for several years after which he decided to work for a non-government agency called “Friends of the Children of Haiti”. This NGO brings in physicians to Jacmel every two months for two weeks to set up health clinics for the Jacmel community. I was ecstatic! Finally, someone who speaks my public health language! I asked him about the epidemiological characteristics of Jacmel and Haiti, prevalence and incidence rates for certain diseases, and about the work that this NGO is doing. Infectious diseases are high (as expected)—mostly from water-borne pathogens, diabetes-related complications, and organisms carried by mosquitos. He also mentioned significant rates of HIV/AIDS and STI’s but speculated that most people who are infected have traveled to the Dominican Republic for work (men) and had sought out sex workers, thus spreading disease—something that unfortunately is all too common in nations such as these. We also discovered that the driver has a beautiful 2 year old daughter, but is not married. He said that he does not want to marry yet because of the increasing divorce rates in Haiti. He mentioned that often times, people get married at a young age as a result of pregnancy or because the family marries off the girl due to the family’s financial situation (dowry seeking), which he says are triggers for divorce. It is sad to hear that divorce is infiltrating every country and all types of cultures. He mentioned that he is a longtime friend of Pastor Medit and that he was looking forward to seeing us again before we leave. It was my first in- depth conversation with a native Haitian. Upon returning, we attempted to clean up a bit, prepared dinner, and then had a wonderful time of worship with Pastor Medit and some of the kids. Exhausted, we readily headed for our beds. So far, it’s a blessed trip!
Thursday, June 21, 2012: Jacmel, Haiti
Today was another action-packed day. We started off the morning making breakfast for the kids and then began assembling care packs right away. I think I’m going to be in such great shape after this trip with all the physical activity that we are doing! We went to work making care packs for the village project as well as starting over 100 care packs for the refugee camp tomorrow. As soon as we finished the village’s care packs, we set off to visit the families that the pastor had delegated for our trip. I remembered many of the families from last year… all very poor and some of whom were very sick. There were a few families who were non-Believers, so Pastor Medit encouraged us to evangelize and share the Good News that had motivated us to help them. This was probably one of my first experiences doing something like this. We described that we were coming from America to share some gifts with them because of Christ’s love—describing that God so loved the world, that He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins and redeem us, and that whoever believes in Him will not parish, but have everlasting Life. Pastor Medit did a great job following through and clarifying, but it was the Holy Spirit Who had authority and Who spoke. It was truly a blessing to see three families declare that they wanted to commit their lives to Christ—recognizing Him as their Redeemer and Lord. We led them in prayer and experienced joy along with them. As we were walking through the jungle to the last few houses, we passed the same Voodoo Temple that we saw last year. Though it was still creepy when the Voodoo priests and priestesses glared at us as we hiked by, I felt God’s hand of protection over us. The powers of darkness had no authority over us! After visiting the villages, we traveled to the rocky viewpoint that our group visited last year and took plenty of photos. Haiti is breathtaking. It was so beautiful to see the ocean and feel the cool Caribbean breeze. As evening came around, we got ready for church and made the half-hour long car ride to Pastor Medit’s church. Once we arrived we had the opportunity to worship the Lord with our Haitian brothers and sisters. I love the way they worship God. So full of life and full of joy! Pastor Nelu had a short message about the Holy Spirit and Mimi graced us with a beautiful flute melody. As we drove back home, Damaris led all of us who were riding on the bed of the truck in songs—keeping our spirits up on the way down the mountain. Another exhausting, yet blessed day.
Friday, June 22, 2012: Jacmel Haiti
Praise God for another amazing day. Today we went to the refugee camp (or the “slums”, as the media says). The girls in my room had experienced a long and difficult night. We awakened in the middle of the night to a cockroach’s loud scampering through our room (which Cornel bravely and swiftly eliminated) and we were already feeling signs of exhaustion and pangs of homesickness. We all united in songs of praise and prayed for peace, health, and success for tomorrow. Pastor Nelu gave a wonderful and encouraging message for us during our morning devotionals. He spoke from Nehemiah chapter 4, where Sanballat was creating opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and the Lord spoke to Nehemiah to reorganized the workers and continue building, while defending their work. The message was so powerful and the Lord definitely spoke to me. It turned out that the message was exactly what we needed to hear for today. Though battles rage in the mission fields, we need to keep our guard up and keep doing our job! The morning was spent making over 100 care packs for the refugee camp. We filled bags with rice, beans, sugar, spam/anchovies, canned tomatoes, soap, and slippers. I love how the older kids got involved in helping out! Abel, Wisly, Diulande, Jenez, Savelo, Tibush (Cornel’s little employee!) and others all did a little something. It helps them learn to help their community from a young age and trains them to reach out to those less fortunate. Once we were finished with the care packs, we headed for the refugee camp. We had the care packs in one truck and the personnel in another. We went to the same camp that we visited last year to hand out candy and play with the kids. This year, however, it felt like a completely different camp. It was gloomier. Less tents. And the people were of a different sort. According to Fratele Nelu, who had a chance to talk with the camp manager, the people who were left behind were the poorest of the poor and the ones who were not able to get back on their feet. These were the people who lived in the slums because of hopelessness and extreme poverty. Word is that the camp will close next month and that all the residents will move to government housing. As we drove through the camp, we received our usual share of stares and hollers, but once we got to the corner of the camp under the meeting tent, I felt very tense. I don’t know why… I think it might be because I saw how rowdy the crowd was. Or because of the stench in the air. Or because of the fact that we were cornered in by a multitude of people. But I felt tense and a sorrowful fear. When Pastor Medit was finally able to quiet down the crowd to a noise level that would make singing some songs and prayer possible, we started the evangelism service. There was an old, broken-down car that some of the boys climbed on and started making a fuss right behind us. I could not focus on the songs. I could not focus on Fratele Nelu’s message. I just felt uneasy and uncomfortable. This was the lowest point I have experienced all trip. I just wanted to hurry up and get out of there. And I felt terrible about it too. I could not find joy in helping these people because I felt fearful of what was causing them to live in such conditions. Once Fratele Nelu finished the message, Pastor Medit announced that we would come by to every tent and give each family a gift. The crowd began to grow restless. People began pushing and shoving and the frenzy intensified. The environment suddenly grew agitated and stressful. We tried our best to stay organized but the crowd was restless and they wanted to get their hands on whatever was in those black bags. I felt so uneasy as we each held a care pack and followed Pastor Medit to the different tents. It was so hard to stay organized. Cornel even started recording which tents had received a care pack as we only had a limited supply: one per tent. As we went from tent to tent, people were poking at us trying to get our attention to give them a bag: “Give me, give me!” “Hey you! Hey you!” My head was throbbing and my vision felt like it was spinning in that atmosphere. At one point, Abel grabbed my hand, and in the intensity of the situation, I quickly pulled it away thinking it was another crazed camp member trying to grab at me for the bag. When I saw that it was Abel, relief filled me and I took a deep breath and took hold of Abel’s hand. He had a compassionate look in his eyes as if he understood how I felt. I gave him a sad smile, and then a hug and kissed his head. Soon after, Abel took a care pack in in his arms, taking it to one of the other tents to distribute. As I watched him, I couldn’t help but think about what an impact his being there would have on his future. Abel and Wisly are able to see the conditions in which these people are living. And also that we want to help them. I can only pray that Abel will continue to be the brave young boy he is and grow to be a man who will carry on God’s work in this vast harvest. As we continued dispersing the care packs, the leaders pointed to a tent signaling to me that I was to give this tent a package. I saw some kids sitting in front of the zipped tent and some adults pointing for me to give it to the kids. I handed it to the boys saying “Bondye beni-w” (God bless you). I turned to walk away but decided to glance back—only to see the boys run to another tent with the care pack. My heart broke at the realization of what had just happened. They had pretended it was their tent, and waited in front to accept the care pack designated for that tent. Once received, they took it back to their real tent. Unfair distribution. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times that had occurred. We had tried so hard to make everything fair! And even among these innocent children, deception was already taking root and selfishness was beginning to blossom. My heart aches for that! Defeated, I headed back to the truck and stayed behind with Dina and Damaris, waiting for the rest of the group to finish the distribution and start to head back. Some of the men from the camp started taking photos and videos of us, which made me feel more uncomfortable. Then Damaris started a conversation with one of the young women who came to our truck, asking for something. I admire Damaris for being able to do this. She asked her if she was saved. The woman responded that she was Catholic. Damaris continued a conversation with small talk, mentioning to the lady that she was “bel” (beautiful), to which the woman replied that she used to be more beautiful [before she was in this situation]. The conversation ended with Damaris saying that she would pray for her. What a beautiful thing Damaris was able to do. I think that young woman walked away with more than she thought she would receive. She thought she could get some candy or a care pack from Damaris, but instead left with the promise that her name would be lifted up to our Eternal Father as Damaris intercedes for her in the name of Jesus Christ. Soon we all embarked the trucks. As we were exiting the camp, the truck took a big dip and we all lunged forward in the bed of the truck. Damaris and I hit the railing. We both got hit pretty badly in our ribs and I ended up with some big gorgeous bruises beneath my knees. As we drove off, Gabi asked why we were all so sad. He said that the refugee camp was a success. And I know he’s right. We did what we came there to do. But I know this is probably one of the lowest points of the trip for me. It breaks my heart to see people living in those conditions. My memory returned to the devotional from this morning. No one said building the wall would be easier. We needed to get the job done. And when attacked, we needed to resist. The refugee camp experience was my practical lesson on that message. When we got back to the Pastor’s house, we prepared dinner for the kids and while it was still light outside, Dina and I decided that we needed to drain a big abscess that had formed on Abel’s forearm. He had mentioned it to me a few days prior, and Jelda had been giving him antibiotics (Amoxicillin). She also said that she would drain it. However when I asked Abel about it, he said that Jelda had been very tired and busy and did not get around to doing it. With fourteen children to look after and countless responsibilities in the community and the church, it was understandable. With a little encouragement from Dina, we decided that it would be best if we drained it today. We sterilized some tweezers that I brought in the First Aid pack and Dina punctured the abscess. I started draining the pus, and cleaned it with hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial pain-relieving spray. I put some Neosporin on it and covered it with sterile gauze. After I taped Abel up, I decided to pray for him. I asked for the Lord’s healing and for blessings over Abel. Even now as I write this I tear up. Abel is such a wonderful young boy. He’s only 12 and has gone through so much. After I finished praying, Abel gave me the biggest smile and a big hug. This was the highlight of the day. I told him to continue taking the antibiotics and not to get the dressing wet. He thanked me abundantly. What a sweetheart. Some of us ended the day with a beautiful night in the Caribbean Sea. The ocean was so refreshing tonight. It washed away all my bitterness and sorrow from the camp. Once we arrived back home to the pastor’s house and rinsed off, a few of us had the chance to talk more. I had a heart-to-heart girl talk with Mimi and Dina for about an hour. They are both such wonderful, godly, ladies! I never really had the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with them before this trip. After talking to the ladies, I went out on the porch to where Nick, Debby, Cornel, and Sandy were chatting and continued socializing with them late into the night. I had the opportunity to talk to Nick more about healthcare and our hospital related work. I don’t think I ever talked to him before this trip! I love how I am getting to know everyone better! People that I had been in the same church with for decades, but that I had never had the opportunity to really know, were suddenly becoming close friends. The Lord is still, and always is, good.
Saturday, June 23, 2012: Jacmel, Haiti
Today was a fairly laid back day. We had a chance to sleep in until 7 a.m., and spent the day at home with the kids, relaxing and playing as Gabi and Pastor Medit went to Port-au-Prince to see Fratele Nelu off. Sandy and I were on breakfast duty and we had yummy chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. I made a special mouse-shaped pancake for Cornel, who has an atrocious phobia of mice/rats. (Mimi cleaned out the kitchen last night and found out that we have a furry little house-mate of our own, thus inspiring Cornel to move his bed upstairs… away from the mice). We had activities with the kids— playing games and doing VBS. Dina, Mimi, and Nick had their lessons today. We also worked on the children’s files—updating them with recent measurements and information for the Tower of Refuge and the sponsors. As nightfall came, we all went to the beach once again and spent more time in the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Debby and I were the two plucky girls who tread into the deeper waters with some of the guys, and braving the vast amounts of seaweed and a frightening underwater sea creature (Cornel)—who did a great job amusing everyone at his attempt to frighten us. It was so nice swimming and relaxing as the soft ocean waves cooled us off. A much needed, relaxing day!
Sunday, June 24, 2012: Jacmel, Haiti
Today was a blessed day. In the morning we all went to Pastor Medit’s church. It was so nice to see the kids all cleaned up and in their Sunday’s best. When we got to church, I stayed with Mia and the rest of the kids at Sunday school to see how they do their lessons here in Haiti. They sang, prayed together, and memorized Bible verses. At approximately 10 a.m., we joined the rest of the congregation, had a beautiful time of worship and ended the service with communion. When we got back to Pastor Medit’s house, we had the opportunity to watch our home church’s service via labethel.com! This is probably the first time I really felt a twinge of homesickness. We saw the band play and I got a good glimpse of my brother David followed by sighting Lydia in the choir! I wish I could have seen my parents. It was fun showing all the kids who everyone on screen was. They were so cute when they saw Fratele Nelu: “Pastor John! Pastor John!” It was a nice opportunity for recording some memorable pictures and videos! After a short nap and snacking on Nick’s “Freaking HOT” Slim Jim’s, we headed to church early to pass out some treats for the local children. I had another chance to have an adventure with Mimi when we went on a quest for a restroom that had a flushing toilet—which was about a half a mile away! I think it’s so funny how they want to provide the best possible conditions for us. I’m humbled by their kindness and sincerity. Another beautiful time of worship began, and though I was exhausted, I felt joyful being there and worshipping with the church. The highlight of the service was when Mimi had her flute solo. Once she finished her flute piece, the pastor and Gabi encouraged her to say a little something. Boy did she ever! She started her message with “Every single one of us is fighting a battle!” to which the congregation replied with unison “Amen!!” As soon as I heard those words, I got the chills, thinking “Man! This is going to be good!” Then, Mimi started reading verse after verse from the Bible. Poor Johanne was trying so hard to keep up, and waited patiently for Mimi to finish her 10+ verses in English so that she could start reading them in Creole. At one point even Pastor Medit got up to help Johanne search for the verses. About five minutes into the verses, I sat quietly trying my hardest not to laugh when I heard Nick mutter “Geez Louise! How many verses is she reading?!” At that, I could not stifle my giggles. Debby turned around and mentioned to us that she saw Mimi write down a LOT of verses earlier that day. All of us started cracking up in the back as Mimi continued: “And then in 2nd Thessalonians, it talks about another battle… and for the young people there is another battle in 1st Timothy, chapter –…” Soooo funny! Little Chafenson and Mia were already fast asleep in Sandy and my arms, but I could tell some of the congregation was getting sleepy too. We had some good laughs during Mimi’s 20-minute sermon. I was right… it WAS good! Definitely something we will never forget. After church, we all had dinner together and Mimi, Debby, and I practiced the skit for the mountain tomorrow. Dina and Paul have been sick for the last few days, so Mimi is taking Dina’s role as “The Puppet”. The funniest thing happened as we were practicing. While the song was playing and we were going over the moves that Alice typed up last year, near the stairs, I noticed a little mouse run out, turn around, and dash back to its hiding spot! Cornel’s little friend had come out to play. And boy did we have fun. It kept running out and then turning around and running back to its hiding spot. It must have done that at least seven times! Sandy caught it on camera as Nick attempted to catch it to present to Cornel as a peace offering. We even tried to persuade it out of its hiding with some food—which it gladly took, and then ran back into hiding. After about a half hour of amusement, Mimi, Debby, Sandy, Nick, Savelo and I gave up and left the mouse to do what it does best: terrify Cornel with the freedom that it has.
Monday, June 25, 2012: Jacmel, Haiti
Today we visited the second mountain. I remembered this mountain from last year’s trip. The red soil, cornfields, and ancient fortress were permanently etched in my memory. (As was last year’s crazy Mazda truck ride up the mountain!) This time, we took the motorcycles and a quicker, safer route on our way up. Once we arrived, we decided to start doing activities. I quickly tended to Cornel’s leg since he got a burn from the smog pipe of the motorcycle on our way up the mountain. The portable First Aid station that I had been carrying around in my pink backpack suddenly became a wound care clinic as Damaris brought a boy with an infection on his scalp to be treated. Soon after, more and more villagers were gathering to get their minor cuts, scrapes, and infections treated or to be spectators at the medical team working. Then, an older woman stepped forward with a little girl. The woman was tilting the little girl’s head and brought her closer for me to see. When I looked closely, I saw what the problem was. An ear infection. The worst I had ever seen. Gray pus was oozing from the poor child’s right ear. Her right cheek was swollen with infection and her right eye was tinted yellow. There was drainage coming from her right nostril as well. My heart sunk. The little girl needed antibiotics—NOW. I gazed helplessly at Nick as he, too, assessed the situation. Roosevelt, the translator was there to help us evaluate the girl’s condition by translating our questions. The older woman was her grandmother. Both of her parents had died. She had been having headaches and was feeling a little dizzy and feverish for a few days now. Nick instructed me to do the best I could to clean out her ear, which I did. While Damaris was comforting little “Lalita”, I used some hydrogen peroxide to clean her outer ear and placed a gauze tip soaked with antibiotic spray in her ear. Nick and I instructed the girl’s grandmother to take her to a physician for antibiotics as soon as possible, as the infection could spread to her brain and she could die. My heart was aching for that poor girl! Helpless, I turned to our Healer and prayed. Lord, heal this little girl! We all gathered together as I implored Our Savior, Our HEALER to heal Lalita. I prayed that God would help her grandmother get her the care she needed, and that she would have a blessed future. It was a blessing to see that all the villagers who had gathered as spectators were now joined with us in prayer! Everyone was involved. After we finished with Lalita, we went to play with the rest of the children and ended our time at the village by passing out food to everyone. Thanks to Pastor Medit and the local pastor from the mountain, the process this time around was much quicker and more organized. We then said our farewells and headed to the bikes for the long trek back to the trucks, which were parked at Pastor Medit’s church. We decided to make a quick detour on the way home and from our schedule. We decided it was safe enough to visit one of Jacmel’s most beautiful sanctuaries: Bassin Bleue (“Blue Basin”). We traveled by truck through a river and up a mountain until we reached a small village. After paying for parking, some local guides navigated us through the jungle until we reached what is possibly the most beautiful natural sight I have ever seen in my life. Deep in the jungle, a waterfall is hidden by beautiful rocks that are shaped like a basin or bowl. The first basin flows into a smaller basin, creating a picturesque cascade of water. After the long hike, I could not wait to jump in the fresh cool crystal blue water. I will never forget this experience. Words cannot describe how refreshing and invigorating it was to see and jump into the fresh water of the Bassin Bleue. After about an hour of diving and swimming, we decided to head back to the truck, and make our way back home. The hike back through the jungle was more difficult this time as we were soaking wet and all the bug spray had washed off. I must have about 20 mosquito bites JUST from the last few hours! When we got back to the truck we were all served fresh coconut. By this point, all I had for the day was one chocolate chip pancake for breakfast, so I was famished! The coconut water was refreshing and helped soothe my hunger for a while. On our way back down the mountain, Debby, Nick, Cornel, and I sat in the bed of the truck. It was one of the most memorable experiences as we all cracked jokes and had fun on the ride back. Debby is hilarious! I can’t believe I haven’t had a chance to spend more time with her or the guys before this trip. Once we got back to the house, a warm, delicious Haitian meal was read for us to eat. We ended the day spending time with the children and using the last of the crafts that Debby had brought. Abel gave me a Styrofoam cup that he had engraved with all the messages he knew in English: “Thank you Kapita. Excuse Me. Excuse Me. Jezi I love you.I love you Kapita. -Abel”. (“Kapita”=Tabitha) It is by far, the most precious gift I have ever received and I will treasure his handiwork for many, many years. (I must admit, I am so happy that Styrofoam is non-biodegradable in this situation. The cup will last a lifetime!) He instructed me to fill the cup with flowers when I get to America. It was in all, a perfectly blessed day!
Tuesday, June 26, 2012: Jacmel, Haiti
Our last day in Haiti. We woke up this morning bright and early once again and had a devotional session led by Cornel. He had a very nice message, reading the passage about Jesus blessing the little children. He encouraged us to pay special attention to the kids who sometimes get neglected because they don’t know how to ask for attention. After breakfast, Cornel and I had our VBS lesson. I’m not going to lie… it was very impromptu. But like the rest of our trip, it was blessed. The topic was on servitude. I was inspired that the most fitting passage would be from John 13: 1-17, where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. I gave the lesson, and as an activity, we had the children (the younger ones—7 years and under) wash each other’s feet in little basins. Because we had an odd number of kids, little Chafenson did not have a partner, so I asked Cornel to be his partner. It was the most precious thing to see all the children wash each other’s feet. But it was priceless to see Cornel carefully wash Chafenson’s little feet and then for Chafenson’s little hands to wash Cornel’s comparatively large feet. I will NEVER forget that image. They all had fun afterward decorating their basins with stickers that Debby had purchased. Mimi’s lesson followed ours and once we finished, we got ready to go to the beach. Everyone piled into the two trucks and we headed to a fun filled day at the beach. I cannot write enough about how beautiful the Caribbean Sea is! Spending those few hours in the ocean with some of the older kids was unforgettable! As lunch rolled around, we prepared tuna sandwiches for the kids and some of the local beach villagers who were selling souvenirs. Once everyone was happy, tired, and fed, we piled into the trucks once again and headed home. As evening came, we started dinner preparations and served everyone as usual. The native Haitian women who helped around the house started doing our hair— ethnically braiding our limp locks. The salt water from the ocean, combined with the multitude of mosquito bites that I received yesterday was causing me to experience allergy-like symptoms: head congestion, runny eyes and nose, and sneezing. I felt like my head was a balloon. Gabi and Paul then announced that there was a possibility that we could remain in Port au Prince for an extra day due to severe flooding in Miami caused by Tropical Storm “Debby”. Everyone seemed to get a bit agitated. Exhaustion was setting in, and resources were limited. I remembered that I had brought some Benadryl antihistamine liquid gels in the first aid kit. I needed to do something about these allergies! I tried to relax on one of the beds to keep the symptoms at bay because I knew that the Benadryl would make me drowsy and I didn’t want to be knocked out before saying my farewells to the kids. Gabi mentioned that there may be a prayer service held at the pastor’s house, so I especially did not want to be drugged up with antihistamines. As I tried to rest, I felt the mosquitos feasting on me. This only increased my agitation and made me feel worse. Dina, pitying my misery, took me upstairs and doused me in 98% DEET bug spray that Fratele Nelu had left behind. The toxic fumes kept the bugs away, but made my allergies worse and my headache increase. Everything was spinning and I didn’t feel comfortable hugging and playing with the kids while having so much bug spray on. Defeated, I tried wiping as much of the bug spray off, and retreated with Mimi and Nick to one of the rooms away from the kids. As 10:00 p.m. chimed in, I could not take the symptoms any longer. I took the Benadryl. As soon as I had taken the medicine, Gabi announced that we would meet for prayer in the children’s eating area, say our farewells, and call it a night. Perfect timing. I took one of the little girls by the hand and walked across the yard to sit at the eating area. Once I sat down, everything started spinning and my vision began to darken. When I tried to take a deep breath, I couldn’t. I tried to breathe again. It was much labored and I felt short of breath. The sounds around me began to blend, and I couldn’t see clearly. I recognized Nick standing a few feet away and used all the energy I could muster to say “Nick, I don’t feel well.” Dina was on my left and asked me if I was ok. I couldn’t breathe well and I was trying not to panic. I remember hearing Paul tell me not to panic. Sandy appeared next to me and I told her that I had my inhaler in my pink backpack. (I carry albuterol with me in case I develop mild bronchospasms). While Sandy (and I was told Paul, as well) were searching for my inhaler, I heard Dina start praying. I tried to focus on breathing slowly and heard Paul coaching me once again to breathe in and out slowly and not to panic. I felt the inhaler appear in my hand and suddenly realized that everyone was staring at me. Embarrassed and starting to panic, I turned from everyone and stood leaning next to a wall as I took a puff of the inhaler. I then felt Nick return and wrap me in cold, wet towels. The cold came as a relieving shock. Gabi came with a chair and instructed me to sit down. Soon Pastor Medit joined and the prayer started. I heard Jelda praying behind me with authority and confidence. She placed her hands on my head, then shoulders, back, thighs, and legs. Everyone prayed in unison, and I felt hot tears run down my cheeks. As the prayer ended, Jelda’s voice stood out among the chorus as she appeared to be praying alone. Gabi later told me that she was reciting Bible verses from Psalms, Isaiah, and Daniel. She knew to combat any spirit of sickness with God’s all-powerful and infallible Word. As soon as she finished, I felt peace flood me and was finally able to take a deep, full breath of air. I had never before experienced something like this. After Nick instructed me to drink a full bottle of cold water, I had energy to stand and then return to our rooms. By that point, many of the kids had fallen asleep, and the ones who were still awake were teary eyed from the realization that we were leaving. I bid my sad farewells to the kids and then walked to bed, defeated by exhaustion and wrestling tears of sadness at the recognition that we were leaving and that this trip had soon come to an end. As the Benadryl’s effects continued, I dozed off.
Wednesday morning, June 27, 2012: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
At approximately 3 a.m., Gabi’s voice resounded for a last time with “Desteptare!” I drowsily arose from the bed and when I peered into the lit hallway of the house, I saw Sandy with her suitcase— already in position to leave. When I saw her ready to go, I slightly panicked, thinking that I was running behind—so I quickly gathered my things and joined everyone. It turned out that Sandy was in the hallway at approximately 3:02, eagerly waiting to head home! We had another time of prayer and songs, and then loaded Pastor Medit’s truck. Dina, Sandy, Debby and I squished into the back bench of the truck, with the driver, Mimi, and Pastor Medit in the front. Damaris, Gabi, Paul, Cornel, and Nick along with a Haitian young man all faced the elements in the bed of the truck. The driver was another local pastor who did an amazing job of navigating through the mountainous trip from Jacmel to Port-au- Prince, and fishing through the morning traffic that the Haitian capital greeted us with. I dozed off a few times in the truck, but was mostly kept awake by the journey’s terrain. I gazed through the rear window back at the poor, unfortunate souls in the bed of the truck—empathizing with them as I saw the expressions on their faces while they were peering ahead through their eye slits that were trying to block off the heavy dust, pollution and wind. I was so fortunate to be enclosed in the safety of the truck. I gawked through the window at the beautiful Caribbean sunrise that painted the Haitian sky as a proclamation that this trip had been, all-in-all, blessed beyond my imagination and that the Lord was still with us. After we said our last goodbyes to Pastor Medit and were safely tucked into the gate of the airport, everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and reflection at the realization that the trip was coming to a close.
Wednesday afternoon, June 27, 2012: Miami, Florida
Returning to American after being in a third-world nation is always a surreal experience. At the passport check, the federal official who processed my re-entry abandoned his stern expression for a moment as he softened and sincerely smiled saying: “Welcome back.” It’s good to be back. Bittersweet though. I am tired, famished, and congested. Here in America, the cure to these symptoms is found right here in the airport: Starbucks, the food court, and airport convenience store stocked with cold medicine available for my use. We are waiting to board a final flight home to California, already recollecting the memories that are imprinted into our lives.
Early Wednesday evening, June, 27, 2012: Somewhere over the continental U.S., American Airlines
The flight has quieted down as the tired travelers drift into slumber. A movie is playing, but it fails to attract my attention. My mind is reminiscing on the events that I have just experienced. This trip to Haiti was indeed different. I recall the fear and anxieties that I was confronted with at the start of the trip. The Lord was good to us. He blessed us with safety, and made our plans succeed. I learned so much from this trip. I developed a close bond with my fellow team-mates and knew that we would forever be connected by this unique experience. I look over to Gabi, who is sleeping two seats to my left. Our fearless leader, whose love for the children and people of Haiti, brought us back in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s call to gather a team together for “The Tower of Refuge”. His leadership, enthusiasm, energy, and love for the Haitians and this ministry are truly admirable. Damaris is sleeping serenely behind me—such a wonderful young woman of God! This trip was especially different for her as it was her first time away from her husband, Razvan. Her steadfastness, leadership, love for the Haitians and spirit of servitude impacted me profoundly. Sandy is seated next to Damaris on this flight. She smiles as she peruses through Gabi’s photos. She is a remarkable young lady and brings so much joy to the team—always ready with a word of encouragement or a song to worship the Lord. Mimi has dozed off next to Sandy. Sweet Mimi! So full of life and adventure—she was definitely the amusement, comfort, and energy to this team. Her earnestness for working in the Harvest is estimable! A few rows back, I glance at Paul and Dina, who are sleeping peacefully next to each other. It was their first time in Haiti, and I know it was a significant experience for them as newlyweds. Their gentleness, faithfulness and desire to serve are truly beautiful. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to know Dina more on this trip! She is such a remarkable, godly woman who demonstrates the essence of prayer in the life of a Christian and was so encouraging to me! Though I grew up with Paul and served alongside him for many years in the same church, it was wonderful to see him here in the mission field, working alongside Dina and see the gifts that God has blessed him with be manifested through teaching the children, worship, and steadfastness! Across from Mimi sit Debby and Cornel, softly chatting among the sleeping masses. Debby is so vibrant and full of life. Her humor, kindness and her joyful spirit were a beautiful asset to the team. She also is such a godly young woman who loves the Lord, is faithful, and shares the Good News of Salvation beautifully to the children through her art and gift of teaching. As I look at Cornel, I realize what a unique experience this was for him. The Lord is working beautifully in his life as He is molding him to become a man after His heart through his love and ability to work with children. He endured mice, severe water loss via sweat, and manual labor beyond his expectations. And made it out alive. I must say…I’m proud of him! A few rows ahead I see Nick’s colorful bandana rested against the seat as he sleeps. I had never exchanged more than a few words with him prior to this trip. But now, I see what an amazing brother in the Lord and new friend I have in him. His bravery, hard-working nature, and compassion completed this beautiful team of missionaries. I am blessed to have experienced this trip with my pastor, Fratele Nelu Prunean. Seeing him outside of church and witnessing how God used him as His anointed servant in the mission field was magnificent. His words of wisdom and his authority in Christ were a cord that wrapped the team together. I am humbled and blessed to be a part of this team. I witnessed the power of prayer more than I ever had in my life. I was humbled by my Haitian brothers and sisters’ love for God—despite their poverty and clear needs. They experience God for who He is: Jehovah-Jireh (the Lord who provides), Jehovah-Shalom (the Lord of our peace), Jehovah-Rapha (the Lord that heals), Jehovah-Tsidkenu (the Lord our Righteousness), Jehovah-Raha (the Lord is my Sheperd), Jehovah-Nissi (the Lord our Victor), and Jehovah-Shammah (the Lord is with us). I learned to not only constantly thank God for everything which He has blessed me with, but truly understand that “mwen se zanmi bondye”: I am a friend of God. He is my Savior, my King, my Redeemer, my Healer, my Peace, my almighty Provider, and desires to romance me with His grace and love every day. Who am I, that I might receive such grace? I am a child of God. Redeemed by grace. Not by works. I am truly honored and humbled to be a worker in God’s Harvest. Thank you, Lord, for this experience. In a few short hours, we will land in Los Angeles… go home to our families and back to our comfortable lives. I know that this trip will mark us forever and will inspire us to continue praying for Haiti, and God willing, return.
Author: Tabitha D. Dutciuc
Trip: June 2012