Editor’s Note: Finding folks who have the time and desire to put together a reflection of their trips to Haiti has proven to be a hit-or miss proposition. Let’s face it. The difficulites of Haiti can tear you wide open and being able to put jumbled thoughts and mixed-up emotions to a page can be daunting. Most of this year, we have foregone publishing any longer, personal reflections as no one has taken up the call. But, for our last edition of the year, we had two respond. And, interestingly, though they don’t know each other and with no prompting, their thoughts tell a diverse, yet similar theme.
My Worldview: Wrecked
My worldview has been wrecked. Fractured. Blown apart. No longer can I see beauty and take pleasure in beauty for itself, but instead it has a new backdrop. Now everything I see, every emotion I feel, every joy I experience is seen through a lens cracked by my experience in Haiti.
I grieve for the ones whose lives I touched while in Haiti. I had never come face to face before with the reality of the hardship the materially poor face. Tears come and go. Life occasionally seems normal, and then I am tipped back into grief by a word, a comment, a news item, that brings back a torrent of memories--of silken faces, penetrating deep brown eyes, pain and disease with no immediate remedy. A developing world once so far away, has now been brought up close.
When my daughter, Charis, first asked me to accompany her on the medical team I was very hesitant. I protested that my midwifery experience was with a low risk population and I wondered what I could offer. She urged me, “Mom, just love them.”
The clinic week at Lifeline seeing pregnant moms and babies began with my daughter by my side as assistant. Her comfort with the Haitian people calmed my apprehensions. In clinic, she delighted our patients speaking to them in her nascent Creole. Both of us, however, were very grateful for our Haitian interpreter, who received a crash course in midwifery medicine.
Our first patient of the day, a beautiful but crippled woman, haltingly made her way into the room. Her name was Mary. Dressed in her very best clothes, her story awkwardly tumbled out. She said she was thirty-seven, but who knows for sure in a country where many don’t even know their real age. Her first baby had died at five weeks of age after being delivered by her untrained mother. She had no money for a skilled attendant, much less a hospital. Now she was in late pregnancy with a baby conceived after an intruder’s assault. She said she was crippled and because an angry relative had put a Voodoo curse on her.
With my daughter’s words in my mind, I took Mary’s precious face into my hands, assuring her that this baby was her baby and that God loved her.
We confirmed by ultrasound that her baby was lying breech. I wondered if her twisted body could birth a breech. Groping for a plan, I invited her to come back to the clinic if she were to labor during that week. I didn’t know what else to offer her. I didn’t know if it was even ok for me to make such an offer. But what was she to do? How else could I help her? However, we knew the reality of Mary actually making the long trip back to us in labor was remote. So my daughter and I gave her mother a crash course, through our interpreter, in basic breech delivery techniques.
We prayed together for her, for a safe delivery, a healthy baby, and for provision for their needs. And then Mary, her unborn baby, and her mother left, on their way to a home they said was an hour away. Perhaps their home was made of cement blocks, or more probably of cardboard with a tin roof. Most likely it was as much as a mile or more from a source of water--clean or not. I wondered by what means Mary and her mother even sustained themselves.
Mary did not return to the clinic that week.
I’ve carried a burden for her salvation, for her and her baby’s life, for an uncomplicated delivery, for food, for clean water. I am still not fully reconciled to never knowing what became of Mary and her breech baby.
The next patient came on the heels of Mary’s departure. She was a mother of three carrying her fourth baby, with maybe two months to go in her pregnancy. She presented with very high blood pressure and clinical signs of a severe pregnancy complication. In the United States, I would have taken such a woman directly to the hospital. But she had no money to pay a doctor, much less the hospital.
After a few more brief clinic visits that flew by in a fog, I fled back to our room, collapsed on my bunk and wept, overcome by it all. I managed to pull myself together to eventually return to the clinic, dispensing vitamins, antacids, de-wormers, fungicides, antibiotics. I saw women and children with disease and want that I would never see as a midwife in America.
So I aimed to ‘just love them”. I asked permission to touch them. I asked them to look at me. I told them they were beautiful, and that God loved them. I purposed to show them respect, to ask them permission before treating them, to touch them with tenderness, to lift their lovely faces up to look into my eyes, to respond with joy when they returned my smile.
A few of the moms and their babies we saw were the wives and children of Christian pastors attending the pastors’ conference. I asked if I could take a break from the clinic and attend a women’s session at the pastors’ conference. There a woman with a fist-size thyroid tumor asked me to take her picture and pray for her. She’d been seen in clinic, but her tumor was beyond the scope of our care. I felt utter helplessness as I prayed for her healing. Indeed, I should have asked her to pray for me.
Seeing these Christian women and their babies suffering caused me great emotional duress. Wasn’t God supposed to answer the cries of the needy? Doesn’t the Psalmist say, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” And again, “Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”
My worldview has been wrecked, now devastated. The Lord has taken a wrecking ball to this flawed edifice. My worldview was truncated and only encompassed our western-Church comforts. I am grateful that in his mercy He is beginning to re-make it into a more full-orbed biblical perspective.
As I read scripture, fresh meaning leaps from its passages. Job and his sufferings, embodying real pain and God-purposed redemption, pulse with new understanding. Jesus’ words from Matthew 25:35-36 pierce deeply, “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me a drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was broken with disease you bound up my wounds.”
A Ravi Zacharias radio broadcast I heard recently put it all together for me when he finished his talk saying, “You will never lighten any load until you feel the pressure in your own soul.”
The pressure now weighs profoundly on my soul. I will never be the same.
The Return of the First-Timer
“Haiti will wreck you in the best way possible.”
The statement kept whispering over me as we flew to the tropical nation so recently and repeatedly ravaged by disaster. How did I feel heading to Haiti that day?
I expected God to reveal truth about who He was… in Haiti, and at home.
When we deplaned the air was fresh with the scent of rain, the inky wet night masking the face of Haiti. We drove to Lifeline, slowly absorbing the raucous traffic, breathing in the smell and taste of fried plantains bought from a street vendor winding his way through blaring horns and grinding gears while a modernly dressed woman relieved herself in the midst of a busy intersection. All around me the night embodied what I had imagined – but where would I see the Lord in this place?
I saw Him in the Lifeline children who ran barefoot across the sandy courtyard to the stifling hot warehouse where they voluntarily joined in the portioning of rations for those affected by Hurricane Matthew. They smiled and laughed as we worked, never asking for as much as a precious handful of rice for themselves.
I saw Him in Nicole and Daniel, opening the gates of Lifeline for community access to the medical clinic, and as they judiciously portioned food for those who needed it most. And then again as those same Haitians willingly divided their meager rations among many, many more.
I saw Him in my teammates, who have faithfully returned to Haiti to love children they’ll never get to bring to America. I saw Him in the way they demonstrate how the most important parts of fatherhood and family aren’t about where you live but whose love defines you.
I saw Him when I came home from a day at the beach with the younger Lifeline children when my friend, fifteen- year-old Tima, greeted me exuberantly with the gift of a handmade bracelet with my name woven between the threads. Though my name is spelled out clearly
, when I wear it, all I read is “grace”. Because it was grace that I received – a precious gift and labor of love not earned but freely given from one with nothing but love and grace to give.
It isn’t the poverty of Haiti that wrecks you. It isn’t the smells. It isn’t the sites. It isn’t the heat. Going to Haiti wrecked me with the knowledge of the upside down reality that there is no richer, fragrant, or more beautiful place to be than in the presence of the Lord.
In His presence, every incongruent expectation is reconciled. In His presence, we can hold with one hand the truth that the world, and each of us in it, is full of more despair than we thought possible, and that His hope is stronger still. His faithfulness is so complete that he has to empty us completely so that we can receive all He has to give.
Truly, there are no orphans in the kingdom of God – just children around the globe with the face of our Good and Beautiful Father, who will someday bring us home.
I return as I went.