When a friend invited Bryan on a mission trip to Haiti a few years back, he didn’t realize just how much it would change his perspective on life. The same can be said about every other missionary that traveled to the third world country in early November. For a few, it was their first trip there, and for the others, they return year after year to help the beautiful people of Haiti.
Haiti180 is the incredible organization that makes these mission trips possible. Founded in 2002, it’s mission is to “turn it around”. Since its inception, Haiti180 has established an orphanage with a church, a school, an elderly home, and a medical clinic, all near the village of Miragoane . While there is still a long way for Haiti180 to go, the impact this organization has had is tremendous.
Katie, a 31-year-old missionary, is the orphanage director. She is also a cancer survivor and a modern day Mother Theresa. She left Ohio to live in Haiti and run the Catholic orphanage more than 7 years ago. During our week-long stay, she led us to individual huts to spend time with families in need. Katie showed us how to serve the Haitian people through relationship. She does this by learning about the lives of the people in the village around her, identifying specific needs, and personally bringing goods and spending time together. We brought medicine, toothbrushes, diapers, clothing, food, vitamins and even candy right into each hut. We learned about every person we brought supplies to and Deacon, one member of our group, prayed for each.
Most of the stories we heard about their lives were heartbreaking and unimaginable. We heard about a family of nine living in a tiny hut who struggled to have enough to eat and slept on straw mats on the ground. We stepped into their lives for a moment to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve. We visited an elderly woman, named Vanaella, who spent the last 3 years in her hut, unable to move herself or even turn over. There were 4 generations all sharing a tiny space and an outdoor kitchen area. We brought them food and Vanaella had a message for us. She said, “Every morning, if you wake up, thank God that you are alive. And then at night thank Him again for all the things that happened throughout the day.”
Every time we went on a hike to the huts, our group filled our backpacks and bags to the brim with candy, Cliff bars, dolls and the essentials Katie knew the village’s families were in need of. The moment we walked out of the orphanage gate, flocks of kids would gather around us. They would grab our hands and walk with us for miles, smiling from ear to ear. I don’t know whose smiles were bigger, the children or the missionaries.
The Texas, Massachusetts, and Florida Trio of 14 Missionaries trekked all around rural parts of Haiti. Joe drove us over mountains, into rivers and through the mud to bring us to the orphanage. During our time there, we also worked to complete various manual labor tasks. We shoveled dirt and rocks which will be used to make cement for two projects. These projects are adding a separate boys house to the orphanage and building onto the senior living home. We painted parts of the orphanage to help prevent rust. It took high ladders, reaching long arms and balancing to get the edges of the second floor and roof. We painted the Cantor (missionary bus) which involved hovering around the roof to paint the top and climbing ladders to touch up the window grids.
We toured all the facilities Haiti180 built from the ground up, including the school where we taught the kids how to play basketball. Katie translated the rules from English to Creole and we played a 5-on-5 game with the students in some serious morning heat. We also passed out school supplies that had been donated, and the way the students’ faces lit up over something as simple as a notebook, pens and pencils was heartwarming. During our trip, we were able to spend time with the kids at the orphanage, from playing soccer, dancing on the kitchen steps and getting braids, to attending mass and being a part of their service through Bible readings.
There were many moments during this trip to Haiti that will stay with us all for years to come, but one stands out in particularly – our visit with John Simon, a man paralyzed from the neck down. Because he spends every day lying in bed and how long he had been neglected when Katie first met him, he’s now in need of daily treatment. So on day two we all went to visit and care for him.
Aimee, Sarah, Jesse, Karen, and Anna worked with Katie to address some of John Simon’s immediate medical needs by treating bedsores, cleaning excrement, and redressing wounds. They bent over his bed to complete this slow process and offer this man what help they could. When Katie first met John Simon, he was depressed and living a very lonely life, and while he’s still confined to his small hut in the middle of the village, he’s in much better physical and mental shape then he was a few years ago. He now has daily visitors to care for him and brighten his day.
It’s often hard to put into words an experience like the one we all shared in Haiti, but each and every missionary would agree it’s life changing. When you have the opportunity to witness such a beautiful country, filled with such loving and welcoming people, but who are struggling so deeply, you can’t help but to want to return each year to make whatever impact you’re able to.