On Monday, February 17th, we prepared for our first work day in Haiti. Yesterday we had been told that we would be painting but that changed and we were tasked with planting mango trees in the village of Leveque. This is the second site for Mission of Hope, where they have helped build over 400 homes.
Leveque sits across a broad dusty plain and is crisscrossed by bumpy, dusty roads that are filled with the movement of donkeys, horses, goats and of course people. People walk singly or in pairs, sometimes balancing five gallon water jars on their heads as they move to or from their home. The homes are quite simple without running water or electricity, unless of course someone has the fortune of a portable generator. Many homes have small gardens where they grow various vegetables and some have a tree that bears plantains or coconuts. There is a hill beyond the village where Mission of Hope has built a school, church and playground. We paid a visit to that place on Sunday afternoon, hanging out with kids on the playground.
The churches that we have visited in Haiti feature open air architecture. While they have a roof overhead, the sides are open to any breeze that might waft through. The church where we stay at the main camp of Mission Hope, is built in the shape of a cross while the church in Levesque is a long rectangle.
Riding an old school bus from Titanyen to the village of Leveque was quite an adventure. In fact, riding on the roads of Haiti at any time seems a high risk gamble. At random intervals across the main highway are scattered what we would call “speed bumps.” If you are not aware of them, it creates quite a bump on the bus. Fortunately, our driver was familiar with the roads and brought us to a complete stop before proceeding across these hazards. But the real risk on these roads is the traffic that often drives three or four across as they move up and down the two lane highway. I have learned at times to focus on my immediate neighbor on the bus as we drive perilously by a motorcycle filled with a family of three or four while in the opposing lane, two other vehicles are jockeying for position as one tries to the pass the other. And oh, let’s not forget the vehicles that are broken down and standing partly on the shoulder and on the road. Yes, driving in Haiti is a trip.
Once we reached Leveque we divided into two teams, each with an objective of planting 10 mango trees that day, one each in a homeowner’s yard. We had the Hopewell team of 11, missing our one disciple Jan Smith who elected to serve on the medical team as there was a dentist from Canada who came down with a group and they were offering hours back at the main camp. We were also joined by another team from a Christian high school in Miami, Florida and a few folks from Canada who were related to our intern Chris.
Many of the homes we visited that morning had a hole already started. Using our pick and shovels we enlarged the hole and planted the mango tree. The homeowner and family stood nearby and once we were done, we visited with them and spoke both about our call to Haiti and asked them to share their story. Each team had an intern, translator and a village advocate with them. In one particular case, we were at a deaf person’s home and needed a signing interpreter as well. Talk about whisper down the lane. The signing interpreter vocalizing in Haitian to our interpreter who then translated into English for us.
While I came to Haiti to be of service to these people, anxious to be busy at work, painting, planting and building, I have come to realize that this time of dialogue and relationship with the individual homeowners about their lives and their journeys has become far more important than any labor I can do. They have blessed me with stories of their lives, often stories of extreme hardship, loss and challenges and yet they remain resolute about filling their futures with hope. We planted, we prayed, we cried with them and at the end, did what we could to tell them that despite circumstances, God loves them and is always present with them.
We had a deep theological discussion with one man who shared that he left the church because he couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of many who acted one way in church and then a completely different way outside. His name was Joshua and after long dialogue he asked us to pray for him and his relationship with God. Street evangelism has taken on a whole new meaning for me here in Haiti, where simply telling stories of our journeys to each other seems to bring us all closer to God.
Today was a mountain top experience for me and many of the team. At the end of day we had planted twenty trees in twenty different homes and prayed twenty different times for families whose needs were as basic as food, water and a job, and at other times simply asked if we would pray for them to draw closer to God. It is often this way on mission trips. We come to offer service and hope to people in need, but we come away blessed as well, perhaps in greater measure.
One last note, the mango trees we planted will not bear fruit for 5-7 years. As I prayed at one family’s home, I asked that the faith we have that the mango trees will bear fruit is the same faith that over time, the families of Haiti will have futures that will be filled with hope. I am reminded of my favorite verse from Jeremiah 29:11 “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” God has placed a great blessing on me this week and I am thankful for it.
-Pastor John Neider