Fifteen people (sixteen in spirit), thirty plastic-wear crates, sixteen hundred dollars per person, thousands of dollars in contributions from faithful friends, and one common goal: arrive in Haiti and love people. You might say that this trip is more preparation than actual trip. We have been eagerly looking forward to being here for months; now we are here.
Before leaving the airport in Raleigh, we realized a few of the many things that can go wrong on an international trip. That word “international” can throw a wrench in what would otherwise be a well-oiled machine. Passports can turn into ports for problems, and one of our group was not able to come on the trip for not being able to find hers, at the last minute. Another of our group almost was not able to get hers re-issued, a couple days before we left. But either way, fifteen of us – passports in hand and joy in our hearts – left at seven o’clock a.m. and traveled exuberantly through three airports, and into Port-au-Prince Haiti.
As the American Airlines plane that we rode, from Miami, sailed over the Caribbean waters, each of us pondered what the coming days would bring. We have gone over a schedule of what we are going to do here, but as with all trips of faith, service, and love, this one must remember the five “f”s of service and traveling: Be flexible, be flexible, be flexible, be flexible, and of course, be flexible. We think we know what is going to happen, but we also know that it could change at any time. How many people are we going to meet? Will we be able to communicate non-verbally expressing our passion and our hearts to those we will meet? How delicious is the food going to be? We asked these and many more questions, excitedly awaiting our landing.
With these thoughts in our minds, we began our descent into Haiti. Each of us have concerned ourselves in different ways with the news about Haiti. We have paid attention to what the media says, knowing that the words on television have a certain slant. As we saw the land in the distance, growing larger in the plane’s windows, we thought about the truths that we would learn.
Descending on the city of Port-au-Prince, population seven million, we immediately noticed, from a mile high, that if there used to be any high rises, they no longer stood proud. Instead, small similar-colored dots covered the land. These dots used to be brick buildings, and they are also cities of tents.
What strikes you the most, right away, is the buildings that have no roofs. They are shells of buildings. where roofs used to be, we see the scribbled grayness, which we know to be rubble. Alongside these former homes and businesses, we see the tents. So many tents. Cities of tents. Are they sheets, are they tarps, or are they the wire-framed shelters we use once a year when we go camping? All of the above.
What is left of many of the buildings is reminiscent of a Lego structure, after a young child is done playing with it. A single swing of the hand devastates the fragile building. In the same way a short system of tremors devastated this beautiful landscape full of beautiful people. Though most of the physical structures are damaged or destroyed, does that demean God’s green growth here? It is easy to the media, drama queen that it is, tell you that this place is destroyed, but the aching infrastructure cannot hide the beauty.
From the moment we walked off of the plane, we met Haitians. If you have never traveled to a foreign country, where the language was also foreign, you may have not had to challenge your definition of “to meet”. This coming week, we will have to meet people with little words. We will have to talk using our smiles and bodies. This is why we are here.
Tonight, at devotion time, we shared thoughts about our first few hours on Haitian soil. Each person shared sentiments about what it means to live in a tension: tension between giving money to one child–therefore being mobbed by a hundred, or not giving; tension between not speaking–for ignorance of the language, and speaking the best we can; tension between staying to ourselves, and stepping even further outside of our comfort zone.
One thing we do know is that we are here to love. As we saw multiple tent cities, we realized that we cannot “save Haiti”. We cannot “bring Jesus” here, because Jesus is already here. It might be possible that we, who have come here to bring things, will be the ones being ministered too. Does the kingdom of God belong to the poor? Is God here? Of course God is. We reject the notion of being missionaries who see a mission and not people. But we have the world to gain, through the exchanging of the Jesus in us with the Jesus in the people here we will, as Mother Teresa says, “do no great things, only small things with great love.”
-Jason Villegas, 06 March 2011, Port-au-Prince, Haiti