Here in Jacmel, I have an air conditioned, hot water /shower/toilet/toilet paper equipped room. My living quarters are surrounded by a wall and gate- as is the Pastor’s house. When I go into town, the Pastor doesn’t leave my side. When I sit down to eat, I have fabulous, cooked food prepared by loving hands. I have bottled water thrown at me from every direction. I have an escort walk our group from our hotel to our destination after dark.
When I look out my window, I see a tent village.
Even coming to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, I am still an American, living as an American. Our group has talked a lot about this and for the most part, we have not known how to deal with it. As we say, “It messes with your head”. It disturbs us. It makes us cry because we feel overwhelmingly guilty. Not guilty that we are Americans, but guilty that even as we come to lend a helping hand and “suffer for Jesus”, we are nowhere near understanding the lives of those around us.
One of the hardest parts of this trip for me is looking into the face of a woman I know is about my age and seeing the hardness caused by years of pain. She has had no choice and most likely has never known any other way of life. There are wealthy folks here- business owners and pastors included, but it is only a tiny percentage of the approximately 9 million people that call Haiti home.
While eating at the Pastor’s house the other night, we asked about typical Haitian meals. He replied that what we were eating is considered a rich man’s meal and that the wealthy eat on a schedule. Everyone else eats what they can when they can because it is determined by when they are able to find food. I looked at my plate (I think we all did) and the brevity sank in. There’s a sort of horror and gratitude that overwhelm you. The pastor and his wife are so incredibly gracious and we have talked about how we can begin to thank them for the work they put in to feed us. At the same time, the picture of children running up to our van and rubbing their stomachs turns mine as I realize I just ate my fill. Within a few yards of me hundreds will go to bed having had nothing to eat today.
A friend of mine and I bought enough school supplies to fill my pack. Yesterday when I handed it all to the Pastor for his school, he threw up his hands and exclaimed, “Thank you, Jesus!!!” What was he so excited about? Bags filled with coloring pencils, writing pencils, calculators, notepads, pens, and gum. He looked at a children’s narrative, picture book on the birth of Christ and said, “THIS will go on our bookshelf!” He said he would give the gum to the little children because they love it…and asked if he could have one. He opened it and asked us to each take a piece. I handed him a bag of pens and started to say I don’t know if you have need of these…to which he stopped me and told me all of their pens have “stopped” and they don’t have any. I have never seen an American pastor get excited about gum and Bic pens.
Many of us came here with money to give to the Pastor for his school or church and of course to buy souvenirs. We asked how much it is to attend school here and it is $100 a year. We looked at each other and silently calculated how many children could attend school with what we were carrying in our belts.
It really is the women and children that get to me. I wondered what it would be like to live in a country where those with enough money put bars on their doors and windows while I sleep in a tent. I look at the beautiful, little girl from church Sunday and thought, what pain and hardship are you going to endure over your lifetime…and then I looked into the hardened face of an old woman a couple pews back and I can’t even begin to imagine.
I think with any mission trip, you almost always take away more than you could possibly ever give. I have been here 2.5 days and my world has been turned upside down. It’s taken me a while to even begin to figure out how to process what I am seeing. I am still trying. We, as a group are still trying. We just pray that in spite of ourselves we can add something- give something- to the community where we are before we leave.