Several months ago, back in Fresno, on a night I couldn't sleep, this crazy idea popped in my head. We should take all the orphans from The Bridge Christian Children's Home in Haiti to the beach. It was right about that time that I was thinking about my oldest's birthday. We love to celebrate in our family and I wondered how to make her birthday special since this year we would be in Haiti on the actual day. What about a beach trip?
Last summer our family happened upon this snatch of paradise called Le Cormier Plage. It's a beach "resort" near the city of Cap Haitien. We only had a few hours to stop and swim and we vowed we would come back.
I mulled it over and over in my head. Was this a good idea? How would we actually get 18 orphans plus our own family to the beach - some three hours away from our Pignon mission house? Would such a "luxury trip" ruin these kids? Could we afford it?
So many questions have raced across my heart. I prayed and prayed for God to make a way.
Then our friends Stacey and Tanner started making plans to come to Haiti with their kids. I pitched the idea to them; They loved it. Stacey even helped me gather donated swimsuits for all the kids so they could swim in style. The Munros helped fundraise and the donations poured in. Who wouldn't want to be a part of sending an orphan on their first trip to glimpse God's Creation at the coast?
Monday morning we made the trip a reality.
I've been on a lot of road trips in my life but this one promised to be the most epic. We piled 23 kids and 8 adults into two vehicles and on a motorcycle. We included lots of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, snacks, towels, swimsuits, frisbees and cameras. We were off!
We bumped along on rocky roads and weaved in and out of traffic. The boys were having the time of their lives sitting in the back of the pick-up truck, drinking in the sights and feeling the wind on their faces. The girls were sandwiched into the cars. They sang and laughed. We looked like one of those "clown cars" with more and more layers of people piling out at pit stops.
We arrived in Cap Haitien around lunch time. The kids gobbled down sandwiches and water in their snazzy new water bottles donated from a friend in California. The Munros met up with a woman from World Vision and they took a few hours to go visit the boy they have been sponsoring through the years.
Meanwhile, we looked for something fun to do with the rest of the kids. There aren't a lot of parks in Haiti or hiking trails like we might experience in the U.S. We decided to take the kids for a walk down by the water. I loved listening to all their questions in Kreyol.
"What's that, Papa?" they blurted. Roro, the orphanage director explained to them how a sailboat worked.
Another group was fascinated by a man swimming in the ocean with a snorkel.
Some just gazed out at the water - a look of complete wonder in their chocolate chip eyes.
I squeezed little James tight, trying to remember my first trip to the ocean. I remembered watching the waves crash onto the shore. I remembered beach picnics and soccer games and sunsets. I remembered some of my favorite spots across the world - in California, Florida, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Spain and Hawaii. The ocean has always been my happy place. The place that inspires me to write, to dream.
After we walked by the water, we went back to the hotel where we were staying and the kids took a dip in the pool. Many of them told me they had seen a swimming pool before but they had never been in one. What a joy to share this "first" with them!
We spent the afternoon at the pool and then took the kids to visit Pastor Enoch, another pastor who grew up in Grandma and Grandpa Bell's ministry. He generously fed our group dinner.
Tuesday morning we headed for the beach. From our hotel we jumped on another windy road and followed the signs. The road wended down to the ocean. We were peering out the window of our truck and over the edge of the rocks at clear water below. The view was breathtaking.
And I've seen it before.
We arrived at Le Cormier Plage and the kids eagerly (and quietly!) followed me through the resort. They each got a little arm band (our proof that we had paid to get out on the beach). The girls tiptoed to the edge of the water. They cautiously entered.
Finally, one of the boys jumped in. Splashing and laughter ensued.
For the next several hours, the kids traipsed up and down the beach, discovering sea creatures and inventing water games. Our own kids were all a part of the action. Even little Zayla was delighting in the clear water. She kept licking the salt off her lips.
I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. We played a train game where the kids held each other shoulders and bobbed through the water chanting. We had swimming races. (We discovered only the boys could swim.)
For lunch, the kids were treated like kings and queens. The staff served them each their own juicy American hamburger with french fries and a bottled cold coke. I have to admit it was a beautiful sight to see that long table with abundant food and the orphans as the guests of honor at the banquet.
At lunch we had a chance to talk with the kids about the creative God we serve who made the ocean and the creature and the sun and sky. We gave thanks together for the many American friends who made this trip possible. We thanked God for hamburgers and ketchup and a day chock-full of fun.
The day was full of joy. I have watched my own biological kids experience many "firsts." It always brings my mama heart joy to watch them discover. But this was a new kind of joy swelling in my heart. This was joy unspeakable and full of all His glory.