I have to be honest and say our first week in Haiti was hard for me. From the moment I stepped off the plane I felt a sense of dread rising up in my soul. Maybe it was because we were coming off a high of four days at a family reunion. Every moment there was packed with cousins and laughter and fireworks and food. It was hard to say goodbye to our family, the comforts of buffet breakfasts and air conditioning.
We boarded the plane in Dallas, spent the night in Fort Lauderdale and arrived last Monday in Haiti. Our director Peter picked us up at the airport and soon we were weaving in and out of Port Au Prince traffic. Then it started to hit me - I looked out to see the jagged tin cans and discarded to-go containers lining the streets. Pigs dug through garbage just down the block from women selling mangoes and men hawking imitation watches and radios. I have become accustomed to the half-finished construction of buildings with rebar punching out the top. But upon arrival, even this felt overwhelming.
We made it safely to the mountains later that afternoon. I started to breathe again. We had friends greeting us and a renovated mission house to live in. But in the first few days I felt that heavy burden again as we tried to encourage one of the elders whose wife is on the brink of death from cancer. I had to turn away two women who wanted to join our bead project because we haven't sold our current inventory. I'm worried about making our business sustainable.
Another young boy, Bob, who we have watched grow up through our camps in the last 10 years came to ask for food. We've learned he is also dying from disease with little details about his condition except that he's quite literally skin and bones. Maybe hepatitis. Maybe diabetes.
My heart breaks for the orphans here, the women here, the oppressed, those just scraping by, even those in government.
Haiti is heavy. The burdens and hurt and need in this place can feel oppressive.
But I was also reminded this week that joy and anguish so often dance together. We can not experience deep joy unless we are willing to embrace the hard, the painful, the ugly and trust God through the process.
I did push through the rough stuff last week and experienced many blessings on Friday and Saturday. Our team arrived, including Dear friends Doug & Brenda Round and their three daughters along with Bev Damm, Kelly Damm and Debbi Ball. Regulars who grace this place every summer.
Friday morning we packed 12 adults and 24 kids (including all the kids from the orphanage and our own) into three vehicles and headed for Haiti's historical landmark, the Citadelle. This has become an annual trek for our family, a landmark on our own family timeline as this is the place Ericlee proposed and holds many memories. What joy to show this to the Haitian kids, many of whom have never seen it. They learned a piece of their own history that day.
After our hike we continued on to the city of Cap Haitien and a favorite secluded beach hotel. A generous friend and donor had offered to pay for this trip so the orphans could experience some of God's beautiful creation here in Haiti. It's hard to believe these kids who live on an island so rarely see to coast.
Our highlight was waking up the next morning to the music of the ocean and the kids delighting in play. They dived in the clear waters, splashed in the waves, swung in hammocks, ordered what they wanted in a real restaurant with cloth napkins and an oversized fish tank.
We all marveled at the colors crashing around us - crimson hibiscus, turquoise water, lush-green palms, and white sand beneath our toes.
There is so much of Haiti that makes my heart cry, but these two days were all smiles. The team, the kids, all of us. We rested. We played. We basked in the sun. We were grateful for the margin.