There’s a village in Ganthier, Haiti on a remote beach of Lake Azeui called Kanes [kah-ness]. A pastor I know was first introduced to them when he had been working at the language school building site in Fonds-Parisien and noticed a woman walking down the road with a carton of water on her head.
He saw her pass the school building and turn down a dusty path across the road toward the lake. It’s a mostly salt lake with hardly a patch of vegetation trimming this part of the shore. Confused and concerned, my pastor friend walked down the path and about a mile and a half later, past a few charred pieces of building equipment. There, he found a few clusters of huts constructed with mud, sticks, and dry grass.
As earthquake orphans and refugees began settling into makeshift communities outside of Port-au-Prince, some were lucky enough to end up in the care of well-intentioned (or even well-resourced) orphanages or NGOs. But those living in Kanes settled near the lake hoping to glean enough from a hardly sustainable crop of scrawny fish and chickens.
During my first visit to Kanes I hardly left the truck. Naked, bloated children were running through the dust calling for “dlo”—water. I was sitting on a ten-gallon jug of filtered water that we kept for the groups of volunteers that visited weekly. Okay, I thought, here’s the moment. Kwa Kok, the town I had been in before, wasn’t bad—at least they all had clothes on, and were generally self-sustainable. But the people of Kanes would go days without eating. I didn’t know a lot yet, but I definitely didn’t feel like I belonged there. I put the meal boxes together in the truck until I had to get outside to help serve. In the moment my sandal touched the ground, a little girl was asking to be held. All of the team members were holding children. This was the scene I had always seen pop up in profile pictures after mission trips. It was something I thought I should have been able to handle, but there, in the reality of it all, it was so difficult to take in.
In Haiti, I needed boldness. My experience reminds me of Peter and John, who when brought before the council in Jerusalem, stunned the Pharisees and Sadducees because they spoke with boldness after being with Jesus. I was praying for such boldness in Haiti. Jesus, working in us, can handle all things: “seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, [the Pharisees and Sadducees] had nothing to say in opposition” (Acts 4:14).
What we see in John and Peter is two men telling their story—that’s simply all they had to do. But we also see something else moving and working while they talk—they tie their words in with physical evidence of miraculous healing. Their work does not glorify themselves but the God they believe in. Perhaps, then, we should pray as the believers in Acts do:
“And now, Lord, grant your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal” (Acts 4:30).
It’s natural to view our life experiences as building blocks: scrapes and bruises, callouses, tanned cheeks, and nuggets of information all decorate the mind and body. You travel, work, talk, embrace, climb, and eat to build your life—your experiences shape you. But if we profess a belief in the God of the Bible, it seems that we live for something other than “the self.”
By my second visit to Haiti, my relationships with the Haitian interns had strengthened, and I had begun to feel more comfortable with my surroundings. I went on runs with Eben in the morning, to the market with Wesley in the afternoons. When we got to Kanes, I jumped out of the truck right away and started singing with Dieph and the kids: “I SAID A BOOM CHICKA BOOM!” I met three-year-old Davidson who liked to be tickled. I sat on the tailgate of our truck with a couple of kids speaking French. When I asked a woman what she thought the village needed she simply said, “singing.” Sure, food was necessary, but these kids didn’t hide cookies and juice in order to coerce a volunteer of an extra serving like in other villages we had visited. It was as though their “survival mode” was entirely community-driven.
I didn’t cry much during my time in Haiti. It wasn’t until I returned to the states that I realized how broken my emotional and spiritual infrastructure had become. But one of the few times I did cry was during my third visit to Kanes, watching families trample over each other for access to the clothing and household donations we had brought for them. I can still hear a mother shouting for a pair of flip-flops that was likely purchased at Wal-Mart for three dollars. I walked away.
I walked through the village and down to the water and I think God told me that these men and women, boys and girls, were my family. I think God told me this because it isn’t an easy or a natural conclusion to draw on your own. He told me that they were my cousins and that I wouldn’t see them again for a while and I should cherish my time with them, as I did an afternoon in my grandmother’s garden back home. I walked back, sat on a bag of rice, and Davidson appeared in my arms. I tickled him and he giggled in such a cleansing way that the grip of my own “survival mode” loosened and I felt free to love this child and look upon him with greater eyes, perhaps the eyes of God, our father.
This is the story of my experience and how it has helped to shape who I am. As I write this—and writing about it is an experience in and of itself—I am trusting that God is reaching out his hand to move, and to heal—you and me.
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