Two years ago I somehow found myself in the mountains of Haiti and my life was changed forever. One of my daily prayers since that trip has been “Lord, please get me back to Kay Mari.” Five weeks ago, that prayer was answered and our team of six missionaries began the journey to Kay Mari Manman Tout Timoun.
I have tried to write this reflection countless times since returning; struggling to find words that will properly communicate the experience. I haven’t been able to find the right words, so instead, for now, I’ll settle for a few good-but-not-quite-right words.
For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed… I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you… (Jeremiah 29:10-11)
While I didn’t wait seventy years, the two years I did have to wait felt like they would never end. After a few failed attempts between Rebecca and I to rally a mission team, I started to believe we would never get back to Kay Mari. Thankfully, we decided to try one more time. Seven weeks before our trip, only the two of us were signed up. Six weeks prior… three people. (Not enough for a team.) Five weeks prior… four people. (Still not enough for a team.) Four weeks before our trip… we had six people. We finally had a team! This left us four weeks to: prepare everyone, buy plane tickets, complete and gather paper work, purchase donations, acquire malaria prescriptions and vaccinations, and the little task of fundraising over $6,000.
Four weeks to accomplish everything was enough to make even this lover-of-to-do-list’s head explode. But as we were preparing, God gave us little and not-so-little signs which confirmed this trip was meant to be:
- We raised $10,640. In five days. This was enough for all of our trip expenses, plus extra for a direct donation. (Thanks mostly to the generosity of our friends in the ChristLife Young Adult Community.) I cried. A lot.
- Everyone was able to see a doctor for vaccinations and malaria prescriptions. Some of us with only three days to spare (ahem, Vinny).
- Johnna (the missionary who introduced me to Haiti) just happened to be in Maryland the weekend before we left and just happened to attend mass when Fr. John led the congregation in prayer for our trip. I had no idea. Any doubts about the trip were gone after this moment and I knew God had awesome things planned for us.
When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said [calling him by name], “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” (Luke 19:5)
I spent the last two years praying for the villages and the children of Kay Mari. They are imprinted deeply on my heart, but I didn’t realize how deep. Near the end of our multiple-hour drive from Port-au-Prince to Miragoâne, I unexpectedly knew we were on the road that led to the orphanage. I knew it so confidently that I stood and informed our group we had arrived as we crossed the final river. And when the canter pulled through the gate, I found the piece of my heart I left behind two years ago.
Oh, the children. I was able to say hello to them by name (well, the ones who were there last time) and their reaction to a random American knowing their name was priceless. I read it as a mix of shock and delight, which settled into joy. The first two days we played the Name Game. This involved the kids shouting excitedly, “Jennifer! Kijan li rele?!” and then me naming whoever they were pointing to. Their reactions when I called them by name is something I want sealed in my memory forever. MacKendy and Eneldine are the two popping into my head at this moment and, oh man, those smiles were awesome.
Over and over again, I was reminded of the first time I felt God call me by name. The gift of being known and of being loved is one I am grateful to have received. And I’m equally grateful that it is a gift I am able to give.
There are many things I could share about the children, but in an (failed) attempt at brevity I won’t share them here. I will simply say: I loved every second and I was humbled by the tiny moments they slowly shared with us. I even loved being surrounded by the chaos of craft time. God is good.
I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
The home visits were particularly powerful, from both a material and spiritual perspective. We spent time with many joy-filled people, hidden in the mountains of Haiti, who have a faith so strong you can tangibly feel that you’re the presence of holiness. With each person we visited and every prayer we offered, I was consistently humbled by the gratitude expressed for our simple presence. I was also inspired by their fervent desire for God’s will in their lives, whatever it may be. These were the moments I most hoped God would suddenly give me the ability to speak Creole, if only for a few minutes. (It didn’t happen. This time.)
Again, I could write many things about the people we had the privilege of meeting. I will simply say: it was humbling to meet such beautiful, holy people and to be welcomed into their homes and lives. And I’m so thankful for His Amazing Grace.
But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13)
It’s hard to sum up a trip to Kay Mari. Simply outlining the itinerary isn’t adequate: we gathered stones for the school’s basketball court (so many stones), spent time with the children, gathered even more stones, attempted craft time, experienced the market, spent time with the elderly, swam at a beautiful beach, visited sick children with the Missionaries of Charity in Port-au-Prince… The list isn’t adequate because the trip isn’t defined by these things. It’s defined by the many hard-to-put-into-words moments and the ways God spoke into the hearts of each person serving.
The memories I find myself reflecting on are not the ones that seem grand or important at first glance. For me, it’s the little things that might pass by quickly if you’re not paying attention. Those little moments are when I’m able to see God most clearly.
I’m grateful for:
- Watching a team of my friends experience a place and people I inexplicably love so much and hearing how God spoke to them.
- Sitting on the roof in the morning with a bible as the sound of children’s voices fills the air.
- Unexpected joy as a sudden rainstorm interrupts our plans for the afternoon.
- Singing “This Little Light of Mine” and watching the children, even the youngest, wave their “candle” proudly.
- A woman’s smile as the sound of “Amazing Grace” bounces around the walls of her one-room shelter.
- The sound of a child’s voice as she’s cuddled next to me singing “How Great Thou Art.”
- The joy of watching children be loved and be able to just be children.
- The hesitation, excitement, anticipation, encouragement, creativity, etc. expressed during craft time.
- The overwhelming beauty of a sunset on our way to deliver dinner on a home visit.
- The way a child I held at Missionaries of Charity settled into my embrace only after I held her for twenty minutes.
- The faith, friendship, and hospitality of everyone we spent time with.