Haiti Youth Retreat – 2009
I just got back from a mission trip to Haiti. I have gone many times before and each time, it is a wonderful experience but it’s never easy. Usually, some of the hardest parts for me are in the going and coming.
When I go, I get up VERY early and spend much of the day traveling to get to a place where most people would never want to go. As I wait for the plane to depart in Atlanta, I always wonder, “Why did I agree to do this?” I don’t always know exactly where I might wind up, but I can be fairly sure it will not be nearly as nice as the place I am leaving. Chances are, I will be going to a place where the electricity, if it exists at all, only works occasionally. The toilets, if they exist, do not flush except with a bucket of water. Hot showers are almost non-existent. A gallon of warm water for a “bath” is a luxury. Keeping clean drinking water is vital, and a few Pepto-Bismol tablets are a key ingredient in my emergency first aid kit. “Making do” becomes an essential part of life. Yet still I go. Because how ever hard it is going to Haiti, coming home is often the hardest part.
Coming home can be a real challenge. Spending hours in airports, standing in line to get out of and into countries, customs forms, waiting for luggage . . . It’s all part of the experience. I do look forward to the blessings I have at home. The warm shower. Brushing my teeth using tap water. The little handle on the back of the toilet that actually works. But somehow when I get back all those things seem a little less important. “What’s for dinner?” seems a silly question after being in a country where just as often the question might be “Is there any dinner?” Thus I think it is in coming home that I struggle most.
I go to Haiti with heavy luggage packed with what we Americans call necessities and a burden in my heart to share the love of Christ. I come home with dirty clothes and a lighter load, but only because I have left a bunch of stuff behind in Haiti. Friends who have become family, smiles, laughter, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, star-lit nights and warm sunny days. All these things I leave behind, along with empty packs of hand wipes, Power Bar wrappers, dozens of empty water bottles and a big old dirty green suitcase.
I have left an old suitcase behind for years now. I leave it packed full of stuff I might need next time I go. Even now, I have a list of all its contents. In that old suitcase you will find hundreds of balloons, string, golf pencils, cards, game instructions, chair webbing, crowns, gold medals, markers, chalk, a big roll of paper, 200 3oz Dixie cups and 5 gallons of artificial snow. They are all things I might need next time.
As the plane lifts off the ground in Haiti and turns toward America’s shores, I almost always pray “Lord, let me come back soon.” In the morning when I wake after a comfortable night’s sleep on my big fluffy mattress, my back and body feel renewed, but my heart aches. It hurts because there is a big piece missing. A chunk of my heart is gone, left behind, stuffed in a big old dirty green suitcase sitting in a closet . . . in Haiti.