Lessons learned during my week-long mission in Haiti – Virginian-Pilot

I will never know his name. I’ll never know whether he will grow up to become a doctor or a teacher or whether he will live a life of poverty.
But he touched my hand and heart in such a profound way that I will never forget him.
I was one of ten Americans from Norfolk’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church on a week-long mission trip to Haiti earlier this month. It was the first Monday in May and we were standing in an alley behind a food store when he appeared out of nowhere.
Dressed in his Catholic school uniform, he grasped the hand of Chris Babcock, a member of our group. He let go, kept walking and then grasped mine and looked up and smiled.
He then continued on his way home. The joy in his face was a welcome respite from what we had experienced.
After a 4 ½-hour flight from New York, we climbed into a back of a large, blue Isuzu truck. Peering through steel mesh, we were exposed to the sights and smells of Haiti’s largest city, home to more than 2 million people.
The poverty there must been seen first-hand to be appreciated – television doesn’t adequately portray it.
The narrow, dusty, streets are jammed with people. Raw sewage flows into the streets and the stench fills your nostrils. There is trash everywhere, piles several feet high in some places, because there is no municipal trash service in the city.
Everywhere we traveled in Haiti, there was trash — in the rivers, along the sides of roads, on the beaches, even in front of churches.
Although billions of dollars have been spent rebuilding homes since a devastating earthquake in 2010, much damage remains. More than 300,000 people died and a million were left homeless. Some buildings remain uninhabitable, but people live in them anyway.
We see thousands of tiny homes made of masonry block with roofs of corrugated tin. Some live in homes made of a few sticks with tarp on top. Street vendors are everywhere, hawking everything from cold drinks to second-hand tennis shoes to bananas.
In part because the earthquake destroyed so many factories, unemployment is nearly 50 percent. Men and women stand in the streets with nothing to do.
There is also economic segregation – the middle and upper classes live on the mountains that surround the city. We only see their homes from a distance.
“I’ve been to a lot of places,” said Babcock, a Navy helicopter pilot. “But I’ve never seen poverty like this.”
It would be a 4-hour trip to the Saint John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization, a Catholic Mission, the first in Haiti established by Life Teen, a group that ministers to millions of Catholic teenagers all over the world. It was the first youth ministry in Haiti.
We came to witness our Christian faith to Haitians. We came to help tear down a deteriorating building that, once demolished, will be replaced with a new residence hall for permanent missionaries.
We came to become more humble, more devout, more appreciative of what we have. We came to lift the spirits of the missionaries in Haiti.
For me, I hope the trip will be a step in my journey toward forgiveness for a man who caused great pain to me and my family.
As we headed down a bumpy, dusty road, none of us knows what Haiti has in store for us.
But for the next week, the smile and handshake from the little boy would rarely leave my mind. He reached out to let strangers know they were welcome in his country.
It would not be the last time the joy we saw in Haiti touched us.
Before Hurricane Sandy swept up the East Coast in late 2012 and ravaged New Jersey and New York, it ripped through Haiti, flattening and flooding thousands of homes and fouling the drinking water for millions.
It also tested the faith and courage of five Americans who two weeks before the hurricane, established the JP II Center, as we call it.
Only one mission member, Paul Albert, spoke Creole, the official language in Haiti. The missionaries had not yet established contacts with area residents.
Their access to town was blocked by thousands of people who escaped their devastated homes by living in the streets.
The storm left the mission with 30 gallons of potable water. Paul’s wife, Anna, had a newborn baby who needed formula, diapers and water to wash.
The missionaries set out buckets to catch rain water, prayed and waited for help, and prayed some more. A few days later, a tree came crashing into the one building on their compound that offered shelter from the rain.They ran out of gas for their generator. They began to run out of water. They had rice and beans, but they require much water to cook.
They wondered whether they should give up and return home. So did Life Teen officials, who advised them to prepare to fly back to America.
“I know amazing, incredibly, strong people,” Father Dan Beeman, the priest at Holy Trinity, would say during a homily the day after the group returned from Haiti. “But I don’t know how many people that would have stayed.
“And, yet, because they knew their God was calling, offering them the way to live, to go, they persevered.”
We’re staying, the missionaries replied to Life Teen officials. We will continue to pray and God will answer our prayers.
Eventually, their prayers were answered. They gained access to water and food, and the mission became an intimate part of this small Haitian community.
The mission is led by Paul and Sean Delaney. Paul’s wife, Anna, and two children, Nathaniel and Theresa, also live there, as do missionaries Sara Vasile, a native of Clearwater, Fla., and a graduate of Florida State, and Danley Dizon, who is from Los Angeles and has a degree in manufacturing from Cal State-LA.
We lived austerely the week we were there, sleeping in a large room on hard beds and showering in cold water. We went to daily mass, morning and evening prayer and an hour-long Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
We helped tear down a building, trekked up mountains to visit Haitians, endured bumpy rides in the back of a truck and sweltered in the evening during chapel.
Yet we lived far better than most Haitians. We ate three meals every day, lovingly cooked by Tite-Seour our Haitian cook, whose name means “Little Sister.”
For the missionaries, hardship is a daily grind. They live without television or the ability to go to a mall or get a cheeseburger or pizza. Culturally, they are isolated. Only Paul is truly fluent in Creole. They wash their clothes by hand. They have electricity only a few hours a day.
They are overwhelmed by the stories they hear of sickness and hunger. They work 12-hour days to minister to people, from making home visits to holding bible studies to playing soccer with kids. Although Life Teen works largely with teenagers, the JP II Center ministers to virtually all comers.
They live in a compound of four or five acres on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Eight Haitians, including a priest, live there with them. There are goats, chickens, turkeys and they’re not pets – they are used for milk, eggs and meat.
Sean was just 23 when he helped found the mission. He is pondering whether to become a priest.
He’d be a good one. He is a natural leader who is eloquent and patient and yet a bit stubborn, all necessary qualities for this mission. He has suffered from malaria, intestinal parasites and typhoid fever.
“There is a sense of isolation here that is difficult to deal with,” Sean said. “But the need here is so great.”
For Paul, coming to Haiti was a particularly difficult decision. His parents escaped from Haiti before he was born and built a good life in Boston, Mass.
Yet when he and Anna were dating, she urged him to return to Haiti as a missionary.
“She was so persistent that I almost ended the relationship,” he said. She then stopped asking and simply prayed and his heart changed.
Father Dan knew Sean, Paul and Anna from attending Life Teen events. When he learned of their mission, he called to say Holy Trinity would offer support for a year. The church is donating most of the money to construct the new dormitory. Every day, parishioners pray for the JP II Center.
The mission’s primary function is not to provide food and comfort. “We’re here to give them Christ,” Sean said.
The JP II Center will host at least five groups of missionaries from America this spring and summer. Sean’s message to all of those groups is the same.
“A mission trip like this will change your life,” he said.. “Life in the states is so busy. There are so many things to occupy your time. Here, there is nothing to distract you from Christ.”
It is Tuesday morning, and the five guys staying in the men’s dorm are bleary-eyed. A rat, apparently trapped somewhere in our room, kept us up much of the night scratching.
Lawrie Heyworth, a Naval officer from Virginia Beach who was part of the Navy’s mission to help Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, discovers a pair of pants that has have been partially eaten by the rat. He then sees the rat in the cabinet under his bed.
Five men from Hampton Roads corner the rat. We try to let him escape, but he won’t leave. Lawrie finally finishes him off with a whack of a hammer.
Rats would revisit us nearly every night.
After breakfast, I join Paul and Sara, and Dan and Marcia Hurley, a married couple from Holy Trinity, to make a home visit to Ti-Malen. She is a Haitian teenager whose family lives in a small home on the beach.
“They don’t appreciate living on the beach,” Paul says. “Storms can only bring them misery.”
The family moves chairs to the beach, where we sit for a bible lesson. Before the lesson begins, a man climbs a nearby tree, scaling it like someone climbing up stairs, and knocks down half a dozen coconuts.
He lops off the top off the coconuts with a machete and we drink coconut milk.
We give the family beans and rice, which the mother welcomes with much appreciation. Anna says it is not unusual for Haitians to eat just once a day.
“Some people who come to church go days without eating,” she said.
Everyone in Ti-Malen’s family is thin.
Paul reads the last few lines of Matthew 28, the last verse of the gospel, in which Jesus told his disciples to tell the world the good news of his resurrection.
As we discuss the bible reading, we learn that Ti-Malen has had several manifestations – the term missionaries use when someone has been possessed.
It may not be fashionable in the United State to talk about demonic possession, but Paul said “spiritual warfare” goes on every day in Haiti.
Most Haitians are Catholic, but much of the population also practices Voudou, an ancient religion brought by slaves from Africa.
A Haitian government Web site and others defend the religion, which helped spawn the successful revolution that helped end slavery in 1804.
Possession of a person by a spirit is desirable, according to adherents of Voudou. But Paul doesn’t mince words. It is evil, he said.
“Satan is alive and at work in Haiti,” he said.
Ti-Malen says during one manifestation, she ran from a friend’s house across the street and jumped into the ocean. She was pulled out by her mother.
She said she has no memory of the incident.
A young man named Jourgensen joins the bible study. He has also had manifestations.
He’s 19 and loves to play soccer. His smile is warm. He wears a small wooden cross on his wrist.
He rides back to the JP II Center with us. On the way, we communicate largely with hand signals.
That evening, we walk to the chapel at the mission to participate in our first Haitian mass, in Creole, a dialect of French that is a beautiful, seductive language.
We don’t understand much of what is being said. The music has much of an African or reggae beat
. Sweat is pouring profusely from everyone in the small, cement-block chapel.
Yet we are all struck by how similar mass is to the American mass, and listen in awe to a girls’ choir sing beautifully in unison.
“This is a universal church,” says Dan Hurley, who works for a defense contractor in Norfolk.
“The mass is the same everywhere in the world.”
After dinner, we head to bed. Although thoroughly exhausted, some of us again don’t sleep well, as we anticipate a visit to a prison the next day.
We wonder what awaits us there.
I don’t know what Hell looks like, but I can’t imagine it being worse than what I saw at the prison in this sparsely-populated, coastal city about 40 miles west of the JP II Center.
Inmates are crowded into small cells made of cinder block, where there is barely enough room for all to sit down. As we gather in a square to pray, surrounded on all sides by cells, we see faces of desperate prisoners. It is boiling hot.
Sean has told us what to expect and how to act. After we finish praying, we rush to the cells to embrace the prisoners. Marcia Hurley, a nurse at DePaul Hospital, is there first, and grasps the hands of those eager for a little contact with outsiders – family members, if they visit at all, can only come once a month.
The order in which prisoners sit in their cells is a matter of seniority – the prisoners who have been there the longest sit near the front, where the air is fresher and the sense of claustrophobia is less intense. I call an inmate forward, as we were asked to do by Sean, and Paul interprets.
I tell prisoners that we know some of them are jailed unjustly and that we know they are suffering, but God is with them, even under such terrible circumstances. We will pray for them.
They thank us and eagerly shake our hands. Sister Flo, a consecrated sister at the JP II Center, leads the inmates in a prayer. They bow and pray with her. They all know Sister Flo – the missionaries often visit the prison.
I call another inmate forward, but he stops halfway and holds a piece of plastic in front of his face. He tries to speak but can’t. A prisoner says in broken English that he can’t talk because he has had too little to eat. I look at him again and he is indeed emaciated.
While we talk, plastic bottles of urine are being passed out of other cells to be dumped into buckets.
In the distance, I see the cross on the top of the Cathedral of St. Anne. It’s a beautiful church that sits on a hill overlooking the harbor, the city center and the horrors in the prison below.
Marcia talks to an inmate who says he believes in God, because he prayed last night that a group of white people would come to talk and pray with them. “And two groups have come,” he said, smiling.
We were preceded by a group from Moncton, in New Brunswick, Canada. Many spoke French, and thus could communicate directly with the prisoners
I meet an inmate who is missing a hand. He says it was chopped off by the police with a machete during a demonstration in Miragoane, near our mission. The demonstrators were demanding clean water, he said. “Bondye se gwo,” he said to us. “God is great.”
Another inmate has been in the prison for nine years. He says he’s 50, but looks older. He has another year left on his sentence. He said he was jailed for defending himself with a machete against seven attackers.
When asked what’s the first thing he will do once he’s released, he said: “I will go to a church and thank God.”
Paul tells us this is one of the most progressive prisons in Haiti. In some jails, there is only room to stand.
Prisoners are completely dependent on the guards. If the guards decide not to take a man to court for a hearing, he will languish in prison. Paul said one man waited three years before he got a hearing.
Father Dennis Vibert persuaded officials to begin feeding prisoners more equitably. Everyone gets at least one meal per day. The plumbing no longer runs in front of the jail cells. Prisoners are guaranteed roofs over their cells to protect them from the sun and rain and Catholic mass is held frequently.
Father Dennis started trade schools to teach prisoners how to make clothing. We purchase dozens of purses and crosses, most of them made from gum wrappers.
After half an hour, a grim-faced guard informs us it is time to leave. Before we depart, Aaron Hostetter, the youth minister at Holy Trinity, asks to speak and for Paul to interpret.
All of the pains on earth are nothing in comparison to the joy you will experience in Heaven, he tells about 30 men in a jail cell. We will pray for you, he said. Many reach to shake his hand.
Afterwards, Aaron entices a group of Haitian children to throw rocks off a cliff with him. They do not understand each other, but have a blast anyway.
That night, as we gather at the mission to talk about our experience, Marcia speaks emotionally. “It was such a struggle to see men suffering like that,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.
Father Dan chokes up as he speaks from a different perspective:
“I stood there and watched people from my parish walk up to the prisoners unreservedly and give them Christ’s love.”
It is 7 a.m. on Thursday and we sit in silence during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The sounds of Haiti surround us – children playing, roosters crowing, waves crashing on the nearby beach and the constant drone of trucks, cars and motorcycles, many honking their horns.
The streets of Haiti are much more chaotic than in the United States. Many of the roads are unpaved. Few highways have more than two lanes. Houses are built right up against the road. Sewers, carrying human waste from homes, run in front of many homes and empty into nearby rivers, where families bathe and wash clothes.
There are no traffic lights. The only way to drive in Haiti, Sean tells us, is to keep moving regardless of what pops out in front of you. Drivers use their horns to communicate. One beep means I’m coming up behind you. Two or three mean I’m passing you. Another blast says “thank you.”
A blast of seven seconds or longer communicates anger.
The horns do not interrupt my thoughts. This will be a big day. We plan to finish tearing down the building. It will also be a difficult evening.
The compound was built by the Catholic church in the 1960s, Sean tells us. When Sean and Paul met with the Bishop of that region, Pierre-André Dumas, in 2012, he offered use of the compound.
The doors to all of the buildings were locked when they arrived to do a quick inspection. “God knew what he was doing,” Sean said. “Had we seen the inside of the buildings, we never would have agreed to come here.”
An engineer was hired to assess the structures and he had bad news. Cement was mixed by using salt water, and much of the steel rebar was terribly corroded, they were told.
The engineer said he didn’t know how one of the buildings was still standing. Move out of that building immediately, he said.
“We lived there for another year,” Sean said. This is the building we are to tear down.
We have been working, off and on, for two days with half a dozen Haitians on tearing the building down. We took down the roof and portions of the walls. We will finish tearing down the walls today.
Rebecca Sargeant, a physical therapist at Norfolk General, suggests jokingly that we march around the building seven times, as the Jews did at Jericho, before the walls there came tumbling down.
We work tirelessly and aggressively, as if we are taking out the emotions of the previous days on the masonry.
We wield sledge hammers. The support and roof beams are the most difficult – they are held together with re-bar. The Haitians helping us smile and shake their heads at our recklessness.
Father Dan brings down one of the last walls as most of us record his work on our cell phone cameras.
Some of those helping are mere kids. Two are named Jimmy. Another tells me proudly, “Mein rele Harry.” My name is Harry, he said. I embrace him.
Nothing is wasted in Haiti. We are asked to salvage all of the blocks that weren’t smashed. Angela Hamrick, a Virginia Beach school teacher, AnneMarie Heyworth, a Virginia Beach personal trainer and Lawrie’s wife, and Marcia and Rebecca haul blocks away while the men pound away with sledge manners.
Rebecca and AnnMarie also take turns with sledge hammers. Both are able to bring columns down.
We jump out of the way when a beam comes down, some more daringly than others. Danley weakened a wall, then took it down by crashing into it, shoulder first. A piece of block hit his head, resulting in a gash and likely concussion.
Marcia tended to his wounds while shaking her head.
God was watching over us, said Lawrie, who has an engineering degree from the Naval Academy. “Somebody could have been seriously hurt,” he said.
We are oblivious to the danger, but when the Isuzu truck nearly careens off a cliff into the ocean after pulling down a wall, we are all a bit chastened
Lawrie is wearing camouflage pants and a red bandanna. Some of the Haitian kids quietly call him “Rambo.”
“Rambo” helps save the truck by tying a strap to a tree and to the truck. We then put boards under the tires, allowing Sean to drive it away from the cliff. We work a little slower and safer from that point on.
It has been a good day as we break for the evening. We’ve seen so much suffering that we could do little to salve. Knocking down some walls was therapeutic.
We have an hour to shower and prepare for another mass in Creole. The chapel, nearly filled by 150 or so Haitians and Americans, is a steam bath.
Again, we understand little said during mass, although, once again, we know what is being said because it is essentially the same mass we celebrate in America.
We only pick up a few words during our week in Haiti: “Bonjour,” or good morning, “Eskisem,” or excuse me. “Orevwa,” or goodbye. Yet we somehow manage to communicate with nearly everyone we meet, even if at times it was just with hand signals.
When the mass ends, Paul asks me to come to the front and give my testimony. As I speak, Paul interprets.
I tell them that we found our oldest daughter, dead, in our home in 2000. I did not go into details, but I told them that I was filled with hate for the man responsible for her death.
Over the years, I thought the hate had subsided. But it had not. I had not seen the man in a decade when I ran into him in Norfolk in 2013. Immediately, all of the hate returned. It had been there all along, eating away at me.
I went to Father Dan who said that the hate I was feeling was only hurting me, not him. You must forgive him, he said. Then, he said, I must pray that this man ask God for forgiveness.
It has taken me a year of counseling, prayer and reflection to get to the point where I could truly consider forgiveness. Seeing the people in Haiti was the last push I needed, I tell them.
On Wednesday morning, during adoration, I found the strength to pray for the man. I prayed he would ask for forgiveness and that he would have a good life. I felt a huge burden lift from my shoulder.
I tell the Haitians that your joy, your love of the Catholic religion under such difficult circumstances, helped give me the strength to forgive.
Paul asked me to speak because Haitians often hold grudges and don’t forgive. A brother and sister who both come to the JP II Center often haven’t spoken in two years over something trivial, he said.
As I take my seat, no one makes eye contact. I wonder if they heard what I said. Paul says they did, that my testimony will make a difference.
The evening ends on an upbeat note – Aaron does two rap songs, mostly in English, but partly in Creole and Latin. The kids in the audience go crazy, clapping and cheering.
The next day, some of the kids imitate Aaron’s rap. Regardless of the language gap, Aaron’s music has helped bring joy some children in Haiti.
That night, as every night, we have a “de-briefing,” as Sean put it, to talk about what we’ve learned. There is too much ground to cover to adequately sum up these sessions.
But a few comments resonated with me.
Marcia again choked up as she paid homage to the missionaries. “I admire so much the work you are doing here,” she said. “I’m not sure I could do this.”
Angela, a veteran of many overseas mission trips, said she was amazed at the “boldness” of many in our group, including our willingness to share our life stories with Haitians.
Rebecca said she will return to America more determined to express her faith to others, including her workplace.
AnneMarie said she learned during a home visit that all that was keeping many kids from attending Catholic school was about $50 a year.
“That’s a trip to Starbucks once a month,” she said.
Indeed, mere pocket change could do so much to change the lives of poor Haitians.
Friday is mostly a day to chill out, to try and absorb all we have seen.
It begins comically. Copi, a small dog owned by Paul and Anna, walks lazily through the chapel that morning during mass. Father Dan unsuccessfully tries to suppress a grin.
Dan, Marcia and I accompany Paul to pick up a man named Ti-Molo, who has a muscular disease that crippled him. He is unable to walk and to barely lift his arms. Although he lives mere steps away from the Atlantic Ocean, he hasn’t seen the ocean in years.
He spends most of his time sitting in a corner in his house.
He is shy and withdrawn. Paul and Marcia lift him into a wheel chair and we wheel him down the road to our mission.
Kids getting out of school stare at him and do not say a word. “They’re afraid of him,” Paul says.
Once back at the compound, he is lifted into a hammock. Aaron plays the guitar for him and Rebecca rocks the hammock. Later on, she shows him a video on her cell phone of Aaron doing his rap songs.
He smiles and enjoys the view of the ocean and the cool breeze.
We head out in the afternoon for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the parish church. There are no seats left, but a young Haitian girl offers me her chair.
The chair is broken and sags immediately as I sit in it. Eventually, it falls to the floor, and me with it. Two dozen kids burst into laughter. A burly Haitian woman gives me a hand up.
The girl smiles and agrees when I ask her if I can take her photograph.
Once again, we are in awe of the beautiful music and the devoutness of the Haitians during worship. Father Dan would say after the trip that the only things in abundance in Haiti are joy and the love of Christ. There was plenty of both in the chapel.
After mass ends, Sister Flo stands at the back of the church, peering out the ocean in the distance. She doesn’t speak English, so I can only guess at her thoughts.
“Bonswa,” I said to her. “Good afternoon.” “Bonswa,” she replies.
The friendliness of Haitains is remarkable. All ten missionaries from Norfolk are white and we are in a country more than 95 percent black, yet we were treated with respect and kindness by nearly everyone we met.
Haiti is a country with a troubled history that includes much racial strife.
Only once did I see any vestige from that history. Minutes after leaving the prison, Sean asked some kids in an alley if they would come and talk to us. They replied that they are afraid of white people.
I can’t say that I blame them. Haiti was brutally exploited by the French, who plundered the country by using slaves imported from west Africa. Haitians fought a successful revolution in 1804, but the nation has had difficulty finding Democratic leadership.
Haiti has also suffered from frequent intrusions by other nations, including the United States, which has occupied Haiti from time to time.
Haiti’s government and economy remain rife with corruption – I was forced to pay a $20 bribe to retrieve a check bag at the airport because we couldn’t immediately find the tag for the bag. Paul said that if you mail something to be delivered in Haiti, you must often pay a bribe in order to receive it.
Much of Haiti’s natural resources were lost to colonial exploitation. Deforestation has led to the runoff of much of the country’s rich soil. More than 50 percent of the population lives in “abject poverty,” according to a CIA Factbook.
Thousands of Haitians lost their jobs when the 2010 earthquake shattered Port-Au-Prince’s industrial area. Much of the industry simply left the island.
I don’t pretend to know how to fix Haiti’s economy. But when I see people who are so kind, smart and hard-working, I wonder, why is there so much poverty?
Aaron and I ride on top of the truck that evening, our last night in Haiti, as we head to a nearby hotel restaurant to relax. It was risky, holding onto a small guard rail at 50 miles per hour, but given all that we’ve seen, we savor the rush.
As we enter a small town, we notice a sign hanging across the street and duck only seconds before it would have knocked us to the ground. We exchange high fives.
We spend 90 minutes or so enjoying cherry juice and beer on an outdoor patio. We skip rocks on the water. We watch an approaching storm.
In the distance, we see mountains surrounded by clear, blue water. Most of the homes on the beach are ramshackle. Some are mere huts.
Smoke rises from fires as people prepare to cook their evening meals.
That is Haiti in a nutshell – beautiful and yet not.
I hold Theresa, Paul and Anna’s 3-month-old girl, as the sun sinks into the sea.
Like most everyone in Haiti I’ve met, she greets my smile by smiling back.
We are again in the Isuzi truck, on our way back to the airport. Goodbyes were difficult. There were a few tears.
Saturday is market day in most of Haiti and crowds are everywhere. We pass people bathing and washing clothes next to each other in rivers. The mountains in the distance, covered with lush tropical growth, are beautiful.
We chat and have a good time for two hours. Then we pass a large red puddle.
Only after we pass do we learn it is blood. “He’s dead,” Danley said the crowd was crying. We notice a mangled motorcycle.
It slowly dawns on us that a man has died. Father Dan crosses himself, and we say a Hail Mary. Dan and Marcia say the Rosary, quietly, to themselves. The rest of the ride is subdued.
As we enter Port-Au-Prince proper, we travel through a vast open-air market jammed with tens of thousands of people. It takes 20 minutes to go perhaps half a mile.
The poverty is again difficult to comprehend. At an intersection, a man stands chest deep in raw sewage, trying to unclog a drainage line with a shovel. I can only surmise that the sewer is in front of his house.
Sensing my thoughts, Aaron says: “There’s a lot of life going on out there.”
Indeed there is. When I asked Sean about the tremendous poverty we saw, he said it is difficult to accept. But the people here manage to find joy, to appreciate what they have and love God in spite of it all.
It makes you love the people of Haiti all the more.
As the airport looms in the distance, we are silent. My stepson, Eric Brinker, made three mission trips to Honduras when he was a teenager. “They were life-changing trips for Eric,” my wife, Ellen, said just before we left Norfolk. “This trip will be life-changing for you too.”
For some of us, the impact was immediate, including Babcock, a Notre Dame graduate and a Navy helicopter pilot, will begin work on an MBA this fall. He said the trip left him determined to find a way to set up a business in a developing country to employ people.
I found the strength to help me forgive.
Yet days after we return, Angela says “I’m not even sure I know yet the impact the trip will have in the long run.”
A week after returning, I’ve come to the same conclusion. The trip has changed us all. But it will take weeks and perhaps months to figure out just how.
As the plane departs Port-Au-Prince, my thoughts fade back to the little boy who grasped Chris’ hand, then mine, on our first day in Haiti.
Remembering his smile brings me joy, and yet also a sense of sadness. Much the same could be said of our trip to Haiti.
To learn more about the JP II Center, click this link:
The blog I wrote just before leaving for Haiti:


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