I've traveled to Haiti three times in the past two years, and each trip was preceded by language study, sleepless nights, lots of prayer, reams of introspective blog and journal entries, and a general sense of inadequacy. The need is so overwhelming, and I am so inadequate.
On my first trip to Haiti in January 1991, I held a 2-year-old boy named Samuel who was starving to death. His hair was orange, an advanced stage of malnutrition. He hadn't eaten in three weeks. What did our team leaders instruct us to do in the face of this great need? We handed out bouillon cubes as we went house to house in an attempt to convert people.
The trip changed my life. I returned to Haiti after graduation, and worked first with STEM Ministries and then at Quisqueya Christian School. While I worked with STEM, we took teams to Jacques Fourcand's Mission of the Trinity and helped serve lunch to the children of Cite Soleil, one of the poorest and most wretched slums in the nation. My clearest memory: We sat about 500 children, then discovered we only had enough food for 300.
We turned the rest away.
Haiti is one of the most special places in the world to me. I feel the closeness of God in that country in a way I rarely feel it here in the United States, and each time I have returned there the past two years, I have known with ironclad certainty that I was where I needed to be, and doing what I needed to do.
But Haiti has never let me be in peace. Every time I look in the mirror, I feel the morality that ties my weight problem to Samuel's. Every time I hear Americans whine about the Republicans and the Democrats, I think of a land that is still suffering from a culture of corruption and oppression nurtured under the Duvaliers.
I remember rows of people who lost arms and legs when the earth shook and their houses fell.
I remember the prostitutes who tried to get me to have sex with them, and then finally just begged for a couple bucks so they could buy food.
I remember the hunger that peered out from the eyes of every man, woman and child I passed in the streets; that followed me to restaurants I visited with friends; that looked in from the street outside the school where Georges al Reyes was throwing out a plate of food because he'd rather eat junk from the snack bar; that haunted my dreams and still haunts me today.
I think about Haiti every day. Sometimes I dream about it, and the smell of diesel fumes is so strong that I can step out my dream and be there, at the top of Route de Delmas by the sign that promises better musculation. Sometimes the dreams are nightmares, and I wake, wondering whether anything has happened to Sarah, to Nakosa or to Christina.
The need is overwhelming, and I want to be like the one who cried out
Come, all you who are thirsty,I want to be like the one who feeds the nation with himself, the one who promises that one day every valley will be filled and every mountain will be humbled. I tremble when I think of him, because I am a wealthy man headed into one of the poorest nations in the world, and I know that God is just.
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
The need is so great. I am so small. How can I possibly meet it? I cannot.
I am going back to Haiti on Monday. I am not ready, and never will be. But I am going.
Copyright © 2012 by David Learn. Used with permission.