By Ronna Fisher
Before our nine-student mission team left Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to reach our project site in Chemin-de-Granges, our site-coordinator told us, “We are going to build a church, and if we have time we will build a building.”
This perspective flavored the entire experience of our Southern Nazarene University mission trip in May to rebuild a Nazarene church that was destroyed during the major 2010 earthquake. The church in Chemin-de-Granges is the last of the denomination’s church buildings in Haiti that needed to be rebuilt.
When the earthquake shook the region, the corners of the church’s roof began cracking and crumbling, and the congregation, which runs 250 members, not including children, felt unsafe meeting in the building. For the past two years, they had been meeting in someone’s home for worship each week.
Although I never saw her, our leader told us that as we drove into Chemin-de Grange he saw a woman dancing on her porch at our arrival. That is how excited she was to finally have a completed church building.
I take my church for granted every Sunday morning. I expect a big, air-conditioned building with cushioned pews, but the people living in this village had waited two years for the resources for a small, one-roomed, concrete building with a tin roof.
Before we had planned our trip, the unstable building had been torn down and new walls and foundation were built. So our team completed the work by painting the building, constructing pews, and topping it with a tin roof.
More important than working on the church, however, we built relationships. We became friends with children, adults and each other. We worked alongside each other. We laughed and made, what I hope will be, lasting memories.
One teenage boy who I befriended told me, “I will remember you for life. Will you remember me for life?” It did not matter that we spoke different languages;
we spoke a greater language of friendship through Christ.
One night during a team meeting, someone mentioned how he just kept thinking about how he would see and worship with all of our new friends in heaven one day. By entering into this other culture we partook of God’s kingdom. We built eternal friendships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They made an impact on us, and I hope we made an impact on them as well.
Almost everyone who comes back from a mission trip will say they feel they have been served rather than being the one who did the serving. This trip was the same. The servant hearts of the people of Chemin-de-Grange’s humbled me.
When we arrived at the work site, women and men were lined up to help the team unpack all of the supplies. I would have to wait a long time for a chance to carry something, and as soon as I had something in my arms I would turn around just to have it taken by someone else.
The women had gone to great lengths to fill up large buckets of water for us so we could have water and showers – something that is rare and precious in Haiti.
They carried bucket after bucket of water on top of their heads from the well for us. Men shoveled rocks to create showers for us and hung sheets so we would have privacy. The women worked all day with our cook so we could have a big, warm meal when it was time to eat and clean dishes to use each time. They allowed us the private use of their church’s bathrooms and then cleaned them everyday.
On the last day at the work site, the team went to the beach. The church was pretty much done, but many adults kept working inside the church, sweeping and cleaning. While I played with kids and the rest of the team enjoyed the ocean, the congregation members kept working. The pastor talked of our sacrifice, but they sacrificed for us. They served us. They touched our hearts.
If I were honest with myself, what I miss most about Haiti – more than the beautiful views, the mountains and oceans, the people, or the county – is who I was while there. I felt beautiful, strong, brave and loved. I felt at peace with who I was. That is what God sees when He looks at me. That is who I really am. I do not have to be in Haiti to be me. And no one has to go on a mission trip (although I highly recommend it) to be a part of God’s kingdom.
When God looks at each one of us, he sees a story – great potential. The best way I and anyone else can serve Haiti is through the way we live our lives. The humility and servant’s heart that the Haitians have can be emulated within our day-to-day lives.
As Dean Nelson writes in his book, God Hides in Plain Sight, “The call on our lives is to give form to the invisible spirit in all that we do.” I am choosing to bring Haiti back with me by believing in who I am and carefully choosing my priorities. I am choosing to be an advocate, not just for Haiti but people—God’s kingdom. I am going to be an advocate—for justice, for equality, and above all, love.
–This article and the accompanying pictures were first published by Engage Magazine in June 2012 and are used here by permission.