“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
-Dr. Suess, The Lorax

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Part 5: May 16, 2011 - Departure Day

Why in the World We Would Go (back) to Haiti

The day finally arrived.  After months of planning, it was here.  I was not nervous or scared, just filled with anticipation and a little anxious about how I would handle it all.  I won’t deny it; there was a moment as I sat on the plane in Miami, looking out the tiny window just before we began to taxi to the runway, when I thought to myself, “This is it.  I’m about to say goodbye to American soil.  In a minute, there’s no turning back.”  And then I just breathed.  My country, my comforts, my security….they will be right here waiting for me when I return.  No fear.  Just breathe…….just breathe.  I looked over at Brennon sitting next to me, who had the same expression on his face that I felt in the pit in my stomach.  And I realized that there was nowhere on earth that I’d rather be – sitting next to the love of my life as we together headed into the grandest adventure of our lives.  The cabin door closed, the plane began to move, and I continued to breathe. 
Our God is sovereign over all things.  If He is for us, who can be against us?  And He was right there with us.    
Riding on a flight to Haiti is like none other.  On any flight, I suppose it’s typical to look around you and wonder where your fellow passengers are heading to and try to guess why they might be traveling.  Or maybe I’m just a weirdo.  But nonetheless, that’s what I do on a plane.  So on this plane ride, I realized that it was much easier to figure out the details of the travelers’ intentions around me.  Two distinctive groups of people were on the plane: the native Haitians, and the white people going to Haiti to “help.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that sounds shallow.  There indeed may have been dark-skinned folks on our plane that were not Haitian and were going to help with relief efforts.  If there were, well, they did a much better job of not looking like tourists.  Kudos to them.  It seemed like Brennon and I were the only non-Haitians without matching t-shirts on.  Our attire did not declare that we loved Haiti.  I understand the value of matching t-shirts with the organization name and a cute little phrase or logo on the back that are commonly worn by short term mission teams.  I’m cool with that.  I understand the necessity of trying to keep up with your team, and the benefit of just being able to search for same-colored shirts in a sea of people in order to stay together.  What gets on my nerves is the logos that indicate the pride of organizations that screams, “Hey, Haiti!  We’re awesome and here to rescue you in your pathetic neediness!”  Ok, I didn’t see any shirts that said exactly that, but the emotion conveyed was very similar on some.  It’s prideful, degrading to the Haitian people, and makes folks look like a total goober.  Please stop acting like a hero, Americans.  Just humble yourself and go serve.  Let your works shout your love and compassion…not your t-shirts. 
Ok, I’ll step down from my soapbox.  But I don’t promise that I won’t return to it later.     
Focus back on me heading to Haiti, the “land of unlimited impossibility,” as John McHoul, a veteran missionary in Haiti, has stated.  Having done plenty of research, I knew what to expect to see on the ground upon our arrival.  However, I realized that I would never be able to totally prepare myself for the experience of actually being in Haiti.  I was fully aware that the airport experience would be nerve-wracking, that traffic is horrible, and I would see poverty to the degree of which I have never witnessed – tent cities, naked kids, severely malnourished bodies, restaveks (child slaves), rubble at every turn and garbage everywhere.  The people living in these conditions were just like me, created in God’s image.  They didn’t ask to be here, and there is no escape.  Non-existent are quick or simple solutions to the hard issues that plague this land.      
Oh, how I wished I could have take hundreds of photos of the things my eyes witnessed.  I will never be able to describe these things with my limited vocabulary.  But I purposefully left my camera patiently waiting on the seat next to me as we drove through Port-au-Prince.  I did not want to be a tourist, a gawker.  I did not want to further degrade this people who have been through so much, countless times photographed in the midst of their daily struggles by so many do-gooders and media personnel.  I was there to give and to serve, not to take away even an ounce of dignity….especially considering that an ounce is all some Haitians have left.  Haiti is not a zoo, and Haitians are certainly not animals there for our viewing fascination.  So instead of snapping photos, I just sat and watched this strange world pass by my door window, soaking it in.
Lesson one learned about the Haitian people: eye contact is the norm.  This is not the good ol’ U.S.A. where everyone goes about their business with the hope to not have to acknowledge that another person exists in their world.  I’m guilty of it.  I am conditioned to look away as I pass someone on the sidewalk.  I don’t know why.  It’s somewhat uncomfortable to make eye contact with strangers.  It makes me feel vulnerable…or something… I don’t really know what the whole eye contact thing invokes in me.  But there’s something to it.  Well, I had to get over it in Haiti.  Or more like, Haiti helped me get over it.  As you pass a stranger on the street in Haiti, eye contact is made.  Don’t fret.  It doesn’t hurt a bit.  Then the stage is set for a fascinating thing to happen: a shared smile.  Who’d have thought?!  When you make eye contact with another human, you may not share the same language, but a smile is understood by all.  So that’s what I did.  I shared smiles with so many people on that drive through Port-au-Prince.  Men, woman, children of all ages – I was a “blanc” (white) who wasn’t shoving a camera in their face, but instead offered to connect with them through the language of a silent smile. 
A memorable moment during our drive will stay with me forever.  Brennon and I were riding in the back seat of our SUV, driving at a maximum speed of about 15 mph through the city streets.  “Streets” being a collection of potholes of varying sizes (big and bigger) lined on both sides by buildings and rubble, the definition of driving is redefined in Haiti.  On one particular street ascending to the top of a somewhat steep hill, the crowds of pedestrians had thinned.  The homes were butted right up next to each other, entry doors just a few feet from the street.  That’s when something special happened.  A little girl, probably seven or eight years old, was fetching water to take inside.  She was obviously attentive to her chore, not caught up in being carefree as a child her age would be in our home country.  Carrying her bucket of water, facing our direction before turning to go inside, she looked up to see the SUV that was passing her by.  And then the eye contact happened, except it was not with me.  Brennon made eye contact with that precious little girl, and he smiled gently at her.  Her face lit up, and a wide smile emerged.  That was the moment that I witnessed the heart of my strong husband melt like butter.  Tears made my vision foggy as I savored the exchange, though it lasted for a mere few seconds.  We suspect her to be a restavek, judging by her shabby clothes and the fact that she was alone doing a difficult household chore (it wasn’t a small pitcher she carried, but more like a jug holding a few gallons of water).  This is Haiti.  Amidst all of Haiti’s harshness are people.  People that will make your heart swell with compassion and love.  People created in our Lord’s image.  People living in a land filled with lies and deception, where the thief (satan) has come to kill and destroy.  People that need to hear the Truth.
A little girl smiled.  It doesn’t sound like much of a special moment….but it was….and it was just the first of many.          

Next: Home away from home

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Part 4: Looking Back

Why in the World Would We Go (back) to Haiti
I tried this blog thing once before.  Last summer, to be exact.  I didn't get into the groove of blogging, and I don't really care for Tumblr.  That's why I started up my Blogspot at 1:30am the other night. Well, that, and I'm a goober.  But that's understood.  So anyway, I was looking at my old Tumblr blog (all whopping 4 entries), and I figured this entry was a good thing to post here.  Keep in mind that I wrote it last summer.  I intended on detailing my experience of working with Bola and her family.  Fail. But I'm giving the whole "I should journal my experiences" thing another shot.  Give me props for that, at least.  
Here it is, a little bit of a deeper look into my life last year that shaped me, ultimately, to end up ready to go to Haiti.

Aug 18, 2010
Looking back
I made a promise to myself to record my experiences this summer so that I will never forget them.  I never want to forget looking into the eyes of Jesus, feeling His spirit overfill my being to an intoxicating level, and learning how to really love.  I’m putting this out here in case you want to tag along.

How I spent my summer …. by Allison

Cheesy, I know, but I gotta start somewhere.  Let me rewind and set the stage for you.  Otherwise, it’s not nearly as entertaining.  It was early spring, and I was coming out of my winter hibernation…or at least my winter blues.  I was in a funk, and I wanted to get over it.  My relationship with my Lord was stale, and He was not the one at fault for it.  I decided to actively pursue knowing God on a more personal level, to fall in love with Him like never before.  You know the verse about the deer that panteth for cool water?  Yeah, I didn’t quite get it, and it bugged me.  It was time to do something.  The cool thing about God (one of the many cool things, rather) is that if you want to draw closer to Him, He will always help you accomplish it.  It makes Him very happy to help someone fall more deeply in love with Him.  His Word says so.  :)
It all started with a book.  Now I’m not much of a reader, as I tend to have a short attention span while reading.  Or I get sleepy eyes and zzzzzzz, I’m out.  But this book was different.  Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.  It’s intense, raw, and challenging.  Perhaps Claiborne is just a little more hippie than me, but I like his style.  It took me quite a while to read through it, not because it didn’t have my attention, but because I had to stop every few pages and read the Bible verses he referred to to “get it” myself.  I kept finding myself asking, “Does it really say that in Scripture?”  Wow.  What an eye-opener….and I was hooked.  I liked being challenged to live my Christianity out loud, “walk the talk,” so to speak.  Claiborne felt he needed to experience and do more….so he did.  What a great idea!  Why hadn’t I thought of that?!
Meanwhile, as a Facebook junkie, I had friended Leigh Gray, a Spirit-filled woman that does her own blog to share the Word.  Some of her messages had really been food for my soul over the winter.  I came across a conversation thread on her Facebook page one day, and I just had to suggest Irresistible Revolution to her.  She commented that she should check it out, as the author of the study she was doing had also mentioned it.  Really?!  What study are you doing, I asked her.  It was Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker.  It would become the second profound book of my reading season.  I felt like I was onto something - but I had no idea what. 

Isn't the suspense just killing you?  No?  Well, I didn't really expect it to.  Because you already know that we ended up going to Haiti after getting pumped up reading all those Jesus-freak books. 

So that's all I managed to blog about last summer, but it at least gives a little deeper look into my head during that time period (which can be a scary place to look in to!).  My next entry will be about....well....I'm not totally sure yet.  I'm shooting for:   

Next:  May 16, 2011 - Departure Day 

My little girl

My girl….because God chose her for me.
Foster parenting and adoption.  It’s something to seriously consider.
My girl….because God chose her for me.
Foster parenting and adoption.  It’s something to seriously consider.

Part 3: I’m not a good Christian. I’m just me.

Why in the World Would We Go (back) to Haiti

It’s pretty simple, really.  When we repented of our sins and claimed Jesus as our Lord, the Holy Spirit came to live within us.  Literally!  How weird is that, right?!  But it’s true.  In the past couple of years, we have sought to know Him better.  As a result, with much more clarity and volume, we started hearing that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit within us, guiding us to do the things God wants us to do.  Oh, have no doubt, God doesn’t need us at all to do the stuff He wants accomplished.  But we’re His kids, and He loves to do things with us.  He’s our heavenly Daddy, after all.  We have FINALLY figured out that the greatest joy in life is not to live it for ourselves, but to live it pursuing Jesus.  We are seeking to deeply understand His heart, to love what He loves, to live like He lived in the flesh. 
And we will fail.  Miserably.  Repeatedly.  Because we are only human.  But that will not stop us.  The Creator of the heavens and earth hasn’t given up on me yet, so I’m going to keep on trying to do what He asks me to.  God promised it won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.  Other promises of His that I carry close to my heart: He’ll never leave or forsake me, He’ll never give me more than I can handle,  and He loves me like crazy (more than I can even comprehend).  One more little promise that I keep tucked away in my pocket: worst case scenario - if I lose my life serving Him – to die is gain.  This world is not our home.  This life is just a blink of the eye compared to eternity.  And it’s going to be one sweet ride once I get into that eternity seat. 
So why waste a minute?  Why waste an opportunity?  Why worry?  Why not just do what Jesus has asked me to do?  Why not pursue a life that is (now and eternally) fulfilling? 
Most certainly, I never would have heard His voice if I hadn’t pursued getting to know Him better and fallen in love with my Lord.  Sure, sure, I’ve had guidance by the Spirit many times over the years.  I’ve even heard Him call me to do some fairly radical things (like becoming a foster parent and adopting).  But until recently, I’ve not been in love with my Father enough to quit living my life for me.  Still, some days I get lazy and revert back to my selfish ways.  Again, I’m only human – and forgiven, thankfully.  Living a life in pursuit of Jesus requires intentional effort.  By His grace alone I am living intentionally.  I desired to pursue Him and asked for His help.  He has done the rest.
Why would God want me and Brennon to go to Haiti?  I don’t know.  Seriously.  But here’s what I do know: God has knitted us together and built a beautiful marriage in us.  He has shaped our hearts to be filled with compassion for the orphan, the oppressed, the hurting, and the lost.  He has given us sight to recognize beauty in things unfamiliar.  He has given us the ability to rest in faith, to know that He is in control.  He has allowed us to go through many trials and pain in order to strengthen us and to prepare us for the tougher challenges ahead.  He has given both of us spiritual gifts that are uniquely ours.  And He’s taken care of so many details to get us to where we are now. 
I can’t explain how I knew that God wanted me to go to Haiti.  It was not an audible voice, though that sure would have made it much easier.  It was like a gut feeling, but way more intense.  It was a passion that made no logical sense and had no obvious benefit to myself.  It was a consuming fire within my heart that I could not ignore.  And as the day of departure grew near, I thought my heart would burst open with anticipation and excitement.  What was I excited for?  I had no idea!  But by being obedient, God was assuring me that I was on the right path and flooded me with a joy like I’ve never felt before.

Next:  Looking Back

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Part 2: Honey, we gotta go to Haiti

Why in the World Would We Go (back) to Haiti
The burning desire to go to Haiti and serve at GLA was too great to ignore any longer.  It was September of 2010, and my busy summer of commuting to Nashville to love on my Muslim family had passed.  Brennon and I went to lunch one afternoon, and I got up the nerve to spill my guts.  “I can’t ignore the call any longer.  I’ve got to go to Haiti.  And since we don’t do well apart, we just need to go together.”  I squinted, cringing, waiting for his eyes to roll and the dismissal to flow.  But that didn’t happen.  His response was simply, “Ok.  Let’s go.”  I nearly fell out of my seat.  We were gonna go to Haiti!  How crazy is that?!  My heart swelled with excitement and joy....I had no idea why.  I just knew God wanted us to go, and we were being obedient.  That’s how to live radically.  Pretty easy, really.  When you pursue God, He’ll take care of all the details.  And it’s a good thing, because I didn’t know a soul in Haiti, or how to go there, or what in the heck to do once I got there.  Bring it on!

Two weeks after our lunch date, our Haitian Creole study guide arrived in the mail.  Brennon began to dive into studying the language, and I noticed his intensity.  “Gosh, you sure are working hard at that,” I noted.  That’s when he dropped the bomb on me.  I don’t remember his words verbatim since my head began to spin a little, but his reply was something like, “I wouldn’t do this unless I felt like it was going to lead to a long-term commitment.”  Huh?!  I had merely suggested spending a week or two serving in Haiti, but Brennon had already opened his mind up to the possibility that God was calling us to do something greater in that land filled with hurting people.  So we got serious.  We totally surrendered to our Lord.  Our answer was “Yes,” even though we still had no clue what He was going to ask us to do.  It’s crazy.  And boy, does it feel good!
It’s nothing extraordinary, it’s just obedience.
But why Haiti?  Here in our own country, our own state, even our own town, there are plenty of opportunities to help hurting people.  So why go to a dangerous country that’s plagued with famine, cholera, and who-knows-what?  Why go to Haiti? 
Because God said to.  That’s enough for me.

Next:  I’m not a good Christian.  I’m just me.

Intro: Why in the World Would We Go (back) to Haiti

In the few weeks since Brennon and I have returned home from our first trip to Haiti, we have had many thoughts and emotions to sort through, both individually and as a couple.  We both are very grateful that we were able to go on that trip together, because these past weeks would have been very lonely if we didn’t have each other to talk to about our experiences and insight.  It has been interesting learning how to contain our excitement and joy about that life-changing week, as we have learned that many folks just aren’t that interested in hearing about it or even trying to understand.  In fact, we’ve become very good at detecting the eyes-glazed-over signal that it’s time to stop sharing and talk about something more important, like which movies are playing at the theater this week. 

So for about a week, a little thought has been rumbling through my mind that maybe I should write down why we went to Haiti, and now, why we are going back.  Oh, and why we will probably be going back many more times in the future.  Whoever is interested can read it.  Whoever isn’t, well, doesn’t have to subject themselves to it.  And perhaps it will be a little therapeutic for me.  So we all win, right?  Sure.  Well, here it goes….

My eyes were opened
January 12, 2010, was my 35th birthday.   It was nothing special, but I pretty much had my full focus on myself, because that’s what we should do on our birthdays, right?  I didn’t really catch on that just a few hundred miles south of the tip of Florida, in a country called Haiti (which I actually had no idea where it was located), a massive earthquake of catastrophic proportions had occurred.  About the time I was preparing to eat my birthday dinner, countless lives were being lost in collapsing buildings as the earth shook violently for less than a minute.  Men, women and children were being buried alive, many of whom would never be rescued.  Families lost.  Orphans and widows instantly created.  Survivors would now begin their harrowing journey to try to survive in a country that had very little to start with, and now was total chaos.  Survivors – with broken bodies and devastated hearts – that I had no idea existed as I ate my birthday cake.  That is, until the next day, when I came out of my self-absorbed bubble and turned on the television.  That’s when it happened.  On January 13th, my heart was broken for Haiti.
The immediate focus of the mainstream media during the few days following the quake was the orphan crisis in Haiti.  The number of orphans in the country was astronomical before the quake, and now it was unfathomable as to how many children would be without parents or family to care for them.  As an adoptive parent and having a heart for hurting kids, I zoned in on this aspect of the crisis.  Brennon and I would certainly consider adopting a Haitian child if we were called by God to do so, so I started looking into the matter to find out what, if anything, we should do.  Where to start?  Google, of course.  First thing I found?  God’s Littlest Angels Orphanage (“GLA”).  Ok, so I found one orphanage; I knew I should keep digging.  So I dug.  I dug a lot.  Everything I found came back to one thing:  GLA.  Some lady named Dixie from GLA was being interviewed on the Today Show, my favorite source of news.  I found Dixie’s blog, as well as the blogs of some of the GLA staff, and began to follow them on a daily basis.  I quickly began to focus in on this orphanage, which I soon learned was a place of miracles and healing for broken children.  God was at work at GLA, without a doubt, and everything at GLA was being done for the glory of the Lord. 
My spiritual life went from lukewarm to hot in 2010.  I began pursuing a closer relationship with my Savior and sought to understand Him better.  I stopped vegging out in front of the television so much and replaced that wasted time with reading.  The books I began reading started a fire within me that I hope never fizzles.  Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel, Radical by David Platt, Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado, just to name a few.  I also started to read one other book that I hadn’t really invested too much time into:  the Bible….by God.  He’s quite an author.
I began to open my eyes to some concepts that I had toyed with, but never really examined too much in depth.  Concepts like:  the Creator of the Universe would love for me to join Him in His plan, God really meant it when He said to love and serve others, and my life would be so much richer and fulfilling if I stopped living it focused on myself and started living it modeled after Jesus.  Scriptures began to come to life in ways they never had before.  I studied the nitty-gritty teachings of Jesus that Christians like to say, “Oh, Jesus didn’t mean that literally.  He doesn’t expect me to live for him that hard-core.”  In 2010, Romans 12:2 became my pursuit:  Do not conform to the ways of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”   
My radical living began to blossom throughout the summer.  I met Bola and her family, a Muslim family that had relocated to Nashville from Somalia, where their people group faced near-genocide conditions.  For a few months my focus was lifted from Haiti and placed on ministering to these precious lost people, all in the name of Jesus.  This journey (an entire story of its own that I’ll save for another time) helped shape me and prepare me for what was next.

Next:   Honey, we gotta go to Haiti