Every journey, honestly undertaken, stands a chance of taking us toward the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. -Parker Palmer
It started out as #avoidingcholera and somehow ended up #avoidingCarla as such things do, so we named it the unofficial motto of our trip. Thankfully, we never found Carla…and she never found us.
Haiti was an experience like none other thus far, a whirlwind of culture and language and clinics and beautiful views and mentally avoiding the heat by dreaming of our next swim.
We held medical clinics five of the days, and we were able to see hundreds of people. It was such a beautiful thing to be able to care for people in this way. Since I’m not pre-med like many of the students on the team, I took my usual scribal position, recording vitals and symptoms. We worked for three days at the school, one day at the church, and one day in a small town outside Thomassique.
We improved the clinic each day, learning more about one another on the team and how we could work more efficiently together. We had two doctors, one from Nebraska, and another from Thomassique. One of our nurses was also from Haiti. We had a team meeting afterwards to discuss what we could improve in the future: more of some medications and less of others, hopefully more doctors, and better planning of our days so that we can fit the entire clinic into a single week. This is the first time this team has added the medical side to the mission, so much of it was trial-and-error, but we learned a lot from our experiences.
We also helped out with a high school-age volleyball camp, mostly in the mornings when the kids were practicing and working on drills. Personally, my volleyball skills were a little rusty, but I got better with practice, just as the kids did. The coach, Fritz, proudly showed us all of the awards his kids have won in the past five years since his volleyball camp started—including a number of national titles! We had two afternoon tournaments, Americans vs. Haitians, by Fritz’s request, which were quite competitive.
The volleyball camp was an important part of the relational building and cultural learning that Josias, our team leader on the Haitian side, stressed as a part of our trip. He was aware of the dangers of being a one-time fix-it crew, coming in and leaving without building trust in the community, so he involved us in the community as much as possible, such as inviting dozens of his family members over for supper and games one evening. Another night, they taught us Haitian dances, and of course we ate Haitian food every day, which was often an experience in itself. Except for goat tongue and intestine, I think I tried everything I was offered.
One of the downsides of the trip was that our team burned itself out the first week. By the second week, many of us were sick or injured in one way or another. The heat increased from the first week to the second, which zapped our energy even further. One of our goals for next time is not to push ourselves so hard at the beginning of the trip.
However, our Haitian hosts gave us a couple days to rest and recuperate at a waterfall and at a spring where we could swim. Everything we did brought us closer together: with each other as Concordians but also with our hosts with whom we spent each day.
This trip was a lesson for our team of living out Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” We were living on what we called “Haitian time,” when things happen when they happen, often is not how we foresaw it. But God works through everything, often making “better” from what we might have considered a “missed opportunity”—even from our first few moments in Haiti, when we discovered that all 23 checked bags, carrying medical supplies, volleyball supplies, and our team’s personal items, had been left in Miami and would not arrive until over 24 hours later. This situation “forced” us to get a good night’s rest in Port-au-Prince instead of taking the four-hour bus ride through the mountains, preventing an even earlier burnout, among other blessings.
Taking a trip to Haiti is expensive, which I learned during fundraising in the months prior to the trip but did not realize the purpose until I arrived in-country. Our team lived on a plot of land about three miles outside Thomassique. This was a huge blessing: we were able to sleep in tents, which helped keep us cool, and we had about 15 acres or so inside a cement wall where we could exercise and go for walks, or just separate ourselves from the group to have some time alone in the Word. However this required the use of the school bus to take us everywhere, which used fuel. It also required extra team members for upkeep of the land, as well as living expenses not only for our team, but also for our cook and her family, our bodyguard and his boss, our translators, and more bottled water than I ever thought could be consumed in the span of two weeks.
At the end of the trip Josias shared with us the plans for the future of the Lutheran church and school in Thomassique. This project has been going on far longer than the time I have been involved, and with the help of a developing bridge between Seward NE and Thomassique, the plans for the future are bigger than ever. These plans include expanding the school, purchasing a second school bus so the 350+ kids have a safe way to commute sometimes several miles to the school, and more medical clinics for future trips, of which I hope I am a part, Lord willing.
For me personally, this trip was an incredible exercise in trusting God hour by hour. I can see now how He has been preparing me throughout this year so far in my other travels. He was also teaching us about the necessity of prayer and the importance of being joyful. I plan to go back someday, but I will have to wait and see where the Lord guides my steps.