By Jennifer G. Stewart, First Anderson Presbyterian Church
As we drive through the large, rusted gates of the Matthew 28 Orphanage a part of me feels like I am coming home even though I am in a foreign land. The sounds of children laughing and calling our names in the orphanage are music to my heart. This is my 5th trip to Bohoc, Haiti with First Presbyterian Church, Anderson. We, as a church, have made an intentional decision to commit to a long term partnership with Matthew 28 (orphanage, feeding centers, and school.) This partnership has benefitted ALL of us. I cannot even begin to put into words the impact this mission and its people have had on my spiritual well-being. While short term mission trips fill an immediate need, I have become a believer of making a commitment to serve for an extended time in the same place because of the relationships built and a deeper understanding of the mission at hand.
When we go to Bohoc, we all have ‘our jobs to do.’ For me, that includes serving as a pharmacist for our medical team when we travel to feeding centers/medical clinics, as a worker-bee to our educational team training the Haitian teachers at the School of Eternal Hope, and spending lots of time playing games, dancing, singing, and sharing hugs with the children of the Matthew 28 Orphanage and the School of Eternal Hope. In the midst of all of the work we are doing we find the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with the people we interact with. After each child is seen by a member of our medical team, I have the gift of being able to pray over that child in their native language. The line that they often repeated back to me was, “Bondye renmen ou” (God loves you.)
The people of Bohoc live a very simple life. With unreliable power, no such thing as hot water or indoor plumbing, and very limited funds; relationships are key. People care about one another and they look out for each other. Their faith is as strong as their backs. (You can’t believe how much they can carry on their heads and backs!) They lean in to God for strength, comfort and guidance. The older youth teach the younger children scripture. The women hum hymns while they cook and wash clothes. Listening to the children sing praise songs in their native language of Creole is one of the most powerful, spirit-filled sounds I have ever, in my entire life, had the privilege of hearing.
If you have ever been on a mission trip, you understand the statement, “You just can’t explain what happens to your soul on a mission trip.” Never have there been truer words when it comes to my time spent in Haiti. Those who know me well know that my yearly trip to Haiti is soul-filling for me. I reconnect with God through the dark eyes and bright smiles of the orphans. I find a sense of inner peace in the quiet of the dirt roads we travel each day. I long for the evening devotions the mission team shares each night…thought provoking and honest, with no need to rush or hurry. My cup overflows as we sing and play and enjoy the simple things in life with the children…having God serve as our common thread.
One of the struggles, after spending time in Haiti, is transitioning from 3rd world back to 1st world living. We are very blessed; we know that already. But when I spend time with people who have next to nothing, yet are joy-filled, I am embarrassed at how much ‘stuff’ matters to us. It makes me nauseous to think about how much food and clean water we waste. It makes me angry at how easy it is for us to forget to thank our true Provider for all we have. It makes me sad that there is so much stuff we think we need that we forget all we really need is to love and feel loved. You just can’t fully explain this to people who haven’t experienced it. I can, however, use my experiences to shape the conversations I have with my own children and those around me. Let me encourage you to look for your chance to step out of your comfort zone and allow God to use you as a messenger of His love. You do, however, need to know that “it may ruin your life. If you open yourself fully to serving God first in your life it will change you so profoundly that you are ruined in your ability to return to your normal life and enjoy it in the same ways because your eyes have been opened to how others live.”
Every time I leave Bohoc to come back to the states, I leave a larger part of my heart in Haiti. I don’t tell the kids goodbye, instead I say, “See you later.” I will return again next year. As we land in the Atlanta airport, I know I am coming home to my family and friends, but I feel a bit like I am entering a foreign land.