Sunday, February 5, 2012

The orphanage

Our main reason for our vision trip to Haiti was to focus on an orphanage that our family has been advocating for a few months. We first learned about this orphanage through a connection I have in Haiti. Steve and I eventually came to the realization that if we were going to continue a relationship with this orphanage, we would need to plan a trip to visit the orphanage.

Fast forward and now we are home from one of the most amazing and challenging experiences of my life. I'll attempt to describe some of our experiences. However, I remember riding down the mountain in the tap tap on the edge of a ravine when one team member said to me, "There is really no way to describe this, is there?" It's true that you almost need to be there to really understand and appreciate the complexity of it all.

Our first day began at 3:00 a.m., when our team members woke up to prepare for our flight to Miami and then onto PAP, Haiti. By the time we landed in PAP at 4:00 p.m., we were exhausted. At the PAP airport, we were mobbed by the official men helping with luggage.We tried our best to pile our bags in one area and guard them. It took all the strength we could muster to load our luggage onto 4 carts, push our way through the crowd and head out the door.

We were followed by the men in red shirts who insisted on helping us. I had two men with both sets of hands on my luggage even though I really didn't need their help. It was overwhelming to say the least.

I was relieved to see 3 men, Pastor Dan, our interpreter Pierre and Pastor F. waiting for us at the end of our road. After a quick greeting, they guided us to the rented tap tap and Trooper that was brought to transfer our team and our luggage.

We continued to be overwhelmed by the men with the red shirts, who were forcing us to allow them to "help". But through the confusion, we all managed to get the luggage and ourselves loaded into the two vehicles. The men from our team road in the back of the tap tap with Pierre and our luggage and the women road with the pastor in his vehicle. I must say I was very anxious about being separated by my husband and each time I lost sight of their tap tap, I grew even more anxious. We traveled through rush hour traffic for a little over one hour before we arrived safely to the gate of the orphanage.

Once inside, our tired bodies were greeted by several smiling faces, hugs and kisses. The warm welcome made me feel instantly at home and for the first time comfortable since we landed in Haiti.

The pastor's wife brought a meal of spaghetti to a picnic table. We each served ourselves spaghetti and sauce from large sized pencil containers used for the serving bowls. I thought to myself, what a very practical use of a pencil case. The food was yummy, seasoned with Haitian spices.

The pastor was aware of our team's concern about food safety, so before we began to eat, he told us not to worry about the food and that being there is doing God's will and when we do God's will, God will protect us.    He assured us that we would not get sick. Somehow I knew that through his confidence and assurance, that the Lord was speaking these words of protection through the pastor. He prayed a blessing over the food and we all ate. Other than some minor tummy issues that were quickly cured with pepto, non of the team members had any digestive problems. Based on the courses we ate, there is non doubt that God's protection was covering our health. More about the food in another post =)

First of all, our team quickly learned that this was not an orphanage at all. It was a family - a very large family! - a mother and a father with 19 children, with the addition of 1 to make it 20 on the day we left.

We could not tell the difference between the kids in the "orphanage" and the pastor's biological children. All were equally cared for, loved for and treated like family.

This is the same orphanage that I wrote about several months ago that has gone on several occasions without food for days at a time. They live in temporary shelters on dirt floor. They have a two burner stove that runs on propane. There was a makeshift bathroom in the back of the compound and a rooster roaming the grounds. It felt like camping to me.

All the kids except the pastor's children were orphaned due to the earthquake. The pastor's family grew by 13 children after the quake. Some children lost both parents, some lost one parent but the living parent is not able to provide financially because of the devastating affects of the earthquake. Despite their living conditions and their tragedies, they are all happy! It's evident that they have the joy of Christ reigning in their hearts.

On Saturday night, we threw a party for the kids. The pastor's wife made a big feast. There was popcorn, ice cream, soda and trail mix. We brought each of the kids a gift from the U.S. The youth from our church raised $400 to purchase these gifts and other items needed by the orphanage. They also wrote cards with their pictures attached. The night of the party, the pastor read the cards to the kids as they sat attentive around the picnic table excited to meet new friends from the U.S. through a picture and a card.

The next day when we were looking over the cards with the kids, they remembered the ages and names of their new friends from afar. It was the beginnings of new relationships forming.

On Monday we got the pleasure of visiting the kids' school. It was a school with 400 children. The classrooms were divided by half walls. We followed the principal from one classroom to the next, seeing familiar faces. Each time we visited a classroom with the pastor's kids, each of the kids stood up and waved. In two separate classrooms, the pastor had 5 kids!

After our tour, the principal brought us to his office. This was a very special moment for our team to witness and one I will never forget.

In Haiti there are only private schools. There are registration fees and monthly tuition expenses. Despite not having the funds to enroll the kids in school this school year, the principal gave the pastor grace and allowed the kids to begin school with the expectation that the pastor would pay sometime during the school year.

Having any kind of debt weighs heavy on the pastor because the Bible discourages debt. But when you experience times when you are unable to feed a family, there certainly isn't money available for school tuition fees.

Hearing of this need, friends of ours gave us the cash that would cover the total school fees outstanding for this school year.

So in the principals office, our team was able to look on as the pastor paid off his debt to the school. We saw the records of the loans and amounts he still owed. Then we witnessed the principal cancel all the outstanding debt on paper. It was truly a monumental moment.

This experience was among many that our team was able to witness first hand the pastor giving us a reason to trust him.

There is so much corruption in Haiti. Many people are hesitant to help financially because they are fearful of whether the money would be used for the right reasons. But this orphanage was different. Our instincts told us that this is a pastor we could partner with and trust. He was the real deal!

We have an opportunity here to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of those who are the future of Haiti. What a blessing to be able to partner with a Godly family with the right motives and the best interest of the children in mind.

I will write again about the next steps that we are pursuing with our new friends. It's exciting! God is good all the time!

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