The first time I traveled to Haiti in 2010, our group leader told us that his prayer was that God would mess us up. I just returned from my 3rd trip to Haiti. I left on short notice, with not much time to prepare mentally or physically. Something very unexpected happened to me - something I had not experienced before. I don't think any amount of preparation could have prepared me for this.
My first two trips, I came home physically exhausted, sleep deprived but after a few days, everything was back to normal. Not that I wasn't a changed person each time, because I did experience things that altered my perspective and shook me a little. But something happened this trip that completely wrecked me.
I went to Haiti to "help" my friend Mickey set up her house, to meet with a building contractor and hand out sponsor letters to the kids. The night we handed out the letters, one by one, we saw anxious faces turn to smiles as they learned more about their sponsored families through a letter and a photo.
We brought hand made bracelets for each of the kids, so I was busy placing bracelets on each child and preparing them for a photo opportunity to bring back to their sponsors.
Martial, the boy our family chose to sponsor, was one of the last called to step forward for his letter. I didn't have any expectations on how he would react. I thought he probably would think it's cool that he knew his sponsor and that I was there at that moment to share the news with him. But I was too wrapped up in all the motions of presenting the letters to prepare for Martial's reaction. After he opened our letter, he did appear happy after he discovered that I was his sponsor. We took our picture together and made our way over to Firmin for translation of the letter.
While we waited our turn, I placed my arm around him, asked him if he was doing good and he instantly buried his head in my arms and began to cry. I was completely taken off guard by this reaction. It felt like something grabbed my heart with a firm grip and ripped it out at that moment. That's all I know how to describe how I felt. I was so touched by his response and the authenticity of the moment - feeling the joy of his heart being poured out through his tears and his emotions.
I was a wreck! I was also very upset with another young boy who happened to see our emotional moment together and decided to make fun of Martial for crying. Not good!
Martial let his guard down. He tried to hold back, especially after getting teased, but he could not contain the joy and excitement he had knowing I was his sponsor. This boy had real genuine love for me and I fell in love with him. My heart fell for him the first time I heard his story but never did I expect this kind of instant bond between the two of us.
Martial lost his father when he was 3. He was with his mother during the earthquake when their house collapsed on the two of them. Martial and his mother were both buried in the rubble. They were found several hours later but his mother did not survive.
Martial is one of 14 children who has been taken into a home with already 6 kids. He lost everything he had the day of the earthquake. I can't even imagine the pain he has suffered through all of this and then to have to share a mother and father with 19 other sisters and brothers? I'm sure part of his response to me sponsoring him was an outlet for him to grieve his loss. I'm sure he felt safe letting his guard down, knowing there was a mother figure there to comfort him in his sorrow and to let him know it is OK to cry.
That night Mickey and I walked back to our house with our hearts bursting with emotions from the events that took place moments before. Our hearts were overflowing with joy and love for these kids. I shared through my own tears with Mickey how Martial cried. I also witnessed Mickey and her sponsored child's emotional moments together. We both held back tears, just talking about our evening.
I went to bed with my camera, flipping through the pictures from that evening and cried myself to sleep.
The rest of my time there, I spent as much quality time as I could with Martial. I was able to learn more about how he spends his time at the orphanage.
Let's just say, this young man really knows how to work hard! He cooks, cleans, hauls 5 gallon pails of water and does ALL of the ironing. He goes about his chores without complaining.
I recognize that if a child is going to be in an orphanage, this particular orphanage is about as good as an orphanage gets. The kids are well taken care of, they are fed, clothed and go to school. But what is lacking is one on one time with a parent. Pastor Firmin and his wife manage the household of 20 children well. However, they can't quite possibly give each child all they need emotionally.
I know that part of Martial's response to me was spurred on by his wanting a way to grieve his loss and his craving for a mother. So, I suppose you can say that he may have responded this way to just about anyone. However, as egocentric as this may sound, I believe that God sent ME to be the one for the very purpose of being there to comfort, bond with and grow my love for this young boy. Our family had chosen him but without him speaking the words to me, I know that based on the love he showed me, God had been preparing his heart for me. No doubt in my mind - God matched us together.
The day before I left, I was having a difficult time trying to figure out how I was going to tell this young man, that I shared so much with, that I was leaving the next day. On this day, he was a little guarded and slightly standoffish, so I suspected he already knew. Then Magalie asked me to go to market with her to buy chickens (live chickens!) and asked Martial to come with as well.
On our way to the market, I was fighting back tears thinking about how appreciative I was that Magalie asked Martial to join us. She did this for me. Once out the gate of the orphanage, Matial asked me through Magalie if I was ever going to be coming back to Haiti. My heart sunk. I can imagine this question took a lot for him to ask. Then he asked if I would come back in June with Mickey. Magalie shared with me that they had told him that I would be leaving the next day. I made a promise to him that I would be back but I didn't know when I would be back.
Then for the first time, we used Magalie to translate our feelings for each other back and forth. Through Magalie, he told me how he was very sad and that he would miss me very much. I told him the same and not to be too sad because I was going to come back. I was overwhelmed with emotions as we shared our feelings towards each other, both of us choking back tears. As hard as it was, however, I am grateful that we had this conversation together.
The day I left, I just happened to remember that Martial was making a bead necklace earlier in the week. It was the only one I remember him making. I pointed to my neck hoping he would understand. He instantly ran off and within seconds he came back with the necklace and placed it on my neck. We cried together at that moment and had one last picture taken together. The last good-bye, before I left the orphanage for the last time, was painful!
More than a week later, I am still a mess - painfully missing my "son" in Haiti, feeling full yet empty at the same time.
My friend Mickey stayed in Haiti for a few more days. She reported to me that Martial missed me a lot! I told her that I have been a mess since I have been back. Mickey understands - she was there and she knows all about how God can mess a person up.