I was able to return to Haiti with at team of friends headed up by my good pal David Nance (who was integral to the founding of Mission 2540) January 8-14. It was really such a great way to start off a new year.
The past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to build a relationship with an incredible orphanage in Deschappelle, Haiti called HATS (www.hatshaiti.org) founded and run by a fiery red-head Canadian by the name of Karen Huxter. Almost 20 years ago, at the age of 50, Karen went to Haiti with her daughter, who was adopted a child from the country. She fell in love with the country and finally answered her call to missionary work that she had felt as a young girl. It’s a great story that I can’t do justice to here, but Karen is in her late 60’s now and has more energy than me. She’s 5 foot nothing, but she has the respect of about everyone down there. And nobody crosses Mama Karen and gets away with it. I told her that there are very few people in this world that I will actually listen to and do what they say, but she is definitely one of them. Really, she’s one of the more amazing people I know. And she even laughs at my jokes and lets me make fun of her accent and dialect (she’s from Newfoundland, and Newfie’s have a really great way of talking).
She runs an orphanage with 15 beautiful children as well as a school next door that serves several hundred kids. They also have a church which meets in the school. They’ve just started construction on a church building on property behind the school, which is very exciting. Having been there 4 times now, the orphanage feels like a home away from home, as I’ve gotten to know the kids more and more along with the house mothers and other employees who work on the compound. Plus, my Haitian Creole has expanded to 10-15 words now, so I can at least say “How are you?” and “This meal was really good!”
The main point of our trip to HATS every year is to offer a week of encouragement to Karen and her staff and their amazing kids. We do pretty much whatever needs to be done that Karen doesn’t have time for. We’ve gotten pretty good at painting concrete buildings, and that’s what we did each day. We also, of course, found time to play soccer, dance, sing, run, laugh, and other good stuff. We blogged about our trip on the HATS blog at http://www.hatshaiti.blogspot.com. So if you want to find out more details, go there and look up the days we were there.
As I’ve reflected on the trip, I’ve asked myself, “Why is it that I go every year? What is it about that little orphanage in the middle of a crazy country like Haiti?” I think the answer for me is that that little place is where I see God most clearly. I see these kids who were born into extreme poverty. Kids who lost their parents, or were abandoned by them. Kids whose families gave them up due to disability or desperation. Kids who had no hope. Yet now they’ve been brought into the safest place possible. A place so full of peace and bright colors and music and encouragement. And Hope. That’s the gospel.
I also go to hang out with TiLuc. He reminds me that God is real.
TiLuc was born prematurely 9 years ago, when his mom went into labor during a flood that took the lives of his father and 3 siblings. After his birth, his mother ran off, never to be seen again. He weighted just 3 pounds. The hospital called Karen. She took him home and fed him with a tiny dropper. As he grew, she noticed he couldn’t see or hear. He showed signs of what is probably cerebral palsy. She took him to a local doctor, who basically told her TiLuc was worthless and Karen should get rid of him. She’d be better off devoting time and energy to children who could do something for themselves. This is not something you say to Karen Huxter. She vowed to the doctor that the boy would one day walk, see, hear and speak 3 languages. She stormed out of his office, got in her truck, and wept. Then she got to work.
The kids prayed daily for TiLuc, that he would hear and see. Long story short, before he turned one, he had both his vision and his sight. The boy is as stubborn as Mama Karen, so soon he figured out how to walk, even though he has such a difficult time controlling his muscles. He’s also fluent in both Creole and English and is learning French – 3 languages. He can’t really use his arms, but he can do anything with his legs, including kicking a soccer ball and writing on a chalk board with his left foot for school. He’s funny and gives the best hugs. Really, he’s a walking, talking miracle. He makes the trip worth it every year.
I could tell more stories like TiLuc’s, because every kid there has one. It’s a special place that I think of and pray for continually. It’s a home away from home, and I can’t wait to return.