a birthday + “He put Haiti in my heart…” (shared post)

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Psalm 27:13 ESV

I was glad when they said unto me! Grateful for the blessing today of 46! I’m glad to be counted in the land of the living!

I’ve devoted time this birthday week to some soul care, being renewed and refreshed through God and His Word, His beauty, and the simple things in life. These are what revive me most when I need to be, and at 46, I need to be.

In seeking out this care, I came across a very touching post about a ministry trip recently taken by a sweet friend I’ve known since elementary school. Betsy Forbes and her family and a team from their church traveled to Haiti on a mission visit to their sister church. It wasn’t their first trip there, but Betsy’s telling of this experience, shared on Facebook, revealed how the Lord put Haiti in her heart to carry out the call to serve here at home. Her account and her example were just what my soul needed.

So I celebrate God today by sharing this awesome goodness in its entirety, and I thank Betsy for allowing me to do so here on New Day. Be blessed, be changed, and be motivated to effect change as I was.

(The text and all photos below are used with permission. Betsy H. Forbes, Copyright 2018.)

March 6, 2018

Haiti at Home – Occasionally I feel the need to write…almost pregnant with words that the Lord will bring forth. Today is one of those times. Five days ago, we arrived back home after a wonderful week with a wonderful team in the wonderful country of Haiti. It was my second time going and prayerfully won’t be my last.

Our connection to Haiti began in 2012 when Mark made his first trip to our Haitian sister church. The Lord began a pull on KB’s heart and she knew she wanted to go when she turned 16. After making many Baked Ziti’s and Chess Squares, KB made her inaugural visit in March of 2016. I was happy and content in my role as a shopper, cook, prayer supporter, and sender.

But midway during their trip I got a telephone call from Haiti, the Jewel of the Caribbean. It was my jewel of a first-born saying, “Mama, you got to come to Haiti. Will you come next year?” And so with nervous excitement, I agreed to go and bought a pair of Chaco’s to seal the deal.

The Lord blessed me every step of the way and provided for every need. But He did immeasurably more than grant me good health and safe travels. He put Haiti in my heart. He gave me His love for His people there. He gave me the desire not only to return, but to lead the 2018 team with Mark as Annabelle and Bill Kelly stepped down after years of faithful service as the team leaders. Our God is a God of surprises as I would consider myself a most unlikely candidate for this task. But weakness and lack of experience and expertise are no problem for a strong, powerful, loving and equipping God.

Trials and tribulations would not thwart His perfect plan either. Just as the team was being formed, KB began the 58 day journey of diminishing peripheral eyesight and leaking spinal fluid. We began to wonder where she would be health-wise come February. I began to wonder if we would have to go to Haiti without her and my heart hurt a lot at that thought. Despite the unknown future, God prompted us to continue with Pasta For A Purpose – making Baked Ziti’s and baking Chess Squares to raise support for the trip. As divine providence would have it, the Lord restored KB’s vision as we were cleaning up from a day of cooking on Friday, October 28. Doubts were stilled; He confirmed the call for all three of us to go.

So with the support of Wilson, our parents, family, friends and people we had never even met, we began another adventure to Haiti on February 22, 2018. This time as we stepped out of the airport into the city of Port-au-Prince, I was in familiar surroundings. The sights and smells and sounds stirred an excitement instead of an anxiousness. It was a long trek to Zanglais, the RMI retreat center, but it became even longer as construction and traffic impeded our travel. The typical 4 hour journey grew to a 7+ hour journey and we praise God for the Haitian drivers God used to bring us safely to our destination.

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I was surprised to find myself feeling like I had come home when I walked into Zanglais. It was an additional reminder that God had put this place in my heart. As RMI missionaries Joel and Laura prepared us for our sister church visit, my heart was full just thinking of worshiping and spending time with the people who had loved us so fully and so well last year. Before departing, we spent time on the beach marveling at God’s creation – such beauty amidst such devastation. But as I’m discovering, Haiti is a land of paradox where beauty and devastation, joy and suffering, poverty and riches go hand in hand.

The journey to our sister church requires traveling a rough, rocky, crevice-filled road, but at the end we were greeted by smiling children and hugging adults. Haitian hospitality is extraordinary. After walking to the school, they invited Mark to come and inspect the rooms where we would be staying. There were cots in the RMI truck for us, but the people of the church had given beds for us made up with lovely linens. They sacrificed so that we might be blessed. And now for the highlights and lessons…

The cooks. Oh how they filled our bellies with amazing food! Pastor Emmanuel’s wife led the team of cooks who lovingly prepared three meals a day for us. Their presentation of food was artfully arranged as they served us family style with more food than we could eat. We feasted on pumpkin soup, goat, chicken, ham, pork, grits, potatoes, yams, pikliz, plantains, pineapple, apricots, oatmeal, cake, pizza and more. These ladies would be singing in the dark before the generators came on as they got ready for the day ahead. Praise preceded service. Do I begin my daily tasks with praise on my lips? Have mercy on me, Lord and change me.

The worship. I loved what team member Rob Parker said about the Sunday worship services – “loud, long, and like no one’s watching.” No rocks will need to cry out in praise for these people. Praise is never cut short; it is given freely and abundantly. It seems to me all Haitians sing beautifully – not sure if that’s true or not, but they do sing fully. When I contrast their singing with my own, I recognize that I often sing softly and hesitantly so as not to mess up or sound bad! But our sister church worshipers are less concerned what others think or even what they themselves think. They are singing loudly and joyfully to God and God alone for the glory of His great name. The Sunday night evangelistic service was so lively our team described it as a “holy mosh pit!” I can think of no American equivalent as mosh pits here lend themselves to sinful revelry instead of uninhibited worship of the one true and living God. These Haitian Christians were “all in” – worshiping fully with mind, body, soul and spirit. Why would I hold back in my worship to God who is so worthy? Have mercy on me, Lord and change me.

The dancing. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the dancing. Worship is full body in Haiti and I loved it. I danced more last week than perhaps I have in a year! As Pastor Emmanuel watched us Americans try to dance, he said it brought him joy even though he had just learned of his nephew’s death. That statement has caused me to consider, does the joy of others bring me comfort during suffering? If I’m honest, I would have to answer, “not usually.” I tend to be more prone to jealousy or resentment. Have mercy on me, Lord and change me.

The children. Oh those sweet faces! As part of our ministry to our sister church, 100+ children are now sponsored to attend school. Since there is no public education in Haiti and the average annual income is $300-$500, this is a huge blessing. The lives of the children, their families, along with the church and the community are being transformed and it is awesome to see this transformation first hand. I have no doubt that what we are sowing materially, we are reaping spiritually. As I talked with Emé, the mother of our sponsored child Chaidine, I asked her how I could pray. She told me to pray for Chaidine as she is sick a lot and to pray all of her children would desire to know and love the Lord more. Seems to me that the heart of a mother’s prayers is universal regardless of the culture. Emé also wanted me to know that any time she is in a Bible study or prayer group, she always requests prayer for my family. What a humbling thought. I pray regularly for Chaidine in my personal prayer time, but rarely request others to pray for her and her family. Emé’s gratitude spilled over into intercession. Have mercy on me, Lord and change me.

The shut-ins. What a sweet privilege and highlight to visit elderly folks who are no longer able to attend church. We got to deliver to them a solar light, food box and goodie bag and then we would pray with them. Time and again, the prayer request would be healing but more importantly, to continue to walk with and serve the Lord. It was clear they wanted to finish well. Another refrain we heard was “Si bondye vlé” – what God wills. This kind of prayer reflects a deep and abiding trust that the God of all the earth will do what is right and what is good and it will be done for His glory. How often do I pray “my will be done”? Maybe not that overtly, but I know I’ve given God plenty of suggestions. Have mercy on me, Lord and change me.

The RMI staff. What a team! Week after week they serve and yet they have the knack and gift of making you feel like you’re their favorite! Their enthusiasm is contagious and they have strengthened my faith. As I got off the plane in Charlotte, I thanked the pilot who responded with, “you’re welcome.” But as I got out of the car in Port-au-Prince and thanked Perguens for driving us safely, he said, “All praise to God.” The RMI staff is quick to give God the glory and acknowledge Him as the source of all blessings. What a witness. Have mercy on me, Lord and change me.

The farewell. Last year, I must admit that I was ready to leave the village of our sister church to have some down time at Zanglais before returning home. This year, though I was sad to go. Relationships had more history and my love for our sister church had grown. And because I don’t know what God’s will is, I don’t know if or when I will see these precious people again. I think of the new pastor who was so dear. I have loved seeing him in the background of some of our pictures, smiling and enjoying the new friendship. I think of Sylveste, the school director whose love for Jesus and for the little children shines through. I think of Joel, the local “crazy guy” who is embraced and not pushed aside. But whatever God’s will is, I am comforted that we will meet again in heaven if not on earth.

Coming home and adjusting to American life has been harder this time. I’ve had a weary physical, emotional, and spiritual heaviness. Perhaps it is the distractions of everyday life and the pull of the world that permeates our American culture. It seems there’s something special about Haiti that I’d like to bottle up and enjoy here. There is freedom in worship, in testimony, in praise, in weakness, in serving, in getting out of our comfort zones. But I’ve had to ask myself, is this joyful freedom restricted geographically? Can I have Haiti at Home?

In a way, I think I can. Although I can’t have the physical presence of our Haitian friends here, I think the Lord is giving me a glimpse into the secret to their joyful freedom. What makes Haiti beautiful in the hub of destruction and corruption? What makes the Haitian believers glad even in suffering? What makes them rich even in their poverty? What makes them free in a land where there is no public education, the water is unclean, and the government is not always for the people? JESUS.

Its Jesus over and over again. Haiti is not called the Jewel of the Caribbean for naught. For God saw all that He had made and it was very good. In suffering, the Lord is their support, their strong tower, their hope. Lacking material possessions may make them poor in the eyes of the world, but with Christ they are rich beyond measure. They depend on one another more – the culture is not individualized, it’s communal. And the freedom comes from worshiping Jesus. Our team leader Franz said repeatedly, “there are not enough words to praise the Lord.” And yet, they offer all they have and the Lord inhabits those praises.

So how do I have Haiti at Home?

Surrendering to Jesus. “Si bondye vlé.” God’s will, God’s way, God’s time. He can be trusted. He is forever faithful. He will never forsake His own. In all things, He will work for my good.

Singing to Jesus. My Haitian brothers and sisters offered praise to God willingly, cheerfully, and frequently. Praise is a powerful weapon of our warfare as it glorifies the Lord and rightly directs our focus.

Suffering for Jesus. In America, we’re always looking to alleviate pain and suffering. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but there are lessons we cannot learn apart from suffering. There is a rich and intimate nearness of Jesus that comes only when our go-to supports are removed.

Serving with Jesus. I can be on mission with the Lord regardless of my location. That He would declare me to be His ambassador and invite me to go on adventure with Him is an unbelievable reality and a beautiful invitation.

Haiti at Home? I’d like that. Have mercy on me, Lord and change me.

S.D.G.

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