By Alina R.
“How was it? What did you do?” These are common questions people ask if they know we’ve recently been to Haiti. The answers that come to mind are humbling, and lack the depth that some people are hoping for. My answers to these questions, the moments I hold dear to my heart from our trips, are things like; blowing bubbles with a little boy, playing Uno and making bracelets, holding kids that often lack human contact, or praying for sick kids as they lay in their crib.
We don’t visit Real Hope to bring change. We go to be changed. To be challenged to trust God more deeply when we are miles from our comfort zone, to be reminded of the brokenness in the world that breaks God’s heart and should also break ours. We go to bring joy, if just for a moment, to a child who doesn’t often smile. To show our love and support for the saints who have made Cazale their mission field. Our hope is that we bring a touch of Jesus’ love through ourselves.
The weeks before we leave are always anxious ones for me, mainly because I am leaving my 2 kids behind while we travel. They are exciting for my husband, who craves being in Haiti. His focus at Real Hope is seeing patients in the clinic. He loves the ability to care for people in a setting without paperwork and strict time constraints, in which the patients seem grateful for his help, even when he lacks the best resources to provide it for them. He is humbled by the effort it requires for people to receive medical care, and therefore it is his honor to help provide it…..even as the staff at Real Hope lovingly prod him to work faster so they can all finish at a decent hour.
In the past we have collected supplies to bring with us – medical items, food, formula, and some fun stuff for the kids. One year a local girl scout and her mom wanted to help, so they put out collection boxes in local stores. They gathered a van full of supplies and we were able to take a lot of it with us. The rest we handed off to Zach and Lorraine, and it made it to Real Hope later in a shipment crate. At the hospital where Corey works, they save supplies that are still new, but would otherwise be tossed out for some reason. We sort through these items and bring what we can. There is something tricky about gathering all of these supplies though, and it’s this. We do not want to bring anything that will be a burden to those who already do so much. We have tossed out many an outdated food item because they are not accepted across the border. We also weed through and eliminate the junk. A half used box of crayons or a container of “face mask cream” are not worth the space in our suitcase, and someone will be burdened with throwing it away in Cazale, a place with no standardize garbage removal. We always check the needs list on Real Hope’s website and focus on bringing those items first. We love being able to bring items that will help, but have been frustrated with the standard to which some people donate things that are outdated, or worn out, but have the mentality that it’s “good enough for them.”
We always bring some fun items to use with the kids that are staying in the ICU, and this is one of my favorite parts of being there. After dinner most nights we bring a container of blocks or a deck of cards, and head downstairs to enjoy time with the kids. They light up when they see the items we spread out for them to use. The first night of this play time is usually fraught with kids pulling toys away from others, trying to take them and hide them, and tears are usually shed. They learn quickly though, with the help of the older patients around, and the nannies, that the toys go back in the bag at the end of the night, and will be used again the following evening. It is a joy to see them helping clean up by the end of the week, and guiding each other not to be selfish with the items. Some of the kids favorites in the past have been Jenga blocks to build with, bubbles, rubber bands for bracelet making, dot paints, coloring books with graphic designs, simple puzzles, simple matching games and CARS! We try to think “simple fun” when we pack, and we have come to realize that many children’s traits are universal. They get bored quickly, they don’t know how to treat things gently, and they want it all for themselves – sharing is hard. It is a great pleasure to help guide them in learning some of these childhood lessons of sharing and using their imagination, when we come.
The ICU becomes a little community that welcomes us into their world each evening. The older patients enjoy bracelet making, coloring and card playing as much as the kids do, and because they tend to catch on more quickly to the rules of the game, or our expectations for sharing, they help communicate them to the kids for us. We try to be conscious of the hour though, and remember that sick kids are trying to sleep. We pack our toys up, and wish the kids a good night at a decent hour even though they beg for just a little more time and our hearts cry out for it too.
It has been a joy to offer a Vacation Bible School program for kids in the community the past two years also. We load up our suitcases with some Jesus Storybook Bibles in Creole (packing them strategically because they are so heavy), song ideas, games and simple crafts. Real Hope gives out green cards to kids that are invited and they flood the gates before we arrive on the first morning of VBS. Inevitably they bring friends and neighbors, and others even try to scale the wall to get in when they hear songs and shouts of joy and fun. The kids are hungry for the love of Jesus, and we feel inadequate to provide it to so many eager hearts. The interpreters that work with us during this time really make the stories come alive for the kids, and lead them in songs and chants that they already know, as well as new ones that they translate from English to Creole. We bring the ideas and supplies and the interpreters work hard to make the week a true joy and place of learning about Jesus. As well as inadequate, we also feel honored and our faith in Jesus grows as we humbly strive to make these precious hours work for His glory. Worn down chairs, and often a mud soaked ground is where Jesus comes alive to the kids, and us too. They quickly adjust their chair to a table when the craft supplies are handed out, and the aisle between the chairs becomes the lane for relay races.
Upon returning home to Minnesota I hear conversations of space issues in our church, or talk of “how can we get more kids to come to our programs.” I think to myself, let’s send a team to Cazale, where we had to turn kids away because there were literally no more chairs to sit on, and kids, by the hundreds, if we allowed them, would climb glass covered walls, and bang on the doors to come and hear about Jesus. They crave the joy that comes from worshiping Him, and never complain that the space is inadequate, even while kneeling in the mud to use their chair as a surface to color on.
I have learned much from the few short days spent at Real Hope, but the lessons that continue to flood my heart and mind often, are those of gratefulness and brokenness. I am grateful to have experienced Jesus hands at work through the people in Cazale. I am grateful for so many things that I used to complain about or take for granted. I am grateful for small moments of joy that I got to experience with children that God created. I am grateful for friendships that have been made while visiting Haiti. I am grateful that God has shown me the suffering of this world that breaks His heart, so that mine can also be broken. I am grateful for the desire to do more, help others, and to give of the abundance that has been given to me. These, and many more, are the reasons I am grateful for my time spent at Real Hope.