I just returned from a short-term mission trip to Haiti. This was my second time going to Jacob’s Well Camp in Limbè, Northern Haiti, with a team of fellow staffers from Frontier Camp. Here are my thoughts from the trip…
So. I’m back.
It’s hard to know what to say, or even what I want to say about this trip. As I sit here trying to gather my thoughts, memories and emotions flood my mind and tears prick at the corners of my eyes. It was a trying and wonderful week, so different from what I expected.
The general framework of our trip consisted of two days of work projects (or in this case, preparation for and then hosting a wedding reception!) followed by three days of VBS-style camps for the local kids (one at the Jacob’s Well campus and one at Psalm 23 Church nearby). We wrapped up with a final day of team bonding.
This year, we faced a series of unexpected challenges to our plans.
We lost 1/3 of our team’s baggage (and didn’t get them back until the last day we were there…oh, and one bag is in Nicaragua for some reason?). We spent eight hours fixing a ruined wedding cake as the icing melted off of it in Haiti’s tropical heat. Four of us got sick (including me…more on that later). I missed our team’s group hike and excursion to the beach.
But through all these struggles, we saw God’s provision all the more abundantly. We made do with the supplies we had – and now the extra supplies (which we would have used if they weren’t lost for a week) are being used for more kids’ camps at Jacob’s Well! We actually really enjoyed fixing the wedding cake and learning the secrets of icing from the local kitchen staff. The cake was held together by the mercy of God throughout the wedding reception, and we were able to host a beautiful and memorable evening for our guests. And while I did not enjoy being sick, the Lord used those very hard days to teach me some much needed lessons.
Before I attempt to explain what I learned from this trip, however, I want to touch on a few more favorite moments from my time in Haiti.
Our first night in Haiti, we had a very long tap-tap ride to Jacob’s Well from Cap Haitien, where the airport is. The tap-tap is a flatbed truck with sides built onto it and a center bar to hang on to. It’s only about 17 miles from Cap Haitien to Jacob’s Well, but the drive took 3 hours due to high traffic, road work, and a police blockade. We were all in very high spirits, though, and I was so excited to be back. The sunset that night was captivating, and we ended up singing Christmas songs and other hymns for nearly the whole way, as we passed honking motorcycles, small concrete huts, and lush green fields dotted with cows and goats.
On Sunday, we attended the local church, Jacob’s Vision, and did our best to sing hymns in French and Creole alongside our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ. The beauty of their singing, complete with echoes and harmony, is almost unmatched, and it was a great privilege to worship with them.
For our first day of camp, I went with the mobile camp team to the VBS-style camp at Psalm 23 Church, about 2 miles away from Jacob’s Well. We waited for about two hours while each group of kids learned memory verses by chanting and clapping with their counselors. It is very encouraging to see their enthusiasm for God’s Word, and how the counselors (local Haitian believers) spend so much time making sure that they understand it. After memory verses, I helped run parachute games for rotating groups of kids. They loved counting “En, de, twa!” and using the parachute to launch a rubber pig high into the air (it actually went in a neighboring house a few times!). After activities were over, we watched the counselors act out the Bible Drama (from Moses’ story in Exodus) with great enthusiasm. After drama, a lot of the kids noticed our phones and cameras and clamored for a “foto!” Their sweet smiles and hilarious poses were very entertaining. It was so good to be back, working with them, conversing in broken Creole, and speaking the universal language of laughter.
One other morning, most of the girls on our team went up to a hill overlooking Jacob’s Well to watch the sunrise, read Scripture, and sing a little. Haiti’s countryside is arrestingly beautiful, and it was such a sweet time of fellowship for us. It’s hard to explain, but there are few chapels more lovely than that spot on the hill, with a clear view of the sunrise, mist rising from the valley, and terraced hillsides in every direction. It’s a place that lends itself to reflection, sharing of hearts, and quietness of soul.
That particular morning, I was actually right in the middle of my sickness, and it felt so heavenly to get up there into morning light and beauty after a long day of stomach pain and high fever in my cabin. It was hard to get up the hill in my weakened state, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
One last thing that I must mention – my team. At first, I was worried that eleven people wouldn’t be enough, after last year’s successful team of 25. But our smaller team allowed us to get to know each other better, and we had so much fun together – holding enormous toads, playing card games and Assassins, singing on the tap-tap, playing with the kids, telling jokes, and enjoying each others’ company. God helped us stay together in unity, which was something that I had earnestly prayed for. I am so blessed to have been part of a team with them. Mr. Hans, Mrs. Autumn, Deborah, Ellie, Edie, John, Caleb, Emily, Cosette, and Kristen, thank you for being a terrific team. God blessed me through each one of you.
And now for the hard part.
Basically, I got sick right after the first day of camp for the kids. I was in bed for most of the next two days with a fever and other issues. I haven’t felt that awful in quite some time – and it was so hard to lie in bed, hearing the kids playing and laughing outside my cabin, knowing that I wouldn’t be well enough to play with them. I felt useless – unable to do the very thing that I’d come to Haiti to do.
Sometimes I was optimistic enough to concentrate on getting better and having a good attitude. But deep in the dark of night, as I stumbled back to my cabin, I asked God, “Why?” Why did He allow me to get sick – and stay sick longer than anyone else, right in the middle of camp?
I prayed. A lot. I asked God to help me recover, to keep me patient and faithful, to show me why I was there and what I needed to learn from this.
During one of our final Bible studies as a team, Mr. Hans touched on a point I’d heard before – but this time it struck deep.
He told us that that in America, with plenty of infrastructure, technology, and other things that make our lives comfortable and predictable, it’s easy to feel like we have so much control over our lives. We confidently say that we’ll go there and do that, without so much as a “Lord willing.”
But in Haiti, it’s much clearer how little is really under our control. The tap-tap could break down, as it often does, and you wouldn’t get to your destination. Important baggage could be lost. Sickness could strike and lay you low in the middle of camp.
That’s when I realized how much I needed to learn that lesson anew.
I was willing to give God all the other aspects of our trip – our transportation, luggage, activities – everything but my health. I’d taken it for granted that I would be there doing all the things we’d come to Haiti to do.
And when that was taken from me, albeit temporarily (thank God!) I had to actually trust that God knew what He was doing. That He didn’t need me to be there for camp. That everything is in His hands.
Including my future. Including all the decisions ahead.
Yes, I needed that.
So, this year was a different trip. I did less. But I was loved and supported by my team, by the kitchen staff (who made any number of Haitian remedies for me!), by Pastor Valcin and his wife, Betty (who run Jacob’s Well), by the local Haitian counselors, and by my Lord. I learned a lot. I laughed a lot. It was a good trip.
Haiti is full of contrasts – crowded streets full of trash and honking motorcycles, lush green fields and terraced slopes, dark voodoo temples and painted priestesses, vibrant local churches full of singing. There’s so much work left to do, but so much that God has already done.
Jacob’s Well Camp is a big part of God’s work of transformation in the Limbè area, and I am truly grateful to have been given the chance to, yet again, participate in its mission. I hope to return next year – to once again play games with the children, hug the kitchen staffers, improve my Creole, hang on for dear life to the tap-tap, fellowship with my team, and labor alongside fellow Christians from Haiti. That little island has a big part of my heart.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my experiences in Haiti. If you are one of those amazing people who prayed for or helped finance my trip, thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping make this possible! God blessed me immensely through this trip, and He daily uses the ministry of Jacob’s Well to spread the light of the gospel in Haiti. Glory to God!
A final piece of news – Jacob’s Well may soon begin work on a satellite campus in Port Margot, Haiti, about 2 hours away from Jacob’s Well. Please be praying for God to guide Pastor Valcin and his wife through this possible expansion, and show them how our team can be of most help next year. This is a very exciting opportunity!