My wife, Julie, and I have a list of goals and adventures that we want to share with our children to expose them to sports, culture, history and life experiences. One of these goals was to take them on a mission trip where they can connect with other real people in another part of the world that has a very different life than we live in the United States. I first heard about My Life Speaks after a friend shared about their family experience at this mission. Through emotion and tears Julie shared My Life Speaks with me and it was pretty clear that I had little choice in the matter and we were going to Haiti.
As I considered the trip I realized how many friends and connections I had to Haiti. I am happy to do any labor, but felt that if I were going to go to Haiti there were other areas of much higher value that I could contribute if I would do some planning ahead of the trip. Most of my career I have worked to build a network of connections and find value in connection people and opportunity. So I started to contact some of the people that had interest and investment in Haiti. Kanakuk Kamps is associated with a group that operates many schools and a farm to teach people farming. Focus On the Family has resources for the family and for abstinence based sex education curriculum that has been translated into many languages and successfully used across the world call No Apologies. My Rotary Club has made 7 trips to Haiti to train and certify people in repairing of medical equipment in hospitals. My parents introduced me to a couple from Haiti in their bible study class who had political ties in Haiti and had run for President of the country. I have college friends from Baylor who are now pastors of churches that have missions in Haiti. So I set about learning about the missions and making connections with the local missions in Haiti. It did not take long to stir up lots of conversations, meeting and some excitement. At the end my main goal was to connect the resources to My Life Speaks so that the various missions could know each other and possibly collaborate on mutual goals. I also brought the Focus on the Family, No Apologies, resources in digital and print form to My Life Speaks in English and French. I had the most hope for building on the work to repair medical equipment that my Rotary Club had started. They have certified and trained dozens of people to fix equipment and have technical support and inventory in Houston to supply parts and coaching. They also have a stream of inventory that is continuously being taken out of service in the Texas Medical Center and could be shipped to Haiti. All they really needed was an entrepreneur and leader in Haiti that could organize and build a business with one hospital and begin to employ technicians, execute the operational plan in one hospital and eventually grow to other hospitals and clinics. All they need is one entrepreneur to be the catalyst to begin to make a difference to a clinic, community and a family through employment. We have a local Rotary Club and individuals prepared to make connections and provide mentoring services. We also have Rotary International that could build on a successful program and spread it across the world.
So armed with some contacts and a business plan I had hope we could make a difference for Haiti. What I encountered when we arrived in Port of Prince and along the journey to the My Life Speaks mission was like nothing I had ever seen. The lack of basic government services, crowded streets, shanty houses pieced together with relief tarps and remnants, burned out cars, cooking on the street, cows, chickens, pigs, goats and dogs going through the mountains of garbage piled up on the streets, in the gutters and filling the rivers. The only word that could describe the appearance was apocalyptic. I had come to Haiti with a great hope and my hope had taken a direct hit and was severely damaged by the circumstances that I witnessed as our van crawled through the dirty streets.
Arriving at My Life Speaks close to the coast and in the midst of sugar plantations was a much better sight. Mike and Missy had moved with their family to live in the village. The village does not have running water or electricity. They have adopted several abandoned kids with various handicaps and sponsor 4 host families who have also adopted kids and live with them. Mike and Missy are respectful of the community and have gradually earned trust and are now employing some of the villagers who identify kids in the village at risk from not having enough to eat. My Life Speaks feeds 120 kids each day. The groups that come from the U.S. serve the community by going to the homes of the elderly and doing their wash and make improvements to the sponsors homes to care for the special needs of the handicapped kids they have adopted. The groups provide buyers for local entrepreneurs who sell drinks, snacks and hand-made gifts. One of the sponsors has created a partnership with Austin Children’s Hospital who has established a clinic to take care of the medical needs of the community of 2,800 people for a $3 office visit if they can afford it. We worship together, clean up garbage, have crafts and give back rubs to the elderly, and various other projects to improve the community. I have been a skeptic of many “missionaries” that have asked for support and whose mission does not really involve living amongst the community and closer to an international study abroad program. Mike told me that he plans to live the remainder of his life in this community and have a viking funeral where they put the body on a boat, set it on fire and push the boat out to sea. Mike and Missy are the real deal and live every day with the daily hardships. Mike happened to be in Nashville when hurricane Matthew hit Haiti and Missy rode out the storm with the village.
During our trip I mostly worked on putting screens and rat wire around the porch of one of the sponsor homes where Cami lived. Cami has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair. She spends most of the day on the porch and does not have the ability to swat the flies on her. Cami watched as we secured the frames, screen an rat wire. Trapped in a body that does not function well is a beautiful person that enjoys being around people. When I spoke to Cami her face lit up and you can see in this picture the little girl who was rescued and is now one of several kids that are in the care of My Life Speaks.
The village of Neply is an amazing place where people live differently than we do in the United States. They may not have the material possessions or things we expect and take for granted, but they are are raising families, have love for each other, serve each other and are happy in the lives they live in this small sugar cane farming community. We feel the need to help them be like America, but as they consider the opportunities that their american connections may be able to offer they are wise enough to recognize both the good and the bad that will come to the families and community with some of the conveniences we take for granted. It was a great experience to live and work with the people of Neply. It was a privilege to be invited into their spaces to pray with them. They were nice enough to let us do a bad job hand washing their clothes in the river water. They accepted us in their community and make us feel like family. We got to teach their kids Bible stories and even put on a play of famous Bible stories for the whole community. Our kids got to know and just be kids with the children of the village. Can you imagine what the neighboring community thought when we all showed up in a bus to cheer on the Neply soccer team.
I want to commend Mike, Missy and their family for the commitment that they have made to this community, to the children that were left for dead, and to a life of service in a country and community that has been a forgotten nation and is close enough to be a neighbor to the United States. Mike and Missy are examples of self sacrifice for the love of others. Love your Neighbor.
Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
How would you like to establish your heart without blame in holiness before your God and Father? I Thessalonians 3:12-13 tell us how.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 – 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else(Love your neighbor), just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.