SUBMITTED BY ANDY RINER –
The plans for our weeklong mission trip to Haiti were impeccable. We had carefully packed our bags to meet airline rules. Each of our team bags weighed exactly 50 lbs, and –praise God– we were blessed with enough extra room in our baggage to shop for newborn diapers. Our team had clearly been assembled by God and tasked to execute a series of plans that were formed by months of prayer and preparation.
The motivation to serve Christ in Haiti directed our plans. Each of the twelve who signed up to go to Haiti desired to show the love of Christ by serving the Haitian people. This vision spread beyond our team and captivated the churches of the Ouachita Baptist Association. Enthusiasm for this vision began to spill over to people who attended other churches. It was easy to build enthusiasm for Christian service in Haiti. Once people learned of the gut-wrenching plight of vulnerable women and children in Haiti, God placed Haiti in the hearts of many. And when God placed Haiti in their hearts, He compelled them to open their wallets.
As we prepared to leave, each member of our team harbored great expectations. God had proven Himself faithful to each of us daily. We felt led to offer a medical clinic for women and children in an isolated area, but we did not even have a nurse. We prayed, and God provided. In the earlier planning stages, we did not have enough members to make a team. We prayed, and God provided. We felt led to offer a food distribution through a Haitian church. We prayed, and God provided abundantly allowing our team to orchestrate the largest food distribution that our Haitian partners had ever seen. Time and time again, God stirred people’s hearts and provided us with abundant resources to serve in Haiti. And finally December 15 arrived.
But December 15 is when our plans began to fall apart. We had planned to leave no later than 1:00 p.m., check-in to our hotel early, shop for diapers, eat a good meal, pray together, rest well, and fly out the next morning. Instead of perfectly executing our well-laid plan, we departed late, got lost on the way to Wal-Mart, suffered horrible customer service, had our flight schedule changed, ate fast food, drove back to the hotel, scowled at one another, and took a short nap. We thought, “tomorrow morning will be better because we will be in Haiti!”
It was difficult to sleep when we finally arrived at the JoyHouse ministries campus in Gressier, Haiti. We had so many things to unpack and assemble. When you feel called to serve in Haiti, you lie awake at night, excitedly anticipating sunrise and the dawn of a humid Haitian morning. When the long-awaited first morning finally arrived, we could hardly wait to begin the 3 ½ hour trip to L’Asile, Haiti. We excitedly hopped aboard a cramped, stuffy bus bound for Macedonia Baptist Church in L’Asile. Everyone was excited because we would soon see friends and finally get to work. Children needed to be invited to Vacation Bible School, expecting mothers needed to be invited to the medical clinic, and everyone needed to be invited to the revival!
But nothing turned out as planned. Because of scheduling issues, our three night stay in L’Asile was cut a night short. Travel plans were altered due to a combination of wet weather and bad roads. Staffing plans were altered because one of our team members became ill and had to be taken back to Gressier. Now we found ourselves short an interpreter, a driver, and one of our valued team members. Everything was falling apart, but despite these difficulties we persevered, settled in, and completed our shortened schedule in L’Asile.
Once we completed our abbreviated schedule in L’Asile, our plan was to leave around noon and get back to Gressier around 4:30. Our contingency plan included one of our pastors delivering a message at a youth rally in Gressier. I watched with anticipation as he prayed, fasted, planned, and prepared. Perhaps God abbreviated our stay in L’Asile so we could see something great at the Youth Rally!
After eating lunch, we loaded onto the bus and discovered that we were short one team member. The team member misunderstood our schedule and arrived an hour late. “No big deal,” we mused. Improving road conditions promised better travel time. But instead of getting delayed by mud, we waited twenty minutes as a driver completed vehicle repairs in the middle of the single lane road. Finally, as if anything else could go wrong, we were twice delayed by roadblocks on the highway. We finally arrived back at the JoyHouse campus just as the Youth Rally ended. We were off-schedule, frustrated, and tired!
But with our schedule there was no time to mope. We had a medical clinic, discipleship classes, and a movie to prepare for the next day. So we hurriedly prepped, ate, and got ready to hit the ground running the next morning. But morning brought more opposition. Our plans changed again. Everyone became confused, frustrated, and off balance. Our team had built tremendous enthusiasm for our mission, but at this low ebb, many of us were tired, broken, and ready to be back in the United States.
Finding ourselves confused, frustrated, and tired, our team had gone as far as our own desires, talents, skills, and abilities could take us. It was in that tired, frustrated confusion that God began to demonstrate that He was at work. Feeling sorry for himself, a tired, frustrated Elijah once said, “O, LORD, take away my life[.]” And when the tired, frustrated prophet listened, he heard God’s “still, small voice.” Today, we are no less fallen than Elijah, and Elijah’s God is the God who does not change. And although no one knew it, He was about to speak.
We regrouped, broke into our various teams, prayed together, and went out for the morning. As we walked the steep hills, our Sovereign God began to use people and orchestrate circumstances to act as His still, small voice. Walking on a beautiful hill overlooking the sea, our interpreter thanked us for visiting, and shared with us that it encouraged him to see our team continue its work in Haiti. Later that morning, he invited us into a well-kept home to introduce us to a woman named “Madame C.” As we talked with her, we learned about her life. Recently widowed, she had five children ranging in age from an infant to a young teen. That morning, friends had taken the ailing infant to the clinic because a health issue prevented “Madame C.” from walking uphill. Suffering from depression, health issues, and dire need, she had no means to support or educate her children. Remarkably, “Madame C.” did not ask us to give her money or food, but instead tearfully asked for prayer and informed us that she was trusting God to provide for her family.
The next day, we prayed, organized, and helped the JoyHouse church distribute food. The generous gifts of so many local churches and individuals supplied JoyHouse church with the resources to provide a blessing for its members. Each church family received 27 lbs of rice, beans, oil, sugar and other staples. Every child at church got a tub of peanut butter. It was encouraging to observe the Haitian church distributing the food, the Americans supporting their effort, and God receiving the glory. Seeing how our food distribution at the church blessed others, and remembering “Madame C.,” members of the JoyHouse church became inspired to start a food pantry ministry.
That afternoon we traveled to an orphanage — operated almost singlehandedly by a wonderful Haitian woman — to spend some time with the children there. Because of the generosity of many people who supported us, her thirteen children got their only Christmas gift. We had a Vacation Bible School, played a game, and just enjoyed the blessing of getting to serve at the orphanage. As we rode the bus back to the JoyHouse campus, one of the interpreters, himself an orphan, shared with our entire team that it touched him to see our love for the children at the orphanage, “I have seen you live out the Gospel this week, not just talk about it,” he said.
As I continue to ponder the lessons learned in Haiti, it has become increasingly clear that God’s still, small voice was not to be found in our fast-paced activities or in well-prepared sermons. His still, small voice could only be heard when I stopped to listen. God quietly used people and circumstances to say, “You don’t have all the answers; invest in people. Empower the Haitian churches to care for the orphan and the widow.” And His plan is the plan that I must execute.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27