About a year ago, after my first trip to Haiti, I knew that God was calling me back. I was devastated when I left Haiti, not only because of the extreme poverty and oppression (although that was very devastating) but because I felt like I was supposed to be there and not here in America. I felt like God needed me to serve Him there in some way greater than the trip I had just left, and longer than just a week. I felt like He was telling me I was meant for more and He was going to open doors, but I had to trust and wait. And let me just say, I’m not good at waiting.
That trip changed me. It was my first international mission trip, my first trip to Haiti, and my first time witnessing firsthand one of the poorest, darkest, and most devastating countries in the world. It made me appreciate things that I have more. It made me not worry about finances as much because, regardless of what I didn’t have that I thought I needed, they didn’t even have the chance to have it. It made me love deeper, care abundantly more, and pour into others more than I ever have. It changed my outlook on my career, my life, my faith, and my hope for the future. It gave me a desire to lean into God more, trust more, and pray more because I knew that He was working on something bigger.
With every prayer, with every scripture, with every sermon, I kept hearing, “GO!” I didn’t know where, I didn’t know how to even look, but I was ready and willing to go, right then and there. I began researching programs in Haiti that had programs for children with special needs. Since I work with children with special needs daily, that search result was surprisingly slim. I began praying over every one of the programs that were faith-based because I knew I wanted to be involved in a ministry for the Lord. I began asking God to open doors where He wanted me, to lead me to the place He wanted me to go. “Lord, I’m willing and ready, please take me there” was my battle cry every day. Through a friend of a friend, one of the places I had been intently researching and praying over started becoming a reality. He talked about all of the wonderful programs that this one organization had. From clean water to feeding the children and women in the community. From farming to construction and maternal health to medical care. From a newly-formed school to a special needs program – which was what caught my attention about a month prior. This friend praised the Lord for the efforts in Haiti, he told stories, shared great events through which he witnessed for the kingdom of the Lord, but most of all, he told me of the brutal truth of what living in Haiti with special needs entails and how this group is working to change that perspective in the community. This group is called LiveBeyond, which has a mission statement of, “We are a Christian organization that chooses to Live Beyond…ourselves, our culture, our borders, and this life so that the poor may live the abundant life of Jesus Christ.” And I wanted to be a part of that!
In the Haitian culture, many people are afraid of disabilities and are uncomfortable around those who have a disability. Many look to those who are disabled as being contagious and a curse, and because of this belief, many children who have any form of disability, whether physical or mental, are hidden away from the public view and not properly cared for. They often don’t get the food and nutrition they need, the education they deserve, and the medical and therapy care that they would benefit from to help them grow and survive. Children are sacrificed, abandoned, and shamed by their families, the community, and the country, and let me just tell you, these are the most loving, precious, caring, kind children you’ll ever meet. They love like no other, they work hard to become better, and they love to be loved on. This is where I was called.
I first applied for a LiveBeyond trip in October of 2018. Due to unrest in Haiti, that trip was canceled and I had to reschedule. During the period of waiting, I leaned in closer to God to ask for protection and provision for the LiveBeyond organization and in Thomazeau, Haiti. My heart was already there, I just had to wait on God’s perfect timing to get me there, and again…waiting is not my strong suit. In January 2019 I was finally able to make it to Thomazeau, Haiti where LiveBeyond is located. As I began my flight journey that day, I asked God to continue to give me wisdom and direction in what He wanted me to do during this trip. I praised Him and thanked Him for the opportunity, for the purpose, and for the new friends that I would make while there. I knew that this was His plan, and I knew that I was all in to follow Him, and He opened doors for me the entire trip that I couldn’t have opened myself.
My fingers can’t type as fast as the words come from my head and my heart, but here’s an attempt to describe this amazing group and amazing trip:
You think you know what to expect when you land in Port-au-Prince and drive through the towns to get to your location, but, let me tell you, every time I am still blown away. The street vendors, the pedestrians, the Tap-Taps, and Motos. The filth, the sadness, the poverty, and the structures in which people live. The driving, the terrifying driving – now that’s one you’ll never get used to. It’s all an experience – and that’s just the beginning and only a speck of it. We started out on paved roads, but once we hit the road which leads to Thomazeau, it was the second round of adventure. Picture in your mind, if you will, off-roading in town, in a van full of 7-8 people, for about an hour (only a few miles though), driving incredibly slow most of the time because of deep divots and high mountains of speed bumps (I’m not sure how anyone could speed through there though).
As soon as we got to the grounds of LiveBeyond, we were greeted by Momma Laurie, Dr. Vanderpool, Taylor, Lane and Claire, Courtney, and so many eager Haitian kids who were so excited to see the American teams that we each got a kiss on the cheek – well the girls got them anyway – and a huge hug! The first moment we stepped out, it felt like I was with family like I was home. And at that moment I knew I was where I was supposed to be.
The entire week was filled with spreading the gospel and prayer with everything we did. Sunday we had church, a wedding, and a baptism. Haitian church is amazing, let me just tell you! The songs, the freedom, the way they worship so authentically is powerful. The way the pastor speaks and the translator translates, it’s just so real and honest. At LiveBeyond they want to promote marriage and the marital bond, so they encourage getting married to significant others because in Haiti they often don’t make the commitment. The marriage ceremony was powerful and a blessing to witness, and the sweet bride got baptized right after she got married. Praise the Lord! We had devotions every day, led by Dr. V, which really made you think, respond, and listen to the true gospel and the true calling of why you were where you were in Haiti to work for the Lord. Each day held a new lesson and a new outlook, but they all came full circle of why, how, and what we should do to be more like Jesus. Each weekday we also attended the church service for the staff members. Again, more amazing songs and celebration of praise and worship, and sermons to dig deep and make you think. The night after the Eclipse, the pastor was talking about how he woke up in the night and felt like God was telling him to go outside. When he did, he saw the blood-red moon and was spooked. He had no idea that the eclipse was coming, he had no idea it was an occurrence which happened on a scheduled time due to rotations in the solar system. What he did know is that in the Bible it says when the coming of the Lord is near, the moon will be as blood, and he prayed and asked forgiveness of his sins in preparation for the Lord’s arrival. Hearing his story reminded us how different our cultures are. We were looking up what time it was going to happen the night before, not thinking that some people have never seen it, never heard of it, or had no idea what it was and how it would affect them.
We went to the schools in the community to do assessments on the children to measure height, weight, and BMI to make sure the food they were being provided by LiveBeyond was helping them grow. While there we assessed their skin for scabies, wounds, burns, and any other medical problem we saw. It was heartbreaking, it was sad, it was real. We loved on those kids, we put medication on them (head to toe sometimes), and we prayed over them, because God called us to be like him, and He loves all the children of the world, so we do too. Some of them would give a blank stare, some would say a few words, and every now and then one would smile, and when they did, your heart would melt. These sweet precious children have so much to live for and don’t even know it most of the time.
We took rice and beans into the communities surrounding Thomazeau, loaded up in a pickup truck, to spread the Gospel in the villages and to feed the children and women. We were able to feed over 200 people in the villages, taught the gospel, and prayed over them all, even directly in front of Voodoo Peristyles. Seeing the peristyles made us angry, sad, and heartbroken that so many in Haiti lean toward that vs Christianity, so we prayed harder and harder against Voodoo. We got to hear stories of people who left Voodoo and got baptized after hearing about the Lord and we praised God for His grace and mercy over all.
We got to see the LiveBeyond School and learn about the visions that they have going forward for the school and for the kids who attend. We got to see the joy and love in their eyes compared to other schools we visited, and we got to see hope for a future within them. Each classroom has a normalien Haitian teacher, an English speaking Aid, and access to a room full of resources, all of which are uncommon in Haiti schools, typically.
And then there is Johnny’s Kids, where my heart lies. Johnny’s Kids is a program that was founded by LiveBeyond to help give the children with special needs a voice, a hope, and a future with medical care, education, food, and therapy services. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so much love with everyone involved in running it, as well as the kids. Taylor is a rockstar (and if he ever reads this, he’ll give a “yes and amen” to that comment, I’m sure..but if you know him, you know he works hard and fights for the kids in this program, and it’s true)! Taylor does therapy with the children, helps take care of them, feeds them, and includes them, as they should be. I love the amount of inclusion in their school. To the children at LiveBeyond, inclusion is the norm, exclusion is the variable. And that is how we all should be! I was able to do therapy with some kids, talk to Taylor about some treatment ideas, and just love on them and receive love from them. The smiles, the laughter, all of it…I was home.
And then, I got my big “why” and my purpose for coming on this trip. A sweet baby boy, of unknown age, but probably close to 2, named Danielson. A sweet baby that was abandoned by his mother at birth. A sweet baby that was born with Microcephaly and multiple effects from it and was left to suffer and die because he was not the “norm”. When I got him in my arms, he was swarmed by gnats, smelled of feces and yeast, was covered in scabies, and was so tiny that I could see every bone in his body. He cried with no tears, he didn’t smile, and he was uncomfortable with human touch. His hands and legs were contracted, his neck was fixed to the left, and he was filthy. I asked to give him a bath and clean him before working with him to assess wounds, clean him for preparation of medication application, and most of all because it’s what Jesus tells us to do. As I gave him a bath, I prayed over him and tears fell down my face. ‘How could someone let a child be like this? And how can I help, Lord?” I got him cleaned up, fingernails trimmed and cleaned, medication applied for scabies and wounds, and a clean diaper. And then we just snuggled for a bit because he needed to know he’s loved, and I needed it myself. After a couple hours of therapy and modifications to everyday items to making splints for his hands, baby Danielson was clean, had increased range of motion in both hands and legs, and I could easily move his head past midline from its fixated position – but it took work. I selfishly didn’t want to give him back to his aunt. I wanted to care for him, love him, and help him because it broke my heart. It broke my heart seeing his fragility, hearing he was worse now than he was last fall, and that he may not ever get the care he needed unless his aunt stepped away from the norm in Haiti. Taylor and I gave them medications to take home for him, made splints for his hands out of crayons and tape, discussed stretching methods to reduce his contractures, and discussed the importance of coming back to LiveBeyond. Unfortunately, the urgency and follow-through isn’t a concern to most Haitians, when it comes to caring for the disabled. In the time I had with him, I knew he was the reason I was there at this point in time and not in October when my original trip got canceled. I knew what I had to do and I knew where I needed to be. And, he will forever be in my prayers and in my heart.
We had such an amazing team, with amazing leaders in Haiti. There’s so much more that we learned about in our week at LiveBeyond. I could write stories and testimonies for hours and hours about this week, but these were a few that impacted me the most, and these are the ones that gave me confirmation that LiveBeyond is where I’m supposed to be and who I’m supposed to support, even when I’m at home in America.
I encourage you, if you’re on the fence about going on an international mission trip, choose LiveBeyond, and choose Haiti. You won’t be let down, and it’ll change your life for the better. There are so many ways to serve at home and in Haiti through LiveBeyond, and I encourage you to check out their website and email them to ask questions. They are doing what they do for the glory of God, and they are doing it how they are doing it for sustainability and freedom from oppression, not for a handout.
Bondye Bon Tout Tan, Tout Tan Bondye Bon!
(God is good ALL the time, ALL the time God is good!)
Hear the latest news from Haiti, read posts about faith and community development, and find transcriptions from the LiveBeyond podcast.