Today was a very special and completely different day for our team. It was our Compassion day – the opportunity to go a Compassion International program and to meet children that some of our team members have each sponsored.
We loaded up bright and early once again, with all thirteen of us piling into one big van – - quite a snug fit! We headed north for our two hour drive to the town of Cabaret.
Along the way, we drove by the site of the mass grave where some 260 thousand Haitians who were killed in the earthquake are buried. They were buried all together because it was impossible to recover any of the individual bodies amidst the rubble and debris that crushed them. It is located just off the highway marked off by a concrete wall forming a very large square on the hillside. Everyone in the car spontaneously fell quiet, observing a moment of silence as we drove by. At the entrance to the site, there is a sign denoting the date of the horrific disaster – January 12, 2010.
The hillsides outside of the city were dotted with many makeshift homes. We were told that many Haitians fled Port Au Prince after the earthquake and moved out into the mountains north of the city. One community we drove by is called Canaan because they consider it their Promised Land – where they somehow feel safe and protected from the devastation of another earthquake.
As we approached Cabaret, for the first time we had the opportunity to see the living conditions of some Haitians close up. It was truly shocking. These people are really the poorest of the poor. Most live in one-room cinder block shacks with corrugated tin roofs. They have no running water and no electricity. Their village has no water so they have to walk about a total of an hour there and back to get water at a nearby village and carry it back to their homes – what a hardship.
When we arrived at the combination Methodist center/church building/Compassion center we once again were treated like rock stars! It’s just the strangest feeling to step out of a van and be greeted so excitedly by a crowd of cheering children who are just so happy to see you. It felt like God was just somehow giving each of us a great big hug.
It was then that we met the children we are each sponsoring through Compassion. What an indescribable moment that was. To see a child that you have only known through a photograph standing there in front of you in the flesh is so incredibly special and such a wonderful opportunity.
We were ushered into the center where the entire school had prepared a special program for us – singing us songs, reciting poems, reading from the Bible and praying. Once again we all felt so unworthy of all of this attention but also so grateful for their efforts and their kindness.
After a quick lunch with our sponsored children, we divided into groups with each of the sponsors going to the home of their sponsored child, meeting their families, talking with them through an interpreter and giving them gifts we had brought from home. They were all so very gracious to us. It was very hard to see up close the very sad living conditions they all endure but it was a special time of sharing and bonding with the families and something we will always remember.
We left with so many mixed emotions – happiness to have met the children but very heavy hearts to see the realities of their daily lives. When one of our group asked the pastor of the church what were their greatest needs at the church his answers were so basic it was shocking – they don’t have any toilets and they don’t have water. It doesn’t get more basic than that.
We returned back to Port Au Prince and to the Heart to Heart guesthouse. Part of the group then did a little shopping at a nearby market, coming back with some wonderful Haïti mementos. We shared the guesthouse tonight with a group from a Nazarene college in Ohio. Caroline, Hailey and Ryan had fun getting to know some of the kids and hear about their time in Haïti.
In our final devotions and sharing, we all agreed that this trip has been far more impactful, engaging and life changing than any of us could have imagined. We also marveled at how very close we all have become in such a short time and how wonderfully we have all meshed together as one united team.
As we are all packing and preparing to leave early in the morning and return to the reality of our daily lives, a part of each of us finds it hard to say goodbye.
It is said that once you come to Haïti you leave a piece of your heart here. I think there is no question that we all have.