Haiti's Children Mission Team
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
I'm Karen. The parish nurse here at Immanuel. This was my second mission trip, the first one to Guatemala and now just returning from Haiti.
Ever since I returned there hasn't been a day that I haven't thought about Haiti. It's beautiful, it's filthy , and filled with immense suffering and joy. As well as incredible injustice. From the airplane approaching Haiti, the country looks beautiful, scattered with lumpy mountains and lush green forested areas. But up close the picture is very different. It is filled with polluted air, rotting garbage everywhere, poverty, HIV and Aids, malnutrition, and much suffering. The sights, sounds, and smells haunt me to this day. I was not prepared for the poverty and some of the deepest depths of human suffering that I witnessed as we drove from Port au Prince to the village of Twamango. Some of us had to apply vicks to our noses to block out the nauseating aromas that filled the air while we traveled .
We spent our days traveling on dusty bumpy roads wearing the dirt and dust that the Haitians live with everyday. At the mission compound, we had cold running water, toilets that flushed ( sometimes) , cots to sleep in and three meals a day. Pure Luxury!! I didn't really mind the cold shower. At times it was refreshing , and you soon learn that many Haitians walk a very long way to get fresh water , let alone a shower.
We were the first mission team ever to arrive in this remote village. The team was divided at times, some doing construction and Pastor Mark and I doing clinical. We didn't know what to expect. The missionary Gladys told us that the word was out that we were there and that it had traveled faster than high speed internet. I am an RN used to working in a professional clinical setting and Pastor Mark is an EMT . We are used to working under sanitary regulated conditions and knew that this is not what we were about to face. Sometimes we don't know what gifts or talents we have until you have to step out and try something. We really didn't know what to expect. The scriptures are full of examples of healing. In Luke 10 it says that Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs of two and instructed them to heal the sick , feed the poor, and tell them the Good news. That first morning we headed out to follow that command and sow some seeds of goodness, love, kindness and compassion.
The first day of clinic, we pulled up in front of the little church. We were surprised at the number of people waiting to see us for some type of care. In Matthew 4 it says that News spread that Jesus was coming to heal the sick and spread the good news. So it was with us.The missionary Gladys told us that the villagers knew we were there and it had spread faster than high speed internet and they had walked long distances down the mountains and from neighboring villages. Matthew also says that large crowds followed Jesus wherever he went. So it was with us. We often felt like the Pied Piper with groups of people following us everywhere.The Haitians watched every move we made , and we were the best and the only show in town.
Pastor Mark and I set up a small table in the church and began to assess them, one by one. We were given a young translator named Ronnie who was an absolute gift of God. His love for the Lord was evident in everything he did and said. The hours were long as we continued to treat everyone we could , and we frequently chased chickens out of our clinic. Over the next three days we assessed approximately 165 haitians, as they continued to line up and wait. Everyday we returned, there were more waiting. We treated them with whatever medications we had along with vitamins , toothbrushes and toothpaste, and various gift items that were donated to us. And may I take this moment to thank the congregation for all the donations of goods and funds to buy goods and all of your heartfelt prayers before, during, and upon our safe return. This trip was physically, emotionally, and spiritually hard, and your prayers kept us strong, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Most complaints at our clinic were chronic headaches, infections, hernias, arthritis, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, fevers, malaria and mysterious rashes. Also chronic aches and pains, a result of their hard labor. Many children had colds and coughs, stomach distress, and scabies. If we felt we could not help them with the limitations we faced, we referred them to the small hospital on the mission compound. Anemia, which was another common illness , is caused by a lack of iron in their diet, parasitic infections, chronic inflammation and blood loss. Some were too weak to walk without assistance, using sticks as walking canes or another person to assist them. There were some adults that had suffered old untreated strokes, with one sided weakness and paralysis and some with uncontrolled seizure disorders. One man had a huge neck scar from almost ear to ear. After asking what had happened, he told the translator that the witchdoctor told him he was full of demons and he needed to remove them for purification, so he slit his own throat. How he survived a wound of that size without medical intervention is a miracle.
After their exam and treatment, they also each received manna packs. A manna pack consists of rice, soy, vitamins and minerals, dehydrated vegetables and chicken flavoring that when boiled water is added, provides a life sustaining meal. The women all suffered from severe hypertension, headaches, neck pain and blurry vision. They say the mule is the workhorse in many third world countries. In Haiti , I believe it is the woman. From hand washing clothes several hours a day in the river, and hauling supplies, they carry a heavy workload, and most of it is on their heads. Jobs for men are definitely not plentiful. Some of the men are looking desperately for work, while those that have work are working to exhaustion. To say it is a complicated situation is an understatement, but they are very resilient people who rarely complain, and are so grateful to those lending them a hand. Did it make a difference. Yes it did, we instilled a sense of hope that they are cared for and not forgotten. In Matthew 25, Jesus says "for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you cared for me. I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me."
Our 7 day mission trip ended and as we boarded the plane we looked back at the vast tent cities and rubble as far as the eye could see. I was struck by how enviable our lives in the US are, with central heating , hot water at demand , all the food we can eat , and cable tv. I won't ever take it for granted. The Haitians do not dwell on their everyday life as it takes every bit of mental and spiritual strength to keep forging ahead. Even when dealing with extreme poverty, sickness and hardship ,they thank God everyday and rejoice for life. Like many other healthcare workers, my strengths are empathy and mercy , and the countless Haitians have shown me an endurance like none I have ever seen. Your perspective on many things gets readjusted when spending time in Haiti. Tears never flowed while I was in Haiti because I stayed focused on my task , but when coming home and hearing the words " welcome home " the tears were hard to fight back. They were two of the most beautiful words ever.