“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send?’ And who will go for us? And I said, ‘Here I am Lord; send me!” Isaiah 6:8
In September, I was rooming with Michele Sbrana at a retreat when she asked me to consider joining a group of women to Haiti that coming January. Without hesitation, I found myself eagerly replying “Yes!”. I remember the moment so vividly – I had no details of the trip, hadn’t talked with my spouse or had any idea how we’d do childcare for our young girls, but there was a conviction in my heart that God wanted to me to go. That conviction grew as the trip drew closer – the money was raised, logistics at home came together smoothly – the Lord was sending me to Haiti.
In preparation for the trip, we read a powerful book, “The Day Everyone Ate”, by Margaret Trost. It was helpful for me to prepare emotionally for the impoverished conditions and deep needs we would encounter. I was also aware that, while we might travel with our plans and ideas of how we can help, the Lord will take those plans and make them His own. Probably most powerful was the realization that while we go to help, bring resources and want to make a difference, the Lord will often turn the tables to impact big change in us.
On January 17th, Michele and I began a 24-hour journey from San Francisco to Port-au-Prince. A stop-over in Atlanta gave us a few hours rest before our journey in Haiti began. We were greeted outside the airport by Lisberth, the wife of Young Life Haiti’s National Director, and two of her volunteer leaders – Mimi and Fabian. Despite the language barrier, I immediately felt welcomed by these kind, gracious women. Lisberth drove expertly through the crowded and bumpy Port-au-Prince roads, giving me a first glimpse of the devastation and poverty that has overwhelmed this country. We arrived at the Walls Guest House and met the other 6 women on our trip – what an incredible group the Lord had gathered together. Over the next five days we would share life stories, pray and worship together, and experience the deep love of God for us and the precious people of Haiti.
There were many sights, sounds, experiences and emotions during the trip.
· The Good Shepherd School – founded in 1999 by a local pastor in partnership with Young Life staff Charlie and Mary Scott. The school sits in Pele, one of the slums in Port-au-Prince, and has 900 students K-10th grade. We visited the school on our first day and dozens of children surrounded us with love and hugs. These children are beautiful- inside and out. They are also the future of Haiti. Education is rare in this country so this opportunity is incredible for each child. We visited each class – they sit 8 across on wooden benches in cinderblock classrooms – the only thing on the wall is one chalkboard. It’s typically in the mid-90’s with humidity, but that doesn’t seem to distract them – they are so thrilled to be in school. We brought an alphabet craft to the 2nd grade – the squeals and glee to see colored tissue, alphabet letters and glue. In the end, they had a full alphabet for their walls – colorful and bright. They sang the alphabet song in Creole to us, we sang our alphabet song back in English. As we left, they sang “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”- oh my heart!
· MIFYL – Young Life Club for Haitian Girls – While Young Life thrives all over the country (14 staff and 200 volunteers!) there is a specific ministry geared toward Haitian girls. With the poverty and lack of resources, it’s common for girls to sell their bodies for a few dollars to buy their family food. It’s heartbreaking and Young Life wants to come alongside with a message of hope, redemption and love of Jesus. We put on MIFYL clubs in 2 cities – for about 45 girls each. Each club had singing, games and a powerful message of the deep love Jesus has for them. At the end of each club girls stood and shared in Creole (we had a translator traveling with us) about how the message had touched them – they wanted to change their life for Jesus. Each girl represents a family that represents a community. We pray that this message finds its way to many who need to hear it.
· Church Dedication – Charlie and Mary Scott first visited Haiti in 1980 and met pastor Tito in the Pele slum. That friendship blossomed into the Good Shepherd School as well as the church on its property. In January 2010, that church collapsed in the big earthquake. Last year, on Charlie’s 80th birthday, his only wish was to rebuild the church. Donors came to help, the church was rebuilt and was dedicated on the Sunday of our visit. Hundreds of Haitians came for the service, I’ve never seen anything like it. The service was 3 hours of blessings, sharing and worship. It was UNBELIEVABLE to experience the worship – in word and song. These amazing people, in the midst of unimaginable poverty, love and worship Jesus with authenticity, passion, joy. Their voices are heavenly – like how I imagine angels sound in heaven. It was transformational to experience Jesus in this way.
As I settle back into life here at home, I can’t stop thinking about the things I saw, the people I met and how Jesus went clearly before us.
The big question for me is – “now what”? What is Jesus calling me to do as a result of this transformational experience?
Most certainly to remember and pray for the people of Haiti – for the people in the slums to have hope, the children in the schools to have a future, and the young girls to choose life with Jesus. In addition, I feel called to use the gifts God has given me – as a mentor and coach – to work alongside our US Young Life staff overseeing work in Haiti – to ensure their story is told, removing any barriers to the growth and reach in Haiti.
— Christie Valenzona, Personal Donor Development Coach