Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Missing Haiti already

Somewhere between Miami and San Francisco

As I write in my journal, I am 5,000 feet up on American Airlines flight 1817. Looking out my tiny window, I just watched a magnificent, cloudy sunset on the horizon, a gift from God, I think.

We are on the last leg of our 18-hour trek home from Leogane, Haiti to San Francisco, which began with a 4 a.m. (Central time) wakeup call for our departure to the airport. We would land at 10 p.m. Pacific time. Our day included spending four hours in the Port-au-Prince airport and four hours in the Miami airport: eight hours in airports and nearly seven in the air.

For the past few days, I’ve been craving a cheeseburger and fries, Haagen Dazs ice cream and a Starbucks coffee with real, honest-to-goodness cream from a cow. I managed to nail three out of four at Miami airport diner with three of my mates. No time to search for ice cream, though.

After dinner, I practically sprinted to the Starbucks some 200 yards away from our gate in order to get back to board While waiting in line for several minutes, I felt like preying on people’s good nature by imploring “I just spent a week in Haiti helping rebuild an orphanage, and I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee all week. My flight’s about to take off; will someone PLEASE give me cuts in line?” Alas, our group’s study for the week was on humility, and I just couldn’t do it.

I am exhausted, but I cannot sleep. My brain is going a hundred miles per hour, going over my to do list when I get home. I close my eyes, but my mind keeps wandering back to Haiti. No, not the 95-degree, 95-percent humidity work days. Not the food. Not the maddening traffic. Not the airport. The people.

There are so many writing projects I want to tackle. There are so many memories to remember. Some make me laugh, some make me cry, some make me think, some make me angry, some make me pray.

At every stage of our long journey today, my teammates and I swap stories, mostly the funny ones. It helps to keep the memories flowing. They all know I plan on writing this blog about our mission trip to the orphanage in Leogane, Haiti. As one of them, Dustin, waited in line for the cramped airline bathroom, I told him, “Don’t think about the bathroom at the orphanage.” We both laughed.

“Did you get a picture of the bathroom?” he asked. I did not. “I did,” he smiled. “You gotta write about the bathroom.”

“I’m going to write about Rebecca,” I replied. We both laughed at the inside joke. Readers will just have to wait for that tale.

Then he returned to his seat, and I to my journal. Note to self: Write about orphanage toilet.

Mostly, I can’t stop thinking about the children. Their faces are embedded on my mind. I can’t forget them. I want to tell their story, because they deserve to be seen and heard. Is Oligas, my little buddy (think Gilligan and Skipper), OK? Is he playing by the mango tree? Is he thinking of me? Are his eyes welling up, too? Is he wondering if he’ll ever see that white man with the great beard and tan golf cap again? I wonder, too.

The most important lesson we learned this week came courtesy of Jeanine, one of our kid leaders. As we get back to our normal, everyday lives, we will tell others about what we did at the orphanage. I’ve chatted up the experience with my two seatmates, two women from the Bay Area returning from a short vacation. People have the same response: How neat that you could go and do that for the children.

The focus is on us and what we did. The truth is, everything we did last week was God’s doing, and Jeanine challenged us to give God the credit. He orchestrated everything we did so that people could see his glory. We were there to let those 78 children and 10 employees about God’s love and provision.

God laid it on all 18 of our hearts to go to Haiti when the call came out this spring. He opened the door for us to get time off from work and away from our families. He provided the $1,200 for each of us to go, in unique and different ways. None of us received scholarships to go. God gave us ideas to share, strengthen and to persevere in the blazing tropical climate. He gave us strength to work and even when we didn’t sleep more than three hours a night. He gave each of us different skills, from 17-year-old twins John and Brian to nearly retired Bill. Some were great with kids, some were whizzes with a saw in hand.

Me? I’m just so-so with kids, though I was aces with Oligas. Truthfully, I stink as a carpenter, though I was a pretty good at gophering. I gave lots of encouragement to those around me. Though I’m a caterer, I did not cook a single meal down there.

My gift is telling stories and for the next 2-3 weeks, I’ll be telling our stories, one by one.

I tell these stories so that I won’t forget them. I tell them so that I won’t forget Oligas and his buddies. I tell their stories in order to inspire others to pray for them and perhaps one day go down there themselves.

What I want to share with readers is that God hasn’t forgotten the Haitian people, in the midst of the worst catastrophe in that nation’s sordid history. God never stopped loving those children, many of whom were buried in the January 12 earthquake. I want people to know that God is large and in charge in Haiti. He doesn’t do that by grabbing big headlines in the media. He does it one by one in the hearts of Haitians.

In a few hours, I will finally put my head on my pillow in my own comfortable bed. I will return to my comfortable Western life. I will drink my coffee with cream every morning. When I want a Haagen Dazs, I can drive the four blocks to the store and purchase a container. I don’t deserve it. Oligas and the other orphans fell asleep hours ago, when darkness, struck, in the same hot, perspiring way they do every day.

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