I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith collecting stories and photographs to update our church on the progress of the churches, schools, and other ministries that COF supports in Haiti. Before I came on this trip, my friend Tara, a missionary midwife at Heartline Maternity Center in Port Au Prince, wrote me and said, “Haiti is a place that won’t be understood easily but you will find love there.” I have played her words in my head several times since we arrived, but today I leaned on them all day long. We traveled last night from Gonaive and the rural village of La Source where we have spent the last few days, to a suburb of Port Au Prince where we will base for the rest of our time here. In total transparency, moving from rural to urban Haiti is more difficult for me to process, and the beauty harder for me to find. Our leader David warned us that Haiti is a lot to take in, and he is right. I am trying to process through my feelings and thoughts about the day.
It started off lovely. This morning we got up and traveled to Croix-de-Bouquets to join Pastor Raymond and Pastor Walter’s church for worship. Several groups from COF have gone there before us, so the church members are familiar with us and there is a long established partnership. Members of our team who have been here before reconnected with friends, and we enjoyed worshiping together. When we arrived, worship was already in progress (Haitian church services are several hours long, so us arriving late was by design). I loved the church service, the music, and the warm way we were welcomed. We each gave a short greeting, and if I thought speaking in front of children was intimidating, it was nothing compared to speaking on microphone to an entire church. It felt a little awkward and I stumbled through, but they had grace for me despite. Just before my greeting they had prayed for us by name and for Community of Faith Houston and Mark and Laura Shook (our pastors), and I was able to tell them that even while they prayed for us, our church was praying for them and loved them, and I was grateful we all could talk to the same God big enough to handle all the details of our lives. I sat down after, relieved, and enjoyed the rest of the service. Several groups sang songs in the service, a couple dedicated songs especially for us, we took communion together, and a member of our team shared a short message about a woman who changed her life named Debbi.
On the trip last year Debbi came to Haiti from COF and left a piece of her heart here. She built relationships with the team in Haiti and was scheduled to come back on this trip, but passed away suddenly a few months ago. Although I never met Debbi, so many people I know knew her well and loved her and talk about her often, and it does feel like her spirit is here with us on this trip. She is talked about with love both by members of our team who traveled here with us, and by our Haitian friends. Her light is still shining both in Houston and in Haiti, even while her family and friends continue to mourn. She had already paid her deposit, and her family generously told the church to put it toward someone coming on the trip, so that money paid my way. I in particular am grateful for Debbi’s legacy as I sit typing in the room a few doors down where she stayed last year.
After the service I was feeling a little tired and hot and unwell as we drove to have lunch at Pastor Walter’s house. As we drove, the dust and noise and traffic and trash on the city streets as we drove felt really overwhelming to me. There was just no break, no rest, and everywhere seemed crowded and chaotic and lacking, if I can confess my mental filter. I struggled to find the beauty I knew was there, trying to see as Jesus sees, but honestly, on that drive and for much of the afternoon, it was hard.
We arrived at Walter’s home, and were offered a truly lovely meal. From what we have seen as far as food in Haiti, it probably was the equivalent of a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal with several courses served for us, and I’m really grateful for the sacrifice I know that meal required from his family. There was not room for our hosts at the table in their dining room, so they served us and ate on the bench against the wall despite our protests. We could tell they wanted to serve us and honor us, and it was humbling and beautiful. I fell in love with Walter’s family, as I had been warned I would by staff members back home, and I loved eating lunch with them in their home.
As we drove back to the hotel, again I struggled. I felt heavy, and it was too much. I wanted to look away from it all. I prayed and wrestled, and then decided a good sleep (and maybe a good cry) would help my heart. We returned to the hotel and I quickly fell asleep. Our leader woke me up a short time later because he was going into Port Au Prince to meet up with an artist and writer he knows who lives nearby, and he wanted me to come and meet him and potentially get a part of his story recorded. In all honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I had seen so much today, and I felt tired and emotionally weary, but after reaching out to Justin and my friend Kacey to get them to pray for me, I decided to go anyway.
We loaded up in a car and went to this home in a nicer part of Port au Prince, near the UN compound. We went in and spent some time with the artist and his wife, an older couple who astonished me. I was unfamiliar with his work when we went to his home, but soon got swept up in the conversation and the images around me. His home was full of his paintings (and he had painted on almost every blank wall in the home), and he gave our leader one of his books as a gift. Although when we arrived he wasn’t feeling well, he welcomed us into his home as friends, and even called our leader his son, and I was really touched by his hospitality. I know a weakness of mine is that I can be more task oriented than people oriented, and COF missions is a very people and relationship-oriented endeavor, which always stretches me. But moments like this and connections like these are why that concept is important. We didn’t even attempt to pull out equipment and record him because being present with them was more important. His wife offered us cake and juice and we ate together and talked together before he showed me the art on the top floor of his home and his studio below.
His art, and his writing, is centered on chaos and finding beauty in chaos (and in much of his art the beauty is noticeably absent). Haiti is central to his work because Haiti is a very chaotic place and the struggle to find beauty here is constant and relentless. When I saw his art, heard him speak of the difficulty our planet is facing, and even just the act of sitting with an aging man struggling with what to do with the last years of his life as parts of his body fail, I felt less alone with the confusion I had felt all day. I realized that my struggle to understand and comprehend is a universal struggle that people have wrestled with since the beginning of time. In fact, it is a struggle reflected by artists, writers, thinkers, musicians, humanitarians and leaders for centuries. These same themes are even in the Bible. These opposing ideas of beauty and chaos, a loving God and suffering, the staggering reality of human starvation in a world where there is also ignorant excess, the simplicity of grace in a world overwhelmed with complex addictions and sin – it is all a struggle. The same things I see in Haiti on the street that are a shock to my system are less shocking when they are hidden in suburban Cypress or Keller or Grapevine, but they still exist. And my mind can’t reconcile it.
We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home – Jamie Tworkowski
Tara told me that Haiti will be difficult to understand, and it is. We as humans don’t like complex things, we like to caricature and simplify. But reality is complex. The same city can have dirty streets with beautifully-dressed people walking down that street toward church where they will worship Jesus and show love to one another. A filthy child can sit on a pile of what looks like garbage in the heat and still be absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. The road to a home where we are offered an extravagant and loving meal can be littered with children who appear hungry and animals begging and scavenging for food. A woman who loves the Lord and serves him can suddenly be taken home without warning or explanation. We have the hope of heaven, but for now we walk this world that can be confusing and scary with very real and acute suffering. In the chaos, God is good. I don’t understand it, I can’t reconcile it, it gives me a headache from tears, but I still choose to believe it. Life is lived and love is given to each other in the messy chaotic beautiful middle, and God is there with us in that place. I’m grateful today that God is with me and everyone I have seen, and because of Him there is hope.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18.