God's Name in Haiti
For eight months our team had been praying and preparing to join several hundred pastor's wives and other female leaders from churches across Haiti at the first conference planned specifically for them. Our desire was to encourage these women by sharing God's many names. Immanuel. Abba Father. Light of the World. Mighty Creator. El Roi—the God who sees me. As we spoke about God's names, we hugged these women and prayed with them. And the American missionaries (as the ladies called us) all came home blessed far beyond words.
It's taken me these two weeks to begin to process a small part of what I saw during my week. The people that I met; the stories I heard. The women who shared the anguish of their heartaches after the earthquake and the beauty of redemption, about tragedy and miracles and hearing the voice of God.
A glimpse of their stories:
- A woman whose house pancaked under her feet as she stood on the roof. Her twelve children were below. Even as her neighbors mourned the loss of this woman's family, she continued to pray until she heard a voice in the rubble. And then she heard another voice. It seemed impossible, but every one of her children crawled out of their collapsed home.
- A young son who was led out of the ruins of his house after the earthquake, holding the hand of a man in "bright white." Once the boy got outside, the man disappeared.
- A woman who heard God's clear voice telling her on that fateful Tuesday to "put down her ironing and go to church." She argued with God in her busyness, but His voice persisted. So she obeyed even though she felt silly, sweeping the church while there was so much for her to do at home, but she remained until the church began to shake. Her house collapsed, but she and her family survived and praised the Lord in the streets.
- A father who risked his life to run back into his collapsed house and save his daughter.
- A woman who dug her deceased daughter out of a university building and carried her back to the ruins of Carrafour to bury her.
- My dear new sister, Pastor Elizabeth, who was trapped under the rubble for far too long. Her head and chest were exposed to the street, her legs buried under a wall. When the Americans arrived, she was their first amputee and spent nine months in a hospital, teetering between life and death. She promised God, if He let her live, she would go to Bible school and spend her life telling others about Him. In June, Pastor Elizabeth beamed as she told me, she graduated from Bible school.
On the last day of the conference, Pastor Elizabeth pulled me aside and opened her Bible. Inside was a color picture of her on graduation day. She smiled as she pointed out her prosthetic leg in the photo, a testament to her of God's grace, and then she handed the picture to me. At first, I said "no." I couldn't possibly take what might be the only picture of her graduation. But she insisted, so I took her beautiful gift. I took it and I will treasure it--for the rest of my life. I rushed to my seat after receiving her gift and returned with a picture of me and my family for her. We're sisters, you see, now and for eternity.
These women lost so much from the earthquake. Many of them lost everything. "We couldn't find anything, not even a cup," one of them told me. "But I didn't lose my faith. I didn't lose my Savior."
Now I'm crying as I write this post, thinking of these beautiful women and their stories. This is the reason it's taking me so long to process. It's too much. I felt so inadequate to be on this trip, very small among a group of godly missionaries, and yet, I discovered that what some of these Haitian sisters needed most was not for me to bless them with eloquent words or (thankfully) immaculate attire. In fact, they didn't need me to talk much at all. They needed me to "see" them as God sees them. El Roi. They needed me to listen, and as I did, I promised them I would treasure the stories they shared. Then I promised them I would share their stories with you.
I fell in love with the Haitian women. God clearly speaks to them and through them. When they pray, they gather around you, all of them laying hands on you and speaking at once. I didn't need to understand Creole to feel the power of their words or the power in their worship.
Other Haiti moments I'll never forget:
- The toddler who clung to me as I walked through Grace Village…or was that me, clinging to her?
- Sleeping on the roof of the hospital where we stayed—a grand, giggly slumber party with my sistas. Stars above us, soft breezes blowing around us, the many sounds of Haiti below us, lush mountains beside us. Then waking to the spectacular sunrise over the sea as God painted the devastation of Haiti with His glory. The rubble faded away in the beauty of His light.
- Chewing and spitting out wads of fibery sugar cane, much like chewing on the bubble gum I love at home.
- Celebrating our dear brother David Hames who died during the earthquake with prayer for his family and his favorite treat—gummy bears--on his birthday. I was able to share the redemptive story of his life and death with a group of women who understood. Then seeing the site of the Hotel Montana from a rooftop with my faithful friend Jodi Stilp who journeyed through this loss alongside our family.
- Lining up to "jump by generation" into the Caribbean Sea and then eating my first goat kebab.
- Riding back through Port-au-Prince at night—burning trash along the sides of the windy roads, candles in the alleyways, protester roadblocks on the main roads, turning our bus around multiple times with traffic on every side, people staring at our light-skinned faces in the windows. I was doubly thankful that night—for our heroic bus driver who seemed to smile through it all in his "Burger Thing" T-shirt and for the traffic laws in the U.S. that keep cars (for the most part) on opposite sides of the road.
- Watching the palm trees sway in the breeze with the backdrop of mountains and clear blue sea, for above the rubble there is beauty in their dance just as there is beauty in the eyes of the Haitian women as they danced before the Lord.
- Taking a "two cup" shower on our last morning because someone had cut our water line. And being very thankful for my two cups!
After traveling all day on Monday, I ran down the hall of the Portland airport to hug my sweet husband and girls. I missed them more than I can say and their notes, flowers, and love that night made me cry once again. Hours later, my life returned to its steady busyness—editing my manuscript, taking my kids to school, loading up my blessed laundry machine with dirty clothes.Even now, my small suitcase is still not unpacked. Every item I take out has a wonderful memory attached to it. Every scribbled note from a Haitian sister or drawing from a child is something I want to cherish. I'm just not quite ready to put it all away.
And so I will linger on my time in Haiti, maybe for months or even years to come. Remembering, reflecting, and praying for those women who don't want to leave Haiti because they love their country and their people.
Next time I visit Haiti—and if God allows it, I'm certain there will be a next time—I hope that I won't be running back through the airport to see my family at the end. Next time, I hope my family is deplaning along with me, long after I've introduced them to my beautiful Haitian friends.
With much joy,~Melanie
P.S. Much thanks to one amazing photographer (Jodi Stilp) for taking the above pictures and more than a thousand beautiful photos for our team and to Mike Varadi (one of our heroes) for capturing our week on video.