“Your thoughts - how rare, how beautiful! God, I’ll never comprehend them! I couldn’t even begin to count them - any more than I could count the sand of the sea. Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!” Psalms 139:17-18 (MSG)
And a good Monday afternoon to you from under the Choukoun here at the guest house. As I sit here typing, the voices of Haiti’s youth speaking Creole fill the air on both sides of the fence, floating on the air of the incredible breeze blowing through. The youth has been a large part of our focus and time here in country, and the verse above is actually the theme of our VBS plan this week. It’s only our fourth day here, but already we are settling in to a routine and a norm. The heat is apparently quite strong this week (even by Haitian standards), and we certainly got a taste of it today! But let me not get ahead of myself - let’s rewind to yesterday and another incredible evening in the presence of God.
Before service, we had some down time for the team. Some spent it walking the beach. Others spent it napping. Several folks, however, hopped into the ocean for a swim, and boy did that attract a crowd! At first, there were just a few kids in the water, being somewhat shy but swimming near the team. Fifteen minutes later, this kids were absolutely MOBBING the team, climbing on them and laughing, huge smiles present the entire time. But wait…there’s more. :-)
Suddenly, out of nowhere, about 10+ kids just come running like the Scots on the plains of Bannockburn. Clothes are flying, little kids are nude, and suddenly the number of kids in the water has tripled. Then, out of nowhere, a grandmother hops in with them! She was LOVING it, and her smile was perhaps the most infectious of all. It was a special moment for all of us…even if at one point I was pretty sure Sawyer was no longer getting any air due to the kid who had her in a stranglehold.
After tidying up, we rolled back into town for the Sunday evening service at MOHI’s main campus in Thozin. We had (I’m guessing) around 80-100 folks show up for service. Not sure if I mentioned it in the previous post, but start times down here are…flexible. Case in point - the published start time was 5:30, but we rocked up at 5:38 and were among the first 15 people there. Soon, however, the pastor was welcoming folks in, the fans were blowing (HALLELUJAH!!!! Temperature dropped 15 degrees instantly), and the choir commenced singing on-stage in Creole. And once again, we were instantly transported from a small town in Haiti to Heaven, catching a glimpse of what it will be like when we’re all together worshipping the Creator of the Universe, each in our own tongue.
Next up was something I have never witnessed before, and I will be honest and say the next 5 minutes I’m about to describe forever changed my faith walk. Alison stood up and said that she felt several folks in the crowd needed healing. She then began naming specific ailments, asking those who felt those pains to stand up. Well, sure enough, we had quite a few folks rise, at which point we as a mission team went and laid hands on them. Alison then prayed for them, and asked anyone who no longer felt the pain to sit down. Most did, but we had a few still standing. But after Alison prayed a second time, nearly everyone who had originally stood was now seated, free from your pain.
Tonight was a special one for me, as it was the first time I ever got the chance to share my testimony in public. Coming into this trip, I did expect to do it at some point. However, I wasn’t sure it if would just be with the group or on the platform. However, I am SO THANKFUL that I was blessed with the opportunity to speak, as it really gave me the focus I needed to develop a testimony that can be shared concisely while still (hopefully) having an impact). I can’t speak for the other folks, but I can say that for me there is truth in the statement that we are freed by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. My prayer is that the others who are sharing their stories so boldly feel the same way.
Emily spoke next, delivering a story and a testimony that truly rocked that church. Her story is one of incredible power and healing, and I count myself truly blessed to have heard it first hand and to share a local church with someone who has such power within her. Also, topics she touched are aren’t often discussed in Haiti, and there was an energy in her words that absolutely resonated with those present.
Dawn was up next, and that girl caught the FIRE of the Holy Spirit - so much so that she “preached her shoes off!” Actually…i’m not kidding. At one point, she really did lose a sandal (she was so close to the edge of the platform that I thought she was about to stage dive and see if she could body surf to the back), and when she said, “I’m preaching my shoes off!” The translator just looked at her as though she’d grown a second head. He then looked at the crowd and without missing a beat said, “Hallelujah.” Priceless.
Dawn did a great job engaging the crowd. Once again, the normally stoic Haitian congregation was speaking and agreeing, shouting either a) Amen or b) correcting the translator when he didn’t know the appropriate word (IT’S “LE PE!!!!!”) - it was awesome.
We saw 15 more salvations that night - praise Jesus! And while that was obviously the high point of the evening, we were treated to one final magic moment while at the church. Just as church dismissed, the Heavens OPENED and it rained hard enough to crack the pavement. Honestly, I was waiting for Noah to float by, asking for 2 goats to take on board. And since Haitian people hate getting wet, no one was going anywhere. This was great news for a lot of the kids, as they are IN LOVE with some of the gals on our team. Seriously - I am going to start playing a new game called “How many people can be within 6 inches of Nicole,” followed by “How many people can Amber hug at the same time.” We’ll then finish with “How long can Emily blow bubbles with a child on her hip and another on her back.” Oh, and the whole time Sawyer can photograph the event while 14 children surround her in rapt fascination.
The other treat was that the worship team started jamming out with some instrumental Caribbean flair, and soon enough we were all dancing like it was Mardi Gras. Yes - there is video of me doing “the sprinkler.” No - it will not ever see the light of day. End. Of. Discussion.
Seriously - I have some very special memories that will stick with me from this night. A little girl sitting as close as you can get to Sawyer, complete with her arm around her. Nicole teaching one of the worship team singers the lyrics in English to Amazing Grace (which, incidentally, is the theme song for this trip). Angie dancing with the cutest little baby to the Caribbean beat. It was simple. It was beautiful. It was joyful. It was magic.
On the way home, we actually had a close call - scratch that, a collision - with another truck passing us on the road. I was looking forward when suddenly glass came flying into the bus! Luckily everyone was ok, and it was actually the other car’s mirror vs. ours that was shattered.
Day 4 (Mon, July24): Man Plans and God Laughs
So this morning started with breakfast, quiet time, and then devotional (nice job winging it, Emily!) before loading up and heading into the mountains. We were going to an orphanage about 30 minutes away, and the road up there was NO JOKE. Our plan for the day had been to play with them, do some games, and then let them “shop” for toys that they could chose from. Oh, silly, naive missionaries…will you never learn?
We arrived to meet Pastor Enoch, who greeted us warmly and said, “I understand that you are going to do a Vacation Bible School for the kids. That is great. I have a meeting, but I will see you later.” We all nod, and then we instantly look at Allison Mobley - time to dust off the VBS station plan! Seriously - I would give that girl a medal if I could, as we would have been in trouble without her hard work!
We obviously didn’t have snacks or crafts, but the good news is that we had our soccer ball and plenty of toys to play with. There were 82 kids at the orphanage, but not all of them were a) present or b) interested in participating. We actually learned a lot about orphanages in Haiti last night from Renee, as it’s apparently a fairly new institution in Haiti. Additionally, not all of the children present are actually orphans. Some are there because the current family situation is untenable for them. But regardless of why they were there, these kids were full of energy, life, and big smiles, and we had a BLAST playing with them.
The games/sports station was fairly tricky, as we ended up just combining the groups and letting the kids choose what they wanted to do. And can I just say that, whoever invented bubbles, I want to THANK YOU AND GIVE YOU A BIG HUG WHEN I MEET YOU IN HEAVEN. Bubbles must have some divine magic, as kids LOVE them. We landed with a jug of bubble solution big enough to fill a sixth great lake, and we are now almost out with 2 days of VBS to go! Luckily we’ve got backup bottles - love it!
It was about 407 degrees or so in the shade today, so I marked it at roughly 849 degrees in the field we played in. I was wearing a ServeCLT shirt from my home church, but I fear I might have to set it on fire once I take it off, as I’m pretty sure they don’t make detergent strong enough to get this puppy clean. But hey - anything for the Kingdom, baby!!!
At the end of VBS, Alison shared the good news with them, and get this - 33 KIDS SAID YES TO JESUS!!!! 33! That represents more salvations than we’d had the entire trip - and we hadn’t even planned to do VBS there! It’s amazing what God will do when you just obey and GO. We are now at 62 salvations, and we’re actually heading back up there for church this evening. Carly is going to preach for us, and I am fully expecting even more souls to turn to Christ once they hear her and the testimonies that will be shared.
We drove through Grand Goave this afternoon to see a bit of the town, and then we came back for a delicious soup at lunch. Alison’s mind has simply been blown by this, and Mr. Lusted, if you are reading this, I am to inform you that you should plan to only eat PBJ when you come to Haiti, as NOTHING is served cold. I admire you for your principled habits, sir - good luck. :-)
I will say that the food here has been simply wonderful. The catch is that it takes all day to stew and prepare. Angie has been educating us on the process, and it’s really awesome that we’re getting everything so fresh from the market. I have eaten like a champ, and we’re all doing what we can to keep salt in our bodies and stay hydrated.
Only other points to note:
UPDATE (I’m typing this portion the following day): the street ministry team had an INCREDIBLE time, and they even received a salvation! Angie went out with them, and her presence made a tremendous difference in terms of how eagerly the locals accepted our team into their home. Angie introduced them as friends from back home, and they instantly embraced and welcomed them in, opening photo albums, sharing laughs with them, and allowing the team to pray over them. The most amazing story concerned a grandmother who, when asked about Heaven, said that she was going to Heaven when she died because that’s where she wanted to go. When it was explained that she actually needed to accept Jesus first, a conversation in two languages then ensued (apparently not all of it fit for print :-)). However, after answering a few more questions, the lady accepted Jesus into her heart! And in addition to claiming another soul for the kingdom, Emily rightly noted that this acceptance of Christ might also break a generational curse, as her daughter was mute (due to a stroke we think), and her grandson had leg problems. Praise Jesus - that was a BIG afternoon. Talk about rewarding boldness and spontaneity!
Church that evening was back in the mountains at the orphanage, and all I can say is WOW. I have often heard it said that we don’t remember days - we remember moments. Well, I can tell you that this service is one of those 4 or 5 moments I will remember forever.
We stepped into the church (which is gorgeous, with a picture of the Bible carved into the concrete above the altar) to find a group of women already gathered there worshipping. I know I said previously that I often find God in music. Well, let me tell you - the Holy Spirit was ABSOLUTELY in that place.
The music was just incredible - all these voices lifted up to Heaven in praise. The women were so earnest and fervent in their worship, and the acoustics in that place were nothing shy of transcendental. I was a puddle of tears (and sweat - they all tend to run together here) listening to it, and God certainly spoke strongly to me during those songs. One of them would just intone and sing the first line, and then the others would fall in as well, with various harmonies filling the air. Creole is quite the melodic language, and the absence of instruments during the worship (except for a cymbal - how very old testament) only accentuated the music.
We then heard testimony from Nicole and Dawn Miller, and once again - God demonstrated that everything moves according to his plan. Those two testimonies of pain and deliverance were absolutely what those women needed to hear, and they were the perfect people to share their stories. I know that Nicole said she’s more comfortable singing than speaking, but that girl has a story to tell, and my prayer for her is that she shares it in both word and note, as she will set people free. And for Dawn’s testimony - hidden tears - there is NO DOUBT that she touched people in that crowd, as I feel certain her story resonated with at least one person in that room. We truly have some amazing people on this team - people with stories that are so appropriate for the people we’ve met based on the situations we’ve seen and the stories we’ve heard, and I thank God for the boldness he’s sown into each of them.
Carly then preached to the crowd, and she was fantastic. For those of you who’ve never heard her preach, watch out! That girl pulls you in with a steady, even cadence, and then BAM! She hits you with some knowledge. She had an especially wonderful moment when she relayed the story of the boy who's lunch fed five thousand. Her comment was not about the miracle, nor about the boy - it was about the mother who packed that lunch and always ensured that boy had everything he needed. Not many dry eyes in the house at that point!
We had 2 more salvations (bringing us to 65 for the trip), and then we prayed for the congregation. Many of them came up for prayer, and the Spirit fell strong in front of that altar. Once it was over, the women hugged each of us, saying God Bless you. We then stepped out to the evening breeze, with an incredible view of the ocean and the colorful flowers on the trees. We capped off the evening by singing worship music in the bus. I will be honest and say I knew about .0000007% of the lyrics, but it was awesome to just hear the ladies’ voices fill the bus.
Day 5 (Tues, July 25): The Truth Will Set You Free
We had an early call this day, rising at 6:30 or so for 7 AM breakfast before rolling out around 7:30. Today was our handicap ministry, and the plan was to visit 6 houses in and around Grand Goave. We rolled to the Thozin campus, where we found out our truck had a flat tire. That meant that we had some time to hang out, and so we sat down to rest. This little unforeseen “hiccup” turned out to be perhaps the defining moment on the trip for me, and I will be forever convinced that flat tire was nothing shy of a miracle.
You see, last night, laying in my bed, I was really struggling. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, felt like I wasn’t able to find my place within the team or the mission, and felt like I just wasn’t contributing the way everyone else was. Well, Alison suddenly has a “spontaneous devotional” she wants to share, and she talks about Mary and Martha. She spoke to me personally about the balance of work and worship, and the importance of “going” into all the world. That caught my attention…but God wasn’t done.
Next up, we started talking about the Street Ministry, and Angie talked about how she’d had moments where she just didn’t know if she was making a difference down here. Now God had my full attention, but side note - Angie is an INCREDIBLE woman of God and missionary, and this group is absolutely going to miss her when she’s gone. The community loves her - it’s evident everywhere we go - and her absence is going to leave a huge void when she departs. Alison and the team spoke over her, assuring her how much of an impact she has had and will continue to have in the lives of these people (as well as wherever she goes next). And all the while I just sat there, tearing up because of how this conversation was going.
The Dawn chimes in with her devotional, talking about how we are just the vessel and how someone today will have a revelation, and at that point I was a puddle. Dawn channeled Isaiah 50:4 and had a good word for us as always, and I then spoke up and told the group how I’d been feeling. The team then laid hands on me, and it transformed my day. Under normal circumstances, I would have really struggled with street ministry and home visits, but after the experience, I was ready to rock.
We spent the next 4 hours visiting homes of people who had special needs, praying over them and their homes, as well as bringing food and supplies. There were two options for the mode of transport: you either sat in the back of a perfectly sturdy and battled tested 4x4 pickup (the smart choice), or you climbed onto the back of a motorcycle that had been converted into a flat bed three-wheeler that would have been perfectly at home on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road (needless to say, this was NOT the smart choice). I mean, this puppy was GREAT on the open road, but when we hit the country and encountered moguls and potholes the size of blue whales, things tended to get a bit dicier. At one point there was no road, and we had an insane hike straight up the side of a mountain. As I walked up that hill - two bags of food, two bottles of cooking oil, and a backpack - all I could think was “I didn’t know that Mount Everest had moved to the Western Hemisphere during my time in Haiti.” Seriously - it was something out of an ultra trail race, but the team acquitted themselves well!
I got the chance to learn some dance with the kids on top of the mountain. They told me the name, but I’m just going to call it the Haitian macarena. It basically consisted of me throwing punches, shaking my behind, hopping around like a human sprinkler head, and then rinse/repeating. The kids seemed to enjoy it, and I lost 11 pounds in the process due to the 239 degree heat. So hey - I think we all came out a winner (except my shirt, which I should probably just set on fire).
The team did a lot of praying, talking to the locals, dancing, and loads of holding babies. I was mesmerized by how cute the kids were, as they instantly gravitated to us, wrapped their arms around us or took our hands, and then stayed with us for as long as we were at any location. I actually got to hold two kids at one point - only one of which had clothes on, but still - it was just wonderful to be in the mix with them.
We also got the chance to watch this group of guys weld the hood of a truck using a blow torch, a bottle of water, and a hammer. Y’all - it was straight out of the Fast and the Furious, and I couldn’t stop watching the masters of their craft in action.
We’re now back at base camp, resting and freshening up before the drive into the mountains this evening. We’ll be going to the satellite campus for MOHI in the mountains - a place called St. Etienne. I’m preaching my first ever sermon tonight, so if we post this before heading out, Please pray for this guy!
Okay, you’re now caught up with Team Haiti. We are 110 or so minutes from heading out as I type this, and I will wait 109 minutes and 30 seconds before putting on my church clothes, as it is akin to putting on diving suit in the Sahara once I get all decked out. Man, I really wish I had a maxi dress…
Love to all back stateside,
Sam (aka Disciple #7)