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Yesterday I arrived from my short trip to Haiti. I traveled with a group out of North Carolina called, New Directions International. They have been in Haiti years before the earth quake working with local pastors to provide orphanages with food, resources for schools and have helped equip leaders out there with materials, education and resources. One thing that really resonated with me about New Directions (NDI) is that they exist primarily in the background. They are there to give locals the food and resources so it does not look like the “White Man” has come to save anyone. That is very important to me. I went on this trip to be a strong back who would exist in the background. I didn’t want any focus and I didn’t want to be thanked for anything. This was an eye opening trip and I feel completely strange back in the US. There is a part of me that longs to be back with real people who are just trying to get by. I was so surprised by how beautiful the Haitian people are and I was amazed at the spirit of hope that you can feel. Many have lost everything they had, many have lost their entire families yet they have the strength to go through the rubble to rebuild and to smile when strangers pass. There is a lot we can learn from our Haitian family. If you would like to know more please click the read more link below.

Here are a few pictures (there are more after the break):

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img_1393My journey began around 2am in Greensboro NC on March 3, 2010. Our flight left at 5am from the Raleigh Durham Intl. Airport, so we had to be on the road pretty early. Those of us near Greensboro met at Westover where they had a nice bus waiting for us. Then we traveled to NDI’s office in Graham (could be Burlington…). From there we traveled to the airport. There were no real headaches there and our first flight to Miami went smoothly. I did get to enjoy a nice snack on that flight. Our wait in Miami was probably short of an hour before we boarded the flight to Port Au Prince, Haiti. I think in total we spent less then 4 hours flying.

img_1400Leaving the airport was a bit tricky. If you are planning on going to Haiti know that you need to hold onto your bags and that you are going to have to fight locals to leave you alone while you try to get your bags onto your vehicle. Many do this as a way to make a living but it is quite aggravating when you can carry the stuff just fine. There is a large metal gate blocking people from entering the airport, and once you pass that, it feels like you entered a riot. Our drive was named Surge, and I have to say, he is an incredible man!

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My team consisted of our leader, Scott, Randy and Dan from Westover, Barbara, Tracie, Michael (our Structural Engineer) and my good friend Matt Chewning. Our primary goal was to travel down to help unload two shipping containers that we had sent and to travel to different orphanages and schools that Michael could look over for structural problems and directions for how people might be able to secure their buildings in case of another quake. So let’s go over a little background for each person (from left to right):

• Matt is 27 and working on planting a Acts 29 Church in Boston called “Netcast Church“. He is married to his beautiful wife Beth and has four wonderful children!
• Dan, 52,  is a wonderful man to talk to about dreams, well really he and Randy are great for that. Dan leads the international missions program at Westover if I am not mistaken and spends a lot of time traveling to different parts of the globe with teams that can help different tribes and developing churches worldwide.
• Randy leads local missions at Westover and has an incredible heart for caring for people. He can be recognized by his hat!
• Maxo was one of our drivers and a pastor of a small church in the bush.
• Michael is our structural engineer hailing from Colorado Springs. If you want to laugh and think deep, he is the guy you want to talk to.
• Barbara was the princess of our trip. That doesn’t come with any sarcasm or nonsense. She was a beautiful woman who was there to love children and to hug and kiss anyone who was available. And if you didn’t want anything to do with her, within five minutes you were laughing, smiling and posing in pictures (this is a true story).
• Tracie was our good ol’ boy with the heart of gold. He was the first to tear up at any moment but one of our strongest backs. He is a incredible man who works as a farmer.
• Surge was one of our drivers (and probably my favorite because he drove like a bat out of hell). His driving was too much for everyone in our group except Matt and myself!
•Then there is Scott. He is on staff at NDI and really organized everything for us. Epic guy.

img_1436Day 1: Sleeping the night before was a touch difficult. Most of us slept in rooms at a surviving hotel. Matt, Scott and me slept outside in a tent. There was a location that was recommended for us, but Michael told us if we were interested in surviving an earthquake, then we should move the tent to a small patch of grass nearby. On a side note, I completely recommend the Thermarest BaseCamp sleep mat. I slept on it every night and my back was never sore! During breakfast we talked about the earthquake in Chile and it was our understanding that things were a lot worse there then Haiti. The Haitians told us that there was really no real looting or crime happening. Whatever the news captured to emphasize was just for entertainment and was not a strong representation of what was going on around Port Au Prince. They also said that there wasn’t much for people to want to steal, so looting wasn’t a real problem.

img_1448During this day we mostly drove around trying to find food that had been sitting at the airport to give to the people of Afca (which is the tent city we were connected to). Shortly after the earthquake materials and food were being piled up at the airport while the US Military took control of their airport. Once domestic flights were allowed all the food “disappeared” and was moved to most likely prevent bad publicity from leaking. One of the first NDI teams after the earthquake would just drive onto the runway to fill their trucks with as much food as they could carry and then move to get it into people’s hands. Our journey was unsuccessful. We spoke with the US Army (and note that they had some pretty intense air conditioning inside their tents!) and the Canadian Army and no one knew what happened to all the food. We hope that it made it into people’s hands… The US Army has a huge base located at the airport where hundreds of neatly placed tents are. They have tons of earth moving trucks, tanks and hummers! It is a sight to see:

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It should be known that the US Embassy is the largest building I have seen in ALL of Haiti! They have a ridiculous sized compound (or should I say we?). We talked to some soldiers that say everything has been turned upside down with everything at the embassy. They said they don’t even know where to go for certain things anymore! There’s a pretty interesting story that involves us talking with a HUGE soldier that we “lovingly” named “Jolly Green” who was holding a M-16 assault rifle in one hand, and juggling the magazine in the other while he answered our questions. Intimidating would be a understatement…Unfortunately no one could tell us where the food had gone so we went to a massive warehouse facility where we were able to buy enough rice to feed 3,500 people for 3-4 days. This was enough food to feed all of AFCA village. The pastors there had a ingenious system of requiring the citizens to collect a card for their family in order to get food. This way they could calculate that 700 families lived there and a total of 3,500 people. While we were at the warehouse we saw men carrying 4 bags of rice at a time on their shoulders. I need to explain that each bag weighed 50 lbs. So that is a total of 200+ pounds at a time. They carried more then a hundred bags to our vehicle and we loaded them in a much less efficient way. The Haitian men that carried the bags were more ripped then anyone else I had ever seen. One guy’s calfs were like tree trunks!!!

Here’s a quick lesson in Creole. I have no idea what the proper spelling is, so I am going to spell phonetically. Mayo is T-Shirt, Jeans are jeans, TenEEs are shoes! I led our second devotion and talked about how a Church is not somewhere you can go. It is not a building and it surely isn’t titled “First Baptist Church on Blank St.” and I expressed how I am not anti-churches but that I am passionate about us changing the way we speak so that it reflects the teaching of the Bible. We can no longer say we “go to church on Sunday”. We can go to Church gatherings. It might sound confusing, but it is of epic importance and no one else really cares. It seemed that Randy got nervous as he spoke his mind, but he was able to work through what I was saying in order to find my heart. The following photos are the rest from day 1. You will notice in the 4th thumbnail where a Police station used to be…

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Day 2: I don’t really where to begin here since my journal is not in a proper order, but Michael did talk to us about how Haiti is much different then it was in the 80’s. He told us before that you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Voodoo drums in the distance. We didn’t hear Voodoo drums until the very last day when we traveled into the bush. The only music we heard the entire time was from a Church! It’s beautiful how the faith of Haiti is like that of children, the way Jesus wanted us to be, but us in American are like that of Pharisees. We seem to debate doctrine and theology so often that we miss the purpose and the reason for believing. I love and miss the Haitian people.

img_1792So on this day we visited Jayhu’s orphanage which was on beautiful stretch of land! I can’t even tell you how big it is but he has a beautiful story about how God gave him a dream and a vision for how he could care for the orphans of his area. He began planning a two-story facility that would care for 200+ boys but had no money and no idea where to put it. A government official said he would help him get some land but the official wanted $50,000 in his hand at the end of the week. Jayhu said he had $250 in the bank but said, “ok!” That same official contacted him before it was time to receive the money and told Jayhu about a piece of property that was larger and they would give it to him for free. They also gave him $50,000! We were reminded that this kind of thing does not happen in Haiti. So Jayhu began making connections and working towards the plan God gave him. Here is a photo of the plan Jayhu has:

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There will be an orphanage for 260 boys, basketball court, kitchen, parking and other buildings. They had finished most of the 3 story building at the time of the earthquake and Jayhu wouldn’t allow any of the children into the building until a structural engineer came to see it. Here is where Michael really got to do his thing. The good news is that the structure and its foundation were fine. They just need to reinforce some walls to keep them from falling on the children if they were to be sleeping inside. This is a great use of such beautiful land! They are even farming many different kinds of food and are raising chickens and goats! You can see a picture of a child planting an aloe plant! In the mean time the 8 or 9 boys living there now are sleeping in some Coleman tents.

It is also worth noting that I felt my first earthquake while at the orphanage. I was sitting on a bench watching Barbara play checkers with the children when the ground beneath us began shaking. It only lasted a second but it was incredible to feel that. You could hear what sounded like a roar erupting from beneath the surface of the earth! Matt was laying on his back praying on the incomplete 3rd story of the orphanage that was built into a hill. He stood up and sprinted towards the grass! I am sure that would be a much scarier experience. These kids are genius! I forgot to mention that they had built home made kites using string, twigs and trash bags! I have a video of them flying the kites that I will post.

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From the orphanage we visited a number of places including a school that is run by a guy named Jean Baptiste. Obviously he and I liked each other. We visited the collapsing Palace and had dinner at a American food restaurant which had killer pizza! We had a different driver with us that day. His name was Paul and we later learned that he had wild stories to tell. He had been kidnapped and held for ransom twice. Here are photos from the rest of the day. Please note the photo where they have spray painted the please help sign. People have tags or banners on every street trying to tell people where their are tent cities and that they need help and or food. Also note that HelloKitty is popular all over the globe!

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Day 3: This is the itinerary for today: 1. City Soleil, Pastor Jazel’s Church, Hotel, Chantal’s AIDS School, Market, Baptist Mission and then to visit Pastor Maxo’s house on top of the mountain.

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CIty Soleil is one of the top 3 slums in the world according to scott. If you read the first paragraph from the Wikipedia Page it says even more. There’s a great deal of brokenness here. Even scarier is how all trash is thrown into the stream so that rain water can carry it out to the ocean. It’s very sad to see that the locals are not worried about their land remotely. If you have trash, it belongs on the ground… On the left is a picture of Rosaline. Smith was able to translate between us. She liked my beard and said I was very handsome! Then she told me that she wanted me to give her my cut-offs. We laughed and Rosaline told me she liked my style. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT!? Her friend was wearing a Pizza Hut shirt. I’m still confused by that. This was my first time meeting Surge’s son Smith. He is a brilliant guy! He’s studying computer science at a local school and uses Windows 7 and Ubuntu. What’s amazing is that we had a conversation about how he hates Vista. It’s amazing that even in third world countries, people know Vista was a COMPLETE FAIL! I’ll post that once I get it on Youtube. Smith wants to learn more about graphic design so we talked about Photoshop a bit. The last thumbnail is a photo of Smith sitting at the Baptist Mission, it would have been a beautiful view, but the fog was so thick as a storm approached. I like living in the cloud!

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There isn’t much to mention about Pastor Jazel’s church, Chantal’s school was incredible! All the children were so excited to see us and to get some candy. We also had coloring books and crayons to pass to them. The photos of the market will really speak for themself. It’s an open-air market and the smell can be devastating depending on what is for sale. The Baptist Mission is pretty incredible It’s really interesting to see that they put a nice restaurant there that is a non-profit. They are able to employ locals, pay them fairly, and then use the profit to build onto their school programs. I love opportunities like this that are not hurting people and allow the locals to work.

Pastor Maxo had a beautiful home. His wife Anne was so much fun to be around! Devotion #3: Nehemia. Dan led this Devotion and talked about leadership.

img_2122Day 4: We left at 7am (so awake at 6am) to visit a Pentecostal church. What’s interesting is that most people don’t have watches so people will begin showing up around sunrise and will just congregate and wait for the service. So we just chose 7am as a pretty good time to go. There was a woman teacher who was spectacular. Surge didn’t translate everything but there was one thing he shared that really stuck with me, “because of your grace, I am alive” and you heard the entire audience of at least 5-600 people echo that. It was very moving.They sang and dance and it was so wonderful to see so many people who were hopeful about the future and unmoved in their faith. I had a strong impression that most of Haiti is Voodoo (and probably is), so I was surprised to see so many people dressed up for Sunday morning (not that I agree with the idea of dressing up…).

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img_2208Next up we headed for the bush to visit Maxo’s church. Once we arrived Scott, Michael and Matt took motorbikes for the last 2 miles (maybe). They arrived a lot faster then us and actually drove the middle of a Voodoo gathering that was finishing. I saw no such event. Maxo’s church did not have a roof yet, they used branches that were woven together. It was fantastic to hear them sing in Creole and to feel the energy that Surge brought to these people. The land surrounding was beautiful. Most of the people have gardens or farms and there were pigs, chickens, goats, cows and even the occasional horse! Maxo introduced all of us individually and we were invited to share something with them. Prior to all of this Matt and I got to pray with two guys who had left the Voodoo gathering. They expressed interest in wanting to know what we believed and we began telling them about the faith that we subscribe to. It was a really meaningful moment for both of us. What was strange was that neither person felt like their clothes were good enough to come in. How on earth could they have that perspective? Obviously that wasn’t from people who read the Bible only. It’s disappointing to see how the “white man’s” idea of church has bled into so many other cultures. Why would Maxo and other congregants wear suits? Ugh, I get pretty upset about this. When it was my turn to speak I preached about how the Church is not the walls of the building, but instead it is a family and how they have two new members to love! I also encouraged them that it will be through the love that they share for one another, that many will have the closest glimpse they will ever see of God. It ws so much fun to participate and to hear Matt teach about Paul meeting the Athenians.

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After Maxo’s church we traveled to the Double Harvest farm. That place was absolutely and I would love to go and work there. We will have to see what happens after I visit Growing Power this coming Tuesday.

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Our devotion on this night was really special, Matt suggested we do something that he called a “Hot Seat”. He described how one person would go at a time and the rest of us would tell them what we like about them, and where we see God in their lives. This was such a magnificent opportunity to practice living as the Church. It is so easy to miss all those “one another” verses that describe how the Church should be around one another. For the following joke to make sense I might need to explain that the people of Haiti would call me, Bin Laden, Castro, Fidel and Jesus. Evidently those are the most famous beards in relevant history. So my friends described how I was the most open-minded insurgent they had ever met! HAHAHAHAA. It was so wonderful to have all of us encourage and build up one another after being in such close quarters with everyone. This seems like the way every trip should end. People serving amongst one another, giving of themselves to help others and to at the end encourage one another. That just seems like the way I want to spend my life. Even if that’s here in America, that pattern is something that makes sense to me.

img_2290Day 5: (I’m noticing that my timing might be confusing. I arrived in Haiti during the afternoon. So I experienced 5 mornings and 6 nights.) During this day we visited AFCA one last time. I went with Surge, Maxo, Scott and Barbara. While we were there Scott and I heard a lot of shouting. One of the older guys who was helping at the all girls orphanage asked if we wanted to see what was going on. We followed him to a neighboring tent city. There was a huge flat bed truck in the middle with five Haitians passing out food from cardboard boxes. We got close and the guy we were with got a pack. The food being handed out was Healthy Choice French Vanilla Pudding and Snack Pack brand Mud Pie Pudding packs. I feel like this is well-intioned people wanting to help and not knowing anything about the people that they care about. It’s quite interesting that in American we will actually run over the top of someone and tragically end their life to secure a video game console at Christmas time but the Haitian people won’t even really fight each other to get some food. It does look intense when they are clamoring for items, but it is incredibly peaceful. On the truck you had a white guy filming everything.

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img_2295I spent some more time with the little girls and got to get a little closer to the child that took my heart. I may never know her name but I will never forget our games of Peek-A-Boo. She was probably 5 or 6 and most all of the girls would approach you to say hi, but this little one, she would only pop up if you had a piece of candy and would quickly disappear with a smile on her face. Across three visits it was tough to build trust but the coloring book won her over! I tried to give my black bandanna to her but the guy who led us to the other tent city told me that a “group” in Haiti uses black bandannas and I took that to mean a gang. So I took my white bandanna (which is not a group luckily!) and tied it around her neck. She was possibly the cutest child I have ever seen with a stunning smile that would warm your heart. I wish I could adopt her. I take this time to pause and to pray for the children of Haiti. Father, I lift your little children of Haiti to you. From reading your Word, we know that you have a special place in your heart for children. I pray that they would be raised in homes filled with love. I pray there would be food to eat and water to drink. May their hearts be filled with compassion and not of coldness as they see all the devastation around them. I pray that the next generation would embrace your love and that they would continue to fill us cold americans with love.

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There’s a picture of a tent with the Red Cross symbol and the Red Crescent. I’ve included this because I was so surprised that in other countries the Red Cross goes by different names. In Muslim countries they are the Red Crescent and in Jerusalem they are the Red Star of David! You surely won’t see any Red Cross markings in a Jewish land!!! LOL

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img_2324Later in the afternoon we headed to the airport where it can get completely crazy with people trying to take your bag from you and others trying to sell you everything you don’t need. Once inside we got to enter a nicely air-conditioned room (which I really didn’t appreciate). I had gotten so used to the hot weather that I didn’t have a warm enough jacked to keep me warm in the terminal. Scott told us that the room they had us in was exclusively for VIP’s in the past. Before they would keep you in a kind of storage facility that wasn’t air-conditioned. It was wonderful to be in a room with people from all over the US who had hearts to care for people that they would never know intimately. We could sit down with anyone and hear great stories. I sat down next to a man Dale Horst who is a Mennonite from Maryland. It was a very enlightening conversation to learn more about the ways of the Mennonites. I am discouraged that I would not be able to write this post if I joined their church, but it is great to know that they have a understanding of what the Church is, and how they work. Not all of them are farmers, but they believe in doing work that contributes to society in a positive way. I really wish I had written that down the way Dale said it…it made a lot more sense when he talked. All people have some truth to teach and I want to absorb all that I can!

Dale broke it down into four questions:

1. What they think of Christ
2. What they think of the Bible
3. What is a Christian
4. What is the Church

I asked Dale how we could stay in touch and he said he could mail me a letter. I asked if he had access to email and he explained how the use technology. I was immediately disappointed. This is not a means for me to have deep relationships with people, but I like being able to share at a moment about my life if someone is interested. It is also nice having access to all my projects and photos from the past if someone has a internet connection!

Our flights were fine. The first flight was from Port Au Prince to Miami. When we exited the plane there was a small entourage of Haitian men waiting just outside the plane. Scott told us the man with the grey facial hair was the President of Haiti! HOW INCREDIBLE IS THAT!? I wanted to walk back and tell him that we had a container that was being held up at customs and all it had was food to feed the hungry people of his country…needless to say I did not cause a international incident…as I reflect, that insurgent title totally fits… We spent about 5 hours waiting for our next flight in Miami. I thought that wait was going to be brutal, but it was actually really nice since we had such great company! Dan got SUPER sick while walking through the airport and we caught him spewing all kinds of life inside a trashcan. It was seriously projectile vomit. His stomach was not messing around! Our flight from Miami to Raleigh was relaxing and most of us slept on that one.

I forgot to mention that I met a lovely woman on the flight from Port Au Prince to Miami. Her name was Karen and she was serving as a nurse in a small field hospital. She is from Chicago and had the most gentle spirit of anyone I have met. She talked about how the nurses would tell the staff each day that for the staff leaving, they had experienced something that no one in the US would ever understand. I love meeting people that want to give of their own comforts in order to care for others. Karen may or may not subscribe to a certain faith, but she wants to care for others. That refreshes my soul and explains what I hate about so many church buildings I have been to. I wish I could sit on flights to and from Miami and Port Au Prince just to hear the many different stories people have to share. I should write a separate post just documenting them. Karen is actually planning on spending her vacation time working in Haiti. How spectacular is that?!

We met a man named Charles who was hoping to establish a entire city for the people who lost their homes in Port Au Prince. He had the most lofty dream I had every heard, but it was neat that he was thinking so far outside of the box.

We met a woman who was a physical therapist that had spent 3 days getting farmed around and couldn’t get to her destination. She had fought her way into Haiti just looking for an organization that could put her to use. She explained that PT’s are among the most useful people in disaster situations because they help people to learn to live without the use of certain limbs or how to make life work after injuries and to work out their muscles after trauma. She talked about how many organizations would tell her they didn’t have uses for Physical Therapists. It was neat meeting Karen the nurse, because she was telling me that they can’t get enough Physical Therapists (sounds like a communication problem to me…)! The PT had spent so much of her own time just trying to find a way into Haiti to help people. Who does that these days? All I see from Americans are people who care about themselves and their large SUV and don’t have time to help someone with a flat tire. I say this of my own self as well. I am not just pointing the finger at others.

Yesterday (March 11, 2010) I had lunch with Scott. I told him how I just don’t feel home in America. It doesn’t make sense to me being here. I miss the people. I miss how they know their neighbors and interact with one another even if they are complete strangers. I love how there are people all around that you can just talk to. When it is night in Haiti, almost no one has power, so the people just wander outside looking for things to do or friends to talk with. I love that. We Americans just sit in our man made rectangles and watch pixels flicker on screens while we are spoon-fed advertisements. Scott told me that any time they bring people back to the US from any country, Haiti, Nepal, Africa, India WHEREVER, their first question is always the same, “Where are all the people?” Our people are in their own containers. Cars, homes, offices and whatever other space that allows them to be separated from their own race. Have you ever thought about this?

Port Au Prince, Haiti is a beautiful place and I hope I get to visit again before my time is over.

2 Responses to “Trip to Port Au Prince, Haiti”

  1. Dan Smith
    10 March 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    Keep the blog going Jon…you are helping us old guys of undetermind age (52) remember facts and stuff.

  2. jon_meadowbrook
    12 March 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    Updated your info Dan! WOO


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