My first trip to the island of Hispaniola, the small rock in the middle of the ocean which is home to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was in late 2010. I flew into Haiti in the middle of the night and rode bumpy roads to a house in Port-Au-Prince.
In 2012, after a lot of work in Haiti, we had the opportunity to supervise a mission in the Dominican Republic for a month in the summer. We flew into Santo Domingo, the Dominican's capital city, and, following a friend's instructions, navigated our way to Caribe Tours, a bus station in the middle of town. We then rode that bus for a few hours into the poorest provence of the Dominican Republic, Azua.
Little did we know that this was our first of many trips to this island nation and that we'd eventually call this side home for over 2 years of our ministry. All we knew was that it was this entire island that had captured our attention.
I have always been a paradox of sorts. I struggled with crippling fear as a child (and young adult) but also loved new experiences and did not want to be owned by that fear. The result was often vomiting on the way to a new school, or crying all the way to Haiti, or in the case of the skydiving incident, telling the person I was strapped to to GO no matter what I said or how much I cried. This was my personality I brought onto this island.
I believe only Jesus brings true freedom. But, I also believe He uses all kinds of things to do this. For me, He used Hispaniola.
There are many places where fear and new, amazing experiences can co-exist. I just listed off a bunch of them. It was how I survived the first chunk of my life. But, this island is not really a place where they can co-exist. For if you let fear come into your heart on this island, it can consume you. It overtakes you. And...then you don't want to do anything but get back on a plane and head home. Which, really, would be a shame because this island is amazing and you'd really be missing out.
When I landed back in 2010, I immediately was faced with a choice. As I breathed in that scent of Haitian air, I wondered if I would believe I could be free or if I would be crippled in fear of the unknown. With God's help, I chose freedom.
And, He gave me so many people along the way to help me, too.
Once I choose freedom, I could see things in front of me more clearly. I saw people with incredible stories who were willing to walk with me through fear and expectation I had. They were people who would call me into the light and out of the darkness over and over again. They were the people of Hispaniola, no strangers to darkness or overcoming.
What I have learned about freedom from the people I have encountered in the Dominican Republic and Haiti couldn't fit into one blog post.
I learned to be free from material goods- which might be pretty but are still shackles around our legs.
I learned to be free from worry, as each day has enough to worry about in itself.
I learned to be free from expectation, as my gifts were highlighted and encouraged. Not compared to anyone else's.
I learned to be reliant on the Lord, for He is the one who has come to us, to break us free from our chains and bondage and into eternal life.
One of the most important things that I have learned is this: freedom comes at a cost to us. When we are free, we not only notice the freedom of people but also the oppression. We see those bound up in their shame or rejection or loss of control. And, then we realize their freedom is bound up in ours, too.
We realize how linked we are as a human family. We realize how in reach freedom is for not just us, but for everyone.
And that's the cost. We must, in turn, fight to help liberate others.
I have learned to fight for people from the folks I know in Hispaniola.
There is a whole list of women who give new meaning to the phrase "nevertheless, she persisted." Their endurance blows me away and the freedom they possess to move forward in the light of such extreme circumstances and limitations is amazing.
There is a group of men who decide to be free in their staying. They give up their perceived "freedom" of not settling down or taking responsibility for their families and have found freedom in staying: in deep rooted love, acceptance and mutual respect. Their marriages are counter-cultural, but they are beautiful. And inspiring.
There are groups of kids who have literally gone from street kids, fighting and drinking and trying to make money, into children who love well and listen and who want to learn. They have found freedom, too.
So, this Dominican Independence Day....this Haitian holiday, too....I say thank you to God for the way He has used this island to free me from my fears of failure, giving up, and being alone. He has shown me the cost of freedom, the importance of working for everyone's liberation, and the true love and acceptance which comes from a free life.
A plane flew overhead and I wanted to be on it.
Did the people I was with even know what a plane was like? Did they know where that plane was headed?
It was 2011 and I was working in a tent city in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. It was hot, dusty, and all around unpleasant. The mission we were working with made us hand out dried peach pesh and serve them to people out of 5 gallon white buckets. It seemed like a small gift to these people who had been going through hell.
The bathrooms were disgusting. Like, maggots growing in the toilets.
The water was scarce. Like, turbid and flowing through a canal.
The hope was gone. Like that airplane that went by.
I remember several of my experiences working with these displaced people. I remember learning they were displaced in the first place. Many of the people who were living on one side of the city did not have houses near there that crumbled, but were miles away in another part of town. Many of the people who were living in the tent cities had jobs, lives, family members- a typical life- until their house (and world) crumbled.
People claiming to help exploited them. Those who were helping asked them to consider converting to their religion as they tempted clean drinking water in front of them. They turned to one another for survival, but it was rough.
My experience was nearly 7 years ago and I still remember it well. I remember the shock that went through my system when I realized, truly, what these people had gone through. They'd lost real families and real friends and real jobs and real homes. I remember also knowing that I'd never know the pain like this: my entire world changing in an instant and people not understanding my situation. I remember those planes flying overhead.
I have never been to the Middle East. I have great friends who have worked there, I have friends who have worked with refugees in the USA, and I only have a little experience teaching ESL to some immigrants from this area of the world years ago. I cannot even pretend to imagine what it must be like to be fleeing Syria and wondering where I will go. I can't.
But, now, more than ever, I am beginning to understand that plane overhead. For those people in the Haitian refugee camp, that plane was their connection. Connection to the outside world can mean one of two things: hope or despair; life or death. With each influx of people from the US and other countries, Haitian camp dwellers could either be encouraged and inspired or they could have been taken advantage of- made to sell themselves to a UN worker or to have their pictures taken without their consent, made no better than an object.
While my friends and family might not have been thinking about Haiti and those people in the camps back in 2011, they were there. And, while people not be thinking about them now, many of them are still there. In the same light, while we might not all have the Middle East on our hearts and minds, but people in some of these areas are fighting for their lives. Living in camps with really horrible conditions, wondering if that plane passing by is bringing light or darkness.
We are a part of a global community. We don't get to choose this. In a world where we can email anyone in the bush of Tanzania or the mountains of Haiti, the poor and vulnerable are more accessible than ever. People facing horrible situations globally are able to post about it instantly on Facebook. The reason this is important, and the reason it might make us uncomfortable, is because we realize our own position as Americans.
Things like this begin to flit through our minds "The United States and Europe spent nearly ninety times as much on luxury items as the amount of money that would be needed to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation for those in our global village who do not have these necessities now"- Groody, Globalization, Spirituality and Justice. Through acknowledging the poverty and bondage of others, we reveal our own poverty of heart- and the riches we also have to give. It changes us. And, that's uncomfortable.
Look, I picked an awkward time to relocate to being based out of the USA. The longest stint I have been in the US in 6 years and we have elected a very controversial president and are in the middle of a lot of complex problems in our world. I can get overwhelmed and upset with the rest of them. But, honestly, I keep remembering that plane.
We choose what kind of things we bring to people in crisis and desperation. We choose what kind of message we want to bring. Is it hope and love? Or is it death and meaninglessness? It is my prayer that in these times we remember who God is- the God who is Love, the God who took the part of a refugee and was incredibly impoverished growing up. I pray we remember that He is on His throne, no matter what chaos ensues. I also pray that He would make us brave- to face the injustices of poverty and war- with hope and change.
overthinker and under-planned; development worker, believer, friend, wife, sister, daughter; learning a lot every day.