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.