Last week, we had a life-changing trip to Haiti. We encountered God numerous times and in many ways throughout our mission trip and want to share with you our experiences! (Please note we usually try to keep our blog posts short, however, to capture the entire trip, this is an extended post.)
Before we begin, it is helpful to know who we work with and the ministries involved. We went to Haiti with the ministry Love for Lozandier. Mark and Lisa Strenke along with Susan Dodd lead this ministry and focus their efforts in Lozandier, Haiti. Lozandier is a small, fishing village located on the southern coast of Haiti. Over the last three years, they have built a church and school in the village. Currently, Mark and Lisa have 65 sponsored kids at the school and adding 15 new sponsorships a year, giving them daily meals, education, and discipleship. Susan is working towards building a clinic on-site to the church and school. Upon completion, the ministry will be able to offer weekly healthcare to the kids and families. The church is the center of the village, creating community among the villagers and meeting essential needs physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Additionally, both of our ministries, Love for Lozandier and 513FREE, work closely with Pastor Yves Regala. Pastor Yves is from Haiti and was adopted by American missionaries and brought to the U.S. at an early age, becoming a Christian. He returned to Haiti as an adult, living there for over 25 years and counting. Pastor Yves oversees 18 churches he planted in Haiti and continues to do more. He is constantly discipling new pastors to lead his churches and is very involved in the communities and neighborhoods where they are located. It is apparent Yves is a man who lives by faith everyday and a key part to ministries wanting to do missions in Haiti.
Now that you know a little background, let's begin our story of Haiti 2013!
Our first two days of the trip we spent in Petit Goave leading outreach concerts at pastor Yves' church. We used a Haitian sound company that provided a system for us and everything went well, an answer to prayer not knowing how legitimate it would be renting in Haiti. Petit Goave was the first place pastor Yves planted a church. However, the earthquake destroyed the original church, so they meet in a different location in a temporary building. Right now, the church consists of a roof held up by sticks and branches. Pastor Yves intentionally moved the church to the roughest neighborhood in Petit Goave, wanting to be a light in midsts of child abuse, drugs, and crime. Because of our outreach concerts, he got over 100 new contacts/visitors to his church for follow up.
While in Petit Goave, pastor Yves gave us a tour of the town and we visited the location of the old church where there still is a functioning school of 600 plus students. However, no one is currently sponsoring the school and church. Unfortunately, children attending the school have to pay for their own education, which does not include meals. The school is struggling and many kids cannot afford it, resulting in withdraws. As a ministry, we see the need for sponsoring this city, and praying and seeking God what our next step should be.
From Petit Goave, we met up with the rest of the group in Lozandier. Here we experienced and saw God move in many ways. Upon arrival, we saw a couple of nurses from our group run a temporary clinic. Earlier in the day, the ladies helped a teacher of the school who was very ill, dehydrated, and pregnant. They were able to IV her and send her off to the hospital, saving her life. Additionally, the nurses gave basic assessments and eye exams to all the children in the school. They also treated a little girl for pneumonia and another for malaria.
While in the village, 513FREE led a worship service at the church and taught them American worship songs as well as we got to experience the Haitian worship team lead their congregation in authentic worship. Seeing how the Haitans worshiped encouraged and challenged us to go deeper. Here the villagers have nothing but to worship and go to church, no distractions or time constraints. Because church is everything to them, the spirit moves very strongly and everyone is dancing and singing at the top of their lungs.
Aside from the clinic and worship, our group helped stucco the church. While stuccoing, we learned it was estimated to take 5 years to build the church, however, Love for Lozandier built it in 8 months, a miracle in itself. Many individuals in our group felt a sense of accomplishment; they finally got to see and experience worshipping with the villagers in the church they built. We also dedicated the church. At the dedication, Pastor Yves called all of us on stage and the members of the congregation circled around us, praying and hugging us. It was a first-time experience for many of us. Tears filled the eyes of the Haitians as they were showing their thankfulness for building their church. We felt so much genuine thankfulness displayed by the villagers.
While at the church, we also saw the first graduation ceremony at the church/school. The kids graduated from kindergarten to the first grade. They were dressed up in the most perfect uniforms marching down the center aisle of the church for the ceremony. The kids received a big meal too, congratulating them on their graduation. After the graduation, we had a Christmas party for the children. Kids received bags full of gifts and supplies from people in U.S. sponsoring them. Sponsoring a child through Love for Lozandier allows sponsors to go down and visit their child and give them gifts in addition to their monthly support. It was rewarding to look around at our team and see sponsors take photo's with their kids they support. We had the opportunity to take a picture with the girl we sponsor and see her expression when she received her gifts.
In addition to the graduation and Christmas party, the pastors led a baptism in the ocean. Both Haitians from the church and Americans from our team were baptized together. The baptisms were a symbol of unity as both groups united in Christ to display their faith and devotion to God. Baptisms are not taken lightly in Haiti. We walked over a mile with a marching band, letting everyone know in the village what we were doing. The Haitians displayed so much emotion and the Holy Spirit was apparent in their baptism, we left encouraged.
On one of our last days in Haiti, a few people from our team went with Pastor Yves to plant a church in a neighboring town. Here, they walked around the town praying and following God to direct them to the right place. Yves stumbled across a man he recognized and started a bible study that morning in his house. They were pulling people off the street to join and, before 9 a.m., planted a church. We had the opportunity to purchase new tires for Pastor Yves' truck and help purchase a motorcycle for the pastor starting the new church.
God really moved throughout our trip. On our way back to Port-Au-Prince, to fly out, we saw His faithfulness, protection, and provision through a life-changing ordeal. We learned from Pastor Yves political demonstrations were starting to unfold. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. Only 20 percent of the population is employed. Many are hungry, homeless, and struck with disease. Because of a corrupt government that offers little help to its people, many are angry. As a result, militant groups get together to protest against their government.
As we were driving, our bus got ambushed by a militant group. They were throwing rocks and glass bottles at us trying to overtake our bus. The protestors wore masks, hiding their faces. At first, we did not know their intentions, and our minds scattered to figure out what was going on. The language barrier added to our confusion. Eventually, we found out the group wanted to use our bus as a road block. The militants already successfully took over one truck and slashed the tires as well as disposed the keys, making it impossible to move. Now, they wanted our bus to do the same. Although we were shaken, God moved. We were forced to depend on only God and started to pray and trust in Him.
God's faithfulness was shown in many ways throughout the event. For one, undercover police were behind us, without knowing, and called in for help. As rocks and bottles were being thrown at us, there were no injuries. No rocks made it through our windows. A big rock was thrown at the bus driver but miraculously did not break the window, hitting the metal brace instead and saving the bus driver. Yves and his pastors were able to go out and confront the protestors, talking them down and reasoning with them. At the moment where we needed God to really pull through, U.N. soldiers and Haitian police in swat uniforms broke up the protest. In addition, we needed to get our bus through the road block from the truck. We were told it would take hours to move, however, the truck within minutes was moved with all flat tires and no keys to start it.
Sometimes we are placed in circumstances only God can get us through. The above story is a reminder that we need to always trust in Him. God strengthens our faith through life experiences and we were grateful to see Him pull through on our mission trip!
Soon we will be releasing a video about our trip, however, look through the slideshow by clicking the pictures below to get a visual of the places we visited!