You Can Make a Difference
The wheels of the plane touched down on the steaming hot tarmac, bouncing and skidding. The view out the window revealed a very small airport, surrounded by hundreds of tin huts. We were in Haiti! My husband Don and I looked at each other with excitement as we unfastened our seat belts and grabbed our bags from the overhead compartment. Our big adventure was about to begin.
We exited directly outside. The sun glared and the air smelled of charcoal. We were greeted by a small band of musicians, welcoming us with festive Haitian music. But the cheerful, vacation like atmosphere soon evaporated as we made our way through customs, a crowded and noisy experience where we stood in long lines.
It didn't matter; I was thrilled to be standing there, energized by the new sights and sounds. Ever since feeling called by God over a year ago, I had dreamt of this moment to go and serve Him on a short term mission team in a foreign country.
It began with the video series, You Can Make a Difference, by Tony Campolo. It was the fall of 1987 and I was showing these videos to the teens in our youth group. I had hoped to help them see the plight of the poor around the world. But God had a special plan for Tony's message. He intended it for me.
His words reached into my soul, holding me captive. It was as though Campolo's plea for viewers to consider going out into the world, making a difference in the name of Christ, was directed specifically to me. He spoke of the profound benefits of a short but meaningful visit to impoverished nations. My heart ached as the video showed clips of young Haitian children, poorly clothed and visibly in need of food. I longed to go and help.
By the end it was clear that God was asking me: "Will you go into the world, making a difference in My name?" After the youth left the room, I knelt in front of a folding chair, buried my head in my arms and passionately responded to God, declaring, "Yes, Lord, I will go."
That afternoon I shared with Don how deeply I had been affected by Campolo's words. I told him about the commitment I had made to the Lord and wondered out loud, "How will God use me, a 50-year-old wife, mother and grandmother?" But I trusted God. If He was calling me, He would use me. Don, who also has a heart for the poor, joined me in making a commitment to go wherever God called.
After the video and that intimate moment with God, I had expected some sign, a clear and obvious way that God was calling us to go and serve, but nothing happened. When I explored what our church offered, there were only opportunities for long-term missions. I was inspired by the idea of going and serving for just a short time, but I was not sure how to do that on my own.
A year passed and I continued faithfully to wait for a sign while I ran my in-home daycare business and was busy with our youngest son, David, who was entering high school. Then, Don and I attended a conference where we met Rev. Art Vincent, founder of Advancing Renewal Ministries (ARM), a non-denominational organization. He told us of his ministry, traveling to foreign countries with organized short-term mission teams and helping with construction work and other projects. We knew this was God's answer to our quest to serve Him in a foreign mission. Through this ministry Don and I formed a team to travel to Haiti. Our mission: to finish construction on a new church.
That was just six months ago. Now, it was March of 1989 and we were in Haiti! Our group of fourteen American team members stuck out in the crowd -- obvious targets for beggars. The worst were the "porters." They would take a duffle bag, carry it a few feet, and then demand payment for "assisting" you. The up thrust palm was the same in any language – "pay up!" We had been warned that we were to clearly tell them "NO." With twenty-eight checked bags, many filled with clothing and quilts to donate, and our fourteen carry-ons, it was a challenging task to guard the luggage and keep it out of the hands of the aggressive porters.
With this in mind, Rev. Dale Arendt, our experienced team leader from ARM, instructed us to all circle around the bags on the luggage carts. We made our way outside to connect to our Haitian host, Rev Remus Arboret.
I was eager to meet this Haitian pastor, however the chaos made introductions impossible. Dale and the pastor concentrated on the task at hand of loading all the luggage and people onto the bus. It was amazing to watch the heavy bags being hauled to the top of the vehicle, securely strapped down, and covered with tarps, but we were even more amazed when we realized that the pastor's helpers were settling in to travel the bumpy Haitian roads balanced on top of the mound of luggage!
As I took a seat on the bus, I looked around me. I couldn't help but stare. The streets were teaming with activity, slowing us down as we traveled through the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The You Can Make a Difference video and all my personal research had not prepared me for what my eyes, ears, and heart were experiencing.
There was a sea of people!! They walked along the road, pedaled bikes, pushed carts, or led donkeys amid all the motorized traffic. The street activity consisted mostly of buses, trucks and motorcyclists. Haitians created mini roadside cafés as they cooked over charcoal fires.
Women, wearing brightly colored dresses, effortlessly carried baskets filled with fruits and baked goods on their heads. Men sat on delivery carts pulled by donkeys. Stray dogs roamed with their ribs clearly visible. The constant sound of honking vehicles filled the dusty air.