Have no doubt: the conditions in Haiti, where I recently spent a week, are appalling. Yet, amidst the scenes that overwhelm your mind and break your heart, a quiet child will reach for your hand or a white bird will take to flight from the sun-drenched rice fields.
It is in those moments that you simply pause and appreciate the sense of hope.
“I feel like I could never get tired of how beautiful it is,” said Amy Srock, one of my travel companions.
Nineteen people associated with New Joy Church in Lancaster County, Pa., left March 2 for Haiti through Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Once there, we put a roof on a church, repainted about 10 houses, and ministered to people through Bible distribution and a prison visit.
I consider myself to be fairly well traveled and thought I had seen poverty before, particularly in Central America, but the sights from the bus window in Port-au-Prince were staggering. There, people defecated and urinated in trash-filled roadside trenches as emaciated goats munched on debris feet away.
People remain in tent cities three full years after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that ravaged the capital city of Port-au-Prince and dispersed its residents into the countryside. Many of the people not in tents are in small, oft-leaning structures formed from mud and straw.
It is easy to become overwhelmed and think nothing can be done to make a difference. When I felt that way, though, teammate Travis Wolf told me that he helped to build the first house in Balale in 2009 and was returning now to construct a church in the community, so he could see progress.
After rain delays, we finally set out for Balale on our third morning in the country. A flood in 2007 destroyed the small community surrounded by a vast expanse of brush.
“Some of them were living in trees because the water was so high,” said Wayne Snow, director of YWAM Haiti’s St. Marc campus.
YWAM Haiti is not only changing the mindsets of the Haitian adults who grew up with voodoo, but also the youngest residents who might not fully understand the presence of the white people piled into the beds of work trucks. What they know is those people make a positive difference. They ran alongside the trucks waving and chanting “Ter-ry! Ter-ry!” for the founder of YWAM Haiti, Terry Snow.
The children reached out for high-fives and hand-holding, begged to be photographed, and poked our white skin and stroked our differently textured hair. On Monday, a translator helped me start a game of “duck, duck, goose” (“kanna, kanna, poul”) for Balale’s children, and we learned that laughter and clapping are a shared language.
In the mid-1980s, American Terry Snow was praying that God send more workers to Haiti for its harvest.
“God spoke to his heart — ‘you,’” said his son, Wayne Snow.
Terry Snow felt the Lord was telling him to look for a letter, so he went to the post office, only to find he didn’t have any mail. Later, a man stopped Terry Snow and said he had picked up his mail to be helpful.
Among the mail that day was an envelope containing a letter from someone offering land in St. Marc, Haiti, for a missions base. Terry Snow moved his young family from Texas to Haiti, where they found themselves struggling quite a bit for about seven years.
“It was a time in our life when we were questioning why we were here,” said Wayne Snow, now 23.
Time and again, the Snows read Zechariah 8:13, in which God tells the people of Judah and Israel to be a blessing to the nations. “Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong,” the scripture states.
YWAM Haiti went to the Haitian people with the message that it might seem that man (politicians in particular) has forgotten them, but God has not. The organization provided food, better homes and hope, all the while saying that “we come in the name of Jesus, and Jesus does that,” according to Wayne Snow.