“Where America is rich, Haiti is poor. Where Haiti is rich, America is poor,” Kevin Lee, a group leader with the Global Orphan Project, said.
Lee shared this sentiment with the five Northwest students who went on a life-changing journey to Haiti during the final week of Christmas break.
Lee was talking about the Haitian people’s faith in God. Haiti may be full of poverty, but Lee said he believes the people’s love for Christ makes Haiti great.
In just under 11,000 square miles, Haiti has 760 orphanages. Many of these orphans have at least one living parent, but those parents do not have the resources needed to raise a child, according to independent.co.uk. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 168 out of 187 on the 2014 Human Development Index (UNPD 2015).
This may just be the reason why Bearcats were called to serve there.
Junior Zac Miller helped organize the mission trip to Haiti, a country he served in twice before.
“I wanted to organize this trip because I have had all of these awesome experiences and I wanted to see people see God in the way I did,” Miller said.
Miller asked some of his friends and proposed the trip after his cross-country and track Bible study.
“God kept bringing new people to me,” Miller said. “We ended up with an awesome group.”
The students flew to Haiti and began their mission at Source de la Grace, an orphanage right across the street from their hotel. They visited several other orphanages and a school called Pathways.
At 18-years-old, orphans are forced to leave the orphanages. Global Orphan Project funds Pathways, a school open to these 18-year-old orphans. While at the schools, the orphans learn a trade in two years to help them obtain a job.
Twelve students went on the trip: five from Northwest and two high school students.
One of those students was sophomore therapeutic recreation major Jozie Reeter.
“I have prayed about a mission trip for a long time,” Reeter said. “I either wanted to go to Haiti or Africa, but I had never had an opportunity to go that worked with my schedule.”
At the beginning of the semester, sophomore Austin Kraft let Reeter know about an opportunity to go to Haiti and told her to talk to Miller if she was interested.
It ended up working out, and Reeter said she has no regrets about how she spent the last week of her break.
“It was absolutely amazing. It is one of the best things I have done in my life, definitely life changing,” Reeter said.
Another one of the group leaders stressed to the students the importance of realizing the beauty within Haiti.
“We were told to look at Haiti through two lenses while we were there: brokenness and beauty,” Reeter said. “Instead of just focusing on how broken it was and on all of the poverty, we had to find time to see the beauty.”
The group worked in orphanages and saw children who were left with nothing; the brokenness was easy to see.
“It is easy to focus on everything Haiti didn’t have, but the beauty was so present in how each of these kids loved and knew Jesus,” Reeter said.
The students stayed in a hotel next door to an orphanage. When they first arrived, Reeter heard someone calling out to them. She turned to see a girl standing on top of a building, looking at them over the wall.
“Her name was Jouselande,” Reeter said. “She asked me to come over and talk to her, so I did. A couple times a day we stood and talked to each other and we would sometimes have our translator help us.”
When the two finally got the chance to meet face-to-face, Jouselande had a plan.
“She came up to me and asked for my help. For 45 minutes, we scooped up handfuls of rocks and ran to the other side of the village, and dumped them out over piles of mud and water so other people didn’t have to walk through it,” Reeter said. “We did it over and over again. It was one of my favorite memories.”
Miller also recruited fellow track runner senior Jake Stansbury to go on the trip.
This was not Stansbury’s first overseas mission trip; he went to Trinidad and Tobago when he was in fifth grade. Although he said the two mission trips were similar, Haiti was more deprived.
“One of my favorite memories is Hinche, an orphanage. When we were about to leave, I took out my phone and asked one of the kids in Haitian Creole if he loved Jesus,” Stansbury said.
The child replied he did love Jesus and all of the other kids around Stansbury started speaking. When they were traveling back, Stansbury asked the translator what the children said.
“They said ‘I love Jesus because he is our savior, he is our big brother, he is our king, because he is our friend,’” Stansbury said. “Hearing that was so encouraging. They know who Jesus is and although we are leaving them, we don’t have to worry about them and their eternal lives.”
This trip was Miller’s third in the last year. He has gone with a different organization each time, but has always done the same type of work.
“I keep going back because I love the people and loving seeing their love for Christ and other people,” Miller said. “Also, I miss the kids I get to know. When I got off the bus on my second trip, there were kids who knew who I was. They recognize you and want you there.”
Because Miller has gone several times, there are a couple of kids he has gotten closer to.
“Enoch and Darlin are two I have really gotten to know and grow close with,” Miller said. “Enoch and I will run around and play tag for hours.”
Each time Miller goes to Haiti, he meets new children and builds relationships with them.
“I met one of the sweetest kids ever named Walky,” Miller said. “He was a blast to play with. I really want to see him again one day.”
Watching other people experience what Miller had seen before was one of Miller’s favorite parts of the trip.
“The thing I learned the most was when we are faithful to what God is putting in our hearts, we can have a major impact on those around us,” Miller said. “So in this case, God was calling me to not only go back to Haiti, but to bring people with me.”
Each night, the groups met together and reflected over their days. Miller was impressed each day to see how engaged his peers were with God and the mission before them.
Leaving Haiti was a major struggle for the students, both in a literal and a figurative sense.
The flight out of Haiti was delayed for two hours and when the group finally landed in Miami, they had 50 minutes to get through customs and meet their connecting flight.
Miller and another student ran across the airport to try and put a hold on the flight while the other students caught up.
“We got there at 9:54 and the plane left at 10:00, but there wasn’t anyone at the desk,” Miller said. “The flight was even delayed until 10:25, but they wouldn’t let us on. We sat there for 30 minutes, watching our plane. We had to stay in Miami for another two nights until we found another flight.”
Despite the chaos, the students enjoyed having another day of fellowship.
However, saying goodbye to the children was the biggest challenge for Reeter, Stansbury and Miller.
“In Haiti, I was surrounded with other Christians and didn’t have any distractions like social media or texting,” Reeter said. “Getting back here and picking up on how much people complain, including myself, is challenging. It’s a lot of changing your thoughts and perceptions.”
Miller had a hard time saying goodbye because he did not know when he would be returning.
“It was challenging to leave the kids for the third time,” Miller said. “Every other trip, I knew I would be returning, but this time I don’t know when I will be going back, whether it's in months or several years from now.”
Most of the kids in Haiti do not have access to technology, so it is hard for the volunteers and orphans to stay connected.
Stansbury had a hard time coming back and seeing everything he had, compared to what little the children he worked with had.
“Coming back was difficult after seeing what we saw,” Stansbury said. “It was hard to see what we have and how easy it was to take it all for granted.”
Each of the students are excited to see where God sends them next. But Reeter reminds people they do not have to go to Haiti to make a difference.
“You think to do mission work or to see brokenness you have to go to another country,” Reeter said. “But we have brokenness here that we are blind to. We try to push it away and ignore it and say other places have more problems. There is still work to be done here as well as other places.”