If you are haven't read the first post about my husband's recent trip to Haiti, you must read THIS first before reading this post.
I wish I could take the credit for the amazing post you are about to read, but all the credit goes to our friend Jay would traveled with my husband J to Haiti April 26-May 2. Here's Jay:
We rode down a long driveway with exotic trees, and piled stone leading us up to a security wall with a large steel gate. It felt like entering another world we had yet to see in Haiti. It was gorgeous. The mountain we had climbed was staring back at us smiling, and beneath it, and giant courtyard, with large white concrete buildings making up the Hands and Feet Compound. We tumbled out of the van only to be greeted by a mass of cheering children hugging us and checking our pockets for candy. They had done this before.
Michelle Mease led the orphanage. She gave us the tour and told us the story. 45 children called Hands & Feet home and everyone one had a story. 5 different buildings house children. It was a strange feeling. I expected to come to an orphanage and feel badly for the children. I've been to orphanages before in other countries, but this was different. Compared to what I had already seen in my half-day in Haiti, I knew these children were treated like kings and queens. They were affectionate and sweet and well-adjusted. They did not scream for attention, instead they gave hugs and kisses like that was what children freely did and were supposed to do. And it is.
The men I went with were from all different backgrounds all connecting back to Chris. It was clear that several of them were used to efficiency, and getting the project done, and well... actual work. They were ready to get to it. Our job was to do whatever Hands & Feet needed. Chris told us last year he painted a little and put together a swing set, but mostly they played with the kids. I noticed some pretty significant construction going on with about 8 workers getting after it. Michelle fixed us lunch, roasted chicken. Pretty sure the chicken was alive a few hours before. I woozily wandered out to see what the other guys were about to get into, still feeling the van ride motion sickness, and now a type of work I was clearly not used to.
I grabbed the shiny new work gloves I brought, and gingerly climbed the homemade extension ladder to the second story where concrete blocks were being passed up and then again up another step ladder that should have been retired. All the other guys were already in place, so I was processed to the roof, while the Haitian co-workers laughed at me for being so pale, and obviously out of my element. The heat was pounding down on me. It felt like I was closer to the sun that any other time in my life. The next thing I know... 30 minutes pass of an assembly line of tossing concrete blocks (20lbs) and placing them on the roof. The speed was incredible. They looked like they were passing pillows, and I was the only white guy in site. I figured the other guys were down on the second floor admiring my passion and work-drive, or they were much smarter and slower, and probably drinking water.
Minute 25 I realized that throwing up was inevitable. Minute 28 I thought I was going to pass out. Minute 29 I imagined I was going to stop sweating and die of dehydration. Minute 30 I stepped out of the line and bent over to catch my breath. They all laughed at me. Apparently it had been a game to see how fast they could wear me out. I looked over at Larry and he smiled, and said, I'll tell you later. Larry by the way, wasn't doing anything but watching. I hated Larry at that moment.
I struggled down the ladder after barely half of one hour. I fought myself from letting go of the ladder all together on the long one- just so I might never have to work again. I somehow found myself at the water jug of "American-safe" water to drink and sat down on the front porch in a rocking chair. All the other guys came down too and grabbed some water, and one gung ho alpha male (out of the many that were on the trip) came over and said, "fun, huh?" I wiped my brow and said, "I'm just trying not to throw up." They all laughed. They thought I was funny. I wasn't being funny.
Back to work. I couldn't hardly see straight. My knees were starting to shake. Sweat was rolling off of me and everyone else. Concrete block after block after block. I finally pulled away for another break. It was probably 2:30 by this time, not knowing that 3:00 would be stopping time for the real workers, since they had been at since 6am, because Larry was a mute who enjoyed seeing white preachers suffer.
I wanted to lay down and die. Gung Ho came back over to me, and said, "Are you going to say anything to us." I said, "No really, I'm trying not to throw up." They laughed again. I walked into the bathroom, shut the door, and gave up the fight. I have never expelled that much fluid in my life. I felt like a fire hydrant being turned on for kids to play in on the street.
I wiped my mouth, changed my shirt, and went back at it. That was almost 3pm of my my first day of a mission trip that would be 5 full days in Haiti. Surely, it would get better from here, right?
I was wrong about Larry.
I had survived the night and actually felt much better. For all basic purposes, I might as well have been on another planet. This planet did not have cell phone coverage, air conditioning during the day, nor warm water. The only great thing about it- I wasn't alone. All seven of us were going through a bit of withdrawal, and clearly none of us were in our element. I think Larry and Michelle were well aware of this and had a few things that for whatever reason made the world better. Larry let me in on his stash of Pepsi. They were giant glass bottles that were covered in silt seated in a wooden box that had clearly never seen a super market in the last few decades. Folks would drink em, they load everything back up, and swamp them out with a redemption discount. I'm not sure if it was for the environment or because Larry loved glass bottles. Either way- Larry totally redeemed himself.
Schedule was everything. The students went to school, came back to their home with 40+ siblings, played, did chores, and all ate supper together. By 8pm the crew at Hands & Feet had everyone in there rooms. We would all sit on the porch, rock in chairs, and listen to Michelle and Larry. From March to September they hosted groups like us to come and help with the ministry and get a taste of Haiti. The orphanage was sweet, and Haiti was gritty. At one point, I asked Michelle if she grew tired of answering the same questions ( I already knew what Larry thought about it!). You could tell she didn't mind and was just happy to communicate in English with adults. Larry was two different people. There was Larry the crew leader, protector of equipment, and keeper of order, and then there was Larry the father figure to his children. It was amazing to see the visible love that Larry and Michelle had for these orphans.
Michelle's every thought revolved around her different kids. She loved to talk about their progress, intelligence, and where she thought they would end up working in life. Some doctors, some mechanics, and even a pastor or two.
They loved to tell the redemption stories. Michelle started with one about Larry and Larry would interject if he felt the need. A baby was left in the care of Michelle and they were looking for placement of her. Natalie had no where to go, and a children's facility fell through for taking care of her. Larry agreed to care for her for 30 days. His words, "I can do anything for 30 days." After a few days in, Larry went to work, and caregivers came in to help with Natalie since she appeared to have some disabilities. They called him after he'd been gone most of the day, and said Natalie had been screaming all day. Larry came home, and when he walked in, she immediately stopped crying. 30 days turned into an adoption. Natalie has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair. She requires constant attention, but she lights up when Larry walks in. Redemption.
Kirby is two years old and lightning fast. Michelle said to let her know if we saw a little boy running around without his shoes and possibly without his pants. "He can't hear, so don't yell for him... just let me know." We were told that Kirby should not be alive. His condition is microcephaly. His head is smaller than it should be and it almost always- the child never survives. Kirby's only apparent issue is a lack of hearing. Michelle plans on teaching all 40 children sign language and has already picked out a local boy to help Kirby learn how to communicate. Bigger than that, It is possible that with the right doctors, and medical care, some of Kirby's hearing might be restored. I have a feeling that Kirby's story of redemption is far from over
Each child had their story. Michelle and Larry seemed to know them all. This wasn't a situation where someone answered an add for a job. This was not a 40 hour a week- something to do- until the next thing comes open. This was a calling, and it was clear that Michelle & Larry were called. They told a story of a baby being brought to them. The parents came to them, "We had five children and four have died of starvation. We'd like one to survive." and they left the baby there. Another's mother had died of Aids, and the baby tested positive for HIV. We visited this beautiful baby in the children's hospital ( a room with 30 metal cribs, 30 children, and two ceiling fans). Michelle's prayer was for the mom's blood to carry the HIV and in a few months, when they tested again, the little baby would not have the life ending virus so he could come and live at Hands & Feet. I want that too.
Crystala topped them all. Her mother was 15 and when she knew she was going to deliver, instead of going to a hospital, or telling someone else, she went into a public restroom (4 toilet stalls lined up like out houses) and delivered a baby girl. After watching life itself come from within her, the mother threw Crystala away. She dropped her down the toilet and walked out.
A young boy saw the girl come out with blood all over her, and knew she had been pregnant. He ran over to the bathroom and could hear the cry of a baby. He called the police. The UN police arrived, and dug down over 28 feet through filth, disease, and human waste hoping to find a baby. Michelle showed me the video. Crystala survived two births in one day. She escaped from a mother who didn't want her, and she was saved by concerned boy, UN workers, and a loving God who must certainly have big plans for her life. Redemption.
I held the three year old Crystala in my lap. When she looked at you, you wanted to cheer for her. I was watching a living, breathing, and laughing miracle.
Lying in my bunk that night, thankful for the fan that circulated cool night air, I couldn't help but think about how God is in the redemption business. I saw his love on display through Michelle and through Larry. They are more than employees of Hands & Feet. They are protectors of the weak. They are advocates of the defenseless. They are in the redemption business, and business is booming.