By Darci Irwin | Director of Rescue Teams
The beat of steel drums and playful children kept me awake during my first night in Haiti a few weeks ago. Yet even if the world had been quiet, the noise in my head would have alerted me as I processed all the first day sights, smells, and sounds in Port-au-Prince. I laid there with my head on a soft pillow, feeling the gentle breeze of an oscillating fan, and pondered how 75% of the people on that very soil lived on less than $2 that day. Being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere due to overpopulation, deforestation, soil erosion, hurricanes, earthquakes and pollution, two-thirds of the people are under or unemployed, and I frantically searched for hope. As I drifted to sleep amidst the drumbeats and my approximately one million thoughts, I prayed, “God, show me what you’re already doing. I know you’re here.”
I am new to the World Orphans team, having officially joined the staff on January 2 this year, so my heart is a sponge and my eyes are wide. My learning curve is steep, yet it hasn’t taken long to realize that while my intentions to help are rooted in beauty, my steps can be misguided if I am not aware of my own poverty.
Before leaving for Haiti people asked me, “How will your heart be able to take it?” I didn’t know for sure, but I believed my life was preparing me for this trip. Actively I pushed away the voice of doubt that sneered, “What do you think you’re doing? You’re not ready. Do you think one week will actually do any good? You know the people will feel exploited by you anyway, so don’t even go,” and instead, listened to the Voice that said, “You’re enough. What you know right now is enough. The love you will bring is enough. And what you’ll be shown is also enough.”
The following six days included painful images. Yes, what we saw shocked our senses. Yes, layers of concrete and rubble outline the country. Yes, many children are rootless and unschooled, meandering the streets during the day. Yes, 300,000 people remain in the tent city district since the earthquake, an area that is horrifyingly unsafe and unsanitary. Yes, many dogs are wandering and sickly. And my heart reminded me, “This is not the way things were meant. We were created for something more.”
I soon noticed my choices: a choice to collapse within myself in despair, or a choice to mine for beauty; a choice to ignore my own pain narrative and elevate myself, or enter the pain I saw by acknowledging my own; a choice to sarcastically doubt that any work matters, or believe in the promise of ultimate healing. I chose beauty. I chose empathy. I chose hope. Recognizing my own levels of poverty allows my heart to resonate with others in their pain, because when we recognize that none of us live as things were meant, and that we were all created for something more, we can meet each other in true relationship.
And that’s what I experienced in Haiti. Despite all our differences, I experienced true relationship: the kind that gives - when you look at a desperate woman in the eyes, who is trying to give you her child, and communicate you are with her, for her, and hoping on her behalf when she’s lost hope for herself; and the kind that receives - where after church on Sunday an elderly woman makes her way to you and says, “I feel like you are my friend and I am praying strength over your life.”
Each moment felt like more than enough.
When I returned, some said, “Oh, didn’t you just want to take them all home?” While my spirit wishes for an end to all destruction and poverty, my inclination wasn’t to bring people with me but rather to help instill dignity, purpose, hope, healing, and motivation to the lives of the Haitians who have felt beaten down for far too long, to help bring beauty to their current situation and empower them to work towards the redemption that is possible this side of heaven. I want to join in what God is already doing in Haiti, helping bring rescue because I’ve been rescued. I’m realizing the key is walking and dreaming together.
Now that I’m home, I still hear the beat of those steel drums and the laughter of children, and they motivate me to joyfully and rhythmically speak on behalf of my new friends, for the shalom I long for all of us to experience.