“I have never seen so much grass in my life! Can you believe all the grass?” He exclaimed as he ran around the fields at the Olympic Center in Haiti. His smile was so big, so enthusiastic that I thought it would split his sweet, little face.
An open space to play tag.
The ability to engage in athletics.
Joining a soccer team.
Participating in gymnastics.
These are all things we often don’t think about twice. Play is a concept we never separate from images of childhood because it’s the rhythm of our lives, but the kids we serve in Haiti have a different story.
Two years ago, I had a dream to connect American Ninja Warrior with World Orphans in hopes of using their platform to engage viewers with the orphan crisis. Through a sequence of events, multiple conversations, and a massive amount of heavenly favor poured out, we took a group of 12 ninjas from NBC’s hit show American Ninja Warrior to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Our goal was simple—we wanted to create an atmosphere of fun where kids had the space and time to play.
When I first started planning this trip, I called Sr. Director of Church Partnership Kevin Squires to get some insight on where we should host our ninja camp. I will never forget the lack of hesitation when he confidently said, “Haiti! You have to do this in Haiti!” He began to tell me that he had been to Haiti over 22 times, and the one thing that consistently stood out to him was how the ability to play is not developed in the lives of Haitian children. When I heard this, I couldn’t fully grasp the meaning behind such a statement. I remember thinking to myself, “Kids don’t understanding the concept of play? What does that even mean?”
That statement echoed in my head the first time I drove down the streets of Port-au-Prince. I didn’t see one blade of grass. There were no open spaces to run. Children—at a young age— were working to help support their families. In that moment, I realized that this was the perfect place to host a sports camp for kids.
On Saturday, November 18, 2017, we hosted the first Haiti Ninja Warrior Camp. I saw smiles that will forever be ingrained in my head. I heard shrieks of laughter that sounded like a symphony of music. I saw determination and shouts of glee when an obstacle was completed with success. I saw children playing with total abandon.
None of us could’ve prepared ourselves for the amount of joy we witnessed through the simple act of providing a space for kids to engage in play. Each one of us—children and volunteers alike—walked away from that moment changed.
Kevin, seemingly awestruck, looked at me and said, “I have never seen these kids have so much fun!”
Isn’t this so like our God? In the midst of survival and brutal life conditions, God provides a place of rest, an opportunity to breathe deep, and a chance to be reminded that joy can be found in the simplicity of life. So, take a deep breath, my friends, and engage in the wonder of life.
Rest in his sovereignty and know the richness of life that is found in his steady embrace.