I'm back--touched down in Chicago last night, shortly after 9pm. My trip to Haiti, led by my friends Kent Annan and John Engle with Haiti Partners, was a whirlwind--five days including travel, too short a time to do anything but look and listen. I'll try to post some photos here, at my other blog (Strangely Dim) and on my Facebook page over the next several days, and I'll be processing my experience for much longer than that, I'm sure. But I thought I'd post a quick note now, as a thank-you to those of you who prayed for me and otherwise helped me make this trip, and as an invitation for all of us to pray for Haiti not just now but always, and to keep our eyes open to opportunities to help the people of Haiti recover from this earthquake and raise the next generation of its leaders.
This was not a crying trip. We saw things that can break a heart--some two million people living in tent cities or on the street, trucks and workers still uncovering and carting off the dead, people with lost limbs or loved ones. But this was not a crying trip: this trip was oddly joyous.
That caught me off guard. I expected to be despondent, enraged, petrified, but I didn't expect to rejoice. It was probably partly because we were so regularly surrounded by kids--Haiti Partners concentrates its energies on education issues--and those kids like to laugh. A lot. We sang and danced and clapped and played catch and jumped rope and chased one another and made googly eyes at one another, and we laughed and laughed and laughed.
It was likely also because the team that does the work of Haiti Partners--Kent, John, his wife Merleene (I'm guessing on the spelling), trainer and our translator Benajay (again, I apologize for my phonics), and videographer Luke Renner--have wild senses of humor that stop short of the gallows but sit squarely on the earth. They've been running nonstop for five months now, and they laugh as intensely as they work.
It was also likely because of the team that I traveled with, which included a couple of precocious college students (one, Mariana considering missions as a vocation; the other, Travis, my roommate and a musician interested in urban development), an international development think-tank staffer (Jonathan), a journalist with Operation Blessing (Holly), and two of my authors--Kent, whose book Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle is a great showcase of Haiti pre-earthquake and who has directed his royalties toward the work of Haiti Partners, and Jamie Arpin-Ricci, who serves as an urban monastic pastor in Winnipeg, a city that this winter will experience temperatures 180 degrees colder than we experienced over the weekend. For a group of people who had never met one another, we got along famously.
But more than anything, this trip was oddly joyous because the Haitians I met are as resolute as they are resilient. Andre, the principal of two churches and religious director of the utterly devastated (with the exception of the tabernacle which holds the blessed sacrament) Catholic church we joined for worship on Sunday, told us "Discouragement isn't Christian" and encouraged us that "if you're alive, God has work for you to do." Enel, who was on the third floor of a six-story university building on January 12, summed up his work in education reform and revitalization with the phrase "We have hope out in front of us." On and on and on, we met creative, imaginative, dedicated Haitians, in the cities and the country, who are passionate about seeing children empowered, encouraged, and set on a path to shape their country's future. And we met similarly passionate children who hang on tight to the joy of education and who understand clearly that knowledge is not just for the intellect, not even just for the person, but for the greater good.
I respect tears, believe me, but this was not a crying trip. This was a celebration. You should get in on it.