The Haiti Initiative - Mission Report from Nancy Hibbard - January 2004

In January 2004, Nancy Hibbard traveled to Haiti. This is her report of her latest experience.

Fruit That Will Last

In John 15, Jesus says, "You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last."

Sometimes at the end of a medical mission, I am in awe at the dedication and hard work of the doctors, nurses, translators, and other volunteers who, daily, treated in excess of 150 patients. I then ask myself, "But did you bear fruit that will last?" Other than counting pills and translating daily dosages, what good was I? But after some time and further consideration, I recalled several events-not of doing anything remarkable, but of using the simple gifts that God has given me...the gifts of feeling, touching, sharing, and empathizing. I looked at the photos of friends-old and new--people who endure tremendous suffering and I saw them having fun, smiling, and laughing.

For instance, we celebrated the Feast of the Kings combined with a surprise birthday party for one of the guys we met on a previous trip. I can't remember seeing a happier group of people as we bobbed for tomatoes and passed raw eggs on spoons held in our mouths from one individual to another. In the midst of a land of hunger and misery, the laughter and excitement were at fever pitch. Definitely, it was a 30th birthday party that will not soon be forgotten.

Still, I find myself doubting the value of my presence until I re-read the letters that I received-"I would like to spend all the time with you," and "my dear mom, all I am is because of you," and "I work my mind to find the words for saying to you thanks but they are impossible to find. Only God knows how much you mean to me, " and "I had no hope before you entered my life," and "when I speak with you, I see a true mother who knows all things about her son, a true mother who gives life, love, heart, thought, group and soul for her son. It's a sacrifice. Thanks, thanks, thanks." With each letter, I realize it's not the magnitude of anything I do, but the love and sincerity with which I do it. Truly I love the Haitian people-each and every one of them. I am reminded of Martin Luther King's words, "Anybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject & verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." And Philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset said, "Love is that splendid triggering of human vitality…the supreme activity which nature affords anyone for going out of himself toward someone else." In a world that values work above play, brainpower above simplicity, and worldly goods over things that last for eternity, I realize once again how simple and different I am.

Kristala is an example of a life changed, not in a big way, but definitely altered. When we found her, she had but one torn dress, dangling from her shoulder, no shoes, no socks, no money. Literally, she had nothing but the clothes on her back. Imagine, 10 years old, begging for scraps from passersby, and sleeping alongside the road. She shared her pain-no parents, abused by a malevolent uncle, crying out for love and attention. She was a child just like any child, wanting to feel safe, to laugh and play, to know that she mattered. All she asked for was a little food and a dress clean enough to attend church. Some of us listened to her story and felt motivated to help. While one of the Haitians went to town to buy her a new wardrobe (7 dresses, socks, shoes, underwear, book bag, notebook, and pencils), we lathered her with love (and soap), creamed her little body, and told her how lovely she was. Her eyes sparkled as she gazed in the mirror. Maybe, for the first time in her life, she felt special-really special. Next we made arrangements for her to go to school and found a place for her to live. When Sunday rolled around, she proudly entered church, fashionably dressed. She seated herself like a little lady beside each of us who had pampered her, and soon fell asleep with her head on my shoulder. As I listened to the sermon, my mind wandered back to Oprah's recent RV special, and her commitment to the children of South Africa. Her one desire was that the children knew someone loved them and cared-even if only for a day. I had no doubt that Kristala would remember this week for the rest of her life, not for anything significant that we had done, but because a few people took the time to heed the cry of the poor.

It is for people like this that I have been attempting to simplify my life, and to learn to appreciate everything I so often take for granted. The words of Jesus to sell everything & follow Him reverberate in my heart. So, while in Jèrèmie, I interviewed for a position at with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and accepted a job teaching computers and English.

People sometimes question my sanity, asking, "Why?" and "Doesn't the poverty make you sad?" Of course, it makes me sad, but it somehow calls me just the same. I know not how long I will stay, but when/if I return, I know I will have learned more than I could ever possibly teach. I realize I'll miss my Diet Coke and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but the people of Haiti have so much to teach me in that matter too. I can teach nouns and verbs, fonts and attachments, but they can educate me about doing without. I wish I could say I don't to go abroad to learn simplicity-that I could just save my money and stay in the USA, eating small amounts of food and drinking only water, but no… I can't. In the midst of the security, comfort and ease, I remain self-centered. I waste too much when others live so modestly. I have too many shoes when others have none. I eat when I'm not hungry, while others go for days without anything. Here, if I desire a vacation, I book my flight and go. If I need a stereo, I purchase it. Cars, clothes, restaurants-with only a fleeting thought of those who have nothing. How can I deny myself in this land of wealth and abundance? Don't get me wrong-I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these things, but I believe I will be a better person if I do less for myself and more for others. After all, wouldn't the whole world be a better place if all those who have more than they need would share with those who have nothing?

I am so inspired by the people of Haiti-their happiness despite the poverty-that I truly want to live amongst them. Sometimes, I lay down on my bed with tears in my eyes and thank God for my bed-a luxury that many people around the world have never experienced. Soon, I too will be living without the many comforts I have always enjoyed, yet I already know that the heat, water shortages, hunger, and myriad of other problems will be outweighed by the joy that comes from living among the people I love. The satisfaction I get from doing something small for someone-to maybe help a few people live a little better-coupled with the commands of Jesus to love my neighbor as myself will more than make up for what I'm leaving behind. I know I am but one person, but I am willing. I cannot do much, but I can do something. And by the grace of God, I will try to do what He calls me to do.

I can already imagine some aspects of living in Haiti-for sure I will be the main attraction for a while-a strange sight-this white woman who makes a lot of errors when attempting to speak Creole and likes to have fun with the influential as well as the insignificant. I can envision eating less, but probably healthier. There will be less (or nothing) thrown out, no leftovers in the fridge (cuz there's no fridge). I'll laugh a lot but most likely cry a lot too. After all, I'm not accustomed to 1 out of 2 children dying before the age of 5 and people dying in their 40s. Since Haitians don't normally cry, who will understand the frequent tears that flow from my eyes? I'll do my best to stay healthy, as there is only 1 doctor for every 10,000 people and no insurance. I'll get used to the differences and accept what God gives. I know I'll get tired from speaking another language; it's a draining task. Even after 2 weeks, sometimes I am exhausted at day's end from persuading the words out of my mouth. And I'll have to get used to sitting back & watching the passage of time. With so little of everything, there's always downtime. I'm used to deadlines, responsibilities, projects, baking, cleaning, working, and teaching. I'll have to learn to relax a bit-just enjoying the company of my new neighbors. Somehow, though, that already seems easier in a land of little. It won't be like here-no libraries, no email (well maybe occasionally when there is current), no swimming pools, no movies, no stores, no magazines, and nothing printed in English anyway. I'll have my computer & I'll make a sincere attempt to write each day.

Haiti is currently in the midst of a political and financial crisis. Like usual, the rich have enough to survive but the already starving are getting poorer by the day. In a country where 87% are unemployed and the average wage is something like 80 cents per day, we recently paid $10/gallon for gas! Many people are living in fear of the daily manifestations, shootings, and civil unrest, so this will also be so be a time for experiencing how people survive in the midst of fighting and turmoil--a time that will demand courage and faith. Yet, I cannot let fear keep me from doing the things I'm supposed to do. I believe that God has blessed me in order to be a blessing to others. I pray I am worthy of the call.