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Meet Our Brothers and Sisters in Haiti

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There are some stories I’m simply not willing to water down or skip over details for the sake of a reader-friendly 500-1,000 word blog post. This is one of those stories. This, in honor of our brothers and sisters in Haiti, especially Antonio.

I watched the sun rise over Haiti. It was Tuesday, October 16, 2012.

Our family was cruising on one of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships, Freedom of the Seas, with stops at Haiti, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and Mexico. Haiti was our first stop. Haiti, a port that especially piqued my interest when we booked the cruise.

I thought we’d spend the day visiting an orphanage where family friends are adopting two children, only to discover the orphanage was across the island, not to be traveled in one short day. I thought we’d sponsor a child and arrange for a special visit, only to discover that Royal Caribbean owns this private peninsula in Haiti known as Labadee, and doesn’t allow passengers to travel beyond the borders of that space for safety concerns.

I’ll be honest. I was a little devastated to realize I was going to be trapped in this little fenced in piece of Haiti when all I really wanted to do was go beyond the borders.

I devoured blogs about Haiti. I’d read nearly every post written by my favorite blogger, Ann Voskamp, including her trip to Haiti with Compassion International in July 2012. And the Help One Now bloggers had been in Haiti the same month we went on our cruise. A little girl referred to Kristen Howerton as “mommy” at an orphanagea father tried giving his son to Duane Scott, and Jen Hatmaker’s description of a little girl sweeping the dirt floor nearly melted my heart. I knew more than enough to say confidently there was no way I was going to spend my one day in Haiti on a roller coaster or inflatable water toy.

We discussed and decided to forgo all shore excursions that day and instead sponsor a child in Haiti through Compassion International. We planned to spend all of our dollars at the market, directly in the hands of locals.

We got off the ship as early as we could so we’d be among the first on the peninsula. The four of us walked all the way down to the end where we found the market. People were already begging us to come and see the items they had for sale. One hat for me and one for my daughter, bargained to $30 for the two. They were way overpriced (the ship sold similar hats the day before for $10), but not worth further haggling considering what we knew about the need. We bought a handmade sword for our son, and a mini painting, handmade easel and magnet for us. The man next door begged, pleaded for us to visit, pointing out #4 on his tag. I told him we’d be back later.

It was our two oldest kids’ first visit to another country and first time at the ocean. They were behaving like brats when we got to the beach that morning. I told them I was so sick of hearing them complain, I was going to write down what they said. “I hate this zipper.” “This is too rocky.” “This is the dumbest place ever.” “Agh! I want to go to the market.” “All you guys do is sit.” “Wow mom.” With all seriousness, I reminded them that there are people on this island that might not have a thing to eat today, and they’re complaining about rocks and zippers.

My husband and I decided this was not working, so we planned to bring the kids back to the ship so they could partake in the day’s childrens’ activities. First, though, we were going back to the market. I thought the market trip might be rewarding bad behavior, but quickly learned it was just what the kids needed.

This time, we went up on the right, past the colorful display of canvas. When we came to the first row of vendors, Max came out to greet, introduced himself, invited us in, “No obligation,” he said. “Come see. We are family.” We barely got in, plaques were on the right at eye level carved with God Bless This Family and Jesus is My Boss. “You like these? Which one do you want?,” said Max. Sure, we’ll get one of these, I thought. Why not? Although I hadn’t a second to look at anything else. We bought the plaque and met the woman with Max, who I assumed was his mother and whose name I couldn’t understand. But she was warm and inviting, so after buying a small square pot, I gave her a hug.

Next there was Margaret. She showed us dolls she sewed herself, oddly similar to ones we noted at Downtown Disney two days prior, only these black and red and white and so much more authentic, ALL painstakingly hand stitched I noticed days later. We bought a doll and I took Margaret’s name. Her smile was motherly and full of pride and joy over our love for this doll she’d crafted.

It took me a while to realize that a man had taken our bag with plaque, doll, and pot, and was guiding us to his booth down the row. He offered to carve our name on the plaque we’d purchased at Max’s booth. He carved PEDERSON on the back and showed us his wares, asking if we wanted anything else. The kids, likely completely overwhelmed, had not a want for anything. “Sword?” said Derby. Already got one when we first arrived. “Bracelet?” Max had given us one. “Nothing? You don’t want anything?” Derby said. My heart broke. All I could keep thinking was my kids want for nothing, and it’s possible this man might need for everything. To want for nothing, to need for everything, both unimaginable in that moment. I found myself embarrassed for my children, our culture of excess, of everything all around. The look on his face when the kids wanted nothing was seared on my heart forever. My kids wanting nothing might mean him not eating today, tomorrow. He wasn’t just sad, he was disappointed, a devastated kind of disappointment. I could see it in his eyes. A reason for payment came to my mind – I paid him for carving our name on the plaque, thanked him generously, and left. Many others were calling for us. Looking back, I realize this moment was in a complete frenzy, another state. I was barely processing what was happening. We should’ve stayed longer at Derby’s place. The look in his eyes haunts me to this day. And you can see in my daughter’s face, she felt his need too.

Jocelun led us to his place. He said in reference to my son, all wrapped up in his cruise ship towel, “He is my friend. I like him.” Jocelun touched my son gently on the shoulder. Before I knew it, Jocelun had a blue and white necklace on my son. Yes, we would buy. I asked for his name, I couldn’t understand so he wrote. He scratched JOCELUN on my tablet. He said again to my son “I like you. You are my friend.” Tears streamed, I was overwhelmed. Jocelun wanted me to take another look. I told him I’d promised a man down the row we’d come back to visit. Only $2 left, I wanted it to go to this man and keep my promise. Jocelun realized I was serious, so as he led me to the other man’s booth, he said “He’s a nice man. Go.

Wilfred was his name. Friendly man. Pots 2 for $5, he said. He accepted $2 for one when I told him that’s all we had left. I took his name and shook his hand. He smiled big and was clearly a warm and gentle heart.

Then the floodgates opened. A crowd of Haitian vendors were behind us, all around us. One had somehow gotten my daughter’s small pot and carved her name on it with hearts. “I want you to remember me too. You come back and you see me.” Josias was the name he wrote on my tablet. I snapped a photo.

Another man approached, wanted to write his name on this tablet of mine. Leiys, I believe it was, barely intelligible. At this point, I realized I’d stumbled upon something. These people were not only willing to share their names, they were eager. It meant something to them, more than I could grasp. They saw me writing their names on the little tablet of paper I brought in my bag and they wanted a place on that space. To be recognized, to be known, to be called by name. Isn’t that what we all want?

My husband, family, Royal Caribbean, and cruise-goers will be glad to know it was at this time I realized a security guard was close by, monitoring our interactions with the vendors, although I didn’t feel in danger, not even for a second. If I’d felt in danger, we certainly wouldn’t have been there or stayed.

We went back to the woman with Max to find out her name. Between the two of them, they struggled to know each letter, silent glances to each other before each letter to verify that was truly the right way to spell her name, Almagor.

Returning to our spot on the beach, my husband took the kids so I could process it all. I stood for a while. This was no place to sit on the beach. Finally I sat. I looked down. I’d forgotten the bag I packed at home to give to a local at this market. I looked through the photos I’d taken of the vendors we just met at the market. Was the bag for one of these? Derby. The sadness in his eyes struck me. I processed the disappointment I sensed when the kids wanted for nothing at his booth. The bag was for him and his family.

Venturing back to the market by myself, I entered by Max. Max and Margaret and Almagor approached, others literally swarmed around. I explained I’d forgotten this bag of clothes and was bringing it for Derby, four booths down. A man spoke definitively “I have a baby ma’am.” I had brought two receiving blankets and gave them to him. Margaret and Almagor were hovering, nearly reaching in my bag. One of them said “I need something.” My hands could do nothing but take out each item and give to those who were asking. A dress for one woman, a dress for another, a shirt and skirt for Margaret, two bananas for a man. Margaret gladly took the bag, “I need this.” If I’d only known, I would’ve brought another bag full, or two or three.

Then, more I didn’t anticipate. The others, swarming around to see if they could get just a piece from this bag that had been emptied and now was gone, started to tell me their names, their vendor numbers, what they needed. Too many to count, too many to even be able to notice, to process. I started writing.

Alfred, #22, clothes for a 7-year-old and 10-year-old.

Antonio, clothes for his 2-year-old son. I didn’t get his number. I wish with all my heart I would’ve.

Jackson, #19A, he pulled me aside a bit to ensure I heard his need. Men’s pants, jeans, shirts, “anything.”

Reno, I’d seen him earlier. He approached now again. “Remember me, Reno.” I wrote his name.

And Max. “Remember me. I’m the one that showed you here.”

I was empty handed. I said I’d do my best, but can’t promise. I remembered stories of Americans who promised they’d come back but never did. I didn’t want to be that person.

Before I left, those to whom I’d given lavished me with smiles and gifts and gratitude. Bracelets, a hand painted shell, a small pot, and many “God bless you.”

I returned to the beach. My husband and the kids were still gone. I looked up, looked around. There was still no time to sit. I walked the beach a bit. A mom was rushing on the shore, so mad at her kids. A man’s fat belly protruded as he sunbathed. A buffet was being set. Did they know the need just beyond the arches in the market, beyond the fence that bound us in and them out?

A Haitian man raked a patch of sand back to perfection.

As I thought and moved about, I was especially concerned about this man, Antonio, who needed clothes for his 2-year-old son. I knew I had none. I’d have to leave him empty handed, hopes dashed, or search and make a plea to some random mom. We were at the beach, a distance from the ship. A mom would have to give the clothes off of her son’s back or go all the way back to the ship to suitcases. This was my journey that day, not some other mom’s journey. Or was it? I was confused, torn. Search for a mom with a  2-year-old boy (there weren’t that many) and ask them to surrender part of their day vacationing with family to meet the needs of a man I had met at the market? I couldn’t bring myself to ask even one, but kept thinking of the moms at home and how they’d all give the shirts off their sons’ backs for this toddler in need. I kept thinking of the boxes of clothes I had sitting in our basement. I didn’t even ask one mom. Two worlds collided. The reality I saw on one side, the reality I saw on the other. Could the two connect today? Was I telling myself truth that people wouldn’t want to know or didn’t care or just wanted to enjoy the beach? I think, and believe now, that my beliefs and behaviors in regards to those 2-year-old clothes were flawed that day.

Not asking a mom remains one of my biggest regrets 16 months later. Why was I afraid to open eyes and hearts on that beach? Why not just one? Has a major distrust of humankind grown in my heart? Why do I believe strangers want to sit on the beach in oblivion more than they want to meet someone’s most basic of needs? What does it say about my character that I assume such things about others and I didn’t even ask one mom? Didn’t Jesus say that whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me? Was I only partially fulfilling this command rather than wholly by my unwillingness to ask on behalf of someone in need? 16 months later I have complete clarity – I should’ve rid myself of all pride and asked.

My husband and children returned. I explained what I’d done, listed the needs, and explained my uncertainty about the 2-year-old clothing. My husband supported the kids and I going back to the ship where we had more. It was somewhat close, but not a quick trip when considering tram, lines, security, and a long, hot pier.

I gathered a pile of clothes for Alfred, a men’s outfit for Jackson, and a pile of fruit for Antonio, the very least we could do in lieu of clothes for his son. (I have notable regrets about not getting more from the ship. We should’ve come back all hands loaded, bags and bags overflowing. Again, some of this was mere lack of time to process everything that was happening.) Security noticed all the fruit at the bottom of the bag and made us drop it in a plastic bin before we deboarded. Almost in tears, knowing I would now return empty handed to Antonio, no clothes, no fruit, nothing, I obeyed. A woman standing by said “you never know if you’re doing the right thing, do you?” Little did she know. Even my daughter knew this was bad.

We headed straight for the market. The buffet had been served while we were gone, and my husband was sitting at the beach. Once again, I was feeling a tear between these two worlds. I wanted, needed to help these people, knowing there was much to be done, but was also cognizant of the fact I was on vacation. Our precious hours together as a family were ticking away. There were only a couple hours before we had to be back on the ship.

We approached at the market. They swarmed immediately. I don’t even know how many, just swarms. So much, so fast, so overwhelming, so difficult to process it all. Alfred, Antonio, Jackson, Max, Reno and all the others were there. Alfred quietly pulled me aside to his booth. I gave him the bag of kids’ clothes, he smiled, seemed satisfied.

Then Reno was there. I’d seen him twice now. He’d told me his name and said “remember me,” but I became keenly aware at that moment that “remember me” meant something much different to Reno than me. I remembered Reno, I noticed him and would remember him beyond this place, but he wanted me to remember him because he needed to be seen, he needed something and needed that to be remembered, wholly acknowledged, tended to, acted on. I hadn’t brought anything for Reno. All I could do was give him the shirt I brought for Jackson. After all, something would be better than nothing. I gave it to him, apologizing that’s all I had. He took it, thanking profusely with “God bless you.”

Then Antonio – oh Antonio. “You remember me, I need clothes for my son.” I explained we had no clothes small enough and we tried to bring a lot of fruit for him, but security wouldn’t let us bring it off the ship. “I’m so sorry,” I said.

Jackson pulled me aside just as I was still feeling horrible about not meeting Antonio’s needs. He wanted to know what I had for him.  I’d given his shirt to Reno, so all I had was a pair of shorts. They looked big for Jackson. I asked if he had a belt, he did. “It will work,” he said.

And then there was Max. “You have anything for me? I told you to remember me too.” Yes, of course I would always remember him, but I didn’t know he, too, intended me to remember him with something, anything tangible that he needed. “I have a son,” he said. He glanced at my backpack, I took it off and looked in. My husband’s shorts and a belt he was wearing that day, my son’s shorts, and a refillable, leaking bottle of Pepsi were in the bag. When we were on the ship, I’d asked my son if I could give his shorts to the children in need. “No,” he said, “they’re my favorite.” “And the shirt,” I asked?” He was wearing both today, both his favorites. Two worlds collided, again. To honor my son and keep our trust, or take the the clothes off his back and teach him our call to give to those in need? Could my son really process that he was giving up his favorite shirt and shorts, the ones he was wearing today, for a child he couldn’t see? Doubtful, but I was still unsure. Max clearly wanted the shorts and I even began lifting them out of the bag for him, but a man overheard and said to Max “don’t push too far, it’s not good,” clarifying for Max those were the shorts my son was wearing today. This was humbling. It felt so wrong but a little right all at the same time. Right we were honoring my son and not taking the shorts from him, wrong another child’s need was going unmet. I honored the elder figure who urged Max not to push and closed my bag reluctantly. It all seemed so selfish. I could have, should have just handed over the whole bag. We would’ve done without for a couple hours.

People were still swarming all around. We were on our way out of that row, our hands empty except for the backpack. Antonio made his way forward once again. “You don’t have anything for me? I have a 2-year-old. I need clothes for my 2-year-old.” I couldn’t help but think later – Nobody in this world should have to beg a stranger for clothes for their child. What a horrible reality. I had to tell him again we don’t have little ones (pointing to my bigger children), and how we had fruit for him but it was taken away. He clearly needed those clothes so bad. I told Antonio we had to leave soon, “I’m SO sorry.” NO words would suffice. “Good bye,” I said apologetically. “Good bye.” “I’m so sorry.” They wanted to know if I’d be back. I said back to Haiti, probably not Labadee. “God Bless,” “Thank you,” is what I remember as I parted.

We returned to the beach. Cruise-goers were eating the buffet. My husband had been waiting, “perfect timing” he said. We talked about the people, what we gave, Antonio’s need for his son. My husband reminded the children that we can’t possibly help everyone, but we can help some, and that is what we’d done today. We ate. I almost became sick looking at the food, contemplated not even taking any, thinking of all the people so near in so much need. I took a burger, some fruit, an extra hot dog and two extra bananas. I passed the hot dog to a Haitian man in a band playing by the buffet, and later, gave the bananas to a man lingering behind a bar near the pier, waiting in quiet desperation on mere survival.

I took a moment to quiet myself after lunch and enjoyed the remaining moments for what they were. The beach was already clearing.

I kept thinking of Antonio still in need and how I dashed his hopes, Max, Derby too. I wanted to go back, but I was needed here now, and anything but clothes for their children would be patronizing.

My children made a sand castle. A circle of castles, one in the center. I didn’t notice its beauty and symbolism until it was complete. Two clearly imperfect, my son pointed out to my daughter “those are horrible.” My daughter tore them down plus two more. Frustrated she could not fix them and make them perfect, I said quietly “Try. It won’t be perfect. Just try.” She remade all four and the creation was better than it was before. Better, not perfect.

None of this makes perfect sense to me, but as I watched the sun rise on the ship days later, still overwhelmed and tearful about the unmet needs, I realized God is in control, God has a design in mind, a bigger plan. And I want to be part of it. This? This solidified in me the desire to return to Haiti, to do God’s work. I have unfinished business there. I did notice. And I will always remember.

Some day I hope to meet all of these sisters and brothers in heaven. I’ll tell them I wanted to do more that day. We’ll dance. All will be well. And all the injustices of this world will be wiped clear, free, forevermore.

To the critics online that say the vendors in Labadee “virtually attack,” are “aggressive,” “hovering,” and “pushy?” I wish they could experience even an inkling of truth about the people of Haiti so they’d realize that “aggressive” means I desperately need something. “Hovering” means I need you to notice. “Pushy” means I really, really need this one thing for my son, my daughter, my mother, my brother. Please. “Virtually attack” means I just need you to see me, remember me, help me.

As for my children…they were transformed after that second visit to the market. We never brought them back to the ship for childrens’ activities. They stayed with us all day and were delightful, never again complaining. Maybe it’s service that heals selfishness? After the market visit, my daughter said “Mommy, Haiti’s a nice place.” Then later, she had another realization “Mom, after this we turned good. It feels good when you’re nice to others.” And hours later, “This is going to be a big remembery for us, isn’t it?” Yes it is. Yes it is.

Our family took the path less traveled back to the ship. A little platform overlooked the ocean. The ship, man-made beauty. The ocean, God’s beauty. A small boat filled with Haitian market vendors and employees on their way back to the village placed it all in perfect perspective. My husband noted, the boat was named “Thank God.”

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25:35-40

Amy

*This is part of a month-long series about my journey to Haiti. Click here to read all the posts in the series.

edited post from archives

Amy - Jennifer, thank you. You have no idea how much of a blessing it was to wake to your comment in my inbox yesterday morning. This post is near and dear to my heart, so it’s a true honor to have anyone read it in full and understand the heart I have attached to it. I can’t find the quote now, but what’s the saying? Once you’ve seen need, you can no longer act as if it doesn’t exist? Ya. That’s what happened to me that day. I saw the need. I experienced it for myself. No longer am I ignorant, so I must act, do something, anything. Love what you saw in this story…it’s the giving away of the love and blessings He’s given us, without hesitation. As always, I am blessed by your heart.February 13, 2014 – 2:23 pm

Jennifer Camp - Amy, I am so thankful you republished this post. I devoured every word. And my heart is aching and my mind is reeling and I wonder what God is trying to show me through your beautiful example, your giving, love-poured out heart. So, for right now, I can only say I am so grateful for how you show, through your words here, what is looks like to say ‘yes’ and trust the love and blessings He has given you are, without hesitation, to give away. Thank you.February 11, 2014 – 11:28 pm

Tiffany Femling - Reading your blog … event just looking at the pictures sometimes. Then, reading bits and pieces at a time … usually makes me cry. Happy to see happy! February 10, 2014 – 9:23 pm

The Stitching Of Souls

She knew she was going to pack that pink bag long before she did. Onesies, flannel baby blankets, and long sundresses filled it quickly. At the bottom, she placed a necklace and earrings she bought on an island years ago. They were beautiful, but never felt right on her, so they sat brand new in her jewelry chest until God prompted – they belong in this bag.

She was blessed with fine pieces of fabric. Red, brown, black and white with polka dots, a little lace, inches of pink and blue ribbons, and three tiny sequins. She spent hours stitching and stuffing the doll, cutting the edges into shape with her dull, rusted out scissors. It was stifling hot in her hut and her hands were tired, but she kept working, because this handiwork meant she might eat for a day or two, maybe three or four.

She stood at the ship’s railing watching the sun set that morning. And as she stood still and let the breeze wash over her, she noticed a woman, feet away, singing songs of praise. It was just the two women, a few others passed by. It was a special moment, a special day, she knew. This island of Haiti? God brought her here today.

She woke early in the morning. Today was the day, her ship had come in. A boat, “Thank God” painted on the side, was waiting for her that morning at the dock. She held her name badge like it was gold. It was her pass, twice a month, a promise of hope for her family. It brought her to the peninsula, a fenced off place privileged few were allowed to go.

She entered the gates into the market, knowing full well that was the only place she would connect with any real bit of Haiti. Her heart once believed travels to deeper parts of Haiti would be in store for this day, but circumstances, maybe God, had her here for now. She found her special place in the market, among a row of sweet souls. A woman was there with her hand stitched doll of brown, red, and black and white polka dots. Beautiful, she thought, and her daughter agreed. The grown women beamed as cash was exchanged for a doll. She inquired about the woman’s name and took a picture to mark the occasion, for this doll and Margaret were not to be forgotten.

She arrived that morning with hope, and hope was all Margaret knew in those moments waiting at the market. Hope in the shape of a ship came twice a month, and as the first passengers walked into the market, hope glimmered a bit brighter when a mama, her daughter and son turned the corner. Hope turned to God-promises kept as the mama and daughter looked twice at the doll. The deepest part of her was moved when mama said “yes,” for so many pass right by. She smiled and beamed broad, braids hanging long, as she posed for a picture with this daughter she knew not. It was a happy moment. This mama and daughter loved the doll and the cash would feed her family. The joy in her heart leapt and all was right with the world.

She returned to the beach and sat on the chaise lounge to realize she’d forgotten that pink bag she packed at home days ago. Prompted by God, she made a second trip to the market. Upon return, her bag was emptied in seconds – the men and women were clearly in need. Had she known, she would have packed much, much more. Margaret took a dress and “need[ed]” that pink bag. But as she handed Margaret the bag, she didn’t tell her a necklace and earrings were at the bottom. It’s better a surprise, she thought. For a necklace and earrings seemed so trivial, unimportant, in light of need evidenced by instant emptying of the bag.

She noticed the woman return with a pink bag. She didn’t want to appear desperate, but she was in need. So when she saw the woman remove a long sundress from the bag, it crossed her mind she could use the fabric to make more dolls, which she could sell to feed her family. She humbly accepted the floral dress that was offered, and mustered enough courage to share she also needed that pink bag, for her load was heavy and her journey was long. 

She couldn’t get Margaret and the others from Haiti off her mind, but her ship had docked and it was time to return to the status quo of American life. In the quiet comfort of her master bedroom, she opened a black plastic bag and discovered the doll. She held the doll tenderly in her hands as a precious commodity to be treasured. She turned it and flipped it, inspecting closely the two dolls in one, and that’s when she noticed something she hadn’t  before. Although she assumed, she knew the doll was hand stitched by Margaret, she suddenly saw that doll with fresh eyes. For as she lifted the layers of the doll’s dress, she saw Margaret’s stitches. She saw each one, some short, some long, some turned, some straight. And she noticed the cuts along the edges of the doll’s dress – they were rough and they were real and some were shallow and some were deep. The bands around the doll’s arm were dissimilar – one cut straight across and the other jagged. So imperfect, yet stitched together brilliantly, beautifully. It was a treasure, a masterpiece, and she was blessed to have received this gift.

She returned to the village that evening with the day’s earnings, the floral dress, and the pink bag with the jewelry hidden in the bottom. It was hot and the air was stale in her hut, and she was familiar with the discomfort all of this caused as she settled in for a moment’s rest. She pulled out the dress and peered in the bag. Deep inside she found a treasure, that necklace and the earrings, she’d never possessed such beauty before. She smiled softly, for she knew the best gifts are sent, received, in the quiet.

 

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  Matthew 26:6-13

Amy

*This is a long overdue follow-up post from our day in Haiti while on a Royal Caribbean cruise in October 2012. Click here to read my original post about our day in Haiti.

Meet My Brothers and Sisters in Haiti

Today, it is an honor and pleasure to introduce you to my brothers and sisters in Haiti. Fellow human beings. Moms. Dads. Brothers. Sisters. Grandmas. Grandpas. Aunties. Uncles. Children. All of us, all of them, children of God. I am honored, their lives are honored by anyone who takes time to read this whole story. Unique in that it is the only blog post I’ve drafted completely on paper, much like a journal entry, and unique in that it is by far the longest post I’ve written besides the one about my sister. There are some stories I’m simply not willing to water down or skip over details for the sake of a reader-friendly 300-1,000 word blog post. This is one of those stories. In honor of Antonio.

I watched the sun rise over Haiti. It was Tuesday, October 16, 2012.

Our family was cruising on one of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships, Freedom of the Seas, stops at Haiti, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and Mexico. Haiti, our first stop. Haiti, a port that especially piqued my interest when we booked. I first thought we could visit an orphanage where family friends have two babies they are adopting, only to discover the orphanage is across the island, not to be traveled in a short day. Then I thought we could sponsor a child and make a visit, only to discover that Royal Caribbean owns this private peninsula in Haiti known as Labadee, and doesn’t allow passengers to travel beyond the borders of that space for safety concerns. I’ve devoured blogs about Haiti – Ann Voskamp’s trip with Compassion International in July, this month the Help One Now bloggers in Haiti, Kristen Howerton had a little girl refer to her as “mommy” at an orphanage, a father tried giving his son to Duane Scott, Jen Hatmaker described a little girl sweeping the dirt floor. Those blogs made my heart hurt. I knew more than enough to know there was no way I was going to spend that day on a roller coaster or inflatable water toy in Haiti. We discussed and decided to forgo all shore excursions that day and instead sponsor a child in Haiti through Compassion International, spending all of our dollars at the market, directly in the hands of locals.

We got off the ship as early as we could, some of the first on the peninsula. We went all the way down to the end to the market, people begging us to come and see their items for sale. A hat for me and my daughter, bargained to $30 for the two, way overpriced (the ship sold similar hats yesterday for $10), but not worth further haggling considering what we knew about the need. A handmade sword for our son, and a mini painting, handmade easel and magnet for us. The man next door begging, pleading for us to visit, pointing out #4 on his tag. I told him we’d be back later.

Our two oldest kids’ first visit to another country and first time at the ocean, they were behaving like brats when we got to the beach that morning. I told them I was so sick of hearing them complain, I was going to write down what they said. “I hate this zipper.” “This is too rocky.” “This is the dumbest place ever.” ” Agh! I want to go to the market.” “All you guys do is sit.” “Wow mom.” With all seriousness, I reminded them that there are people on this island that might not have a thing to eat today, and they’re complaining about rocks and zippers.

My husband and I decided this was not working, so we would bring the kids back to the ship so they could partake in the day’s childrens’ activities. First, though, we were going back to the market. At first I thought the market trip might be rewarding bad behavior; now I know it was just what the kids needed.

This time, we went up on the right, past the colorful display of canvas. The first row of vendors, Max came out to greet, introduced himself, invited us in, “No obligation,” he said. “Come see. We are family.” We barely got in, plaques on the right at eye level carved with God Bless This Family and Jesus is My Boss. “You like these? Which one do you want?,” said Max. Sure, we’ll get one of these, I thought. Why not? Although I hadn’t a second to look at anything else. We bought the plaque and met the woman with Max, I can only assume his mother whose name I couldn’t understand, but she was warm and inviting and I gave her a hug and we bought a small square pot from her.

Next there was Margaret. She showed us dolls she sewed herself, oddly similar to ones we noted at Downtown Disney two days prior, only these black and red and white and so much more meaningful and authentic, ALL painstakingly hand stitched I noticed days later. We bought a doll and I took Margaret’s name. Her smile motherly and full of pride and joy over our love for this doll she had crafted.

It took me a while to realize and process that a man had taken our bag with plaque, doll, and pot, and was guiding us to his booth down the row. He offered to carve our name on the plaque we had purchased at Max’s booth. PEDERSON, on the back. He asked if we wanted anything else, showed us his wares. The kids, likely completely overwhelmed, had not a want for anything. “Sword?” said Derby. Already got that when we first arrived. Bracelet, Max had given us one. “Nothing? You don’t want anything?” Derby said. My heart broke. All I could keep thinking was my kids want for nothing, and it is possible this man might need for everything. To want for nothing, unimaginable. I find myself embarrassed for my children, our culture of excess, of everything all around. The look on his face when the kids wanted nothing will be seared on my heart forever. My kids wanting nothing might mean him not eating today, tomorrow. He was not just sad, he was disappointed, a devastated kind of disappointment. I could see it in his eyes. A reason for payment came to my mind – I paid him for carving our name on the plaque, thanked him generously, and left, many others calling. Looking back, I realize this moment was in a complete frenzy, another state, I was barely processing what was happening. We should have stayed longer at Derby’s place.

Jocelun led us to his place. He said in reference to my son “He is my friend. I like him.” and touched my son on the shoulder, all wrapped up in his cruise ship towel. Before I knew it, Jocelun had a necklace on my son, blue and white. Yes, we would buy. I asked for his name, I could not understand so he wrote. He scratched JOCELUN on my tablet. He said again to my son “I like you. You are my friend.” Tears streamed, overwhelmed. Jocelun wanted me to take another look. I told him I had promised a man down the row we would come back to visit. Only $2 left, I wanted it to go to this man and keep my promise. Jocelun realized I was serious and said “he’s a nice man, go” as he led me to the booth.

Wilfred was his name. Friendly man. Pots 2 for $5 he said. $2 accepted for 1 when I told him that’s all we had left. I took his name, shook his hand, big smile, clearly a warm and gentle heart.

Then, the floodgates opened. A crowd of Haitian vendors behind us, around us. One had somehow gotten my daughter’s small pot and carved her name on it with hearts. “I want you to remember me too. You come back and you see me.” Josias, the name he wrote on my tablet. I snapped a photo.

Another man approached, wanted to write his name on this tablet of mine. Leiys, I believe it was, barely intelligible. At this point, I realized I had stumbled upon something. These people were not only willing to share their names, they were eager. It meant something to them, more than I could grasp. They saw me writing their names on the little tablet of paper I brought in my bag and they wanted a place on that space. To be recognized, to be known, to be called by name. Isn’t that what we all want?

My husband, family, Royal Caribbean, and future cruise-goers will also be glad to know it was at this time I realized a security guard was close by, monitoring our interactions with the vendors, although I didn’t feel in danger, not even for a second. If I had felt in danger, we certainly wouldn’t have been there or stayed.

We went back to the woman with Max to find out her name. Between the two of them, they struggled to know each letter, silent glances to each other before each letter to verify that was truly the right way to spell her name, Almagor.

Returning to our spot on the beach, my husband took the kids so I could take a break. Stood for a while. This is no place to sit on the beach. Finally I sat. Looked down. I had forgotten the bag I packed at home to give to a local at this market. I looked through the photos I had taken of the vendors we just met at the market. Was the bag for one of these? Derby. The sadness in his eyes struck me. I processed the disappointment I sensed when the kids wanted for nothing at his booth. The bag was for him, his family.

Venturing back to the market by myself, I entered by Max. Max and Margaret and Almagor approached, others swarmed around. I explained I forgot I had this bag of clothes and was bringing it for Derby, 4 booths down. A man spoke definitively “I have a baby ma’am.” I had brought two receiving blankets and gave them to him. Margaret and Almagor hovering, nearly reaching in my bag, one of them said “I need something.” My hands could do nothing but take out each item and give to those who were asking. A dress for one woman, a dress for another, a shirt and skirt for Margaret, two bananas for a man. Margaret gladly took the bag, “I need this.” If I had only known, I would have brought another bag full, or two or three.

Then, more I didn’t anticipate. The others, swarming around to see if they could get just a piece from this bag that had been emptied and now was gone, started to tell me their names, their vendor numbers, what they needed. Too many to count, too many to even be able to notice, to process. I started writing.

Alfred, #22, clothes for a 7-year-old and 10-year-old.

Antonio, clothes for his 2-year-old son. I didn’t get his number. I wish I would have.

Jackson, #19A, he pulled me aside a bit to ensure I heard his need. Men’s pants, jeans, shirts, “anything.”

Reno, I had seen him earlier. He approached now again. “Remember me, Reno.” I wrote his name.

And Max. “Remember me. I’m the one that showed you here.”

Empty handed. Said I would do my best, but can’t promise. I remembered stories of Americans who promised they’d come back but never did. I didn’t want to be that person.

Before I left, those to whom I had given lavished me with smiles and gifts and gratitude. Bracelets, a hand painted shell, a small pot, and many “God bless you.”

Back to the beach. Husband and kids still gone. Looked up. Looked around. Still no time to sit. Walked the beach a bit. A mom rushing on the shore and so mad at her kids, a man’s fat belly, sunbathing, buffet being set. Did they know the need just beyond the arches in the market, beyond the fence that bound us in and them out? A Haitian man raked a patch of sand back to perfection.

As I thought and moved about, I was especially concerned about this man, Antonio, who needed clothes for his 2-year-old son. I knew I had none. I’d have to leave him empty handed, hopes dashed, or search and make a plea to some random mom. We were at the beach, a distance from the ship; a mom would have to give the clothes off of her son’s back or go all the way back to the ship to suitcases. This was my journey that day, not some other mom’s journey, or was it? I was confused, torn. Search for a mom with a  2-year-old  boy (there weren’t that many) and ask them to surrender part of their day vacationing with their family to meet the needs of a man I had met at the market? I couldn’t bring myself to ask even one, but kept thinking of the moms at home and how they’d all give the shirts off their sons’ backs for this toddler in need. Kept thinking of the boxes of clothes I had sitting in our basement. I didn’t even ask one mom. Two worlds collided. The reality I saw on one side, the reality I saw on the other. Could the two connect today? Was I telling myself truth that people wouldn’t want to know or didn’t care or just wanted to enjoy the beach? I think, I hope, my beliefs were flawed that day.

I do knot know. I still do not know. Not asking a mom still one of my regrets 10 days later. Why was I afraid to open eyes and hearts on that beach? Why not just one? Has a distrust of human kind grown in my heart? Why do I believe strangers want to sit on the beach in oblivion more than they want to meet someone’s most basic of needs? What does it say about my character that I assume such things about others and I didn’t even ask one? Didn’t Jesus say that whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me? Was I only partially fulfilling this command rather than wholly by my unwillingness to ask on behalf of someone in need?

Husband and children returned, I explained what I had done, listed the needs, my uncertainty about the 2-year-old clothing. My husband supported the kids and I going back to the ship where we had more. Somewhat close, but not a quick trip. Tram, lines, security, and a long, hot pier.

A pile of clothes for Alfred, a men’s outfit for Jackson, a pile of fruit for Antonio, the very least we could do in lieu of clothes for his son. (I have notable regrets about not getting more on that ship. We should have come back all hands loaded, bags and bags overflowing. Again, some of this was mere lack of time to process it all.) Security noticed all that fruit at the bottom of the bag and made us drop it in a plastic bin before we deboarded. Almost in tears, knowing I would now return empty handed to Antonio, no clothes, no fruit, nothing, I obeyed. A woman standing by said “you never know if you’re doing the right thing, do you?” Little did she know. Even my daughter knew this was bad.

We headed straight for the market. The buffet had been served while we were gone, and my husband was sitting at the beach. I was feeling a tear between these two worlds, again. Wanting, needing to help these people, knowing there was much to be done, yet also cognizant of the fact I was on vacation, precious hours together as a family, now ticking away, only a couple hours before we had to be back on the ship.

We approached. They swarmed immediately. I don’t even know how many, just swarms. So much, so fast, so overwhelming, so difficult to process it all. Alfred, Antonio, Jackson, Max, Reno and all the others were there. Alfred pulled me aside to his booth. I gave him the bag of kids clothes, he smiled, seemed satisfied.

Then Reno was there – I had seen him twice now, he told  me his name and then said “remember me,” but I became keenly aware  at that moment that “remember me” meant something much different to Reno than me. I remembered Reno, I noticed him and would remember him beyond this place, but he wanted me to remember him because he needed to be seen, he needed something and needed that to be remembered, wholly acknowledged, tended to, acted on. I hadn’t brought anything for Reno. All I could do was give him the shirt I brought for Jackson. After all, something would be better than nothing. I gave it to him, apologizing that’s all I had. He took and said “God bless you.”

Then Antonio – oh Antonio. “You remember me, I need clothes for my son.” I explained we had no clothes small enough and we tried to bring a lot of fruit for him, but security wouldn’t let us bring it off the ship. “I’m so sorry,” I said.

I felt so disregarding to Antonio’s unmet needs when I was pulled away by Jackson. He wanted to know what I had for him. Shirt to Reno, now all I had was a pair of shorts. They looked big for Jackson. I asked if he had a belt, he did. It will work.

And there was Max. “You have anything for me? I told you to remember me too.” Yes, of course I would always remember him, but I did not know he too intended me to remember him with something, anything tangible that he needed. “I have a son,” he said. He glanced at my backpack, I took it off and looked in. My husband’s shorts and a belt he was wearing that day, my son’s shorts and  refillable bottle of Pepsi leaking out. My son’s shorts – I had asked him on the ship if I could give those to the children in need. “No,” he said, “they’re my favorite.” “And the shirt,” I asked?” He was wearing both today, both his favorites. Two worlds collided, again. To honor my son and keep our trust, or take the the clothes off my son’s back and teach him our call to give to those in need? Could my son really process that he was giving up his favorite shirt and shorts, the ones he was wearing today, for a child he couldn’t see? Doubtful, but I was still unsure. Max clearly wanted the shorts and I even began lifting them out of the bag for him, but a man overheard and said to Max “don’t push too far, it’s not good,” clarifying for Max those were the shorts my son was wearing today. This was humbling. It felt so wrong but a little right all at the same time. Right we were honoring my son and not taking the shorts right from under him, wrong another child’s need was going unmet. I honored the elder figure who urged Max not to push and closed my bag reluctantly. It all seemed so selfish. I could have, should have just handed over the whole bag. We would have done without for a couple hours.

People still swarming all around and we were on our way out of that row, hands empty again except for the backpack. Antonio made his way forward again. “You don’t have anything for me? I have a 2-year-old. I need clothes for my 2-year-old.” I couldn’t help but think later – Who imagines themselves begging a stranger for clothes for their child? What a horrible reality. I had to tell him again we don’t have little ones (pointing to my bigger children) and how we had fruit but it was taken away. He clearly needed those clothes so bad. I told Antonio we had to leave soon, “I’m SO sorry.” NO words would suffice. “Good bye,” I said apologetically. “Good bye.” “I’m so sorry.” They wanted to know if I would be back. I said back to Haiti, probably not Labadee. “God Bless,” “Thank you,” is what I remember.

We returned to the beach. All were eating the buffet. My husband had been waiting, “perfect timing” he said. We talked about the people, what we gave, Antonio’s need for his son. My husband reminded the children that we can’t possibly help everyone, but we can hep some, and that is what we had done today. We ate, I almost became sick looking at the food, contemplated not even taking any, thinking of all the people so near in so much need. I took a burger, some fruit, an extra hot dog and two extra bananas. The hot dog I passed to a man in a band playing by the eating area, bananas later to a man lingering behind a bar near the pier, quiet desperation, waiting on survival.

I took a moment to quiet myself after lunch and enjoy the remaining moments for what they were. The beach was already clearing.

I kept thinking of Antonio still in need and how I dashed his hopes, Max, Derby too. I wanted to go back, but I was needed here now, and anything but clothes for their children would be such a consolation prize.

My children made a sand castle. A circle of castles, one in the center. I didn’t notice its beauty and symbolism until it was complete. Two clearly imperfect, my son pointed out to my daughter “those are horrible.” My daughter tore them down plus two more. Frustrated she could not fix them and make them perfect, I said quietly “Try. It won’t be perfect. Just try.” She remade all four and the creation was better than it was before. Better, not perfect.

None of this makes perfect sense to me, but as I watched the sun rise on the ship days later, still overwhelmed and tearful about the unmet needs, I realized God is in control, God has a design in mind, a bigger plan. And I want to be part of it. This? This solidified in me the desire to come back to Haiti. To do God’s work here. I have unfinished business here. My mind has already been working, dreaming up ideas, and something very specific already blazed its way to the front of my mind a day after we returned. I did notice, and I will remember.

Some day I hope to meet all of these sisters and brothers in heaven, and I will tell them I wanted to do more that day, and we will dance, and all will be well and all the injustice will be wiped clear.

And to the critics online that say the vendors in Labadee “virtually attack,” are “aggressive,” “hovering,” and “pushy.” I wish they could experience even an inkling of truth about the people of Haiti so they would realize that “aggressive” means I really desperately need something. “Hovering” means I want you to notice. “Pushy” means I really, really need something now. Please. “Virtually attack” means I am so desperate I just need you to see me, remember me, I am a person just like you and I need so much and you have no idea how bad it is.

As for my children…they were transformed after that second visit to the market. We never brought them back to the ship for childrens’ activities. They stayed with us all day and were delightful, never again complaining. Maybe it is service that heals selfishness? After the market visit, from my daughter “Mommy, Haiti’s a nice place.” Then later she had another realization “Mom, after this we turned good. It feels good when you’re nice to others.” And hours later, “This is going to be a big remembery for us, isn’t it?” Yes it is. Yes it is.

Our family took the path less traveled back to the ship. A little platform overlooked the ocean. The ship, man-made beauty. The ocean, God’s beauty. A small boat filled with market vendors and other employees from Haiti on their way back to the village placed it all in perfect perspective. My husband noted, the boat was named “Thank God.”

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25:35-40

Amy

The Stitching Of Souls » Divine in the Daily - […] overdue follow-up post from our day in Haiti while on a Royal Caribbean cruise in October 2012. Click here to read my original post about our day in […]July 31, 2013 – 7:01 am

A Gift In Honor of Antonio » Divine in the Daily - […] Tuesday, October 16, 2012. Our one day in Haiti, the day that changed me forever. (Read full post here.) […]December 17, 2012 – 12:09 pm

Rachel Arntson - To Tanzania to a girl’s school there. Then on a couple of safari’s and to Zanzibar on the way home.October 27, 2012 – 10:45 am

Stephanie Gossard - Where in Africa are you going?October 27, 2012 – 1:01 am

Tom Baunsgard - Amazing how simple it is to do the right things when you put them into the proper perspective, God’s Perspective. Thanks for sharing this very moving reality Amy, and the wonderful experience you allowed your children to partake of.October 26, 2012 – 9:55 pm

Rachel Arntson - What a touching story. I’m sure I will feel much like this in my trip to Africa in January. Thank you for reminding me of many things.October 26, 2012 – 9:13 pm

Tiffany Femling - Amy! Yet again, I was moved to tears. Nice job being the generous and loving you!October 26, 2012 – 3:14 pm

Meet Bethchaida

It is my honor to introduce you to Bethchaida, the sweet girl our family recently began sponsoring through Compassion International. Although I have never met this precious child and only know her by one photograph and a few paragraphs in the child sponsorship packet we received just days ago, I can say with confidence that God led me down a straight and narrow, but very long path to Bethchaida.

Child sponsorship has been stirring in my heart since I was a little girl. Flipping through channels on television, stopping at Christian Children’s Fund commercials, listening to the bearded man tell about children who needed sponsors, seeing the need in a little girl’s brown eyes, boys in piles of trash. Told I could spend 70 cents a day on a pack of gum or 70 cents a day on food for a child, spokesperson Sally Struther’s call to action and the face of these children etched forever in my mind.

I was a child. No credit cards. No ability to make a monthly payment. Didn’t even think to engage my parents about this tug on my heart.

Through the years, time and time again, I stopped at sight of the commercials. Continually called, continually moved by the faces. At times, others even slightly annoyed that I wanted to watch the child sponsorship commercials in their entirety, asking me to turn the channel so they could find what it was they wanted to watch. I knew they didn’t understand what I saw in the faces of these children, the faces that touched the deepest parts of my soul. I changed the channel to appease them, but my heart remained with the children.

That dream, that calling, never went away.

Fast forward to adulthood. I had just joined Twitter in August 2010, and almost immediately discovered the gift of Ann Voskamp and her blog, A Holy Experience. In September 2010, Ann was in Guatemala with Compassion International blogging about sponsorship and had met her sponsored child Xiomara. I read Ann’s post How to Make Your Life An Endless Celebration, tears streaming, and my heart for child sponsorship stirred anew. The little girl inside of me, now all grown up into a mother, was still desperately longing to impact the lives of children I had never met. Powerful words from Ann Voskamp’s post that day…

“I’m the stranger who doesn’t pass by but stays with her here, and I take the bread of this moment, give thanks for it, and I give thanks that we can be broken and we can be given and this is how Christ is recognized in the world.” Ann Voskamp

and later in the post…

“On the bus taking me far away from Xiomara, I am no longer a stranger on the road and I see Christ and I am forever beautifully broken and wrecked for the poor and even my life can be given to satisfy emptiness.” Ann Voskamp

Was it by chance that a newbie to Twitter, I found Ann Voskamp among the first? Was it by chance that I felt a deep connection to Ann’s writing and she also happened to be a blogger with Compassion International? I believe not. I believe God brought me to Ann so I could be daily encouraged by her posts, and to bear fruit in my life through child sponsorship I had dreamed of for so many years.

May 10, 2012: I had been following the Compassion Bloggers in Tanzania on Twitter and read The Nester’s blog post Decorating Truths from a 15-Year-Old Tanzanian Boy. She tells of her trip to meet sponsored child Topiwo, boy with his head down in humility, smiling. The picture of The Nester meeting Topiwo was priceless and just as those children from the TV ads in the 1980’s, it will be forever etched in my mind. Psalm 23 painted outside on the entry to his handmade hut home. The Nester, subtitle of her blog “It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful,” describes Topiwo’s hut as “breathtaking…humble…glorious all at the same time.” My heart was in Tanzania, overflowing with compassion for people I had never met.

Fast forward to July 2012. Ann Voskamp and her son were in Haiti with Compassion International. July 17, 2012, a post from Ann that lingered in my mind for days, The 1 Thing You Really have to Know About Your Family. Ann’s words remind me that “Faith cannot have a non-response.” She shares of 12-year-old Wesley who can’t read. Wesley with Compassion sponsor photograph and letter in hand, Ann posts about this moment…

“Attached is a picture of a couple smiling happy in Central Park. Wesley’s standing barefoot and wordless in front of a windowless shack with a photo of folks hugging happy in Central Park and how can we help where we are born in this world? This soundless howl pounds in my ears.” Ann Voskamp

I think of little ones waiting for sponsors, little ones whose only lifeline is sponsorship. I am moved to sponsor a child. Again. To serve as a source of hope, as partner with Our Creator – what more is there to life than this?

My journey to child sponsorship continued, slowly but surely narrowing in on Haiti.

A die hard fan after two cruises with my husband, I have been looking forward to an upcoming cruise our family will be taking with Royal Caribbean. Months ago when booking, I guided us to an itinerary that included 3/4 destinations to which we had never been, one being Haiti.

As I began thinking through our day ashore, I remembered a family friend who is in the process of adopting two children from an orphanage in Haiti. Following their visits closely on Facebook, I have been very much drawn to their story, the children, that orphanage in Haiti. I had hoped to take a day trip to the orphanage, only to discover upon further research it was on the opposite side of the island, not to be traveled to and from in just eight short hours onshore.

I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to sponsor a child through Compassion International and our family could take a day trip to meet the child – only to discover that our cruise ship would be docking at a private peninsula in Haiti, passengers not allowed to travel beyond a fence because of safety concerns. So close, but so far away.

July 22, 2012. I had come to accept the fact we were not going to be able to visit the orphanage or a sponsored child, but it had been just days since I read Ann Voskamp’s posts about Haiti and I was still having a hard time justifying a carefree day ashore in Haiti. I searched the Royal Caribbean website for shore excursions and got excited about a cultural tour only to discover upon booking that it is not being offered on our sailing. Still searching, I read deeper into the Haiti shore excursion reviews, generally glowing reviews, stating how beautiful the land is, how pristine the beaches, how great it was that Royal Caribbean provides a buffet for passengers on the beach; spattered here and there were heartfelt comments about passengers’ desires to positively impact the people of Haiti beyond the fence. In an effort to make a difference onshore, one passenger brought extra clothes and gave them to people at the market, another shared bananas with a man in the market who gobbled them up in seconds.

How was I going to travel to Haiti knowing there were babies at the orphanage, children I read about on Ann Voskamp’s blog, people in need of so many resources? And me and my family – unloading from the luxurious cruise ship on vacation, sunning on the beach, dining at a buffet. How do these two worlds reconcile? How do I reconcile these two parts of my heart that seem so conflicting? Is the God that created in me a love for cruising, for travel and special time with my family, for meeting people and seeing new places the same God that created in me a desire for child sponsorship, a passion to help people, a longing to make a lasting impact on others’ lives? How, truly God, am I to reconcile these two worlds?

After discussing all of this with my husband, we decided that we would forego all shore excursions in Haiti, and would instead sponsor a child through Compassion International.

I fully expect that my heart could tear in two that day. I fully expect that I will pray for peace that day, to sit on the beach knowing there is such poverty beyond the fence. I fully expect to be drawn to the markets so I can experience just a taste of the rest of Haiti – meet people, look into their eyes, engage them in conversation, admire and purchase the beautiful creations they have fashioned to support their families.

I also fully expect that I will be spending a lot of that day praying for the people of Haiti. And one of the people our family will pray for that day in Haiti and many days and years ahead will be our sponsored child, sweet little Bethchaida. Four-years-old, living with her father and mother, responsible for making beds and cleaning, father and mother sometimes employed as farmers, 4 children in the family, above average performance in preschool, and regularly attends church activities. A sweet face that captured our attention as we scoured the Compassion website for children waiting for sponsorship.

Bethchaida’s photograph was flagged because she had been waiting 182+ days for a sponsor.

Why it took me this long to find Bethchaida I do not know, but I feel confident that God always knew this was the path.

Little Bethchaida, as we begin this journey together, I pray that you are nourished with food, clothed in protection, bathed in love and care, with the things you need not just to survive, but to thrive. I pray that you discover your creator God and His son Jesus, who died so that you could be saved and live with Him for eternity in the beautiful paradise called Heaven, where there will be feasts and singing and days filled with joy and peace. Where we will dance together, hand in hand, you and me and all of your little friends. Sisters in Our Creator, for eternity.

One more thing I am compelled to note…if you look at the photographs and regularly read posts from Compassion Bloggers, you know that even amidst the poverty, there IS joy, there IS peace, there IS beauty, there IS love, there IS hope for things to come. These things cannot be purchased, but are treasures bestowed on us by God.

Do you feel called to sponsor a child? It’s just $38 a month. There are children waiting for a sponsor at Compassion International.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:35-40. 

Amy

*A heartfelt thank you to The Nester and www.picturesofpoverty.com for giving me permission to use your photographs.

Amy - Thanks, Chrystal! I’m glad you found the link to my blog and am grateful for your kind words. I only wish that we lived closer so I could come and see you and/or Ben speak, see those little ones, and hang out! Missing you all a lot…August 28, 2012 – 9:14 pm

Chrystal valence - Amy, I am honored to know you let alone be related to you! Thanks for sharing yout heart. May people gain compassion through you!August 28, 2012 – 5:43 pm

Amy - Thank you all for taking time to read and for your sweet encouragement. AmyAugust 25, 2012 – 11:14 pm

Nicole Newfield - Wonderful and inspiring. Great info on how to sponsor a child. Beautiful pictures and words!August 23, 2012 – 11:15 pm

The Nester - Bethchaida is absolutely precious. Thank you so much for sharing your journey, Amy.

Love to you.August 21, 2012 – 9:41 am

Lorietta - I feel that it is amazing that you are able to *bare your soul* as many are not able to that. I for one, could never voluntarily do what you do. Many things in my life, I keep private, especially to family members. Weird huh! It’s probably why I hardly chat on the phone – and when I do, I keep it to the bare minimum. God Bless you Amy–someday perhaps I will be moved to change but not today.

Thank you for sharing!August 20, 2012 – 10:40 am