I can’t remember the last time I cried like this. As we entered the gates on the opposite side of the property, all I wanted to do was run as fast as I could to see the completed playground that my son helped build. But I showed patience. I contained myself as we went through the formalities and greetings a team normally gets when they arrive at the Yahve Shamma orphanage.
The waiting wasn’t all bad.
It’s an amazing experience when you get mobbed by a few dozen kids who all just want to hug you and touch you. Even during our initial briefing, the kids waited patiently holding on to any available member of our team that they could.
Chris Marlow (of Help One Now) and Pastor Gaetan (of Yahve Shamma) shared for a moment while we calibrated our minds to the heart of this mission. This time something important stood out to me. It was a story about dedication and commitment.
The story goes something like this…
Shortly after the earthquake Chris Marlow and some other Help One Now leadership met with Gaetan for the first time. He’s a local pastor who cared for 16 orphans prior to the earthquake, but quickly added 14 more in the wake of the disaster.
During that first visit, the children wouldn’t even engage with the members of the team. One of those leaders describes the children as being “distant.” Some even hid behind trees as these strange visitors talked about the possibility of getting involved in this community.
Then Gaetan said something that struck a nerve with the Help One Now team that day.
He said, “Many churches send teams to come spend time with our orphans, and they say they want to work with us. But then they leave and we never hear from them again.”
No wonder the children seem distant when another group of strangers shows up promising to help… probably to never return. Why should the children invest emotionally, only to be left behind and forgotten… again?
As if these children didn’t already have to deal with loss and abandonment issues.
At that moment the Help One Now leadership team decided that they had to be different. They committed to coming back.
This “coming back” thing is a theme that keeps popping up. Even yesterday as we walked around a small community in mountains we were told, “It’s okay to walk around here on your own, because they know us. They always say, ‘you are the people who always come back‘.”
And as I listened to them share this story today, I realized that I’m coming back. This is my third trip to Haiti and my second one with Help One Now. But my story with this sacred place, with this orphanage, goes back well before my earlier trip with Help One Now.
Two years ago, my son wanted to “send Christmas to Haiti.” He wanted to build a playground. So we had a Garage Sale 4 Orphans and raised over $1,300 towards that project. I then got to watch them breaking ground on this project during my last trip to Haiti, just eight months ago. And today I stood weeping at the completed playground project.
Coming back is always worth it.
The children in this orphanage are some of the most beautiful, spectacular children I know. It was good today to see them all again. I sat on the swings in the new playground with them. I played football (soccer) with others. It was good to be back.
And I’ll be back again.
The reason these programs work is because of the commitment we have to be there. Help One Now isn’t going anywhere. Commitment changes things. You can see it in the eyes of Pastor Gaetan. You can see it in the hearts of the many orphan kids who he cares for.
I really struggled with this issue of “not coming back” when we spent our days at an orphanage. I wept when they sang goodbye to us. They knew how to sing a goodbye song, in English, and they knew how to sing it really well, because they had to sing it over and over and over again … I committed that day to the “coming back” part.
We had long talks about this with the orphanage leaders. They said that, in the end, it was better that we came, because we were bringing real joy and love into the lives of the children. But I still can’t shake the thought that these children are experiencing loss and abandonment month after month — sometimes week after week. I wonder what the right balance is … to be there and offer love and joy, but to do it in a way that helps in the long run, not hurts.
(The video of those kids singing is here: http://gettingdownwithjesus.com/where-is-the-good-in-good-bye/)
Kristen Howerton wrote a great post from her experience in this orphanage about the psychological impacts of lack of family…
I would agree that being there at all is good. Many of the people on our team had never been there… only a few of us had. So just having a regular presence seemed to make a huge difference in their personal/relational development.
It’s tough to leave though, isn’t it?
I got to thinking about the “coming back” part so much, that I forgot to mention how cool it is to see you on that swingset! Where’s the pig? 🙂
Dan posted a piggy pic yesterday of him sitting on the swings with him. Samuel said, “this one is gonna be in the history books!”
If you look really close, then you might see a little bit of piggy up near my right shoulder. He was definitely part of that amazing experience! I won’t soon forget it.
And hopefully Samuel and I will be there next time too. And hopefully we will be a part of those who keeps coming back.
That would be amazing, wouldn’t it?
You model commitment well, Dan. Thank you for this. So touching.
Oh… I try… I don’t know if I’m the one I would point to as THE model, but I definitely strive in that direction.
Thank you so much for sharing this story Dan, both of the incredible heart your son and your family demonstrate and for sharing a glimpse of God’s steadfast faithfulness. May the sound of the children’s laughter at that playground become a soundtrack of hope for their community.
“You are the ones who always come back.”
Thanks Daniel! You rock dude! You are always such a great encourager… and I love what you say about the soundtrack for their community. That’s awesome!
thanks sarah bessey. God is doing a good work in you right now.
This is worship, you know. what you’re all doing. The storytelling. Bringing *Real* to our lives. Thank you. For showing me His grace and His love. Bless you, friend. I’m jolted awake.
just joining in the chorus! there was definitely a strong sense from the team that we were in the presence of God while in Haiti.
This is so dear, Dan. I’m so grateful I was there to see you see this. Proud of you, friend. Loved this week.
thanks jen hatmaker! being with you through this week was something special. this whole team was just spectacular, and i’m excited that we’re still moving forward with some awesome things together. thank you for everything.
Thank you for affirming what I know down in my heart. In my 12 trips to Haiti over the past nine years, 11 of them have included going to the same place. I hear of so many worthy ministries that I would like to volunteer at but the deep ties to one keep me going back there. Your blog post makes me wonder how many people do turn into ‘once-ers’ because they cannot come to grips with what is the reality of Haiti. Even I can only handle it in one-to-three week trips but the people and especially the children are what keep me going back. By going back we have the opportunity to build on what we left the trip before.
building on what we left… that’s what it’s all about! i’m glad to hear that you’ve had similar experiences with going back. that place… those people… gets under your skin, doesn’t it?