As I reflect back on my first Ministry in Mission trip to Haiti, mountains are what comes to mind. I’m not really certain how, but in all my trip preparations, I missed that Haiti is a mountainous country–not hills like I’m used to from southeastern Ohio, but MOUNTAINS that stretch into the clouds. I got to know those mountains quite well within hours of landing in Port-au-Prince because we needed to travel over them to get to the Jacmel guesthouse. Without my eyes glued to a smartphone or a GPS to answer my “How much farther?” I was able to soak in the breath-taking beauty of the Haitian mountains and observe the life in the villages we passed through. The cool mountain air provided a welcome respite from the sticky-hot costal areas. I also experienced my first gorgeous Haitian sunset in the mountains that evening. Karleen, a mission trip veteran and one of my mentors, pointed out to me the lights of Jacmel as we came down out of the mountains.
During the next three days we spent in Jacmel, the mountains became my off-the-grid weather report. From the back balcony of the guesthouse, I was able to see the mist of rain slowly creeping down the mountains, towards us and plan my walks to and from the church accordingly.
When we traveled from Jacmel to Les Cayes on the fifth day, the mountains became not so friendly to me. Although most of the road was the same trek we had taken from the airport, the mountains made me feel carsick. It took two Dramamine and many mints from my other mentor, Pam, for the green feeling to pass.
We spent the majority of the next two days in the mountains north of Les Cayes to check on pastors’ homes and churches, with Rev. Paul Toulotte, Southern District President of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (ELCH) as our guide. In October 2016 the LCMS provided the ELCH with grants to repair the hurricane-damaged roofs of pastors’ homes. I cannot begin to describe how remote many of these churches were. Our group traveled in a rented extended cab pick up truck and into the back of the Southern District’s Range Rover that constantly jostled us. (I took two Dramamine with breakfast each morning.) Our running joke with Pastor Toulotte was we could exclaim “What a bad road!” And he’d reply “No, no. This isn’t a bad road. I’ll tell you when we get to a bad road.” Rarely were the roads paved. We were “lucky” when they were covered in gravel and had guard rails. But most were one-and-a-half lane paths that twisted up and down the mountains with hairpin turns, scary pitches, and deep ruts. I saw three overturned gas tankers while traveling. Because of the hurricane and sometimes just because “Haiti is Haiti,” we had to ford streams and rivers because there were no bridges. Twice we had to walk to our desired location because the road simply ran out. The first time this happened, Pastor Toulott finally said “This *is* a bad road. We will walk from here.” The second time involved a 45-minute hike up a dormant volcano.
As you might have guessed, mountains can be used to figuratively describe my first trip to Haiti. Try as I might, I have not been able to come up with my one, very best, “mountain-top” Haiti experience. For me, the whole trip was a lifetime dream come true. As a first or second grader I had completed a worksheet that asked “When I grow up I want to be a __________.”and I wrote “missionary.” So just being in another country, serving the Lord was very special. I really enjoyed the Communion service in Jacmel. It was a big deal for our close-knit family to be apart for almost two weeks. Before I left I had told Andy “I’ll be with you at Communion on Sunday.” But I wasn’t prepared for the congregation joining in a large circle that extended from the chancel and down the main aisle in order to all receive Communion at the same time. I will always cherish meeting fellow pastor’s wives “Madam Pasteurs” in the remote locations. Language made a barrier between us but hugs and handholding transcended that. I look forward to seeing those ladies again in heaven and getting to talk to them. I also loved being in a country where Christians are still valued and respected. With little infrastructure, the church *is* the body that provides food for the needy, medical care and education. It reminded me of Medieval society.
Some of my smaller mountain experiences included leading Bible Studies to three different groups of women. It was neat to share via a translator my love of the Lord. I enjoyed the camaraderie of our team. There were six veterans and three newbies. I am very grateful for the kindness of my roommates/mentors, Pam and Karlene. Haitian food was also a treat. I especially liked the bananas. They were so creamy compared to their dried-out American counterparts.
And yes, there were valleys during my nine days in Haiti. Some of it I expected – roughing it with no hot water and sporadic electricity and Internet. I anticipated open sewers and beggars but there aren’t the right adjectives to accurately describe them. You just have to experience them in person.
The hardest valley was the heartbreak of seeing levels of extreme poverty. God allowed this to happen in deepening layers for me. First it delivering food to the elderly in Jacmel. Then it was seeing a heavily-guarded UN food convoy on our way to Les Cayes. The next day, I saw people who had to climb down a ravine to get iron-stained water from a steam. Next was seeing people go away empty-handed from a UN food distribution center. After that, I saw people whose only source of water was rainwater collected in cisterns. Lastly, playing “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” with a young girl who had the telltale orange-tinted skin and hair of malnutrition. I will never use the words “starving” and “empty-handed” without images of Haiti going through my mind.
Believe it or not, I’m more grateful for the valleys I experienced in Haiti than the mountains. Timothy Keller wrote in his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” Those valleys led to the best holiday season this Type-A gal has ever had. My high standard for entertaining perfection went away. I valued the time I spent with my loved ones way over mailing the Christmas cards on time. After missing two Advent services in English, I soaked up the wonderful St Mark services. And most of all, the Baby Jesus gave me the comfort my hurting heart needed after experiencing all those valleys. The very best thing is I know Jesus will someday take me to the Ultimate Mountain – Heaven. I pray that Holy Spirit helps me get many people on the Range Rover to the Ultimate Mountain.
Recipe for an Amazing Life:
1. Take what you love, 2. Give it to God, 3. Watch what happens ~ Rev. Mark Matzke