Haiti Ever After
Perfect Combinationwritten and photographed by
I spent a great many years of my life searching, always looking to peel back the curtain, always hoping to discover my purpose. It wasn’t until my feet hit the ground in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake that the large majority of what made up me came into focus.
Within me there is this vast quarry of pictures, words, and sounds.
I love photography so much I became a professional photographer, and used that medium to support my family. I love writing so much I began a blog... Then two blogs, then three. I love music so much I dropped out of college and ran off to Nashville, Tennessee to write songs. Years later, I started a band.
But a curious question was always on my heart, “Why do I love all three?”
Then came Haiti and the earthquake and I found myself on a bus, riding across a country already ravaged by poverty and corruption, and now a devastating crisis.
I sat in the entry of the bus for six hours, doors unfolded, as we passed from the city-rubble to the confusion of the countryside. The bus came to a stop and a dozen faces looked in on me. In every nook, down every side alley, and up every well-worn foot path, I saw a soul staring back at me. There was such great despair. Agony. Loss. All of Haiti seemed to be sighing.
I tried several times to take pictures, but either found myself too emotionally compromised, or the bus was just moving too fast through the sea of traffic.
A thousand Pulitzers flashed in and out of view that could captivate a watching world, and yet I put down my camera and looked behind the eyes of a people… And into the heart of a grandmother, a daughter, a father, a brother. A new conversation lit afire my spirit, and a new bond was forged somewhere deep within me as I encountered an oppression I’d never known. Words flowed in my mind, but even the ability to define what I was feeling began to ebb and flow, as waves of emotion washed over me.
A father with his two tiny girls on a bicycle swept past in a blur, his face determined, their hands clutching to hold on. I snapped the shutter in quick reflex and then let the moment soak. We shot around him at 50 mph, missing by inches! How old were those children? Never in America… They’d toss you in jail and lose the key…there’s no speed limit…he has no other way…he’s doing the best he can…making a way…the word on the little pink backpack…‘Love’.
A silence swept over my thoughts. Then from the very deepest place sprang a very raw, very aching expression, in the form of a soft, drawn out note. It was a song, a melody from a broken heart no longer asleep. I looked down at the TSA 3-digit lock on my own pack, and a piece of my life made sense like never before.
The pictures, words and sounds. I need all three.
Some days the pictures speak a thousand words, and others they lay mute. But then, the words will come, gushing. Yet on another, the words will fail. That’s when the deep cries out, and from there echoes the song, the sounds, from the most reserved, quiet, and tender recesses. Sometimes, like that little lock, it’s going to take all three to tell the greatest story ever told…
I Once Was Blind
How ironic is it that a man born blind in one eye would have to come to Haiti before he could really see? It’s true. The earthquake had already taken its toll on the people, but in my heart, everything I once held dear stirred and trembled. My quake was just beginning, and there would be no settling of my soul.
It didn’t take long to realize that America — by comparison — seemed a land of make believe. My world had flipped upside down. I’d already peeled back the curtain, and there was no forgetting that all is not well; not well at all.
Early on in Haiti I worked with kids and teachers, walking the back trails of rural villages to help photograph students for sponsoring in America. Because of the experience I was allowed a glimpse behind the mechanism of this playground of foreign aid and NGO’s. I peered into the world of a people who also fought bitterly for their freedom, but were now falling headlong into a new shade of slavery, one much more quiet and subtle. This island of millions is being sung to sleep by a noxious lullaby, one of handouts and lies, empty promises and schemes.
Yet, Haiti remains a country teeming with untapped riches. She is filled to the brim with vast storehouses of wealth, but this native beauty doesn’t come from the outside. The once-famed Jewel of the Caribbean has a secret treasure, and it’s hidden in the hearts of her children.
But if this mixed handbag of failed humanitarian aid will be restored to her former beauty, it will only begin with the redemption of Haiti’s heart and soul.
Her hope lies in the children, in moms and dads putting their hope in Christ. Once a people begin to consider the ways of the Lord and reflect on those things that are true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, God arrives and we realize He’s been there all along. His peace invades like a conquering army. Real liberation commences in the heart. Parents begin to look through a different lens as they themselves are loved and nurtured by the Most High, and when they look to the little ones by their side, they begin to see with different eyes. Treasure!
This transformation may not immediately manifest physically or financially, but I’m convinced Haiti will become the Caribbean’s next Cinderella story when her heart is given back to the Lord.
“We all know how much a Bible weighs, can you imagine how much rice you could ship in its place…” ~Liam from Ireland.
Liam’s thinking is a valid response to the knee-jerk reaction anyone feels when they consider Haiti or any other impoverished people. The world just wants to ‘fix’ the problem, and we felt much the same in the beginning. But it’s exactly this understanding that is weighed and found wanting.
You can buy rice at any market in any village in Haiti, but this thirty year-old approach to giving food has not provided a solution. Haiti doesn't need another hand out. Her people need a hand up. In fact, shipping a bag of rice only contributes to the unraveling of an already fragile trade.
I've stood and watched an 85 year-old great grandmother working in the rice fields near my village, and though that shipped bag of rice seems the perfect solution and brings the giver a certain sense of relief, it hurts this grandmother, her family, and the little income they make on her farm. It affects the markets and only serves to weaken the will. In reality, it’s this world-response and attitude that has contributed to failing the country.
I agree, from the outside looking in, it seems the most logical answer, but the answer is actually found in giving them hope, something to live for, joy and a peace that passes all understanding.
That only comes from Jesus Christ.
A bag of rice lasts a family of eight less than a month. Then what? What about three or four months down the road? How about next year?
Let’s instead ask this question: How about their grandchildren’s grandchildren?
If the world would truly serve Haiti it will be in provision of something lasting, stable, and eternally valuable. That requires a measure of care far heavier than a bag of rice. It requires a real and genuine love.
The purpose of a Christian is not only to love and to serve, running kids to the hospital, buying rice and oil, and sponsoring kids for school, but to express the reason behind that love. Because Jesus calls us to serve, we serve. Because Jesus loves, we love. For my family, God showed us that expressing that love meant laying down our desires, our dreams, our goals, and our lives.
For that love to be real, my family sold what we had and moved to Haiti, because a bag of rice is a thinly veiled excuse for a greater issue of the heart.
This is why I give the Bible, God’s love letter to us all.
His Word has been the single most effective tool I’ve ever seen in repurposing the human heart. I’ve seen people walk for ten miles down a mountain trail better suited for a billy goat for the first Bible in their family's history. I've seen them cradle it like a newborn baby; even smell its pages. They have a hunger of which our generation has no understanding.
Bibles for Haiti is a mission that is constantly changing and fully grassroots.
We don’t have formal education in missions and we aren’t funded by a large mission organization — nor do we need to be. God provides through the donations of like-minded people, prayer groups, churches, and businesses that have made a personal, committed plan to spread His Word and share Jesus Christ. When He deems to provide for this mission, He does so, as He chooses and when He pleases. All authority belongs to Him. All those cattle on all those hills belong to my Dad.
Every day is different, because the purpose of every morning is to hand it over to God with one question: “Lord, where are you working today, and how can we help?”
We strive to work with other people who are purposed and tasked in that same mission field.
Where we live in Haiti, there are Mango trees everywhere. As seasons change and those beautiful little nuggets of fruit come ready, we stand just like the Haitians, craning our necks to look up at the bountiful branches. Oh, the anticipation.
In a matter of weeks the green Mangos shift in color to a beautiful yellow-orange — then comes the mouth-watering wait.
Some Haitians pick them early and bury them, ripening the fruit to a beautiful gold and juicy-sweet flavor. Others can’t keep the patience and begin to search for the perfect rock to chuck up into the air. I’ve found almost every Haitian is an expert at the arc, velocity, and the sheer precision of bringing down a mango without causing much more than a bruise to the fruit.
We have three Mango trees on our property, and my son devised a wonderful plan to put old fisherman nets around the base of the trees, supported by cuttings of branches. As the mangos ripen naturally on the tree in God’s good time, they fall out of the tree and land soft as a baby in our net. Every morning of the season, we wake up early and immediately go out into the yard to see the bounty we’ve harvested.
It’s like Easter Egg hunting, Haitian-style.
We eat our fill of Mangos, have them for breakfast, make juice, and even process and freeze down the concentrate for later in the year. But without fail, we find ourselves overstocked. We give them to our neighbors, then our neighbors’ neighbors. We send them off to the old village, and even the local pigs get their fair share. There are so many we can give them by the bucket.
That’s exactly what the Christian life should look like. We should be overflowing with so much mercy, grace, peace, love and joy, that we just have to give it away. And by the bucket! The fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians should be more than we can carry.
If we’re really living in the promises of the Lord, we will be absolutely contagious, down-right infectious, to the point that we’re knocking on people’s doors, saying, “Hi, I’m sorry to bother - but would you like some Joy? Could you use a little Peace? We just have so much here, and we really don’t know what to do with it all. It’s too much!”
Not long ago a friend, my son, and myself planted two fields of corn behind our house in Haiti. It was brutal work. One man used a rock to punch a bowl into the rows, then another used a rod to make a hole for the fertilizer. Behind him came the third man, planting a single seed of corn. By the time we finished we were dripping with sweat. Our muscles were sore and our bones ached, but we felt that wonderful feeling of accomplishment and the hope of good things yet to come.
A week passed, and then another, and more and more Haitians began calling out to me, “Mayi pa leve!” (Your corn isn’t raising!)
Hope deflated like a stuck balloon and the wind fell from our sails. All that work, all that time, wasted! Another missionary had given me that seed, and he was given the seed from yet another short-term missionary. It was in a clear Ziplock bag, unnamed, unmarked in any way. There was no way to authenticate the quality of the corn, the kind, or even if it was suited to grow in a tropical climate. We planted that seed blindly, and I received a wonderful sermon in exchange.
We can go through all the work, all the planning, all the motions, but what if the seed we’re sowing is worthless? This is the bane of any Christian life, when the work we do just looks good. We wipe the sweat from our brow, give a heaving sigh, and then cast a glance over our shoulder to gaze upon our handiwork, only to see the field not raised, not even plowed in a straight line, and sprouting more weeds than fruit.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the workmen labor in vain. (PSALM 127:1)
Yet I think I’ve learned more about myself in those certain times of failure than I’ve ever learned elsewhere. Inevitably I learn that whatever I put my hand to, it had better have God in it, through it, on it, under it, and all over it. Otherwise it will reek of me.
Two weeks after we planted that field I began to pray for a man in our village, that the Holy Spirit would draw him, that he would turn from evil and follow Jesus.
Three weeks after we planted that field, I finally had some new seed, given to me by a Haitian neighbor who’d taken pity on my sorry situation. When I went to my field to plant again, there sat the man I had been praying for. He asked if he could help me plant, and for the next couple of hours we talked about family and love and Jesus while we pushed the new seeds down into the hot earth, watering the field with our sweat in the baking Haitian sun.
God waits to show us a life that is brimming over, and His seed is life everlasting.
The Potter’s House
Not long ago, I found myself in a state of absolute brokenness. A Haitian friend was teaching a class about the story of clay in our village, and he invited me.
As everyone arrived and took their seat, he placed an old chalkboard before them. The slate was worn and pitted from a thousand words that had come and gone, a thousand ideas that had been carved and whittled from the chalk, then brushed and washed away.
He thought clearly about what he wanted to say, lifted the white chalk to the black board, and in French, words began to flow. He etched out an idea. That everything must begin: with form.
Before his students could understand clay and the fine details of a master’s stroke, they must grasp this thought. First, there must be form.
The form distinguishes us, sets us apart, and characterizes us. Just as when you draw or paint, when crafting an elaborate piece of pottery you don’t begin with the details. You start with nothing, and you bring into form the idea in your mind. The details follow.
He then read to them from the first chapter of Genesis, of a time when there was nothing, when “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
When I looked at the lump of clay in the Haitian’s hands I remembered Jeremiah’s words from Lamentations 3, “I am the man...” And then I breathed in deep and heavy.
I saw myself. A story from the Scriptures came barreling to the forefront of my mind.
God said to Jeremiah, “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. (Jeremiah 18:1-4)
Never before had I been so defined and yet without shape at the same time. I felt as if the Master were thinking of me when He guided those pen strokes thousands of years before.
At that moment, I realized God was in the process of shaping me. Suddenly I was at the Potter’s house, watching Him work His masterpiece on His wheel. His wet hands were pressing through me, manifesting signature curves to form a thing so precious in His eyes; yet there was this impurity, this imperfection, and the closer I looked the more I felt it was me.
“I am the flaw!” My heart cried, “And I will never look at me again and not see it. It will always be there. Like an out of tune key on a grand piano, whatever I was made for, it will never go unnoticed, and the purpose of my very creation is in vain. No matter the song You play from me, there will always be this cryptic fault, cracked into the core of everything I have ever been and everything I will ever be. Maybe You should have never made me? Maybe I will never understand.”
My heart was broken and my soul deflated. But that wasn’t the whole story.
The Master saw my impurity, of course. He felt it! As the clay coursed through those fingers — His very print left upon my life — God’s own nature revealed the flaw. Yet it was no surprise to Him.
In perfect love He caved-in the beautiful pot, His work of art. He pressed until the form could not hold under such weight, and His massive, age-old hands brought that clay back to its humble beginnings... Just a lump.
Yet, behold the value of a lump of clay in the Master’s hands.
He didn’t cast me out! He didn’t give up or let the clay go dry and turn to dust, because those hands never quit. My imperfections will always be, and He loves me in spite of them.
This clay is of the earth. I am not a heavenly vessel. While I may have found myself in such a brokenness that it seemed best to lay my head in the dust, sit in silence and claw the ground, He forgave, and poured into me His mercy and grace.
And the best news is that I’ve been dug up from that dark pit and placed into His hands, this dirty old earth in the hands of the Great I AM! I’m HIS to form.
It’s as if God tells us, “Yes. I see the flaw. But the flaw is not you. The flaw is only a part of you. It is only a piece of this old earth, of what you’ve been made from, that lives in you.”
He takes that lump of clay and He throws it again onto the wheel, He pushes out and forms again something new, pulling up something beautiful... From nothing. It hurts. Oh how it hurts. It has to.
His hands are already dirty. He’s not afraid of a little more dirt. He chooses to work the clay. He is still forming me.
I will spin round and round on this wheel until He decides to pick me up, and then there will be for me the kiln, the fire, the final passage into what He will call perfect. For today, all I need to know is that God is not finished with me yet.
That is a story of unconditional love, and one worth telling over and over again.
“While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill — while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.” (Daniel 9:20-23)
He hears our heart cry. He doesn’t require the words or the rehearsed confession. He just asks for genuine repentance, and when He sees it, His answer comes flooding in before our prayer can even leave our lips.
Consider the more intimate story of the friendship between Jesus and Peter.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:4-11)
For over 2,000 years Jesus has been reaching out to the guilty, the ashamed, the broken, the unworthy. Which is to say, everyone. In the light of Jesus Christ, Peter remembered his sin and it overwhelmed him to the point he begged that God’s own Son would leave his presence. And Christ’s response is overwhelmingly revealing of His heart for us.
Jesus wasn’t there for the fish and a great story. From Peter’s own failures to the night-long labor in vain, all the way to the hundreds of fish and boats that couldn’t hold up under the weight of the lesson, Jesus was laser-focused on the man, the soul in front of him.
Peter’s joy is drowned in sudden, knee-dropping sorrow. But Jesus’ response is exact in the open-heart surgery of any soul becoming self-aware of its own position in relation to the Living God...
“Don’t be afraid... Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus already knew. Peter’s sin didn’t send him running for the hills. He walked with him, waited for him, and willfully rescued this man from himself.
Were Peter’s trials over? Was he finished with sin from that moment forward? Did he not continue three more years yet deny Christ as many times? Did Jesus leave him then?
Peter decided he wasn’t worthy and couldn’t be useful any longer to the world, so he went back to the beginning. He got in his little boat, rowed out into the sea, and fished the night away in vain. In the morning, the resurrected Christ, the true Lover of our souls who sees us for what we really are, told him to cast his net on the other side of the boat. When he obeyed, once again writhed that familiar haul of fish, and once again this man found himself before the Living God, broken as if for the very first time.
Did Christ wait for him along the shore to punish him?
He cooked him some breakfast over the fire — I’ve always wondered how tasty it must have been — and He spoke the most tender words this man’s soul ever heard:
“Do you love me... Do you love me... Do you love me?”
Three times, one for every rejection.
That is the character of my Lord. The same for Peter as it was hundreds of years before for another broken man, David in the Psalms. And the same today for you and me and anyone sinking under the weight and strain of ourselves.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him.”
What choice have we but to allow ourselves to be chosen? Why wouldn’t we follow such a patient love that can reach into the deepest of darkness, into the most miserable of hearts, to salvage the gold and unlock the treasure within?
Do You Love Me
On one of our trips coming back into the country, something unexpected came up for the missionary who was going to meet us at the airport, and we were left scrambling for a ride. I tried calling a few Haitian drivers that I knew, but we were in the eleventh hour, and my searching was in vain.
I put out an email to several missionaries I knew, yet none could come to the city. At the last moment a good friend of mine, Harold Herr, stepped in. I knew it was far out of his way, but at that late hour I wasn’t about to be anything but grateful. Ironically, Harold has written a book about Haiti, called Expecting the Unexpected.
This sweet man drove for hours from his home up in the mountains down to the busy city, picked up our family and then drove to our front door step, all the way across the country. He helped us with the luggage, had a little rest, and then started back for his home. For him to pick us up he had to leave the night before and stay in the city, and he wouldn’t arrive home to his bed until late into the evening.
Sitting next to him in the car, I was overwhelmed at his act of love and service.
“How can I ever repay you?” I said. “I feel like there’s nothing I could do.”
He smiled and said to me what may be the most inspiring words of my life.
“Bow low before the Lord.”
Isn’t that really it, Reader? Haiti Ever After isn’t just a play on some fairy-tale ending that has the good ring of a life lived happily. It’s really not even about Haiti, at least not so much for you. Haiti was just my trial, my storm, my test. It’s a place God brought my family to teach us something that I honestly don’t think we could learn in our cozy America.
God used Haiti to throw the clay, to force our hearts to ask hard questions, like, “What are we willing to give up for Jesus?” He formed in us a loving mercy, an honest grace, a true forgiveness. He stretched those words until they pulled up off the pages, and then He welded them into our hearts through intensely personal victories and failures.
What is your Haiti? What question has He asked that you’ve yet to yield a response? He waits for your answer.
“I gave everything for you. Do you love me...Do you love me...Do you love me?”
When Daniel was old and mourning he saw such a stirring vision that he became weak in the knees, his strength and self-worth completely sapped. God revealed so much to him that he couldn’t even muster the courage to speak, and so an Angel of the Lord was granted to touch him. Instantly, Daniel found his words.
“I have lost my strength! I’m wrecked! I’m not even worthy of hearing your words!”
Daniel cried, and such an honest cry it was.
But, in another, single, authorized touch, the angel was afforded the power to impart total peace and strength. God saw a need and He met it. He saw an empty vessel and He filled it.
Daniel was panicked, falling down and wasting away, and yet God found him to be the perfect host, suitable for great revelations. With a simple touch, Daniel was made ready, and we are no different.
God will give us what we need to carry out His mission, we need only to ask.
Every good and noble thing can be questioned to death. We can pray for years, and we can give a thousand excuses for why now is just not the right time, but ask yourself what might really happen if you just acknowledge and obey those little nudges to help, serve, give, share the love of Christ, forgive, adopt, enroll in seminary, become a missionary, anything! If the Most High is doing the nudging, what have you to lose?
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”