Before I delve into this story I want to let you all know that you can help the people of Desab by donating to an organization called Stone by Stone at http://www.stonebystone.org. This post is raw, and emotional, and imperfect in its story.
Some of you reading this may know that a few weeks ago during my spring break I traveled to Haiti with a group at UNA called Alternative Breaks. This was a completely new, pretty rash, decision for me and it turned out to be one of the best and most difficult experiences of my life. It would take me hours or days or weeks to tell you everything that I want to about Desab and the truly sensational people who live there. Today, I am giving you my testimony about Desab and how it changed my outlook, challenged my faith, and changed me for the better.
For some quick backstory and to give everyone a little perspective on where I was- I traveled to a community in Haiti called Desab. This village (if you can really call it that) is completely isolated and is not located on a map. To get to Desab we had to travel almost 2 hours through the city from the airport. We made one sharp right turn and drove for a couple of hours straight up the mountain in a rickety old van that was not made for off-roading. Desab has no electricity, no running water, and no way to communicate with the outside world (except for those few who have a cell phone, but that is rare).
To answer the question that everyone is thinking: “Why in the world did you sign up to do this?” I am no outdoorsman, I am not an avid hiker, I have allergies and I don’t even particularity like being outside. But, participating in a trip like this is something that I can remember wanting to do since I was in middle school. When the opportunity presented itself to apply for the trip it was back in August or September. I noticed the application in my email from UNA I remember thinking “huh, looks cool but not for me”. Then I clicked over to Facebook and one of the first things that I noticed on my feed was where someone had posted the lyrics to the song “Spirit Lead Me”. It said “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wonder and my faith will be made stronger”. I just kept looking at that verse from the song and thinking “And my faith will be made stronger”, and I applied right then and there. And I didn’t think that I would get chosen, but I did.
One of the questions that people kept asking me before I went to Haiti and even since I’ve gotten back was “Oh you’re going on a mission trip!” or “That’s so great that you participated in a mission trip!” Of course, my answer is always that no, this isn’t a mission trip. We aren’t going to evangelize. As soon as I said that, a lot of the time, I could just see people’s faces fall. It was like suddenly my trip was less worthy. All of a sudden this thing that I was trying to do had less of an impact because I wasn’t going to preach. However, once I got to Desab I realized something extremely important. What I realized is actually the most important thing that I want to share with you all. The people of Desab don’t need Jesus. They do not need him. They don’t need him because they already have him. They have him in spades. They have him in leaps. They have him in bounds.
We got to Desab on a Saturday and the gentleman that was our sort-of guide or stand in dad for the week was named Abene. Abene is a wonderful man who left a deep impression on my soul during my week in Desab. While preparing for this trip we knew that we were going to experience a church service in the village. It was one of the things that I was most looking forward to. We all walked up to Abene and one of the first things that he made sure to tell us was that tomorrow is Sunday and, if we want to attend, we better be ready for church. We wake up Sunday morning and it felt like it was 100 degrees already at around 9am, but we’re ready to go to church, which is one of the 7 or 8 buildings that Desab has. For us to get to the church it was a pretty good walk down the mountain from the building that we slept in. We had just got to Desab and we didn’t know what to expect, and we weren’t used to the heat, and we were all like “Omg this is pretty far” and “It’s so hot” and just complaining a little on the walk down (like we all tend to do). We round the corner and the church comes into view and it’s this small concrete building with a tin roof. We walk inside and it is like an oven in there even though the doors and windows are open. So, we are immediately sticky but we walk in and the entire place is vibrating because everyone is singing so loud. We all shuffle in and our eyes are as wide as saucers just trying to take it in. I look to the side and I see one pew that is left open for us and we all make our way over and sit down, but Abene doesn’t sit with us. He marches right up to the front and pulls out this old but lovingly taken care of accordion and starts playing. Everyone is singing and literally jumping up and down. We have no idea what they’re saying because it’s all in Creole and there are little kids running around everywhere just dancing and being so joyous and I’m having trouble taking it all in. They’re being so loud and so joyful and I remember thinking to myself “This is what church should be like every Sunday.”
I mentioned everything in the service was in Creole so we didn’t expect to understand anything that they were saying. Suddenly, Abene gets up from his accordion and he walks to the center of the front of the room, because there isn’t a stage or anything, and he lets us know that he is going to preach to day so that he can translate it to English for us. I was stunned. I wasn’t even sure that this would be a typical preaching service little did I expect to get an actual sermon. Abene starts preaching and he starts out in Creole so we can’t understand any of it, but after several minutes my ears perk up because I’m like “Oh that’s English!” I realize that he is preaching on Matthew about Jesus being in Jerusalem teaching and spreading the word. His disciples were proclaiming that he was the teacher. Abene kept saying to us “You must understand this, you must understand. You must understand that Jesus is the ultimate teacher. You see he left us a book a guide book even! With information on how to live so we will have better life when we go to heaven with him! This is most important book you will ever read.” He was so adamant and you could tell he was genuinely concerned about our faith and what we believed and we were all complete and total strangers to him. But that’s the people of Desab in a nutshell. They have every single reason to turn their backs on faith and on God because every single thing that could go wrong in their lives has gone wrong. Instead of doing that they sing to the lord and they dance as they climb these mountains with no shoes, and holes in their clothes, and growling bellies because they have so much hope and faith. Abene preached and he said “I do not have a nice home here. I do not have money, but I know that I have a palace waiting for me in heaven. I want to see that palace and I want to live there and I cannot wait my friends! I want that for you too so you must understand!” When he said that I could feel my eyes well up with tears right there in the service because I couldn’t believe how much these people loved the lord with all of their hearts and all of their soul when they had every reason not to. Yet here I was complaining about the walk down to the church. Here I am blessed with the life that I get to live and all the opportunities that I have and I don’t express that amount of love or joy.
The people of Desab taught me so many things while I was there. One of the most impactful parts were the children. They simultaneously lifted and broke my heart. One of the things that we tried to do was make peanut butter sandwiches to hand out to all the kids and the men that were working on the school with us that week. One day some of us were handing them out and we got down to the bottom of the hill where the village kind of ends and we handed our last two sandwiches to two little boys. As soon as we were out we were standing with those two little boys and we see another little boy running down the mountain straight for us and we knew he wanted a sandwich. We had just run out. So, two of us look at each other like “Oh no” and begin to panic a little because we just can’t look at his little face and not give him anything. We look over and the two little boys that we had just given sandwiches to were walking up to the other little boy. They each broke their sandwich in half and handed a half to the new little boy. Now, those two only had half a sandwich and this other little boy had a whole one but they didn’t even hesitate or think about it, they just did it. They didn’t ask if we had another one. They just immediately gave what very little they had to their friend. That’s what they do. The people of Desab have such a strong sense of community and love for one another that they don’t even think about it. What they lack in material possessions they more than make up for in their abundant love for one another. They love each other in the exact way that the lord tells us to.
I think about the people of Desab every single day. I think about my little kids and wonder if they’ve eaten, and how hungry they are, and if their feet hurt, and if they’re sick. I’ll think about them for the rest of my life. When I think about them and I feel myself just falling into this total sadness I remember what they taught me. How they taught me to worry a little less. To trust in God a little more. To stop letting the little inconveniences get to me. I remember that while I complain about my backpack being too heavy or the walk from the parking lot to the main campus being too long, my little kids are walking seven miles up the mountain to the nearest water source, barefoot, and bringing back water for their families. I’ve learned to have more faith because if the people of Desab can sing with such abandon, and love so freely, and have so much infectious joy, when they have absolutely nothing and when they don’t know if they’ll eat tomorrow, I should be able to do the same. I’ve learned to sing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Oh How I Love Jesus” at the top of my lungs just like Abene did with us every single night. I’ve learned that the lord is gracious and as Abene told us “You cannot take your fancy car or smart phone or big house with you when you go, but we will all stand in judgement together one day and Jesus will hug me and he will say ‘Thank you good and faithful servant’ and I will finally have a home.” More than anything I want to see Abene again one day. If I can’t do that by going back to Desab I know that I can by walking in faith and being a light, and standing with him in Heaven one day.
Desab is a place not filled with poverty, but bursting with joy. It’s doesn’t contain broken people but people who are fully whole because they are saved by the One True King. Desab is not a place that you should think about and pity. It is a place that you should look at with envy and strive to emulate. Desab is a place that has helped me jumpstart my faith and begin to share it with all of you. Desab will eternally live in my soul as the home where God told me to let my light shine.