July “Team Haiti” is back and this is our Haiti Memoir!

July “Team Haiti” is back and this is our Haiti Memoir!

Team Leader:
Brandi Bessinger

Team members:
Scott, Leanne and Sophie Phillips
Kim and Noah Haas
Shelley Gove

We are home safe and sound, and what an unforgettable trip to Haiti it was! The Haitian people and their country are forever imprinted on our hearts and souls. It was a bittersweet departure and re-entry into the States, with each of our minds occupied by thoughts of our new Haitian friends and the many things we saw and experienced.

What we discovered is the Haitians want to love and be loved – just like us. The difference is there is no pretense to their love. No judgment, distraction or cynicism. Just pure and simple love. Something we all crave, even us preoccupied, restless and spoiled Americans. For one week we slowed down and loved and served each other and the Haitians with our whole hearts. We were loved in a way we’d never quite experienced. And we smiled – a lot.

The slower pace, simplicity and beauty of the Haitian way causes us to pause and ask – are Americans really better off? Even though there are disease-carrying mosquitoes in Haiti, hunger, and poverty? Upon our return we find ourselves thankful for the medical care, food abundance, clean water, education, and the many comforts we have. But what has our culture done to us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, even physically? Our society is fast-paced, materialistic, competitive, super-sized, comparison-focused, self-serving and complex. In Haiti we sweat, our fingernails got dirty, and we smelled. We laughed because Leanne thought her hair was turning into Haitian hair. All of us ladies had hair issues, but we didn’t care! Food and sleep and beauty contests became secondary to us, just like to the Haitians. Our priorities were realigned, for the better. The focus was off the self and on to serving others. The result was a peace and joy that can’t be put into words.

The village and Lifeline.

Almost all of the children in the village are in need of attention, clothing and food and that is what Lifeline is there to provide, along with medical, dental, and spiritual care. It’s a holistic approach. We observed that despite extreme living conditions, the Haitians are full of kindness, laughter, and charity, and they simply want to be your friend. At Lifeline’s Canteen where we fed the village children, we witnessed older siblings making sure younger siblings got a plate of food. We learned the Haitian children have dreams and aspirations just like we do. Some want to go to college in Haiti, while others hope to come to America to make a life (some asked to be adopted by us). Many of the children are skilled at making bracelets, bags and baskets, and they make money this way. They want to get married and have families. Some want to be pastors, others doctors, nurses or engineers. There are those who live in one-room mud and stick homes despite having big families, while others have two or three room houses made of a stronger material. No one has electricity, hot water, or screened windows. And almost no one has clean water to drink. The people bathe in the river or the stream that is part of their irrigation system. Some of them have a pan to cook food in. Mangos, plantains and coconuts grow wild, and Lifeline has a garden and employs some local Haitians who have learned to work the land in order to reap a harvest that will feed many. Women do laundry in the streams and hang clothes to dry in the hot Haitian sun. A few have motorcycles or cars and are sure to let you know to get out of their way by laying on their horns! There are dogs and goats everywhere, some cows, horses and pigs. Bossy roosters woke us up every morning – no need for alarm clocks in Haiti! The village of La Digue, surrounded by beautiful mountains, is just outside the Lifeline gates and is full of activity from sun up until late at night. But it’s a simple and communal way of living, and the people are resilient and connected to one another. It’s survival.

The orphanages we visited.

We ministered to the hungry and the sick at two less than ideal orphanages (not owned by Lifeline). At one orphanage a two-week old baby girl was struggling for her life. (The latest is she is getting stronger!) A third orphanage we visited called Coba is run by wonderful people and the children are clean, educated and well cared for. We wish every orphanage was run this way. We are happy to report Children’s Lifeline is opening a new orphanage, to be modeled after Coba. At the orphanages we gave out love bundles and did water color paintings with the children – some of them are very artistic. They sang to us and we spent time showing them they are loved.

Shopping Day – all items free!

It was very gratifying to set up a store inside Lifeline with donated clothing, hygiene items, and peanut butter. We gathered people in groups, gave them plastic bags, and let them shop for whatever they needed. (Some of the donations were from ROCC – they really make a difference and get to those in need). The joy on their faces was proof we made their day by not only providing for them, but letting them choose what they liked. We were able to do this twice and hope we have started a new Lifeline tradition!

The US Air Force cargo plane.

What a treat it was on Sunday, our last day in Haiti, for our team to help unload 15,000 pounds of humanitarian aid from a United States Air Force cargo plane and deliver some of it to Lifeline. We found ourselves humbled and proud to experience how America is helping Haiti, a nation still recovering from the 2010 earthquake and 2012 hurricane.

Sophie and Noah – teammates and inspirations.

River Oaks family, you would be so proud of our intrepid youngsters who are among the first youth to go on a ROCC Haiti trip. They made us smile each day as we watched them in action. They were naturals, loving and serving and embracing the Haitians. Not once did they complain about the heat, getting up early, working hard, getting doused at least twice a day by bug spray, or anything they witnessed and experienced that was outside their comfort zone. No culture shock for them – they adapted more quickly than us adults and slept like rocks each hot July night! We could count on Noah to spot critters each day – he had an eagle eye for lizards, spiders, and all God’s creatures. Sophie and Noah say they want to live in Haiti, so this may just be the beginning of missions for them. Both the children were far from ready to leave on our last day.

Speaking of critters – the tarantula.

During an early morning hike on Thursday, Shelley was walking behind Kim when she shouted “Kim move forward!” A large tarantula was standing up in strike position, getting ready to attack Kim’s leg! Thankfully Shelley’s warning was enough to move Kim along and out of danger. Meanwhile our Haitian friend named Noah, and Kim’s son Noah stomped on the tarantula. Shelley and our two Noahs saved the day. At the top of the mountain, the team took in beautiful views and spent a little time in the mountain village and school, which was empty since the children are on summer break. School in Haiti follows the same schedule as most public schools in America.

More critters – the jellyfish.

We enjoyed a half-day of rejuvenation at a gorgeous Caribbean beach resort and while there, Leanne, Sophie AND Noah all got stung by jellyfish! Thankfully they were only babies and the pinch and sting didn’t last long. Another memory to add to our trip.

A big crisis – but God was bigger.

Before leaving for Haiti, Scott had some poison ivy on his wrist. Scott treated it topically, but it wasn’t healing due to the humid climate. By Friday, a pustule had opened up and he started to feel feverish and dizzy. He popped some Ibuprofen and we went about our day – who has time to be sick right?! But later Scott and Leanne noticed an open sore had formed and an inch-wide red line had begun to spread along a vein up his arm, past his elbow. After re-examining his arm, we collectively decided antibiotics were in order, and as soon as we returned to Lifeline that evening our host obtained antibiotics from the onsite medical clinic. Meanwhile two of the interns staying at Lifeline (biology majors) had been doing online research on Scott’s possible condition. All signs pointed to a blood infection, so Scott was taken to a nearby hospital where he received an antibiotic injection. Further research and discussion made it clear Scott was septic – a serious condition in which he needed more than an injection – strong intravenous antibiotics were necessary and ASAP. He was taken to a hospital in Port-au-Prince (picture something out of MASH), and after three long hours was finally hooked up to intravenous antibiotics. But we didn’t know if they would be the right ones or if the hospital would even have what he needed. In a septic situation, it is often trial and error before finding the right combination of meds and time is of the essence. The Phillips began making plans to fly back to the states as soon as possible. But thanks to the many prayers from ROCC, our families, our team and Lifeline, a miracle occurred. The very first antibiotic combination administered to Scott began to work immediately, and the redness quickly diminished. By Saturday afternoon Scott rejoined the team in regular activities! His strength, energy and resilience was God-given, and we were blessed to stay together and finish out our week of service as a team. Scott has since seen his physician, who says to finish his oral antibiotics and he will be just fine.

So, what’s outside your door?

When have you walked outside your door and started your day off by hearing your name called with enthusiasm and receiving big hugs by a group of smiling children? This is Haiti and this is what we imagine our Lord longs to do every morning when we wake up – he wants our attention and he wants to give us His. To love us and be loved by us. To heal and to bless. To teach, to comfort and to nourish. Yet our tendency can be to push Him away. One thing is for sure – the Haitians did not push us away or take us for granted. They embraced us wholeheartedly, and we did them. So what’s outside our doors in our own neighborhoods that needs some attention? Or inside our own homes, hearts and minds? We can all be the change we want to see happen.

Thank you for praying for our team.

River Oaks
Our mission is to Go to the lost with the message of Jesus Christ, Grow our faith in Jesus Christ, and Show compassion to those in need. We offer services at 9:00 and 10:30am, a student service at 10:30am, and a Spanish service at 12:30pm. Come visit us and let us show you around!

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