Boarding the plane to Haiti
It has been 12 days since I wrote our first family blog on July 10. Twelve days of transformation and change, of highs and lows, and all the joys and messiness of life. It is amazing to me how time, which is constant, seems to speed up or slow down, based upon circumstances. For myself as I reflect on the past 12 days, it seems like such a long time ago I wrote that blog and my family would say the same thing. It’s because we witnessed God moving in such a way, it reshaped us as a family. We were reoriented in how we perceive the world. Reoriented in a good way.
"We are the living, breathing Good News of the Gospel and we testify to what God is doing."
With permission, I’d like to share how this family IMPACT trip reoriented each of us. During the trip, each family member worked on his or her story and the morning we left Haiti, all verbally told that story to the staff of Many Hands. I’m going to recap each story, in the order they were told, because as Christians, we need to hear each other’s stories. We are the living, breathing Good News of the Gospel and we testify to what God is doing. With that said, it is our gift to you to share our stories with you.
“Bear with one another in love.”
As the mother of our family, Catie first thought about bringing our family in 2014, as she went on a week-long trip in June. But, issues arose in the ministry and the planned 2015 trip never happened. Then, in 2017, she again came to Haiti with the eyes of a mother to plan a 2018 trip. Unrest erupted in Haiti and that trip had to be postponed. It is with patience and expectation she came into this trip.
With the theme to “bear with one another in love”, taken from Ephesians 4:2-3, she saw this come alive on the fourth day in Haiti, on Sunday. That morning, our family sang 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) in church, with Abbie playing the piano and our entire family singing.
Singing “10,000 Reasons” at the church service
From there, we left the church in the back of a rebuilt Toyota truck to deliver food to needy families in the rural communities of Charles and Jean Boule. In typical Haiti fashion, the truck got stuck in a huge mud bog on the “road” to these rural communities. But, out of seemingly nowhere, the four committee members of the Many Hands Servant Leadership Group from this community heard our truck revving and came running to help. Soon, we were unstuck and on our way.
The road where the truck was bogged
Each family situation was desperate and dire. One elderly couple’s home had completely caved in the back, the husband was blind, and the wife wasn’t sure she wanted to follow Jesus. Another couple was both blind and could no longer work. Next was a widow, who felt abandoned in a home that was falling apart. Then another widow, who had given birth to 9 children, of which she had buried four. Lastly, was the tiniest woman we had ever seen. She was also a widow, claimed to be 86, had high blood pressure, and had no access to food. Her body was literally eating away at her. It was in these circumstances, Catie saw her kids pray for these families and these situations. She heard the stories of these individuals and was able to bear with them in love, providing food for the weeks to come, but just as importantly, saw them as people and with dignity, listened to them.
The first home visited
The home of one of the widows
The Brand family visited with a couple who were both blind
Leaving Haiti on this trip, she never wants to forget the last lady, sitting in the dirt waiting for our family to arrive. And the sparkle in her eye when we came, despite her desperate circumstances. She exposed our family what it meant to bear with one another in love and we will carry that back with us as we return from Haiti. Catie’s hope is to continue to have opportunities for our family to bear with others in love, serving together in our broken world.
“Push through no matter what.”
Coming into this trip, Abbie felt the words God had given her were to push through no matter what, coming from Philippians 4:13. It was on the flight down to Florida that God also gave her some additional words to look for and show kindness. It was from this starting place she entered Haiti.
Since 2012, Abbie has wanted to come to Haiti, as that year, her big cousins went to Haiti and she thought it also sounded fun. She has always looked up to her cousins and this gave her an opportunity to follow in their footsteps. But, it wasn’t until last year, 2018, when she thought the trip would actually happen. After an additional year of waiting, she was anxious to get to Haiti.
Abbie’s impact moment, when her words would become real to her, happened on the third night in Haiti. Right before dinner, Liz came to Morgan De Ruiter and Abbie and asked them if they wanted to go with her to visit a baby, who earlier in the week, had a nasty wound, but through proper care, it was getting better. They would go to the home, evaluate the wound, clean it, and dress it. All three, plus the driver, jumped on the motorcycle for the visit.
On the bike, ready to go
Being this was the second time Abbie had ever ridden on a motorcycle, she jumped off the right side of the bike where the extremely hot muffler is located and immediately burned her calf. Not wanting to draw attention to herself, she didn’t tell anyone with her, as she knew this visit was about the baby, not her. In pain, she helped Liz and Morgan and upon arriving home, ran up to the bathroom, as she didn’t want anyone to know. Mom investigated and Abbie eventually told her and showed her the burn, which now had a giant blister. Each day, the leg hurt a lot, but Abbie did not let the leg get in the way of what God wanted to show her. She pushed through, no matter what, and tried to show kindness to the people she saw. Everytime it hurt, she would start to repeat her scripture verse, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Abbie’s (right) sitting with a family during a home visit
Abbie’s burn at the end of the trip
Looking back on the week, Abbie never wants to forget the kindness she saw in all the staff at Many Hands for Haiti. From Liz taking Abbie out for home visits, to the cooks joyfully preparing food, to Louisa, our PMJ helper, giving her hugs and kisses, everyone was kind to her. This is something she wants to carry with her back home, as she can show others kindness to others and push through in difficult circumstances.
Abbie and Liz wearing the same shoes!
“Be bold, be brave, be honest.”
AJ didn’t really think this trip was going to happen until May 2019. The year before, we were supposed to go to Haiti, but it ended up getting cancelled. But, in May 2019, God revealed his words, “Be bold, be brave, be honest.” Be bold and brave came from Lakeview Camp, as that was the theme of that camp he attended in June. He also thought it would be a good idea to be honest in Haiti, as God would like that. At this point, he was scared to go to Haiti, as he had never been out of the country before. Then in June 2019, he started to gain confidence, as the family watched all the orientation videos together. He was still a little scared, but more excited about the possibilities of going to Haiti.
AJ helping a cement crew lay a new floor
AJ’s words became real to him on Saturday morning, the third day in Haiti, as he stood at the base of the mountain. Having never climbed a mountain before, he knew it would take bravery to get to the top of the mountain. He was a little uneasy, but with the group going with him, he felt confident he could get there. All the way up the mountain, AJ rocked it, chatting the entire time. Upon reaching the top of the mountain, AJ was amazed by the view. It was so cool. He could see the campus, the market, and so many places he had visited. It was so beautiful. Making his way down the mountain, AJ was exhausted, but satisfied as he had climbed a mountain!
At the top of the mountain
Something AJ never wants to forget is the view from on top of that mountain. It was just so beautiful and all the boldness and bravery it took to get to the top of the mountain was worth it. Coming home, he wants to be able to share with others to be brave– if he can climb a mountain, others can do great things as well.
“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
This trip has been something Catie and I have talked and prayed about since 2007, the first trip we led together. Little did we know that we were actually taking a family trip at that time, as Abbie was forming in Catie’s womb. But, given all the cancellations and delays in previous attempts, I didn’t get my hopes up for the actual trip until we were on the plane, leaving Des Moines. I just didn’t want to be disappointed again in another canceled trip.
The theme for me on this trip was “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” I’ve dedicated my life to one of service and as many know, sometimes those who serve publicly forget to serve those that matter the most, their family. It has always been important to me for my children to actually witness me in service, not just talk about it. This was a motivating factor behind me leaving a traditional business job and switching to the non-profit sector, as I wanted my children to witness serving from their parents.
During a home visit
The time of impact for me, when I saw the theme take life, came during the food distributions. In Catie’s story, it describes the types of families we visited that day to distribute food and pray for them. It was humbling, tragic, and overwhelming all at the same time. At the first family, I listened to the story of the couple and volunteered to pray for the family. At the second family, Catie listened to the story of the couple and volunteered to pray for the family. Now came the third family. This widow was all alone and in pain, as she had dislocated her ankle years earlier and it never healed correctly. AJ stepped forward and said he would like to pray for her. For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, as that fear of him not being able to handle this situation crept into my thoughts. This lady was raw with us, telling her personal struggles and I so wanted to honor her with prayers to God. AJ nailed it, praying boldly for the woman, her children, her ankle, and her living situation. I was honored listening to AJ’s prayer and I’m sure it brought a huge smile to God’s face. Next, we went to the fourth family. In this home, it was a weird vibe, unlike the other four homes. It was a bit more distant, more untrusting, and a colder feeling. The situation was desperate and I felt the hurt and anger from the family in their words. Abbie volunteered to pray for the family and she prayed from the heart. Her words pierced the darkness and brought light to a dark place. Silently I praised God, as He has been working on their hearts for some time and I had just witnessed His goodness inside of them.
During a home visit
Leaving Haiti on this trip, I never want to forget the power of family living and serving on purpose. Families hold a special place in God’s heart and I was shown the power He bestows on those that choose to serve together. I am stepping forward to be love in action by continuing to lead my family and other families in how to serve their Lord in all their lives. Not just on Sunday or designated times. God has burdened my heart with a desire to strengthen families across the world, so He can do immeasurably more through them than anyone could imagine.
I thank all those who prayed for us during our trip. Your prayers were felt and they carried us in our service. God is brewing something in my soul about leading family trips next summer. I’m not ready to announce anything at this time, but I hope to in the near future. May God be glorified in all we do and we thank Him for this opportunity to share.