Blog is written by Shay Haverkamp, a high school student with the Escape22 Cornerstone Youth Trip from Ames, IA. She just returned from our grounds in Gonaives, Haiti, while serving July 13-20.

A pictures is worth 1,000 words.

I just got back from a mission trip to Haiti, and I don’t really have the right words to relay that experience to others who weren’t there. But I’ll try to give you a little picture of the last 9 days of my life. After 3 flights and a long, and relatively sleepless, night at the airport, my team of 17 arrived in Haiti. As soon as we got off the airplane we knew we weren’t in America any more. A group of men with guitars and maracas greeted us as we walked in the very hot Haitian airport. We were the spectacles of Port-au-Prince that day as the native Haitians watched 17 very tired, hot, and confused white people walk in the airport in their matching bright pink t-shirts. We finally made it past immigration and to the van and truck that our gracious hosts had prepared for us . For the next three hours we bumped, honked, and swerved our way past the Haitian countryside. As I sat with my eyes glued to the window (that is, when I wasn’t sleeping), I saw goats, dogs, donkeys, pigs, and chickens roaming the streets and open fields. I saw piles of garbage filling every available ditch. I saw women carrying very impressive amounts of cargo on their heads, children that were naked and underfed, and tents, made from tarps, that these people called their homes. Over the next few days I grew to love this country and these people that seemed so different than my own. When I came home and my mom asked me why I loved this dirt, poor, and very hot country so much, I could answer that question in so many ways: the beautiful children, the majestic scenery, my wonderful team, the fresh mangos, the list goes on and on. But these are my top three:

First off, Haiti is very poor. Some go days without eating or have to be satisfied with one meal a day. I saw one-room houses made of dirt that held families of 7, 8, or 9 people. Children were naked because they had no clothes, little boys begged for water on the streets, and most children that do not get the chance to go to school are forced into child labor…and yet these people are full of joy. They are perfectly satisfied with the smallest gifts. Two stories illustrate my point perfectly:

Every afternoon we hosted a VBS camp for the kids in the community. Our second class each day was a class of older guys; many looked to be my age. Some were younger, and some maybe even a little older. I was concerned that many of the crafts we brought were far too elementary to entertain a class of this demographic. On the third day we were scheduled to decorate picture frames and draw a small picture for the inside. I wasn’t sure what to expect. In America, I would probably either get laughed at or watch as the teens did a half-hearted job so they could get on with their life. But here, I was completely wrong. For the entire half-hour that these boys had art, they carefully and skillfully made the wooden Popsicle sticks into works of art. Many of them wrote names on them, with the intention of giving them to someone else. Even our adult translator sat down to make his own; they were so thankful and satisfied with four wooden sticks.

We had 224 kids at VBS. Here they are all singing and waving their arms.

Here is the craft that was put together by Zeke, one of our leaders in Haiti. Even he wanted a chance to create an art project.

The rice bags are packed and ready for distribution.

My second story takes place on our last afternoon in Haiti. Our team had packed up many Ziploc’s full of rice and split into groups. We then went out to bless the community with prayer and a physical gift of rice. After stashing the heavy bags of rice into our backpacks (so as not get mobbed), we wove our way through the streets. On our way, dirty children reached for our hands, every eye turned to the out-of-place white people, and we had to carefully navigate the path so as to not fall in a puddle of mud or trip on a nearby wondering goat. Our translator led us into a yard, and an older frail lady in a blue dress was sitting at a sewing machine. I regret that we never did get her name. After the usual greetings, we told her why we were there and, through our translator, asked if she had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Her face lit up as she told us how she came to know Christ when she was sick and pregnant with her first child. Then she called out and a healthy looking teenager came into view from behind the mud hut. This was the child that she had been pregnant with. We then gave her the gift of a small bag of rice. She smiled wide and repeatedly said thank you! Thank you! God bless you! Her smile was radiant. She had so little, yet such great joy. I will never forget the smile on the nameless woman in the blue dress.

Everyone celebrating at the night service.

Secondly, Christians in Haiti worship Jesus with unashamed passion. Going to a Sunday evening church service in Haiti is an experience I will never forget. How is a Haitians’ church service different than an American church service? The real question is how are they the same? For starters when’s the last time you saw Cornerstone’s congregation break out into a Congo line in the middle of worship? I’d have to say it’s been a pretty long time. The Haitians are so full of joy and passion when they worship that they can’t stand still. At the beginning of the service, the congregation began to sway and clap to the simple, VERY repetitive songs. Before I really knew what was going on, every one was jumping up and down saying, “Alleluia!”, “Praise Jesus!” and “Amen!” over and over (or at least those were the words I could understand). The kids latched on to our hands as we twirled them around. This spontaneous dance party lasted over an hour, and by the end I thought I might pass out. Their joy was so contagious I could not stop smiling. As it wound down, everyone stood panting and dripping sweat in the very hot Haitian weather. I soon found out this wasn’t a one-time deal. The Haitians did this every week. In fact, the service was usually longer, but they didn’t want to wear the Americans out. It made me think of Heaven, when one day, all tongues tribes and nations will come and shamelessly worship the king.

I can tell you one thing. If Americans worshiped like Haitians did, we would all be in really good shape.

Lastly, the biggest reason why I loved Haiti so much had little to do with the country itself. It had a lot more to do with me and God. While I was in Haiti, I was there for God. I had no distractions, everything I did was purposeful. I went knowing that my only goal for the next nine days was to bring God glory, I had no other responsibility. There is so much joy and contentment when you follow God’s will and His plan. When my trip was over, I realized (though it seemed easier to do when I was on a mission trip) that I don’t have to stop following God’s plan for my life. I can still make everything in my day purposeful in glorifying God. It just seems a lot harder to do when you’re in real life in your own country. Though I loved Haiti and would love to go back, I can still give God glory in America. There are many here that are just as lost.

God really used Haiti to change my life and I hope he used me to bring joy, hope and life to the people of Haiti as well. I will never forget the contentment in the midst of poverty, the passionate worship in the midst of a dark country, and the joy that comes when you choose to let God use you for His work.