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Mission Trip To Haiti Travelogue

By: Rev. Martin Hawley

Day 1 in Country — Sunday (February 17, 2008):


Jackson, the baggage-handler on right, orchestrates the men necessary to handle all of our luggage in a timely and secure fashion.

We departed our hotel in Miami about 4:45 am on Sunday and arrived at Miami International at approximately 5:30 am. The hotel where we had been put up for the previous night was actually a resort casino operated by a tribe of Florida Indians in the Everglades.

Our flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince departed about 7:00 am and we had a smooth flight across the stretch of Atlantic Ocean and islands lying between the tip of the Florida peninsula and Haiti. The flight path passed by the northeastern edge of Cuba and arrived in Port-au-Prince at 9:00 am local and Eastern Time. As we flew over the water’s edge near the shore of Haiti on our approach, the deep, vibrant blue-green color and tranquil character of the water was striking. I also noticed mountain peaks, rising precipitously from the Caribbean shoreline to several thousand feet above sea-level. Some were covered in trees and vegetation, but most were completely barren — utterly deforested.

Mid-flight we were given Haitian Immigration and Customs forms to fill out and told to fill them out and keep them at hand for the officials at the airport. The first impression you have when stepping-off the plane in Haiti for the first time is the hotness of the steady breeze blowing across the tarmac and also the way the plane disembarks using those old-fashioned rolling stairways — like something from an old movie — and this even in the case of a modern American Airlines Airbus 300! It was also a wake-up call to see the armed UN contingent guarding the airport runways and the terminal.

We formed a line in the newest part of the terminal with many returning Haitians and several Anglo missionaries in order to proceed through immigration. I greeted the agent with what pathetic French I knew and after some casual pleasantries I was welcomed and stepped from the immigration area unto Haitian national soil.

Once all of us cleared customs, we moved through a set of doors to the large adjoining baggage handling area. The Haitians did have conveyor belts for the bags to pass in front of the travelers for retrieval. However, I also watched the airport staff do much of the rest of the baggage handling, lifting, and sorting by hand. We had enough luggage that Crawford realized it would be simpler to use carts, and so he disappeared for a few moments and returned with just what we need to haul our bags out to our waiting Haitian friends. In leaving the baggage claim area, we passed by several more immigration and customs officers who gave our luggage the once over and quickly waived us on to the terminal main exit.

We paused at the front doors, and could plainly see the outside airport loading area packed with a mixture of Haitians awaiting returning family, those awaiting a quick traveler tip for helping with suit cases and such, an assorted crowd of the unemployed, and some regular airport staff. Among the faces we glimpsed in all the chaos, was our dear smiling brother Jean Paul!  Behind his smile, though, we knew there lurked a genuine concern for our safety and a genuine anxiousness to get us loaded and on the way to Souls Winning Presbyterian Church, for time was running out for the start of morning worship.

The area around the airport terminal (by the way, the airport is named Toussaint Louverture International Airport) [see appendix on Toussaint*] was chaotic, with many Haitians milling about looking to do something for the Anglos to make a dollar or two in tips. Our guide Crawford had already arranged with a one-armed man named Jackson, a baggage-handling ‘Mafioso,’ to orchestrate the men necessary to handle all of our luggage in a timely and secure fashion. We left the fenced-in parking area and headed down the dusty, crowded streets of Port-au-Prince, moving quickly to get to Souls Winning Ministries in time for the Lord’s Day morning service. You must understand that the streets of Haiti are for the most part unpaved, rutted, pot-holed, and congested with all sorts of pedestrians, prone to cross in front of drivers with little thought or concern.

We arrived at Souls Winning for worship and dressed in our robes, beginning the service at about 11:00 am. We were made to feel so welcome and loved. The members had made welcome signs for each of us and hung them behind the platform on the wall of the house. There were silk flowers and streamers as well. The choirs were excellent and moved me to the depths of my heart and soul. During the early portion of the service, I looked out across the crowd of 1055 persons and spotted Pastor Jean Raphael Ceon on the front row with the other visiting ministers. I left the platform rather uncharacteristically in order to greet him and give him a warm embrace. It was so good to see him again!

After Alan gave the charges to Jean Paul and the congregation, I helped to place the robe upon him.

My brother in Christ Alan Lutz was introduced to put the BCO ministerial call questions to Jean Paul. Francis kindly agreed to translate the questions into Creole so that the congregation would understand and afterward Alan and I worked together to place the robe upon Jean. Pastor Lutz then did a very convicting and thorough ministry of charging both Jean Paul and the congregation in the duties and responsibilities in Christ they were to exercise towards one another. We invited the visiting pastors to come forward from the front row to the platform to pray with and for Jean Paul and to extend to him the right hand of fellowship.

After a delightful round of further hymns and choir ministry, Jean Paul called upon me to preach the Word. I preached from Romans 8:31 – 39, and in the process also charged the congregation to stand against voodoo and not to fear its ‘so-called’ powers. Little did I know until the end of the day that the last voodoo priest in Jean Paul’s neighborhood had come to the service that day and was considering accepting Jesus. The voodoo priest thought that Jean Paul had told me to preach about voodoo. All the while, the Holy Spirit had actually arranged it, for I had known nothing about the special ‘guest’ prior to the service!

The children eagerly posed for a picture and immediately wanted to see the preview.

After the service concluded, I took the digital camera into the house and began photographing the children. They were fully engaged with this and everyone wanted to pose for a picture and then look as the preview screen to see themselves. Then I went upstairs and returned in a short while with 100 large Hershey’s bars I brought to Haiti for the orphans. Big mistake! I should never have brought them down without waiting for help from the orphanage staff and Jean Paul’s assistants.  Before I knew what had happened, the children were stampeding all over me and grabbing chocolate bars so quickly that I was nearly knocked off my feet! I learned a valuable lesson and the proper timing for such giveaways in the future. I also learned not to give a large handout of money after I gave $20.00 to a desperate man who had five children to feed and thought I could help. Jean Paul had food prepared for the service attendees. However, he had expected just over 900 and so the lunches ran out and all of the pastors skipped the meal so that more of the hungry would be able to eat.

We left Souls Winning soon afterward, only to end-up at a service station where regular gas was — get this — $6.00 per gallon! With the Soul’s Winning van, that came to over $180.00 US (over 6,000.00 in Haitian currency!). We checked in to our lodgings and spent the rest of the afternoon in planning for Monday’s and the rest of the week’s activities. I also discovered that I love Haitian Coca Cola — which tastes both sweeter and spicier than U.S. bottled Coke.

 

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