The Mission or The Maker?

I was six days away from my next trip to Haiti when all of the flights were canceled and the boarders shut down. Up until the last moment, I was determined to go. My bags were packed, my mind already there on the dusty streets of the nation I’d left my heart in. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. It took the government shutting down the country for me to be still.

I was crushed. I’ve devoted my life as a missionary to the children of Haiti and, in an instant, I was no longer allowed to see them (and for who knows how long). One of my boys there called… “When are you coming back?” I could hear the fear in his voice. Fear of another loved one leaving and never returning again. My heart ached. For the first time, I had to respond with, “I don’t know.” I refuse to use the word promise with these children. They’ve lived through too many broken promises. But everything within me wanted to promise him that I’d come back soon. I know, God willing, I’ll return to Haiti…but that little boy doesn’t. He can’t. Nothing has ever been certain for him. Despite the nine trips I’ve taken in the last two years, these kids have suffered through so much loss that they can’t afford to trust me at my word. Trauma has broken them too many times. Walls have been built around their hearts; walls only Jesus can tear down.

I am thankful for my safety. For my health and my family’s health here at home during this pandemic. Coronavirus is a threat to be careful in dealing with. I understand the blessing in being here. Yet, I can’t pretend that I didn’t sink into a deep depression after being stranded away from the other half of my family. What I see as my purpose, my place in God’s mission, suddenly felt threatened by restrictions with no end date. I was left alone with a new, harsh reality; the realization that a huge piece of myself was incredibly unhealthy and broken. What this time of quarantine is teaching me is that I’ve allowed my focus on missions to overshadow my focus on Christ himself.

Day after day, I’d lay in the darkness of my room and find it hard to get up out of bed. It’s hard to admit, but I felt a sense of hopelessness; all because I was being kept from the mission field. When, all along, the One who I’m on mission for has been right here by my side. God IS the purpose of all I’ve done and will do in Haiti…but what if He took Haiti away from me? What if overseas missions work was suddenly off the table? Would I still feel fulfilled? Would I still have a sense of purpose? Would my heart still stir with passion for serving? Would I still see God as good if all I have worked for was gone?

…Am I more in love with the mission or The Maker?

The truth that I couldn’t answer that question with instant, honest devotion to Him above all else was devastating. It brought me to my knees…a kind of pain I don’t have words for. There are a million reasons why the walls built up around my heart exist. But, why have I been keeping God on the outside? Why have I jumped ahead to deeper and deeper relationships with His children than with Jesus Himself? How could I forget to stop and work on transparency, depth, and faithfulness to Him that transcends anything I’d ever give to humankind?

There is a reason why I’m here and not in Haiti right now; why it all played out this way. This realization had to take place for me to ever be a truly effective missionary. God has to be the source of my strength, the foundation of my being…my greatest and first love. I must be so wrapped up in my feelings for Him that all else is simply overflow. I want my children, both here and in Haiti, to remember me for my love of Jesus. If there’s nothing else I accomplish in my time on earth…may loving Him well be my sole mission.

In the coming weeks, as I’m waiting for the world to begin moving again, I will set aside all my striving. I will breathe Him in and allow Him to change me in a way only He can. Without Him, there is no mission. At the core of who I am, there is only Jesus.

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Where It All Began

He’s the reason it all started. I scrolled through the list of children to sponsor and when I saw his face, God nudged me, whispering to my heart, “This is the one”. I came on my first mission trip to Haiti just to meet him. I had no idea that this relationship was just the beginning of all that God had for me. To be honest, I was holding back on that trip. I didn’t want to fall in love with a land or a people so far from my comfort zone. I knew it meant heartache. But that’s part of following the calling on our lives.

We are called to love as Jesus loves us, holding nothing back. That means pain, sometimes beyond what we feel we can take. Today, as I finish up my eighth trip to the orphanage, I am feeling the weight of loving these children as if they were my own. This week has been the hardest my boy and I have had since we met, discovering what it really means to move past the typical mission trip week of Bible school fun and games, and stepping into the mess of what his past has left behind. The abuse and trauma this boy has suffered has a depth to it that may never be known to anyone but God himself. The effects of it, wreaking havoc on his mind, body, and soul; causing issues that can make daily life for him feel like an impossible challenge. The way he’s been conditioned to behave doesn’t line up with the expectations or the rules. He knows that he teeters on the verge of being put back out on the streets, but doesn’t know how to change. The dysfunction runs too deep…right now.

But God’s not finished yet.

This child, like so many, is at the heart of the great commission to reach the lost. For the moment, he has shelter and food. But his soul is wandering in a darkness that only Jesus can chase away. I make the trek to the country of Haiti over and over again preaching hope to these children because, like my “son” here, I was the 1 sheep that The Good Shepherd left the 99 for. His love was relentless. I had wandered so far from the path, plagued by generational sin and abuse, that I had given up completely. But God refused to give up on me. The only way to even come close to thanking Him for saving my life, is to live my life chasing down the lost and hurting with the Truth of a Savior who has come to restore all that has been lost and broken.

So, this is my mission; one that has no end…that this child, and all like him who God places in my life, would know that they are not just loved by God, but chosen by Him, to be extravagantly blessed by a grace that changes everything.

Chosen

So many times, I’d made the trip to Haiti with the mindset that I was the one helping; the one who was going to make a difference…the one doing the choosing. I was choosing to be there. I was choosing which projects to be a part of. I chose when to engage, and when to distance myself. It only took a handful of times stepping foot onto the orphanage campus for God to shake me awake to the truth that I was never the one in control. Sure, I was there by choice…but long before I became a missionary, I had been chosen. God knew all along exactly how the story would unfold and He chose me to play a part that, years ago, I would have disqualified myself from playing. Not knowing how deeply loved I was by my Heavenly Father, I had taken myself out of the race. When, all along, He was training me for victory.

Raised by two people who didn’t know how to love me, meant I didn’t know how to be loved. I sought it out in all the wrong places, people, and things. I gave myself away until I reached the dark place of being taken, without permission. I lost so much of myself in desperation to feel wanted and cared for. I tried to take my own life in desperation to end the feeling of being alone.

But God had chosen me. And He wasn’t giving up.

Years later, when I began doing missions work, I still didn’t understand my worth. I could lovingly tell others how cherished they were by God but couldn’t seem to comprehend that I was equally as loved as those I was serving. I operated as though I could give something to others that I didn’t have. I tried to speak life into traumatized children when I was still reeling from my own trauma, and didn’t see myself as worthy of my calling. It worked for a short time. I was able to put forth truths about identity as I knew it from God’s Word, all the while not believing I counted as someone it applied to. I had heard The Gospel most of my life, yet still believed the lie that someone like me, who’d been through what I’d been through and done what I’d done, couldn’t possibly be worthy of such unending, relentless love from God. As I got to know the kids more and we formed deeper relationships, I realized I couldn’t speak life into them when I didn’t feel alive. I had to learn who I was in Christ, believe that it was truth (no matter what my past looked like), and then walk it out in everyday life. I needed to be healed.

So many of the children in Haiti hold a special place in my heart and I see each moment with them as an undeserved gift. Slowly, as more of my heart took up permanent residence in this country so far from home, I began to see the calling on my life unfold and grow more comfortable with myself as a daughter of The King. I began to spend more and more time alone with Jesus, studying the meaning behind all the verses I had memorized years before. I began opening myself up in His presence, laying out all the uncomfortable, painful experiences that had built walls between us. Eventually, I was able to see that God had gifted me in ways specially made for the work I was doing. He was taking all that had been broken and was making it beautiful; giving my past pain a purpose. Yet, there were still chains that needed to be broken before I could walk boldly, without fear or insecurity, onto the mission field.

The final shift in my perspective came a few months after meeting Aslin. It started as many relationships in Haiti do for me – through time spent talking and praying, sharing experiences; serving him and his family as best as I knew how, and in whatever way God led me to. What I didn’t see coming was Aslin’s perspective of me…

The young man is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. Despite living in poverty all his life, working to take care of his father since the age of twelve, and being traumatized over and over again by things I’ve only seen in nightmares…his faith is the strongest of anyone I know; focused, unwavering, whole-hearted, pure faith that I have always aspired to have. For him, The Gospel isn’t just a story. It’s everything. Jesus is everything. No terror distracts him from his end goal of knowing God more today than he did yesterday. Watching this kind of faith in circumstances so much more devastating than my own…nothing has ever humbled me more. Until the day Aslin called me Mom. 

He chose me. 

Me, who has such little faith; such huge flaws. Me, who is often such a mess on the inside. Me, who has taken for granted the gifts of the shelter, food, and family I come home to after every mission trip. Me, who is still very much in process and doesn’t have all the answers. Me. The same me that had found myself in a car with a bottle of pills and nothing left to give…had just been given one of the most precious titles in life, by one of the most beautiful souls I’d ever met. In that moment, Aslin had shown me Jesus. This undeserved love, this gift of being chosen just as I am, for a position of such honor in the heart of another…this moment took down the walls around my heart and allowed the truth to fully settle in that I am worthy of love. Love without shame, guilt, or condemnation; love without limits and beyond all expectation. 

On the mission field of life, we are chosen. Not because we are smart enough, fast enough, beautiful enough, or pure enough. We are chosen because we are loved. 

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The Why: My Heart For Haiti

I’ve always admired missionaries; anyone really, who’s willing to leave the comfort of home and serve the lost and forgotten in places the rest of the world would rather forget. I always longed to be one of those people myself, but I grew up believing I had no place in that world because I wasn’t good enough. I was raised to believe I was a worthless burden and continued to be treated as such well into adulthood. My believing that that’s who I was meant I also believed there was no way I could bring any kind of goodness to anyone. I prayed constantly that God would free me from the abuse and, in exchange, all I’d ever ask for is a healthy family of my own. Today I’m able to say, out of His deep love and tender mercy, He’s given me all I’ve asked for and more.

With that being my background, when I went on my first trip to Haiti, I fully believed I was doing it for my daughter, who had joined our team. In my mind, I was simply giving my child, who has a heart for serving others, the opportunity to learn and grow in that passion. I had no idea that God was going to use my plan for my daughter to reveal His plans for my own life. During that first trip, I had all the joy that comes with serving the kids at the orphanage, but I also had a deep terror knowing that I was being called to more. (Leaving my own family at home is torture, every time.) I could see the same pain in the eyes of those children that I’d lived with my whole life. The more I learned about their stories, and the more I discovered about how they see themselves, the harder God pushed for me to commit to action- Because He’s not a God who sees devastation without building something new out of the ashes. If not for Jesus, my past is just an evil mess. It’s just pain and darkness. But, because He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, my past is now a weapon against the evil that seeks out the souls of the children in that orphanage. My experiences put me in the position to reach these kids for Christ through the power of “Me Too”.

…And that is my heart for Haiti…

God has instructed me to take the trauma I suffered, combined with the trauma training I’m engaging in now, and use it to draw these kids to Himself through relationship. Through connection on an individual basis. Through prayer and play and teaching and suffering alongside them.

In the past, even as a Christian, I had suffered a pain so deep that I felt the need to take my life. And the root of that pain was loneliness. I felt so utterly, completely, hopelessly alone that I wanted to die. There is nothing quite like the pain of feeling unseen, unheard, and uncared for.

Most of these children feel that, in some capacity, every single day.

Knowing what that feels like, and the possible results of that going unchecked, I refuse stand by and do nothing. Especially when God’s commanded I take the leap of faith and dive into the messiness of their situation.

All of Haiti is traumatized. Traumatized parents raising traumatized kids, generation after generation. Much of the reason for this being that the research and knowledge on trauma and it’s effects has not been shared or is unavailable there. If we go in and teach on trauma, educate the staff and caregivers of the orphanage, and help them apply what they’ve learned to how they interact with the children in their care… it would change the lives of the 130 children who live there, who would then grow up to change the way they’d interact with their own children. There’s a ripple effect of healing that could be felt across the entire country, if a few people would simply take the time and effort to invest in caring for God’s people there in this specific way.

Of course it seems like I’m not doing much now… but my hand is in God’s and He’s guiding my steps, one at a time. I’m likely to never see the ripple effects God’s plan for trauma care in Haiti will have, and that’s okay. Faith means trusting in what I cannot see; leaning not on my own understanding. Being in a faithful relationship with Jesus means I walk out on the water, even if my own storm is raging, and trust that He will not only catch me, but will use the storm to further His Kingdom in the lives of those around me.

To Him be the glory.

My heart for Haiti is aligned with God’s heart for all of His children: To see them. To serve them. To love them…because that’s what He did for me.

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Haiti And The Heart Of God

It was my third mission trip to the mountains of Haiti, where an orphanage full of children hold pieces of my heart that I know I’ll never get back. My specific reason for traveling there had been to continue my work individually with a group of children who not only have special needs, but have experienced trauma above and beyond our deepest fears and nightmares. I thought I was at least a little prepared for the week, having begun research on working with those affected by trauma and gearing up for official training on the subject. God had reassured me that, though I still have much to learn, the most important thing I can possibly do is to love them. To hold them and make sure that they begin to understand that someone sees their pain, understands their emotions, knows of their past…and still believes they are destined for greatness. One main goal was to start to build the bridge of hope and trust; to prove to them that I value them and am committed for the long haul. To begin to share bits of my own personal story of trauma and meet them in the pain. There are few words more powerful than, “You are not alone.”

I soon learned that there is no preparation for hearing stories of the devastation of those you love. Though I’ve been through abuse, rape and other physical and emotional trauma myself, nothing could have prepared my heart for what I’d learn about the people of Haiti. Stories of the past experiences of these precious children hit my heart with violent force and, even after my return to the states, have left me with pain that weighs heavy and often overtakes me. To go back to “life as normal” feels impossible. In a matter of moments, everything had changed. I had changed…and there’s no going back.

I have moved through the past few days in a fog. I go from desperately praying through tears, to becoming numb and not finding the words or strength to pray at all. The enemy’s been whispering temptations to fall into old habits of coping with this level of pain. More times than I can count, sudden urges to drink the pain away or put up walls of seclusion from family and friends have felt impossible to resist. Yet, I’m held by a God who is using this very pain to draw me to Himself. And so I remain still and focused on The One who’s called me from darkness to light.

I’m finding it hard to sum up this trip for those who’ve supported me; to express in words what happened and how God worked in and through me. All that I keep coming back to is the reality that, in feeling this ocean of pain for these children, I’m being given a small glimpse into the heart of God. The pain of His people stirring more and more compassion within and transforming me into someone whose past no longer defines her, but glorifies her Savior and brings healing to the hearts of others. This gift is beyond words and worth every sacrifice. I’m humbled that a calling like this would be placed on my life; infinitely thankful that His grace is taking what was once death and destruction and replacing it with victory. My heart will ever belong to Jesus…The One who loved me at my darkest.

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