This past week, I joined with 21 strangers from across the country to visit a children’s village in Jacmel, Haiti. I think that for most of us, our week began as a fun trip that required very little jet lag adjustment, included the possibility of expanding our view of God, and held the guarantee of adorable babies to hold. What none of us likely expected was that we would be using our brains just as much as our hearts.
The first lesson we learned almost immediately was that this trip was not about us. I know I personally thought that I would be playing with kids all day and maybe helping out with small projects around the compound. To be quite honest, many of us were frustrated when we discovered that we would be hauling rocks and cement and shoveling dirt all day. That wasn’t satisfying to our kid-loving souls. This frustration disappeared quickly, however, as a result of our “team times” every day.
The next lesson we learned through our team time was that we were not there to serve ourselves. After spending some time talking to the missionary family who works year-round at Hands and Feet, it became clear that us doing our own thing was going to cause more harm than good. This missionary family does an incredible job of keeping everything in order and what we had in mind would bring chaos to that. We began to understand that we were nonessential to the every day life for these children and that this was a good indicator of their care. We were a fun bonus to their lives, but not the most important thing going on.
As the week went on, we spent our days working on the back section of the Hands and Feet property. Our hearts were changing and we started to really enjoy the work because it became clearer to us why this work was important. Through our team meetings, we were taught more about what orphan care is and what the real need was for these waiting children in Haiti and around the world. By learning the difference between good and bad orphan care, we were able to see that we were serving at a place that was doing really good orphan care. That, and the kids who we played with at night and fell in love with, made us willing to do just about anything to help Hands and Feet. We continued to discuss facts and ideas about orphan care and how these new understandings personally affected us as we continued to grow.
But the most eye-opening moment in understanding the realities of life for an orphan came on our final day in Haiti. As we sat down as a team to talk about leaving, Chris Wheeler looked us in the eye and told us that no matter what happened, we were not allowed to cry in front of the kids as we were leaving. With shocked expressions on our faces we thought about all we had learned: how being abandoned or malnourished at a young age could cause intense trauma, how most kids at this children’s village had suffered additional trauma to even that, how the Lord equips different people for different responsibilities in caring for orphans, and how the need is so much greater than anything we could ever provide because the biggest need of orphans is the redeeming character of Jesus. It didn’t seem fair that we couldn’t express to the kids how much we cared, but we knew that we needed to allow Jesus to work through us and care about their hearts more than our own. We needed to leave letting the kids know that they are loved and with the charge to go out into the world to educate those around us. Any other response would have been for ourselves even if it was well-intentioned. And if Show Hope taught us anything it is that even good intentions can lead to poor orphan care because the only good orphan care comes not from our intentions but from God’s.