**The following is a daily blog written by baseball assistant coach Ben Wharton about the team's Missions trip to Haiti. Nine members of the team, plus Wharton, traveled to Haiti and will spend a week there.
Thank you all again for all of your prayers and support. God has been good and is teaching me and the team so many things even in the short time we have been here.
Although I slept remarkably well, I failed to realize that most Haitians sleep only a few hours a night. That would explain why someone was working on starting their truck right outside my screened-in window at 5AM. Fortunately having a two year old has taught me how to go back to sleep quickly when awakened. After a great breakfast of french toast and grapefruit, we headed out to the job site in what are known as a Tap-Tap. I have included a picture. It is essentially a pickup truck with a camper type of top that has wooden boards down either side, which can hold up to about 5 people on each side. This was our mode of transportation for nearly an hour to our work site.
Upon arrival we were immediately introduced to our biggest enemy--thorns. These were no ordinary thorns but were long enough and sharp enough to penetrate my thick soled boots. These thorns were everywhere and kept us all on our toes throughout the day. Note the size in the picture.
The scenery at our work site was breathtakingly beautiful. As you can tell from the pictures, we had our work cut out for us. Our objective for today was to clear about a 20 foot path on two walls of the perimeter of the property. We used rakes, machetes, shovels, and whatever else we could find to accomplish this. The work was hard, but very rewarding. The 8 local Haitians that worked along side us put us to shame with their machete skills, but fortunately no one from our team was hurt and we started to get the hang of it after a little while. We were able to accomplish quite a bit of work, but we still have a ways to go.
Some of the local children watched us work and on our breaks wanted to play games with us. We had a soccer ball with us and we kicked that around some and used to to breach the language barrier. After lunch we slowed down considerably as the day heated up, but we pushed through for a couple more hours before heading back. After another hour drive along pot-holed-filled roads, we returned to the Matthew 25 House (our lodging). We had very little break, though, because as soon as we got back, we loaded up our Tap-Tap with the supplies that we brought for the orphanage and took them to Maison and spent a little over an hour interacting, playing, and holding the kids. The guys were a big hit as soon as they showed up, and I saw some of the guys on our team holding 3 or 4 kids at a time. I would have taken pictures of this, but I had my hands full as well!
It was very rewarding to bring the flour to the orphanage (we each brought a 25 pound bag of flour in our checked bags) and know that it will be put to good use. It was also great to put a face with the work we are doing. The work out in the country is clearing land for a new orphanage for Maison. Our guys loved the kids and visa versa and they are excited to go back at the end of the week.
After a long, hot day, it was wonderful to sit down to a delicious Haitian-cooked meal of rice and beans, salad, and some of the most delicious tuna I have ever had. Tonight should be interesting as it is New Years Eve, which is a major holiday here because New Years doubles as the Haitian independence day. Hopefully we will be able to get some quality rest and be ready for another full day tomorrow.
Thank you again for all of your support and your prayers.
With day two nearly in the books, I have had the opportunity to sit with our team tonight and reflect on our time here thus far. One thing that keeps coming up is our lack of thanksgiving to God and our lack of contentment with where he has us. Being so directly involved in Haitian culture and getting our hands (and every other part of our bodies) dirty working alongside Haitians has given all of us a new understanding of appreciation for what we have. We have all been challenged to think about how we complain over little things rather than thanking God for his blessings. And I don't just mean material blessings, but even more so his spiritual blessings like salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit, direction, etc.
Today was spent very similarly to yesterday, with the exception that we spent more time on detailed clearing. Our objective today was to clear a nearly 20 foot wide path 350 feet in one direction and about 200 feet in the other direction. This sounds simple in theory, but we quickly found that removing stumps by hand was no small task. We also quickly found out that the Haitian workers were much more skilled with the removal than we were. I have included a couple pictures of our guys and the size stumps we are dealing with. Remember we have no power tools or heavy machinery. We are using shovels, picks, and machetes to remove these.
Fortunately we were able to nearly clear the entire area today. We have acclimated to the head a little bit better and were able to work until nearly 3 today. The guys were tired, but it was good again to see the progress that we have made. I also realized today that while we are doing important work, Love Has Come (the ministry that is funding and organizing the new orphanage) is counting on us for a type of reconnaissance, allowing us to figure out what works and what doesn't work and what the best means of moving forward it. While I still have many questions, I have learned quite a bit in the past few days about the realities of working in Haiti.
After work, we came back to the Matthew 25 House, preparing to rest up, but the soccer field and and basketball court right next to where we are staying was available so some of the guys went to throw the baseball and I went to shoot some baskets. Immediately a couple of Haitian guys came over to play two-on-two, which turned into a full court 5-5. I learned that the guys we played with play zero defense and call fouls every time you take the ball from them. However, we split up teams so it wasn't us against them and the guys had a lot of fun interacting with the local guys and communicating even though we do not speak the same language. However, while I was sitting out one of the games, one of the kids (about 12 or 13) named Emmanuel spoke a little bit of English and asked me my name and how old I was. When I told him I was 28 he let out a gasp, said something in Creole, then proceeded in English to call me Grandpa. We both had a good laugh at this and then had another one when I called him a baby. We then laughed really hard when he asked my brother-in-law Paul what his name was. Paul's name sounds very similar to the Creole word for chicken, so immediately Emmanuel started laughing and called him "Chicken Paul". That one might stick for a little bit.
After a fantastic dinner of pumpkin soup, a traditional new-year's meal in Haiti (which tasted nothing like pumpkin), we spent some time reflecting on our day and encouraging each other in the Word. While we are all tired, we all know that God is doing some great things here and we are excited about what tomorrow brings. Thank you again for all your support and your prayers.
Day three was full of more land clearing and stump removals, but it also included the best friend of boys and men everywhere--fire. Some of the brush was dry enough to burn and we were able to get rid of quite a bit of brush in this manner. However, it was interesting starting the fire ( no worries no one was harmed, but some arm hair of one of my players who will remain nameless may be singed just s little bit), and I also realized that 90 degree heat and fire do not mix very well. Needless to say it was a hot morning.
Working alongside the Haitians as once again fulfilling as we learn more phrases in Creole and they learn a few in English. We had a soccer ball with us and we set up a makeshift goal and took some penalty kicks with some of the kids that were there watching their parents work. These kids have been there every day and we have gotten to know their names very well and they have gotten to know ours as well. The one little boy riding on the cooler in the picture is named Edu and he has been out every day watching us work and even helping us work a little bit.
After a hard morning or work and some good progress in the afternoon, we decided to cut the day a little bit short and find a place to access the ocean. Most of the places were a long ways away and were very expensive to access, but eventually we found one. I don't think ocean water has ever felt so good. It wa cool, clear, and refreshing, and it counted as a shower for all of us today. We all enjoyed trying to get one of our tanslators, Biji, to come into the water with us. However, he is scared of the water and ran away every time we tried to grab a hold of him.
Tomorrow is our last day in the field and it has been very encouraging to see the progress we have made. More than anything, though, it is exciting to be a part of something bigger. Each night we talk about our day's experience and one of the guys shares a devotional. Tonight, one of the players, Niko Knechtel, talked about starting small. Oftentimes in our physical life and our spiritual lives were are overwhelmed by the immensity of our situations. Because of this we don't do anything. We think our problems are too big and we are too small instead of staring with small progress. The process of clearning the land and building the orphanage is going to take 2-3 years. This is not something that will be quick. But it is exciting to be a part of a team that can start at the very begininng. It's not so much about making a big difference as it is about starting the process and getting momentum going. It was a great reminder for me not only about our trip here to Haiti, but also spiritually when things seem so complicated, God calls us to take small steps to trust Him in the little things. I was also reminded that we can take theses small steps because we find our strength in Him.
While we are starting to get weary physically, praise God that we have avoided injury or sickness thus far. It has been a joy to get to know the guys on our team better and to see them interact with each other on such a deep level. Pray for continued safety and for strength of heart, mind, and body tomorrow as we work.
Day four was one full of mixed emotions. It was our last day working at the site of the new orphanage, and while we feel a sense of accomplishment for completing the objective tasks we set out to do, there was sadness in leaving the land and the people we got to know over four days of work, especially the local children who were there to greet us by name every morning. Besides accomplishment and sadness, there was one more overarching emotion that encompassed everything--hope. My hope and prayer is that the next time I come to Haiti (and I do not know when that may be), the vision and hope for the new orphanage will be a reality. Like I talked about yesterday, our contribution is very small in the scope of this project, but it was still an important step. Please join me in praying (and helping if you are able) that the Lord will provide the funds, the organization, and the workers to see this project to fruition as quickly as possible.
Our final day in the field consisted of finalizing the clearing of land to be used for crops and agriculture. Having cleared a perimeter on two sides where the walls will be, we focused more on the inside, trying to remove all vegetation with our own version of a scorched earth policy, with our weapons being machetes, shovels, and our hands. Today went without incident, though I am glad that our Haitian workers informed some of the players not to cut down a tree because there was a wasp nest in it. The workers proceeded to build a fire and smoke them out, then cut down the bush. We also found a couple of snakes, but we quickly made snake sushi with them without taking the time to see if they were poisonous. Hopefully the pictures provided who enough of what we have done. When I say we, I must give much of the credit to our 10 local Haitian workers. They worked hard, did excellent work, and never complained. This may be because we were Americans who had to take often breaks because of the heat, but their work ethic shattered by stereotypes of Haiti. The workers are not lazy, there are just no jobs.
All pictures are taken from the corner of the property. The first on is looking east, the second is looking north, and the third is looking northeast at a diagonal and encompasses the land that we cleared. The fourth picture is an example of what the land looked like on day one. Finally, the fifth picture is our whole team.
Finally, upon our return to the Matthew 25 House we went next-door to the local soccer field and basketball court. As I looked out over the field and courts, I was so excited to see every one the players interacting with the local people. They were using their limited Creole to interact with some of the kids, showing them pictures on their phones, playing soccer and basketball, and two of the players, Rob Willett and Carter Finch, even showed some kids how to throw and catch a baseball. To see the transformation of the guys from shy and timid, to fully engaging and interacting with the culture in a matter of days was phenomenal.
While our main goal was to serve the orphanage and show the love of Christ to those we came in contact with, one of my secondary goals was for us to see beyond ourselves and experience life from a bigger perspective. I was greatly encouraged tonight when during our devotions Paul Phillips shared that before the trip he was excited about the trip, but the prospect of staying home for one more week during Christmas Break was very appealing, especially as we were getting ready to leave for Haiti. All the guys agreed that they had similar feelings and I know that I was feeling the same way. He then said that after four days, he is so glad that he came because he has learned to view the world in a bigger light and he is more aware of the needs around Him. In fact they told me that I have to find a way to organize a trip again next year. I'm not ready to look that far ahead, but we will see what doors the Lord opens. As I said, this self-reflection and discovery is not why we came on our trip, but fortunately it was a natural outpouring of what they had seen and experienced. I also challenged the guys to not just see the poor and marginalized in other cultures, but to see the marginalized in their own culture. Who are the people at school that are deemed hard to love? Who in my life is hard to love? I was reminded during the Christmas season that when our Savior Jesus Christ came to earth, God made his plans known to a Mary and the shepherds, some of the more marginalized members of society. Jesus then went on to associate himself with fisherman, foreigners, tax collectors, and "sinners.," many of whom were deemed hard to love. If Jesus demanded justice for them and loved them, why should I not do the same?
With one day left on our trip we will spend Friday at the current Maison orphanage. They have some painting and light construction work for us and we will spend some more time with the kids. The guys are excited to go back to the current orphanage as they imagine the children being at the new site before too long. The work has been hard and tiring, but God is good and he has kept us safe and given us strength of both mind and body.
The final day of our trip involved helping out with the current orphanage, located just a few blocks from where we are staying. The orphanage needed some painting done, but when we got there we had to wait for the paint and the supplies to arrive. A day earlier our security guard, Vincent, introduced us to pati. Pati is similar to a small calzone with chicken, cabbage and onions, but it is deep fried. He had brought one for our translator, Bidjee, and Bidjee let us all try a bite. We had all been craving it since then, so while we were waiting, we scrounged up enough money Vincent went out and got us all Pati. It was the most delicious food I've had while in Haiti. I have included a picture of our group eating our Pati.
Once the supplies arrived, we got to work painting some of the cribs as well as one of the baby rooms. The room had been a red color that was too dark during the day when they do not have the lights on, so we painted it a light blue color. Some of the guys in our group had never painted before, but I pleasantly surprised with their work. Pierre, the head of the orphanage was also very impressed as were the nannies. I was not able to get a great picture of what the room looked like, but I have attached one that gives you an idea of what the color looks like now. The paintings were already on the wall, but we had to cut around them, which took some time. We also managed to get paint all over us, so some of us have a bluish-green tint to our hands right now.
After we finished, our tap-tap driver, Duckens, and our translator took us downtown to see where the Presidential palace used to be. It collapsed during the earthquake and now there is nothing there, but there are plans to rebuild it. We were supposed to go a few other places in Port-au-Prince, but there were demonstrations involving people loyal to the former president which meant we needed to stay clear.
While today was not necessarily as exciting as the days past, it gave us all plenty of time to reflect on the past week. What a week it has been! It has been amazing to see these young men go from timid and unsure to confident and engaging in culture. As we talked tonight, one of the players, Caleb Elliot, reminded us from Psalm 115 that all glory is not for us, but to the Lord: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness." It's easy with a trip like this to have an almost prideful attitude for the work we did. It was great to be reminded that all glory goes to God and that it is only from Him and through Him that we can do anything.
Overall, as we reflected over this week, a couple of themes recurred. First, all 8 guys want to come back again next year. Second, every person commented on how selfish they are and how ungrateful they are compared to the people we can in contact with this week. We have also enjoyed getting to know each other more and encouraging each other daily in the Word. One of the biggest themes was how much the guys loved the people we came in contact with, especially the children at the worksite and our translators, drivers, and security guards.
Some may ask why we had to come to Haiti. The answer is that we did not have to come to Haiti. However, here there was a need and we were able in a small measure to fill it. In return we were all able to experience firsthand the globality of the Gospel. God is at work in my life and in the lives of the guys on the team, but God is also at work in Haiti. Haiti did not need us, 9 members of the Covenant College baseball team, but it does need Jesus, and He allowed us to be in a small measure his instruments this week. Seeing so many people in need has challenged all of us to see the need around us and respond in the way our Savior did--with love and service.
This trip would not have been possible without your support and your prayers. Thank you so much for allowing us to be a part of what God is doing in the nation of Haiti. We fly back Saturday morning and arrive in Atlanta in the late afternoon. I want to leave with a simple phrase that we were reminded of this week by some of those we were in contact with--Bondye Bon--GOD IS GOOD.