By Joy Frederich
“Haiti changed me. My heart, my worldview, my thoughts, my passions and desires. It’s where I developed a vision for international development, poverty alleviation, sustainable and equitable business, and creative solutions to environmental and social injustices. Seeing the beauty and joy and incredibly unique and awe-inspiring Haitian landscape, people and culture strengthened my faith and opened my eyes to God’s plan for the world and for my life.”
This is the classic response I give whenever anyone asks me about my short-term mission trip experiences. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong or untrue about it. But right at a time in my life when I find myself lodged into monotonous patterns and routines of college life, going through the motions, struggling to live with daily passion, vision and purpose, Courtney asked me to reflect on my three trips to Haiti and write a blog post for PCC in response to Ed’s visit. I thought about it a lot, and almost wrote an extended version of the few sentences above until I realized how cliché, fake, and shallow that would be. Instead, I really challenged myself to deeply reflect on the true significance of Haiti to my daily life two years after my last trip, the ways that I allow these experiences to permeate my everyday decision making, and the ways that I continue to walk in ignorance and neglect for the place and people that I claim to have been so moved by.
I’ve been to Haiti three times, beginning in March 2009 and spanning my high school career. I came face to face with extreme poverty for the first time, and I will never forget how much the sight of tin and mud makeshift huts, barefooted kids with tattered t-shirts, infants with brassy, red hair (a sign of iron deficiency), and people openly defecating on the roadside, broke me and moved me. Despite these searing memories that replay in my mind often, I continue to find myself living and mindlessly participating in avaricious, prideful, selfish cycles of materialism, apathy, separation and indifference to the constant struggles and battles of the poor and oppressed around the world. As much as my worldly perspective has broadened and softened and my eyes have been truly opened to unimaginable poverty, these realizations mean nothing if they fail to penetrate my heart and transform my everyday life. I realize that the only way that we can ever truly dream of change and empowerment for Haitians or people anywhere is if we change the way that we live our daily lives in the comfort of our own homes. The stories, faces, and sights that we see and experience in Haiti or any other developing country will remain nothing more than poverty tourism or toxic charity if we don’t allow them to change how we treat the poor in our own community, the way that we handle our money, the way that we approach our job or schoolwork, or the way that we see and treat other peoples and cultures different from us. I believe that God does use experiences like short-term mission trips to break us, mold us, change us and inspire us, but we have to remember that the discomfort, life changing realizations, and harsh realities we see are not meant to only last a week and then fade in the midst of the comforts, routines, and busyness of everyday life. The change, challenge and discomfort should be ongoing, continual and tangible even as we pass between cultures, places, national boundaries, economic strata, and in a sense, realities.
I encourage all readers to take this moment to reflect on God’s call, purpose and commands for your life, and how His Word in the midst of the experiences you are faced with tangibly takes root and is lived out daily. Whether you have had the opportunity to participate on a short-term mission trip or not, ask God what it truly means to be poor in spirit or to go out and make disciples or to be the light of the world in 21st century America. And if you have been on mission trips to Haiti or other nations, ask God how to keep these people close to your heart even as you are physically separate. Pray for them, thank God for your experiences, ask him to soften and shape your heart in order to mold your actions so that you can truly live out Christ’s message of love, grace, and redemption here on earth.