In his own words: How I can change the world
Editor’s Note: Website manager David Morton is an associate pastor for Welcome Baptist Church in Hillsborough, N.C. He visited earthquake-ravaged Haiti recently as part of a mission trip. He shared his thoughts on his experiences with @Elon in this special feature.
Being comfortable is one of the most dangerous places we can be as individuals. A state of complacency lures us into a sense of not needing to do more for others. It prevents us from looking ahead to challenge ourselves, to change the world.
Personally, I like to break it down and think simple. I like to think the change can start within us and spread to our families, cities, counties, states, countries and, eventually, the world. This was my hope when I went to Haiti this summer. Yes, I wanted to work hard while I was there, but I also wanted to meet people; I wanted to share my faith with them.
Twenty-five strangers had come together to Northwest Haiti Christian Mission in Saint Louis de Nord, Haiti, as part of this trip. Our mission? To expand the Miriam Center, which houses, educates and cares for Haitian children with cerebral palsy, severe autism and other problems. One of a handful of facilities of its kind in Haiti, the center is currently operating at full capacity, which has forced it to start turning away children. We were there to break ground on a new building about an hour away, in Bonneau. Once the expansion is complete, the multi-building facility will house a church, school, orphanage and a special needs orphanage.
As soon as we stepped out of the Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port au Prince, I knew we were no longer in Mebane, N.C., where I live with my family. We were welcomed by security guards in plainclothes carrying sawed-off shotguns and men in red hats trying to grab my bags for tips. There were lines of children hanging on a chain-link fence asking for money, many of them missing limbs from the earthquake. I quickly met up with our driver and headed to catch a 15-passenger plane that was to take us to Port de Paix in northwest Haiti. The plane’s horn blew repeatedly as we descended. I looked out the window and saw people and animals part so that we could land on the road.
Our final destination was only seven miles away but took more than an hour to reach because of the poor road conditions. My journey up to this point had been a blur, but now everything stopped as I took in my present surroundings. Locals rushed by in a hurry and everyone’s eyes were fixed on our truck. Our tap-tap, as taxis are referred to in that part of the world, was a pickup truck lined with wooden planks to sit on. They call them tap-taps because you have to tap the back to signal the driver to stop and go.
As we drove through one of the towns, a young boy and his brother walked by our truck carrying large empty containers balanced on their heads. The brothers looked to be the same age as two of my own sons and my mind started racing trying to figure out their story. As they returned carrying containers full of water, they stopped directly in front of me and put the containers down. My reaction, regrettable but common, was to look away. I could feel their stares burning a hole through me. I felt my eyes tear up, because of the heat and dirt of course.
But then, I reminded myself I was there for a reason and it was not to turn a blind eye away from the experiences and people God was going to place before me. I slowly turned back toward the kids to find them staring straight at me with an expression I had not expected: the two boys stood hand in hand with smiles plastered across their faces. How could this be? How could two brothers who probably spent the majority of their day walking back and forth getting water and trying to make money to feed their family be smiling?
I took out my camera and quickly snapped a picture of the two. They wanted to see themselves on the screen after the picture was taken so I motioned for them to come closer. The older boy came to take a look; he was proud of the picture. He turned to walk back and something caught his eye. The boy reached out to touch my hand and placed his hand in mine. Our eyes met; I could see the pain but also the joy that his eyes held. My mind went back to my own family back home. He slowly turned my hand over and tapped on my wedding band. He wanted it. My heart sank.
I had only been in the country for an hour and I had gotten a small glimpse of the emotional highs and lows that this trip had in store for me.
We started working as soon as we arrived at the construction site. On our first day, we started digging into the side of a hill to level the ground for the building’s foundation. We did this for several days with five shovels, five pick axes and three wheelbarrows, and with the help of 20 Haitians we employed. While the men were working, the women were on the hill watching and the children were down below playing. The entire community had come out to be a part of the work. I was surprised by the joy that filled them and encouraged by their effort.
When lunchtime arrived, we went to a local gathering place. The first day, I was starving after working in the hot sun. I got a huge plate of rice, beans, pasta and chicken. I started eating when a member of the group grabbed my attention and pointed at the kids sitting around us, wearing heavily worn clothes and looking extremely hungry. He told me whatever we didn’t eat, the kids would get. I finished my plate and felt extremely guilty for getting so much. I gave my plate back to the lady who cooked our meal, thanked her and asked where the trash can was. She took my plate and I followed her around the corner. She handed the plate of chicken bones and scraps to a little girl sitting on the ground playing with a plastic bottle. After talking with some of the people in the community it became clear that one meal a day was a luxury for these children. When times were tough, people resorted to eating mud pies, the same kind I used to play with as a child.
I had the privilege of spending time with many of the children who were housed in the center. They were a true blessing to my heart. Before coming to the center, some of these kids were locked in closets and chained to walls in their homes. While we were there, a small boy was left at the gates of the mission. His parents, we were told, had both died in the earthquake and he had been shuffled among different family members. I spent time with him one morning and was heartbroken when I picked him up. He was two years old and weighed 10 pounds. I thought of my oldest son, who was almost ten pounds when he was born.
While working at the site, I befriended a Haitian teenager named Mikal. He always seemed to get close to me in the bucket line while we were moving dirt and would try to hit me with empty buckets when I wasn’t looking. Mikal was 15 years old and supposedly watching his siblings while he was working. His brother and sister wanted to work alongside him and picked up shovels whenever we would take a break to get water. None of them could afford the $400 per year it costs to go to school, so they tried to pick up any kind of income they could to take care of the family. On my last day there, Mikal asked me in his limited, broken English, “David, you my special friend? You take me home with you?” For a second, I found myself thinking how I could take this boy home with me. This was another one of those moments that I will never forget.
I had never really given much thought to taking a mission trip. God led me to this nine-day trip – I only heard about it a month before the day of departure – and gave me peace about it before I decided to proceed. There were some dangers involved in the trip. We were followed by security everywhere we went in the country. Not everyone was glad we were there; many people who approached me in the markets or the jungle made this clear. And yet, the key thing that was expressed by everyone I met was not to forget them, their home and their country.
Now that I’m back in the States, I feel I owe it to the people I met to share their stories. I realize we take for granted so many things that would be a luxury there; electricity, running water, mail, food and paved roads are only a few things we don’t think twice about. They realize how blessed we are more than we do. I will never forget the people and the things I experienced in Haiti. I will never forget the ride on the tap-tap, the tap-tap on my wedding band or the tap-tap on my heart from the people of Haiti.
To see a slideshow, click here.
By David Morton