Not too long ago, we asked: Have You Told Your Haiti Story Yet? In this article, we mentioned a story contest. Well, the finalists have been selected.
Touched By Haiti Story Contest Finalists
The chosen finalists’ stories are listed below. Find your favorite story and cast your vote on our Facebook Page. Stories are in no particular order.
Greg Ackerson – An old shovel and a new friend
How I was taught what generosity is by a Haitian
I was fortunate enough to go to Haiti last July on a mission trip with World Wide Village. Our group consisted of 17 people from our church. We were a group of Haiti First-Timers, well entrenched in our Minnesota, Can-Do, Gotta-Get-It-Done personalities. We were dead set on going to Haiti and helping people. We were there to make a difference and get our projects done. Randy Mortensen had told us before we left, that even though we weren’t ready to hear it, our trip wasn’t about getting things done, but it was about building relationships and being impacted. I remember that my reaction to that thought was; Yeah Right…. If we weren’t there to get things done, then why in the world we were even going. We had been working on our fundraising for 6 months, had raised over $30,000 for projects, and col lected enough donated supplies to fill 42 checked bags. That was a lot of checked bags filled with supplies for a team of 17….. We were going to make a difference!!!
There are two things that I remember distinctly about that trip. The first was how hot it was. Man, is it hot in Haiti in July….. Most people don’t think that is surprising, but I am telling you, it was HOT…..
The second thing was how it changed me. One of the most impactful moments of the trip was when we were in a dry creek bed, shoveling rocks under the hot sun, loading them into a wheelbarrow and taking them a few hundred yards away where we were building a foundation for a new kitchen. Across the creek bed, a hundred feet away or so was a young man and woman. They were watching us work and over time continually moved closer to our team. After a little while the man went back to his house and returned with his own shovel. He spoke no English, and we didn’t speak any Haitian Creole, so our communication was limited to simple hand signs and gestures. Without asking he simply took his shovel and started to help us fill our wheelbarrows with rocks. Here we were, in shorts and tee shirts that were soaked with sweat, and he was in khaki long pants, a polo shirt under a long sleeved shirt. We were literally a hot mess, and he looked professional and distinguished. This w as especially impressive considering that his “house” consisted of a 10 feet by 10 feet building with a dirt floor. No bathroom, no kitchen, no bedroom, no place to do laundry, just one room with a dirt floor. He had almost no physical belongings. His old, rusty, bent shovel was probably the only real tool that he owned, and yet here he was, helping total strangers with hard physical work without any way to even communicate with us.
The shovel I was using was an old shovel that had a screw that held the shovel head onto the handle, and that screw was backing out. It didn’t take very long for him to notice that the screw was backing out, and he started to motion to me that my shovel had a problem. I motioned back that I knew and that it was OK. I kept thinking that on one of the trips with the wheelbarrow I would just take the shovel with me and use the cordless drills back at the kitchen site to fix it. Overall I wasn’t too concerned about it, but it continued to bother him. Finally he started to motion for me to follow him to his house. I followed him only because it was so hot that sitting down for a minute seemed like a great idea, and I knew he wouldn’t stop bugging me until the screw was fixed. After we walked the few feet to his house he motioned for me to sit in an old rusty chair and wait for him. In a few minutes he returned with the only tool he owned, an old rusty knife blade with no handle left on it. He took my shovel from me and used that old rusty knife blade as a screwdriver to fix that screw. All I could think of was how we came from the U.S. to help people like him, and he was risking the only tool he had to fix my shovel. I kept waiting for the tip of that rusty blade to break off and his tool get ruined, but luckily it didn’t. I kept thinking that a short distance away, at the kitchen site, we had more tools than he had probably ever seen; cordless drills, a generator, power saws, etc. and yet here he was helping me. I was struck by the irony that even though I had more money and possessions, and was rich beyond his greatest dreams, just because I was lucky enough to be born in America instead of Haiti, I was the one being helped. He demonstrated to me what true generosity is.
I hope to never forget that experience and lesson. I am also intent on returning to Haiti again with World Wide Village and seeing if I can’t find that same man. This time though I would like to get to know him better and learn more about his life and family. I want to see if there is something that I can do to impact his life as deeply as he has impacted mine.
David C Masek – TOUCHED BY HAITI
Shells for Sandals
During our evening devotion time, World Wide Village President Randy Mortensen likes to ask team members if they had a “GOD MOMENT” during the day.
One day we were allowed time to relax and enjoy the sand & sea at Wahoo Resort. A young man came to me wanting to sell me sea shells and I purchased two very nice ones from him. He thanked me adding God Bless you as he paddled away on his surf board while looking for another customer.
A short time later I saw him returning to me as he held up more shells and pointing my direction. I’m saying to myself, I don’t really need more shells so I was prepared to tell him no thank you. He continued to point as he got closer and I began to realize that he was pointing at my sandals. He wanted to trade. At first I reluctantly removed my sandals and handed them to him He then proceeded to try them on as if he were in a shoe store at the mall. Satisfied that they were the right fit & look he gave me two more shells, thanked me and again left with a blessing from God.
Shortly Sue walked over to me and asked how much I’d paid for the shells. I told her, Just my foot ware that’s why I’m barefoot. To that her mouth dropped wide open and she stammered “B-But those were brand new” My response was, “Yes, I think he noticed too.”
I really didn’t know what the big surprise was in giving up my sandals. It’s not like it was the first time I gave the shoes off my feet to someone in Haiti.
Where is the GOD MOMENT? Maybe it’s in the retelling of the story. I know everyone got a good laugh from the story that evening. Doesn’t God enjoy a good laugh as well?
Lily Bronson – Girl on a Mission
Suzanna Brozozog – The Call of Love
How Haiti Changed My Life
Settling into my seat on the jet, I fought to control my nerves. I wrestled with my seat-belt buckle as I struggled to find a comfortable position in my seat. What would Haiti be like? What type of impact could I bring? Hearing the roar of the jet engines brought me back to focus and I closed my eyes, held onto my seat, and prayed that somehow Jesus would use me.
I remember my excitement as I grappled to peer over the passenger next to me to catch a glimpse of the mighty hills and swooping valleys as we descended upon Haiti. My heart began to beat so loudly within my chest that I was sure others could hear it. Boom. Boom. Boom. The wheels of the plane have touched ground. What next? I could barely focus as we made our way to the exit of the plane. Then, I climbed down the stairs leading from the plane and I knew –I knew that I was meant to be here.
After my team and I made our way through the hectic makeshift airport, we loaded onto the bright yellow bus. So began our trek to Fond-Parisienne. As we drove by a tent village, the reality of the earthquake sent shock waves to my heart. A piercing and deep pain gripped my soul. I could never comprehend the extent of their suffering, but I prayed that Jesus would somehow in some way use me to help ease it.
After we arrived at the compound and got settled, the adventurer in me had a chance to explore. I wandered up to the third floor of the building leading to the roof. I immediately faced the ocean and felt its beauty kiss my face. I turned around and was all at once struck with tragedy, heartache, and loss, for there was a tent-community just a few feet away. Never before had I witnessed extreme beauty and pain in the same place. I learned something very valuable that night: we are all equal. If they hurt, I hurt and if they rejoice, I rejoice. These were my brothers and my sisters suffering. This resonated within my heart during the remainder of my stay in Haiti and continues to do so today. Though a tidal wave of tragedy rose to overwhelm them, the grace of God also rose to crush it. Nothing can ever conquer those whom He loves.
That night, we spoke with the workers and had many laughs. I tried my best to communicate to some of the children, whose eyes shown brighter than the moon with excitement. We had an incredible time of fellowship and worship. Though we all did not speak the same language or share the same culture, here we were praising the Creator together and experiencing Christ’s eternal Love for humanity.
Because this trip was a medical missions trip, we travelled to the surrounding villages to host medical clinics set up in the local church. During our third clinic day, we travelled to a remote village hidden deep within the hills. I remember being a little nervous about the condition of our bus during such a long ride. “Please don’t break down”, I prayed. Once we arrived at the village, the children ran to us bearing such beautiful smiles, it could melt any heart of stone. Some of the children only wore partial clothing but their faces held perfected beauty that no famed artist could ever fully portray.
I was on pharmacy duty and it was scorching hot. I was convinced the sun decided to come and sit right outside the clinic entrance. The metal roof of the church did not help nor did the concrete-filled windows. It was loud. It was hot. My head hurt. The air was stagnant and the piles of prescriptions to be filled turned into a mini-mountain. After three hours, I said to myself: “Why am I here again? This is too much.” I longed for home, to be away from this heat and discomfort. But then, my heart began to panic as I looked at the children. Their eyes lit up as they shyly grinned when they caught my eye. If I give up on them because the conditions are too hard, where is my love? If I have faith in their cause but have not love overflowing in my heart, then I am nothing.
My eyes started to burn with tears and I wandered off to take my lunch break. I collapsed under the weight of my sorrow and I began to pray for forgiveness and grace. My call became clear: to follow Christ wherever He may lead me. I knew that I was going in the right direction because it hurt. It pierced my heart, pulling me away from the comfort of cultural norms, and reducing my malleability to worldly living. Christ steadied my focus on the unseen, forgotten ones. There cause became my cause. My voice, theirs. My hands and feet, theirs.
That day, I arrived at the clinic site wobbling in my full strength, and I fell. But I experienced the love and grace of Christ. As I returned to my station, I left behind selfishness and embraced selflessness. I left behind pride, and embraced humility. I left behind doubt and embraced faith. I left behind shame and embraced love. I now stood firmly on the strength of Christ. As I boarded the plane bound for home, I still struggled with my seat-belt buckle but also to hold back tears as I remembered the smiles of the children I held in my arms. The truth is I will always be too small and incapable, but Jesus Christ will always be enough. His love pierced my heart and took root in Haiti. I answered the call of Love and I will never be the same.
Scott Defoe – Smile
My most vivid and favorite memory of my first trip to Haiti is the smiles of the Haitian children that I had the privilege of meeting. They knew that if I had a free moment I would eagerly play with them. They recognized that if I needed to go somewhere but had a free hand that I would welcome them to walk hand-in-hand and go there together. They also quickly learned that I always had a camera and could be easily convinced to take their picture and show it to them. As a result, I had the wonderfully unexpected experience of having kids approach me throughout the day with the unspoken request to have their picture taken – they simply made eye contact and flashed their irresistible smile. In particular, the young girl pictured above found me and shared her smile several times each day. No matter how many times she did this, it warmed my heart and I obliged each time.
Midway through my visit, I took a brief break from our project to step out of the hot sun and take a few pictures of an empty classroom. Apart from cooling down in the welcome shade, my intention was to take pictures that I could share with my daughters and that my wife (a teacher by trade) could share with American students. I was touched by both the modesty of the school room and the palpable hope that education was a ticket to a better life. As I knelt in the classroom intently focused on my camera screen, my young friend silently stepped into the frame… already sporting her magnetic smile.
However, this time she had brought her little brother so that he could join in our budding friendship. I suspect that her brother was too young to have met past volunteers, attended school or seen a camera. As I took my first photo, he is a brimming with energy while trying to take in every exciting detail of this foreign visitor and the mysterious classroom for “big kids”. I reversed the camera to show them their first family portrait – featuring one well-rehearsed grin and a smaller blue blur. I then listened and watched as she gestured to the screen and appeared to explain that this was a picture of him. Their home in Williamson is far from standing water to provide reflections and mirrors are an impractical luxury. It is possible that he had never before seen himself and didn’t recognize the boy in the picture. However, he was a quick study, in the second picture (above) with the help of his big sister’s hands seemly saying “you stand right here” he came through with a smile that is now prominently featured on the walls of both my office and my home. Each time I look at this photo, I return the favor and smile back at them.
“Smile” – Take III. By the time of this picture, my new friend already looks like he’s had years of experience posing for pictures. In May, I will have the good fortune of returning to Haiti for a second World Wide Village mission trip. I am already looking forward to getting reacquainted with my new friends of all ages and to enjoy these amazing smiles once more!
Brett Thompson – What Haiti Gave ME
As the plane descended into Toussaint Louverture International Airport I looked out the window and began to nearly weep. Controlled weeping, mind you but weeping all the same. “Where was this coming from?” I thought to myself. Weeping, crying, or even getting misty-eyed was not something I was used to and it perplexed me. It was the first sign to me that God had orchestrated me to be on that trip.
I was forty years old, had grown up in church, and had been in full time ministry for over ten years and this was the first time I had been on foreign soil in any mission capacity. I was somewhat ashamed of that but also hopeful that God would stir something in my heart that hadn’t been there before. The weeping was a good sign, I suppose.
I was somewhat nervous about this trip not knowing what to expect. In the months leading up to the trip I studied the history of Haiti and tried to learn about the culture. I found the Haitian people to be noble, brave, and determined in my study of them but what the media seemed to portray of them was that they were violent, unintelligent, and lazy. I was determined to prove the media wrong as well as the things inside of me that agreed with that portrayal.
The last words that my wife spoke to me as I left for Haiti were, “Be careful.” The first thing that I did upon arriving in Haiti was to jump in the back of a pickup truck with all of the luggage and a Haitian teenager named Pete. While not the most careful move (sorry, honey), it did give me a pretty incredible welcome to Haiti. Randy had said that the World Wide Village guesthouse was only about a 15-minute ride from the airport. What he didn’t tell me was that in Haiti-time that was over an hour! Darkness began to fall and here I was, a fresh ‘Blan’ from the USA in the back of a pickup truck riding through the streets of Port-Au-Prince in the dark. All I could hear for that hour were the words of my wife: “Be careful”. So much for that!
What I experienced in the back of the pickup truck though, was my worldview changing. Poverty did not automatically equal violence. Whether I liked it or not, my worldview that had been one handed down through the lens of growing up in the south in a racially tense city. Fear. My worldview had not been shaped by experiences. It had been shaped by what society had told me was reality. In the hour ride from the airport through the streets of Port-Au-Prince the shell of that worldview began to show cracks.
The shaking of my worldview would continue as the sun rose on our first day in Haiti. Looking through the safety of the windows of the van I actually longed for the pickup truck. I felt too insulated and safe. I wanted the heart-work of the pickup truck ride the night before to continue. The scenes of poverty rushing by the windows of the van were heart-wrenching but inside of me was rising a deep desire to get out there and do something about it. I didn’t know what I could do, but I felt that I was there witnessing this and feeling this way for a reason.
As we came close to our destination I snapped this picture of a Haitian boy kicking a ball down a path. It reminded me that Haiti is on a path of reconstruction and recovery from economic and natural disasters, but it also reminded me that my heart was also in recovery on this trip. I was headed down a path as well and I needed to keep kicking the ball.
We visited schools and orphanages on the trip that certainly touched my heart. The kids are so joyful and beautiful. In one village we entered a school unannounced and the kids just rushed us. I was able to snap a picture with them before Randy had to literally come over and rescue me. These kids and this picture are a gift that I cherish. The temptation is there to want to take these kids home but you soon realize that if Haiti is going to survive it is these children getting a good education that is the future hope of Haiti.
One of the most poignant moments of the trip came when one of the Pastors on the trip with us got sick and needed some “time” out of the van. As he stood on the side of the dirt road in a banana field an elderly Haitian woman happened to be walking by. We watched as the woman stopped and showed compassion by just being there. She stood looking on with concern for at least 5 minutes. This woman who had undoubtedly seen unimaginable suffering and tragedy in her lifetime stopped and waited. She couldn’t speak his language, she couldn’t have done anything to help, but she was available and there to simply show concern and compassion. And with that, a reflection of God’s love.
One of the things that surprised me most about my trip to Haiti was that God sent me to realize that I loved these people and that His perfect love really does cast out fear. I went to Haiti with a few fears. Fear of violence, fear of what I would see, fear of not being different when I came home. The fear was chipped away in the back of a pickup truck. Then those fears were completely displaced by God’s perfect love being shown by an elderly Haitian woman in a banana field. I may not be able to change Haiti, but witnessing this woman’s compassion changed me. I want to be more like her. On this trip at least, Haiti gave me more than I gave Haiti.