In 2012 Emily Johnson attended a discovery trip to visit our ministry partner, Haiti Christian Schools. Ever since then her heart has been focused on doing whatever she can to help share the stories she encountered on her journey with the world. Emily is currently a student at York University working to complete her undergraduate degree in Social Work. She also spent the summer with us here at the Partners International Canada HQ as our International Development Intern and has a strong heart for international missions. Emily also returned to Haiti on a second trip in 2013. Interested in learning more about Discovery Trips? Visit our discovery trip page for more information on upcoming trips. You can also visit the Haiti Christian Schools Facebook page for updates on the work they are doing.
During my childhood, I always felt the call to missions, reflecting the call that is clear throughout the Christian Bible. (I even recall writing on my bucket list as a 7/8 year old child my desires to travel to Burkina Faso to build wells). Our church would take the interested youth each summer on discovery trips (what some might call a short-term mission trip). For as long as I could remember, our church would visit Mexico and run a VBS camp for some kids in an orphanage. I was about 15 when my parents agreed I was ready to go on a discovery trip. Unfortunately due to some safety concerns, the church’s plans to travel to Mexico fell through. When this happened, the opportunity to visit Haiti emerged. Not knowing anything about safety or the projects there, my parents requested I waited until the following summer before going.
The following summer, I had the opportunity to visit Haiti. Wendy Thiessen, a development Co-ordinator for Haiti Christian Schools, was the leader of the trip and we brought a team of approximately 15 high school students. I had been so excited and nervous to visit Haiti, and there was absolutely nothing that could have prepared me for my first trip.
When we landed in Port Au Prince, I felt overwhelmed. It was hot, burning hot. I was sweating almost instantly. The airport was loud; many people were retrieving their bags at the carousel. People were speaking loudly in a language I could barely understand. As we exited the airport, men, presumably taxi drivers, tried to push my luggage cart to their vehicles. The air smelled of sweat and burning garbage. As we piled into our taxi van, men approached our vehicle trying to sell us trinkets. Outside the tall metal fence were Haitians sitting on the sides of the road, their glares pierced my heart.
We drove for what seemed like years through the capital. Only two years since the devastating earthquake that shook the nation to its knees, it looked as though the quake happened just last week. We drove past the presidential palace, still in ruins. The roof had caved in; many pillars once supporting the building lay as sticks thrown aside by a child. Tent cities were everywhere. My heart ached for the people of Haiti, and I felt helpless, unknowing of a way I could solve the problem.
After a boat ride to the town Haiti Christian Schools is based in, Anse A Galets, on the Island of La Gonave, and our arrival at the Wesleyan Guest House Compound, I suddenly felt at home. It is a difficult feeling to describe, but after all the heartbreak, all the nervousness, moving in on the compound left me with an incredible peace and fire I have not felt anywhere else.
My trip was mainly focused on running a VBS camp for some orphans from “Foyer des enfants de Jezi” which was about a 5 minute walk from the compound. The children there lived in a two story building on a hill in the dusty town. They were constantly under lock and key, barred away from the world. (I must admit, Haitians love their fences.) We would walk to the orphanage, get all the children, and walk with them to the compound. What a beautiful sight it was to watch these children play on a grassy field.
After crafts, snack, and a bible story (graciously translated by our friends the Creole translators) we would walk the children back to the orphanage and bid them “au demain” (till tomorrow). Many of the little ones would grow tired and ask you to carry them as you walked through the town. Often times, once we reached the orphanage, the child you were carrying had passed out from exhaustion. I remember one afternoon in particular, there was a large crowd in the middle of the street. As we approached, we could see there was a circus of sorts with some acrobatics happening. There was a woman I distinctly remember, resting on her shins, stretching backwards and was able to stick her head through her legs. While I was mildly disturbed by the flexible feat, I noticed a little cling-on. A little girl was mortified by the show, and had clung to my skirt and covered her eyes. I stopped a moment, picked her up and held her in my arms. She hid her face into my shoulder. I whispered it would be ok, as I tried to console her in spite of my inability to speak Creole. When I returned to the compound, that experience resonated with me on a level I am still slightly unable to verbalize. Children scare easily, yes, and when they are, they turn to those they trust and love for support to get them through frightening experiences. That child, who did not even know my name, clung to my leg in a time of terror. She did not know my past, my failures, my fears, successes, anything. She trusted that I was there and I loved her and clung to me in a time of fear.
That experience still convicts me in my faith walk to this day. How many times can we shamelessly and so willingly cling to our Heavenly Father for that support? How many times can we honestly say that we run to God and trust he will pick us up and console us? How do we embody faith like a child?
In the evenings, I would go across the street from our compound to visit the hospital. People would ask us to hold their babies, pray with them etc. I remember one night when it was storming like crazy, Wendy and I went to the birthing room to visit some of the women in labor. Assuming that because I was white, I knew about midwifery, the nurse pulled us over and I helped a girl who was my age in labor. A little boy was born, and I think I was crying harder than the baby was. Never in my life have I seen anything more beautiful than a baby being born and honestly, I say this with the utmost conviction, you cannot see a baby being born and not believe with every fibre of your being there is a God of this universe looking out and loving each one of us. You simply can’t.
Each and every day I was there, I felt more than anywhere else on the planet I was 100% dependent on God, and each day I gave more of myself to Him, was another day He gave me incredible strength, wisdom, perseverance and energy. (Each day I was there, was another day for the little Haitian children to steal my heart, too.)
The week passed far faster than I wanted it to, and I found myself staring out the plane windows once more. Reflecting on the time I had spent in Haiti, I realized that I found my calling, I found exactly where God wanted me to serve Him and advance His Kingdom, and I was so excited.
In that moment, I prayed to God asking Him to send me back, to do incredible things in Haiti, and to use me how He saw fit to advance His Kingdom.
In end, Haiti is the most beautiful country on the planet. Never have I visited a place where the mountains were more beautiful, the people happier, or the food any yummier (except for Lambi, or conch). As we take the ferry across the bay back to the mainland to return home, I see the sun rise over the mountains and I am filled with awe and wonder. Dear God, oh, how great thou art! Give me health and strength and please do amazing works for your kingdom through me. Bring me back here to place I long to call home, father. Thank you for Haiti, God, and thank you for the heart you have given me for this incredible country. Do your miracles there in La Gonave, and remind the people you are God, you do not forget your people and you love them beyond our earthly comprehension.