By: Claire Bartlett, LiveBeyond summer intern
Sometimes, you experience something that redefines who you are; a moment that alters your perspective, and shifts the way you view your purpose; an experience that hits your heart so hard it leaves you breathless. That moment in my life happened in Thomazeau, Haiti.
I signed up for my first trip to Thomazeau without knowing anything about LiveBeyond. I am a Senior Pre-PA student at Texas A&M University, and I am in an organization called Aggie Sisters for Christ. I had always wanted to go on a mission trip so when the announcement for the annual ASC mission trip came, I signed up before knowing anything about LiveBeyond. Little did I know, that summer would change my life.
I met people that summer in Thomazeau who changed me. If you ask anyone who has been to Thomazeau with LiveBeyond about a woman named Annette, they will tell you that they have never seen a situation more tragic and enraging. Annette is a mentally handicapped woman who makes pig noises because she has been locked in a hut with pigs her whole life. The people in her village treat her terribly. When I saw her face, covered in dirt, gulping down Gatorade desperately, it was one of those moments that both ripped my heart and made me want to punch someone in the face (I refrained).
I returned the following spring break to Thomazeau and had an even more life-changing week than my first trip. During this trip we visited a mentally and physically handicapped man named King of Kings. Looking into King of Kings’ sparkling eyes, I saw the face of Jesus. The sense of absolute peace surrounding King of Kings’ house was something I had never experienced, and I knew the Lord was present in that place. That is a moment I will never forget.
After the first two trips with LiveBeyond I just couldn’t stay away. I returned to Thomazeau for my third time this past July and served as an intern for three weeks. My time was spent helping out in clinic, treating children who had scabies, taking blood pressure, and my favorite: holding precious babies! I helped out around the house, ran errands, and spent an afternoon visiting newborn babies in the surrounding villages. I also had the privilege of taking care of a 52 pound, 18 year old girl named Sheila. She developed bacterial meningitis several years ago and is now mentally handicapped and starving to death because she is not well taken care of. We brought her to the base almost every day to bathe her, feed her, and love on her! Sheila is such a precious girl, and a curious thing who loves fruit snacks and holding your hand. Time spent with her was the absolute best.
One afternoon I was feeding Sheila some Pringles when Marie Nicole, one of the Haitian workers, walked into the room. She saw Sheila’s bony figure and immediately closed her eyes, raised her hands and started praying fiercely in Creole. She then sat next to me with watery eyes and saw that I was breaking the Pringles into small pieces to feed Sheila. She looked at me disapprovingly and grabbed the Pringles from my hand, shoving multiple Pringles into Sheila’s mouth, feeding her the whole stack of Pringles in about 30 seconds. I will never forget the look on Sheila’s face while she was trying to keep up with Marie Nicole’s fast pace feeding! Later that day Sophie, another Haitian worker, came into the room and combed and braided Sheila’s hair while softly singing to her. It was like a spa day! In those two moments, I truly saw the transformation of Haiti happening before my eyes; Haitians caring for and loving the handicapped (a population that is currently severely neglected, scorned, and treated worse than animals).
My “moment” happened when we dropped Sheila off at her house for the last time before I left Haiti. My heart broke. Leaving her on that straw mat and knowing that when I return to my comfortable American home she will still be in Thomazeau was beyond heart-breaking. While I am safe and respected, she will still be mistreated. While I live in luxury, she will still live in extreme poverty. While I eat food whenever I want, she will still be starving. While I sit in comfy chairs and sleep in my comfy bed, she will still be covered in scratches from sitting on the hard stony dirt.
But I have so much hope. I have hope because we serve a good God. I have hope because I know that LiveBeyond is drastically transforming this place for the Kingdom of God. They are feeding the hungry, they are caring for the poor, they are looking after the handicapped, and they are caring for Sheila. They are living like Jesus, sharing the good news, and teaching the Haitians (just as much as the Americans) what it means to truly be Christian and to defend the cause of the oppressed. I know that one day, by the power of God, Sheila will be healed. She will no longer be suffering and mistreated! Praise God for Dr. and Mrs. Vanderpool and for their faithfulness to answer God’s call. The impact they are having in this place by God’s power is immeasurable.
Every moment in Thomazeau has changed me. My time there has taught me that our purpose as Christians is not to live a life of comfort for ourselves…our purpose is to give up our comfort so that others may live. Our purpose is to live like Jesus and defend the cause of the oppressed! I am no longer content with living for me. Every moment of our life should be spent living like Jesus and improving the lives of our brothers and sisters.
I plan to return to Thomazeau as soon as I can! I seriously can’t wait to be back! My soul is restless to return and see sweet Sheila again.