My first trip to Haiti was in February 2015 through my company, STAR Physical Therapy, and again two years later in January 2017. I had felt called to mission work, but it wasn’t until I got an email about a trip to Haiti that I answered God’s call. My hope was to, in some small way, help the people I met. Little did I know how much the people of Thomazeau and both experiences would change my life. You don’t spend a week in Thomazeau without truly experiencing God’s presence and handiwork.
Both my trips were heavily involved in Johnny’s Kids. These are beautiful, resilient children that happen to have physical disabilities. In America, children with disabilities have doctors, therapies, medicines, and even support groups to aide in their independence and functional mobility. This is not the case in Haiti. In fact, my trip in 2015 was the first physical or occupational therapy any of them had ever had. I could have easily gotten caught up in how much more functional each of them would be had they been born in America, but their spirits are so inspiring that instead I became overwhelmed with love for each of them.
When I first met Nadia, she couldn’t walk without significant assistance. By the end of my first trip, she was able to walk the length of the clinic by herself, but needed one of us close by just in case she lost her balance. Two years later, she is independently walking to and from LiveBeyond. I am a physical therapist, and I have seen many people take their first steps after a surgery or a neurological event, but watching Nadia walk up to the clinic brought tears to my eyes. This is just a glimpse of God’s hands at work when you come to Thomazeau.
My second trip was just as emotional, because now I got to witness all the progress that has been made. One of the most rewarding moments of my second trip was watching Lancy and Pierre Richard be baptized. To watch these two kids commit their lives to Christ was a moment I will never forget. There is so much evil in Haiti that proclaiming God as your Savior results in bodily harm.
This is something Doudelie knows all too well. She was a new friend I made on my second trip. Laurie told us how Doudelie’s family was very involved in voodoo and did not approve of her coming to church at LiveBeyond. Doudelie then wanted to be baptized knowing her family would not approve. Her story is the most vivid example of God’s grace I have ever seen. She was willing to stand up for God because of what He had done in her life. As Laurie told us of her baptism, I found myself wondering how many of my family and friends, myself included, would so boldly stand up for God in the wealthiest and most religiously free country in the world.
Before I ever left Haiti in February 2015, I knew I would be coming back to serve. My faith was tested and strengthened in the six days I spent in Haiti. I came back from my first trip with a brand new perspective on life. I learned so much about the God we serve and just how wondrous His works are. I thought I had felt God’s presence before this trip, but there are no words to describe how compelling His presence is in Haiti. I struggled coming back home after that first trip. There were bigger things in this world than complaining about how long I had to wait at a restaurant or what song we sang at church. Now, instead of seeing a need to complain, I saw Annette and the inhumane conditions she lived. I wasn’t starving, I was hungry; Stevenson and Kenson were starving before God intervened.
These life-changing experiences would have never been possible if it had not been for the amazing company I work for, STAR Physical Therapy. It’s rare to find a company that allows employees to grow professionally and spiritually, and probably more rare that they promote your spiritual growth through mission work. STAR provided our way to Thomazeau and the amazing experiences we had are carried over in our patient care. Since my first trip, STAR has supported three total trips to Thomazeau through LiveBeyond. Each trip allows for the people of Thomazeau, especially Johnny’s Kids to have a plan of care developed and continued by therapists. These trips have changed me and I will always be grateful to work for a company that supports service to all.
I cannot wait to return to Thomazeau and the awesome people we have served. There is still work to be done, oppression to eradicate, and lives to be saved. I encourage anyone or any company that wants to make a difference to consider Thomazeau and LiveBeyond. The people of Thomazeau have taught me to live intentionally and to encounter all I meet as if they are Lancy or Doudelie.
Megan Hemmingsen is a physical therapist in Clarksville, Tennessee. She received her BS from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2010 and her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2013.