This April was the first of my trips to Haiti. In 2014, my boss and her husband served on a medical trip and that is how I was introduced to LiveBeyond. She came back telling us about the poverty and the horrible living conditions, but she also spoke about the joy. The photograph of the child above spoke directly to me. I could not imagine joy in such a place. Even in the midst of being loved he looked so lost. From the moment I saw his picture, I had a strong want to go to Haiti for myself. God used this anonymous child to plant a seed deep in my soul that went far beyond a one-week trip. The following year I wasn't able to make the trip with them, and it felt like the time had passed, the desire to go was gone.
God began pressing into me through several different events. My life was a hectic, mad race, and He began whispering that I needed to slow down, live simply and take time to understand going without. For weeks I struggled with God, asking what it meant to go without? God began to speak louder. This time He was asking me to go deeper. I began to realize it wasn't about going without, but it was about priorities. Haiti fell on my heart again. After several months of struggling with the concept of missions, I signed up for my trip to Haiti. I chose to serve during a Kè Pou Timoun Camp. I was so excited to be going and probably drove a lot of people crazy talking about the upcoming trip.
I had no idea what God had planned for me. I don't think I will ever forget stepping off the bus and having all those kids eagerly asking me, "What is your name?" I loved introducing myself to each of them, and then repeatedly mispronouncing their names until they finally agreed that whatever I was saying was close enough. When we made our way to the pavilion, I quickly grabbed a seat and watched as everyone kept introducing themselves... oddly enough I can be very shy in new environments. It wasn't long before I was forced right out of any shyness. That is when Betchina uncrossed my arms and firmly planted herself in my lap! She leaned back into my chest, and I had my first friend. Betchina was part of the afternoon class and when she would see me she would say "Taylor" with such force that it left little, if any, room for discussion. I was to come and sit with her. Her feisty nature won me over.
On our first day of Kè Pou Timoun Camp, Laurie assigned me to Chinyelo, with Johnny's Kids. I picked him up out of the back seat of the truck and was catapulted into serving. It never even crossed my mind, though I have been around the special needs community most of my life, that they would be part of my mission experience. Truly, those with special needs are "the least of these" in Haiti. Watching Lerisa repeatedly slapping at her buddy's face, or Lancy giggling at everything, or Nadia fighting with everything she had to not laugh at my corny attempts to make her laugh won me over. I was torn up and convicted. Having these children know their importance became my desire. Laurie allowed me to stay with them for the entire week. I have volunteered with kids with special needs, and listened to countless stories of parents fighting to get them the best medical care, the best schooling and fight for inclusion. Johnny's Kids are the few in Haiti, with special needs, that have this same privilege.
In Haiti, I seemed to be comparing and contrasting the joy and sadness, the freedom and oppression, and the hope and hopelessness. There was so much joy in Sofie as she would loudly sing at church and in the halls of the guest house. I had the privilege of praying for her at her home, and you would have thought we were walking up to the biggest mansion in the states. She was filled with so much joy that we were visiting her home and gladly ushered several of us in to see it... she was positively overwhelmed with excitement when I asked about the caricatures of her and her husband hanging on the wall. Have Laurie recount Sofie's life story, and you will wonder how she ever overcame the sadness to be such an inviting joyous woman. To watch Doudeline sob at church because she wanted nothing more than to be baptized, but because her father is the Voodoo priest she couldn't, brought tears to my eyes. Then to watch her the rest of the week eagerly serve each of us team members at dinner because Laurie had granted her a backstage pass was inspiring. This young girl was beaten because she came to church, but she still came every Sunday. At LiveBeyond she was cared for and safe. It was easy to notice that being a part of the "after hours" was changing her right before our eyes. Then the week after we left she was baptized... I can't wait to hear that story and to hug her! To see if she understands how much she represents freedom and oppression. Then there is Chinyelo, the boy that taught me so much. He and his best friend Pierre Richard have become favorites among many team members. Please take the time to find the picture of him before LiveBeyond. The stark contrast between the boy covered in dirt, disillusioned, and the smiling boy one month later will speak louder than I, or any other person can. The great thing is that his smile has only grown. His first smile is a far cry from the beaming smile that he has now! In his face I cannot help but see the hope and hopelessness of Haiti.
Poverty, like you should experience in Haiti, can't be explained. We know there is poverty, people starving, and no protection of law, but until you hold that newborn representation in your arms or you visit Tibeline's house and see her frail grandparents, you aren't connected. Until you listen to Dr. Vanderpool speak about mothers killing their babies because they have nowhere to turn and listen as voodoo drums pound in the background, it isn't personal. Not until you visit the LiveBeyond staff's homes and hear how they have been beaten, robbed and ostracized by their community and how their homes have been destroyed, you can't fully care. Until you stand outside a 15-year-old boy's home and realize he has no parents, and it is only by the grace of God, a woman (with too many other responsibilities of her own) tries her best to keep an eye on him, you aren't truly affected.
Our God is so good, so patient so loving and timely. Wednesday, Laurie spoke so profoundly about getting up and serving. Getting out from behind our Bibles and impacting other lives. On that Thursday night, God picked up where she had left off, He took what she painted with broad strokes and painted the fine details. Six months to the day of my wife's passing, God implanted a new vision and direction for my life. While walking around the base late that night God showed me all that had brought me to Haiti. It began with a naked child laying on a dead tree, it was walking through a new life without my wife and ended with tossing a disabled child in the air waiting to hear his squeals of delight. In July I will return for three weeks, and I can't wait to see how He has been working in that short time.
Taylor Westbrook is 39 years old and live in the Dallas area. He grew up outside of Abilene in a small country town of 300, Blackwell, Texas. He graduated from the University of North Texas and is the Visual Manager for a showroom in Southlake.