After over a year of serious planning (plus a number of years before that during which the dream took root in my heart), I was actually there.
The real Haiti, the one that conjures images of dirt and orphanages and voodoo and poverty and primitive living. Images that are, sadly, all too accurate.
It was absolutely surreal. I couldn’t believe I was really there, seeing the thatched-roof huts and middle-aged women peddling bananas and paintings and trinkets on the roadside. Orphans swarming around my legs like puppies clamoring for attention.
And yet, despite the crazy knowledge that I was fulfilling a lifelong dream, in a way, it all felt rather…mundane.
I had such romanticized notions of how Haiti would be, how inspirational and heartbreaking and life-altering the experience would be for me. I had raised support from my church family in order to go, labeling it a “mission trip” and feeling rather noble.
But then I arrived in Port-au-Prince. My friend and I maneuvered our way through the hectic airport, met up with the orphanage staff that had picked us up, traversed bumpy dirt roads for an hour and a half in a hot, dusty Jeep, and at last arrived. This orphanage would be our home for two and a half weeks. Just a blip in our lives, really, but at this moment, it felt like it would be a lo-o-o-ong stay. Suddenly I no longer felt equipped to handle the physical demands or the emotional aspects of volunteering with orphans.
The kids were soooooooo freaking adorable. When we first stepped into the nursery, dozens of babies and toddlers met us, faces streaked with snot and dirt, reaching up grubby hands to be held. Heart-wrenching. Precious. Also kind of terrifying, truth be told.
Who was I to do anything for these children? Yes, I could spend a few weeks with them, playing and singing and snuggling, but then I would return to my comfortable life and they would be left here awaiting adoption. This particular orphanage is run in a very efficient and loving manner, and every effort is made to care for the children as well as get them adopted by loving families as soon as possible. But given the nature of international adoption and the mountains of paperwork and money required to accomplish this, it takes time. So my purpose there was to love the kids for a short period of time as a way of bridging the gap between their arrival at the orphanage and their eventual placement with an adoptive family.
I’m ashamed to admit this next part.
That first night in Haiti, I regretted ever coming there. I wanted my own bed, my own hot shower, my own home, and everything familiar and comfortable. I didn’t want to be in Haiti, sharing bunk beds and showering only every other day for ninety seconds, living with a bunch of other volunteers who were undoubtedly better with children than I was.
I was a fraud.
I had traveled all this way, planned for all these months, and now all I wanted was for it to be over. I wasn’t cut out for this type of service. I felt like more of a baby than the kids I was assigned to love.
See her bewildered expression? That’s pretty much how I felt that first night.
I’ll return to this story in upcoming posts, but for today, I want to leave you with this thought: When have you struggled with unmet expectations, particularly when you’ve disappointed yourself? How do you deal with that kick in the gut, the realization that you may not be all you thought you were? Do you back away in fear, never to face those situations again?
Or do you persevere, allowing Christ to be the strength you lack?