Where do I possibly begin? As I try to think of words to explain the 10 days that I spent in Haiti, I find myself overwhelmingly grateful for the power of pictures. I doubt that I could convey the reality with mere words because of the extreme contrast that it reveals on American life….my life. I had my preconcieved ideas about what I thought it would be like and most of them were shattered from day one. Some things were far better than I imagined but most things were far worse. I shot over 4000 images and each one tells a story or portrays a circumstance that we, as Americans, are so removed from. I must say before I go any further that although my heart broke daily to see the injustice and poverty that engulfed the country, it also grew in compassion and love at the beauty, inwardly and outwardly, of the people that I encountered and spent time with and for that I will be forever grateful.
I went to Haiti for multiple reasons. 1. My good friend Gary Hyppolite is Haitian and he is also a pastor of The Rock Church and House of Prayer. He left the country in his teens and spent most of his adult life in New York but God spoke clearly to him about 10 years ago and gave him a vision of returning to his homeland and waging war against the devil and winning back his Nation for Jesus Christ. This was definitely not in his own personal plans and he resisted long enough to realize that it was no use. God was not going to give in. He and his wife, Linda, sold their home and purchased a piece of property in a region of Haiti that is infested with Voodoo temples. Yes, I said Voodoo. To clear up any superstitious idea here I want to just say that Voodoo is REAL. It’s not just some little revengeful idea with dolls and pins…it’s a real partnership that was made with the devil himself. 203 years ago when Haiti was under French rule, they were enslaved by them and in an effort to gain their freedom, Voodoo priests from all over came together and literally signed a written contract and made a deal with the Prince of darkness that stated that if he could grant their freedom, they would serve him for 200 years. He did and they have. It’s no joke. The spiritual darkness there is tangible and every night as we lay down to sleep we heard the eerie beat of drums and chants and livestock calling out in the night. I confess that it made me desperate for The Holy Spirit. Desperate for Discernment and Truth. I meditated every night on 1 John 4:4 that says “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” There were many parts of the bible that seemed to come to life there.
Gary was not planning on this location but God always knows what He’s doing. The Peace that rests on his property is like a warm blanket on a cold night. His team consists of real people, from orphans who have raised themselves to fathers who have been abandoned by their wives and left with small children. They all have one thing in common though, the LOVE Jesus and cling to Him for daily strength. The House of Prayer staff are commited to praying for their community and a greater knowledge of God. They begin every morning at 5:30 with beautiful worship music and praise to God. I woke to the sounds of Devotion and Adoration. It was like hearing Angels. They also commit to 5 days a week, 2:00-6:00 pm, prayer and worship again. Gary’s goal is to have nonstop prayer, 24/7. It really changes the atmosphere. The devil hates the sound of Worship to God.
There’s also a school with 200 children but more about that as we go. This will be a long post with 44 images and I hope they give you realistic idea of the devastation and beauty that are closely related in Haiti.
There is no real garbage system in Haiti, except in the elite neighborhoods, so everything gets tossed in the street or the fields or the ditch. Wherever people are, that’s where it gets dropped. I didn’t see a single public garbage can the entire time I was there. A few times I saw a group of men in yellow shirts shoveling trash into a wheelbarrow but I couldn’t tell you where they put it. There are always little fires burning in an effort to manage some of it.
I think the unemplymentrate here in America is 7% right now and people are anxious about it going higher. Try adding a “0” to that and you have the rate in Haiti. Jobs are scarce and if you are lucky enough to get one, you know that there are 1000’s of people willing to take it from you for a little less so people work HARD to keep their jobs that pay them next to nothing. The average income in Haiti is $80 a month. People peddle whatever they can on the side of the road; Little bags of water, sugar cane, used shoes, bread, you name it. Anything to make some money. Everywhere you go it feels like a constantly moving market and if you make eye contact with someone, they tend to think that you want to buy something.
If they don’t have anything to sell, they are forced to beg. There are children everywhere running along side the cars, shoving their hands into open windows, yelling ” Mwen grangou!” I’m hungry! It would be so easy to take a few million dollars and give it away in a matter of hours, the need seems overwhelming. I took 10 lbs of candy and always tried to have some in my pocket to give away. As soon as a group saw that you were giving something, the car would get swarmed with more. They would run withthe car as we began to drive away. It was heartbreaking. This man below had no eyes. I can only imagine what happened to him but he was ringing a bell and singing some words in hopes of someone having mercy. It made me think of the beggar at the Gate Beautiful, left there everyday to beg and I imagined that if Jesus were there he would have healed the man. Which in turn made me contemplate my own level of faith. Why didn’t I jump out of the car and pray for him myself? I felt sad on so many levels.
We traveled through Port Au Prince a few times and you just can’t imagine how many people live in an area that looks like this. I know there is a power line here but the majority of houses do not have a connection so when the sun sets, it gets dark. There have been a few traffic lights installed in the past few years that are solar powered, but most streets are lit only by the fires or oil lamps that are set up by the street vendors. The streets were just as jammed with people at 11 p.m. as they were at 7 a.m.
The huge river behind the girls is not only full of water, but plastic bottles that have floated down until they reached the bridge where they all pile up. Millions of empty water bottles and glass that goes nowhere. There was this crazy contrast that I saw at times where well dressed people with brief cases or children in Sunday dresses were stepping over piles of garbage…on their way to work or home after church or down the road to buy a loaf of bread. At times all I could think of was how they were a beautiful people in a total wasteland, trying to make it the best they could. Life still went on. Mother’s still carried their sleeping babies and couples held hands as they walked along, constantly dodging cars and trash.
This is public transportation, better known as “Tap taps.” It seemed to be the most popular job. Most haitians don’t have drivers licenses, let alone cars so this is the preferred way to travel. Owners take great care in building new window frames and painting colorful pictures of people. Jesus was popular on tap taps. I saw Adam and Eve, a Buisness woman in a suit, and Mother Mary to name a few but Jesus seemed to the most props. Yay, Jesus. The destination was usually painted on the side of the door and you just jump on when they stop. Inside was sensory overload. Most of them run on deisel so there is always thick vapor of fumes and I’m not kidding, if it’s a tap tap that seats 15, they will get 40+ in there. Sometimes animals too. Live and dead. There’s kind of a joke about traveling there…they say “It’s Haiti, there’s always room for one more.” And there always was. Some of them played super loud Haitian Rap music and it would get so crowded in there at times that there was no way to see where you were or what was going on. All along the inside roof were sets of 2 wires where you had to reach up and touch them together to signal that you wanted to get off. The weather was very warm and I don’t think very many people used deodorant ( I’m just trying to paint the real picture for you ). Mini pickups were really popular too withraised cabs over the bed and benches along both sides. Now getting gas was an entirely different issue. Remember the gas shortage we had here in GA a few months back that lasted for 2 weeks? Fights were breaking out and people were bringing gas cans to fill up with extra. Well imagine that situation times 50. Oh, and gas was over $4 a gallon. It was unreal. People were desperate for gas. I saw a mini truck try and cut in front of a line of cars and instantly there were about 8-10 men trying to tip his truck over right at the pump. He started to yell “I’m gonna shoot! I’m gonna shoot!” and he jumped in his car and took off. We did too. There were crowds of people holding as many gallon jugs as they could shoving their buckets at the guy holding the pump. It was crazy.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What the heck were you doing there?” and I realize that I only mentioned one of the reasons that I went. The other reason is that I needed to jump start my heart. I wanted to be shaken out of my comfortable rut that I seemed to be finding myself in. We have it so good here in America that we don’t even know it anymore. We are fat, rich and basically in need of nothing ( as a Nation ) and the American way of life seems to be all about making ourselves as comfortable as possible. Now I know that things have been getting more unsteady in recent months but thats not really what I’m talking about. I know this sounds like I’m not being grateful for the fact that I am doing well for myself, I am successful in my career, I live in a good neighborhood, my cupboards are full of food, we are all healthy. I AM grateful. But I began to notice something was missing. I know Jesus, and I love Him but living here in the Bible Belt can be really challenging to remain on the “edge” so to speak. Religion is everywhere and it’s easy to make the goal of life “to be comfortable” instead of living life “to be Radical.” In my heart of hearts, I’m an action chic and I want to make a difference. I want my life to count. I don’t want to just go through the motion of things- doing the same thing day after day, I want to make a difference. Life is too short to sit around being comfortable. I love wedding photography but in the end, it doesnt really make that big of a difference. Do you know what I mean? So after wanting to go for over 2 years to help Pastor Gary create a presentation through images that really helped people to see the reality of the amazing thing he is doing down there, I finally went. I came back to life.
There aren’t a lot of animals there. Even in the mountains. There were cows, goats, sheep and pigs and most of them were tied to a rope somewhere in a field. The pigs however preferred to hang out in piles of trash and this one was taking a walk down the street. Guaranteed, his owner was close by keeping an eye on him.
I ate the best avacado of my life there. And I love avocado. They were huge and mango? There are mango trees everywhere! It wasn’t the season for them but Gary says in the summer almost every tree has people under it throwing rocks to get the fruit to fall. We had a papaya one morning that was as big as a watermelon.
Taking photos sometimes was a very sensitive thing. Lots of people in 3rd world countries have superstitions about a photograph somehow taking a part of their soul so I was always trying to be aware of the level of comfort that people felt but at the same time, risking it to get a shot. It’s like there is something that seems really wrong about taking a photo of a blind guy begging on the street. By nature, I want to turn the other way, pretend he isn’t there and by being intentional about taking his photo, I am somehow letting it mark my heart…saying “I don’t want to forget.” The photo below was at the airport, we were there to pick up the team of 10 that was coming in from Atlanta House of Prayer. They man are UN peacekeepers who went into Haiti about 3 years ago when the gangs were trying to take over and cops were being killed left and right. They have huge tanks and fortified compounds and after I took this photo, they didn’t take their eyes off of me for about the next 5 minutes. We walked in the park and every time I looked at them, they were staring at me- and they weren’t smiling either. Luckner, my Haitian friend and Gary’s right hand guy told me that they DO NOT like their photo taken. They are suspicious of everyone.
We spent some time at an orphanage that Pastor Gary has a relationship with, playing with the children and being broken down in new ways. There were about 80 kids here, some as young as 3 and all with no parents. The boys made cars out of cut up plastic bottles and wrapped wire in a circle and rolled it around on the pavement…laughing as they went. No home with loving parents, no possessions, little food….to electronics or TV….laughing and playing, giggling when I showed them photos of themselves. I don’t really know how to express how that made me feel. Convicted for sure, humbled and even grateful. Grateful that these kids didn’t really know any different. Grateful to see that joy is possible in the midst of extreme poverty and kids will invent ways to have fun. Overwhelmed to know that the love of God was available to each of them and that there were people who cared for them enough to try and make any difference that they could. No matter how small. There is always Hope.
The language barrier was so challenging. I tried to smile at everyone I saw as a way to communicate. Most people didn’t smile back but a few did and it was always so welcome and reassuring. I found that my camera was an easy way to connect with people. Taking a photo of someone and then stepping towards them to show them almost always brought a smile or laugh and seemed to reduced the gap between us considerably. This is a security guard at a business where we were buying cement and iron. Pastor Gary negotiated with the owner’s wife for probably 20 minutes and this man would stand nearby holding his shotgun with his eye on everyone. Now you have to realize that blond white people are not common there and I stuck out like a sore thumb. Add a camera to the picture and I was a curiosity to most. Within about 30 minutes I had made friends with the 2 women who were writing up orders, the owner’s wife and the security guy. Even the laborers outside loading supplies ended up laughing and posing and pointing to their friends as if to say, “Take his picture too!” It was a wonderful way to share a moment with people I couldn’t communicate with. This guy ended up being so nice, he was a Christian, a father to his kids, a husband to his wife, a brother and a friend. First impressions can be so deceiving.
This photo below sums it all up. It’s the reason there is hope in Haiti, it is the weapon that can disarm hate. The amazing Grace that has been extended to us all through Jesus enduring the cross. In the end, it will be the only thing that wins.
I have known Pastor Gary for 4 years. As long as I’ve been in Georgia he’s been an image of servanthood but I had no idea how deep that really went until I saw him in this environment. He has such a huge responsibility there, he cares for everyone he comes in contact with. His staff, the teachers, the children, the people…there wasn’t a single person that he encountered that he didn’t greet with love, give them money, pray for them or listen to their needs and do whatever he could to help. I watched real Christianity at work in this man. The burden that he carries for the nation of Haiti is tangible when you are near him. One afternoon a young child crawled up in his lap, and as he put his arm around her I saw her just eat it up. He told me that she previously had tried to get his attention one day while he was talking to some men, pulling on his jeans, tapping his leg and when he didn’t respond, she bit him. He laughed while he told me and in Creole asked her if she remembered doing that to which she smiled and replied, “Yes! You weren’t listening to me.” Even the children expect him to give them what they need…and he always does. I was honored to be around him and watched in awe at the magnitude in which he cared for people.
This is the team from ATL IHOP, with some of our Haitian friends. I feel in love with all of them. Young, fearless, committed to making a difference and totally sold out to Jesus. Self disciplined and intentional in everything they did. Musically gifted with missionary hearts. They are still there with Gary until the 19th and it was so hard to leave them. I’m so glad that they are only an hour away from me because I felt a part of their family and will be so happy to see them again.
We unwrapped smarties at the Orphange and passed them out as if they were a treasure. To them, they were.
We went out several time to the surrounding area, walking past the Voodoo temples to tell people about the love of Jesus. Last year a family of 8 that lived nearby had their rickety house destroyed by a storm and were all living and sleeping under a mango tree in heavy rain. Gary had a team from Chicago with him and when they found out they all pulled their money together and bough cinder block at about $1.00 a piece and built them a house in 3 days. These are two of the children. They jump for joy when they see Gary coming and the kids all start to scream and wave. Kids everywhere surrounding the compound know Pastor Gary either because they come to his school or he has fullfilled a need in some wayand changed their life.
Further away we stopped while Gary talked to this man about Jesus. A mother sat with an infant near a small fire heating water to cook some potato looking things. A small portion for a large family. I had a power bar in my backpack that I gave to her and it felt so inadequate. She seemed to have a sadness on her that pierced my heart when she looked at me. We asked if we could pray for her and her children and she hung her head and held back tears.
Walking through a field of knee high gold grass this lady came across to meet us. She said she had a bad headache and asked if we could pray for her. She knelt down on her bare knees in the dirt and stood up 3 or 4 minutes later smiling, thanking God that her headache was gone.
Gary took us to a house and introduced us to this family. They were so humble. As usual, I saw him give her some money for food and after praying for her entire household, we were walking away and she held on to Gary saying that God had taken mercy on her and had sent this man to help. She was thanking God for Gary.
So this is the school that the kids are in right now. Waiting for the new one to be built. Gary will say that he never intended to open a school, he just wanted to feed the kids but the need was incredible as even public school is not free. If parents don’t have jobs, the kids don’t go to school. When you have to choose between food or education, food always wins. 200 kids come here for free. They eat every day for free. The only requirement is that they come to church on Sunday. All 200 have received Jesus. There is even a Voodoo priest that sends his 6 children here and when Gary asked him why he was doing that…why didn’t he accept Jesus too…the man admitted that he knew Jesus was good. He said he didn’t want his children to follow him where he was going, he wanted better for them. He then admitted that he was afraid to leave Voodoo because the devil would kill him. Gary takes his children every day and cares for them and is slowly winning this man with love. How do I know? Because “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1 John 4:18 Even a Voodoo priest is looking for real love.
The IHOP team were fabulously prepared to play games with the kids and brought supplies and ideas that brought out total joy in the kids. This was the first time they were introduced to Dodge Ball. The rules were explained through an interpreter and the whistle was blown and total laughter broke out as the kids crossed the line, picked up balls and threw it at anyone they could, including their own teammates. It was wonderful chaos.
Another of the lessons/activities were making salvation bracelets. 6 different colored beads that represented sin, the blood of Jesus, white as snow, the Holy Spirit, new growth and heavenly streets paved with gold were threaded onto yellow yarn. The kids loved making them and wore them proudly. I made one and tied it to my camera. I’m never taking it off either.
This is the top of the 15 foot cinder block wall that surrounds Gary’s place. 2 years ago a gang jumped over and began shooting at everything in an attempt to steal his van and or kidnap him for ransom. God totally intervened when the gunman pointed at Gary to shoot and it jammed. No body was killed and being frustrated, they left. When the surrounding community heard about what happened, everyone came together and brought hundreds of bottles and built the wall up 3 more feet. It’s not uncommon to see this around property. The entrance is a metal gate that is always locked and there is a “gatekeeper” there named Frisnell. He sits under the mango tree all day letting people in or out. He’s always had a smile and he loved having his photo taken.
I loved going down into the kitchen where they cooked. Nadia was always cooking something. We had rice and beans everyday, usually with a type of gravy with a little meat in it. Everything was cooked over coals. I love how the sun lit up the smoke in the room.
This is the porridge that the kids ate every day. It some kind of corn mash with a few dried herrings added in. The cost to feed the kids every month is $2400 and that includes paying the cooks who come to prepare it.
All children are served before anyone begins to eat and they sing a song of thanks and they always bless the food before eating. Occasionally when there is a surplus, they can have seconds. For some it is the only meal they get.
The students wear uniforms and are taught to have self respect and care about their appearance. I think 6 and under are in yellow and older kids are in blue. The morning starts off with chapel.
The day that I left all of the kids walked to where the new school was being built. The foundation was being poured and they stood around and prayed over the land and thanked God for the new school. The estimated cost of the school is about $60-70,000. They are very excited. It’s a slow process because everything is manual labor. No backhoe, no cement trucks, rocks are carried by hand and over in the compound there was a guy there every day grinding rocks down to smaller pebbles down to powder to add to the cement. Painstakingly slow work.
Laundry is all done by hand. I saw small girls, 5 and 6 years old washing clothes every day. Remember the family that was sleeping under the mango tree? Well the mother of that family now comes every week to do the laundry for staff and missionaries. She is so grateful for the job and I saw her doing laundery for almost 8 hours straight. Bent over, scrubbing, rinsing, and hanging.
I was really convicted by the IHOPteam and their hunger for the Word. I felt envious of their knowledge and memorization of the bible. Hazen is 23 and he is powerful in his preaching and knowledge of scripture. As I listened to him talk I felt my stomach growl with a desire to have what he has. Recognizing this feeling brought up an envy for the simple life that I saw there. I felt envious of the poverty that was there and I know that doesn’t make sense but I was reading the parable of the sower in Luke 8 and I’ve read it many times before but when I read about the seed that fell among thorns which stands for people who hear the word but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. I thought of how much stuff I have wrapped up in my life that is really meaningless in the big picture. So many time consuming pleasures and worries that come before praying or sitting and reading the bible. I related to the idea of being choked and not maturing and longed to have a more simple life where God comes first instead of trying to fit Him in the in-between times. It’s a weird idea to envy poverty and I feel a skip in my head as I think about it. It’s like something doesn’t compute. It goes against everything American.
Just to be honest here, I’ve been writing this blog post for the last 3 days. I’ve lost track of what I’ve said and I think about all the things I’m probably leaving out. My dear friend Ron Storer wrote this to me this morning. “It is normal to be extremely moved after going out in a third world situation. And after time goes by I think it is easy to just forget. Because if we remember we are forced to do something about what we saw…to change, to motivate others. But others are mostly compelled by what changes happen in our lives and they want some of that. People often may have a very difficult time relating to you, now that you have seen so much and experienced this. It is almost like being born again we want to share because we care. And we should. I remember when I first went out I was a mess when I came back because I could articulate my feelings very well…I would just ramble and cry.” Thanks, Ron. I don’t ever want to forget. I dont ever want to be the same.
19 of us went to a beach on Saturday. 10 in the van and 9 in the little pickup truck. Caleb from IHOP was brave enough to drive and I can’t say enough what an amazing job he did. The first beach we tried was on private property and the owner wanted $10/person so we went to the next beach down the street. A public beach but still $4/person. It was a very sensual beach if you know what I mean. NOt really nudity but it was really obvious what was on the minds of most people there. We set up under a big tree, some of us went swimming and others stayed with the stuff. There were 2 bands walking around playing music for tips and we brought a guitar and conga as well. We all got together and started playing worship music. Caleb is an awesome leader and people began to walk over to check us out. One band came right up to check out the music and the owner of the band began talking to Gary. I kept seeing him pull Gary farther and farther away from the group as they kept on talking and some time later Gary came back and told us that the guy couldn’t stop crying. He was a mess. He was convicted of his sin and knew he needed Jesus but he was afraid that his band members would see him and little did he know that while he was talking with Gary, the rest of his band sat and listened to Hazen and Pene and all gave their lives to Jesus. 7 in all were snatched from the fire that day and nothing compares to that.
I’m so glad I went. A big piece of me is still there. The night before I left Eli, who is a worship leader there and he speaks a fair amount of English, came to me and said, “Um, they want to talk to you.” So he led me into the room where the staff would hang out and we sat on the floor and 4 girls sat around me with Eli as interpreter. He said, “They want to tell you that they are very sad that you are leaving and after you are gone, they will not have feeling for a long time. They want to tell you that they love you and they love how you have lived with them and they want to know when you are coming back.” I cried a lot. And I told them June. I have all these photos that I need to give to them.
As we were walking home one afternoon the mango family kids saw us and jumped and waved and ran out to greet us. I knew I would never be the same from my experience there and to tell the truth, when it was time to come home, a HUGE part of me didn’t want to. Guaranteed, if I was single with out kids, I would be in the process of selling all I have to go there and live.
Thank you, Lord. For waking me up again, for letting me see with my heart and not just my eyes.
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Jesus said, “A new command I give you, Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34
Thanks for reading, God bless you.