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Life lessons I learned on a mission trip to Haiti

by Shambreon Richardson, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

A mission trip to Haiti in January left lasting impressions and life-lessons that have affected my spiritual orbit for the better.

I mentioned my journey during a meeting with my internship supervisor at The New Tri-State Defender. That led to this opportunity to share my experiences.

First, some of my takeaways: Watch out for stereotypes; God is not an ‘American’ God; and the need for us to embrace God’s desire for us to be a unified people is so very real and needed.

Shambreon Richardson and the God’s Expectation church mission team outside their hotel in Pignon. (Courtesy Photo)

I traveled with God’s Expectation church. After landing at the Port-au-Prince airport, we encountered dirt roads, beautiful black people, bulls, pigs, chickens, cows, goats, dogs and cactus as a fence around homes. During my stay, I only saw six white people and they were all missionaries.

The first stop was Fountain, a school for teenage students. Every morning, the roosters crowed at 5 a.m. and about an hour later we would hear students singing the Haitian anthem.

Our living conditions were considered top notch. There was no hot water or safe water to drink, so we drank bottled water. The community relied upon a nearby well to supply water for drinking, cooking and washing clothes. Electricity is scarce.

We stayed four days at Fountain, serving at a nearby church. Kruse Donald, our team leader, had roomed with the church’s pastor in Downline Ministries, which focuses on Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20).

Throughout the trip, we ate plantains (similar to a banana with the texture of a potato), plantain soup, real peanut butter, date jelly (my favorite), goat, rice and beans, papaya and pineapple. I fell in love with the habanero hot sauce.

At Fountain, I met two teachers: Innocent and Emily. They taught me to speak Creole. They loved my Southern accent and initially referred to me as “Bluh,” which means “white girl.”

“I’m light-skinned but I’m black,” was my response.

Fortunately, they only used the reference a few times.

I learned to say “Koman ou ye?” –  “How are you?” – with confidence. I met three teenagers Lichard (Richard), Tou (Toe) and Kelbi (Kirby), who taught me to say “Mwen grangou (I’m hungry).”

My new friends also taught me colors, the alphabet and numbers. We worshipped and laughed together.

Next, we visited Pignon. The hotel was big and was considered luxurious. Still, I had to switch rooms because of what seemed like a thousand mosquitos and my light didn’t work.

I was switched to a suite, only to find that I would have to bathe out of a construction bucket; no running water. I opened the window to a view of three goats tied to a tree, a man urinating in the open (not at all uncommon) and kids playing in trash.

Although I didn’t get to build any relationships in Pignon, I enjoyed the worship.

The last church on our trip was in Hinche. We taught for three days. The children, teens, adults and the elders were amazing. I felt so loved. We told the kids about Jesus and I shared my testimony.

Throughout the trip, we were never to go anywhere without a “buddy.” However, one day after I finished playing with the kids, I stepped outside to view the mountains. Ten boys between the ages of 16 to 19 quickly surrounded me.

A young man I came to know as Bruno stepped out of the circle and boldly asked, “Who is Jesus? Where is he from? Why did he die? What is this gospel you teach?”

I stood there speechless, almost frozen. I maneuvered to find an interpreter and my buddy, Hassan Saleem. He and his wife, Tiffany, were my spiritual uncle and aunt from Memphis.

Speaking in Creole, Bruno said to the interpreter, “I don’t need a translator, I understand.”

We explained as much as we could given the time crunch. There was no electricity and it would be dark soon.

I gave Bruno my Bible. I wrote out every question he had asked, with scripture references to back up what I was saying; and others that pointed to God’s character and ours.

At the end of the trip, we spent a day at a resort called the Decameron. I pigged out. Still no hot water in the shower, but it was OK. I got amazing sleep, went swimming in the pool and the ocean, kayaked and reflected on the people of Haiti.

I recalled the frequency of looking down a street and seeing a father or friends building a home.

My mind retrieved the recent memory of a 5-year-old boy, who built his own toy using a plastic juice bottle, beads for the wheels and a straw and shoestring to hold it together.

Many of those we met had sold clothes, art pieces and food for months just so they could serve us.

I came to realize that while I had been fervently committed to serve like Jesus, I had placed a limit on what – and how much – I was willing to give.

Thanks to the people of Haiti for expanding my way of thinking.

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