We arrived back in the US safely early Friday morning after delays in airports (and even having our plane turned around while in the air and having to land and switch to a different one because of maintenance issues!)! Even with the trip being a few days longer than in the past, it seems like our time in Haiti flew by! The VBS went well. We averaged around 130 kids per day. As some of you may remember, this is down significantly from past years, where we have had 200-220. The reason for this is most likely the move to the church's new property. The new property is close to the old, rental property, but is far enough away that many of the kids from that area who came in the past probably would not walk there on their own unless parents brought them. While there are certainly many kids around the church's new property, it may take the church a couple years to get established there and for these community kids to hear about the VBS and want to come. We were able to once again provide the kids with 2 meals during each day of VBS. We served a small breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches or crackers, on alternating days. Kids also received a cooked lunch of rice, spaghetti, or corn maize with various toppings at the end of VBS each day. While provided these meals to the kids is a big expense for the trip, we feel it is important, as we don't know how regular the kids are able to eat at home. We had four rotations again this year: class, crafts, music, and recreation. Classes focused on the greatest and second greatest commandments and covered a different person/people we should love each day (God, parents, brothers/sisters, friends, enemies, ourselves). One young man in the oldest class requested my notes from the day that we talked about how you can be forgiven and saved. I ended up giving him my notes from the rest of the week too. He can not read them in English, but said he could get someone to translate them for him. He also asked a lot of questions during the class! I pray that the church will continue to work with him and that the Holy Spirit will also continue to work on him!
The Saturday after the VBS, we held a pool party again this year for the VBS volunteers. This serves two purposes. It helps us to continue building relationships with the young adults of the church who we work with in the VBS. During the week, we are busy with the kids and don't have as much time to spend just getting to know the VBS volunteers better. This was especially important this year, as we had several new volunteers! Building and developing relationships with church members and volunteers is a primary goal of the mission trip. The pool party allowed us a relaxed atmosphere where we could get to know volunteers better and have fun together. The pool party also serves as a reward or thank-you for serving in the VBS. It is not just a thank-you from us, but we hope it encourages them to continue to be involved in serving the Lord through the New Christian Church of Tabarre's ministries.
On Monday, we took half of the girls from House of Joy, the girls' orphanage that Joy In Haiti and Pastor Brisenault manage, to a beach resort in Haiti called Kaliko Beach. A previous Joy In Haiti team had taken half the girls already and we were asked to take the other half during our trip. The girls enjoyed the trip. They were able to play in the ocean for a while, but quickly switched to the swimming pool. Haitians seem to not like salt water very well. Before leaving the beach, they also worked to partially bury Joseline, Pastor Brisenault's wife, with sand! They enjoyed the time in the pool and the food served at the resort as part of our admission.
On Tuesday we traveled about an hour and a half to a city in Haiti's interior called Mirabalais. It was a very scenic trip, with beautiful mountains, curvy roads, and a driver who drove very fast. I was quite concerned on the way, but by the time we came back wasn't worried about the driving as much anymore. On the north side of Mirabalais we saw one of the power plants that creates electric for Port-au-Prince and other cities of Haiti. It is positioned at a river dam which created a 14,000 acre lake. The plant was undergoing repairs to increase it's production, as it has only been operating at about 1/3 of its actually capacity for several years. Haiti's newly-elected president has promised the country that within 24 months the cities will have electric for 24 hours a day, and he is working toward that goal! We also drove past the University Hospital of Mirabalais, a very large hospital located in that city. We ate lunch at a small restaurant in Mirabalais and survived the ride back to Port-au-Prince on full stomachs! That night we enjoyed a meal of lobster at the guest house. For 3 out of 4 of us, it was our first time eating lobster. The cook had a good laugh out of watching us try to crack the shells open to get to the meat!
On Wednesday we went to the church to say our goodbyes to the Haitian volunteers. Pastor Brisenault and the youth committee had decided to extend the VBS for another week (it turns out they had been doing it for 2 weeks before we arrived, so that's a 4-week VBS!). Kids in Haiti don't have a lot to do in the summer and having the VBS for so long gave them something fun and positive to do! We stayed there with the kids and volunteers for a while before going out to eat. We went to one nice restaurant that didn't have anything we wanted (just because something is on the menu in Haiti, it doesn't mean they actually have it!). After several tries to get something, we left and went to a smaller restaurant, where we had duck for the first time!
On Thursday we got ready and went to the airport, where our flight was delayed. We then flew to Miami. At Miami, the flight was delayed an hour while mechanical problems with the plane were repaired. We then had to sit on the tarmac and run the engines for a while to burn some fuel, because we had too much fuel to take off. About a half hour after leaving Miami, when we were in the Orlando area, the mechanical problems popped up again, and the pilots were instructed to turn the plane around and go back to Miami. Once there, they weren't allowed to land, but had to fly in circles over Miami for an hour to burn fuel, because the plane weighed too much to land safely. It seems that all of this is calculated for normal flights, but because of our turn-around, we hadn't burnt enough fuel. When we finally landed, everyone was switched to a different plane. My sister called our parents, who were already at the Cincinnati airport, expecting us to be landing there at any time. We had no way to communicate to them from in the air to let them know what was happening. We finally boarded the second plane. After we were settled in, the pilot announced that we would be taking off shortly, but he had to do a lot of paperwork first! After a long time, he announced they were almost finished with the paperwork, and trust him, he wanted to be on the way as much as we did! Finally, we took off and made the flight with no further problems. We arrived in Cincinnati at 2:45 AM Friday morning. Our original arrival time was supposed to be 10:30 PM Thursday evening. We got home at around 4 AM.
I want to close this letter with a post I shared on Facebook on our last night in Haiti:
"It's our last night in Haiti for this trip! Despite being nearly two weeks instead of our normal 10 days, it seems like it has gone by fast! We have been blessed to see old friends and make some new ones! We've been blessed to help with a VBS that has been fun for community kids, taught them about the Lord, and helped connect them to the church since it's at a new location! We've been blessed to see the progress that has been made on the church, school, and orphanage buildings! God is blessing the growing congregation of the New Christian Church of Tabarre! We've been blessed to spend time with some of the House of Joy girls at the beach. We've been blessed to have some new experiences. Some of the team were blessed to see and learn about the water purification ministry JIH partners with. We were blessed to see a part of Haiti we haven't seen before, the Mirabalais area (And we were blessed that we didn't die on the winding mountain roads to get there and back!). Rebecca and Aubrey were blessed with the experience of finding a tarantula in their shower! We were blessed to try some new cuisine, lobster and duck! We were blessed with some gifts from Haitian friends!
We came to be a blessing to others by sharing God's love with kids in the VBS, working alongside volunteers from the church, showing them that we are their brothers and sisters in Christ, and by taking some of the orphanage girls to enjoy the beach. But as we worked to be a blessing to others, I feel that we have also been blessed beyond measure in return!"
Below is a link to my Haiti 2017 picture album on Facebook. You should be able to use the link to view the pictures in the album whether you have a Facebook account or not. Enjoy!
Thank you all for your prayers for the trip!
Let God take care of you!