Monday, July 1, 2013

We have spent the entire week covered in dust and dirt, and today we finally washed it all away.  A few team members returned to the orphanage this morning to make sure everything was finished and to complete the painting of the gate while the rest of us stayed back at Kaliko to decorate for the best birthday party ever.  Melissa Workman did a fantastic job coordinating everything, and the theme was orange, blue and green.  Which just happen to match the color of our team t-shirts and the colors of the gate at Pastor’s.  We strung up triangle banners along the path leading to the pavilion where we eat, which was filled with blue, orange and green balloons, streamers, table runners and birthday hats.  We assembled the birthday gifts for all the kids which consisted of two bibles, one in English and one in Creole, a t-shirt with the orphanage logo, the envelopes from sponsor families, small toys, and plenty of “bon bons,” or candy.  We had so much candy that we had enough left over to make a goody bag for every one of the 110 staff members at Kaliko.  So thank you to everyone who provided sour patch kids, animal crackers, jolly ranchers, and a plentiful supply of dum-dums. All the gifts were put into a draw-string backpack with the each child’s name on the front and set aside for after lunch.  Once the decorating and gift assembly was done, the team was able to enjoy spending time relaxing while waiting on the kids to arrive.  One of the great things about a large team is the opportunity to develop relationships with a wide number of people.  We cherish the relationships we have made with one another this week, and every opportunity we’ve been given to further them has been welcomed.  It was so special to witness everyone sitting around Kaliko laughing, making gigantic water balloons out of normal balloons, dropping said balloons on unsuspecting victims, and just enjoying one another’s presence.  Around twelve thirty, screams echoed through Kaliko that the buses carrying unsuspecting children were pulling up to the entrance.  They emerged from the bus to the sound and sight of our crazy team members clapping and yelling and singing ‘Happy Birthday.’  The party had begun and it didn’t stop all afternoon.

The kids went immediately into the dining pavilion and sat down among colorful balloons tied to the rows of chairs with streamers overhead, birthday hats on head, and smiles all around.  TJ told us last night that when planning for the party he told Mike the manager that he had a budget of $10 per person for the party.  Mike countered and said that the kids deserved to have a special day, so he added another $10 per person from Kaliko.  Thus, the birthday feast consisted of numerous cold dishes like salad and marinated vegetables, hot dishes like chicken, lasagna, rice, fish and French fries, and two massive birthday cakes complete with sugar work and the name of the orphanage piped in icing.  The kids mounded their plates as high as they would go, and made the challenging decision of whether to drink Coke, Sprite, or Fruit Champagne (think carbonated cherry cough syrup, though some might disagree) on their special day.  I cannot even begin to describe the scene that ensued once everyone was seated.  Sprite was pouring down the fronts of shirts, chicken was zooming from fork to mouth and conversation only came between bites of French fries.  Look at the pictures that were taken and ask for stories to be told.

Once everyone was finished eating and wiping icing from arms and mouths, gift bags were broken out and the smiles continued to grow bigger.  The level of excitement the kids reach over pieces of gum and packs of stickers never ceases to touch our hearts.  It’s incredible to see such big examples of true joy and gratefulness come from such small people; small in size, big in heart and spirit.  It was also incredible to watch the faces of the kids as our wonderful translators translated the letters written to them from their sponsor families.  Again, the only word I can think of to describe the knowledge that relationships exist between families in Jackson and these children in Williamson is incredible.  Absolutely incredible.  As the last letters were translated, the word ‘nage’ slowly began to rumble through the room.  The kids were ready to swim in the pool they had asked about since the day we first arrived.  Everyone ran to the pool, shed layers and began the greatest pool party ever.  Look at the pictures.  Ask for stories.  There is no combination of words that can do justice to the smiles, the laughs, the fun that happened in the cloudy pool at Kaliko this afternoon.  What a sight.  God’s children playing together under his cloudy sky, in front of his deep blue ocean, in the middle of all his creation, glorifying him through fellowship.

But then the moment we all knew was coming, the time to say goodbye, arrived too soon.  The kids slowly got out of the pool, carefully packed their backpacks, found the team member(s) they attached themselves to this week, and began an unhurried walk back up to buses.  Saying goodbye and even ‘see you later’ is always hard, but something about saying goodbye to these kids seems harder than all other goodbyes.  These children become our family while we’re here.  They break and mend our hearts, they make us laugh, they get us dirty, they teach us and they love us.  And they’ll remain family for the rest of our lives.  They will never leave us.  Just as the country of Haiti and the experiences we have had here will never leave us.  But as Eugene reminded us tonight, the life-changing moments we’ve had here can just as easily happen in Tennessee and Arkansas and wherever our lives may lead us.  Those in need, our neighbors, are all around us.  The challenge is to see the need and cross the street.

It will be hard for us to return home tomorrow.  Our lives have been turned upside down. Questions have been asked and answers are being searched for.  Though I’ve tried, it really is impossible to put Haiti into words.  Even so, I challenge you – our families, our friends, our neighbors – to ask us about Haiti.  Ask us the tough questions, ask us the fun questions, ask us anything and everything.  We may just sigh and struggle to find words, but ask all the same.  Keep asking us.  Don’t let us stop thinking about everything we’ve seen and heard and smelled and felt and experienced.  Help us process and move forward with our new perspectives in tow. Help us continually remember the ways God has moved in our lives and the lives of all those we’ve encountered. Be patient with us and understand that Haiti is a unique place.  It’ll grip your heart tightly and never let go.  And all you can do is hold on just as tight; hold on to the feelings, the people, and the God who placed the nation into your life.

Pray for safety as our team travels home tomorrow, and for continued blessings for our friends from Arkansas who will continue their journey in Haiti for the next two weeks.