Over Thanksgiving, I had the incredible opportunity to serve on my church’s first international missions team in Maniche, a small Haitian village in the mountains.
I am going to be brutally honest. For a few weeks leading up to the trip, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I prayed desperately for God just to “help me make it to Haiti,” because the last time I could remember being so tired was right before my first bout with depression. I was genuinely concerned that my health might start to deteriorate if I kept going at the same pace.
As always, God delivered exactly what I needed.
I have never been on a mission trip, but others have constantly told me that you will walk away feeling more loved and served than the level of love and service you provided the people around you.
These stories were accurate.
The citizens of Maniche have almost nothing, but they gave all they had to make us feel welcome and home. They do not live a glamorous life full of iPhones, electricity, or even clean drinking water, but what they lack in resources, they make up for in community. I have never been a part of something so tight-knit, and I come from a small town where I have played on sports teams, worked with small staffs of people, and experienced bonds I never thought could be outshone by any love in the world.
If love were a volleyball match, the Haitians would have beaten me 25-0 every single day.
Although everything they did was dripping with the love of God, here are just a few ways the community of Maniche loved our team more than I personally am capable of loving:
Our cook, Bezta, thought we were getting tired of Haitian food, so she cooked us spaghetti (granted, it was for breakfast, but it was an incredible gesture nonetheless).
We visited schools that had virtually no supplies for students and teachers, but the students sang is welcome songs and delighted in our visit. One little girl, Jordalee, absolutely stole my heart, and teaching her a secret handshake became the highlight of my trip.
An elderly gentleman who has been working on the village’s irrigation system all morning climbed a 50-foot coconut tree just so “the Americans” could try fresh coconut. We also got our own individual coconuts, none of which we could finish despite our efforts to eat them all.
The family who owned our guesthouse (which was a profitable business endeavor, but not enough for a luxurious lifestyle by any means) ran a generator for us in the evenings and nights so we could have a fan in the Caribbean heat. We were the only ones the Maniche with semi-consistent power, and I cannot imagine the expense it ensued.
No matter what activites we participated in, our new friends always thanked us. Even if we mainly stood aside and observed them digging an irrigation canal, making homemade jelly, or teaching school children despite a poverty epidemic, they showed gratitude for our presence alone.
Before I left for Haiti, I was caught back up in the vicious, self-inflicted cycle of “not good enough.”
My house couldn’t be clean enough.
I did not cook enough.
I never got through nearly enough material at school.
I wasn’t devoting enough time to my loved ones because I was always working on something for school or our home.
I didn’t do, have, or perform well enough for my impossible standards.
I’m not sure when the American epidemic of work-a-holicsm began, but it is almost impossible to avoid. I believe our tendency to overwork ourselves comes from some romanticized ideal that we are special and that we all have some Earth-shattering calling that will change the world so long as we find it.
I’m bursting everyone’s bubble, including my own: none of us are special, and very few of us will end up in history textbooks one day.
And you know what? That’s okay.
I asked my World History students this question the other day: “What makes Alexander the Great great?” Many of them responded with summaries of his military accomplishments, but one student’s response was completely the opposite.
“If this is a mater of my opinion, he is not great. Just because a person has power and can lead an army to victory does not make him great.”
I could not agree more. The only thing that makes any of us, rich or poor, powerful or anonymous, great is the love of Jesus that He declared over us. If Jesus thought love was important, then may we never neglect showing it in exchange for marking things off of our growing “to-do lists.”
In Haiti, I learned that “God reigns over nations” (Psalm 47:8), and He does so in many ways. He created a breathtaking world in six days. He continually heals the sick and meets the broken in the middle of our messes. He proves His power over and over again.
He also created a species capable of belief, perseverance, and love, and that is why we are the best display of His glory. But, with that esteem comes great responsibility.
My life may seem luxurious and over-the-top compared to many in Maniche, and it should given that Americans are global 1%ers. But, my “callings” in life that become obsessions for me are not worth any more in the eyes of God than the calling of Haitian people: care for their families, grow enough food to survive, and serve the communities around them. Neither I nor them accomplish anything if what we do is not done in love.
Luckily, we have the chance to fall in love every day of our lives if we choose to do so.
Thank God for that!
For Listening: “Proof of Your Love” by For King & Country