By R.E. Spears III
One of the first things I noticed upon returning from Haiti on a recent mission trip was how quiet our ride home from the airport was.
To be sure, we’d had a long trip (17 hours, from door to door, including seven passport checks and a dead truck battery) and folks were too tired for a lot of chitchat.
The roads in America were also much quieter. In Haiti, driving is punctuated by the out-of-tune brass ensemble of cars, trucks, buses and scooters blaring their horns to warn other drivers of just about everything. On any road where there might be other drivers — or goats or donkeys or pedestrians carrying five-gallon bottles of water on their heads — there’s no such thing as a quiet drive in the country.
Back in America, there were no street vendors trying to sell heaping trays of cooked meats, salt-encrusted bottles of Coke, hand-woven trinkets or any of the other myriad things one is confronted with when passing through a town in Haiti. As we passed the Walmart on North Main Street in Suffolk on our way home, trade took place along orderly aisles inside a building larger than any we saw in a week traveling around the Caribbean nation, while cars waited in neat rows for their drivers to return to them.
As we disembarked from our plane in Haiti and boarded a bus bound for the poor, seaside town of Montrouis, my wife had quipped about failing to bring along her ruby slippers. Back in America, she and I silently watched the lights of Suffolk pass by our bus windows, snatched back to the consumerist reality of life in the First World, wondering if, perhaps, there were magic shoes that could return us to Haiti.
Visiting Haiti turned out to be a life-changing experience for us and for the two-dozen or so others who made the trip, and I shared some of the experience with Suffolk News-Herald readers during and after the trip. If you’re interested, you can read more about it on my personal blog. I appreciate our readers’ — and my friends’ — indulgence along the way. I’ve tried to be pretty transparent about myself in this column through the years, and failing to share at least a part of what the trip meant to me would have seemed somewhat disingenuous to me. I hope my experience there will inform everything I do here in America — including at this newspaper.
We traveled to Haiti to be a blessing to a people who are desperate for a blessing, and I believe God made the trip a success in that regard. But what strikes me now is that the people of Haiti — struggling to live from one day to the next, unsure how they will find their next meal, exposed to the elements in homes without roofs — were such a great blessing to me.
I will never forget, for example, the simple trust and love of a 4-year-old boy who just wanted me to pick him up and hold him for an hour or so. Or the silliness of the 12-year-old who spent two hours one day trying to part me from my hat. Or the 6-year-old who wanted a drink of water for his little brother.
Haiti has changed my perception of what it is to be a follower of Christ in the modern world. Whatever doors God might open for me in the future, I plan to pass through them with that new perception fully intact.