Gate D24 was just ahead. Gate D24, it’s where our plane was parked. Gate D24, it’s where I’d meet 23 strangers for the first time.
I passed Gate D24 and fled to the bathroom which equated to one part actually using the bathroom, and the other part hiding away praying to God, Lord Jesus, that He would be with me every step of the way. He assured me – I’ve prepared the way, I’m here, you’re more than prepared for this trip.
I opened the door to that bathroom intentionally, knowing once I walked out, there was no other choice but to go meet those strangers at Gate D24 and embark on this life-changing trip. I washed my hands, grabbed ahold of my overstuffed carry-on suitcase, and started walking.
It was strangely beautiful, stepping into this risk I’d chosen, this risk He’d chosen for me. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed a little crazy.
She was the only one I could see as I approached. She was engaging others from the group, and she looked warm and welcoming and before I even met her, I knew we’d get along. It was comforting, this knowing, this feeling before I even walked into Gate D24, that there’d be at least one person I’d mesh with instantaneously.
I approached. Tonya, the woman I noted before I entered Gate24, introduced herself immediately. She was just as great as I thought she’d be. Marcia and her daughter Gaelyn were there, and Jenna and Kayla too.
It was strangely beautiful, this meeting of strangers gathered together for a singular purpose, to love on the people of Haiti and specifically, those served and blessed by Compassion International.
A woman approached. “Are you Jillian’s friend,” she said? “Yes!” I exclaimed! The woman introduced herself. Joy was her name. She was friends with Jillian, our family friend who’s adopting two children from an orphanage in Haiti. Ya, the Jillian I told you about a couple weeks ago, the Jillian that got me going on this whole Haiti thing in the first place. And the odd thing was? I knew already Joy’s last name, because I’d seen it pop up through Jillians’ Faceboook feed and on the orphanage Facebook page I’ve follow faithfully since we sent those gifts.
Joy was on her way to visit the two children she’s in the process of adopting from Haiti, a 2-year-old and a 9-year-old. I asked her if she was traveling by herself. She noted casually, “I’ve been to Haiti gazillions of times. When you’ve been here that many times you kind of know your way around.” (or something like that) I shared with Joy that I’m traveling with Compassion, that I’m not exactly sure the name of the city we’re going to first.
Conversation between the two of us was brilliant, so natural. Like I wanted to be Joy’s best friend right now. I shared how I’m already fairly confident this won’t be my last trip to Haiti. “Ya,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone who went to Haiti just once.”
Ya. Perhaps it’s best we don’t even talk about that quite yet.
It was strangely beautiful, this meeting of Joy at Gate D24. And I couldn’t help but think as we parted ways, how equally beautiful it would be to hop on a taxi with Joy to the orphanage, as it’s going to be to spend this week with Compassion. Pretty sure my heart could be pulled a whole host of places in Haiti and find a place.
“I’ve never met anyone who went to Haiti just once,” she said.
I got on the plane and found myself seated, once again, in-between two grown men my dad and father-in-law’s age. So what’s the deal with me being plopped in-between two men on this trip, God? Yesterday AND today? One thing I knew for sure, my dad and father-in-law would be happy I was in good company. They were gentlemanly Alabama men with long drawled out accents. They spoke of their trip to Haiti where they’ll be building a school and desks. Just men on the trip, 15 to be exact. They even brought nails, because apparently when a group of them came last year, the nails made in Haiti split right in two. So they brought their own “American-made nails” this time around. Our conversation was blessed, natural, filled with the Spirit. We parted ways as the flight landed, saying good-bye three, four, five times to these strangers I’d just met. But they felt like family.
Groups gathered just outside the gangway in Haiti, as in, the most group travel I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. It seemed everybody was traveling with a group. It felt good. It felt right. It felt like community. It felt purposeful, life-filling, it felt like this is the way all of life is supposed to be.
Strangely, strangely beautiful.
A sea of ebony faces were waiting just outside the airport exit. It nearly took my breath away. I held back tears as I walked forward with my overstuffed carry-on. As I peered to my right, the first vehicle I noticed was open air, “tap tap” they call those vehicles here in Haiti. Painted on the creme canvas was UN. It was all like a movie. Only this time, I was in the movie.
Strangely beautiful. Strangely, strangely beautiful.
We got in the van. Some men threw the extra luggage on top of the van next to us. My red suitcase, filled-up to 48 pounds, was one that landed on the top of the van. And we thought that was crazy until another van piled high with suitcases on top passed on the other side.
And as we drove to our final destination for today, one they said would take an hour and a half but I have no idea how long it took, we saw the real Haiti I’d been called to, the real Haiti I’d been longing to see.
People bathed in streams. Laundry hung from lines. Cows and goats roamed free. Shanty houses salt and peppered the barren mountainside. Men sold big piles of bananas on street corners. And women carried big pots of fruit and supplies in buckets on their heads. There were tent communities and broken down buses right aside palm trees and scenic ocean fronts. I wanted to step right in to it all, the same way I want to step into the wetlands when I take summer runs in the evening back home. I wanted to jump right out, immerse myself, be right in the middle of it.
They say there’s a honeymoon period when you travel to developing countries. So be it. Bring on the honeymoon, God. And let me stay right in the middle of that honeymoon. Because these feel like my people, this feels like my place.
And it’s strangely, strangely beautiful.
*This is part of a month-long series about my journey to Haiti. Click here to read all the posts in the series.