Submitted by Bonnie Sestito, who traveled to Haiti in late February.
It was good to feel the warmth of the sun upon our arrival in Port au Prince, Haiti. The winter on the east coast of the U.S. has been long and cold. Upon exiting the airport we were surrounded by a group of men wanting to carry our suitcases. Eventually the driver, Joseph, found us. Kihomi had arranged for us to be driven to another airline so that we could fly to Cap Haitien. With a little bit of a layover Joseph stayed with us and attempted to teach us the difference between Creole and French. For example, when you say “good day” in French, it is “bon jour.” When you say it in Creole, it is “bon jou.” In Creole you don’t pronounce the “r.” Well, I thought, that wouldn’t be a problem for me coming from New England!
As our time at the airport with Joseph was coming to an end, we readied ourselves to board the plane to Cap Haitien. We said our goodbyes and proceeded to board the 19-seat passenger plane. Yes, a 19-seat passenger plane! The last time I was on a small plane I cried the whole way. Virginia explained about the airwaves being like the waves in the ocean. Although I left indentations of my fingers in the seat in front of me, it was a great experience. Because there was no door to the cockpit, I saw the sky head-on looking out the front window.
Kihomi Nwgemi and Nzunga Mabudiga, American Baptist missionaries in Haiti, greeted us at the Cap Haitien airport. They took us to a restaurant where we had a traditional Haitian meal of chicken, rice and beans, and plantains. We visited the eye clinic where Nzunga is administrator, we toured the site where voodoo sacrifices are made, and we drove by areas where water pumps were installed providing clean water to the villagers. The mountains were beautiful. The color of the ocean was magnificent. Then Nzunga told us to look closer at the ocean: It was polluted. There was plastic and Styrofoam floating everywhere. Another place that we visited while in Haiti was the Citadelle, which is a large mountaintop fortress. It was built after Haiti gained independence from France at the beginning of the 19th century. It was designed to keep the newly-independent nation of Haiti safe from French invasion. We were told that you haven’t been to Haiti if you don’t see the Citadelle.
My first impression of the people that we passed by while driving along the road and walking through the marketplaces was that they appeared angry. Even a smile in their direction didn’t make a difference; I wondered if that was possibly due to the stress of poverty or feeling as if they had no hope.
We met many women whose lives were changed because of “helping hands.” One of those women now has her own business. She sells 100 lb. bags of rice, beans, flour, and sugar. But before owning her own business she sold charcoal at one of the street markets. Kihomi told us her story: Her husband had abandoned her and she had a young son to support. When Kihomi and Nzunga had stopped to talk with her, they discovered she spoke well. They offered to send her to school and she accepted. She earned a B.A. from the Christian University of Northern Haiti. Today her business is very successful, and her young son is now in his third year at the university.
Another woman we met was the president of the women’s group at her church. They have a sewing school ministry. For a year’s time the school teaches young women to sew. Those that have sewing machines are able to start their own businesses. Those who don’t own their own machines go to work for others. While still in the school, the women can sew school uniforms for a small fee.
We also attended a women’s group at the Eglise Baptiste Church where more than half the women received microloans. We heard many wonderful success stories from the women there.
What did I take away from all of this? We have a tendency to take things for granted, never really knowing what we have until we don’t have it. We didn’t always have electricity or water on our trip. Do you know how hard it is to take contact lenses out of their case and put them into your eyes when you can’t see what you are doing? It sounds easy enough, but it was quite challenging. The showers we took were cold, except for one: It was lukewarm. When there was no water in the tank to flush the toilet, a bucket of water beside the toilet was available. It was in the bathroom at the airport that I realized how blessed I am. I came out of the stall to wash my hands and all that came out was a trickle of water. For a brief moment I thought about and stared at the trickle of water. Then I thanked God for what I have.
Haiti is an impoverished country. There is still rubble on the streets from the 2010 earthquake. People bathe, wash their clothes, and go to the bathroom in the same stream. Some are still living in tent cities. But, there is hope. The hope is God’s grace. He is using missionaries like Kihomi and Nzunga to teach, encourage, and help through different ministries. He is using the churches to reach out. He is using the Haitian Baptist Convention, that is training women to be leaders. Oh, that amazing grace!
Bonnie Sestito serves as coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls, American Baptist Women’s Ministries. She recently traveled to Haiti with AB Women’s Ministries Executive Director Virginia Holmstrom. For Virginia’s post about the trip, click here.
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