5. Can you Dig it?
Being in Haiti is not like being in another country; its like being on another planet.
The next few days blended together with familiarity. Michelle would take us on errands, and a few of the guys would get to see Jacmel a bit at a time. Larry ran the construction chess match, and we were disposable pawns. He was matched up against a mastermind opponent: the schedule. In America, you break your pick axe, you wander down to the local hardware store (or three within a tenth of a mile) and you choose from a wide variety of pick axes. You can get your standard, or one with a built in level and mp3 player. In Haiti, you break it- its gone. Larry was protective of his tools for good reason. But the schedule was the real killer. Concrete blocks showed up when they were ready, and concrete bags were even worse. To quote “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” ,Haiti is a geographical oddity- two weeks from everywhere. The best thing I can compare it to in America: A cable company. You never know when it i’ll show up, but you’ll be appreciative… otherwise… no ESPN for you.
All of this didn’t sneak up on Larry. He was wise to the ways of Haiti, and also keeping volunteers busy. In the middle of the courtyard was a playground with swings, and a merry go round, and eight holes in the ground. The group before us, and maybe the group before that, had dug holes for the footings to complete the Hands & Feet play palace. “Why don’t you guys finish out those holes and we’ll pour the footings with concrete and have the play set up.” Sounds easy enough right? “And, it will give you something to do while we wait for the supplies.”
Why would anyone want to give up vacation to go do something like this? It’s simple: Natalie, Kirby, Crystala, and 40 other perfect examples of second chance grace. Hands & Feet pours love and protection over orphan children and chips away the stone cold existence of the harsh reality they came from. I am quite certain after hearing their stories, the men on this trip would have done anything to make their life a bit easier.
That “anything” turned out to be digging holes in 90 degree weather in the blazing sun. We guess it would be a 2 hour job… only to be reminded that Haiti came from volcanic activity and this polluted paradise was nothing but rock. In Tennessee, you’d go rent some massive piece of equipment by the hour at home depot that would probably have you half way to the Earth’s core by brunch. In Jacmel, you were given a small chisel, a hammer, and a pat on the back. Oh, and a pick axe that stayed together most of the time.
Two of the more experienced mission trip takers, Kevin and Gung Ho sized up the job. Larry brought out string and measurements, and levels… it was quite an undertaking. We surmised about 4 inches needed in the first hole. No problem. We hammered with force. We abused that pick axe like it had said things about our mother. Rock and dirt flew around like escapees from a police raid. Proud of our efforts, with sweat pouring off of everything single one of us after five minutes, we pulled out the measuring stick. Somehow, we now had five inches to go instead of four! Worse than a long line at the DMV, this was my version of hell. It was tedious. It was laborious. It was discouraging.
For hours we chipped away. Every once in a while someone would pull a stone the size of their fist from the ground, and those were celebratory moments; we yelled like someone had just scored a touchdown- at least I did anyway. Other times, it was small chips that had no intentions of giving up easily. What started out as a side project, became our mountain to conquer. All seven us climbed it one chisel at a time. Gung Ho looked at me, I guess wondering if I was going to give out on him again, and asked, “What do you think about this?” I thought about it a second… “Well, its kind of like being a pastor. You are given your group of people and you chisel away at them. Sometimes, amazing things happen. Other times, you keep on hammering.” He liked that answer.
Haiti, and life for that matter, were a lot like that hole. There is no easy answer, there is no quick fix. Its just one chisel at a time. You do what you can with what you have. And for Hands and Feet they were redeeming one inch of dirt at a time… for a play ground, for kids who might not have ever gotten to play.
One full day of work brought about two completed holes. Six more to go.
I cannot speak knowledgeably about others, but my mind works in pictures. I have images stored that tell a story. The Counting Crows say, “If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts. You can never escape you can only move south down the coast.” One of the reasons I write this story is to help capture those pictures, so hopefully, I won’t ever forget what I saw. I hope to be haunted.
I remember pictures of the guys on the trip:
Chris had taken this trip a year before, and I don’t think he ever cleaned the Haiti off of him. Casual relationships no longer satisfy, and he longs for people to interact on a truly authentic level. He invited friends he hoped to challenge, to inspire, and maybe to rewrite new chapters in a grand story designed by the ultimate author. Mission accomplished.
Early on, Matt would joke about Kevin. He’d say that Kevin would work hard on Day one, and in latter days, be found playing with the children. I honestly don’t think it’s Kevin’s fault. He is a dad. The kids sniffed it all over him, and there was hardly a time when he wasn’t out there surrounded by a crowd of orphans just wanting to wear his hat. Man did he work hard. He was the oldest in age, but youngest at heart, and wasn’t afraid to take the worst jobs. That might have been the last chicken coup he cleans out, but he did it with a willing heart, no matter how weak his stomach.
Bradford made me tired. I remember the last day we were there, after having finally conquered our mountain of concrete footings chiseling one inch at a time, someone asked him to dig out a few other rocks displaced into the courtyard after a hurricane years before. I was too busy hiding around the corner to know how Bradford came about with the assignment, but I figure it was just like everything else I watched him do: with a smile. Bradford never wore down. He was always friendly; he made friends at the airport, friends in the airplane, friends with the Haitian day-laborers, and even tried his hand at a friendly game of soccer against one of the best players in Haiti. Ever since I got back to Nashville, I keep running into people who know Bradford, and I have to say, I’m not surprised.
Matt (Gung Ho) was I’m pretty sure, assigned to make sure the preacher made it out alive. We paired up working, because he knew what he was doing out there, and well, I didn’t. I came home with ant bites and scrapes, and he looked like he’d been at a day spa. It was disgusting. I think he also liked to look at me, so he’d feel better about himself. I can’t prove it, but I believe it. At one point, I saw Matt checking his emails, and then he told me he had like 18,000 emails in his inbox. Much like he thought I was joking about nausea, I thought he was exaggerating. Not so. As hard as he worked at Hands and Feet, he was also juggling work from a few thousand miles away. A natural leader, with a big heart.
I have this constant image in my head of Jonathan. I don’t know if it was really this way or not, but I see it clearly. In both arms, a child. Also, probably one on his back, and one pulling on one of his legs. It wasn’t out of obligation or guilt, but I think he was just comfortable that way. With twin boys that were his spitting image, and a precious young lady who looks like her momma, I also found out he and his wife felt a calling to adopt. Now a family of five kids, I half way expected the x ray machines at Port Au Prince airport to reveal a stow-away in his luggage. I can’t think of a clearer picture of what God does for us in being called His children. Galatians talks about how we who trust in Christ are heirs, and called by his name. Its not just a last name, its an eternal inheritance. Jonathan and his lovely wife are living, breathing, walking examples of how God loves us by adoption.
One of my favorite parts of the trip: Tyler. One night while up on the roof, staring at the stars, and processing all that we had seen, Tyler said, his friends were asking him why he went to Haiti. He wasn’t quite sure what to tell them. I loved his honesty. The funny thing was, I wasn’t sure why I had come either. One of my pastor friends joked with me, ” Jay, I can think of many many things that Haiti could use to help. You are not one of them.” Tyler prayed for me and I got to pray with him. He had willingly unplugged from the cellular world, and I think he loved every second of that. I think everyone was stretched by the experience in Haiti, and I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Tyler tells his story.
It only took a few days, but I can gladly say, I’d go anywhere with those guys again. Well. most of them anyway.
It was Saturday morning, and I was ready to come home.