I met Abby when I shot her senior pictures earlier this year. I was so captivated by her previous mission work in Haiti and pretty much immediately asked her if she would be willing to document her upcoming fourth trip to feature on the blog. I'm completely honored that she agreed! Below is her own incredibly inspiring story, in her own words. Thanks again, Abby!
I have been traveling to Haiti for four years now. It was something I decided to do for the first time on a whim, but those weeks have ended up being the most impactful weeks of my entire life. In Haiti, I have found a new home and a new family. The people of Haiti have touched me in countless ways, and I have learned so much about what it means to fearlessly chase after the Lord from my experiences there.
For a little background on what I do in Haiti, my church, Foundry UMC, partners with an organization in Haiti called Jacob’s Well, run by a couple named Betty and Gersan Valcin, that is located in a village in Haiti called Ti Guinea outside of the city of Limbe, on the north side of the island. It is a very poor village, and when Gersan started his ministry there, there were 12 voodoo churches in the area. By the time I went, four years ago, there was one voodoo priest left. The ministry is completely run by the Haitians, and we are simply there to help in any way we can and bring supplies to help further the ministry. They do beautiful work there, and we are so blessed to get to work alongside them.
The first time I traveled to Haiti was the summer after my freshman year of high school. I was in a weird place at the time and was looking for God to show himself to me in a big way. And that’s exactly what he did. My very first week in Haiti was a whirlwind. I met so many people and did so many crazy things, and I just couldn't get enough of it. I came back energized and refreshed and ready to head back. That was the year I met my boys, Anderson and Jacques, who have been a constant on my trips to Haiti every year. That was the year I discovered that although I have no athletic ability whatsoever, the kids still want me to play soccer with them. That was the year I learned how serious the game of slaps really is. That was the year I learned the true meaning of “island time” in Haiti and that if dinner was scheduled to be at 5, we would probably eat around 8. It was a year of firsts and a week that I never wanted to end.
Anderson and I playing slaps in the field in front of the church.
The view from the top of the hill overlooking the village.
The next year was a little different. Every year is. This year my church decided to take the trip over spring break, so it was a much smaller group and a very different set of tasks. There was a lot more downtime and a lot more of what felt like pointless tasks (like moving rocks from one side of camp to the other). We still did the normal things, like VBS and feeding the kids lunch, but a lot of times we found there wasn’t much to do and we struggled to see the greater purpose of us being in Haiti. Now, two years later, I see very clearly that this was God trying to calm my spirit that craves business and telling me to be still and watch Him work. He wanted me to be appreciative of the little things and pour into the people of Haiti, even if that meant just sitting on the ground and letting four girls braid my hair into the tightest corn rows I had ever seen. And while I will admit I was frustrated at the time and desired a jam packed schedule. Now, I am thankful for that time that I had just getting to appreciate the country of Haiti that is God’s beautiful creation. I got to spend wonderful, quality time with my boys, who were back and better than ever, and the rest of the kids in the village, and saw some amazing sights and scenes.
Anderson, Jacques, and I in the village!
One of the youngest groups in VBS reciting their memory verse for the day.
My third year in Haiti was probably my favorite year there. That was the year we were able to start two of my favorite projects, and the year that I felt most impacted by Haiti. We went back in the summer after my junior year, and the group I went with started as a group of almost complete strangers who became some of my very best friends. This trip was incredibly impactful, and I saw God move in some really exciting ways. First, we started our solar light project, where we installed solar powered lights in the homes of families in the village. Haiti is a very dark country. Most days there is no light in their houses by three in the afternoon. The kids that do go to school or parents that have work to be done in the house do this work by the light of a kerosene lamp, if they have one, or do their work outside or in the dark. These lights opened up many doors for families, especially the families of the four girls that Betty and Gersan are sponsoring to go to college. They all received lights, as well as six other families in the village. We also started a program with five of my boys, which we called the Bracelet Boys. We noticed that year that every time we would make a VBS craft with any form of string, the boys would always take it apart and make bracelets out of it. We decided to take this quirk and turn it into something that could benefit them. We brought them actual supplies and let them come up to the pavilion with us and make bracelets. This kept them busy with something productive and kept them out of trouble. Because none of these boys were actually involved in the church, they weren't always making the best choices, and this gave them an opportunity to get to experience God’s love in a new way. We then took the bracelets they made back to the states and sold them, sending the money back to Betty and Gersan, where they could keep it for the boys, in case they needed it for medical attention or something of that nature. It was such a breakthrough with those boys and something so special we got to experience together. We also had the opportunity to reach beyond Jacob’s Well and do a second VBS at another church in Limbe. That was very special because we got to meet a new team of leaders ready to serve the Lord and serve alongside them. That year holds a very special place in my heart because of the numerous adventures we had and programs we got to work with.
The bracelet boys with their creations!!!
My sweet friend Reese and I with one of our favorite babies who loved taking selfies.
This past year was a very unique year in Haiti. Because the group that went my third year was so special, seven of us were given the opportunity to travel to Haiti for three weeks instead of just one. It was a very different experience than what I was used to and gave me a huge opportunity to grow closer to God.
Throughout the trip, I was asked many times, “Why Haiti? Why have you come back year after year to this country?” “What brings you back here?” I struggled with the answer to this question, because I wanted to have an eloquent and profound answer, but, in the end, I found it was just that God wasn't finished with me there. Every time I got on the plane to leave, I had this feeling that my work wasn’t finished. I never knew exactly why I had this feeling until this year.
We began our trip in the city of Port Au Prince, the capital of Haiti, which I had never visited in three years. While the Valcins have a huge ministry in Limbe, they also started a church in Port Au Prince, where they live seventy five percent of the time, and we were able to attend church there and see the place where they live and work most of the time. We were able to stay in their home and walk through life with them from Sunday to Thursday. Gersan gave us the grand tour of the city and we visited many upscale resorts and learned more about the corrupt Haitian government and what it was like in the 50’s when tourism boomed throughout the country. We even had the opportunity to visit a resort called Wahoo Bay where we were able to visit the beautiful beach and even ride jet skis in the ocean! It was an incredible week.
Riding jet skis from John’s Jet Ski Rental :-)
My favorite trees lined the streets of PAP and gave off such an amazing smell.
Throughout that week, though, there was this nagging feeling that we weren't doing anything. We were being served instead of serving and it almost felt wrong. But what we struggled to realize at the time was that God was still at work. He was working through Gersan and showing us more of his beautiful creation. We had only seen a tiny part of Haiti, but as we toured PAP and drove six hours across the country to Limbe, we saw more of his incredible creation than we could've ever imagined. And it was exquisite. The country of Haiti is so underrated and underappreciated. God was working through Gersan as he set an amazing example of how to be a servant and how to spread the message of the gospel to people who maybe have never heard it or are so entrenched in their own beliefs that they can't comprehend the idea of a God who loves them unconditionally. The Lord gave us an incredible opportunity to be still and watch him work through others, and it was amazing to see him move that week.
The Thursday after we arrived, we headed to camp, and I cannot tell you how excited we were to get there! I had missed my boys and the rest of the kids so so much, and I could not wait to give them all the biggest hugs I had in me. Before we left, I received the greatest news I have ever received in my life! Betty came up the terrace before we left and told us that two of my five boys (Anderson and Jacques) had recently ACCEPTED JESUS INTO THEIR HEARTS!!!!!! I was ecstatic!!!!! This was why God kept calling me back to Haiti! Betty told us that if we hadn't discovered these boys four years ago, they never would've been noticed and probably would've never attended VBS or heard anything about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I never would've guessed that when those boys jumped out of the bushes to save me from falling down the mountain that God would be working through that to bring these boys to him. How incredible!!!! I never would've thought God could use me like that without me even knowing! I just thought I was hanging out with some cool dudes I met in Haiti, but God had a much larger plan already in the works. He knew what He was doing with me way before I even decided to go to Haiti, and I could not be more thankful for that. Now we just have to bring the other three boys to Him and the bracelet boys will be an amazing group of God fearing men in Haiti!
We continued with both of my favorite projects this year and were able to bring twenty new solar lights to the village as well as hang with the bracelet boys a ton during our two and a half weeks in the village! Those are such special programs that I am so proud to be a part of and that I hope continue in Haiti for years to come! (Here’s a little spotlight on my boys because I really am super obsessed with them).
Anderson: my very first and very best friend in Haiti
Peter: the wannabe popstar.
Kenly: the comedian of the group.
Jacques: the big brother who keeps them all in line.
Kali: the fashion guru who rocks everything from acid wash capris to knee high socks.
We were also able to expand on our vocational training program and bring supplies for a group of ladies in the village to make purses to sell in the US to make money for their families. The larger team that came for the one week in the middle brought those supplies and knowledge of the project and 12 beautiful ladies were able to make beautiful products to sell in America! They worked very hard for many days to complete the project with only three sewing machines!! Even though sewing is not my spiritual gift, I had lots of fun hanging out with the ladies and learning more about their stories and what they hoped to gain from this new skill!! It was a very special and new experience with these ladies and a project that I hope continues in the future!
Once the second team arrived, (turning our group of 8 into a group of 26) we got to work on VBS for the week! We did the same thing we did the year before and had VBS going at two campuses at one time, as well as a medical clinic in the village for people who needed medical attention. I had the opportunity to work at both camps and the medical clinic, which was a stressful but extremely rewarding opportunity! The first day, I worked crafts and games at Jacob’s Well and was able to share the message of how God created each and every one of the kids special and how they were each a wonderful and unique creation, loved by the Lord! The next day, I went to the other camp to run VBS. Our leader was needed at Jacob’s Well that day, so she sent me to do her job. I had to make sure each leader knew their lesson well and that the rotations were running smoothly and on time. It was an amazing opportunity to step back and watch my fellow team members share the love of Jesus. The final day, I worked in the med clinic. Since I have virtually no medical experience, this meant I spent the day taking peoples names, ages, and blood pressures, which was nothing too exciting, but it was awesome to have the experience and see what a Haitian medical clinic looked like! That day in VBS, the kids learned about the incredible sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for them and they were able to write their sins on a paper heart and place them on the cross, because they now know that Christ died for THEIR sins and loves them no matter what they've done or will do! All in all, it was an amazing start to a great week!!
Placing their sins on the cross. Very powerful moment!
The week with the big team was such a nice week for our small team of eight. We were able to split into new groups and meet new people and have new experiences with them! My younger brother, Nathan, was on that team, and it was really a wonderful experience for me to be able to see him work with and love on the people of Haiti! The kids could not get enough of him, and I feel so blessed to have gotten to see that and experience Haiti with him the summer before I leave for college! I also met some new friends and reconnected with some old friends, and we formed a fun little friend group we like to call the Live Five!! It is an incredible thing to be able to form such a strong bond with other girls in just a week, and I am so so excited about this friendship and the many others that were formed during that week!
Nathan leading the games rotation in VBS.
The LIVE FIVE!
When the team left and just the eight of us remained in Haiti, we knew we had to make the last week count, and we started it off in the best possible way: Haitian church service. Church in Haiti has always held a very special place in my heart and is one of my favorite parts of being in Haiti. Even though I’ve never been able to understand a word of any service I’ve been to, the raw passion they have for the Lord is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in an American church service. The people sing with complete abandon and put their hearts and souls into every part of it. It is so special to watch and be a part of, and the fact that I got to go to three services on this trip was so so special to me! It’s also really fun, because we get to see all of our friends from the village and VBS at church. This last week, I was able to see Daphne, our creole teacher, as well as Anderson and a bunch of other leaders from the week before!
Walking the path to the church building.
The last week in Haiti was a whirlwind just like always. We didn't have too much set on the schedule, but we found lots of work to do! We were able to completely reorganize the depot in the back of the camp. The depot is the building where they keep all their tools, extra sheet metal and wood, and pretty much everything else that doesn't have a home. It was a total wreck when we got there, and Betty told us she thought it would take us a month to get through all five rooms. But when this team sets out to do something, we take care of business. The whole room was organized and inventoried in about four hours. By the end of it all, we were covered in sweat and saw dust, but it was so great to see how excited Betty and Toboy were to see the new building! We also had the opportunity to do some landscaping up the mountain which was tons of fun! There’s this big hill right outside of camp where the Jacob’s Well staff has placed a large wooden cross that overlooks the village. Gersan also hopes to build a conference center and restaurant up there one day for different groups that come to stay with him in Haiti, and there was a ton of foliage blocking the view of the cross from the village. The bracelet boys, Toboy, and our group took a bunch of axes and machetes up the hill and chopped down everything that might be in the way. It was crazy and fun and overwhelming and a great way to release some pent up frustration. (If you ever need a good release and screaming into a pillow doesn't work, just take a machete to the nearest tree. You won't believe the feeling you get). The boys had an absolute blast. None of us could stop laughing the whole time. We did a lot of little projects like that the last week, and we had lots of fun with the kids in the village while we worked!
Another incredible opportunity we had was to do movie evangelisms in the city of Limbe. For three days, we traveled into the actual city of Limbe with a huge screen and giant speakers to play a movie about a voodoo man and his journey to Christ. Every day we would hail a bunch of benches out a school building in the area and kids and adults from all over would come sit and watch the movie. We would sit up on the roof of a building near where we had the screen set up with the boys and watch this movie in creole that we did not understand at all and watch as the people were moved by it. It was such an amazing experience. We were all trained on how to share the gospel with someone through a translator with what Gersan called the “bad news good news” method. Basically, you share the bad news: that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and then the good news: that while we were sinners, Christ still died for us (Romans 5:8) and this is a gift that we receive because of the grace of God, not because we did anything to deserve it (Ephesians 2:8-10). It’s short and sweet and very impactful for someone who has never heard the gospel. All in all, the movie evangelisms were quite the adventure. We brought the wrong movie, lost the projector, got rained on, and just about everything in between, but it was all to share the message of Jesus Christ, which made it all the more special.
About halfway through the last week, Gersan decided we needed a break. He invited us to go to a Haitian citadel about two hours away. We woke up at five in the morning, drove two hours on the truck and arrived at a huge Haitian palace. But here was the catch: in order to get to it, you had to ride a miniature pony seven kilometers up the mountain to see it. So of course we did it. It wouldn't be Haiti if there wasn't some form of obstacle. We all mounted our horses (named Tap Tap, iPhone, Toyota, Four by Four, Five Star, and more) and headed up the mountain. Word from the wise: do not ride a horse in nike shorts and chacos. You will have regrets. Major regrets. But we finally made it up and we learned more about the rich of history of Haiti! It was lots of fun and the ride down was much smoother and quicker (thank goodness). It was a crazy adventure, and although I was pretty exhausted by the end of it, I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. It was a blast to hang out with Wilfred and Anderson (my tour guides) and learn about my favorite country in the world. If you ask me about my experience at the citadel I’ll probably tell you I'd give it a 2/10, but it really was a fun adventure with my friends!
Me and Toyota, with my guide, Anderson (different than Anderson at camp).
Our last days at camp will always be a super special memory for me. At this point in my life, I don't know what the future will hold and I am unsure if I will be able to return to Haiti. College is the next chapter in my life, and I have absolutely no idea what God has planned for me next. Of course I would love to return, but there are no guarantees. My last days in the village were so very bittersweet. Of course my babies had no idea why I couldn't stop crying, but they were so sweet and comforting anyway. We just played for hours and I couldn't imagine a better way to spend my last moments with them. I cannot even put into words how much they mean to me and how much I miss them, and there are countless pictures I want to share. Haiti is my second home and my family there means the world to me. I am so so so thankful that God has placed me there these past four years, and I know I will be back, even if it’s not next summer. The friendships I have created and people I have worked with have touched me more than they will ever know. I know it’s a cliche, but its so true: you go on a mission trip thinking you are supposed to touch the lives of the people there, but they end up moving you in ways you never thought were possible. I am beyond blessed by Haiti.