five years and a harvest
by Kayla Raymond
This week, I celebrate – not sure if that’s the right word, actually – five years in Haiti. It feels like yesterday when I packed all my knit Old Navy skirts into a suitcase and said I was going to be a missionary. I laugh at those skirts now as the Haitians think I’m actually more Haitian because I wear jeans every day. I was so naïve then. This place, it has taught me so much. So damn much.
I can’t fully grasp it, actually. It’s been five years.
I don’t know why that feels so heavy. I guess you grow up living in the world around you and one day God calls you away from that world and into a whole new one. You never intend to stay there forever, because it’s not the world you’re familiar with. But, here we are and forever doesn’t really seem that long anymore and I really begin to wonder: will I spend the rest of my years here?
I’ve learned a lot these past five years. Really, I’ve learned more than earning any college diploma could have taught me. Really, there’s a part of my soul that still wants to be twenty-one and in college again. I made some of my best friends there and made some incredible memories in college – none of them including class. I would pay so much to go back to my old college apartment to only wake up to my roommates in the morning and die laughing on the floor as we talk about the funny things we did the night before.
But, the reality is that I’ve officially lived in Haiti longer than I went to college. It’s weird.
I wish I could say I’ve become an expert on Haiti, but she’s truly a place that could never be fully captured or understood. Can a place of poverty and oppression and corruption ever truly be legitimized or defined?
I think what actually bothers me the most is that the longer I live here and the more I learn; my soul actually becomes more unrest. You would think it would be the opposite. You would think five years would have created some type of contentment or finished work. You would think five years of work would have by now paved a way towards justice and freedom. And while freedom has been found for some and stories of victory have been written, there’s always seventeen times more the workload.
I graduated five women from the Starfish program last month. Victories. Five of them. But, then the following week THIRTEEN women showed up to enroll and the week after that TWELVE more. For every victory, it feels like a boat washes ashore dumping vulnerable, at-risk, desperate mamas at my door. They’ve washed ashore, looking for relief and it only makes me like I’m drowning all the more.
I call home to my dad asking where we sit on finances for Starfish and housing and everything else. I’m overwhelmed by the needs and my voice cracks and I say, “we need more, dad.” We need more partners. We need more sponsors. We need more churches. What more can I do to make people realize just. how. desperate. we. are.
I want more victories. But, it’s funny how victories are becoming a catch-22 because when I graduate one, I have to decide off a list of SIXTY-FIVE, who will be next. I discern and say, “God, lead me.” And, so He leads me…
He recently led me down a dirt path. Inside the broken metal gate that simply locks from rusty nails folding together, I was offered a 5-gallon bucket to sit on. I would watch a 6-month pregnant woman converse with Mami Sarah (director of the Starfish program). I silently sat as she swatted a dirty t-shirt above her sleeping two-year-old boy, who innocently napped on a piece of worn cardboard. They talked for what seemed like hours as my world stood still.
“Five years,” was all I could think to myself.
You’ve been facing this misery for five years. When will it be over? All of the misery.
I felt super alone in that moment. I could feel Satan’s power in that place. How lonely these women must feel as the day drags out and relief from hunger and thirst never quite fully quenches them. How desperate they must feel as the night drags out even longer and they soothe their hungry babies to sleep. How the rain must make them shiver as it soaks all of their possessions. How it must. just. be. so. hard.
I’ve been looking this misery in the face for FIVE YEARS and I still. cannot. fathom. My heart. It’s so broken.
Just down the road from where I sit on this gallon, is an orphanage being built. I’ve been hearing stories of a Haitian pastor who is running it and an innocent white pastor in the States who is believing all stories from Haiti. I actually believe the pastor in the States has the best intentions, but for the pastor in Haiti it’s just a business. The orphanage is a business. That’s the reality.
And, this mama that we are talking to, well, she’s considering putting her baby in an orphanage once he or she is born. She’s not even ashamed to say it, but “that’s her only option,” she explains. I don’t know if it will be the orphanage just down the road or one of the other TWENTY orphanages that are up and running in a five-mile radius of me on this 5-gallon bucket.
The reality agonizes my soul. I’m so damn lonely on this bucket.
The scripture from Luke has been coming to mind a lot lately:
“For the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
And, I’m just like, YES.
So, here they are…the top five things (I believe) I have learned in the last five years:
- I need people. I need American people. I need Haitian people. I need people who are like family and people who keep me accountable. I need people who let me be real. I’ve learned that it can be really hard to work with people in ministry. I’ve learned that people you try to help, people you respect, people you thought would be there for you for the long run, will all but turn around and try to take you down. But, I’ve learned and the community God has given me is beautiful.
- Poverty is not a surface issue. In the beginning of this adventure, I thought I would be able to figure it out. And, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never be able to. I won’t ever be able to comprehend the Miami airport only being a one and a half hour plane ride away from my reality and me on a 5-gallon bucket. I won’t. The world just shouldn’t be this way in 2017. Poverty is complicated, full of hurdles to overcome. Obviously, if it were easy, it wouldn’t exist.
- God never changes but He is always revealing a new work in me. I’ve learned the need to be creative and innovative and to be a go-with-the-flow kind of soul person to do this work. If you come here with a flow chart and a defined purpose, it will fail. Your work in this realm of things should always be open to change. You should constantly be having conversations about change and be willing to change. Being a part of the conversation about job creation and orphanage prevention and ways to make that happen encourages me. For the past few decades the conversation has been about orphanage creation and handout institutions. The North American church and short-term mission mindset has allowed a culture of dependency on the white person and we have deemed it acceptable to put children – who have parents – into orphanages. This shouldn’t be. The conversation is shifting. I love that. If your heart isn’t open to change, I suppose you need a good heart-check with Bondye. I’m always asking God to soften my heart and open my eyes to His plans. His plans currently include salsa and babies being raised by their mamas; I’m humbled because He has entrusted me with these visions. I some days fear what else He will bestow unto me and ask of me, but, on the other hand, I can’t wait to see what else He will allow me to see and do.
- Being a believer in Christ is not all it’s cracked up to be. Haiti didn’t really teach me that; life did. But, regardless, it’s hard. We really need to support and love each other more. Doing so on a deeper, more sincere level. But, we really need to be more serious about this commitment we make to Christ. If you claim to believe in Jesus, how are you being a part of the harvest?
- THE HARVEST IS GREAT. We can all be a part of it. Whether it’s in our own backyard or across the ocean. There’s work to be done. I long for Jesus and I can’t wait for Him to return.
The woman who offered me her 5-gallon bucket to sit on in front of her tattered tent is named Eglita. She’s one of our newest admits to the Starfish Program. She’s broken my heart all over again. I’m anxious to get to the States and put together a newborn baby kit and help her welcome her baby, due in August. I’m praying that our efforts through the Starfish program will keep mom and baby together. I’m praying for people to come alongside us. I’m praying for workers.
For the harvest is great…
To say the last five years has been a ride would be an understatement. The Lord gave me the word steadfast last week. I wanted to through in the flag a few times last week and then He spoke steadfast.
I want to thank you all who have stood steadfast with me these last few years. Thank you to everyone who has said, “yes” to our efforts in Haiti and supported us. Thank you for changing and evolving with us. Thank you for being a part of the conversation and helping us create jobs through our efforts at Rosie’s boutique. Thank you for sponsoring kids at the school. Thank you for helping building houses and keeping families safe. Thank you. Thank you. I couldn’t have stood steadfast and endured this all without you all.
And while I could go on and on giving thanks, I also stop in my tracks, because there’s still so much work to be done. I’m so far from being finished asking for more. More sponsorships. More Starfish support. More houses to be built. Projects and expansions and visions to see fulfilled. All to give Him glory. Our work is so far from being done…
God, prepare their hearts. Send the workers. Open the gates. Let is rain. Holy, holy rain.
Love from Haiti.