As I've read the news reports and looked at the pictures of the devastation in Haiti, other visions of Haiti have been dancing in my head. I was privileged to visit that beautiful, tragic country when I was 16. I have always wanted to return someday. Now I look at the pictures and think of people and places that I saw then, and wonder how they are...if they still are. I pray for them and all the people there that I never met, and ask that you, too, please pray and give.
Half my lifetime ago, I was in Mexico with some friends who had ties to an organization that sent young people on mission trips around the world. They encouraged me to join a trip.
Now, I've never required much persuasion to travel. I was immediately excited and began to pray and look at the possibilities. There were several trips that year, many to exotic and interesting locations. One that particularly stood out to me was a trip through the rainforest in Peru. What an adventure that would be! Yet, the more I prayed, the more my heart was drawn to Haiti. This didn't make sense to me. I had never really thought about Haiti and certainly didn't see any attraction to going there. I didn't speak a word of Creole. But the more I prayed, the more sure I felt that Haiti was where I was supposed to go.
The one big obstacle was money. If you are familiar with these kind of trips, you know that the cost of sending someone from another country for a missions trip that lasts a couple of weeks doesn't really seem to be justifiable. Surely, the same amount of money sent to believers who are already in the country would be much more wisely spent. In many ways, I think that is true. However, the effect on the life of the person who goes there is priceless, and often they receive as much or ministry than they can give at that time.
While ethical and philosophical questions of money were worth thinking of in an abstract way, when it came down to practicalities, it was very simple. I didn't have the money. My parents didn't have the money. The funny thing, though, was as the certainty grew that I was supposed to go to Haiti, right along with it grew the conviction that I was not supposed to ask anyone for money. Now, if you have ever received one of the form letters that are typically sent out, you know that most of these trips are built on donations from friends and family of the teen going on the trip. Many organizations provide a nice letter to send out with information on tax deductions and everything. Not being able to do something like that was a bit disconcerting.
As the deadline grew nearer, I was near panic. I prayed and fasted, and internally questioned everything I had thought I knew about the leading of the Holy Spirit. Was I just mistaken? The convictions remained in my heart, so I continued to pray, and waited. Then the money began to arrive. Friends and family, both those who knew about my plans for the trip and those who didn't, started giving me money. Within a very short period of time, I had enough not only for my expenses but also over $100 left over to give. I was overjoyed! My heart filled up like a balloon and began to soar.
Then, the director of the mission in Haiti called. The trip had been canceled. My balloon popped and sputtered. Once again, I went through the round of questioning. Did I just blow it? Had I totally misunderstood? In the middle of this, a dear friend called. She was going on the trip to Peru that had originally piqued my interest. Why not just switch and join her? It would be so much fun, I spoke Spanish, and surely this was God's provision, right? I almost did. Yet, I couldn't escape the question of why God would lead me to Haiti if He really wanted me in Peru. It seemed way too complicated when I would have jumped at the Peru trip in the beginning.
I've always believed that God speaks to us. The fear that maybe I couldn't recognize His voice cut deeply. I kept praying, and heard no new direction. So I called the missions director and explained. I asked if I could still come, just on my own, knowing that the planned activities would not take place, and just do anything that might help. He listened courteously, but said that it had happened once before and been a very bad experience for everyone concerned, and that they didn't want it to happen. I hung up the phone questioning my entire relationship with God. Not Who He was, or Christianity--just my relationship with Him and ability to hear Him.
A few days later, the missions director called back. He had spoken with the rest of the team who lived in Haiti, and they had all sought God about this. The end result was that I was welcome to come if I still wished. Joy unspeakable and full of glory!
Looking back, in many ways the most remarkable, exciting part of the trip took place before I ever went. Some reading this might be a bit bemused by the elaborate round of prayer and questioning. It may seem entirely unnecessary. But in retrospect, one of the most important lessons of my life (that I am still learning) is to trust the still small Voice inside me. I wonder how many things might be different if I hadn't had past experience, such as with the trip to Haiti, to bolster my faith during the times when I wonder if it is really God or just my own imagination.