Hiking for Jesus

I have started and restarted this post about fifty times since we returned from Haiti. I know that no matter what I say in this post, my words will not begin to convey all that God did or how He showed up on this trip. However, I have promised many I would share about our trip.

First, I want to say, this trip was much harder than I thought it would be for me. I was so ready to get my feet back on Haitian soil. I had prayed fervently over this trip and our team, but I don’t think I had prepared my heart for the difference of no longer partnering with HCM. After eight trips with one organization, where I knew the ins and outs, where the property had become home, and the staff had become family, I was ill-prepared for the numbness I felt at times and the longing I felt for the familiarity. That being said, working with H.O.M.E. seriously was a different, yet refreshing experience. Alíx, Billy, Jusme, Pèpè, and Robenson made us feel right at home and loved us relentlessly the entire duration of our trip.

The first few days we hosted a young adult conference where people from Jusme’s community came for worship, sermons, food, and small groups. It was an unbelievable time of fellowship and growth with the young people within their community. I promise to share about that another day.

On Monday, though, we set out for Mirebalis, which is up in the northern mountains of Haiti. It is very lush and beautiful in that area. The roads twist and turn through the mountains revealing tiny communities and villages resting in the valleys and mountain sides.

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As we set out for our new home for the next few nights, I could not help wondering what the day held for us. We had been told we would be hiking into the mountains to visit a community of unreached people. [I don’t know why I thought this hike would be easy for our team if we were hiking to an unreached people group]. I prepared my heart and mind for the ‘hour’ hike we would be taking through the mountains as I sat next to Emily in the back of our pickup. I remember praying for God to keep us focused on the task at hand and that it would far out weigh any hardships we faced along the way… (I imagine He snickered to Himself hearing my request). 🙂

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I remembered pulling over to the edge of the road and loading out of the car. We waited for the donkeys that had been rented for our journey, so they could carry out |5 gallon| cooler of water and the four or five packets of bagged water and crackers we had purchased for the people in the village we were hiking to. I watched my anxious and eager team strap on their Day-Packs filled with socks and underwear for the children and wait in anticipation for the que to start our next adventure in mission.

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Pastor Jacob is the one H.O.M.E. is partnering with to minister to the village we were hiking to. He is an amazing man. (Above: in the button-down and glasses).

As the donkeys were being loaded, Wendy kept asking if anyone wanted to load up their packs. I watched all of us look around at one another and in unison decide we would carry our own packs. Ha. Whether we did not want to burden down the donkey, whether we thought the hike would be like hiking in America, or whether we all just wanted to feel/look tough… we all carried our packs. [I was proud].

As we started the first leg of the hike, the trees hanging over the downhill path slightly hide what was to come, but the view was gorgeous.

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As we stepped into the clearing I could see what we were about to be hiking. I felt a mixture of emotions immediately. [Holy crap! We are literally about to go straight up this mountain… what is at the top of this mountain…did she say we would be hiking an hour… I am thankful we will have the donkeys… I can’t wait to see the view from up there…if i don’t die first… I need to hitch a ride on the donkey].

Regardless of my thoughts, I laughed and cut up with our team as we started our first few pivots up the mountain. We were all eager to get to the village and take on the hike. As we reached the last leg of the first side of the first mountain, I could feel my calves burning as I pushed through physically; mentally I was looking over the side of the edge into the ravine. It was beautiful. I side of Haiti I had never seen holding people I had never met. I did not mind pushing through any calf pain to get there.

During this time, I was very unaware of all the things going on around me. I could really only focus on the ground as I walked to make sure my footing was on something stable and looking forward as I followed BreAnna and Grace. I realized as we reached the top of the mountain that I was mainly charging forward trying to keep up with the trail leader rather than having an awareness of my team members and their needs. [That was very humbling]. As I walked along the ridge line rounding the curve to the the next mountain, I watched the rest of my teams’ heads pop into view as they reached the top. I turned to the front of me and counted to make sure each one of my team members was within view. Taylor, Pèpè, and Emily were bringing up the rear. While Pastor Jacob and Wendy lead the way. I felt the Lord tell me to slow down, to take care of my team, and to be aware of their needs. So… I listened.

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I am glad I did.  I realized I was rushing to get to a place I had never been, to hike a trail unknown to me, to meet people I had never met without taking in all God had created and enjoying the people God had sent me to experience this journey with.  [Sounded about like my life back in the states…rushing through to get from point A to B without regards for what God desired for me and the people around me along the way].

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The mountains were beautiful and the villages secluded.  The people were curious and friendly.  We were hot, tired, and out of shape…we were also low on calories intake for what we were burning and our water was lacking.  More than anything, we were united.  We were a team.  We were excited about what was to come when we reached the end of our mark.  We had no clue what to expect, but we knew God would be there and we were ready to serve.


{She walks 4 miles to the main road and market to sell her crops, then walks back…through the mountains we hiked. She could teach me a things or two}.


The further into our hike we traveled, Emily, one of our team members was really pushing herself hiking.  This was not a leisurely little hike through the forrest… we were hiking steep high ridges to deep low valleys and none of it was in the shade (since Haiti is pretty bare in the tree department).  Emily pushed through with the rest of us and took breaks when needed and trust me… none of our team complained.  We needed those breaks right along with her. It gave us time to be think, take a breather, and some times take silly pictures together.

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{Above: We were about half way there when this photo was taken.  We had just finished the steepest descend on the hike and we were about to start the steepest ascend out}.

I loved hiking with this amazing group. 🙂

We were so close to the village.  People started to come greet us once we crossed this stream.

 They were excited; if you could not tell by Nick’s demeanor.  Ha! 😀

When we arrived the children, and some of their parents, from the village were already sitting under the tattered tarps stretching out beyond the strips of board that made up the building to provide shade.  They were cramped in, sitting on top of one another, waiting to see what we had come to share.  (I could not help thinking how we complain if the air conditioning is broken in our church and would rather skip church for a Sunday until it is “comfortable” for us to sit through a service.  Oh, maybe that is just me).

The sweet faces of the children were filled with intrigue and wonder.  They were eager to see what we had in store, so we did not waste any time.  We started by handing out crackers and water to the children to provide some physical nourishment before we started any other activities.  This gave us time to spend with them while they ate and drank their water.  Sam and I passed out cookies together. (Sam was a newbie to our Haiti travels, so I was amazed watching him interact with the kids.  He is a natural).

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Alix, one of our interpreters took my camera and captured most of these pictures from my Canon D5.  He did an amazing job!  He is very gifted and super precious along with his wife.

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Adults from the village who had also come. It was amazing to experience.  Overwhelming, really.  My favorite part was watching Sam with some of the children that were nervous about the Americans being there.  Sam knew they were hungry and worked hard to make sure they were taken care of as well.

 

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VBS turned out to be a huge success with BreAnna’s direction and planning. She prepared the Resurrection Story from Palm Sunday to The Resurrection. it was broken into three sections with the telling of the story through skits and games. We also had crafts to go along with each section. It all worked together very well to help children understand. They loved it!

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Afterwards, we made our lunches and ate while we listened to Pastor Jacob share about his and Jusme’s first visit to the village.  He shared how there were 70 professions of faith at that time, but how the villages still needed to be discipled and partnered with to cultivate the community in Christ.  It was very inspiring.  I think it revived our spirits and reminded us of why we were doing this.  [I could not help thinking about Jesus and how He would walk to the ends of the earth to make sure everyone knew about Him and His abounding love for them].  As we rested and prepared for our hike out, we meditated on his words and allowed it to sink into our exhausted minds.

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Before we started our hike, we unloaded all of our sock and underwear donations that were collected by many of our local churches to be passed out to the children within the community.

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Alíx and Pépé  were enjoying the hammock and being silly. 🙂

As we prepared for out hike out, Nick disbursed water out to all of the students.  We did not have any water left in our cooler, but we did have a few plastic water bags left, so we torn them and poured them into our water bottles.  Some folks put on their sunscreen and took a few minutes to prepare mentally for the hike back.  Sweet Grace was pouring electrolytes into everyone’s water bottles. Some just prayed for the ‘cup to pass from them.’ 🙂

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I don’t know that any of us could truly comprehend what we were about to experience together… we did know however that God was with us, but again, not to the extent that He truly was.

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As we reached the top of this trail, we stumbled upon a group of children fighting.  A little boy was crying and his sister was screaming for us to help him.  Another child had taken small bites out of the little boys face.  The team members quickly jumped into action.  We yelled ahead to have Wendy bring back the first-aid kit.  Some of the team stayed back and cleaned up the little boys face and bandaged him up, then left to catch up with the team.

The pictures below is the team looking on to see what was going on.

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The others were some Alíx took of the landscape.

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During our first long leg of the hike, Emily was hurting.  She was already having to push herself to have energy since all of her calories had already been used up.  I asked her as we were hiking if she wanted to listen to some worship songs to help take her mind off of the pain to which she eagerly replied, “YES! Please.”  So I pulled out my phone and we listened to “The Rock Won’t Move” by Vertical Church Band.  Zach walked in front and I walked behind her as we sang praises between our labored breaths.  I was so proud of our CCF team and interpreters being completely unified in their consider and love for one another.

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{When my eyes are fixed on the Lord I can lead these teams without anxiety or fear, because I know it all depends on Him, but we work like it all depends on us}.

This hike was pretty grueling especially without the calories and fluids we needed, but we pressed on through the encouragement of team members, the sharing of supplies, and trusting the Lord to sustain us through to the end.   The next stretch of the hike was straight down to a tiny brook that ran through a gore at the bottom.  We set small goals for Emily, because we knew it would keep her motivated and encouraged.  The whole team was rooting for her and dedicated to getting out of there healthy and together. However, there are times when we can be so focus on one specific situation we forget to look at our surrounding and see what is going on.

Thankful for Alíx taking these shots for me while I was caring for my team.  He is quite talented and super funny; don’t let his shyness fool you. 🙂

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They were a good deal ahead of us.  As you can see in these pictures.  As we started our dissent, we realized we were about a mile behind Wendy, Enick, JJ, and Conor.  They went on ahead to the vehicles.

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As we were walking down, God brought us, Pauline, (pictured above in the blue skirt and green blouse), she was tiny in stature, but she had the biggest heart.  She watched members of our team struggling.  She started taking their bags on her back while holding the hands of those she was carrying their burdens.  She insisted she help in every way, from where we placed our feet on the ground to make sure it was sturdy and we would not slip and fall.  She also would wipe out heads when she saw the sweat rolling down into our eyes.  She was beautiful, inside and out.

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Once we got down to the water, Emily and a few others walked over to the water and sat in the shade.  While they were resting for a few minutes, I stood looking at our next goal to conquer. I remember looking at the incline praying for strength for my team (mental and physical), thinking about Jesus’ and all the mountains and valleys He had climbed and walked to share the Good News of the coming Messiah, and I thought about how I couldn’t wait to do this again, regardless of the hardship.  {Following Jesus isn’t easy and Jesus never said it would be}. While I processing the situation, Jusme told me that Pastor Jacob wanted to talk to me and asked if it was okay.  “Of course!  I would love that” I exclaimed.

Pastor Jacob began to express his heart concerning our certain circumstances and began to apologize for the issues our team was having.  He apologized over and over again explaining how he understood if we never wanted to come back to his village again.  It broke my heart; it was the furthest thing from my mind or the mind of my team…I knew that.  I told him not to worry that we would come back.  I told him how we did not know what to expect, but now that we did, we would be better prepared next time.  I reassured him of our love for his village and him, but most importantly Jesus.  I loved watching Jusme’s face as he took in what I was saying and translated it to Jacob and then watching Jacob’s face as he received what I was saying.  Pastor Jacob was relieved and thrilled.  Not only that, but Blake and BreAnna were able to reaffirm our love for the village as well as our return.

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After our uplifting conversation with Pastor Jacob, we decided to press on since we were losing daylight.  Emily’s face was as red as could be.  She was exhausted and dehydrated.  Half of the team went ahead and started the next piece of the hike and stood on the ridge where we would meet them for Emily’s next goal.  As they ascended, the rest of us began.  Courtney first, then me, then Emily, with Zach and Taylor with the translators.  As Courtney reached the top, I could see it.  She was getting much weaker as well.  She was red-faced and her hands were trembling.  She needed water.  Calories.  We all did.

In the same instance, I was watching Emily push herself to the breaking point.  She was having trouble keeping her eyes open and putting one foot in front of the other. I kept trying to remind her to rely on God for strength and endurance only He could give.  It was annoying I’m sure, but none-the-less truth.  Everything in her body was telling her to stop…sit down… to quit, but she wouldn’t.  She just kept pushing through with the encouragement of the others. As she reached the pivot in the mountain path where we stood… she was crying, but with no tears.  She wanted to sit down, but Zach explained that it was bad for her to keep sitting down, because her body was thinking she was done.  So we tried getting her to push on.

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The church on this hill was a little before our next goal and we needed Emily yo make it there.  We needed all of us to make it there.  We were all running on fumes and I think most of us weren’t sure that Emily would make it much further, but we kept encouraging her onward.  The church was a place of refuge and we needed to make it there.  This is when our journey took a turn none of us were expecting.

We were walking (you can see some of us with Emily in the picture below) Emily started to struggle to breathe.  She told us she needed to sit down and described her exhaustion.  She kept apologizing and trying to make jokes to keep us from worrying, because that is Emily.  Always concerned about others before herself.  Once she sat down and asked for water, we all started trying to compile the rest of the water from each other’s water bottles.  The water supply was scares, but we did not care.  Immediately Zach, Blake, and Taylor started removing our Eno hammocks from our bags to provide shade while Sam pulled his hat off to fan Emily.  She was burning up and we needed to get her temperature down.

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Alíx was capturing these shots until things started getting more and more serious.  Jeremy and Nick came down to where we were to see what was taking place. In the meantime, Katrina was dealing with her own dehydration and exhaustion.  She had sat down to rest while we were caring for Emily and blacked out.  She was about 50 yards from us with members of our team staggered between her and Emily.  While we gave Emily time to rest Taylor ran up towards Katrina, because he saw four Haitian women bend down over her.

Taylor started yelling for Nick and explained she was in bad shape as well.  I don’t think I have ever seen Nick angry while we were in Haiti.  He came down to where we were caring for Emily and explained he was hiking back out to find water for our team.  When I reached Katrina and realized the shape she was in, as well as her telling me the only reason she had come to was the women who were hovering over her were trying to steal her bracelet off her arm, I felt my own anger start to swell inside me.  I looked around at their red tired little faces and felt my “momma” side start to come out.  These were my kids.  My babies.  My team.  They were lacking food.  They were lacking water.  They needed rest.  There parents entrusted them to my care.  The more those thoughts crossed my mind, the more frustrated I became.  In that moment, Taylor saw I was about to lose it, even though I had kept it all together thus far.  Satan was coming after us and coming after us hard.  Taylor and I stepped away and prayed.  We prayed for the health of our team and that we would be able to fully carry out our task.

In the meantime, I called Wendy, who was back at the truck with Enick, explained the situation and told her we needed a donkey to help get these girls off of the mountain, otherwise we would be spending the night out there.  While Nick and Jeremy hiked back out to get water, we started overing Katrina with the son with hammocks as well.

Luckily, Blake being a former volunteer EMT helped.  He knew they needed calories and he remembered we had the peanut butter with us in our backpacks.  We had already been shoving a Clif Bar down Emily’s throat.  She was choking it down.  Now I had to make Katrina eat peanut butter.  I loved watching Grace during this time.  She would want to get the girls to eat, but she did not want them upset with her, so she would hide behind whomever was the tallest.  I can’t recall how long we set up on that one section of the mountain, but it felt like hours.  We watched the sunset through the hammocks as Pauline, Pépé, Alíx, Robenson, BreAnna, Courtney, and Grace held them up.  Sam stayed steady fanning Emily with her hat.  Zach and Taylor kept Emily awake and eating while I yelled at Katrina to keep her eyes open and made her eat peanut butter.  I know she wanted to cuss me out.  Luckily, she loves me a lot.  Also, did you catch that Pauline never left our side?! An Angel.

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Eventually, the guys got Emily to her feet.  She said she was ready to try moving up the mountain so more, so she pushed herself to make it to Katrina.  Once she made it to us, Katrina wanted to try and at least make it to the church, so Taylor and I helped her up and she walked with her arm around his neck until we made it to the top.

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I remembered thinking about how on our walk to the village, beams of light had broken through the clouds to shine light right where we had come to rest that evening.  It might not mean much to you, but it meant the world to me.  He had been there the whole time.  When we reached the top, the girls needed to sit again, because they were so weak.

We all took in the view from there… most of us watching the movie reel inside our minds of all we had experienced that day.  God had been our Rock and He had not moved.  The wind picked up as we prayed for a heavier breeze and cloud began to cover the sun to provide us with shade.  He was right there.  In the midst of everything.

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As everyone prepared for our final mile out of the mountain, we stood in a circle and prayed.  We prayed for strength, safety, and a little more light.  We prayed for the village we had left and for the seeds to take root.  We prayed for those struggling from our team and then we prayed for water and a donkey.  As soon as we said, “Amen,” we opened our eyes to see a man standing next to us with a donkey to provide help.  Then we turned towards to exiting path to see Conor, Nick, and Jeremy running towards us with book bags full of water for the team.  God was in everything.  Everything.  Prayer had never ceased among our team the entire time.  Not one had argued with one another.  No cross words were spoken.  LOVE ABOUNDED and God was PRESENT.  

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As terrifying as it was for Katrina, she rode the donkey back out of the mountains and we were grateful that God provided.

We watched the sunset as we hiked out and thought of God’s reminders throughout the day of God’s greatness and love for us.  We thought of His desire for us to bring the good news of Jesus to those who might not otherwise have heard if we had not hiked four and a half miles in share it.  It was never for easy for Paul sharing the Gospel, yet he did it.  He was imprisoned for it and still continued to share of all Christ had done.  Suffering might not be easy, but God never left us.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible.  You changed our lives.  You let this experience be possible.  You opened our eyes to a desperate need.  We will be back in December.  We will be better prepared and we will be eager to do more as the hands and feet of Jesus’.  Thank you for everything you do.  Pray for this precious village and Pastor Jacob and Jusme as they continue to minister to this village.

…the harvest is plenty, but the workers are few… 

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