Like Paul Revere, the Haiti team (Ayiti ekip) from Wall Highway Baptist Church went on a midnight ride. Due to the amount of luggage involved - besides backpacks, carry-ons and our own suitcases, everyone had a donation suitcase that weighed very close to fifty pounds - we needed three vehicles to drive from Madison, AL to Atlanta. That meant three drivers who volunteered to take us to Atlanta in the middle of the night and then turn-around and drive home.
There are so many ways to serve God in a given mission field, and driving close to ten hours in the middle of the night is one of them in my book!
Delta has a great check-in area at the Atlanta airport and we made it through all the formalities quite easily. After clearing security we ambled toward our gate with plenty of time until take-off and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and - for me - a tasty cup of Caribou Coffee. Our flight to Port au Prince (PaP) was uneventful and we all tried to doze as much as possible after our very early start.
We have bags, we have bus...where is that driver?
Having traveled to Haiti in 2010 and 2011, I was pleasantly surprised at the ongoing improvements to the airport in PaP. One thing that hasn't changed is the onrush of Red Shirts as soon as you clear immigration and make it to baggage claim. Red Shirts are men who have gained access to the airport as porters and are quite aggressive about offering their bag-carrying services. Despite our best intentions we ended up availing ourselves of their services, at least for a little while, until we met up with Bobby, our one-man, Haitian greeting committee from Mission of Hope (MoH). Bobby expertly prised us from the clutches of Red Shirts circling like so many helpful piranha and guided us to our waiting Bluebird (school bus).
After a brief word to our team leader Kirk, Bobby and the bus driver disappeared back toward the airport. I thought perhaps there was another flight coming in and they were off to save them from their own avaricious school of Red Shirts. We found a likely bit of shade near the bus and after repelling the initial advances of the first of many souvenir entrepreneurs, I rewarded myself with a cold 7-Up from the drink vendor who's shade we had opted to share. Kirk noticed that there was someone on the bus already and went to reconnoiter, emerging a bit later with a young lady named Micah who had traveled alone to Haiti to serve God through MoH. After introductions all around, we invited Micah - who hails from St. Louis - to hang out with us for the week if it was allowed, assuming she was so inclined.
After what seemed like ages, Bobby and the driver returned - with only some luggage in tow - and we boarded and began the last leg of our journey.
The drive from the airport took about forty minutes after which we swung into the MoH facility and powered up the hill to what would become our home for the week.
Donation sorting is always first...
First stop was what I call the porch. When not out working, visiting local families, worshiping or sleeping, free time was usually spent on the porch. Lot's of hard, wooden bench seating, tables and at strategic times of the day: coffee and food!
We had not yet disembarked when a young, red-haired man bounded up the steps of the bus, introducing himself as Derek, our intern. Interns are typically college-aged young men and women who commit their summer vacations to serving God and the people of Haiti through internship at MoH. After a warm welcome, Derek filled us in on some key information and led us in prayer. We exited the bus and sorted through all of our donations, eventually making our way to the rooms we had been assigned.
Room (Sal) 104 - our home away from home
With a distinctly summer camp-y feel, the guest houses contain seven plain metal bunk beds equipped with slim mattresses. Each mattress has a bottom sheet and no top sheet. Any concern about lack of covers disappeared early in the week as - with no air conditioning - we discovered they were unnecessary.
Once unpacked and changed into shorts, I applied the first of countless coats of bug spray to fend off the ever-present mosquitoes. Back at the porch, we gathered as a team to debrief from the trip, make sure it was okay with Derek that Micah joined our group for the week, and spent time getting to know each other - and the other mission teams - a little better. Dinner and orientation followed, with some personal Bible study and downtime ahead of our first full day on campus (Sunday).
Stay tuned for the Day 2 blog tomorrow, Bondye vle (God willing)!