Joe Wilbanks

"It seems that Haiti and its peoples are forever fraught with misfortune and injustice. For someone who had never experienced land outside of the United States, Haiti was a sight completely different from the view I see every day. At home, I occasionally see homeless people on the streets; in Haiti, entire communities are homeless. At home, an outage of electricity during a storm proves frustrating; in Haiti, most citizens have never had access to electricity. In just a single week, I encountered a lifestyle standing in a direct contrast to the lifestyle I take for granted at home. However, it was not merely the suffering in Haiti that contrasted to the lifestyle of the States. The people of Thomazeau, the village in which we worked, were truly the most humble people I have ever met. As a citizen of a country preoccupied with itself, I learned so much from the character of the Haitian people. Indeed, the Haitian disposition is a direct product of the country’s suffering and oppression. 

The country people in Thomazeau live humble lives—there is no sewage, practically no electricity, and little healthcare. While serving in the medical clinic, I noticed that nearly everyone is malnourished and in poor health as a whole. It was difficult to see happiness without noting the rampant suffering that had worn scars on the people, both physically and emotionally. Many children played soccer in the streets, but at the same time, other children were bathing in the horrific water supply streaming down the same street. Children in the town would smile and hold your hands through the gates of the orphanage in which we set up the clinic; however, it broke my heart to hear one of our translators telling me that they were asking for money. The worst conclusions about their living conditions came while I was in the clinic itself. So many of the people, especially the children, were ill due to starvation. The fact was that all we could really do was to provide daily vitamins. 

I will never forget the very last family we saw in Thomazeau, as I shadowed Dr. Little. A father and his daughter. It was obvious by their frail bodies that they were both starving and sick. With the help of the translator, we heard their story. The daughter’s mother died a while ago, leaving only the two of them and a grandmother. The father stated that they did not eat much, but their emaciated bodied spoke of more
than a few missed meals. The daughter looked drained as she sat with her father, who looked helpless. Dr. Little provided vitamins for both of them. The saddest realization was that there was not much else that could be done.  

As I watched these two people, for the first time, I honestly doubted our power to help the people of Haiti. Their suffering was beyond a daily vitamin. It was beyond any food we could provide—which we attempted anyway by giving them what was left of the snacks in our backpacks. No, their hunger would continue to persist after we left and much longer. As tears collected in my eyes, the realization left me quiet and angry. It was not until that night, playing with the kids of the orphanage, that I was reminded of the one way in which we were helping these poor children of God.

We spent every night (and throughout the day) playing with the orphans of Children of Hope Orphanage and Hospice. This family-run organization houses around forty orphans, ranging from infancy to pre-adolescence. Many were victims of the earthquake disaster. Playing with these children was the highlight of every day while in Haiti. It was the most rewarding experience to share Jesus’ love with every
single child. They fed on your touch, constantly requesting to be held. We chased each other, we played soccer, we hugged, and we laughed. Never in my entire life had I felt so happy and willing to give my complete attention to someone. Playing with the children of CHOH was an incredible blessing, one that I will forever cherish. 

I grew a particular bond with a little eight-year-old girl, named Mama. I never smiled as much as I did when she insisted on my following her, pulling me by the finger while she carried my backpack, wore my sunglasses, and told me the time with my watch on her wrist. Mama is incredibly smart. We would exchange translations of what we saw, with her picking up quickly on English words and my struggling to pronounce the Creole form. Mama provided just as much love to me as I did to her. She has, in effect, changed my life. When both of us were exhausted enough to sit down on a step of the boys dormitory, I came to realize again how we were helping in Haiti. 

One thing my team was able to do that would last longer than we knew was to mimic the same love that Christ has for everyone. With the power of touch and the willingness to listen (even in a language that is foreign), our group was able to show love in a special way to the orphans and village people of Thomazeau. In a seemingly disproportional way, we were unfairly provided even more. Despite our inability to cure hunger for the people of Thomazeau or to provide them with cures for chronic illnesses, our use of touch and compassion, I believe, went such a long way. 

Through our mission trip, I was able to build relationships with the citizens of Thomazeau, the children of the orphanages, the translators of the clinic, and the other members of our team. It was incredible to sit and talk with Carlo, one of the translators, about faith and other things, like the upcoming elections. I loved being able to practice English with his two teenage sons, discussing soccer and their ambitions. I was humbled by mothers waiting to be seen by the doctor, juggling several children and dealing with their own sickness. 

I loved interacting with all of the Haitians with whom I came into contact, because I knew so little about their daily lives and the suffering they endure every day.  The best way I found to overcome the language barrier and the culture barrier was to simply place my hand on their shoulders, smile, and tell them, “Jezi te renmen ou,” Jesus loves you. 

From Port-au-Prince, to Thomazeau, and to the rural mountains, I witnessed the oppression and suffering of God’s people, however, I also met the people and their children. I realized that everyone deserves love and that God provides it to everyone, for we are all the same in His eyes. 

One night, I nearly lost it when talking with Carlo. I was holding one of the orphans while making small talk with him and the other translators. Out of nowhere, Carlo stated matter-of-factly, “You look alike.” He motioned his fingers between me and the orphan. Although I did not see the likeness, I felt humbled and honored to resemble this little boy. We are both children of God, Who loves us very much, Who will protect us, and Who will guide us as we grow. Despite where we were born, God will provide. 

Through this trip, God provided me with a completely different perspective of the world, one that will continue to be shaped as I grow older and continue to serve His Kingdom. I am forever grateful that He provided me with a way to go to Haiti and to meet the most humble people I have ever seen. I am so blessed to have been able to serve Him in Haiti!"

BodyAndSoul
ACU pre-medical and pre-dental students shadow doctors for real-life experience.
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