Submitted by Pete Ludden
For the second consecutive year, Father Richard Prior, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Cicero, led a group of missionaries to Haiti for a week of hard work, prayer, and inspiring fellowship. The recipient of these goodwill trips is Haiti180,an organization dedicated to turning Haiti around through education, medical assistance, and faith.
This year’s group of 18 men and women, ranging in age from high school seniors to senior citizens, spent much of their days putting the finishing touches on the medical clinic built by Haiti180 missionaries and local workers over the past two years, in anticipation of the grand opening on June 11, 2019. Those finishing touches included mixing concrete with shovels, carting wheelbarrows full of concrete to the Haitian concrete finishers, clearing the grounds of debris, and using a sledge hammer to break the small boulders into more manageable pieces of rock of 30-40 pounds, to ease the lifting for the missionaries.
The work certainly was challenging, particularly for those of us in the senior citizen category, but incredibly rewarding. Any pain, exhaustion, or minor injury was offered up for the people of Haiti, whose pain and suffering is much more significant.
After a typical workday of four to six hours, the missionaries would take their turns in a bucket shower (think Ice Bucket Challenge without the ice). A truly refreshing experience that helps one appreciate just how much we have here at home.
The afternoons were typically spent visiting nearby villagers, providing them with much-needed food, cooking supplies, and diapers to those with little ones. Their homes were usually single- room huts made of wood, straw, and mud. Some of the families had a single mattress, provided by Haiti180, for three to five people. Often, the villagers have to sleep on the ground using a straw mat. One villager we met sleeps on a row of sticks, so the ants pass under the sticks, rather than crawl over her during the night.
Each home visit showed us levels of incredible poverty, including the aforementioned housing, a cooking-fire site that hadn’t been used in at least a few days, and withering crops due to the severely limited rain over the past several months. Yet, in the midst of this extreme poverty was a faith that is comparable to the faith of the saints, with a singular devotion to Christ.
These villagers, who have almost nothing, demonstrate a deep, all- encompassing love of God. Their trust in God and thanks to Him raised our faith to levels never before experienced by any of us. Their faith was best demonstrated by one of the villagers we visited. Blind and living by himself in a mud and stick hut, he plants his cornfield by spreading his pinky and thumb to measure the distance between seeds. When Father Prior asked if there was anything he would like us to pray for, his response was, “For my strength so that I am able to kneel down when I pray.”
No prayers for rain. No prayers for sight. Prayers for strength to kneel when he prays. That is a true love of God.
In addition to home visits, we spent time at the Senior Home, also built by Haiti180, celebrating our daily Mass during one of our visits and Father Prior administering the Anointing of the Sick on another visit.
We heard the heartfelt testimony from each of the eight men and eight women. Each story was different, yet each contained the tale of a challenging life; but a life filled with faith and an unstoppable trust in our Lord. The Holy Spirit is fully present in these elders, abandoned by their families, loved by God.
God’s love also shines brightly on the children in the orphanage, which was the beginning of Haiti180. All 35 of the children in the orphanage have experienced abandonment, either through the death of their parents or simply no longer being wanted by those who brought them into this world.
The most recent addition to the orphanage is a six-month-old, left in the weeds well off the worn pathway. Miraculously found by a passerby, the child, covered with ants and other bugs, has found a loving home at the orphanage.
All the children are remarkably strong, resilient, and loving. They arise each morning at 5:00, have a quick breakfast, participate in a 30-minute prayer service with the deacon living next door, and then walk 45 minutes to the school, also built by Haiti180. After a full day of school, they make the 45-minute trek back to the orphanage. Upon their return in the afternoon, they are ready to play with the missionaries, or maybe hop on a lap and look through the photos and videos on someone’s phone, demonstrating particular interest in images and videos of snow-filled scenes and ice hockey.
Nearly every day, at least one of the children fell asleep in the arms of one of our group, finding great comfort, peace, and love with the visitors from a foreign land. Our hearts melted at the sight of these children, their beautiful, toothy smiles, and their unconditional love.
Any pain in our muscles from the day’s labor quietly slipped away as these blessed children smashed through the language barrier, forcing themselves deep into our souls, never to leave again.
Participating in a mission trip, be it in Haiti, another country, or somewhere in these United States, is an experience of love and faith. Hard work challenges the body, but provides great rewards. Seeing the results of our labor materialize before your eyes makes any pain worth the price. Experiencing the faith of those impacted by your visit renews the dedication to your own love of our Lord and helps you to see Christ in the faces of those you meet during your mission and those God places in your path upon your return home.