Twelve college students and one Benedictine monk spent spring break in March of 2016 in Pignon, Haiti.
Our days were filled with playing barefoot soccer in the streets, avoiding goats, visiting schools, seeing the village from the back of a pickup truck and bumping along extremely uneven roads, learning Creole, watching sunsets from the roof, and learning more about the human capacity to love than ever before.
This love was taught in the way the children would grab our arms and stoke our skin, fascinated that we had hair on our arms - every so often one of them would pluck a single hair just to see us yelp from the sting.
One day I gave an old woman washing clothes by the river a granola bar that I wasn't going to eat, and she left and came back with a bag of shells she had collected from the ocean. I initially refused, knowing she sold them as a living, but she insisted. She had nothing, and still found something to give.
A boy named Idagloo came bursting around the corner and jumped onto my teammate, Jeff. They had bonded last year, and Jeff had become a sort of father to the boy. Idagloo had waited all year to see Jeff again, and in the time we spent in the village, Idagloo hardly left Jeff's side. The desire for fatherly love swam in his eyes, and although he is one of the biggest troublemakers I've ever met, he is also one of the most affectionate.
Even though the trip is just ten days long, if Jeff hadn't gone last year Idagloo may not have found that attention in such a good and grounded foundation.
This only assured in my heart that this trip is a complete gift, and we were given something from these people every day. The best part, was that these people had nothing to give but their own time.
We became close with a youth group led by seven men our own age. They invited us to partake in their assembly, in their games, in their music and celebration, and in their humility when they asked us for money at the end. At first this was hard to receive - was the only reason they wanted us to spend time with them, was so we could give them money for a uniform and a sound system? But in the way they asked, there was courage and a pursuit of truth. We were able to help them, encouraging them not to give up the fight for faith in the village.
We visited an orphanage run by an American couple from Kansas City. They shared with us the story of Lavi, one of the young girls pictured here. When Lavi's mother was pregnant, she attempted to cut her baby out twice with a razor blade. The first time the doctors were able to stitch her back up, and the second time they were forced to perform a C-Section, bringing Lavi into the world at only two pounds. Lavi's birth-father wanted nothing to do with her, and tried starving her to death.
The American couple heard of the situation, swooped in, saved Lavi and gave her the name "Life" in Creole. Now she's a bouncing four year old, running barefoot across the yard with gum between her teeth and a hibiscus flower behind her ear.
My team met something in the people of Pignon, Haiti. We came together every night to talk about it for at least an hour, sometimes two, and no one could pinpoint what was provoking us. The language barrier between us and the people only made it that much more frustrating. But being back in America, I am realizing that the language barrier was one of the most beautiful parts.
Because we couldn't communicate in the way that's most natural for us, we needed to find another way. I connected with one little boy through our faces - whether it was crossing my eyes and sticking out my tongue, or feeling tears well behind my eyes as he kissed my cheek goodbye.
The babble of our language didn't get in the way of my teammates and I meeting Someone in these kids, and being His Face to them as well.
My heart still overflows with what I'm learning from this experience. It wasn't just the people of Haiti that I learned from - the team was incredible. I don't think I could have soaked in and learned as much as I did without each and every one of them.
Below you will see a video that took me almost a year to publish. I don't think I will ever feel 100% satisfied with it - there is so much more to say about these people. As you watch, I hope you are able to see yourself in these human faces. We all want to love and to be loved. We all struggle and we all suffer.
What a beautiful thing it is to suffer together.