Friday, July 10, 2020

The First Few Seasons

Once upon a time I moved to Haiti. It was August 2013 and I remember that first day like it was yesterday. I had just turned 22. I moved in with a Haitian family whom I didn’t even know their names. They had a two-story cinderblock cemented house. It was beautiful on the outside; a sidewalk lined with seashells to the backdoor with the scent of flowers that overtook the path along the way. The husband, wife, and their two young kids lived downstairs and my quarters were upstairs. That first night was like no other. I had two rooms, a bathroom, and a front and back porch. The back porch overlooked a giant mango tree, the front porch overlooked highway 1, a busy highway that goes North and South along the island of Haiti. Across the street was a junkyard/repair shop and a tire store where you could get air put in your tire for 5 cents.

Before moving to Haiti, I grew up sheltered and shy. Danger or risks weren’t in my vocabulary. Third worlds didn’t even exist in the map in my brain. But when I met Jesus just two years prior in 2011, everything changed. He flipped my world upside down and burst me out of that bubble I lived in. To follow Him, a crucified Savior, sounded like the most beautiful, selfless, daring, honoring, terrifying thing I could do. Little did I know the cost. Little did I care. I was head over heels and on fire for serving the Lord, though I knew very little about what that meant. I didn’t know how to make disciples, I didn’t know how many books were in the bible, or even how to pray without ceasing. I spent two years learning what I could before moving overseas but before that, church wasn’t really a big deal to me. I was a believer, but I knew nothing about Jesus and his ways.

So back to that first night in Haiti. I obliviously had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea what life in Haiti would entail but I was eager to follow Jesus and I figured He would lead me the rest of the way. I jumped in, leaning on God to teach me how to swim in the deep end.

Summer nights in Haiti are gruesome. We had no electricity and at times, no running water. Cement soaks up heat and holds it in…plus being upstairs as heat rises caused even more sweat to drip down my head in my unfurnished concrete house that I was supposed to call home.
I spread out a bath towel on the back porch and laid down. Every few minutes there was a small breeze that through the tears I would thank God for. I did have a mattress but the concrete floor was much cooler than the mattress.

I learned very quickly that I was highly allergic to mango trees thus I moved my bath towel to the front porch and began sleeping out there with the semi-trucks blaring their horns at 3am and the dogs barking every other hour of the night. Pitch black darkness surrounded me as there were no street lights and no neighbors with electricity either.

I remember my shower curtain being clear. Living in a foreign country without knowing the language and with strangers got the best of me and I wasn’t about to take a shower in the dark without being able to see what’s coming!
I would walk in the bathroom and a roach or a lizard would fall onto my head. I learned to laugh at the situation, because without laughter, there would just be tears during those first few months or learning a different way to live. I’d hold a flashlight in my mouth in the early morning hours before the sun heated up the room so that I could get a somewhat decent ponytail into my stringy hair. I lived like my neighbors so life like this became the norm. Water that flowed along the streets and used by the whole community was carried to my back porch, so I could wash my clothes by hand… or at least let them soak in soapy water… (it was better than nothing)
I had little access to anywhere outside of the village where I was building La Limyè Ministries. I was sheltered in a sense and had no idea what all Haiti had... like actual grocery stores in the city! I had taken 7 or 8 trips to Haiti before moving there but with short term mission trips, we stay secured, and in a way don’t even see the real Haiti as we are following our detailed itinerary.

Most of my food was brought in my suitcase. I had to be creative when hunger set in. I’d bring condiments from restaurants since I didn’t have a fridge to keep things fresh. After a few months, mustard on a plain flour tortilla was much better than just a plain flour tortilla. Luke warm water in my cereal switched things up from just eating dry cereal. Spaghettio’s from a can made me think I was supposed to still be in college, and as my body lacked adequate vitamins and my allergies were thrown overboard with that darn mango tree in the backyard, I stayed feeling ill for quite some time as my body was trying to adjust to a new life in what seemed like a new world 90 minutes from Miami. Looking back, I don’t remember hating the circumstances. It became normal and that helped me press on. Deep down I was blinded by the whole scenario, but God was molding me and I’m beyond thankful He did.

I got use to the roaches and those lizards that were longer than my feet pretty quickly. They had already made residence in the house and there was no kicking them out. The rats on the other hand just about did me in. Giant rats with incredibly long tails that would jump across my legs at night or sniff my feet as I slept with one eye open and my finger never leaving the flashlight button. That led to me sleeping in an old green velvet chair that the family downstairs gave me. I put that velvet chair up against the dining room table straight back chair and slept like that for a few months. There was no rolling over because the chair was only about 18 inches wide but somehow in my mind I was able to fall asleep persuading myself that rats can’t climb. Sometimes denial is essential.
Those two years shaped me. They were the hardest two years of my life, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I’m not sure if I could ever repeat them, but I am truly thankful for them.

I had someone pick me up and take me to the village where I was building a home every day. I’d be dropped off in the village, and then forced to learn the ropes without knowing the culture or the language. No itinerary, no schedule, just the village and I learning all about each other. It was in those days I watched a lady pluck toenails off of a chicken before cooking it. I excused myself from that meal.

Thankfully after a long season in that hot house, La Limyè in the village was near completion which was a big blessing because when a Boa Constrictor snake was found in that cursed mango tree, I was done.

I honestly can’t even remember if I had electricity and running water already when I moved into my new home. I guess in a way it didn’t really matter because I had a home. I had my own clean space. I had a big yard with no mango trees. I was excited for the next season to begin.
My nights in that rented house on Route 1 were in the past, but the memories were still vivid. I remember guns being shot down on the street as I didn’t move a muscle on that front porch hoping no-one saw me. I remember seeing bodies in the road from being hit by a car and people just walking past like no big deal, I remember tear gas dispersed as I tried to escape one of the many riots that I would see over the years on this island.
I remember lots of tears and lots of adventures. I wasn’t ready for Haiti in my opinion. I wasn’t mature enough or strong enough for Haiti. Those first few years feel like a blur now as I remember testing the waters and going through a lot of trials and errors. I learned a lot about myself during those first few years. Perhaps I never would have been ready without God putting me through those two years of transformation, growth, and maturity. I continued to make mistakes and fail at serving God as I learned the ropes of the Haitian culture and at the same time learned how to be a follower of Jesus as a 2 year old believer. I was a weak missionary but I am thankful for that because “we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” Romans 5:3 & 4

So back then and still now I lean on 1 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weaknesses.”

I’ve come such a long way since those treacherous days in the beginning. I owe every bit of perseverance to God. Every single trial I went through made me 100 times more thankful for the luxuries I would be given later. I know what it’s like to not have running water and expected to sleep in 100 degree weather. So now as I step foot in that pressurized shower of mine with any color shower curtain I want, I have such a stronger sense of thankfulness. When I open my fridge 100 times a day, I can truly praise God for electricity after having known what it’s like to go without. I can laugh instead of cry at the craziness of life knowing God’s got this and He is all we need. I can now drive wherever I want and see all of Haiti and speak their language in the grocery stores I didn't know they had!
We all go through trials. We all will go through tough seasons. Seasons that we don’t feel equipped to handle. Seasons or maybe even years when the days never end, and the vision seems clouded, and the emotions are way too overbearing and we just don't feel ready. But endurance develops strength of character and that’s good for the soul. Jesus said it himself that he has given us authority over all the power of the enemy. We could walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. So whatever season you’re in, own it. It will shape you and mold you and mature you into the beautiful soul our God created you to be. It will make you more thankful than you ever were before, and it will make you more aware of all the little blessings God bestows upon us, blessings that use to go unnoticed. God causes everything to work together. It may not be the path you envisioned, but don’t lose hope. Arm in arm with our King, you’ll make it out of that difficult season with new eyes, new hope, and an even-stronger love for our Maker- and maybe looking back you'll be able to laugh at the craziness as you see God's hand in it. Don't give up. There's always a light at the end of the tunnel.


  1. Ellen, thanks for your blog post as I read I am reminded of mission trips, to the Dominican to Port au Prince and to Mexico and to Jarabacoa. Each trip reminded me of the sufferings of Christ and his endurance. I am so moved by your blogspot. I am amazed more and more by your resilience and stamina and your love for God, and most also for your love of your girls.

  2. Thank you for sharing this-continuing to lift you and your girls and village up!