Sometimes it doesn’t take much for someone to influence us.
Years ago I asked a well-traveled friend about some of the countries she’d visited. For a few minutes she shared some simple heart-warming stories, anecdotes, and good memories from her worldwide travels.
But when she said she’d visited Haiti, she didn’t have a touching memory to share. Instead, she described it using the word “despair.”
Fast-forward many years to when I met Kelby. I’d heard through a mutual friend what Kelby’s plans were for Haiti (retiring as an paramedic and moving full-time to Haiti to provide medical care to kids). I thought, “Good for him! Haiti’s got despair.”
One little word. It stuck around for years. I wouldn’t say it “defined” what I thought about Haiti, but, it was there — I was kind of seeing Haiti through the lens of possible despair.
So it’s with that lens that I got on a plane to see Kelby.
I flew from Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale. And spent the night in the airport.
Early the next morning it was time to crawl out of the rocking chair I slept in and make my way onto the plane headed for Port-au-Prince. Haiti here I come. My first trip.
I was greeted at the airport by Kelby and his friend, Jackenson. And we were soon pulling out of the airport parking lot.
The airport’s right in town, so, within moments from the parking lot, we were driving past the city’s sights. Past broken, old buildings, tattered billboards, and dirty streets. Despair? Not yet.
Kelby, Jackenson and I travel through town while Kelby acts as a tour guide. We turn from a paved road onto a bumpy road with cement curbs on either side, but with no paved street between them. Bumpy bumpy. And dusty dusty. It hadn’t rained in Port-au-Prince for a month.
We stop by the building where his clinic is (a walled compound marked by a hand-painted sign which reads “Coram Deo.” Kelby drives a Saturn SUV through the opening after the security guard slides the steel gate to the side). And I’m finally able to see what he’s been describing in his blogposts!
A few things click into place for me. Kelby’s stopping by, partly, to show me around, and partly to check on some supplies that were donated to the clinic. It’s a Sunday, so the clinic isn’t open. We leave Jackenson at the compound and head by car to Kelby’s room (he rents a room from Troy and Gwynn Price's home). Despair? Not yet.
Kelby and I spent several hours that afternoon recording some video for his website (stay tuned!). And by the end of the first evening, Kelby and I had already spent more time together that day than during all of our previous visits back in Midland combined! It was finally time to go to bed. The first clinic of the week would be open for business at 9am Monday morning. Time to take a shower and crawl under the mosquito net and get some sleep. Without despair.
Before the clinic doors opened the next morning, a short sermon is given. Kelby tells them it’s to care for their spiritual health in addition to their bodily health. The moms and kids sit and listen. Lots of kids running around. Some sick. Some not. Lots of blank faces. Many smiles, too.
Kelby narrates the day to me as patients come and go. He occasionally comments on a superstition Haitian moms often believe. He points to a bracelet a mom is wearing and he talks about voodoo. From where I sat, it appears Kelby saves an old man’s life. Kelby embraces a one-year-old, five-pound, malnourished baby with a deformity as though the child was his own. And he goes to work to nurse him to health.
The sick, deformed baby had been turned away by the local hospital due to his deformity. Luckily the momma had heard of Kelby’s free clinic.
If there was despair at the clinic, it was being held back, squelched, one patient at a time. When Kelby’s stethoscope was placed on the chest of a wheezing child. With each little packet of tums given to pregnant mom to help her with indigestion. With each can of formula set aside for a malnourished baby. With every package of peanut butter handed to dad for his kid.
Perhaps despair wasn’t showing up because poor moms and dads were treated with dignity.
And that’s just the first day I was there. There’s another day of the exact same thing. And then there’s *another* day of the same thing.
Even as we were walking through the trashy trashy ravine I was reminded how I can’t let innocent little things my friends say influence my opinions of things I know nothing about. In this case, Haiti. And hopelessness.
This quick report is not meant to dismiss the real and present needs in Haiti. There's brokenness and poverty and sickness and pain — and a lot of people need the real Jesus. But, what I saw through Kelby was a picture of a man putting one foot in front of the other and simply walking toward the brokenness and sickness in order to be the healing hands and feet of Jesus in Haiti. Maybe that's the kind of thing that keeps despair at bay.
I was blessed beyond measure to spend those four days there. Not only by getting to witness Kelby’s good work, but by God showing a bigger picture of what He was up to.
Fast forward to Thursday morning and I’m standing in line in the airport waiting to board a plane that’s 90-minutes late. And I meet a family returning to Florida. It’s as though God wanted to give me one last chance to understand it’s not hopeless in Haiti. I asked the Mom of the family what brought them to Haiti. “My parents just moved down and built a house. And we were visiting for the first time.”
Not as missionaries. Just as people deciding where in the world they wanted to retire to. Not a sign of a place full of despair.
And there’s one more thing.
I’m on the plane sitting by the window in an exit row. At 6’ 4,” I’m always thrilled to get a seat in an exit row! Plus, this time, there wasn’t anyone sitting in the middle seat next to me! The captain was giving his announcements, the flight attendants were making sure we’re all buckled up for safety when, lo and behold, a last-minute passenger rushes onto the plane as the attendants close the door behind him.
And it’s just like God to say, “I wanna make sure you know sumpthin’.”
The very last guy through the door makes his way back to row 13 and sits right next to me.
No biggie. The plane starts to move backward to head toward the runway, the guy next to me gets situated. I ask him, “what brings you to Haiti?” And he says, “a business opportunity.”
The plane is ready to take off now.
I asked another question — “how’s it looking?”
And as the plane zooms forward for takeoff he says, “Very good. Very very good. We’re going to setup shop in Haiti.”
Leave it to God to take — even — the last possible minute in Haiti to make a point about Haiti
And that’s a little story of what I didn’t see in Haiti.
(Side note: You should totally consider a trip to help Kelby. Check the website on the “Pray. Give. Go.” page for details. And you can make an assessment for yourself.)