In the fall of 1989, during my senior year of college, I was at my parent’s house for Thanksgiving when I saw an article in National Geographic about Haiti. I didn’t know anything about Haiti at that time, didn’t even know where it was, but I knew I had to go. When I got back to school I met with a friend and told him we needed to go work in Haiti that summer. He pointed out the fact that we didn’t know anyone in Haiti and had no way to even make it happen. About that time a student walking behind us said, “Did you say something about wanting to work in Haiti? I worked as an intern there last summer and the organization that I went with is looking for interns for this coming summer.” Crazy! Six months later I stepped off the plane into scorching heat and chaos in Cap Haitien, Haiti. That was the beginning of my journey.
That summer changed my focus from material success to serving people living in poverty. I spent those three months working in a pediatric HIV ward in rural Haiti. At that time and in that place HIV, or even suspecting a child was HIV positive, was a death sentence. The children in this ward were never held or shown affection, they didn’t even know how to react when they were touched. There was nothing we could do medically, our only medicine at that time was love. And love is healing. By the end of the summer those kids were running around, slapping high fives. Lives transformed by the healing power of God’s love, and in the process, my life was transformed by God’s love as well.
The focus of my life from that time forward has been to make a difference, to use the blessings and gifts I’ve been given to move toward change in places where poverty and oppression seem overwhelming. My heart was and is to be a voice for so many that are never heard. Over the next ten years I stayed involved in Haiti, doing what I could from the states, and eventually moving there with my wife and kids. Our family spent four years on the island, living in a rural village, running a clinic, school, and nutrition program. Once again I witnessed and was changed by the healing power of God’s love. It was life changing to visit friends and neighbors in their homes and provide medical care.
There is a friend of mine in the village where we lived in Haiti who has seen more loss and death in his lifetime than most care to even imagine. He has suffered with his children through sickness, pain and death. He watched his wife battle cancer without access to care, eventually losing her life. When I was his neighbor he asked me to go with him to visit his son, who was dying of AIDS. His son lived way up in the mountains, so we took my motorcycle as far as we could, then walked the rest of the way. We entered the hut, a mud hut with a straw roof, no windows and probably only 8 feet square. His son was lying on a mat on the dirt floor in the middle of the room and we both knelt on the ground beside him. It was obvious he was near death, most likely within that day. I could do nothing medically for him and I had to tell him that. My friend asked me to pray for him and he began to comfort his son and started singing over him. But what caught my eye was that while he was singing, he caught his tears and washed his child’s body with them. I truly feel God met us in that room that day. It is not coincidence that poverty is mentioned over 2000 times in the Bible, that is where we find God’s heart. And that is where I want to work. The people of Haiti taught me so much, and made me desire to do even more.
During our time in Haiti, I knew my limitations and wanted more education and knowledge to affect change on a broader scale. I love the clinical work and getting to know people personally, and I wanted to take that a step farther as well. So our family returned to the states and I went back to school and earned two masters degrees at Johns Hopkins University, one in public health, specializing in international health, and the other qualifying me as a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Haiti was the starting point, but it didn’t stop there. The relationships we formed during that period continue to this day, and have actually been the catalyst to broadening our work to Kenya and now other parts of Africa. Never could I have imagined that our work in Haiti would take us from there to Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Liberia and Tanzania! And it all started when I picked up a magazine on Thanksgiving break.
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