I’ve been going to Haiti since July of 2010, and I don’t think I’ve ever put into words the full story of a young boy who has changed my life. First, let me tell you how I ended up in Haiti. My friends and I in November of 2009 were working to agree upon a location for our Christian Medical Association’s mission trip that upcoming summer. Haiti was on our minds, and then the earthquake hit early in 2010. We felt that was God’s calling to us to go there and serve. Four years later, I feel stronger about this country and her children than I could have ever imagined.
Having read a previous blog on “Being Chosen,” I can completely relate. That first arrival is engraved in my memory forever. We drove up on our school bus and were welcomed by cheering children jumping with excitement for this week’s team. As we each stepped off the bus one by one, we were greeted with eager hands as they chose their “person” for the week. The little boy that reached for my hand was named Edlin, which I had a hard time pronouncing – I called him Eggland for about a day until he finally wrote it out for me. He was eight years old. His English was minimal, not much more than “Hello, what is your name? How old are you?” He held my hand until it was time to go to sleep. He was waiting for me the next morning at the bottom of the hill (the children are not allowed to come up to the guest house) so we could go to church. He waited for me outside of clinic even taking naps outside my window until we finished for the day, so he could walk me back up to the guest house. I often would sneak him a protein bar, and was amazed by his actions: he would tear it up into 4 or 5 pieces and distribute a bite to each of his friends. This is a child who got 1-2 meals a day of poorage. I thought to myself, “Wow, how many children do I know at home who would do that?” Another memory from that first trip that stands out is when we were walking down to his dorm, we were about to cross a puddle, he held his hands up motioning for me to stop, so I did. He went on to bend down and roll my pants up at the bottom so they wouldn’t get wet and pointed out the puddle, so I knew to avoid it as he marched right through it. This child sang Jesus Loves Me every day to me, maybe because it was one of the few ways to communicate in English, but he very clearly loved Jesus. If one of the other children was picking on a smaller child, Edlin was quick to shout in creole and immediately the bullying halted. He never asked me for anything, except occasionally to tell me he was hungry, and I took the hint. I must admit at first I was worried about some of the kids taking my phone or camera or money. Edlin always wanted to carry my bag for me, so at first, I’d watch him like a hawk making sure he didn’t sneak something or run away with it. That didn’t last long. I quickly learned I could trust him – that he felt proud to protect my belongings. After a week with this child, I was absolutely devastated when we had to leave for home. I didn’t know if I’d ever be given the opportunity to return and be with this child and the other amazing kids I had grown to love in just one short week. I cried and cried for months almost every night once we were home. I couldn’t understand why God had given me such a wonderful life and given these innocent children such hard lives. I felt guilty that I hadn’t done more to give back at home and abroad. The trip truly took me from a spiritually complacent place to one where I was eager to explore and grow.
The time came in 2010 for CMA to choose a destination for the 2011 mission trip, and no one had offered to lead a team yet. I prayed and prayed. I only had one week off that summer between my second and third year of medical school, and I would be studying for my USMLE boards all summer except that week. It was obvious what I was to do, and I don’t regret it for a minute. I led a team back to Haiti that summer and was overwhelmed with emotion when I got back. The kids were asleep when we arrived that year, but the next morning Edlin was awake and asking for me before I could even get dressed. I had been nervous of if he would even remember me – afterall, how many teams had come through since I had left? His smile brings tears to my eyes even now! My dad came with me that year, and Edlin loved meeting him. That was the year Edlin started calling me “mom.” He was attached to my hip and earned a role in the clinic helping me chart because I was terrible at spelling names and finding and creating charts. Edlin could do it in half the time I could! He loved doing math in our down time. I was amazed that he could do addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division. Numbers are a universal language, so we did a lot of this. However, Edlin and I had always had a way of understanding each other. We got each other. We could communicate in other ways than each other’s language. I’ve never had that connection I don’t think with anyone. When I left that year, I was again an emotional wreck. As I was stepping onto our bus to leave, Edlin and his friend “Peter” (Faunal) reached out to me and handed me a letter they had written thanking me for the goodies I had brought them and for the week together. They told me “I will never forget you. I hope you come back to Haiti. I love you. Jesus loves you.” I fought tears and let them fall once I got out of their view on the bus, only to look back and see Edlin crying with his hands placed together in praying position. I sent packages with other teams throughout the following year. I’m so thankful for those people who so kindly took up space in their luggage to take a few goodies down to Edlin throughout the year and letters to let him know I was thinking of him. He always sent thank you letters back.
In 2012, CMA was leading a trip to another country. I considered going with them, but in my heart knew I had to return to Haiti. These mission trips had all had a medical focus with spiritual aspects, but if I’m honest, the trips have always been about the kids to me. The opportunities to use my knowledge to help heal people who otherwise would have no medicine or treatment is a blessing, but the reason it’s Haiti I choose to dedicate my global service to is because of the spirits of those beautiful children. I had essentially stalked a group called BlessBack Worldwide from Charlotte on facebook in desperation for pictures to see what was going on in Cambry while I wasn’t there. And through facebook, I hooked up with Angela Quinn and friends. I heard they had a team going to Haiti that summer and jumped on board along with three of my classmates. When I arrived in 2012 Edlin was dressed in the shirt I had sent down that past year. I was so happy to see he had received it and had kept up with it. It was an amazing trip! Edlin was still there and had become what everyone came to call him, “the mayor of Cambry.” The kids respected him. They listened to what he said. This came, I believe, because of his natural leadership ability and because they can see his love for Jesus in his actions. He wants to be a pastor, after all. I found out this year that Edlin, who I thought was 10 at the time, was in fact, 13 years old. His English had improved and we communicated better than ever. I was the one lagging behind as I had not learned any creole! He gave me his English-creole dictionary to push me along in that regard and told me to learn it. His birth certificate papers had been discovered, and it was found that he was 3 years older than what he had thought. Can you imagine that? He looked like he was 10…or even younger. The trip was like the others. I spent all my free time with this boy. He was proud to show me his homework and schoolwork. I watched him play soccer with his friends. We listened to music and sang songs. It was a wonderful time. When we left, I left him with my pillow and blanket as well as my hand-held fan, which I let him use every night anyway. I remember one morning he came up to bring me the fan before clinic, and he said “no batteries” – trying to tell me they had died overnight. He then said, “new” – because he had somehow found a pair of batteries and replaced the dead ones which he handed to me as well. See how I can trust this boy? He was my photographer for the trip, taking my camera for the day and returning it at night filled with pictures of himself and his “zanmi” friends. I left that year knowing I would be back somehow.
This May marked my 4th trip to Cambry – my first with Give Hope Global. It was the most inspiring trip I have taken. I felt God’s message was more clearly than it has ever been. He spoke directly to me, which I’m not sure has ever happened. A family in Georgia, where I am from, had started the process of bringing Edlin to the states on a student visa after my trip in 2012. However, we didn’t have his mother’s blessing yet. I had often wondered about Edlin’s birth family. He didn’t bring them up like some of the other children would, and I honestly wasn’t aware of the situation. I knew his mom was alive, but that was all. American schools are hesitant to bring a child with little English to their school, but we had gotten one school to agree to interview Edlin via Skype while I was there. Edlin did the interview, and did amazingly, and at the end of the interview I see Pastor Louis setting up some chairs under the pavilion. I also see a lady with a young man, neither of whom I had seen before. Edlin points to the short lady wearing a worn dress and says, “mother.” I thought, “No, it couldn’t be…” Well, it was! It was Edlin’s birth mom and one of his brothers. We sat and talked with Pastor Louis translating. I had so many questions and was overwhelmed with emotions. I asked Louis, “How did she know to come today? Did you tell her about the interview?” He said, “No, she says she just felt like she needed to see me today. She walked hours from her home in the mountains to come. I’ve never met her before. I meant to tell her pastor about today, but I forgot.” This woman came the week we were in Cambry, the day Edlin interviewed with the American school, the HOUR of the interview! She grinned from ear to ear, looking identical to Edlin, when she thanked me and Pastor Louis for helping her child get a better education. She was so grateful. I learned that her husband, Edlin’s father, had passed away leaving her with 9 children, 1 of whom passed, to care for. Edlin is the youngest. She couldn’t afford to provide for all of them on her own so she had to give some children away to other families and placed Edlin in the orphanage. I immediately saw where Edlin got his kind spirit from. She hugged me and we snapped some photos, and she was off. I truly believe God was telling me, Pastor Louis and our team what His wishes for Edlin are. I know He has plans for this boy. I don’t know exactly what they are, but I know Edlin has the ability to be a strong leader. I get excited when I think of the impact he could have on younger generations. I’d like to share a few more memories from the May trip: the first thing Edlin wanted to do was show me his room. He was so proud. When we walked in his no-power dorm room shared with about 10 other boys, his bed was perfectly made with the pillow I had left him the previous year at the top of the bed, and the blanket I had left folded neatly at the foot of the bottom bunk. He climbed to the top of the 3rd bunk and reached up to the top of the concrete wall to grab a suitcase that someone had left for him. He reached for his key that was hanging on his belt loop and unlocked his suitcase where all of his belongings were stored – everything perfectly folded and tucked away inside. I asked him where the fan was that I had left him, and he told me he had run out of batteries, but continued to pull it out in 3 separate pieces. He had kept it even though it was a) broken and b) had no batteries. These children take pride in their belongings and the things people leave for them, maybe because they have so few. I had sent a boombox down with Angela on a previous trip for a Christmas gift to Edlin and his friends for them all to enjoy. It warmed my heart at night when I’d go to say goodnight to Edlin in his room and the boys were all listening to Christian music as they fell asleep.
There are so many stories I could tell you about this young boy. His heart is huge, his mind is knowledgeable, his spirit is contagious and his life is full of potential. He’s funny. He’s lovable. He’s strong. He’s so smart. He’s determined. He’s god-fearing, and has a servant’s heart. His love for Jesus has shown me a lot – that even those with little have a lot if they have a relationship with God. My relationship with him has changed me as a person. I know that I will see him again. I know he will do great things, and I thank God for bringing him into my life along with his friends who I’ve also come to love dearly.
All of the Cambry children are special in their own way. There are stories I could tell you about so many of them. Now that they are all sponsored, they know the names of their sponsors. They become jubilant when they receive a picture of the family sponsoring them. To know that someone cares about them really gives them happiness and, I believe, hope. I thank God endlessly for the people who have dedicated part of their lives to sponsoring a child. I thank God for the children we are sponsoring – for their energy and spirits. I have seen the changes that have taken place in this orphanage & what can happen when people care and serve others in the name of Jesus. It’s truly amazing. If you’ve been to Cambry or somewhere similar, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t been, it will change you, in one way or another, forever.