How to Enlarge Your Heart

     By Katie Elliott 
     Last November an opportunity arose for me to go on a short mission trip.  I had never gone on a mission trip of any type in my 62 years and since I was newly retired and travel was on my bucket-list, I pondered the idea. I thought about all the things I thought I knew about mission trips... horrible weather, new diseases, inoculations, hard work, an unknown language, a totally “other” culture, dirt, poverty, bad smells, strange religions, and grass huts with an occasional lion wandering about.  I prayed about it for several weeks and even though I tried to talk myself out of going, God seemed to have other plans.  Three weeks before the seven-person team was due to leave for Haiti, I bought my plane tickets.  It turned out to be one of the best acts of obedience to one of God’s promptings ever and one which I will be eternally grateful for.
     When we left Grand Rapids, I knew only one of the team and that we were not going to build any houses or do any sort of “work”, so I was a bit nervoous.  I really didn’t know what to pray for, so I prayed that God would break my heart for what breaks His.  Soon after we arrived in Haiti, my heart began to break.  Yes, there was weather, hot and humid, and yes, there were several inoculations I got beforehand. Yes, there were mosquitoes that dined on us, and yes, there was a tremendous amount of poverty everywhere…poverty the likes of which I had never seen…but the looks of hopelessness that I saw on so many faces really tugged at my heartstrings. 
  The main reason our group went to Haiti was to build relationships with the Haitian people, to really get to know them and their culture (as much as one can in four days), and to worship Christ alongside them.  What an experience it was!
     We were climbed on and jumped on and loved on by children.  They couldn’t get enough times of loving in and asked when we’d be back.  A heartbreaker to be sure and I swore I’d be back.  A young woman with a daughter in college and a husband in the states being treated for cancer, lost her job, and with tears streaming down her face, asked for prayer.  With tears streaming down mine, I promised I would pray for her.   Heart-break.  
     Haiti is a place where there is no such thing as a free education, so if a family cannot pay for it, the children simply do not attend and the poverty cycle continues.  We saw school-aged children all over the place during the normal school day who were not at school.  Heart-break.  We visited a fishing village by the ocean where there were children whose hair was a strange orange color, due to protein deficiency…in a fishing village!  Heart-break.  The villagers lived in open air huts made of corrugated tin pieces and left over pieces of fabric…anything they could find to shelter them.  There was no electricity or running water.  The people cooked food over an open fire in the scorching heat of the day and washed their clothing in a basin using a rock to get the dirt out.  But the thing that broke my heart the most was the woman who tried to get us to take her baby back to the States with us, because she and her family were starving and unable to feed it.  The mother was willing to give her child away to save it.  Inconceivable.  It still makes my heart ache.
     In the midst of the pain and hopelessness, resides a group of people…a Haitian group of people who are linked by Christ and friendship to a small group of American friends…who are working hard to provide resources for children to be able to attend school and learn about the saving grace of Jesus.  This group called “Help the Youth”, is striving to raise money to provide scholarships for children who have the drive and ambition to work hard in school, be able to get a high school degree, as well as attend two to three more years learning a trade.  There are nearly 100 students in the program currently being provided for and a small group of them have not only graduated high school, but have gone on to trade schools and university, attributing their success to Jesus Christ.  “Without God, I had no objective,” was a statement we heard from these kids over and over again, meaning that with God, there was hope!  Hope shined brightly through these youngsters. Their faces glowed and they each held their heads high with confidence and pride.  My heart enlarged as I thanked God for these children and the people who have made the program possible.
     So, as we passed by pigs, dogs, goats, and cows (no lions!) walking along the dirt roads beside us, the hopelessness was diminished by the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Haitian people.  God is alive, well, and moving there.  Even though my heart was broken over and over again, it was also enlarged.
     If you have the opportunity to go to Haiti, do it.  You will be forever changed because God will touch you in ways that you cannot imagine.  Yes, your heart will break, but you will love and be loved in ways you wouldn’t believe were possible, your friendship circle will grow, and you will promise that you, too, will be back.