Fears Dissolve into Feeling at Home

September 26, 2011

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Written by Lisl Ruckert, a member of the June 2011 team, and published in the Brownsville (Ore.) Times:

The country of Haiti has always been a place that is close to my heart, though my first opportunity to go there happened just two months ago. My dad has gone there on medical mission trips almost every year since before I was born. I grew up seeing pictures of the people and hearing stories about patients in the village clinic. I heard about how the Haitians, who live in extreme poverty, have a joy about them even in their harsh circumstances.

But I had never seen any of these things firsthand until I was finally able to go myself in June, five days after my graduation from high school. And what a perfect way to end that chapter of my life and move to a whole new chapter.

I was unsure about what lay ahead of me in the ten days I would be in Haiti. I neglected to study any Creole (the Haitian language) before the trip, and once I finally arrived in Haiti with our team I had my doubts about whether I should be there at all. Not only would I be unable to communicate, but I had no medical skills.

I knew I would be extremely out of my comfort zone in numerous ways. As we drove north from Port-au-Prince to Terre Blanche, the mountain village where the clinic is located, I felt very small and useless. I looked into the eyes of people as we drove by, and they looked at me, and I felt very far away. There was nothing I could do to make a difference in their lives. At least, not by myself.

As the first few days came and went, however, my fears dissolved and I learned to look less to myself and more towards the people whom I came to serve. The first fear, lack of communication, was easily solved by a wonderful group of translators in the clinic. I also learned that more can be said through a silent smile or a loving touch than through my few broken Creole phrases. I had many uncertainties about working in a medical clinic as well, but I had some of the best experiences of my life with the patients.

To give a little background, Haiti Foundation of Hope (which partners with Medical Teams International) sends teams to Terre Blanche two or three times a year. The team members, some of them doctors and nurses, work in the clinic during the week. The week I was there we saw around 1,200 Haitian patients. Each patient receives their prescription from a doctor along with a bag of rice and beans. I worked as an aide for various doctors when I worked in the clinic, and I saw amazing things each day. I was able to witness two births of beautiful and healthy babies. Both mothers planned to walk home about three hours after giving birth! I also had the opportunity to help with ultrasounds, and I even got to use it myself on patients the last day. I saw some children who were so off the charts malnourished that they looked half their age.

But the highlight of my work in the clinic was something that I would have never believed I would enjoy. An elderly man came in with an infected wound on the bottom of his foot. The flesh was open and the wound went down pretty deep. I was assigned to take him outside to clean and bandage the wound. Normally something like this would turn my stomach, but all I felt was joy at being able to help this old man. As I washed his foot he smiled at me, and I knew that my doubts about not being able to help these people were groundless, and that by showing the love of God, who Himself washed people’s feet, was what I was here to do.

The Haitians, who wear their hearts on their sleeves and their hardship on their faces, are said to be a people without hope. And the country of Haiti is certainly in need of hope. But I also saw the hope that Haitians carry with them: longsuffering, patience, and a God-given joy. As a result, I changed from feeling separated from the Haitians, to feeling like they were a long lost family and that I was at home.

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