In the spirit of my loving mother, she saw me not as I was but as I would be after the answers to her prayers had manifested. My missions trip to Haiti was a dramatic, life-altering experience that carry with me today in gratitude and thanksgiving. This is my story, a woman broken by very abusive and destructive relationships, loss of her only child for many years due to painful life circumstances, alcohol and drugs to numb the pain, watching a sweet husband die after a very short marriage, and various family illnesses, heartaches and setbacks.
Sometimes we must make a rough journey in order to develop a grateful heart in spite of our trials, giving us a new perspective on what is truly important in life. The tough but life-changing lessons from my mission’s trip to Haiti will last a lifetime. I was absolutely miserable while there but I am so grateful for that experience which showed me what like would be like surrounded by wretched poverty, evil and fear. Here is my story about the trip that transformed a broken heart. After you read it, think of a journey you had to take that was difficult and how your character was strengthened and molded because of it.
All Things Work Together For Good…
It was more than a culture shock, it was an electrocution! On August 3, 1988, exactly a year since I had competed in the Mrs. America pageant, I found myself in Haiti, the second poorest country in the world. One year earlier, my husband and I had been together at the elegant Las Vegas Hilton. It was a glamorous event with beautiful women, sparkling evening gowns and glittering jewelry. Although I were honored to be there representing the wonderful women of my state, it was a bittersweet experience because my husband was in a losing confrontation with cancer.
Then, a year later, I was amazed and saddened at what events had transpired. We had fought hard but eventually lost the battle in December and I was a widow. I spent numerous sleepless nights consumed with grief, guilt, anger and sadness. People tried to tell me how they thought I should grieve. Others were sympathetic for a few weeks, then didn’t seem to want to hear anymore about it. Since my husband had died four months after the pageant and three weeks before our second anniversary, I felt like I didn’t want to go on and longed to end my life as well.
Now, instead of staying at the beautiful Las Vegas Hilton, I was temporarily residing at a gross place we referred to as the “Haiti Hilton,” an unfinished shell with no furniture that I shared with 37 other people. As my eyes scanned what was to be my home for the next two weeks, my mind raced as to what conditions I was going to have to live in. From the moment I stepped off the plane and smelled the stench of human waste and rotting garbage, I felt sickened. That feeling continued when we settled into our new quarters as someone brought part of a dead tarantula over from the other end of our “hotel suite.” “Please, God,” I prayed, “don’t let me see one of those horrid creatures crawling across my chest in the middle of the night like I’ve seen in movies. I’ll lose it for sure!”
On our fifth day there, I peered out over the poverty ravaged view from the rough cement porch of the orphanage compound. The realization of where I was made me miserable. Instead of pretty clothes and excitement of the year before, my body and eyelids were covered with bug bites. It was difficult to fathom how drastic my life had changed. I wished I wasn’t there, then felt guilty for feeling that way. But since I was in Haiti, I needed to make the best of it, regardless of how upsetting it was.
The first day our church missions group drove to the work site where the Haitian’s church and school were being built, I looked around in awe at the total devastation these people lived in. The atmosphere was so bizarre I just knew that any minute I would hear Rod Serling mysteriously say, “You have now entered the Twilight Zone “
In Haiti, using the bathroom at night was a traumatic experience. I had to walk outside to another building by flashlight and listen to the frightening sounds of voodoo drums a short distance away. Even the animals acted crazy until the eerie noises stopped. We also had to take cold water outdoor showers inside of the particle board walls which were set up on cement blocks. This gave some embarrassing exposure during the day and was frightening by flashlight in the black of night. One day, a lizard and I challenged each other for territorial rights of the shower floor. Funny, I scared him worse than he did me.
One hot day three of us varnished cabinets at the orphanage. When I jumped down from the counter I knocked over the gallon can of varnish with my back side. The vamish ran down the back of me, semi gluing my thong to my foot and sticking the right side of my behind to my leg. The only available product to remove the vamish was, you guessed it, gasoline! Remember, there was nothing but a cold stream of water to shower with.
New problem: As I was trying to clean up, one of the children from the orphanage was playing around the water pipe and broke it in half, cutting off the water supply right in the middle of my shower. I had to go with soap AND gasoline residue all over me until the next aftemoon. I was not a happy camper!!
Showers became a dreadful experience! Because it was so dark in our room one evening, I couldn’t distinguish which bottle I was taking for hair conditioner. It tumed out to be the household cleaner Basic H, which left my hair in sticky tufts. The rest of the group roared with laughter as someone took a picture of me. They named me “Squiggy” for one of the characters on the old LaVerne and Shirley Show. The picture is amusing to look at now but trust me, it was NOT funny at the time!
Was I really accomplishing any worthwhile purpose on my missionary joumey? Was I able to get my mind off of my problems and concentrate on helping them in their misery? A little. One night, with the help of an interpreter and some of my rusty French from high school days, I was able to give some encouraging words to a group who had come to the church for fellowship. I spent a day or two on the construction site. We dug up and hauled disgustingly smelly rocks to be mixed with water for a primitive cement floor at the church in City of Soleil, a pathetic area within the city of Port Au Prince. I helped with laundry using an old wringer washer back at the compound for the rest of the team as they worked at the church. After a while, washing the clothes hardly seemed to do any good since the smell of refuse had permeated every fiber. I hoped these things were somehow making a difference, that there really was a reason to go on withmy life and be a useful human being.
I was becoming grateful for not having to live on a human waste pile, where dead bodies were picked up by a death wagon every morning. I didn’t have to be a “donkey boy” for a living, used as a human truck for hauling coal, furniture and the like. I was so thankful for the good old USA after looking into lifeless, hollow eyes of the famished multitudes for several days. Working in this wretchedly desolate place made me realize how much I really had to live for. The Haitians had no hope, no future, only dread of what the next day would bring. To them, death was a promotion!
I really hadn’t wanted to go on that short missions trip in the first place but couldn’t deny the nagging in my very soul that I was meant to do it anyway. My parents and close friends did not want me going either due to all the political uprising and strange “ goings on” that were taking place. Something kept urging me on. I believe it was to have an experience that would help me see what was really important in life.
One of the lessons was seeing how loving and giving the people were to us, though they had nothing by the standards of self seeking Americans. They reached out to others and gave whatever they had. They were tremendously unselfish people. Most had no showers or washing machines but they worked hard to be clean and have pressed clothing. Multitudes didn’t even have a roof over their heads, and their only companions for the night were hungry rats looking for a meal. Others faced the cruelty of having a forearm cut off if they were caught stealing, like one of the young teenage boys who played with some of the older children at the orphanage. Somehow, my life back home was looking better by the minute.
Most of us were thrilled beyond belief when we finally arrived back in America. As I drove through town with my parents the day after returning from that two week joumey that seemed like an eternity, I praised God for the beautiful green trees, grass, flowers, freedom, food, warm showers, a couch to sit on, a refrigerator with food in it, electricity and even a toothbrush. I didn’t have to swish my finger in dirty street water like one man had done, rubbing it across his teeth to get some relief.
When I saw all the misery in that country I was ashamed of all my own selfish feelings, although I hadn’t been able to conquer them. My pity party had followed me, uninvited, all the way from home! Now, in retrospect, I can appreciate all the lessons learned and how grateful I had become for the blessings I still had, regardless of all the painful experiences.
Time and time again, I had been deeply wounded in my past divorce and losing the love of my son, a blood clotting problem, spouse abuse, drugs and a continuous battle with a poor self image. It was a terrible disappoint spending most of my term as Mrs. Nebraska practically living in the hospital with my dying husband, and then to end up as a widow before the end of my reign. Having watched a wonderful, gentle man slowly decay in agony right before my eyes was overwhelming. Life had been almost more than I could bear, my hopes and dreams seemingly crushed.
Yet, there I was back in my “now” wonderful apartment in this glorious country, reflecting back on all the emotions that surged through me that night on the compound porch, saying “Thank you, God, for all the good things I still have. Life will go on for me and it will be okay.” My experience in Haiti, which I seemed to languish in just about every minute, taught me well! I may have felt life had dealt a heavy blow and knocked me down for the count, but I was back up and fighting again!
No one can go back and make a brand new start. Anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending!!!!