Sometimes you bump up against a word or phrase so often that it ceases to be a coincidence. I’m not talking about everyday words like “fuel low” or “account balance below $25” or “today’s steps = 40”; I’m talking about big spiritual ones. For the past 10 months, my coincidental word has been transformation.

One night after a La Gonâve Haiti Partners meeting, a few board members went out for dinner. We shared how, after years of “doing” in Haiti,  our “being” had changed too. “Mutual transformation!” we shouted … a light bulb, a God-moment in a local steakhouse.

On Epiphany this year, what word star did I get from the church basket? Transformation!

This spring my pastor asked about the possibility of my taking a group of our high schoolers to Haiti. I’d tried something new last summer and put a generic “youth trip” on the partnership’s trip calendar. No one signed up for my great idea and the slot continued unfilled. Coincidence? Nope.

In no time our church’s kids were ticketed to Port au Prince, Haiti. Some even got their first passport. We had 3 adults versus 6 teenagers. Pretty good odds. We took off from Richmond: 9 people, a guitar and a duffel bag of sports stuff and birth kits.

Upon landing, I sent everyone out into the chaos of the airport parking lot to Garry, the chartered van driver- a complete stranger to the rest of the team. They feigned confidence and followed him. Years of depending on my Haitian hosts have taught me to trust – trust in the people and places and situations that they deem safe and best for me. Even when we were surrounded by things that could have gone wrong, they never did because we had Garry and Noel and Jean Louis and Rigaud and Pere Vil and Newberline and Julio always looking out for us.

Once settled at the St. Francis compound, we hung out in the heat to shoot baskets and kick soccer balls on a concrete schoolyard. A few high school boys came by and we began to connect: Bierhoff, Shadrach, and Watson! Bierhoff asked if we’d like to see the market and visit his house. Yes! So we traipsed through the low, tarp-ceilinged market stalls of Anse-a-Galets to his home. We watched him climb onto a roof, then up a ladder to the top of a coconut tree, knocking down nuts and cutting them open with a well-worn machete. We sat in the peaceful shade of the porch and courtyard together, while his mom washed clothes in a basin and neighbors came by to meet us. 

I was amazed at the transformations already taking place in our group. We’d only been in Haiti 24 hours, with adventure upon adventure, a strange language, and no phones. Already we were feeling the rhythm of the place and the people. There was every reason to embrace fear and frustration in not knowing “what will happen next?” Instead everyone demonstrated openness and kindness to others.

We trusted and ventured out to laugh, play, explore. We were being transformed from in-control Americans to being dependent on strangers, to learning what we had in common and to knowing what  we really needed. We needed safety, bottled water, love, and mangos. And we had them all in abundance.

Leslie Jordanger, Richmond Virginia