BY: Travis K. Kircher
For this article, I was asked to tell you about my mission trip to Haiti, as a volunteer with Mission Aviation Fellowship. But first, I have to tell you about the conspiracy.
I’m not talking chem-trails, a flat earth, or the claim that the 1969 moon landing was actually an elaborate movie directed by Stanley Kubrick.
I’m talking about the Philippians 4:4 conspiracy.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the verse reads, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (It actually reads that way even if you ARE familiar with it.)
How can I explain this? Do you remember in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” when the Richard Dreyfuss character kept seeing the same shape over and over again, wherever he went? It was actually the shape of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. He saw it in a child’s sculpture. In a pile of clay. In his shaving cream. In his mashed potatoes. (That was actually my favorite.)
That was Philippians 4:4 for us. It followed us everywhere we went in Haiti. It’s STILL following me now.
Carwell: Dave Carwell
For those who aren’t familiar with the organization, Mission Aviation Fellowship — or MAF — uses smaller, general aviation aircraft to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to remote, isolated areas. We also do med-evacs, deliver relief supplies and provide logistical support for disaster relief. (MAF’s mission statement is, “Sharing the love of Jesus Christ through aviation and technology so that isolated people can be physically and spiritually transformed.”)
Our 12-member team landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday, Oct 20. Eight men, four women. I’ll never forget dash through the busy airport, where MAF’s program manager for Haiti, Dave Carwell, met us.
A word about Carwell: The man knows what’s going on in Haiti. He and his wife Patricia have been serving there for more than 20 years. He has his finger on the pulse of the nation. He’s a long-termer. They trust him. As he led us through the busy airport, Haitian nationals would see him, recognize him, and give him high-fives.
At one point, I was going through customs, and an irritated-looking woman at the desk asked me some questions I was stumped on. She wanted to know the address of where I would be staying. I had no clue. I fumbled. She demanded to know.
Then Dave Carwell stepped in. Her face immediately brightened into a smile. He gestured toward me and said something in Creole. Maybe it was French, I dunno. She nodded, wrote something on one of her forms and waved me through. She liked Carwell – but I could almost feel her rolling her eyes at me as I walked past. Another clueless American.
One of the first things you notice about Haiti is the traffic regulations. There aren’t any.
I don’t think I ever saw a single stop sign while I was in Haiti. Or traffic lights. When you reach a busy intersection, you just go. Like, whenever you want. Granted, there is that whole physics thing about how two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time – but that doesn’t stop drivers in Haiti from trying!
Despite the noise and madness, drivers are generally polite and nonplussed about it. Drivers are cheerful and kind. Horn-honking is a continuous form of communication – and it can mean so many different things! Whereas in The States, honking your horn is generally used to express one emotion – anger – in Haiti, it can mean anything from, “Excuse me, could you please get out of my way?” to “Has anyone seen my goat?” or “Hello vendor, I would like to purchase some of that delicious coffee you are selling.”
One thing I was happy to learn is that, in Haiti, there are no prohibitions against riding in the bed of a pickup truck. I used to do that all the time as a kid, before the legal beagles took over here in the States. In Haiti, it’s perfectly fine. So practically every day, I was standing in the back of Dave Carwell’s truck, the wind in my hair, my camera at the ready, shooting video of the sights that sped by. I felt like a kid again.
There were bulls running loose on the side of the road. An artist hanging tapestries. Makeshift shops. A goat munching scraps. I’m pretty sure someone threw a rock at me.
The first night we were there, I got to thinking. Each night, one of us from our team was supposed to prepare a devotion. This was Saturday. My night was Thursday.
I decided I would do my devotion on Philippians 4:4.
The verse reads: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
On Tuesday, several of us piled into a Cessna Caravan, flown by MAF pilot Dave Harms. (NOTE: After meeting Dave Carwell, Dave Harms and MAF pilot Dave Simon, I’m pretty sure a requirement of working with the MAF Haiti program is that you have your Instrument rating, your Commercial rating, an A&P certificate and your first name has to be Dave. The A&P may be optional.)
Harms was going to fly us straight to Jérémie, where we would visit Haiti Bible Mission. If you picture Haiti as a boot, would be on the western-facing “toe.” But due to a last-minute schedule change, he announced that he would instead fly us to a small strip in Port-de-Paix first, where he would offload some passengers. Port-de-Paix is a small village on the northern coast of Haiti.
I did mention that the strip was small, right? According to Wikipedia – that great fountain of knowledge, which is never wrong, except when it is – the strip in Port-de-Paix is “subject to pedestrian traffic.” That means people like to walk on it. They like to drive their motorcycles on it, and push flocks of small animals across it.
It’s “subject to pedestrian traffic.”
Thankfully, MAF is prepared. As Harms skillfully slid the plane into its final approach, men moved out on the airstrip to clear the way. There wasn’t a goat to be seen as Harms gently guided the plane onto the airstrip.
But the poverty there was heartbreaking.
Haiti is a beautiful country – shockingly beautiful in places – but there are parts of it that the nationals don’t want you to see. This was one of them. There was garbage along the sides of the runway, probably because there were no proper facilities nearby where it could be disposed of.
I’ll never forget looking out of the airplane window while we were waiting to take off and seeing some people pull up in a jeep. Children swarmed the jeep as a woman inside opened a bag and began handing something out – probably candy.
When we took off and resumed our flight to Jérémie, Harms got a request across the radio. Could he pick up a child who was suffering from encephalitis and desperately needed medical attention?
According to Mark Stockeland, executive director of Haiti Bible Mission, it’s the kind of thing MAF is asked to do all the time. Haiti Bible Mission is an AMAZING organization that brings volunteer doctors and nurses to Haiti to help serve the medical needs of people living out in the jungle.
“MAF saves – I don’t know how many kids they save per month, per year,” Stockeland said. “We, just our mission here – there are several – are 20-30 times a year calling to say, ‘Hey, can you med-evac this kid? Can you help save a life?’ So the hospital relies on us, and then we rely on MAF. So working together, we’re saving lives. And that ultimately then gives a chance for the Gospel. Because if one of your kids is sick, and we reach out, now you’re more likely gonna hear about Jesus. We say, ‘Hey, do you know Jesus? Because this is like the greatest – this is why we do what we do: because it’s about Jesus.’ It’s a great open door – the partnership with MAF.”
“So we’re huge fans, man. We couldn’t do what we do without them.”
Set in stone (and concete)
Fellow advocate Keith Van Order has already done an amazing job sharing about the concrete project we worked on at the MAF hanger at the Port-au-Prince airport. (If you haven’t read his account, you should! It’s located HERE.)
Suffice it to say, things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes you feel like you’re running out of time. Or you end up with the wrong raw materials. Or the wrong materials get delivered the wrong way.
At one point, when things were looking particularly dire, some of us took to complaining.
That’s when one of the Haitian nationals walked by us and said (I’m paraphrasing), “Gentlemen, I just want to thank you for coming all the way here from America and being willing and eager to serve us here in my country.”
“And remember,” he added, “this is the day that The Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!”
To be fair, he was quoting Psalm 118:24, NOT Philippians 4:4.
You just keep telling yourself that.
Well, we got that concrete project done, with the help of our Haitian friends (and some well-placed favors from The Lord). I know because I can still see the dried concrete in my tennis shoes right now. And I had to throw away my MAF t-shirt because I couldn’t get the concrete out of it. (Hey MAF – I need a new shirt!)
The next day, at lunch in the hangar (where we had those really AWSOME Haitian fruit drinks), Carwell led us in a devotion.
“I’m gonna read from Philippians,” he began.
“It’s not Philippians 4:4, is it?” I may or may not have spontaneously blurted out. I don’t remember if I said it out loud or not.
The verse reads, “Rejoice in The Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice.”
As I write this, it has been about three months since I returned from Haiti. I’ve had time to digest our little trip. I’ve seen the images posted to social media, and posted a few of my own.
I’ll share with you what I shared the night I gave my devotion.
When you’re in Haiti, one of the things that strikes you is the fact that it’s hard. I don’t mean that the people are difficult or the landscape is harsh. I mean that simple, everyday tasks that we take for granted here in the States are much more complicated – and in some cases undoable – in Haiti.
Take water. When you’re out-and-about in Haiti, you have to plan ahead if you want to have good drinking water. You can’t just go up to a water fountain and take a sip. You have to carry a plastic water bottle and fill up whenever you can – that water bottle may have to last you all day. While drinking water is at a premium, getting COLD drinking water is well nigh impossible.
Electricity is hit-or-miss in Haiti. In Port-au-Prince, the city’s electrical grid was sporadic, often going down several times a day. In Jérémie, there was no electrical grid – and the constant roar of generators became the soundtrack of our lives.
It’s cliché to come back from a mission trip from the Third World and say you have a newfound appreciation for the blessings we have in the States.
I am thankful for clean, cold drinking water. I am thankful for central heating and cooling. I’m thankful that the lights don’t flicker and die several times a day – and that I can visit my favorite hot chicken restaurant and drive roadways with an established and reliable traffic control system.
I am thankful for all of these things. We should be thankful. We are commanded to be thankful.
But are they what we are supposed to rejoice in?
If you haven’t read it, Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in The Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice.”
Rejoice in what? In The Lord.
Jesus gave us another clue when he sent his posse out to preach to the masses in 36 groups of two each. It sounds like they had a lot of success. They probably did some concrete projects. They even cast out demons – sort of like “The Exorcist,” except theologically correct. When they returned, they were (rightfully so!) thrilled at what was accomplished. But Jesus had another check for them:
“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven.” (Luke 10:20 ESV)
The truth of the matter is, we can’t rejoice in our material blessings – or our accomplishments, despite what the self-help gurus and prosperity preachers may tell us. We may not always have clean drinking water. There may not always be food on the table. The Dow Jones may tank. Your political party may fail you. That doctor’s report may not bring the answer you want to hear, no matter how much faith you have.
Even relationships aren’t safe. Just three weeks ago, I lost my older brother to cancer. It is the hardest loss I have ever experienced. Your relationships can last a lifetime – but they can only last a lifetime.
But thank God God gave us something better to rejoice in. We rejoice that we have Him – that He died for us. That he loves us. And that He has a future for us – in this life, and in the next. Even if all our material blessings are taken away tomorrow and the whole world burns around us, we have already been given the greatest Christmas present ever.
Everything is STILL going to be okay.
Because of this, First World Americans could stand next to Third World Haitians and worship together, knowing that we were children of the same gracious Father.
The conspiracy continues.
Two weeks after I returned home from my trip, I was reading a devotion from the One Year Bible. The New Testament passage included Philippians 4:4. (It reads, “Rejoice in The Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice.”)
A few days after that, I was at the Thursday morning “Man Challenge” Bible study. The speaker’s topic? Philippians 4.
Just the other night, I was reading from Psalms 31:7, which declares, “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love…”
There are all kinds of theories as to who is behind the conspiracy. It could be Carwell. I told you the guy was sharp. I just can’t figure out how he could have gotten in touch with the Man Challenge guys.
Or maybe it’s telemarketers. The Haitian government. Aliens. Stanley Kubrick.
Or maybe there’s another option: Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit. Maybe He was trying to tell us something. Maybe He is giving permission for us to rejoice – to enjoy the blessings He has given us, through His love and His Son.
And if you’ve read this far, maybe you should be concerned. Because before I fired this devotion off, prayed that Holy Spirit would work in the lives of the people who read it. Don’t be surprised if – like Richard Dreyfuss – you start seeing the same message in unexpected places.
Maybe it’s aliens.
Travis K. Kircher is an advocate with MAF.
To view a video I put together of some of the footage from our trip, CLICK BELOW: