A Visit to Heaven
“People say Haiti is hell on earth, but I feel like I’ve just been to heaven” Tom Gunkel, a team member said after returning from Cap Haitien.
Did you ever feel that your entire life was a preparation for one moment in time? I felt like that on my wedding day and again on my Confirmation in the Catholic Church.
This past week on our trip to Cap Haiten and our visit to the Missionaries of the Poor, I felt it again. At the end of the week, the priest blessed the Crucifixes purchased on our visit to the Citadel. He sent us off with a blessing as the brothers raised their hands and sang a song that I haven’t heard for 20 years.
O let the Son of God enfold You
With His Spirit and His love
Let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul
O let Him have those things that hold You
And His Spirit like a dove
Will descend upon your life
And make you whole
Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill Your Lambs
Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill Your Lambs
O come and sing this song with gladness
As your hearts are filled with joy
Lift your hands in sweet surrender
To His name
O give Him all your tears and sadness
Give Him all your years of pain
And you'll enter into life
In Jesus' name
As tears of thanksgiving flowed from my eyes I had a profound sense that every moment in my life, all the joys and sorrows, all the skills and education, and my whole spiritual journey, prepared me for this time, this trip to Cap Haitien.
I thought of a broken hearted little girl who spent years craving and searching for a father’s love, a love that could only be fully realized in union with God, her heavenly Father. I thought of the time when I realized that God had been with me from the moment of conception showering me with His love and waiting for me to surrender to Him. I thought of my years of wandering and searching for a home, never truly settled in any one church and discovering the all along Jesus was waiting for me in the tabernacle, beckoning me to “taste and see…”
I thought of my dear husband, a gifted, compassionate physician, inspiring me with his stories of Haiti to make a visit myself and see Jesus in the “least of these.” I thought of my time in nursing school being chastised by instructors and studying for hours on end in library basements and locked away in my room.
I thought of my first trip to Haiti as a nurse, taking my first blood pressure and dressing my first wound. I remembered all the Haiti fundraising concerts for Sts. Simon and Jude, and all the planning, organizing, and coordination.
I remembered the earthquake and how devastated we were, watching the Haitian’s cry out for help to remove their loved ones from the rubble and not being able to do anything for them. I remembered our visit to Sts. Simon and Jude after the earthquake and our first encounter with the Missionaries of the Poor.
Their beautiful smiles and gentle spirits drew me in immediately. They prayed and worked and listened to our stories of discovering the Catholic Church. I knew after meeting them that we must make a visit to their home in Cap Haitien, that somehow, I had to plan a trip.
So we sent out an e-mail and received a response. A date was set and the planning began. And as we stood there in front of the priest on our last day with the Missionaries of the Poor this past week, I thought of all the preparations that brought us to this moment. I remembered the hours of looking for airfares and calculating costs, of changing reservations and cancelling tickets. I thought of the trips to the store to purchase medicine and supplies. I remembered the e-mails back and forth to Brothers Johnson and Sagash, and ordering the medicine and packing it up.
I thought about flying to Miami and spending the night at the airport. I remembered meeting Brother Sagash for the first time at the Cap Haitien airport standing there in his white robe with a big welcoming smile. I thought of our drive through the city up to the huge blue gates opening at the sound of a car horn to a lush garden, an oasis of prayer and service to the poorest of the poor.
I thought of the tour of the grounds, of the homes for the elderly and disabled, of people mangled and disfigured who would otherwise have been left to die in their own excrement. We were so touched and amazed by the brothers’ gentle care for the lives entrusted to them.
Our first two days were spent washing and providing medical care. All we could say was “wow” as we watched each patient treated with dignity and respect. The rooms were odor free and the wounds freshly dressed. Our visit to the disabled children’s home was overwhelming. One of the brothers would lift up the children and place them before the doctor as if they were their own. Since many of the children could not speak because of profound neurologic damage, the brothers would speak for them, explaining their ailments with a gentle fatherly compassion. The children call them “Papa” because they are like fathers to them and you could just feel the love and joy in the midst of their suffering.
As we stood there in the chapel on that last day of our trip, I thought of all the grace filled moments where each one of us had a profound sense of God’s loving care, not only for the Haitans, not only for the brothers but for each one of us in our own circumstance, on our own journey of faith in our own little way. God had brought us together, just the right group, with just the right skills, and spoke to us with just the right words, leaving each of us with a sense that after this visit with the Missionaries of the Poor, we would never be the same.