This is a guest post.
There are two phrases that I consistently use to describe our mission trip to Haiti—“it was interesting” and “we learned a lot.” One of our students recently attempted to call my bluff on this. “Beth, you do realize that those two phrases used in conjunction with one another are code for ‘it was terrible,’ right?”
It was not terrible; it was in fact a really good trip. It was by far one of my most adventurous service-immersion trips! I got to experience Haiti from the front seat of a four-wheel drive pickup truck—from the chaotic crammed streets of Port-au-Prince to the beautiful back roads of Barassa. I tried foods that I had never tasted before, I now know five full phrases of French, and I got to observe tarantulas in their natural habitat. It was interesting, and we learned a lot! I would be remiss if I tried to sugar coat the experience. It was not easy.
Our travel partners from the Eastern Illinois University Newman Center made it clear that our mission was to walk in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Haiti. While EIU has established some great relationships with various Catholic organizations, solidarity is not always clearly defined. Its ambiguity makes it inherently awkward and exhausting at times. Solidarity involves walking with people, not simply doing things for them. We lived closer to the earth than most of us are accustomed to—sleeping on lumpy cots on cement floors, taking cold showers, and eating “Fred” the chicken (a gift from a local farmer) for dinner. Most of us fell short in our ability to carry a meaningful conversation in Haitian Creole. Our ministry of presence—attending Mass, touring schools, visiting a nursing home, feeding and holding infants alongside the Missionaries of Charity, playing spontaneous games of soccer with the kids—sometimes seemed insufficient, especially in the wake of such tremendous need.
Our Sheil Catholic Center team engaged in a heated conversation late one afternoon. What are we doing here?! We wrestled with questions of purpose and the meaning of mission. We struggled with the ways our American culture, and the academic environment in which we live and work, predisposes us to a definition of “achievement” which seems to contradict a theology of mission that relies on the slow work of God. Our desire for immediate results left us frustrated.
After many months of discernment, it was pretty clear that God was calling us to Haiti. From my experience traveling with our students to Nicaragua, I knew this was a call for me to do “more” in response to God’s love. The Ignatian principle of magis is not about how much we can achieve by worldly standards. It cannot be measured in how much money we make or the amount of personal recognition we receive. Likewise, living in solidarity with the poor is not defined by how many houses are built or how many lives are changed. Rather it is measured by living in closer proximity, loving with greater affection, and suffering alongside our brothers and sisters. Magis invites us to freely respond to God’s call and to live more fully the life God intends for us.
It also means that we may never see the complete fruit of our labors. We had some promising conversations with potential partners in Haiti, and we continue to reach out to new contacts in the United States, but I cannot know for certain where this will lead. As we continue to discern our next steps, I trust that God will place more information and resources in our path if this is indeed the place he wants us to go. It was interesting, and we learned a lot—which is a whole lot more than I could say a few short months ago. AMDG!