Samantha White is one of our five FOCUS missionaries. On March 3-10th, 2018, she directed a mission trip to Haiti with her FOCUS teammates Eric Goetz and Emily Cates and Baylor students Bella Chavez, Marie Meyer, Stacey DeLeon, Julian Nguyen, Ellie Gibb, Madison Garret, and Jimmy Tran.
I encountered poverty and illness in a way I never have before on this mission trip to Haiti. It touched my heart deeply and transformed me.
One particular day of the trip changed me. We went to what is called the Home of the Dying, an apostolate of Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Here, the poorest of the poor are housed, given nourishment and end of life care. The residents here were suffering from tuberculosis and actively dying of HIV/AIDS. We had the opportunity to go and serve, love and pray there.
I went to this site with three Baylor University students, all of whom are in my St. Peter Catholic Student Center bible study back here in Waco. We’ve been journeying together for a year and half so far.
The Road Behind & Ahead
Our journey was ever continuing and ever growing as we rode in the back of the Jeep. Driving in Haiti is a lot different then in Texas. Our heads knocked against the ceiling as the Jeep hit potholes and flying forward as the as the breaks would be abruptly hit. While in the car with the girls, I remember looking around and thinking to myself that I would have never guessed when we met on campus during fall outreach that we would all find ourselves in authentic friendship, deep fellowship and in the midst of Port-au-Prince Haiti, squeezed in the back of a Missionary of Charity car bouncing around on the bumpy roads headed to be with the sick and dying. God is wild! He is also so beautiful and so good.
A Glimpse Into Eternity
The time spent with men and women at this compound felt like a glimpse into eternity. At the Home of the Dying, we prayed with patients that were sick in bed. Two students went from bed to bed in the hospital praying with patients. They were brave and bold and did this for about an hour or so.
Hands of Love
Meanwhile, another student and myself were assigned nail painting duty. We were excited! We each had nail polish in hand, and when we walked to the place that the sisters had instructed we found ourselves in the midst of about 20 women, all of whom were suffering and dying from HIV/AIDS. We began pantomiming as we attempted to communicate with them what we could paint their nails if they would like. They speak creole in Haiti. We didn’t know much Creole, but we got really good at pantomiming! It didn’t take long before the women understood and all raised their hands indicating that they would like a turn!
I went over to the first woman who had raised her hand. I had my nail polish ready, and I pulled up a chair next to her. She was in a wheelchair so she did not have full control over her limbs, mainly her arms. They would jerk unexpectedly left and then right. Her eyes were glazed over a bit, and she had difficulty speaking. I felt frightened as I reached out for her hand to gently bring it back to my lap after it jerked involuntarily and continued painting her nails. I was hesitant by how sick she was and how some nails were missing, how we couldn’t communicate well because of the language difference.
The Words in My Heart
Another woman soon after the first woman was finished, made it known that she wanted her toes painted. I went over, sat on the ground and held her foot and began painting her toenails. The words “You did it to me” began pulsing through my heart seemingly in the same rhythm of my heartbeat. Next, another woman wanted her fingernails painted. During each encounter with a frail shaking hand or with a pair of feet that looked as if they had been worn from years of work, my heart was whispering the Lord’s words, “What you do for the least of these…”
I was grateful for these beats of encouragement through Sacred Scripture that the Lord was reminding me. I was thankful because I’m a weak human and I need help loving.
It was here, in these moments in which the choice had been presented to me. Would I lean in to this discomfort for the sake of love or to step back and let fear have its way? Would I do what I could to touch these women and help them feel beautiful? My limits were being tested. It was also here, that our good Lord encouraged me further on with His words of scripture. I heard in my heart still the gentle soft echoed “Whatever you do for the least of these, you did it to me.”
An invitation from the Lord each time I heard these echoes. How could I refuse Him? The one in whom my heart loves! Encouraged by His sacred words, I was capable to then reach out and with both of my hands and hold other women’s shaking hands too. It seemed as though it was one pair of shaking hands to another. Two very different people, from different lives coming together in the same humanity. Before each nail painting this was the routine: shaking hands, eye contact and smiles, then nail painting, laughter, eye contact, and even singing!
Where Encountering My Limits Led Me
There is something miraculous that happens when you reach the point of your limits and ask God to help carry you pass them, I’d like to think that it is these specific moments in time – when the Lord is invited into – that these are the ones that become timeless; that they transport us into moments that become eternal. Sitting there that day, holding the hands of a women whom I do not the name of, but that I was quickly filled with love for, I’d like to think that I tasted a bit of eternity. We knew one another on a different level as we smiled back at each other, they looked at her freshly painted nails, as we sang to one another, finding that the only word we both knew was ‘hallelujah’ and so, that is what we sang to one another. It also seemed the most fitting for us. We were the same in the these moments, we were perhaps more alike then anyone that I had back home in this moment. Deep was speaking to deep.
After a few hours with these women, the driver who brought us to this site pulled up. It was time to return to the guest house that we were staying at. I looked at the woman I ended up spending the most time with that day, I told her goodbye and unexpectedly in perfect English she told me, “I love you!” I stared at her, shocked, I didn’t know she knew any English words, and she, through her smile she prompted further and told me again, “I love you.” I responded this time, with my whole heart and said “I love you too.” She smiled and we hugged and as I walked away, tears were streaming down my cheeks.
Why We Cry
Sometimes we do not know why we cry, sometimes we have an idea. My theory is that love which my heart and every heart is made for was blooming. She provided me with a fountain of water for my weak heart to spread out its petals and receive from the person in front of me. One broken human to the next, met on a deep level under unusual circumstances and they loved one another. All beginning with someone who wanted their nails painted and a gal that just happened to have nail polish on her. It’s funny the things that can bring people together.
The trip taught me how important drawing close to others is. Whether it be a child who is malnourished in Haiti, a women dying of HIV/AIDS, or your classmate that you see every week or even your sibling. We are all people in need of love. We are called by God to be His hands and feet, and it is so important that we are.
Love’s Deep and Vast Nature & The Things That Matter Most
The depths of love are deep and vast, may we always lean in to love and push onwards. May we always have courage to draw close to those in pain. May we be the ones that remind the untouchables that they can be held, that they are likable and more importantly, lovable. May we be that for one another here in our country as well, where loneliness prevails around each phone screen. May we dare to come close, our hearts are after all, dying for it. My time in Haiti helped me see how important community is, how much we need one another on this journey and how worth it is to dare to take the risk of loving another.
Read about our FOCUS missionaries at St. Peter Catholic Student Center in Waco, Texas here.