I recently had the opportunity to travel to Haiti. My father’s friend knew of a ministry in Haiti that needed help with their generators, so my father, a generator technician, jumped at the opportunity and brought me along. I didn’t know what to expect in Haiti. I knew it was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. I knew they didn’t speak English. I knew they needed help, or so I was told.
I had two major experiences. The first was a visit to an orphanage. We brought balloons, candy and coloring books for the children. I found myself “playing” soccer with two other Haitians who looked to be 15 and 12. Let’s just say soccer is not my sport. I laughed with them and communicated as best I could. They showed me — not verbally, but emotionally — that they, too, were teenagers who want to have fun but also have life ambitions — ambitions that, for them, would be much harder to accomplish than mine. I showed them compassion. I truly cared about them. I was authentic. I hope it impacted them.
The second experience was a conversation I had with a man named Phil. Phil is your quintessential Christian old man. I was doing homework when he walked up to me and inquired about my schooling. I told him I was a senior and wanted to major in English at Middlebury College. At my mentioning of Middlebury, he remarked that his brother “lost his faith” at that school. I quietly responded that I didn’t have a lot of faith to lose. At this, he looked at me and continued about how his faith “blossomed” when he went to Oberlin. He asked to pray for me. I cordially agreed. He prayed and then left. That’s all. When he came over to talk to me, he had no interest in who I was, what I was doing or what I wanted to do. Instead, he thought I would do better to listen his story. He was not compassionate. He did not truly care about me. He was not authentic.
These experiences made me think about mission trips, about helping others, about compassion. When Americans go on mission trips, who are they going for? Many go on mission trips to feel better about themselves. Going on a mission trip is a badge of honor within Christianity: “I have been on a mission trip. I have actually done something. I am a ‘good Christian.’” They want to see the results of their work. When one builds a house, he can say, “Look at what I have built.” It is instant gratification.
But when people go on mission trips, do they actually help? For some, a house is what they need. That was the case for Madame Christensen. She and her husband were unable to build housing for their children, so mission groups came in and built houses for them. But how much better off would Haiti be if people stopped bringing “stuff” and started bringing something that will better the people? Houses do not create an economy. Houses do not create infrastructure. Houses do not create change. Those are three major things Haiti needs. Housing is only aesthetic.
That is what I love about the ministry we worked with. FISH Ministries does not give the Haitians stuff; they teach them. They are starting classes to teach the Haitians agriculture, mechanics, medicine and construction. FISH Ministries gives them education — an opportunity to better themselves and their community. Education is not aesthetic. When FISH Ministries teaches the Haitians, they not only give the Haitians skills, but they also give them compassion. They take an interest in the Haitians’ lives. They care about the Haitians. They are authentic.
I also learned much about compassion. Through my experience with Phil, I saw how most people approach others — selfishly. I recognized this and made it my goal to never treat another person that way. This is applicable within all facets of life. Are we extending compassion to those around us, or are we extending compassion only to ourselves? Are we taking an interest in others, or are we only interested in ourselves? What is the most compassionate thing we can do in mission work? Build houses? Educate? Or simply take an interest in the foreign group?
I can tell you, when someone experiences compassion, they do not leave as the same person. They are changed. They realize life is not what they see around them — death, destruction, disaster. They realize that somewhere in the world, someone cares. These are questions we need to ask. Without asking these questions, we will be perpetually ineffective at all endeavors to authentically help someone.
Devin Brown is a senior at Fern Creek High School.