Sometimes you experience something that redefines who you are — an experience that hits your heart so hard it leaves you breathless. That moment in my life happened in Thomazeau, Haiti.
I am a senior at Texas A&M University, and I am a member of an organization called Aggie Sisters for Christ. I had always wanted to go on a missions trip, so when the announcement for the annual Aggie Sisters missions trip came, I signed up before knowing anything about Thomazeau or LiveBeyond, the organization with which we would be working. Little did I know, but that summer would create a special place in my heart for people with mental and physical disabilities.
If you ask anyone who has been to Thomazeau with LiveBeyond about a woman named Annette, they will tell you that they have never seen a more tragic and infuriating situation. Annette is a woman with developmental disabilities who makes pig noises because she has been locked in a hut with pigs her whole life. The people in her village treat her terribly. When I saw her face covered in dirt and watched her gulp down Gatorade desperately, it was one of those moments that both tore at my heart and made me want to punch someone.
After a second trip to Thomazeau, I couldn’t stay away. I returned for my third time this past July and served as an intern for three weeks. I volunteered in the clinic, treating children who had scabies, taking blood pressure and holding precious babies. I also had the privilege of taking care of a 52-pound, 18-year-old girl named Sheila.
Sheila developed bacterial meningitis several years ago. She now has a developmental disability and is starving to death because her family does not care for her, which is far too common an occurrence for those with disabilities in the developing world. We brought Sheila to the base almost every day to bathe her, feed her and love on her. Sheila is such a precious, curious girl who loves fruit snacks and holding your hand. I loved spending time with her.
One afternoon, I was feeding Sheila some Pringles when Marie Nicole, one of the Haitian workers, walked into the room. She saw Sheila’s bony figure and immediately closed her eyes, raised her hands and started praying fiercely in Creole. She then sat next to me with watery eyes and began helping me place the Pringles in Sheila’s mouth. Later that day, Sophie, another Haitian worker, came into the room and combed and braided Sheila’s hair while softly singing to her.
Between Two Worlds
Before I went to Haiti, I had spared little thought for what life might be like for people with disabilities in the developing world. In Haiti, this portion of the population, created in God’s image, is severely neglected, scorned and treated worse than animals. However, in those moments with Sheila, I saw a transformation of Haiti happening before my eyes — Haitians were caring for and loving those with disabilities.
My big moment happened when we dropped Sheila off at her house for the last time before I left Haiti. Leaving her on that straw mat broke my heart, knowing that when I return to my comfortable American home, she will still be in Thomazeau. While I am safe and respected, she will still be mistreated. While I live in luxury, she will still live in extreme poverty. While I eat food whenever I want, she will still be starving. While I sit in comfy chairs and sleep in my comfy bed, she will still be covered in scratches from sleeping on the hard gravel.
But I have so much hope. I have hope because we serve a good God. I have hope because I know that LiveBeyond is drastically transforming Haiti for the Kingdom of God. They are feeding the hungry, they are caring for the poor, they are looking after the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) and they are caring for Sheila. They are living like Jesus, sharing the good news and teaching the Haitians (just as much as the Americans) what it means to be a Christian and to defend the cause of the oppressed. And I know that one day, by God’s power, Sheila will be healed.
Every moment in Thomazeau changed me. My time there taught me that our purpose as Christians is not to live a life of comfort for ourselves — our purpose is to give up our comfort so that others may live. Our purpose is to live like Jesus and defend the cause of the oppressed. I am no longer content with living for me. Every moment of my time should be spent living like Jesus and improving the lives of my brothers and sisters.
Claire Bartlett is a senior at Texas A&M University majoring in allied healthcare. She has served on three missions trips to Haiti, most recently serving as a summer intern with LiveBeyond, where she helped in whatever ways were most needed, largely assisting people with disabilities.
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