In My Heart by Lauren Casanova 1


haiti 2015 199God placed mission work on my heart from an early age – even as a child I had this strange feeling of unity with orphaned, ill and oppressed children around the world whom I’d never even met. I spent the majority of my life with this burning desire to be a missionary. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when, I didn’t even know if – but I wished and prayed that one day I would be able to reach the people who needed to be reached the most.

Being that this was something I had dreamed of for my entire life, you’d think that saying “yes” to God would have rolled off the tongue a little easier than it actually did. But, it turns out that when the opportunity presented itself I was feeling a bit tongue-tied. I shouldn’t have been afraid. I know God created me (and everyone) with great purpose and He wouldn’t lead me to danger. But sometimes God asks us to do scary things. It’s not because He wants us to be scared, but because He’s pushing us to better ourselves. He wants us to trust Him and in doing so to find freedom. He has our best interest in mind every second of every day. He wants us to realize that if we just let go of our human insecurities and the tendencies we have to control every single thing, if we just let Him be in control of our lives, that He will show us beauty and glory like we have never known. A simple “yes” to God can change your life. I know this because it recently happened to me. This is my testimony…

Let’s begin by covering how I ended up traveling to the dot in the middle of the Caribbean Ocean known as Haiti. It wasn’t totally unplanned, but it was definitely spur of the moment. Okay, let’s get real – it was totally unplanned. I was having a really hard day – one of those days where you’re so stressed out that you just cry because it’s all you can do to not explode. All of a sudden, in the midst of my waterworks and from out of nowhere, Haiti crossed my mind. So two months before departure, I texted Andrew on a whim to see if there were any spots left for this year’s trip. To my surprise, he texted back, “Wow, yes. I was actually just texting a girl to let her know that someone just dropped out and we have one female spot left. If you want it, the spot is yours.”

My thoughts in the order in which they were received:

  1. “Okay, I wasn’t expecting that. Now what?”
  2. “This is so spontaneous! I haven’t planned anything. MUST. PLAN. EVERYTHING.”
  3. “Maybe I should just do it. What could go wrong?”
  4. “What a silly question…”
    1. “Our plane could crash.”
    2. “I could get kidnapped.” (I shouldn’t have watched Taken)
    3. “Do they have brain-eating parasites in Haiti?”
  5. “When he said ‘anti-malaria medicine’, did he mean actual malaria?

You get the picture…I was nervous. And maybe I’m a worry wart – big deal. But, then I started thinking about all the amazing things that could happen from a trip like this. I started to think of all the kids that I would get to play with and love. Kids I’ve dreamed of helping my entire life. I thought about the effect that I could have on these people – the effect that these people could have on me. I knew that this experience would be different and it may be a little bit scary, but I knew that it would also be life-changing in the most incredible way. So I prayed about it and I asked God to give me a sign – anything to let me know that it was His will for me to go on this trip. Well, God didn’t send me a rainbow or a dove with an olive branch, but He washed over me a sense of peace that I know came only from Him. So with that peace, I finished my application (except for the part asking for my blood type which I still shamefully don’t know) and sent in my deposit.

                  Haiti welcomed me with a brick wall of suffocating heat. Growing up in south Louisiana, you’d think that this wouldn’t faze me. But, this was a different kind of heat because I knew that this heat would not soon be relieved by the sweet angel kisses of air conditioning. If I’m being honest, I experienced a brief moment of complete panic. It wasn’t the fact that I wouldn’t have air conditioning or modern amenities for a week. It was the fact that this was the moment that reality set in that I was actually in a third-world country. In fact, I was in the Big Kahuna of the third world countries. I stood in this foreign land hundreds of miles away from my home, my family, modern medicine and the only way of life I’ve ever known. This was a scary moment for me, but I had dreamed of mission work since I was young and I had faith that God intended for me to be on this trip.

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We’ve all heard of Haiti at some point – the poverty, the orphans, the earthquake. Even so, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, I’m here to report that in no way, shape or form could I have ever been prepared for what I saw. The devastation in Haiti is inconceivable. I can’t remember if I even spoke a single word during our drive through Port-Au-Prince. Both sides of the road are surrounded by the “marketplace.” You can imagine it like this – someone threw a bunch of food, old clothes and goats in a dumpster, put the dumpster on a Tilt-O-Whirl, flipped it upside down a couple of hundred times and then dumped it out on the side of the road. That’s what the marketplace looked (and smelled) like. People flock the streets of this city that’s in shambles. Women sit at stands selling food and clothing while men line the sides of the road begging you to buy a bag of water from them (which you can’t drink unless you’re looking to leave the country with a little more than souvenirs). All of these things were devastating to me, but it wasn’t until a young boy selling water caught my eye that reality hit me – and it hit me hard.

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This child was no more than 13 years old, standing outside my window of our bus begging us to buy water from him. His eyes were the deepest brown I had ever seen and his young skin already aged by the sun. He had the kind of eyes that are a window into the soul. As I locked eyes with him, it felt as though someone was actually piercing my heart and my eyes instantly filled with tears. Without saying a word, his eyes told me everything. In an instant, I saw the pain and the struggle he endures just to survive. When I was 13 I was worried about playing with my friends, bugging my little brother and getting home from school in time to watch Trading Spaces. And here this little boy is begging – in sweltering heat – on the side of the road in the hopes that some foreigner will buy his bag of water for a dollar. This was the most serious reality check I have ever experienced. I recently read a quote that said, “Sometimes you need a reminder that your own life isn’t that tough.” This was my reminder, and I read it loud and clear.

As we exited town and moved into the countryside, a different picture appeared; one that included sugarcane fields, lush jungle mountainsides, livestock in all directions and panoramic views of it all. It was during this drive that the irony hit me – how a place can simultaneously be so spectacular and yet so devastated. During our drive, we hit a couple of bumps in the road (pun absolutely intended) and after a long 4 ½ hours we finally arrived at our final destination – La Vallée de Jacmel. We were greeted by a rainstorm and a local man who would be our guide for the week. He was so excited to welcome us and to inform us that their village hadn’t seen rain in four months until today when we arrived. He told us that even though the people don’t speak our language they will know that we are there to do good because our arrival brought rain. (Can you say cool?)

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Much to my liking, we ended up with a small posse of Haitian children who followed us around everywhere we went – affectionately known as “dem boyz.” They would wait outside the gate of our hotel for us every single morning until we came outside to greet them. Knowing that those sweet faces were out there waiting to smile at us was all I needed to get a little pep in my step each morning. So every morning, we would wake up, go eat breakfast and then be on our way for our day’s mission. This might not strike you as difficult at first thought, but eating this big, beautiful breakfast every morning while I knew these children were sitting 50 yards away with nothing to eat was heart-wrenching. So I did what any good Southern girl would do – I started to pocket extra bananas and bread rolls when the hotel staff wasn’t looking to bring to them once we made it outside.

I had this recurring desire to make the people of La Vallee happy which seems simple enough, but was actually quite complicated. Give them what they need to be happy, right? The question is, though, what do they really need to be happy? In America, we see it as simple as supply and demand. They need shoes? Give them shoes. They need a bed? Build IMG_4710them a bed. The thing is, it’s not a supply and demand problem. It took me a few days of being in Haiti to realize that these people already are happy. We spent our days with children who were wearing shoes that were two sizes too small, people whose roofs had gaping holes in them and one little boy who literally slept on a pile of his t-shirts because his family couldn’t afford a mattress for him. They don’t have TV, they don’t have Wi-Fi, they don’t have running water or electricity – they have nothing. But, where they have nothing, they have everything because they have each other. You can’t walk by someone in La Vallee who doesn’t have a smile on their face. They spend their days working in the fields, sitting on the side of the road selling food from their stands and doing whatever else it is they do to provide for their families. And they do it all with a big, beautiful smiles.

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. – Frederick Keonig

One of the most incredible things I witnessed while I was there was the way the kids looked out for each other. We have this joke among the Mission Renewers that we like to call “give me.” It was one of the only English phrases that most of the kids knew and it would usually end up on repeat when we would break out the bags of candy. It’s funny to laugh about, but kids will be kids no matter where you are in the world. Even with “give me,” when you gave these kids something, they wouldn’t auFullSizeRendertomatically want to hoard it and keep it for themselves. When we were passing out candy/snacks/protein bars, I would watch them closely and when they would get something they would immediately turn to their siblings and friends and make sure to give them a piece too. They were constantly watching out for each other, sharing and caring for one another to make sure that the other survives. I started to see the true beauty of these remarkable people and to realize that they might have a thing or two to teach me.

With each passing day and each experience, I fell more in love with the people of Haiti. One day we were walking home from planting trees when I glanced up the hill and saw a lady carrying a baby swaddled in a blue cloth. Being the baby-lover that I am, I couldn’t help but to walk up to her and ask to see her sweet little bundle of joy. She eagerly unwrapped the pile of cloth to reveal a beautiful, perfect 8 day old baby boy. My heart was in the midst of exploding from pure joy when she said something that stopped me dead in my tracks. “Please, you will take my baby?” Her words will echo in my heart forever. The fact that this new mother felt compelled to give her baby to a complete stranger just because she knew I was American and could give her baby a better life absolutely broke my heart. This was one of the most profound moments that I experienced while I was in Haiti and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. It made me even more aware of just how destitute things really are for theshaiti 2015 159e people. I handed her baby back to her with tears in my eyes, knowing the struggles that they are both sure to face in the future and wishing that I actually could take him for her.

The people of Haiti were so grateful for our presence and our service. One day after planting hundreds of new saplings along the side of the road, a local man came up to us and told us how much this meant to their community. He said, “When you leave and go back to America, you will take your body and your heart, but you will be in my heart forever because today you have helped my people.”

It was hard for me to leave Haiti – the night before we left I cried for at least 3 hours. I had fallen in love with these kids that followed us around like puppies all week and the thought of telling them goodbye was heart-wrenching. I’m a nurturer by nature, so my instinct was to stay and care for all of my new friends. I almost felt as though I needed to protect them. While our plane was taking off, I was looking over the mountains that were blanketed by black storm clouds and wondering whether or not my friends had shelter from the storm. I was so worried about them that it made me feel sick, but all I could dorainbowwas pray. So I quietly asked God to please protect them, wherever they were. I kid you not, I picked my head up from praying and looked out the window to see the most beautiful, full rainbow stretching from mountain to mountain. Smiling, I relaxed because God finally gave me my rainbow and I knew I didn’t have to worry anymore. He was letting me know that I can trust Him – He loves the people of Haiti even more than I do.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? – Matthew 6:26-30

I left for Haiti expecting to change some people’s lives, but when I got to Haiti what I realized is that they changed mine. My first mission trip completely exceeded my expectations. I would say that it fulfilled my dream, but I now know that my dream has only just begun. I left a piece of my heart in Haiti that day – a piece of my heart that I will never get back. My life will go on while I’m away, but I look forward to the day that my heart will be whole again when I return to Haiti – the place that I love.

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One thought on “In My Heart by Lauren Casanova

  • Katie Harrington

    I just read this from a friend’s Facebook share and I want to say thank you for sharing this. When I was in high school, I traveled to Thailand and also Guatemala. It was the most heart wrenching times I had as a young woman-new place, new language, new life experiences(many that I could have never experienced in America). Those experiences are what made me want to become a teacher. As I end my 4th year of teaching, this was a great refresher for me. Something to remind myself of the call to serve others. Keep up the wonderful work! God Bless!