Nearly eight years ago, I went on my very first mission trip. I was in a new church and was on fire for more, more stretching my faith, more purpose, just…more. I had zero experience in the mission field, but my heart leaped with opportunity. The group was going to the Dominican Republic. Now, I know that many of you are thinking, that’s a paradise, it’s beautiful there. While I wholeheartedly agree, there are very dark areas in this country that shares the island with Haiti. Our team leader had strong connections within the Haitian community residing in the DR. Our journey began in the beautiful area of Santo Domingo, in a house-turned-church, with Pastor Elvis….yes, Elvis.
We were a part of a gathering of church women and several of our team members spoke at the “retreat”. I was totally enamored with the fullness of joy in this church; these women were on fire. Each woman greeted us with a big embrace and I instantly felt loved. Even in the most enthusiastic church service, I have never experienced the big, vibrant,energetic, unteathered worship. This newbie was freaked out, excited, sweaty and ready to stretch more. I am forever thankful for my team and the church family in Santo Domingo for turning me into Stretch Annisa, pulled in directions I never new possible. But this was only the beginning….
As I mentioned earlier, our team leader had strong ties to the Haitian community in the DR (as well as Haiti itself). I don’t know the intricate details of the relationship between the two communities, but it felt as though this little village was a blemish on the beautiful city. This little church was also a house/church, but this was nothing like the other. This neighborhood was dark, tiny, dirt streets, and an overall air of desperation and heartache. Many of the residents of this neighborhood were refugees that fled Haiti, seeking a better life. I’m not sure if it was a better life for them; I have no idea what it looks like to go from absolute zero hope to only a glimmer of hope. We enter the tiny – dirt floor church and Pastor Esdres and his wife (Madame) greet us with hugs. You can feel a difference in the air here, the atmosphere of desperation. We felt loved by the pastor and family, but there was something choking out any other love or joy. While I was feeling a hunger for more faith in the earlier church, these people were hungry. Seriously hungry. Being the generous hosts, Pastor & Madame Esdres show us around the building. From the meeting space, there was a small room to the side that served as an office/prayer room. Going back through the ‘sanctuary’ we went up stairs to one room that served as the pastor’s residence. ONE ROOM! No refrigeration, only one mattress and a hot plate. Pastor & Madame had 6 children, one of which was a recently adopted little girl with special needs. I was doing my very best to not weep a river of tears, I failed miserably. With tears streaming, I knew that we had to offer them a gift of something. Where do you begin? What gifts are sufficient from a group of mama’s who’s hearts are splintering at the sight of such poverty?
We retreated to the sanctuary for the service. The air in the room was stifling. The sweat rolling down our faces and every other imaginable place. It wasn’t just the heat, it was the lack of joy. The lack of hope. The faces were flat and unemotional. Even the children. I’ve never witnessed anything like it, then or since. Our team leader knew some Haitian Creole and helped us through the service. At one point we invited all the children to come forward so that we could sing with them. I don’t even remember the song, I remember the other senses heightened. The smell, the sight of the flat faces, the sound of several struggling white girls trying to connect to the children. A little mama approached me during the song and handed me her beautiful baby boy. She too, wanted her child to be included in the blessing of the kiddos. Like many mama’s I love to sniff babies.This may be the one fragrance that will stay with me more then the scent of my own children. This sweet boy snuggled in instantly, recognizing that he was safe in my mama arms. I breathed him in, as the tears roll out my eyes from my heart.
As we finished our songs, the children went back to their seats as we made our way back to ours. I chose a seat next to the baby’s mama and handed back this snuggle bug. Haitian Mama folded her arms and shook her head no. Again, I attempted to hand him back and again she said no. At this moment, in a nano-second, my mama’s heart shattered into a million pieces even while I didn’t understand what was happening. I sat through the service beside her, trying to connect with her. I placed a hand on hers, I would lay out the boy on my lap and smile at him and her, I wanted to know her heart. What her heart was saying to mine. She did not engage with me and I finally understood what her heart’s voice was saying. She had no hope. The only hope she may have had was for her sweet baby boy. She wanted him to have a future of prosperity, a chance for a better life. She believed that a life with this white stranger would be better than what she could provide. She had no clue who I was. She had no idea what kind of emotional turmoil my home life was in, the tailspin of my marriage, the heartache and ‘crazy’ I kept hidden from so many; even myself.
Her love for her son, her mama’s heart, wanted better for him. It wasn’t that she was a bad mother, she was indeed the most generous mama I’ve ever met. To love someone so much that they are willing to suffer and surrender in order to save him. I continued to cuddle him and tried to extend love to her for the rest of the service. As the service closed, we stood for the closing. Again, I tried to hand him back, again, she folded her arms. I fell apart. My mama heart crumbled yet my crazy brain tried to make a plan of how to get him home. Our group is assembling to make the return trip to our host church home and I’m an absolute mess. I’m not sure if anyone knew what was happening between the heart strings of two mamas. My logical brain said give him back, my mama heart said maybe, and reality said no way. My team is heading to the door as I’m still trying to figure out how to handle this. As I clutch this sweet sweet boy, I whisper a prayer to heaven on his behalf. To bless him richly, to keep him safe, to let him always know of the love of his heavenly father and the love of two mama’s hearts.
I don’t even remember the moment clearly, nor do I remember who snapped these photos, but a moment later I was able to hand him to his mama and she accepted him. Like the coward I am, I ran for the door. I ran from the sacrifice of a mama that cherished her child. I ran from the desperation that choked me. I wanted to be somewhere safe from this emotion, this heartache, this pain.
It’s only years later, that I can write about this sweet boy. It is a memory that I had tucked down deep, buried. A soul sister/team member sent me a link to the pictures. She stated that she didn’t remember seeing the photos. They were stamped on my heart. As I look at the sweet boy, I remember his smell, I remember the feel of him nuzzled in to me. While I remember the desperation in his mama’s eyes.
I find myself in a season of a mama’s broken heart. A time where my own children have retreated from me. I don’t know if they will ever know the brokenness and shattered heart of this mama, but in this moment, this timestamp, I know the heart of so many other mamas. Mama’s with empty arms, the heart of the mama’s broken dreams, the hearts that want more for their babies, no matter their age.
Next month I will be again joining a group of women who have a heart for reaching others. We will be entering a federal prison’s birthing center. Our heart is simply to extend our hearts with no judgement, to just love on them and their babies. This is a place where mama’s attempt to heal and learn from the past. Where they will learn how to be mamas that make better choices. To heal, to learn, to love. They will be able to bond with their child for nearly a year. And at that time, they will likely have to surrender that baby to the arms of a family member or a foster family while they finish the remainder of their sentence.
I trust in the love of my Heavenly Father that He will mend my broken mama heart. That He will use me in a way that can help stitch the brokenness of other broken hearts. I know that I can’t do it on my own. I know it’s in the will and blessing of the Fathers Love and the brokenness of a mama’s heart connecting to another mama’s heart, and another, and another….
Father God, help us to stitch together the hearts of the broken. Give us a heart that searches for other kindred hearts. Let each one of us be broken for the brokenhearted.
Lord, please comfort my Sweet Haitian Boy, protect him and keep him safe, shower him with love and may he ever now that he will forever be tied to my heart.
I know You know our hearts. That broken place of sacrifice. Please touch the hearts of the sons and daughters that have sought their own way. Lead them home.
Amen and amen