Monday, September 12, 2016

Lessons on Giving from the Country of Haiti

My reflections on my family's recent trip to Haiti to visit our two Compassion children...

The Western World has given a lot to Haiti.

Billions of dollars in aid. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shipments of in-kind donations and material goods. Countless missions trips, volunteer trips, foreign consultations, UN missions, humanitarian missions, long-term placements.

And yet Haiti remains the most underdeveloped country in the Western Hemisphere.

All too often, people point to Haitians and say they must be doing something wrong with all that they've been given. But the people I met this summer - they are bright, warm, vibrant, welcoming, kind, compassionate, humble, joyful, smart and hard-working. They have families that they want the best for and futures that they dream of. They are just like you and me. They are no different, and no less capable of taking what's been given to them and creating a life in which they, their families and their neighbours can thrive.

In fact, being capable of that is part of the DNA God created us with. God gave to humanity all of creation and charged us with stewarding it to cultivate life, beauty, and community... to be human is to be capable of thriving when given something that Creator God deems very good.

And so perhaps, just maybe - could I ask a hard question here? 

Could it be us? Could it be us in the West that is doing something wrong with all that we've been given? 

You see, we were given all of creation and told to cultivate something beautiful for ourselves, for each other, for the glory of our Creator... but that wasn't enough for us. We wanted more. And in this greed for more, we've gotten good at taking what we've been given to create good lives for ourselves. So good, in fact, that we've created comfortable lives. Luxurious lives. Extravagant lives.

And what started out as using our God-given gifts to fulfill our mandate to cultivate creation and thrive in community, has turned into a horrible, destructive, broken tendency to create luxury for ourselves at the expense of others.

At the expense of a country like Haiti. 

It's rare of me to make sweeping generalizations about a country. And to be sure, there are huge inequalities in Haiti. There is a middle class and a select few ultra-rich.

But generally, what I saw there was poverty like I'd never seen it before. I saw poverty not as a crippling thorn or an urgent need. I saw poverty as the accepted way of life.

All because the West has given Haiti its leftovers. We've given our second-rate stuff. The stuff we need to get out of the way in order to make room for the next season's latest. We've given our time but not our lives. We've given haughty advice but not humble attentiveness. We've given money but not sacrifice nor love.

This is a super common sight everywhere here in Port-au-Prince... second-hand clothes for sale everywhere you see. These are clothes donated by people from America & Canada. Yes, donated clothes ending up being for sale! We who are from the first world need to curb our appetite for excessive consumerism which results in over-stuffed closets and having to donate our clothes often. If we own less and if we wear our clothes to the threads, then this problem wouldn't exist. Yes, it is a problem... because this practice has literally killed the garment industry here in Haiti. It is now mostly just for export. Haitians get to buy the very clothes they made only when those same clothes come back into Haiti as donated second-hand garments. This is just one aspect of this problem... I could say more, but this post is long enough already! This Jesus-call to live justly has many layers and many different ways of how we can change the way we live & consume... one of which is "to live simply so others may simply live." #Esparaz2Haiti #DoJustice #LoveMercy #WalkHumbly
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

For the first time in my life, I understood why Jesus condemned the rich people who gave at the temple out of their excess because I saw the damage that giving out of my own excess has done. The clothes I've bagged and sent to thrift stores without checking where those clothes actually go. The cheap toys or second-rate stuff I've sent with mission teams. I will be the first to raise my hand and say that I have not always given thoughtfully, sacrificially or generously.

We've given to Haiti out of our excess. We've given our leftovers, our second-hand stuff, our after-thoughts. What we've given has indeed not been what Creator God would call very good.

You see, we've given clothes, but we've taken away the business of a seamstress.

We've given rice, but we've taken away the livelihood of a farmer.

We've given houses, but we've taken away the dignity of home.

We've given stuff, but we've taken away the empowerment in choosing your possessions for yourself.

We've given aid and development programs, but we've taken away the pride in building up your own life, your own community, your own nation.

We thought we were giving so much, but were we really? We were giving the leftovers of our luxury so we could replace it with more luxury, and in the process we've taken away the people of Haiti's ability to fulfill their God-given mandate to take His very good creation and cultivate beauty, life, and community.

And yet.

Despite all that we've taken, the Haitian people and the country of Haiti still give.

They gave to my family and me as we were their guests for 6 days.

They welcomed us warmly. Like that moment when the mother of our Compassion boy Bell Bradley, Margaret, welcomed us into her home with such exuberance and joy and song that our translator could barely get a word in - but it didn't matter... Welcome sounds the same in every language.

A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

They opened their homes and their families to us. Like that moment we sat in our Compassion girl, Linsey's home and shared conversation and laughter and gifts and precious time with her entire family. Or those crazy-bumpy car rides during which we shared laughter and conversation with Bell Bradley's family.

#1000gifts #Esparaz2Haiti ~ Here we are inside Linsey's home with her mom and her 3 siblings. I want to just take a moment and tell you about her mom. This women is the same age as me. A single mom, struggling to feed her family. Her average income is US$100 per month. The difference between her and me is merely because I was born into privilege and she wasn't. We could've easily switched places... We asked what her family's greatest need is right now because we wanted to buy them a gift and she told us... a solar lamp, so that the kids can do their homework at night because electricity is very much touch & go here in Haiti. A solar lamp. Having light. Their most pressing need. Friends, we take that for granted in Canada! Needless to say, we got them a solar lamp! Proverbs 3:27-28 says: Do not withhold what is good from those who deserve it; if it is within your power to give it, do it. Do not send your neighbor away, saying, “Get back with me tomorrow. I can give it to you then,” when what he needs is already in your hand. Friends, we hold so much power & privilege in our hands. Let's do something with it to lift up the poor and the downtrodden among us... it's the least we can do! #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

#1000gifts ~ This is our @CompassionCA son Bradley. He & @genius4jesus are birthday buddies! Next week, Jon will turn 16 and Bradley will turn 10! Two boys whose lives could not be any more different. One born into privilege in Canada, one born into extreme poverty in Haiti. We are grateful that God has used the ministry of @Compassion and invited us to be a part of bridging this gap. Bradley is a budding trumpet player and attends Holy Trinity Music School, home of the Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra, the country’s best! Bradley is part of a program specifically aimed at youths living in the most disadvantaged areas of Port-au-Prince. This school provides training in music for Haitians of all ages and from all social strata. With Compassion's help in paying for school uniforms and extra school fees, Bradley is able to attend this prestigious school & has a head-start for the future! #Esparaz2Haiti #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

They shared their talents with us. Like that moment Linsey burst into song and shared her beautiful voice with us as we sat with her in the Compassion Centre's library. Or that moment Bell Bradley did the same the next day! (Singing was a theme of our visit days.) Or like those vendors who shared their beautiful crafts with us to take home as memories of our time in Haiti.

This is George whom @papa2greatkids is talking to. We met George & a few of his friends, Remy & Arnold among others, right when we arrived at the beach. They paddle along the beach selling souvenirs that they've made. Occasionally, the guards from the resort come by to shoo them away. At one point, we saw armed military personnel come to "scare" them away from the shore. My first inkling of what they do came from a local, a Haitian man who, like us, is also enjoying the resort. He said to me, "If you are looking to buy souvenirs, you should buy from them. They're just looking to make a living." We ended up buying about US$35 worth of souvenirs from three of them... a painting, a couple bracelets, a fridge magnet. They said we could haggle, we didn't. All day we were at the beach. They were too and I didn't see them have much more sales all day. Wow! If you buy into the stereotype that the poor are poor because they are lazy, this story should make you rethink that. All day long, these men paddle along the beach in the scorching heat. We saw them again the next day. That's hard work. Very hard work for probably less than $15 of sales. Sales, not profit. My point in sharing this story is this... the poor are hardworking people. They just lack opportunity. When it is in our power to give them a hand up, we should! One way that I know works is through child sponsorship with @CompassionCA/@Compassion. Friends, it works! I've seen it firsthand. Also, next time you're vacationing in one of these countries, make sure you engage with the locals and buy your souvenirs from them & not from the resorts' boutiques! Oh, and please don't haggle. ;) #Esparaz2Haiti #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

Haiti gave me rest and rejuvenation before the beginning of this new school year. Like those days at the beach resort where ocean waves and sandy beaches were the perfect company to rest and reflect and prepare my soul for the year ahead.

Haiti taught me lessons that a classroom would never be able to teach me. Like lessons about the power of a faithful organization such as Compassion, faithfully reflecting Christ to their own communities as the local church and gaining the trust and respect of even the most feared gangs in Haiti.

Daily, they give to so many other guests who I can only suspect had their lives changed or their faith renewed or their souls touched while in Haiti. Like the countless other Westerners I saw also travelling to, from, or within Haiti.

And they give to each other.

When given something very good, the people of Haiti, like any people, build something beautiful for themselves, for each other, for the glory of God. Yes, they're broken; yes, it's messy; yes, the make mistakes... just like you and me.

But just like you and I try to do each day, they cling to Jesus, put forward their lives to invest in their communities and invest in the Kingdom, and trust that Christ will do something beautiful in and through them.

I visited two local churches, just two examples of many, who are building something beautiful in their communities through the ministry of CompassionIn Jesus' name, they are raising up children out of poverty and into leaders who dream of becoming doctors and lawyers and engineers and everyday people who steward what God's given them to cultivate beauty, life, community, for themselves, for each other, for the glory of God. 

And after all they've given us, despite all we've taken, isn't time we gave something real? Something sacrificial? Something very good?

Like the rich in the temple, we've proudly given out of our excess, given our leftovers for long enough.

Might we start giving our best, our very good? Might we start giving with a posture of sacrifice rather than from a place of excess? 

Becoming a Compassion sponsor is one of the most tangible places to start. What they do is very good - I've seen it. Compassion isn't perfect, they don't have all the answers - nor would they ever claim to. But they are committed to faithfully putting what they know is very good - the influence and support of a strong local church, and most importantly, the gospel of Jesus Christ - into the lives of children in poverty, and watching those children begin to thrive. 

How can you give beyond your excess, your leftovers? Perhaps it's sponsoring one child. Perhaps it's three. Perhaps it's three hundred.

But I dare you I dare us to start giving better than our leftovers. To start giving what our Creator God would call very good. 

I dare us to start giving of our money, our time, our influence, our power, our privilege, our talents, our love, our very lives in radical, Kingdom-shaped ways... Because I believe that the beauty, the life, the community that God intended for us way back in Eden is waiting on the other side of that radical generosity. 

additional resources:
When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield
Poverty Inc. documentary


  1. Thank you, Alyssa. I so get this post. I saw so much of this in Haiti. My heart broke as I tried to work through it all. I too, kept thanking God for CI and the work they do. How sponsorship changes lives....

    I saw what you talked about first hand. It was so hard for me... its made me question how we as Americans think we are helping when we are really hurting. Thank you for your words.


    1. Thank you, Teena, for always hearing these words and nodding an encouraging yes alongside us. Thankful for you!!


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