This trip to the beach was a special one.
The American teams that work with GVCM orphanage had never gone to the beach with a group of kids before. It was a new vision, a new dream this year. We piled into trucks, drove for three hours from the mountains down toward the coast, and were rewarded when we pulled up to a hotel property covered in flowers and set on the backdrop of the sea.
It didn’t take long for all of us to put on swimsuits and sprint for the pool.
We swam, we jumped, we splashed. We brought out squirt guns and inner tubes and beach balls. There may have been a chicken fight or two.
It was a chance for these kids to really be kids. To laugh and play, to feel the sand between their toes and taste the salt of the sea for the first time. From what I heard, almost none of the kids had been to the ocean before. And they were born and raised on an island!
The beach was a gift – for all of us.
I think our beach stay was a unanimous highlight of this trip to Haiti, and not just because of the setting. Multiple times during our stay, I felt a kind of peace deep inside me that I can only explain as God. His delight for his children. I felt his smile, his laugh as we played. I watched my team members of all ages melt into childlike joy at the water’s edge and I watched my Haitian friends put their toes in the ocean for the first time. And it was undeniable. He loves us, I thought. His kiddos. It was freeing and fulfilling.
In between playing and laughing and taking in the sheer beauty of the view, we spent some intentional time with the young men and young women we had brought with us from the orphanage.
The guys gathered by the pool. They shared testimonies and read through Proverbs 27 – “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” And pretty soon, they started a contest to see who could do the most push-ups. Boys, I tell you.
As for the girls – we gathered on the porch. The breeze from the ocean played with our wet hair and the thin pages of our Bibles.
It was incredibly special to ask these young women – with the help of an interpreter, Gabby, who herself had lived in the GVCM orphanage – what they wanted to be when they grew up. An artist. A doctor. A teacher.
And slowly, they let us in. They told us about when they first felt God’s realness in their hearts. They told us their life verses and the verses they recite before they go to sleep. They told us what they do in those moments when they just need a mom.
“We go to God,” they said.
These girls, I tell you. Wisdom beyond years.
We shared tough questions and prayer requests and the words of Isaiah:
The Lord has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Oil of joy. A garment of praise. A crown of beauty.
Common, everyday items take on a brilliance when they’re in the hands of our God.
We too, common guys and gals, take on a brilliance deep within us when we rest in His capable hands. We were never made ordinary. We were crafted in the image of the King – born into royalty. He loves us.
This is the message we shared with these six young women we had gotten to know.
And to show these girls just how beautiful, how royal they are in God’s eyes, we pulled out tiny, plastic tiaras, and passed them around.
They were just tiny, party store crowns. But oh, you should have seen how those young women made them shine!
Gabby. Floncia. Alonda. Maslo. Gabby. Miriam. Shalonda. Vita. These girls took on a new beauty as they fitted the crowns into their beautiful black hair. Shoulders back, heads held high, smiling.
“You are a Queen, a true gift and a daughter of the King,” their crowns seemed to say. “You have been beautifully created and intentionally placed.”
When Haitian pastors dream dreams for their nation, and for their people, they say that what Haiti needs isn’t money or resources or new ideas or new systems, but rather strong leaders with hearts for God who will lead the country to higher ground.
These, I pray, are some of those leaders. These sweet girls with the crowns on their heads and the knowledge of God’s love rooted deeper in their hearts. Those strong, relentless boys doing dozens of push-ups by the pool.
These men and women that made our beach trip so special.
Each time I visit the ocean, I like to take a little moment to just float on my back and soak in the grandeur of my surroundings. I let go of my feet, let go of my control, breathe deep, and look up at the sky. Something about this posture puts me in a good posture of the heart, too.
“Wow.” I think as the waves rock me, body and soul. “God, you’re big. You imagined this body of water, its motion and its vastness. And you knew that, one day, I’d splash my little feet in it and laugh with a deep, unhindered joy.”
I have done this little float, along with a little prayer, in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean. The choppy inlet off of Catalina Island in California, the bright-turquoise shallows in Key West, the frigid waters off the western coast of Ireland.
And on the sixth day of our trip to Haiti, I floated here.
Near me, our team was covering the stony beach with laughter and fellowship. Kids, one and all, bounced off of the giant water trampoline into the waves. Several of our team members were teaching little ones how to swim. Travis dove in to pick up a starfish from the bottom of the ocean. We then passed it around, all of us ooo-ing and ah-ing over its tiny pores.
“Wow,” I thought, these blissful sounds muted by the saltwater in my ears. “God, you imagined all of us with the same care you used when imagining your oceans.”