The following is a brief chapter I wrote about our first Mission Trip, to Haiti, for my book "IN THE FOREWORD OF THE BOOK OF LIFE" .. which was just a collection of all the memories I could think of to write about. I did it 6 or 7 years ago, and many of the things I wrote about were 'way back there in the sludge of my memory. But this one was crystal clear, and still is:
On Saturday, April 11, 1970, I went with my friend Dave Van Veld, to a Men For Missions International breakfast in Indianapolis. Downtown at the Howard Johnson’s, in fact.
At the close of that meeting, Charlie Spicer announced they had 4 places left on the Haiti Family Crusade scheduled for July 1970. Instantly, I felt as if everyone in the room was looking at me. I even recall looking up and around the room, to see if they were. They weren’t. I did know, however, that something was happening. I told Charlie, on the way out, that I’d just mailed in my tax return on the way to the Breakfast, that if I got the return back by May 1st, the deadline for the $100 deposit, we’d go. Our tax refund was $105, and we would not have the money without it.
As Dave and I got into the car to go home, he said he had felt the same thing. My opinion, I said, was that we might ought to apply to go; that I would discuss it with Peggy when we got home. He said he’d talk to Diana.
I talked to Dave Monday and told him that Peg wasn’t at ALL interested in going. She said maybe I was called, but she wasn’t. Dave told me he’d talked to Diana and she wasn’t thrilled about it either, but he’d called MFMI headquarters to inquire, and they’d told him they’d already put the Clevelands and the Van Velds on the list, filling it, simply on faith.
More talks with Peg reached a sort of consensus that we ought to look into it, no promises, but let’s see what develops.
I talked to my boss, and told him I’d like to have that week in July off for vacation, so I could go on a mission trip. He said no.
We called my mom and dad. Our kids were 10 and 7 at the time, and they’d needed to be 12 to go on the trip, so we needed my Mom and Dad to keep them for the week. A couple days later, Mom called Peggy and “read her the riot act”. It seems there had been an “Insurgent Army” (actually 3 unhappy soldiers) which commandeered the entire Haiti Air Force (an old relic of a DC-3) and had bombed the Dictator’s Palace (pushed out a partially-full barrel of diesel fuel, which bounced harmlessly on the Palace yard), and didn’t we realize that revolutionaries always kill missionaries first and here we have these 2 kids who are going to be orphans?
Peg said as Mom was talking, she could envision “SATAN TALKING” written on the wall. Mom and Dad had no evident spiritual leanings at the time, had not evidenced any previously, and Peg figured if they didn’t think we should go, then we should.
So: we had no money to go; the cost was about $475 and we didn’t know where it would come from. We also had nobody to watch the kids, and my boss said I couldn’t go.
A few days later, we got a letter from Mom, and she apologized and said they’d be happy to come stay with the kids. And, oh, by the way, here’s a check to help pay for the trip.
Then, the Friday after I had mailed in the tax return .. a total of six days later .. we got the refund from the Government. That, after mailing it a few days before the deadline!
My boss called me in and said he knew there was something good about going on that trip, and I could have that time off, after all. And, by the way, here’s a check to help pay for it.
In early May, I got a birthday card from my brother, Art. He said he didn’t know what to get me that year, so he sent me a check. The ironic part of that is had never sent me a birthday present before that May. In fact, I don’t believe he ever did, again.
We had to have the final payment in by July 1st, and we were still $175 short. At the time, I was the Secretary-Treasurer of the Madison Avenue Businessmen’s Association. That entailed collecting the dinner tab from the members on meetings nights once a month, sending the bulletins out, receiving the reservations, and paying the restaurant every month. About the middle of June, the President of the Association called me about some Association matter. He then asked “Have you written yourself a check yet?”. I asked why I’d be doing THAT, and he said “On .. they didn’t tell you .. we pay the Secretary-Treasurer for the work you do”. I asked how much, and he replied “$175 a year”.
I was dumbstruck. My next question, as I wanted to do everything just right, was “When is that normally paid?”. He replied “Our fiscal year is July 1st through June 30th, so write it before the end of the month.”
God had provided, to the dollar, just what we needed.
Our church, now, promotes many mission trips every year. We’ve had several to Peru and Guatemala and Honduras. The usual format is to encourage people to put down the deposit, which is usually around $100, and then write letters to church friends enlisting their help in paying for the trip. I guess that’s ok, but I think it was Brother Andrew, in God’s Smuggler, who called that “Faith by Feelers”. I don’t personally believe in that, as I’ll trust God to provide the funds and wouldn’t want to pass up the miracle of seeing God provide, where there seemed to be no way.
We went on the trip, and it was a life-changing event. I had anticipated a call to the mission field, and I didn’t get one. But, I learned that missionaries were happy, well adjusted people. Teenaged kids there were like teenagers everywhere. They were just in a different place. The evening we got to the missionary compound, a Haitian came to the Picazo home with a Boa Constrictor, fairly small, for sale. Daniel Picazo bought it for 50 cents and put it in the attic to kill mice and rats. Some days later, it crawled into the garage and squeezed a can of turpentine. It popped open and the snake was drenched in it. Daniel found it writhing on the garage floor, in pain. He took it into the bathroom and put it in the tub; the only soap he could find was bubble bath, so he dumped some in.
OMS International has a radio station there, 4VEH, broadcasting over Haiti and the Southwest North Atlantic. They carried a story the next day about the Boa Constrictor who got a bubble bath.
Another Haitian came to the compound one evening. As I recall, he was led by his young daughter, as he was blind. He’d borrowed some money from the missionaries to buy supplies so he could make some whisk brooms. This evening, he came to sell the whisk brooms to the missionaries so he could buy food for his family. I asked our host, Dave Graffenberger, why he just didn’t take the money he’d borrowed to buy the food (since he never did repay the loan for the supplies) and Dave said they were too proud to borrow; they wanted to earn the money.
There were 20 of us on the trip. It was a real culture shock going there. They’d told us that nothing they could say to us would really prepare us for stepping off an airplane and into the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And they were right. The first night, in a small hotel in Petionville, 1500 feet high overlooking Port-Au-Prince, we were served Pumpkin Soup for starters. We didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then, they put a plate before us, which had a whole fish on it, eyes and all. We were really not used to that, but it was delicious, nonetheless.
After a couple days on the trip, folks started getting sick. They had something like the stomach flu, nauseous for a day and then it’d pass. Sometimes they’d even lose what they’d eaten. Myself, I felt somewhat sick one day and was lying on the bed; I recall praying ‘God, if you want me down, you’ll have to knock me down, as I’m not going to lay here feeling sorry for myself”. I got up and went on with the activities and worked through it ok.
Of the 20, 19 of us were sick to one degree or another. Peggy was the exception. Miraculous exception would be an even more apt description, as she’d been suffering from diverticulitis for several months. Her diet had been baby food for quite a while, and when she was unsure she even wanted to go, she appealed to the doctor. She said she figured he’d say not to go, and she’d be “off the hook”. His response, however, was “You can’t live your life in a bubble … go ahead and go”.
She did, and she was the only one who wasn’t sick a minute on the trip.
At the end of the week, as we were leaving, a man came to the bus as we were loading luggage at the hotel outside Port-Au-Prince. He wanted to shine our shoes. Dave had told us a quarter was the going rate, so that’s what I offered when he asked for a dollar. As the man was kneeling at my feet, shining my shoes, God intervened and I felt so ashamed for asking him to chop his price, so I gave him the dollar he asked for. I’ve never forgotten how that made me feel, trying to “win”.
The story even continued after we came back home. Two folks on the trip who’d touched me were the Dentist and the Mechanic; we’d had dinner with each and they had shared their needs with us.
The Dentist said he always needed dental needles. The dental situation among Haitians was pathetic, and his office was said to be the best-equipped dental office in the nation. But he couldn’t get enough needles.
The Mechanic said he couldn’t get shock absorbers for the Land Rover. He said the roads were so bad, and the shocks so worn, that it was tearing the Land Rover, slowly, to pieces.
When I got back home, I had about $56 of the money we’d saved to spend in Haiti. I went to Washington Auto Parts and asked if they had shock absorbers for the Land Rover, and they did!.
The price just happened to be $56 for the set of 4.
I'd also mentioned the dental needles to the dentist who occupied the office next to ours. That was before I bought the shocks, and I told him I had $56 to spend on needles (since I never thought I’d find the shocks).
A week later, he walks into our office and plops a huge box onto my desk. He said “Here .. this will be my good deed for the year”. And, with that, he walked out. The box was marked “Contents: Dental Needles. 5000 count.”
Yes .. I learned a lot. Before, during, and after.
It’s amazing how much God will show us when we don’t try to make it into what we want to see.