Imagine being surrounded by children who have no mother or father but are happy for the things they do have — like a safe place to live, plenty of food, adequate clothing and, most of all, the love they receive by those who care for them.
That is what John and Robin Dicks of Marion experienced when they spent 10 days at an orphanage in Haiti in January. Their children, 19-year-old Olivia, 16-year-old Madison, and 13-year-old Wesley, shared in the unforgettable experience.
The family was part of a team of 26 people, mostly from Kansas, which included three other teenage girls and another teenage boy. Hosted by Haiti Lifeline Ministries of Hesston, everyone paid their own way.
They flew to New Jersey and from there to Haiti.
“It was like a line drawn between rich and poor,” Robin said of the experience.
Their ministry was in a 4-acre compound surrounded by a concrete wall topped with razor wire. The 100 or more orphan children living there, ranging from infant to 19 years old, are housed in several dormitories. An elementary school serves the orphans and the children of the village. A medical clinic also serves the village.
The Center for Children International Lifeline Orphanage, located in a village 8 miles northeast of the capital city, Port Au Prince, has electricity produced by a generator, a septic system, a water well, and indoor plumbing. The well is just outside the compound walls and provides clean water to the entire village.
Food is produced within the compound, including vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and goats, pigs, and chickens for meat. Charitable organizations provide staples such as rice, beans, soap, and clothing, which are stored in a warehouse.
The main purpose of the mission was to relate to the children and show them love.
“We showed them that Jesus loves them,” Olivia said.
Olivia and Madison spent a lot of time playing with the children, who were eager for and appreciative of their attention. The girls spent time in the kitchen helping the older orphan girls prepare food.
In the evening, the girls and women joined the children in the girls’ dormitory, where they sang songs together and then tucked the children in for the night.
Besides cooking, the women spent time organizing the warehouse and preparing 450 bags of items for delivery to surrounding villages.
Wesley played soccer and electronic games with the boys. He was impressed with how creative they were. They made bracelets out of shoestrings and pop can tabs, and they made toy cars out of empty Pringles boxes. Wesley said the boys used razors to cut their own hair.
John Dicks and the other men did building projects, including restoration of a 10x10-foot church made of tin. They also built infant cribs and worked on plumbing.
The children were fascinated with the Americans’ hair and liked to play with it. They especially liked braiding hair.
Outside the compound
Going outside of the compound was a whole, new experience. The team traveled in an open-sided truck.
“It was amazing the difference inside the orphanage and outside,” Robin said.
“There were people going everywhere,” John said, “and they were all in a hurry.”
That’s not surprising given the fact that Haiti is one-eighth the size of Kansas and has a population of 8 million people.
It was an open marketplace, with every available spot taken up by people selling something or other. Many people carried items on their heads, hawking their wares to everyone they saw. Noisy motorbikes and rickety cars, buses, and trucks of every description, loaded with people inside and out, completed the scene.
“It was chaotic, loud, and dirty,” Robin said.
“There were two nice cars,” Wesley said. “That was it.”
They saw piles of rubble everywhere, stemming from the earthquake in 2010.
They had to guard their possessions closely because children were always trying to steal things from them.
In villages where they distributed food, the people crowded in, desperate for the help.
The team also saw many tent cities occupied by people whose homes were destroyed by the earthquake.
One day, the team took a sightseeing trip to the mountains, where they visited a Baptist mission. They saw some beautiful homes and some not so beautiful.
Robin said the roads were “horrible,” making the trip “bouncy and dusty.”
The scenery was beautiful, and the landscape was dotted with farms growing fruit trees and green fields of vegetables and grain.
When the 10 days were up, it was difficult for the team to leave.
“We became attached to the kids,” Olivia said.
Jasmin, a leader among the teenage girls in the orphanage, wanted to go home with them.
“We are all ready to go back,” Robin said. “What I found encouraging was the happiness of the people. They seemed so content with the little they had. They were always praising the Lord.”
John said their team connection resulted in an enduring friendship. They have held a reunion since their return from Haiti to talk about their experiences.
“It’s opened up to us a whole new world of people connected with Haiti,” Robin said. “I think it was a great experience for us.”
Regardless of their feelings for the orphans they left behind in Haiti, the Dicks were happy to return to America.
“If people living here think America is bad, they should see Haiti,” Wesley said.
More information about mission opportunities is available online at http://haitilifelineministries.com.