Post by Jason Kastner
This summer my family and I travelled to Haiti with a medical mission team to Les Cayes, a city in the southern part of the country about 3 hours by bus from Port au Prince (PAP). Although I have taken numerous medical trips to Haiti, the last time I visited Les Cayes was in 2010, just months after the earthquake that rocked this fragile nation. It was like coming back to a memory that forever branded my heart and my life. What made this even more special was sharing it with Marti, Ellie and Josie.
We were welcomed by Kinsley and Charlie Smith and the Agape to the Nations team that has been there all summer. Let me first say that this organization is a beacon of light in the darkness as they minister to teens who have aged out of the orphanage system in Haiti but who are not yet equipped to make it on their own. They also staff and supply a medical clinic down the street that provides medical care to the community and have numerous outreach projects in their neighborhood and beyond. They may not look like the locals but they function as locals. We had the joy of attending service with their home church that first Sunday and worshipped alongside our Haitian brothers and sisters. I even got to preach (another story for another day). The Haitians are a beautiful people with a welcoming spirit.
Taking mobile medical, dental and vision services, we travelled throughout the week to places like the mountain village of Okotu, the secluded community of Manisch City and makeshift clinics in the outskirts of Les Cayes. Our VBS team took Living Truth to the children of these communities, tearing down the barriers of culture, language and skin color. Outreach ministries functioned alongside these efforts as well. We were able to help well over a thousand people during the week and had a lot of fun in the process! And for those of you who know me well, we ate like royalty! The ladies at the guesthouse ministered to me using MY love language—FOOD! It was such an amazing week and was capped off by a block party where we laughed and danced and celebrated with our new friends all that the Lord has done and is doing. What a view from the mountaintop!
Do you remember the account of the Transfiguration? You can read Matthew’s version in chapter 17 but Mark and Luke also cover it. In the story, Peter, James and John were taken to a mountaintop with Jesus when the Spirit-forms of Moses and Elijah joined them. God spoke in their midst, verifying the Authority and Sonship of Jesus. Living in the moment, Peter exclaims “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” In other words: “I don’t want this mountaintop experience to end!” They fell facedown at the sound of God’s voice in a posture of reverent fear. When it was over, Jesus tells them to get up and then directs this ragtag inner circle of followers back down the mountain. Back into the reality of a world that was dark and dying. A week ago today was the beginning of our descent off the mountain.
We had heard that riots had started Thursday in PAP after the Haitian president had announced a sizable tax hike on gasoline that caught the citizens off guard. Knowing this, we left Les Cayes around 2 am Friday morning to avoid any potential problems or delays getting to the airport. As we arrived in PAP that morning, the sun was coming up and all appeared calm. We checked our luggage and knowing that our flight wasn’t set to leave until after 6 o’clock that evening, headed out on a bus with our Haitian escort to a restaurant nearby where we could eat, relax and rest for the day. I watched some World Cup and enjoyed a cheeseburger and fries with a real Coke in a cold glass bottle! After several hours there in the “oasis”, we headed back to the PAP airport around noon. A father-daughter couple on our team had to catch an earlier flight.
In hindsight, that proved to be Divine Intervention as all the while the riots began to intensify and the streets became more dangerous. With all the chaos, we learned that our flight back to Ft. Lauderdale was delayed. As a precaution, we sent 5 of our remaining 23 on an earlier flight to Orlando. Again, Divine Intervention in hindsight that got those members home. The remaining 18 of us would sit tight for just a little bit longer with the thought that the worst thing that could happen was that we would miss our connection in Florida and end up in a hotel. No problem.
Little did we know that Orlando flight would be the last plane off the runway that day. As a passenger plane (our plane) full of travelers from Ft. Lauderdale made it’s descent towards the runway in PAP, it was diverted at the last minute to the Dominican Republic when authorities issued an emergent halt to any more flights coming in. We were off the mountaintop and my heart sank. The tears started across the group and I knew this was not good. Our Haitian escort had headed back to Cayes with another team that had safely arrived earlier that afternoon. We had no one with us who spoke the language, nowhere safe to go and just a few snacks and limited drinking water. The shops and restaurants had closed for the evening and we found benches that would become our beds for who knew how long.
That was a long night. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t sleep. And between phone calls to the Agape staff in Cayes, the U.S Embassy and Jet Blue customer service, I felt the darkness encroaching. “You are all alone, Jason,” whispered the agent of fear. I must confess, I believed that for a moment. When it’s dark and the reality of the chaos smacks you square in the face, if your frequency is not tuned into the right channel, you WILL hear the enemy.
“Daddy, I just want to go home” were the words I will never forget my sick daughter say to me through her tears.
“Honey, I don’t know how. But I promise to get you home.”
When it’s your own flesh and blood, as a parent you understand all of the emotion that goes into that type of exchange with a child who is totally dependent on you. “I WILL fight for you” was the promise I made in my heart. But let’s face it, there’s only so much I can do. We needed a miracle. And I’m not a miracle worker.
Fortunately, two things I will mention here. First, we have a God who DOES work miracles. And secondly, He gave me a wife who has a level of faith and trust in Him that blows my mind. Marti was the rock that never moved and who kept directing me back to The Rock. God did some serious business with me that night. Believe me when I tell you that He was as real to me then as if He were right in front of me and I could reach out and touch Him. As I sat and looked out over our team members across those airport benches, I opened my Bible.
The bookmark was still in the pages from our team devotional the previous morning. It was in Matthew chapter 18, just after that mountaintop story I just referenced. It’s the story of Jesus and the little children. The challenge I gave the team that morning was to see God working through children. Jesus taught that we are to receive the Kingdom like little children. What exactly does that mean? I think it encompasses several things but the message that leapt off those pages into my heart was one of TOTAL dependency. Just like my girls trusted me enough to go to sleep under the promise I made to them hours earlier, I too was in a situation where my TOTAL dependency HAD to be with the One whose promises never fail. That truth is always there but let’s face it, the insulation from fear, pain and suffering that we build for ourselves makes us blind to it most days. But when He is all you have, well, that’s when Faith is more than just a pretty word we sing about. Faith becomes a verb, a muscle that must contract to incite movement.
I wish I had time to tell you more about each of the amazing individuals on our team that were stuck in that airport. The leadership experience of a Wade Riggins, the commom sense of a Laramie James. Prayer warriors like Stacey, Marti, Jolene, Carla, Kristi and Savannah. Amazingly calm and resilient children ages 7-18 years. I hope to hear them each tell their stories in full detail some day. Suffice it to say, from the youngest to the oldest, our faith muscle was tested. We leaned on each other, prayed together and unified in a way that will forever connect us. I am so proud of our group and how iron was sharpening iron right before my eyes. In the opening verses of chapter 12, the Hebrew writer urges us:
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…”
When we go to the well of Faith to get us through the dark, to guide us through the valley, we have to remember that it is supplied by Him! Trying a bootstrap faith of our own making just won’t cut it. Even Jesus’ own disciples asked Him to increase their faith (Luke 17:5)! In a third world country during the early hours of the morning on July 7th, 2018, He took me into the deep end of the pool. I know I can’t speak for the others, but I feel like He took us all there.
Sometime I will write of all the miraculous events that transpired over those 36 hours, but to make a long story short…He delivered. The Bible describes God as Our Deliverer (Psalm 40:17) and also as One who fights for us (Exodus 14:14, Deuteronomy 3:22). He delivered and fight He did! An empty Jet Blue passenger plane was sent to PAP in a rescue effort at the same time that American friends had dispatched charter planes from Ft.Lauderdale. All 18 of us…a ragtag bunch following Jesus’ command (not suggestion) to go into all the world…made it home.
He keeps His Promises.
No one will ever convince me otherwise about “the great love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (I John 3:1). Thank you Father for fighting for us! Early that morning, before we ever knew how this was going to end, I texted back a concerned friend stateside with these words:
“God moves in mysterious ways. Can’t wait to see how this ends.”
I had been brought to a point of total dependency. Some would say this is “blind faith” but I think a better description is “childlike Faith.”
My Daddy would get us home!
The last detail I want you to know about is the young man, Carlos, that the Lord provided. He was one of Jet Blue workers who had to spend the night in the airport because it was too dangerous to leave and go home. He took us under his wing and personally fought for us to get on that plane. His English was excellent and he is a believer. Ever minute was critical those 36 hours but the funny thing about Haitians is that they really don’t care about time. Very few wear watches (including Carlos) and you never know if 20 minutes will actually turn into 2 hours in Haiti. Church services just end whenever the spirit leads them to break for the day (imagine the drop in church attendance we would see in the U.S.) I gave Carlos my wristwatch for a couple reasons. One, so that he would keep track of exactly when he would meet us with information as it was being made available. Secondly, as a gesture of appreciation for all he had done for us. He really went to bat for a bunch of “blancs” (you can probably figure out that slang yourself). But as I got on that plane to head home, I learned something else about giving that watch away. As I looked down at my left wrist out of habit to check the time, guess what? No watch!
I suppose someday I will buy a new watch. I don’t think my office manager would be very happy if I went to Haitian time at the office! But for now…it is good to be here. It’s good to be home but it’s also good to be reminded several times a day that The Lord fights for us.
The other interesting thing about Carlos is that his last name is “LaGuerre.” In French that means “The War.”
I know who goes before me.
I know who stands behind.
The God of Angel Armies is always by my side.
Whom shall I fear?