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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Why I Will Return to Haiti
Hombeline Baugier writes of her experience as a missionary this summer

Hombeline and friends
(L to R) Nicole Buchholtz, Cecile Martin-Houlgatte, Hombeline Baugier and Sister Mary Jo Sobieck.

The following is a testimony from Hombeline Baugier who served as a missionary in Haiti in June 2013.

My whole group is gone for a couple minutes now and I find myself alone waiting for my plane. I reflect on the past week with much emotion.  I discover something in myself that I’ve never known before—the joy of having served others – strangers -- who I will probably never see again. 

I have discovered a joy more “disinterested” than in the past, and I thank Jesus for this grace. As a mother, I know how to serve my family, my friends, my chosen causes, but never strangers.  I now know the joy I’ve always had inside me is not only reserved for loved ones.  I realize I do not only enjoy making them laugh, with expectations of being loved in return.  No, I have discovered a deep appreciation for bringing laughter to men and women on their death beds, expecting nothing in return aside from the blessing of an unconditional smile.

The Mystical Body of the Church

Everyday there was a deeper discovery of myself, an appreciation for the service of others, and the forgetting of “self.” 

One of the more powerful moments of this week took place Tuesday morning, when a dying 18-month old little girl named Mackenzia was baptized.  I now find myself the Godmother of this little girl from Haiti, of whom I know nothing.  Therefore, I ask the grace of the Holy Spirit to bestow upon me the proper memories necessary to inspire my prayers for her.

The Good Lord has a wonderful sense of humor, and I remember laughing with my own kids before my departure, saying I was going to come home with a little Haitian baby because they are so cute.  Well, here I am with
Food for the journey
Food for the journey...
a little one in my heart.  Maybe she will protect me more than I her--a mystery to resolve itself one day in Heaven.

When we arrived at the Missionaries of Charity, amidst an interminable pace and intense humidity, I’m filled with energy.

I still don’t know how to handle the collective suffering surrounding me.  It’s my first encounter with sick babies.  I choose to be blissfully ignorant of their physical ailments as these poor children are dirty and some are unsightly with unfamiliar odors.  But I need to keep telling myself, “This is not about me.”

My heart literally melts at the first child I hold in my arms.  These children are so beautiful!!  I freefall into memories of having my own babies with me.  I am holding this little body who falls asleep in a perfect stranger´s arms. Pure bliss!
Cecile encourages me to do everything this week, and I let go and follow because I feel she knows better.  We are going to the Home of the Dying--a spectacular turquoise house recently inaugurated by the bishop of Port-Au-Prince.  I’m apprehensive. I’m scared. I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know what to do, so I follow Cecile.  Once again, this kind of suffering is foreign, and I don’t know how to act towards people who are about to die. I’m discovering that I just have to be myself, with my joy and humor, making them laugh, singing, and saying nonsense seems perfect.  It’s so simple, so beautiful to use the gifts God gave me to make these beautiful women smile. 

Thank you Lord! The place is clean, roomy and very simple, with many religious depictions on the walls.  It is so reassuring to see almost omnipresent depictions of Virgin Mary, a Sacred Heart, or even the soothing smile of “little Theresa” who definitely confirms the purpose of my presence here.  We all sing Amazing Grace (Dieu Tout Puissant in French) and my heart vibrates.

God’s Timing

I am always stunned by the delicate intentions of the Good Lord.  Back at home, my sister Guitou celebrates a birthday, and my family buries my Aunt Madeleine.

In Haiti, I am back at the hospital with the babies, and I start speaking with a French woman.  She tells me she is a Sister of Jesus. I don’t know the order, but she says she’s been in Port-Au-Prince for 20 years! 
Fr. Michael Moriarty and friends
Fr. Michael Moriarty LC and friends
I ask her name and she says, “Sister Madeleine.” (Of course!) She describes her order and explains she’s celebrating the 44th anniversary of her vows today.

At home my sister manages to bring Jesus in the Eucharist to our aunt Madeleine, who receives the Anointing of the Sick.  And I am on the other side of the world, meeting this little sister Madeleine celebrating her anniversary--these “little winks” are pieces of a bigger picture set forth by the Good Lord.   

We’ve been here for three days. Collectively speaking, we aren’t too tired even with the interminable heat--escaping it is a long abandoned idea.  The mood among our young missionaries is light and peppy, even joyous!  I meet a young French volunteer named Ines who is spending three months with the Missionaries... Really!  She must be in her early twenties and she is spending three months doing what I came to do for less than a week--what a beautiful gift of self for the greater good.

And the little sisters... I think about the amazing mystery of their vocation.  They are so beautiful in their white saris bordered with blue, with their dedication, their complete gift of themselves to serve Jesus through the poorest of the poor.  They are true witnesses of the Love which feeds them day after day through prayer and the Eucharist.  It’s just magnificent. 

A Small Crisis of Faith and Healing

Thursday we are back at the Home of the Dying.  On the way, I am in utter disbelief of the poverty, the dirtiness, and the absence of perceived human dignity in these villages.  I start crying.  I am terrified of this misery.  Revolted and powerless, I think of the sadness God feels when he sees his children suffering like this.  I can’t help but think wild animals in Africa live better than the inhabitants of these shanty towns with their garbage overflowing from the streets into their homes.  Although Father Michael attempts to reassure me that God can find something positive in any situation, I temporarily resist and doubt him.  But I listen and, finally, accept.  Nonetheless I cry throughout the whole Mass. 

Later in the morning, healing comes as Father blesses the dying with the Anointing of the Sick.  I translate for him as much as possible.  I see the same women from a couple days earlier, and I cannot believe the joy I feel!  I’m completely ignorant of their names, but their smiles illuminate me, and I laugh with them.  We sing, hold hands and touch each other spirits.

Our group of missionaries put on a show for the sick. Father Michael performs miracles with his guitar and drum.  Music is our universal language.  It’s our mutual language of joy.  We again sing Amazing Grace, and the women scream with the loudest voices possible “Dieu Tout Puissan!”  It’s moving.  It’s magnificent.  Nothing is done tepidly in this country – always there are extremes. 

We perform the same songs for the men (they’re separated by floors) and here they are dancing with our young ladies, very touching.  Impossible not to feel the island’s rhythm in your bones.

Later in the day, the sick and the rest of the community fill the chapel to the brink for Eucharistic Adoration.  Magnificent Holy Hour, there’s no time for idleness, no time to think, everything is novel.  The rosary and songs are in Creole.  Each are practically screamed, as if the highest pitch would win God’s attention, or the elevated volume carried their prayers more promptly to God. 

Please Lord, listen to their pain, listen to their prayers.

I dread the road home, and stunningly, the misery, dirtiness does not hurt me like it did before. I’m not looking at it from the same perspective, but I am not habituated to the scene.  I just feel different.

Healing Body and Soul

Since the start of the week, I hear people talking about the dispensary of the Missionaries, the Wound Clinic. The young volunteer, Ines, explains that she regularly goes to clean bandages and disinfect the wounds of the afflicted.  Cecile alludes I should go with her in a subtle way, and the idea is simply horrifying.  To do what Ines just described, to see living wounds and minister to them, seems like asking me to perform a heart transplant.  At the same time, I do not want to limit myself because I feel the reason for my presence here is bigger than me, the transcendence of the self, is possible.  But I am so scared because this will be something very real.  Then Cecile says, “Just think of them as the wounds of Jesus or your husband.”  This makes me want to go even less.  In prayer I ask Jesus to give me the strength and grace to make the leap if he wants me to go, because I am incapable of garnering the strength necessary myself. 

We arrive Saturday morning at the convent. We are in the chapel for morning prayer, when Cecile calls me over to say, “Come on, let’s go.” “Ok” I think, “let’s get on with it.”

Good thing the Sisters are reciting rosaries in the minibus on the way there.  It takes my mind off the looming experience.  At our arrival, there are maybe 300 people, men, women, and children, waiting... and we’re only to be there for 3 or 4 hours. There’s a good dozen of us including other volunteers, nuns, nurses, and doctors, but I really don’t understand how they are going to be able to take care of this many people in so little time. In the US, this would require months of appointments and a lot of money. The sisters begin the morning by leading the people in an Our Father and Hail Mary in Creole. 

The first patient is a little girl around the age of five, and she has her mom by her side.  Her legs are burnt and she is crying a lot. Mary, a nurse volunteer, tends her wounds, but the pain in her screams makes listening almost unbearable. 

I remember I am there to fix bandages.  Another volunteer named Tania takes me under her wing and shows me how to do it.  I follow her directions, and we do it together.  The first patient is not easy. The reality of the situation hits me like a cinderblock and the blow is precisely sobering.

Dearest Mother, please help me here as the situation is dire.  I recite a couple of Hail Mary’s and follow Tania’s directives. My strength starts to gain momentum.  Who can doubt the power of prayer?  It’s physical and tangible. The only thing I see following this realization is joy, reigning over sadness in the clinic. The cooperation of the sick, who help us to bandage them in an effort to give the next person an opportunity for help is amazing.  Father Michael is here as well, helping the same way as everybody else.

We work non-stop for two or three hours.  I can’t believe the stoicism of the men facing their wounds. They barely acknowledge them. We always find pleasantries to exchange and in return we are allowed a beautiful, toothy smile... just amazing.   I am stunned to find myself able to tend their wounds with my hands, without being “grossed out,” and I can’t believe the joy it brings me.  I’m proud of being capable to learn.

We are going back to the hospital of the Sisters for a lunch and a much-needed nap. Following our moment of rest, we have Mass – which was the most needed.

Then I find out we now go back to see the babies.  Really?  I thought I gave everything I have this morning, but not quite. We continue and we continue smiling.   Little Mackenzia is doing much better since she was baptized.  I don’t know her exact prognosis, but her eyes are wide open and she is beginning to make some noises. By the Grace of God!

Almost every night, we find ourselves on the flat rooftop, talking about the day’s experiences.  It seems a little silly how hard it is to express my emotions from the day. My thoughts evaporate (poof!) into the hot, dark night when I’m asked to speak.  It’s ludicrous.  Nonetheless, our young missionaries are very inspiring in their maturity and engagement. They are so young, yet God solves all the riddles in their hearts.

Sunday, the last day of the mission, we go to the children’s Mass at the convent.  The service is in Creole, and the children scream with joy and faith.  It is, once again, beautiful.  It’s also lovely to see these people who essentially have no material possessions somehow conjure up tidy, pressed outfits for church. The men’s shoes are shined, the women wear dresses, and they are clean, even with the omnipresent red dust whirlwinds looming outside.  Ironically, we’re the one’s wearing dirty Mission Youth tee-shirts with jeans that have been sweat-soaked multiple times.

A Face Amidst the Chaos

We go back to the “hotel” for lunch and then leave for the tent city. (I can make fun of Cecile’s French accent because I have the exact same one!!  Each time she says “tent city” we hear “intensity!”) And yes it will be very “intense!”

The tent city is a collection of shelters constructed after the earthquake.  They are built out of any material imaginable--brick, dirt, sheets, plastic, hay -- really anything that one can put over their heads.  What was supposed to be temporary progressively morphed into permanence in accordance with the means of each family. 

We arrive at the local school with arts and crafts. Within minutes we find ourselves with fifty children, blissfully painting and singing, although it is in excess of 110 degrees in the school. 

We bring bags full of dresses for young girls, and all the food we have left. Very quickly we are circled by a mob of children clamoring for more, on the cusp of violence.  At this point, before finding out the extent of the people’s desperation, we follow our guides into the maze of the tent city. I almost lose Father Michael! I trace my footsteps back and luckily find him, but he was clearly scared at the idea of losing me as well.

He apologized. “Sorry, everything was happening so quickly!”

We have more candy to distribute.  We go back to school in hopes things have smoothed out. Here too we are mobbed by women and children, but we manage to give to the maximum amount of people.

Amidst the commotion, I look over and notice a little girl in a tee-shirt riddled with holes...She looks at me and doesn’t say anything, doesn’t ask for anything.  Her calmness is an anomaly.  She’s 13 years old and with Cecile’s help, I grab a little dress for her, and she looks at me and says “Merci.” She was the only one to say thank you, while looking at me with those eyes. I will never forget her face.

Because of this little girl, I will return.



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