Over the past three weeks, I traveled from the uttermost northeast corner of Haiti, to the tip of the southeast.
I stayed in five different towns, with numerous different people, and learned a whole lot about myself.
Six months ago when I first boarded a plane for Haiti, I really had no idea what to expect. I knew that deep in my heart there was this burning passion to live for something more than I had been. To experience life and culture in ways foreign to my own and immerse myself in something exotic and unknown.
When I was 9-years-old, I knew I would one day become a missionary. I vividly remember cautiously running my hands over the vibrant and colorful tribal tapestries and wooden goods from Ghana, West Africa, items visiting missionaries had brought to display, in the foyer of my church. I remember my little girl heart beating with anticipation and foreknowledge of a life I would one day live. Little did I know what my journey to getting here today would entail.
As an individual with an analytical, journalistic mind, I never cease to ask questions, make assessments and try to understand things before I can see the entire picture. Sometimes my intuitions are correct, sometimes they are very wrong.
I knew that my road to Belle-Anse would be a long journey, carrying nearly 200lb. of luggage, and having an extended stop in Port-au-Prince, the largest, most heavily populated and dangerous city in Haiti. But I had no idea what all I would experience.
I was staying in homes with fellow missionaries and humanitarians, most of which I hadn't met prior, and in homes I never knew could be so nice - in contrast with the immense poverty I had been surrounded by for months. My first night in one of the homes, I was fed a dinner of homemade falafel and flatbread, which we ate in front of big screen TV.
"Am I really in Haiti?" I kept asking myself.
But the giddiness of cable television and hot showers didn't last very long, before a cold dose of reality hit.
One night, as I hanging out with some new friends, our truck was broken into, each of our backpacks being taken. Thankfully all I lost was clothes, but my friends lost laptops and cameras. As we rode to the police station to file a report, our car was jumped by three Haitian men attempting to take the one bag my friend still had.
I saw a flash of something that resembled a gun and realized the severity of the situation. Thankfully this attack only lasted a few minutes before the men ran off, unsuccessfully retrieving the bag.
Each of us were angry, shocked and most of all terrified. Within seconds all of our lives could have been taken, and by the grace of God, we were spared.
Once the trauma I had experienced was shaken off, my time in Port-au-Prince continued. My journey took me to the neighborhood of Delmas, where I was able to spend time in a home for children with disabilities, to dense streets of Carrefour, and eventually the beautiful and quiet town of Petit Goâve.
After spending several weeks in the dirty and crowdedness of Port-au-Prince, Petit Goâve was a breath of fresh air. Yet, even in this beauty and tranquility, I still found myself battling the elements and prices that come with choosing to serve in a place like Haiti.
My second night in Petit Goâve gave me a mean case of the most recent and currently spreading Haitian "fever". I have never felt an illness like this before. My entire body was in pain, my head felt like it was going to explode and my blood was boiling. Lifting myself off of my bed felt like I was lifting 350lb. and the slightest physical activity caused me to grow fatigued. For two days I fought this terrible virus, wishing more than anything I could just get on a plane and fly back home.
And there it was.
The moment I never thought would come.
The moment when I was willing to give up the very thing I fought so hard for - these frustrations were all causing me to realize just exactly what I had gotten myself into and if I was truly cut out for it.
Over the next few days, I began to process what it really means to be a missionary.
And the ugly.
When I finally made it to Belle-Anse this past weekend, it only increased my fears and questioning of myself. But as a stood, gazing at the most beautiful natural creation my eyes had ever laid on, and had my brand new neighbors tie a mosquito net above my bed for me, I knew.
Being a missionary means sometimes you catch crazy viruses, end up with unexplained rashes and really honestly feel like you're going to die.
Being a missionary means some times you eat a heaping portion of a hamburger and french fries, and most other times, the same plate of rice and beans.
Being a missionary means living and working in 90 degrees without air conditioning or electricity.
Being a missionary means living without running water and having to bathe with buckets.
Being a missionary means letting go of friendships and relationships and realizing that people back home, can never fully understand your day to day life, and dating is next to impossible.
Being a missionary means meeting amazing, likeminded people making new and deeper friendships with these incredible souls.
Being a missionary means forcing yourself to ask for money so you can do the job you so passionately feel like God is calling you to do - and really, really have to trust Him for literally every, single dime.
Being a missionary means hearing your name called by beautiful Haitian children, outside your window, followed by trails of laughter.
Being a missionary is getting to live and understand a people and culture, completely opposite your own and learning how beautiful the human soul can be.
Being a missionary means discovering this wild, unbridled, and passionate love you have for your Creator and He has for you.
Being a missionary means living the greatest adventure of a lifetime, leaving behind the conventional without ever looking back.
I don't know how long I will be in Belle-Anse, let alone Haiti. My commitment is for six months, but it could be for longer, or it could connect me to wherever I will go at the end of that period.
I don't know if I'll contract anymore weird Haitian fevers or rashes, or have more things stolen.
I don't know if I will receive the financial support I need to live each month, but I know God is faithful.
I don't know how much more I will have to give up to follow Christ, but one thing is for sure - I'm not getting off this path.
I cannot wait to get started here with Reimagine Haiti, working with the community of Belle-Anse to find long-term solutions to problems they have faced for countless years.
Here's to my new home.
Here's to my new family.
Here's to the adventure.
You can now donate to me through Reimagine Haiti with a TAX DEDUCTIBLE donations! Simply click the link and write my name (Maria Atkinson) in the comment box.
ALL proceeds go 100% to our community projects and my monthly stipend for food, water and transportation.