Today I saw a photo I had taken two years ago. It was a gorgeous aerial landscape of a beach on the southeast coast of Haiti.
I was only six months into my journey in Haiti, and had recently relocated to the small fishing village of Belle Anse to work with a community development project. I had rented a small, one bedroom, if you can even call it a bedroom, home and was the proud owner of one twelve volt battery, and one solar panel, which would provide me a few hours of electricity a day. My water supply came in the form of several five-gallon buckets that would be filled once a week, twice if we were lucky, when the town's water community water supply would open its taps.
My meals consisted of a surplus of rice and beans, fish, and plenty of Clif bars. My days often began before 6:00a.m., and my perfume was bug spray and my moisturizer was SPF 70. To most, the mere description of this life would be cringe-worthy. Yet, my heart was coming alive in ways I never imagined possible.
This new, wild and rustic adventure was filled with a fair dose of challenges; from tropical viruses, allergic reactions, and late night encounters with Haitian Voodoo. However, in the midst of the heat, mosquitoes, and cultural learning curves, a passion that resided in the innermost parts of my soul was beginning to be ignited with an unquenchable flame.
When I looked into the eyes of the Haitian people I was serving and beginning to love so dearly, I saw something worth investing in. Something worth fighting for. Something worth sacrificing it all for.
Was I called to live and serve in Haiti for potentially the rest of my life?
The timeframe began to seem irrelevant. The future wasn't entirely clear, but one thing I knew for sure, Haiti had captured my heart in an unshakable way, and I had finally found something I was willing to commit my life to.
Little by little, my language skills began to improve. My conversations grew from simple purchases and polite exchanges, to a rich understanding of the lives and stories of the people I was learning to love so truly and deeply.
I was putting down my camera, my agendas and self-motivated plans, and with each new encounter, I was learning to listen.
I began to ask Haitians about the issues they faced. About the struggles and hardships, and the true problems they sought answers to.
It was no longer about me, my amazing adventure, my goals and aspirations. It was about something far greater, and far bigger than I could ever be.
My prayers grew fervent and intentional. I knew there was a purpose for my being in Haiti, and I was determined to figure out exactly what it was.
Slowly, I started to learn about prostitution and just how rampant sexual abuse is toward young women in Haiti. I heard stories of girls as young as twelve selling themselves on the street for 50 Haitian gourdes, the equivalent of one U.S. dollar, just so they could have something to eat. Sickening tales of teenage girls being habitually raped by men four and five times their senior, just so they could have a place to sleep and attend school, made my blood boil and my heart rage.
Something. Had. To. Be. Done.
Could this truly be it?
Was it me that God was calling to do something about these horrid injustices?
A single, twenty-something with no clout, no financial backing, and no credibility?
Nothing but a heart and passion to see the lost rescued from the clutches of darkness, and find hope and freedom in the light of restoration and redemption.
That's all I had, and maybe... that was enough.
And so, it began.
I packed up my little house in Belle Anse, and took the biggest leap of faith I've ever been asked to take in my life.
I moved a few hours east to the neighboring city of Jacmel, where the dreams and plans for Jasper House Haiti would begin to take shape.
The best part of saying yes to God is the incredible adventure that ensues. When you trade your dreams for His, you accept a Kingdom reward, an everlasting joy and an eternal sense of purpose and destiny.
No longer are you wandering around on the outside, peering into the windows of others' lives wishing and hoping yours had meaning.
You suddenly have a reason to wake up every day. No longer do you roam aimlessly, or sulk and wallow in the misery of emptiness. Saying yes brings abundant life and an inexplicable fullness of joy.
You're on the other side, a side full of peace, and certainty and deliberation in the very reason you were created.
Have things been perfect? Far from it, but I can say hello, from the other side to a girl who was once lost, empty and desperately searching for the meaning of her existence.
Saying yes comes with the need for an insurmountable amount of trust in an infinite God, and faith in the things unseen.
But the reward is far greater than words can begin to express.
So, hello, from the other side. Let's see where it takes us next.
Written by Jasper House Haiti Founder/CEO, Maria Atkinson
To read more of her writing and to learn more about her story, visit her blog, Going Forth.