When we started telling people that we were going to move our family to Haiti, we received an array of reactions. Some actually were angry at us, while others simply did not understand. We thankfully also had many who were completely supportive and encouraging.
One person (with great wisdom) told us to be sure this is where God is calling us.
"Haiti is a missionary graveyard," he warned.
We took his advice and prayed considerably more over this decision. God confirmed numerous times (and continues to do so today) that His plan was definitely for us to move our family to Haiti. That being confirmed, we still wanted to know more about why Haiti is a missionary graveyard, and how we could ensure that it did not "chew us up and spit us back out," like it does/has done with so many missionaries!
We read lots of books, blogs, and articles about Haiti and missions in Haiti. We talked with anyone who was willing, and sought their insight and wisdom. The reality is, there are many reasons that pile up to lead to the burn out and sometimes near destruction of missionaries who flock to this country. There is the day-to-day frustration of living in a developing world, where the conveniences of "modern living" are not so easily found. There is the racism that any light-skinned person will face while living there. There is damage done by decades of well-intentioned (most of the time) people/organizations, leaving a wave of distrust and dissension behind. There is the constant coming and going of internationals, which leaves most missionaries living with one foot in each world. There is the overwhelming loss that is felt as people die of preventable causes, adults flee the country for hopes of a better job somewhere else, and fellow missionaries pack up and move back home. There is the battle against what has become "normal" in the churches: a mix of superstition, legalism, and religion with so little heart change. There is the constant rebuttal that we, as foreigners, simply do not understand because we are privileged (some truth here, but it is a true hindrance to furthering the gospel!).
One thing that so often adds a sore in addition to all the rest - the reality that all you have to do is book a one-way flight, and within hours you could be on American soil. You can drive for hours to get to a store that does not have what you need, but you know that one 2-hour flight back to the USA and you'll find it at a handful of places. This ease of access to our passport country is challenging in many ways. It allows us to run back anytime something goes wrong, and still prioritize our medical care in the states as well. It keeps us from completely doing life in Haiti, and thus holds us back as "outsiders." It tempts us with such strong urging on the really hard days - "Just pack a bag and jump on a plane; leave this all behind. You can forget it and move on and have a "normal" life."
Yet, we fight through the urge to run, and we choose to stay in the muck of it all. When we sit with a mother who lost yet another infant for unknown reasons, when we counsel a woman whose lifelong "mate" is never faithful, when a child is sick and there are hospitals within one flight that could save them, when violence soars and hatred rages, when evil rules and it seems like it will never end...we stay. We choose hope; we HAVE to choose hope. Hope is the ONLY way to combat the overwhelming life we live. There is hope that one day God will redeem His people, one day evil will be eradicated, one day there will be no sickness or death, one day we will be reunited with the many who have gone way too early. There is hope that God is still reigning, even today. There is hope that He has the power to heal every wound - physical, emotional, mental - He is the Great Physician. There is hope because we can still sit in His presence in the middle of what many consider one of the darkest places on earth. There is hope because He is still victorious, even when we cannot make sense of the battle around us.
So we hope, and we stand. We know that this place has wrecked us...life will never be "normal" or "simple" again. No, it will always look different and there is no "forgetting." It reminds me of a song that Gami and I sang so often with the youth years before we went to the mission field: Ruin My Life.
We sang this song with such fervor...God, ruin my life and my plans! Ruin desires for my own selfish gain...until it's you alone I live for!
Now we look back and see how He answered that prayer - that cry - that we sang out in worship so many times together. Truly, He has ruined our lives in what we thought they would look like. He has wrecked every desire for the American dream and worldly success. He has broken our hearts for what breaks His, and we will never be the same. Praise God, we will never be the same!
So, yes, Haiti is a missionary graveyard. We have seen many come and go, and the damage that living in such a hard place has caused on them and their families. Still, this is where God has us, and we will continue to stand, and hope, and be faithful. We rely on the prayers of many to carry us through. We praise God for the encouragement He sends us through caring people - encouragement that comes at just the right moment to remind us that we can do this. We seek God and His people, for there is truly strength in numbers. And we thank God for you - the one who takes the time to read our ramblings, to pray for us, to send us a note, to care, and to remember us even when we are a world away.
Gami & Cathi Ortiz
Best friends; married for 17 years; parents of five wonderful children; living on mission in Haiti since 2013.