By Danielle Bertiger* *
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Recently, our very own Ashley A. traveled to Haiti with the organization i'mME, whose mission is to empower orphans to find their true identity with the cultivation of families, orphan care, and stewardship.
More than 78 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 per day and 60 percent of Haitian children under 14 are orphans. The work that this organization does is incredible, as seen through our interview with Ashley about her journey.
What sparked your interest to go?
I traveled to Kenya in 2007, which was my first encounter with third world poverty, and ever since that humbling and inspiring experience I have felt called to serve children in impoverished nations. I went to Kenya as a young woman forming her identity, and I returned to America forever changed.
After living in Africa's largest slum for a month, my eyes were opened to true darkness and devastation, yet amidst this chaos and despair, I saw such joy, sincere faith and selflessness in the people I met. They were barely surviving and hardly owned a single material possession, yet were full of The Lord's Spirit. Since then, I have felt an urgency to be among that kind of community once more, but for seven years I patiently waited upon the Lord to open that door again.
I was introduced to i'mME through Preserve the Light, a Christian organization for professional cheerleaders, because they had established a friendship with David Nelson, former wide receiver for the NY Jets. PTL offered an invitation to apply for a trip to Haiti as guests and volunteers of i'mME. I was overjoyed at the mere mention of this opportunity and quickly sent in my application!
What is your most treasured memory of the trip?
My team and I arrived only a few days after the i'mME house had welcomed seven new children from a nearby orphanage that did not have the financial means to care for all the children. David, Patrick, and Lauren from i'mME, brought those who were the most severely malnourished into our home to provide emergency care. These children ranged from eight months to five years old and were on the verge of death due to illness and starvation. Since we lived with them, we nurtured and cared for them day and night as if they were our own.
One specific moment that will forever be in my heart was when we brought an orphan named Prosper to the i'mME house from the orphanage. I was overcome and in awe of God's grace and abundant love. That entire ride home tears of joy relentlessly streamed down my face as I watched Prosper in the front seat filled with excitement and assurance knowing that he would now live; for the first time he felt safe and loved. The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 became so real to me as I witnessed this child be found and brought home just as the son was found and welcomed home by his father with rejoicing and feasting.
It was such an honor to be a part of this beautiful moment as Christ gave new life to this child of His. I will forever hold in my heart the memories of seeing the children eat pizza for the first time, sing "Jesus loves me" before meals, dance to Michael Jackson in the evenings, hold their arms up to be held, or giggle when putting on some cool sunglasses and a new outfit. Although we cared for them tremendously, it was apparent they equally cared for us. I am forever grateful for the second family I gained that day.
Are you planning any future trips such as this?
I now sponsor Robensley, a child who I fell in love with from the i'mME house in Haiti, so while I continue to support his growth, happiness, and health from Tennessee, I also hope to visit again within the year to hold him again. I am invested in those friendships and wish to remain involved with their mission. It is such a blessing to be a part of this family. I can testify that their presence in Haiti is creating significant transformation.
What is your advice for those wanting to go on mission trips?
Christ calls us to, "go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all of creation," (Mark 16:15). He doesn't say you have to go to Kenya or Haiti, only that you must "go." There is poverty near and far; people who are poor in spirit and/or poor financially exist in every place.
This is my advice. (1) Pray and seek wisdom for the Lord to direct your steps.
(2) Research organizations or church groups before committing to join their team, so that you know if your vision aligns with theirs. Different groups have different approaches and you want to feel safe and at peace being in such an unfamiliar place.
(3) Prepare yourself to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I was covered in sweat, dirt, and tears the entire time. Vaccinate yourselves before going, pack appropriately in regards to clothing, medicines, and bug spray, familiarize yourselves with the customs and culture of your destination, and submit to your vulnerability. There's beauty in giving it all up for His glory and immersing yourself to identify with those you are seeking out.
(4) Trust Him. He is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful. The Lord will guard and protect you on your travels.