Bringing Hope Into the Wasteland

For this generation of believers, the inevitable reaction to a national disaster is talking. Young people are blogging about what leading Christian voices said. They are trying to understand why God would allow such a devastating event to occur. But such a response is really no different than apathy, if nothing gets done.

Three years ago, blogging and discussion might have also been Teri Gunnink’s reaction to the cataclysmic earthquake that struck the Republic of Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killing thousands of men, women and children. Back then, she barely knew the country existed—it was merely an island on the map. Gunnink had absolutely no clue that God had already arranged for her to unveil His kingdom to the Haitian people. In fact, she had other plans.

Growing up in tiny Aztec, New Mexico, Gunnink always dreamed of doing missions work. As a child, she had a strange obsession with Africa. Though, the thought of traveling halfway around the world and ministering to individuals she knew nothing about seemed unrealistic. So she set her ambitions aside and started thinking "practically," which led her to the University of New Mexico to major in Business.

Before long, though, Gunnink’s childhood desires began to reappear. After graduating college, she found herself googling “long-term mission trips.” Her first search result was AIM (Adventures in Missions). But after examining the costs of traveling internationally, she gave up. Something, however, kept bringing her back to the website, and when she started reading blogs about what God was doing across the world, she couldn’t help but apply.

Meanwhile, her church was planning a mission trip to Guatemala. When she refused to go, and members of the congregation asked why, she told them God was not calling her overseas. With AIM and now Guatemala right in front of her, reality was sinking in. "I was scared that if I went on my first international mission trip, I would never want to stop that type of work," Gunnink says. Nevertheless, her peers eventually persuaded her to go.

By January 2009, God had supplied the funds, and she was launching out of the United States with more than 50 others on The World Race—a yearlong missions adventure in which individuals in their 20s journey through more than 11 countries and compete in extraordinary challenges, from sleeping on floors and eating bugs, to working with church plants in the world’s most impoverished areas. Not only was she living a childhood dream, Gunnink was finally following God’s calling on her life.

After spending the first month in the Dominican Republic, Gunnink’s team traveled by vehicle to the second stop—Haiti. Gunnink wasn't looking forward to this leg of the venture. "I had no desire to go there," she recounts. And she wasn't welcomed kindly. Gunnink saw tremendous poverty: people sleeping in garbage piles, children without clothes, restrooms and wells in the same location. It was a shadowy wasteland.

While driving through Port-au-Prince, Gunnink and her team were advised by local missionaries to make no sudden movements or distractions. Haiti's average daily income is around one dollar, so it's not uncommon for vehicles to get hijacked and robbed when they are stopped, as many Haitians are simply trying to find a way to survive.

The team made it out safely though, and eventually arrived in Les Cayes—a seaport in southwestern Haiti. They began helping out at a local orphanage: teaching English, renovating a building, playing with the children. "There was hope in the kids," Gunnink says. "The children at the orphanage would voluntarily worship God at night. They would find a barrel to drum, a stick to hit a chair with and offer up their beautiful voices to the one true God. It was the purest form of worship I had ever seen." The kids had nothing, yet they were still thankful to God.

One night, as the orphans were preparing for bed, an adorable 4-year-old girl named Claudia crawled up in Gunnink’s lap and fell asleep in her arms. "It was the single most precious thing that has ever happened to me," Gunnink says.  "The child was at peace. As I held her close and felt her heartbeat on my chest, I began to wonder, Where were her parents? Did she have memories of them? Had she ever felt love before? Claudia had my heart."

The two became inseparable over the short period of time. When Gunnink would wake up in the mornings, Claudia would be there waiting for her. They would walk together, talk together. Gunnink was falling in love—not just with Claudia, but Haiti.

And as the trip came to a close, she spent a night praying for her new little friend. "During this time, I definitely knew the Lord was leading me back to Haiti in some capacity," Gunnink recalls. The Caribbean country that she had once greatly dreaded was now on the radar as her future mission field.

Haiti never left Gunnink’s mind or heart. While in South Africa during July, she worked with a children's village. These small villages are made up of no more than 10 children living in a home with a Christian married couple who raise, disciple and ultimately just love them. "When we were working there, I felt like God was telling me to start a children's village in Haiti. This is when I knew what I was going back for," Gunnink says.

Six months later, before the earthquake, she was already planning to go back—to work at an orphanage and medical clinic in Montrouis. Gunnink currently has a plane ticket to Port-au-Prince for Feb. 29, but with the Haitian international airport down, she's not sure how everything will work out. Nevertheless, she is praying.

The truth is, not everyone will have a vision and love for Haiti like Gunnink’s. Not everyone can physically go and respond to the disaster. People have jobs, families. Not everyone can give, either. And despite how easy it is to debate and complain about secondary issues, the response that carries no excuses and only makes sense is prayer.

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