I’m struggling with re-entry into America after being in Haiti

She gets it[ See my other recent posts about my trip to Haiti ]

I’m struggling on so many different levels. It’s hard to know where to even start with all the tension I feel about myself, the American church, and the state of spirituality among Christians here. I’m doing my best not to look down on American believers and the church with any sort of arrogance because, honestly, the attitude of my heart is really just brokenness for what I see. Jeremy Zach and I talked about this on a little walk we took before leaving the Dominican Republic: until I can share with more grace, my response right now is to keep my deepest thoughts to myself to avoid becoming overly-critical in a way that shuts down communication.

A couple times before we left Haiti, I actually thought, from a spiritual standpoint, that it would be cool to never return to America and just stay with the Haitians, except I knew that would definitely be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There’s a lot to be thankful here in America and a lot that is very positive — there’s no doubt that God has blessed us extravagantly and that our response of materialism and consumerism have affected us in ways I never even noticed until I was removed from it for a brief time. Maybe these things are so glaring to me now because I’m still hyper-sensitive having just come off the trip a couple days ago, but I know my heart for my own American people will never be the same as a result of my experiences in Haiti. We are so blessed, yet so poor.

America and Haiti are complete opposites right now. Haiti has such an overwhelming need for basic necessities and we have such an overwhelming need for revival. I want to be used by God to be a catalyst for revival here, but that task seems exponentially more daunting than the physical tasks that lie before Haiti right now. Cleaning up a collapsed city and providing life-sustaining supplies to hundreds of thousands of homeless people sounds much easier.

So, for now, I’m still processing, thinking, and praying with an intensity unlike I’ve never known before.

If you’re even slightly thinking about going to Haiti sometime soon to serve, you must go now! All your excuses are completely invalid: it’s very safe, you can absolutely afford it, you have the time, and you can make a big difference.

Do it. Now. Stop over-thinking it. Get off your butt and go. Seriously. Go.

Posted on February 22, 2010

  • I'm glad you came back. :) Keep processing, and take your time. I love you!

  • Tim I appreciate the fact that you don't want to come across as harsh against the American Church. We already have so many people who do that. In fact we have a whole 'movement' doing that. While there are things that are broken or dysfunctional there's a ton of good too. I have a feeling we would agree on a lot in this. I've felt like we (the American Church) can do better. Should do better. We're even expected to do better. Christ LOVES his bride in all of it's brokenness and imperfections yet I can't help but think, "we HAVE to do it better." Yet at the same time I'm not sure how to go about it. I'm not sure what it looks like.

    What I do know is that God is calling me to rethink things. Both personally and professionally. It scares me half to death because it may mean taking a huge step of faith out of my comfort zone – and if I'm honest – I don't know that I'm comfortable with that. I think that's part of what's wrong though. We've been conditioned for so long to stay where it's comfortable and makes sense. To play it safe and not risk our reputation or good jobs for the sake of Christ. Over the past few months this has been getting stronger and stronger within me. It's part of the reason I'm trying to pull back from social media – to try to figure some things out and re-invest in one-on-one relationships. Not that we can't do it through social media but nothing can replace face time.

    I could rant for a long time but I won't. Thanks for your honesty. It's obvious God worked in some ways in you going over to Haiti and I know at the right time and through the right venue God will allow you to voice those things in love and compassion for his bride to hear clearly and accept or reject. Personally I look forward to that.

  • brian

    Come on Tim. God doesn't call us all to go to Haiti. There is plenty of work to do here as well. One thing I cannot stand is when people come back from other countries and get bent on how much they can't stand America, etc. There is a lot of hurt here too, a lot of people who need Jesus here too, and a lot of needs that need to be met here too. It is awesome that you went to Haiti but thousands of people in downtown los angeles live in tents also…just be sure not to view missions as "overseas only." If we cannot minister to people in our own backyard first, (i.e. loving our neighbors here) how can we be effective in doing it in other countries?

    • I totally agree — America is just as much a missions field as anywhere else in the world. I'm glad Africa is now sending more missionaries to the US than the US sends there because we need it!

      But God cares just as much about the people in Haiti as he does for the people in our backyard, and thus, so should we. We are called to both, not one or the other. We spend considerably more time serving the people in our comfortable environment at home than we do overseas. I'm not saying the time we spend in the US should equal the time we spend overseas, but hopefully we can agree that we could all stand to look outside our immediate context a little more than we do. Sending money to missionaries is great, but that's not the same. On some level, we must both serve both financially and personally.

      The need is great everywhere, but even homeless people in America are not starving. At least they have bridges to stand under when it rains.

      • Brian

        Well hey, you just assume too much. We all do not have a lot of excess $$ sitting around and time to go to Haiti. It is great that God called you too but it is not so with everyone. We all need to either go, send, or disobey. God calls everyone to participate in missions in different ways and means. For me it is urban ministry in the inner cities. That is how I like to participate in missions. But I don't take a calling God has given me and push that on everyone b/c God has given me that calling, not everyone. I think you are mistaken in saying we are all called to both. Because…we aren't. We all don't serve in a "comfortable environment at home" just because we don't go to Haiti. Skid Row in Los Angeles is not at all comfortable.

        • @Brian
          I think you took Tim's post a bit to literally. There is a huge revival and urgency transpiring in Haiti right now. It is an exciting time.
          Bottom line: I think we all need to (at some point) revisit and re-evaluate what God is calling us and YM to do.

          Brian you also may need to ask the question of: Maybe some of my students are getting called elsewhere, and not only to the "inner cities"? Think about that. I think it is our jobs as youth pastors to expose our students to a lot of different types of mission ministries (short term, oversees, inner cities, prison, wealthy cities, etc)

          And to make it worst…. how would you interpret the Great Commission when it literally states: Go make disciples of ALL Nations?

          • Brian

            ALL Nations? That means the US as well right? All I am saying is that we are not ALL called to Haiti. Some are and it is awesome and much needed, but not ALL are. Bottom lined.

          • Brian

            Dude, and where did I say anything about "students?" I am speaking about myself. You need to think lager than your youth ministry bubble. Think about that.

          • renee altson

            Brian, I totally agree with you about urban ministry as well. I completely respect foreign mission trips (I went on lots to Mexico when I was a teenager), and I recognise the need for them, but I also think there is SO MUCH MORE that the church can do even in our own neighborhoods.

            As for people not starving here… I've said this before, but I will keep saying it. My mother died a homeless person. She was only 20 feet from her TENT in a snowstorm and had been sober for 3 weeks.

            sometimes we also get caught up in "deserving…" like it's easy for us to say people in the u.s. don't "deserve" our help/concern/care. Somehow the other countries are more innocent…

            I'm not ragging on the Haiti trip. I think what you guys did was awesome. I think it was necessary and each of you were called. But the reality is that we have people here in our own neighborhoods who are hungry and needy and living in tents and dying. And we are not called to decide who deserves our help and who doesn't.

            please don't feel defensive, tim, about this… i'm sure my own experience has coloured my view a great deal. i am NOT anti-missions. at all. i'm just also pro-missions-here-at-home, too.

          • brian


        • Sorry if it felt like that "comfortable" comment was directed toward you — wasn't meant to me. I was just speaking generally, hence the "we" language.

          But for the rest, I hope we can agree to disagree. At the very least, you have to agree that me encouraging people to serve people in need in Haiti is not unbiblical. Although I guess I stepped on your toes, I still stand strongly behind my admonition.

          We're still brothers in Christ, man. :)

          • Brian

            Yeah for sure it is a good thing to encourage people to go. But don't place a mandate on someone for Haiti that the Holy Spirit hasn't given them…;)

          • Eric

            Where did he even come across of "mandating"? Here's the mandate I guess you're talking about "If you’re even slightly thinking about going to Haiti sometime soon to serve, you must go now!" He wasn't saying you…or me. He's talking to people who are thinking about going. Geez. A bunch of people are going to Haiti now which is why I pulled out of going. They have a lot of people sharing Christ there now and I feel I should go somewhere where Christ isn't shared. On top of this, we do mission work in our own community as well as a poverty stricken small town outside of Vegas in the desert. Once again, there's no mandate so get off the high horse and learn a little humility.

        • Brian- I'm sensing a bit of a chip on your shoulder about this. Maybe that's the Lord stirring you? But don't take it out on Tim, he's just sharing what he is going through.

  • Love it, bro. I might be slightly biased considering I work for a missions organization, but sometimes I think the church uses the mantra "we have poor people here too" as an excuse to naval-gaze and remain ignorant and comfortable.

    I serve locally, nationally, and internationally. God's love is needed everywhere. And, I agree, we need revival here. Big time.

    • Dude, I agree 100%. I think the, "We have needs here, too," comments are mostly from people who haven't served in a 3rd world ministry context before. America is their primary frame of reference for people in need. I don't dog on these people, just wish they'd be a little more open to other experiences.

      • Brian

        Tim this is unfair at best…

      • Jeff G

        I will make that comment and be one of those who have been to third world countries. I will however agree with you that your viewpoint will change when "you experience" a third-world country. But, if you (anyone) gets out of your comfort zone a little in America, you will meet folks with great needs.

        • Brian

          Amen to that. It is very unfair and narrow minded to assume that because somebody sees ministry needs in the USA they have never been to other countries in need as well. It has no basis at all and is quite ridiculous.

        • Yeah, some of my most uncomfortable ministry experiences have been here in the US, mostly in urban situations. I don't mean to belittle the need here at all. Just remember that there's need elsewhere, too, and that you can make a big difference there as well as you can here. And there's nothing more "honorable" about serving needs in the US than there is serving needs in other places in the world. It's all Kingdom work regardless of it's geographical location.

          • Brian

            agreed there Tim. well put.

  • My wife and I had the same response when we came back from Haiti. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale to catch a connection home, and the gate we were waiting at literally had an Apple/Sony vending machine – swipe a credit card, and get an iPod, iPod Touch, PSP, games, iTunes cards, etc. I couldn't believe, after coming out of Haiti, that we live in a culture where people have enough expendable income to buy non-essential technology out of a vending machine.

  • Jordan Canterich

    If all you guys that went on the trip spent as much time ministering as you do blogging, tweeting, and discussing youth ministry there would be a whole lot less people to help. Between the videos, blogs, and other stuff your group posts it looks like a giant ego stroke fest among a bunch of guys who would rather talk ministry all day than do it.

    • Sorry you have that impression. The other option, of course, is that we're all so passionate about what we saw and experienced from God that we just can't help but tell the stories over and over again. Our desire is that it brings glory to God by praising Him for the work He's doing in Haiti, not to bring attention to ourselves. We're just the messengers He's chosen to tell the story because the news media is obviously not telling it. (Another post coming on that soon.) What God is doing is so great that we can't keep it in, nor should we.

      • Brian

        How about Matthew 6:1-5? Any thoughts anyone?

        • I hope you're not really serious about this passage, but on the off-chance that you are, the context is clearly Jesus talking about the Pharisees whose sole purpose for doing good things was to receive recognition from man. His point is that our motives for serving and doing good deeds should be to bring glory and honor to Him, not to ourselves. He is NOT saying that we should never let anyone know if we do something nice. If that were the case, then He contradicted Himself every time He healed someone in public. The "don't let the right hand know what the left is doing" is clearly figurative.

          My conscious is totally clear that the stories we're telling are to bring glory to Him for what He's doing in and through the people of Haiti. None of us are Pharisees.

        • Eric

          How about Acts 15:4? Any thoughts? The more I read these comments of yours, the more complacent and envious you seem to be.

    • I didn't see you. Were you there?

    • Suzanne

      I followed you all and never got the "ego stroke" impression. only that of people seeking to serve God and share it with others, hoping to mobilize and ease fears of anyone thinking about going. So, thanks!

  • Hang in there, Tim! Give yourself time. What you are thinking and feeling is normal and expected. You know and I know God will help you sort it out. Talk it through with "safe" friends and walk with God. In missions work de-briefing is often considered a low priority when in fact it is one of the more important things we do with our students and ourselves. It only took me 15 missions trips to realize this! Praying for you! You will never be fully "over" your experience there. God has given you a bigger heart.

    • Patti

      I agree Tim, hang in there and soak in all that God has given you during your time in Haiti. He has opened your eyes and your heart to a new perspective. Blessings to you.

  • Jerry Schmoyer

    I totally know how you feel. India does that for me. If it weren’t for church and family here I could so live in India. It has turned me inside out, stretched me beyond anything I could have imagined, and made me into something different than I thought possible. My heart is still in India and I am in daily contact with people there, still involved in pastors conferences long distance, translating my spiritual warfare handbook into their language, etc. It is in my heart It’s great to see you going through that process as well. Feel free to share and bounce things off me if you’d like. I'm glad God is teaching you these things so early in your ministry. God bless! Dad (Jerry Schmoyer)

  • Becca

    I totally know where you are, Tim. The Lord has graciously allowed me to see needy/hurting/unsaved people in nearly 30 countries, plus all over the U.S. I understand your sensitivity and compassion, too. I still weep and pray for people I met over 10 years ago. The needs are so great it can be overwhelming and immobilizing. But don't let it be! Keep processing while keeping an open mind and heart to those who haven't experienced it. Share your stories as uncondescendingly (if that's a word!) as possible and glorify the Lord in it all. He is pleased with your efforts, just make sure to keep it it perspective and use your Jesus-filter. ><>

  • Ben Read

    Tim and others from the team who on the off chance read this and care. I have been praying for you all and want you to understand that your trip was a huge blessing not only over there, but here at home as well to many of us who followed along. I thank God that he was able to send you over there, and pray he keeps your spirits high despite people who would write your mission off as an ego-stroke-fest, or what have you.

    As far as coming back and feeling such anger against the American Church and the spiritual state of things here, I think it just serves as another huge reminded, to me at least, that America is one of the greatest Mission Fields in need. We have such a wealth of knowledge and resources about the bible so readily available, but we do nothing about it. We need the Lord just as much!

    Thanks for all you and the ymath team (repetitive but whatever) have done these last few months, in preparing, going and processing, and keep it up! God Bless!

    • Thanks, Ben! I appreciate the encouragement. :)

  • Every mission experience, both in America or abroad can and should be life changing and impact the ministry we are currently in. Keep on processing Tim and allow God to work in your current mission field from this experience. God had you there for a reason and if you remain open to his leading, He will use it to impact many for Him – even if it is in America :)

  • Tom

    The only problem I had was with a comment you made in one of the above replies. You said; “The need is great everywhere, but even homeless people in America are not starving. At least they have bridges to stand under when it rains.” I think you need to be very careful what comments you make if you don’t have all the information. As a former homeless person myself I can tell you that starvation and lack of shelter is a BIG problem for American homeless. Who or what ever gave you the idea that American homeless are NOT starving is incorrect. Please don’t allow your trip to Haiti to blind you from the rest of the world.

    • You're probably right, Tom. Thanks for the reminder.

      • While you're so sensitive to God's direction since you just came back from Haiti, I would encourage you to start going to the local homeless shelter and let God continue to keep you heart tender.

        The time Karyn & I spent as a chaplain and bookkeeper in a homeless shelter was quite an experience…

  • Suzanne

    What a discussion…..
    Acts 1:8, anybody? Start at home, head out a little farther, then a little farther, then hit the end of the earth. Missions is and can be anywhere/everywhere. As someone who has gone overseas (as a youth) and is headed to Haiti as an adult, I of course feel passionate about overseas missions. It rocked my world view as a 14 year old in a way nothing in this country did. My parents certainly didn't have enough money to send me, God did. He poured the support in from family and friends.
    It's not a choice of one or the other however.

    • Suzanne

      We are called to be missionaries wherever we are.
      The problem I have when people say that they aren't "called overseas" is that generally we (and I'm including myself) aren't doing enough here. We use it as a cop-out to stay comfortable. And while I am in no way negating the need of the homeless here (my brother was homeless for a number of years), the NOTHING many of us say we have doesn't compare to the NOTHING people elsewhere have. If you have a checking account (doesn't matter what's in it) you are among the top 10% of wealthy people worldwide. if you have a savings account on top of that, you are a little higher up. We are almost all among the top 10% of wealth in the WORLD; what are we (and I mean me too) doing with it?
      And don't get me started on the # of people groups worldwide who have never even heard the name Jesus.
      Tim- I'm praying God will give you discernment on how to hold on to the lessons He's taught and how to process and pass them on in love and grace.


  • Eric

    Tim, I'm glad you went. I'm glad a lot of people are going. As Christians, we are called to live the great commission until the coming of Christ. Just as Peter was in 2 Peter 1:16, you and your group "were eyewitnesses of His majesty." I know you're coming off the "mission high" but I think you controlled your emotions and thoughts very well. I personally know that you could've easily bashed American Christianity but you held your tongue and urged those who felt the need to go to not hold back and do so. This is why Paul reported back to the churches of the things God was doing. It wasn't to boast or brag, but to urge them to share the gospel as well. I believe that this ministry of yours for Youth Pastors is phenomenal, uplifting, and encouraging. It's hard to push through the walls of complacency, and to see others pushing as well is very encouraging. Don't let the words of a few discourage you. Remember, 12 spies went to the promised land of God and only two believed in God's power. They were mocked and rejected. But they were also the only two that got to go into God's prize on earth. Keep pushing, keep mentoring, keep challenging.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Eric! Appreciate it. :)

  • Re-entry sucks. You have all of these conflicting emotions that you need to sort out. Why am I angry with the things I see here at home? How does that correspond to the way my heart was breaking in Haiti? When It's all said and done, what do I personally take away from this experience? What am I responsible for in sharing my story? This is such an evaluative, personal process. I encourage you to take some time away to ask the hard questions, to seek the Lord, and to journal. In the past I've made bullet point lists describing the things I want to remember, need to work on, and need to share. Having a journal entry or a list like this will help you reconnect with your trip in Haiti when life at home becomes more normal and natural. The key is integrating the brokenness experience and your everyday life. Praying for you Tim! As a sister who has had several horrible re-entry experiences herself, I know it's tough. Be encouraged in your ministry and the places this will spur you on in ministry. It's time for greater things to happen everyday and you get to be a part of that. Blessings.

  • Tim,

    Thanks for the post. I feel the same way each time I go to Mexico.

  • This is so funny and sad. Youth leaders (I assume) slinging Bible verses back and forth. It reminds me of why I stopped participating in the YS forum right before it shut down.

    Tim, may God continue to bless your heart and soul with a passion for transforming this self-centered country that we were blessed (or cursed) to be born in. Foreign missions is one of my passions and goals, but am not yet able. It is also my goal to get my kids to a foreign country so that they can see how blessed they really are.

    I look forward to your future posts as you digest your experience, and any guidance you have for revival locally. Please don't let negativity distract you from this. I share your pain as I watch our church fight and fracture over unbelievably petty things. The church is capable of great things when challenged; this was evident after Hurricane Katrina. Keep up the hard work and thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Theresa. People probably think they accidentally subscribed to a Haiti blog recently. :)

  • Hey Tim,

    i won't write as much as the others. Just wanted to tell that I prayed the last weeks for you. It seems, that God opened your eyes for the essential stuff in life. What now is very important, is that you seize time for prayer.

    Greetings from Germany

    PS: I like your work.

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  • This is really incredible. Tim, love your honesty, and I love how this tribe of followers is encouraging you. So glad you went on the trip… and even more glad that it affected you so.

  • After being in Haiti and seeing the hunger for and trust in the Lord, one is never ever the same and nothing short of Heaven will ever really satisfy again. I pray you do NOT recover from the experience. It is a precious gift from God to realize so deeply this world is not your home and the things of earth grow strangely dim after experiencing Haiti and the faith of the Haitian Christians. The thing about the people of Haiti is that they are actually the "privileged" because they "get" that God is truly all we have, and so when they understand it, they grasp onto Him with both hands and don't let go. The Word of God speaks about how difficult (not impossible, but difficult) it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Food for thought! I don't think it is only the northamerican culture that is weighing on your soul, but perhaps just a general longing for the REALITY of your REAL HOME. Thanks for your transparency. My heart is with you.

  • Tim, thanks for this post again. I read this before I went to Haiti, but now that I'm back, it really hits home. I gotta hand it to you bro, you know how to not take things personally. Or at least you appear like you do :-)

    I'm struggling with many of the same thoughts. I've been back for 2 days now. I want to return so badly. I'm gonna be pitching a similar trip to our staff for June. Either way, I know I need to go back soon.

    I had never been to a 3rd world country before Haiti. Well, except for Mexico. And even then, Haiti made Mexico seem like the Hilton. I had always been a bit apprehensive about 3rd world missions. I realize now, it was out of fear and comfort.

    Haiti (specifically after the quake) is one of those places that really can't be described. It must be experienced. And until people do, they will never fully grasp it.

    At least these are my initial opinions after reading these comments. Thanks again for helping me wrestle through some of the same feelings.

    • lol Thanks, Josh. I don't take it personally. Some people are just blissfully ignorant, that's all. It's not their fault — they don't know any better. (How's that for an arrogant statement?!) :)

      It's encouraging to hear your thoughts on all this, Josh. I can't wait to go back in only 3 weeks!

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  • Thanks for the encouragement, Melinda! :) Looks like we're going back this fall and hopefully spring, as well. I don't know if I'll be there since my wife is due with our second child in September, but a team from my church will be returning with or without me. Glad to see how the passion was passed along and caught by others. :)

  • Amanda

    Feel the exact same way coming back from Haiti myself…. wow, thank you for this! Good to know we are not alone….

    • Welcome back! We’re heading to Haiti again in October. Can’t wait! I’m guessing you had a great experience from the sound of it. :)

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