haiti: meet ambota

During the first week of August, Chad and I were in Haiti on a mission trip with 14 students and 4 other adults with Adventures In Missions. As I've mentioned, it was the most powerful and meaningful week of my life. Because of what God accomplished in, around and through our group, I've been processing and writing my response to those experiences here on my blog. This is response #7 of 9. You may want to start from the beginning if you're just jumping in.


Everyone has a story. A way in which you got to your current point in life. A series of events—and reactions to those events—that shape you into the person you are today. While visiting an orphanage in Carrefour, Haiti on Wednesday, August 3, I couldn't help but wonder what the stories were that surrounded each of the 70 precious children who lived there. It was surprisingly an extremely happy environment for toddlers all the way through 18-year-olds, filled with love, joy and respect. But you don't generally end up in an orphanage because of a string of uplifting memories. What lead each of these children to smile in this place? To laugh and sing praises together to the Lord?  

I was lost in wonder as I captured photos of sweet Haitian smiles and happy faces as they played with our American students. I noticed a young girl sitting in a group, but she seemed disconnected; shy maybe. I asked Billy, one of our translators, to help me talk to her. I found out her name was Ambota. She was 14 years old (although I would have guessed much older) and she definitely had a story. It was a very sad story… Her father and mother had been killed when she was a baby by UN officials. She has 3 sisters and 2 brothers but doesn't know where they are. Her grandmother took care of her for several years before giving her to the orphanage in 2005. 

Ambota's face was downcast as she slowly described her painful past. There was a pause—it looked like tears were near. I tried to encourage her by noting that it looked like all the kids there were one big, happy family. Seemed silly after I said it—I realize that nothing can replace the real thing. She still seemed pretty timid and gave only short answers to my questions with no eye contact. I started to feel like I was intruding a bit, based on her body language, but decided to change the subject for one last question. 

"Ambota, what makes you happy?" I asked with a smile in my voice. She kept her gaze down toward her hands in her lap as she thought about it. The suspense was killing me. What would she answer? Friends? Ice cream? Going to the beach or sunshine? After a little while, she grinned a bit and responded softly, "When people encourage me."  A 14-year old girl, with no true family left that she knows of, with no material possessions to her name, stuck in the mix of 70 other kids at an orphanage in a third-world country with an unknown future responded with the simple, innocent answer of "encouragement". Touched my heart. Convicted my soul. 

I asked Ambota if it was ok for me to encourage her. I took her blushing grin from ear to ear to mean, "yes". I told her that she had a beautiful smile, that her heart seemed happy and that God loved her very much. She then smiled so big, making eye-contact with me for the first time. She still seemed a little shy, so I told her I was very glad to have met her and I kept moving. 

Later on, she came right up to me from across the yard and gave me a huge hug, grabbing my hand to go sit with her inside. We had indeed made a connection and it was so powerful. We sat down & began to talk to each other. No translation was necessary—we each understood the deeper meaning. She pointed at my Bible and read a couple verses to me in English. She had no idea what they meant, but it didn't matter. We were connecting. And smiling. I showed her John 3:16 and motioned as I read it so she could understand. She nodded in agreement. We had our picture taken together (above). Leaving that orphanage later was one of the most difficult things I had to do while in Haiti. I'll never forget Ambota. I am very thankful that God allowed me to be encouraged by her.

Everyone has a story. It's easy to remember that when you're in a place like an orphanage. But what about when you're mixed into the mainstream of American culture, at your job or in your classroom? When you're driving down the road or riding on the bus? When people react to situations in ways that are less than desirable, we can quickly form negative opinions or judgments toward them before we consider what their story may be and why they reacted in that way. Deep down, that person may just need some extra love and encouragement to make them happy. Will you be that voice?

Read the next response (#8 of 9).