Mere months after moving to Haiti, I noticed a transformation in our family. It wasn’t just the members, as we had begun fostering and added 2 little Haitian boys to our clan. It was our hearts and souls that had changed. Coming back to America was different. It wasn’t the same as when we were just visiting Haiti and returning – that felt like going home. After moving to Haiti, it wasn’t “going home” anymore … And yet, Haiti didn’t really feel like “home” either. It was a new place, with a language and culture we couldn’t fully understand. It was where our home was, but our hearts still felt out of place.
We made friends with a few other ex-pat families, which was an enormous blessing. Of course, on the mission field, our time is limited and people leave to return to the US or off to another country. That’s something we can always count on – that our time with people is limited. No one understands better than other ex-pats and deportees. We met Haitian-American deportees and connected with them – we all know what it is like to grow up one place, and try to acclimate to another in adulthood. The one difference between us is that we can go back to the US, and they usually cannot.
But we live on a tight budget, where flying out is not always feasible. We head back to America about twice a year, which isn’t near enough for fundraising, respite, and seeing family & friends. But we make do. At first, going back was frustrating – and it still is a lot of the time. The stark contrast between the wealth and privilege of the US against the oppression and poverty in Haiti still wrecks my heart. And yet, I’ve discovered that we have all that so that we can make a difference, and I find a sliver of peace in seeing it through that lens.
We live in the distance, between two worlds: Our roots are stuck in America, where we grew up with privilege and ease. But our hearts are stuck in Haiti, where we get the privilege of knowing the oppressed, developing our understanding of the world’s injustices, and deepening our faith.
We sacrifice our comfort – both emotional and physical – to do what we feel is our purpose. We give up the ease of what we know and proximity of our loved ones to fulfill a mission. We never feel fully American anymore, but will never be fully Haitian either. We speak 2 languages and find ourselves blending them no matter where we are. We see the world from 2 viewpoints, that of our privileged roots and now from that of our Haitian neighbors and friends. We are out of place no matter where we go. We live in a gap between two worlds. I call us the gap-dwellers.
Here’s to all of us gap-dwellers across the globe: to the new immigrant to America, to the missionaries across the globe, to the newlywed in your partner’s home country (but not your own), to the humanitarian serving in a far away land; to all of us who have their heart in one place and their roots in another. I see you. I hear you. I know how you’re feeling. You’re not alone, even though you may feel far away … we are in this together! And on your hardest days, let us all remember this: we have the honor of getting to see the world through many lenses; we get to have unique points of view that allow our hearts to expand into territories we never knew existed; we took a leap of faith to live out our purpose even when it is hard (which is a lot!) … I hereby induct you into the society of the gap-dwellers … you are not alone.