This June, a group from Shelterwood is heading to Haiti for the 11th trip since 2010. The team of travelers consists of teens currently enrolled at Shelterwood, alumni and staff. On the trip, daily visits to orphanages and seeing the reality of life in Haiti provides an invaluable experience for Shelterwood teens.
Jim Subers is the CEO of Shelterwood and this will be his tenth Haiti trip with the teens currently enrolled in our program. He describes the purpose of this trip in uncomplicated terms to love and be loved.
“Many mission trips are built around service projects, but this one is different,” Jim said. “We have one goal which is to go love on orphans. The amazing thing is, our kids receive love as they’re giving love. That’s what really impacts our kids.”
The trip itinerary centers around time spent at orphanages where the group simply plays and spends time with children. But what they take away from it isn’t simple at all, most teens come away with life-changing perspective on their lives and privileges.
“Most American young people don’t realize that just by living in America, even if you’re poor, you’re in the top 5% of the world in terms of wealth and opportunity,” Jim said. “When our students get to Haiti, they are confronted with that truth. This time is a real opportunity to give the kids a perspective change and to position them to ask questions like, ‘Why was I born in America? Why do I have the privileges I have and what does that mean for me?’”
The trip can also shed light on what it means to have faith and follow Jesus. Many students come to Shelterwood with a negative view of faith or religion, but the trip shifts this for many, as students act out God’s call in James 1:27, “to care for widows and orphans in their distress.” The opportunity to love on orphans allows teens to encounter God in a fresh way and understand the meaning of true faith.
Past trips have been so impactful for the young people attending, that this year’s group includes four Shelterwood recent graduates from the program who are doing well in life and want to come back and experience the mission trip one more time. One Shelterwood graduate has even taken a group of her own back to visit the orphanages.
“The contrast of life in Haiti versus life in America is something you can’t teach, you have to experience,” Jim said. “More gets accomplished in a week there than we could ever teach in a classroom or therapy session.”
Shelterwood teens apply for the trip by writing essays, often explaining that they want to experience traveling internationally, to see how people from another country live and learn from that unique experience. One student wrote, “I think this trip would show me to not be so self-absorbed, but to be focused outward on loving and showing compassion to others because that’s what real life is about.”
At the end of each busy day, the teens are guided in reflection and encouragement by the Shelterwood staff. Our teens are not only exposed to different realities but they carefully process their experiences so as to best internalize and learn valuable life lessons from the trip.
In addition to the time spent at orphanages, the team attends a local church and recuperates at the end of the trip with an afternoon on Haiti’s beautiful Caribbean coast. There’s also an open invitation from Jim to be baptized in the Caribbean for those who make a commitment to follow Jesus. A few teens take him up on that invitation every time.
For Shelterwood, the trip to Haiti is a transformative moment in our teen’s journey. The trip creates a perspective shift like no other and solidifies so much of what the teens have already learned in their time at Shelterwood.
“God allows disruption in our lives because it provides key opportunities to grow,” Jim said. “When life disrupts us, we have real opportunity to change. The Haiti trip is one of those positive disruptive moments for kids. They are given the opportunity to receive a new positive perspective.”