"What would your life be like without HTF?"

First I would like to thank all of you for your support as we prepared this year for our trip. My name is Catie Richardson and I will be a freshman at Florida State University this fall.

As our group stood at the bottom of what used to be Wings of Hope, PR asked us the question “What would your life be like if you had never met Maya or Verbo or Michael or anyone associated with HTF?”  At first, I couldn’t put it into words but I definitely knew there was this strong feeling something would be empty inside of me if I hadn’t met these fantastic people.  And then it hit me.

This past year I’ve struggled with the label of being a Christian. To most people, Christians are judgmental, anti-gay, and just here on this Earth to earn their nice guy merit badge to make it into Heaven.  It’s infuriating to me to know this is the Christianity the world sees, and frankly embarrassing, but that was just it. I wouldn’t have such a visceral reaction to this if I hadn’t been exposed to people who walk the walk and talk the talk. See Maya, Verbo, Michael, Phil and Lonnie and all others don’t do the “American” Christianity; they don’t preach one thing and act another way and they don’t just say what Christians should, they live and breathe true Christianity, something I didn’t think was plausbile.  But even further they taught me what it means to be a Christian, a picture to live by. True, I knew grace was a cornerstone of my faith and I knew eternal life is right here and right now, but I’d never seen it in full action, only bits and pieces.

Without Haiti,  I wouldn’t have seen the grace and forgiveness Michael holds so prevalently, never speaking ill of anyone and always finding the good in them. Or I wouldn’t know strength without knowing of Maya, a restavek who ran away to make a better life for himself. Or I wouldn’t know commitment and countless giving of myself without Verbo. Or about seizing opportunites without knowing of Phil and Lonnie who picked up everything and started House of Blessings. But there’s one thing at the root of all of these characteristics that is a crucial aspect to being a Christain that I think is overlooked: courage. Being a Christian is about having the courage to stand up to adversity, like Maya did as he ran away from a restavek home. Being Christian is about feeling a call from God and acting upon it, like Phil and Lonnie. Being a Christian is about having the courage to welcome those in again an again who have hurt you, as Michael has done so many times. Above all, being Christian means you are ready to dive into the unknown.

Truth is we don’t have it all figured out, but who says that should stop us? For Michael, Maya, Verbo, Phil and Lonnie, the thought didn’t even cross their mind to turn back. This courage they posses isn’t possible though if you are not grounded in the faith that God will provide. Here we rely so heavily on ourselves, but ourselves can only take us so far, we have to let God handle the rest; if we don’t, then we’re doomed to only reach the sky, never the stars. But we were meant to reach those stars, it’s our duty. We are called to dream dreams big enough for God to see us through. The world needs God-sized dreams. None of this is possible though without people like Michael, Maya, Verbo, and Phil and Lonnie to dare to dream in the first place and take that leap of faith. They have taught me to believe in myself and take on the treacherous journey of living out of faith.

Every time I travel to Haiti I learn more and more about how to let go and a take those daring jumps into the unknown. I may not have everything figured out but that’s the point. Christians take life by the reins and enjoy the ride. Christians are the dreamers, the go-getters, and the courageous fighters pushing forward to create an amazing world fit for any dream. It seems there’s a lot more to being a Christian than the world lets on. So as I set out on one of the biggest leaps ever as a Florida State Seminole, I feel blessed to have Michael, Maya, Verbo, Phil and Lonnie, and the people of Haiti in my life; without them, and of course the love of my parents, I wouldn’t be able to stand tall and take the world by storm. 100%, no holdin back. O, and go Noles!

Catie Richardson (L) and Debbie Richardson with Maya and a boy they are putting through school.  The boy is showing his first grade report card.