Welcome to Haiti

After a long and exhausting journey we are finally here, in Haiti. After so many years of waiting for the right moment to return, and after months of planning, it feels very surreal to be here, and to see our kids in this place.

Haiti is a different world. The sights, sounds, smells, textures, everything seems filtered through a different light. It’s almost like experiencing everything through completely different eyes.

We left Austin on Monday the 4th of January. 
Luke, Olivia, and John Paul had their first plane ride, and their reactions were priceless. Luke was terrified, and wouldn’t let go of my arm at first. He squeezed so tight! He insisted on having his window shade down, and didn’t want to see what was outside his window. After I reassured him and promised that we would be safe he relaxed, and even allowed me to open his window. Then he realized that this was actually fun and amazing, and he loved watching the runway recede as the plane took off. John Paul laughed and laughed, and Olivia tried to get a view from the middle seat.

Finally we made it to Port au Prince, and although the baggage claim was the usual bedlam, it was not as bad as I’ve seen.

We made it through customs to the helicopter, and despite my doubts, the pilot was able to fit all of us and all our luggage. Emma got to fly in the copilot seat this time. I had John Paul on my lap, and after a little crying, he fell asleep mid-flight, poor guy. Luke and Olivia had the time of their lives, they have no idea how lucky they are.

When we landed at the field near the orphanage, there was a huge entourage to welcome us. Somebody grabbed each of the kids, and they were gone before I could look up. They were so excited to see our kids.

After supper they offered a special mass on our behalf, and it was so sweet. Sister Florence said some very kind words about missionary work, and how wonderful and special it is for our family to be able to serve the Lord and serve the poor in this way. After the mass there was a special presentation to welcome us, and then the orphanage kids danced for us, and they served cake, and partied late into the night.

Poor John Paul was a little shell shocked because everyone kept trying to pick him up. Luke just ran with the boys, and I kept seeing flashes of him at various times. Olivia is very popular with the girls, and just ran and played all evening. Selah drew a crowd with her balloon animals, and Eliana and Emma found many friends.

The house we are planning to live in is not ready yet, so we are staying upstairs at the orphanage. It is fun to live right at the orphanage with all the children, although it is a bit uncomfortable to be living out of suitcases.

We’re looking forward to getting to know all the people here, and to begin our work at the St. Mother Teresa Clinic, and to many adventures. Please don’t forget to subscribe to our blog and our email list for updates.

Emma got to ride in the copilot seat on the helicopter.
John Paul didn’t like the ear muffs, but he loved riding in the helicopter.
The children at Kay Mari were so eager to welcome our kids.
Olivia fit right in.
John Paul found a special friend.


Heneise Update: We’re Still Stateside 🇺🇸

Though we planned to arrive in Haiti 🇭🇹 November 7, our plans have changed a bit.

What happened? We planned to arrive in Port au Prince and then take a helicopter to the Haiti180 mission, which is located in a very remote part of southern Haiti. Taking the helicopter avoids having to drive through Port au Prince, which is not known to be the safest of cities. Unfortunately our helicopter pilot couldn’t obtain a certain required certification in time, and we decided that it would be better to postpone our trip rather than risk having to drive through PauP. 

So here we are, still stateside, and trying to be patient while we wait on things that are outside our control.

Special thanks to everyone who has offered prayers for us and for our mission! And special thanks to everyone who has supported our mission financially. If you’d like to support our mission, please go to https://memberdrive.org/haiti180/heneise-family.

Find out more about our mission, Haiti180, at https://haiti180.com.


Everything you wanted to know about our mission to Haiti

What’s the name of our mission?

Our mission is called Haiti180.

“At our core, the mission of Haiti180 is to create the opportunity to form well educated leaders of faith for the future of Haiti and to make sure every child in our care has a childhood that is filled with love and joy. With your love, support, and prayer, we have been blessed with the opportunity to broaden our focus, reaching out to the poorest of the poor from the young to the old professing God’s love through our developments in education, medical care, housing, and so much more for the kind and loving people of Haiti. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ and together, we can turn it around.

What does the mission do?

Haiti180 runs an orphanage for about 40 children, a school for about 400, a home for the elderly, and a medical clinic. You can find out more about Haiti180 at https://haiti180.com/what-we-do/

What’s our mission affiliation?

Haiti180 is a Catholic lay apostolate. Though there is no official affiliation with the Catholic Church, the mission does work closely with Catholic priests and religious.

Where is our mission located?

Haiti180 is located in the southern peninsula of Haiti, near the villages of Duverger and Danndan approximately 80 miles west of Port au Prince. It’s a very remote area. The people who live in the mountains there have little access to health care, and the closest hospital is a long, uncomfortable distance over bumpy roads by motorcycle or car. 

Does the orphanage do adoption?

The orphanage does not do international adoption. Kay Mari (Mary’s House) provides a stable, loving, permanent home for children who have lost both their parents and have no known relatives.

When are we going?

Our trip starts November 7, 2020. We’ll be staying in Haiti until December 20, and then we’ll come back to Texas for Christmas. If all goes well, then we’ll be returning to Haiti in January.

UPDATE (Nov 5, 2020): our trip has been postponed for a few weeks. Our plan is to fly into Port au Prince and then take a helicopter from the PAP airport to the Haiti180 mission, which is very remote. Unfortunately our helicopter pilot wasn’t able to get a certification that is required to fly, and so we have to wait until he gets that certification. We are very disappointed, but we’re trusting God that everything will work out in the end for his glory. Thanks again to everyone who has kept us in your prayers.

What will we be doing?

Our goal is to serve the poor and demonstrate Christ’s love to people in Haiti through Christian service. Bethany has a passion for working with women and children, so she’ll be conducting health classes and training women in fertility awareness and women’s health. Ryan will be translating for Bethany and helping with administration at the clinic.

How can you support our work?

The most important way you can help is through your prayers. Please let us know if you pray a rosary for our family or for the mission. It would encourage us so much. You can also financially support Haiti180’s mission by joining Team180 on MemberDrive: https://MemberDrive.org/haiti180/ryan-and-bethany-heneise.

Other ways you can help

Can you visit us?

Yes! Haiti180 welcomes short-term missionaries. If you’d like to visit us, it might be possible to tag along with another mission team. Find out more at https://haiti180.com/go/.

Is it safe?

The city of Port au Prince is not a safe place. We will avoid the city entirely by boarding a helicopter directly from the Port au Prince airport. The helicopter will fly us directly to the Haiti180 mission, preventing us from having to travel by car through Port au Prince and the surrounding areas.

How can we keep in touch?

Haiti does not have a functioning postal service, so unfortunately there’s no mail. Fortunately we do have pretty good internet, so the easiest way to get in touch with us is via email. You can email us at our first names at Heneise.com.

You can also subscribe to our blog, follow us on Facebook, and message us through Facebook Messenger.


The Call

It all started in 1947. That’s the year my grandparents arrived in Cap Haitian on a banana boat. A real banana boat, via Havana from Miami. The several days’ ocean journey must have given my grandmother plenty of time to think about the baby growing inside her. To what sort of future had they committed their young family? One of uncertainty and difficulty, to be sure, and also to one of faith, and trust, and reliance on God’s providence.

In those days there were no direct flights from Miami to Cap Haitian. There were no flights at all. No, the only way to get to Haiti was by boat. The fledgling missionaries were met in the Cap Haitian Harbor by the three resident pioneer Baptist missionaries, all dressed in starched white suits, who paddled out to the ship to meet them in a rowboat.

Cap Haitian looked like a painting. “Pastel stucco houses with red roofs and a silver-domed cathedral against a green mountain backdrop topped with a blue, blue sky”, she wrote in her first letter to her mother.

Cap Haitian was indeed the Pearl of the Antilles, for a while. During the colonial period sugar, tobacco, indigo, molasses, coffee, and cotton were produced and exported in massive quantities to America and Europe. Slavery was the cornerstone and foundation of the French colonial economy, of which Cap Français, later Cap Haïtien, was the chief treasure. If an Englishman took sugar in his tea, it had likely been produced using slave labor in Hispaniola.

Haiti carries her head high as the first nation to successfully throw off the bonds of slavery and establish a lasting nation. Nevertheless, by the time my grandparents arrived in 1947 crippling debt, political corruption, and foreign occupation had taken their toll on the Haitian economy. It never regained its footing, and remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

But that day Cap Haïtien shone like a pearl. For my grandparents, Ayiti, “the mountainous land”, would be their home for the next forty years.

In December of the same year my dad was born in Hôpital Universitaire Justinien in Cap Haitian. My dad, along with his brother and two sisters, grew up in Haiti. Not exactly Haitian, they weren’t entirely American either. Missionary kids occupy an awkward middle position, able to be at home everywhere, but never fully fitting in anywhere.

My grandparents’ work was evangelical. Harold, my grandfather, was an ordained Baptist minister. Grammy Ivah was no mere missionary’s wife. A woman of formidable will, it was she who organized the mission projects while Harold crafted his sermons. Together they founded Haiti’s first Baptist theological seminary. When people began coming with various maladies, Grammy would treat them as well as she could under the nearby mango tree. The Good Samaritan mango tree grew into a clinic, then the Hôpital Bon Samaritain, at one time one of the most respected medical institutions in Haiti.

The little seminary took root like the hospital, and before long it was turning out Baptist ministers, who went out to evangelize the countryside. Eventually the seminary was expanded into a full university, with courses in economics, administration, fine arts, and theology.

My father also felt the call to Haiti. After graduating from California Polytechnic College, he came back to volunteer at the Haitian Baptist Convention’s new agricultural school at Quartier Morin, not far from the seminary, outside Cap Haïtien. After he married my mom, the two of them moved there and made it their home. Centre Agricole—the Agricultural Center—blossomed into a full research farm, boasting a variety of field crops and animals. Maybe a bit unconventional in the evangelistic missionary world, the farm employed hundreds of people and became the focal point of the local economy.

Around the time that I was born, my parents took a break to pursue their graduate studies in agriculture at the University of Idaho. Though I was born in Idaho while they were finishing their theses, before long I was toddling along on the hard clay of Centre Agricole.

I grew up there, on the farm, surrounded by my Haitian friends. Like my father and his siblings, I had a foot planted lightly in each world. But Haiti was home.

Political violence is a normal fact of life in Haiti, so when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed in 1991, it seemed par for the course. But anger boiled over, and threats against foreigners had to be taken seriously. Eventually the US Embassy in Port au Prince urged all Americans to leave. We were given 24 hours to decide: stay and take our chances, or leave on the last plane out of Cap Haitian. We chose to leave.

I was thirteen when we left Haiti. During the sporadic course of my college career I went back to Haiti several times for extended periods. I stayed with my aunt Laurie and my wonderful cousins Tony and Laura, and volunteered at the university. Tony was an avid mountain biker, and we explored the countryside on our bikes.

One summer Bethany came to Haiti on a mission trip. She was finishing her nursing degree, and as destiny would have it, had signed up for a nursing mission trip led by my aunt Pam, who was a nursing instructor at her school. We discovered that we shared a love of Haiti and a calling to mission.

After we got married we kept making plans to go back to Haiti together, but each time something would came up—usually children. We both wanted to go back, but as the saying goes, one does not simply walk into Haiti. It’s a challenging place to visit, let alone to live, let alone with children. And yet, that calling was still there, in the back of both of our minds, waiting, tugging.

The night I found out that Tony had died, I couldn’t sleep. He was too young, how could this be?

I lay in bed looking up at the ceiling, wondering why I hadn’t been there for him. Why had I turned my back on Haiti all these years. There just didn’t seem to be a way back. That moment is etched in my memory. I said to God “look, I’m ready to go, but I can’t see the way. If you want me to go, you’re going to have to show me how”.

[UPDATE: Bethany reminded me that I had specifically said to God that if this is what he wanted us to do, not only did he need to show me the way, he would need to show Bethany the way too. I pledged to keep it to myself, but the next morning she said to me “maybe we should go back to Haiti”.]

Turns out, when you say things like that, God treats it like an invitation.

About a year ago, a friend introduced us to a television show called Real Life Catholic. They had aired two episodes featuring a mission in Haiti called Haiti180. With an orphanage, a school, a home for the elderly, and a medical clinic, it is a whole-life mission. But best of all, it is Catholic. It was place where we could see ourselves serving, living for a while, maybe a long while.

Here we are, today, at the end of September 2020, finally preparing to go, for real this time. It all starts this Fall, when we’ll spend two months at the Haiti180 mission. Bethany will work with the clinic as a nurse, and I’ll help out with administration as much as I can. If all goes well, we’ll return after the new year for an extended assignment.

Callings don’t always work out the way you imagine. For us, I imagined we’d have been in Haiti all this time. But here we are, finally making it happen. And maybe the timing is just perfect.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:22–28, RSV-CE)