Though we’ve lived in Haiti for almost 10 years now, it’s still common for strangers to ask: “How in the world did you get here!?” And though I graduated in 2001, my answer always comes back to Tree of Life. My exposure to missions as a child was limited to an annual gift of a small bottle of vanilla from a missionary couple who lived in some country far away. I didn’t know or understand what they did, I didn’t know or understand that there were many others like them, I didn’t know or understand the very essence of Jesus’ life and commands, to serve, to pour out, to lay down our lives for others, to show and share the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
By my senior year, I knew a lot more about reaching out and serving, but the reality was that I felt that my life was just about to start, and all I was interested in was what I was going to do with it! Who was I going to spend my life with, what was I going to do, where was I going to go to college, what was I going to be?
Our senior trip was to be a fun Caribbean vacation in the Dominican Republic with my class (and we’d have a few opportunities to serve, they said), and while I remember spending a lot of time finding the perfect clothes and journals and shoes for the trip, and talking about the trip with my friends, the reality was that I never even prayed that God might use it to teach me, to change me, to show me, brilliantly, that my life wasn’t about my plan.
That week in the DR transformed my heart and changed the rest of my life. I already had my future planned out and worked for and set, and that week, it all crumbled. For the first time, I realized that there was a WORLD outside of my own…and that it was hungry, and desperate, and broken, and needy, and without Christ.
The week after graduation, I turned around and went right back to the same place (funded entirely in two days through ToL), this time, alone, and spent three months working past the “mountain top” experience of our senior trip and into the true joys and struggles and stretches of ministering on the foreign mission field, of non-glamorous, unnoticed, uncomfortable service.
By the end of the summer, serving in spiritually and physically impoverished places–no matter how difficult and heartbreaking—had surfaced and rooted as His call on my life, and there was no turning back. It was no longer about how I felt. It was about obeying how GOD felt, and there was no mistake. The same Lord who took off His robe to wash dirty feet, the same Jesus who touched untouchables, the same Master who fed hungry crowds could be brought to the nations and transform them…through service.
In 2007 my husband and I moved to Haiti, and for these past years have lived and served at Emmaus Biblical Seminary (ebshaiti.org), training up and empowering pastors, missionaries, evangelists and teachers for His transforming in Haiti. We are now a family of five with three little girls, and I am forever grateful for how God used Tree of Life to change my plans, to grow my world and to give me a heart to serve.
Stacey White Ayars
Class of 2001