I’d been on mission trips before. I’d painted houses, I’d spent time in big cities facing severe homelessness, and I’d worked in food banks. I’d led service projects with back-breaking construction, some lacking supplies, or using trees from a rainforest for beams to a house. I’d mixed concrete by hand and loved the adrenaline rush of pure exhaustion after. I’d held children who found peace and safety in my arms. I thought I’d seen a lot at my age of 25.
But the moment I stepped out of the plane in Haiti, I experienced a world unlike anything I’d ever known.
Pause – here’s the back story. My name is Chloe Rits, and for the past year and a half, I had the honor of being the Director of Student Ministries in my hometown at JupiterFirst Church. I spent almost 30 hours a week in high school involved in youth group, volunteering, and all sorts of events. I loved it and it was my home. I met some of my very best friends there and they were, and still are, home to me too. From a young age, I was always passionate about helping others, giving back, and trying to be the person that others needed in their life. I felt that whatever mercy I had been blessed with in my life, or whatever energy I had to spare that others could not, I should do something with it. It was always my dream to lead the youth at JupiterFirst one day, so when I got the call in April 2016 asking if I would like to come home, I gladly accepted, with tears of joy and about a thousand phone calls to make.
I was living in Orlando at that time, having graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s in Event Management and a minor in Leadership Studies. My husband, Tyler, and I had recently married that New Year’s Eve after having dated since freshman year of college. Tyler, too, grew up doing mission work – so when we were planning our wedding, we decided to follow our hearts and do a “Mission Honeymoon” in lieu of a gift registry. Little did we know, we were about to go to the poorest nation in the western hemisphere to celebrate our love. Upon moving from Orlando to Jupiter for me to take the position at church, we were immediately on board for a trip that was already planned by one of our pastors, Deb Kaiser Cross, to go to Haiti. So that was it… the start of our journey with Be Like Brit!
Ok, now unpuase.. fast forward to stepping out of the plane at Port au Prince airport.
After having thought I had seen (what I thought was) so much in my life, Haiti rocked my world. We spent a week there in January, my first BLB trip, and I journaled about my experience each night. I wrote, “No TV show, movie, or anticipation could have prepared me for what I saw. Trash and debris were everywhere, lining the buildings, in stacks and piles, in ditches, in the medians. There was nowhere that trash wasn’t. Huge empty lots where buildings had once been and crumbled in the earthquake were turned into pits to dump garbage into. Kids and goats dug through the trash, searching for anything worth eating. The buildings were completely disheveled, cracked, and falling apart. ‘Homes’ were sheets of plywood or sheet metal, patchworked into box-like structure shapes.”
It was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. Amazing Grace played softly in my head, as I observed through the car window the tragedy and poverty on a scale I didn’t know existed. I once was blind, but now I see. Haiti needs all the help we can give.
After the shocking and humbling 2 hour bus ride from Port au Prince to Grand Goave, we pulled up to Brit’s Home and heard it.. the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard, just after witnessing some of the most horrific living conditions I’d ever seen. We walked in to the large open-ceiling rotunda where Brit’s 66 children were singing joyous songs, welcoming us into what felt like a little corner of heaven. Even before the song came to a close, the children ran full speed into our arms. No hesitation. No reservations. Just full trust that we were there with pure intentions and love in our hearts. I’m not an emotional person, but I tasted the tears, streaming down my face, onto my lips as I smiled, belly-laughing with full embrace of children I not yet knew.. on the day that would have been Brit’s 27th birthday.
And the rest is history, really. Of all my service experience, the BLB week-long Britsionary program really is the best (I’m not biased, I mean it!) It is the perfect balance of hard labor building homes in the morning, relaxing afternoons adventuring around Grand Goave, and nights full of fun with the kids and staff. Hard work + cultural experiences + playing with kids = best trip ever. My team and I bonded in ways I never knew possible – and some of us had even been friends since middle school – so that was saying something!! We took all our energy to focus on building 2 homes that week, never forgetting the poverty we saw on our drive in, with full understanding that with each shovel of concrete, with each nail hammered, that we were not just building a house.. but a shelter. A sanctuary. A safe place. A home. As we handed over the keys to the new homeowners, we knew that this place we built was a beacon of hope in the community for family, friends, and neighbors.
But, there’s always another family in need or a child to sponsor. If you’ve been to Brit’s Home, you know this feeling well: the contrast of heartache and hope. It can feel daunting to know that although your goals were accomplished for the week, there is more work to be done. If you have yet to take a journey, know that a love you’ve never known is waiting for you there. That’s what happened to me. It started with a honeymoon mission and ended with us falling in love in a totally different way. A love for the passion, dedication, commitment, and promise of a wonderful future for the kids and the community. My heart changed.. and as the months after my trip went on, I couldn’t resist the deep need to do more.
In August, my life flipped upside down as I left my position in youth ministry at JupiterFirst Church and decided to dedicate my energy into full time non-profit work. Naturally, Be Like Brit was the first call I made; I met Len and Cherylann, and they welcomed me into the family with open arms.
I now serve as the Florida Director of Outreach for Be Like Brit, working with Peterson (who you all know) to strengthen the community relationships in South Florida to Haiti. It is my purpose here to inspire potential Britsionaries from Florida to make the life-changing trip to Brit’s Home, as well as working with local schools, churches, and the Chamber of Commerce to encourage donation drives, fundraising, and support. As Len says, “Once you’re in.. you’re in!” – and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
In closing, many of you have read Brit’s story, Heartache and Hope in Haiti. Like all Britsionaries, I read it last January before traveling to Haiti. Now, as a staff member, I decided to read it again.. having experienced the kids first hand, and now personally knowing the Gengel family. It’s a whole different story this time around, and I have a new found respect for what it’s all about. I never met Britney, but her family, friends, and other staff members have kept her spirit living all around us – through the blue and yellow, through the design of the orphanage, through the little jokes in daily conversation together, and through their continued effort to deepen her legacy. As I was reading her story this 2nd time, trying to get to know her better, I know what part of Brit I want to be like. Brit, who fought for what was right. Brit, who helped kids in Haiti. Brit, who stood up for the underdog. I promise to make you proud, girlfriend.
See you soon, timoun.
All my love,