Indiana Speaker of the House Brian Bosma recently returned from a mission trip to Haiti… it was the second year in a row he’s visited the impoverished island nation. I sat down with Bosma to talk about the trip and how he says it shapes the way he approaches his leadership role in the General Assembly.
On the 9th floor of a building overlooking Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Bosma looks over photos he shot during his recent trip to Haiti. His air-conditioned office provides quite the contrast to the images of people in Haiti suffering from hunger and disease.
“So much distress,” he said, “so many people with a lack of hope or a future.”
And Bosma says that’s one of the things that hits you most when you’re in Haiti…it’s not just the material poverty in the country.
“It’s a poverty of hope, of self worth – spiritual poverty. I mean, it’s literally nothing,” he said.
It comes through in the photos. One that Bosma pauses on shows a sea of make-shift tents, tarps and tin shacks, clustered together on a small patch of land. Bosma explains that the photo is indicative of living conditions at the many refugee camps.
“This was the adjacent parking lot,” he said, “at which there must have been two or three thousand people.”
He talks about two patients he saw at the camps – one an elderly woman, one a small child. Both were near death…in fact, he says they would have been dead within a day or two had the medical team not happened to visit their camps. The child, in particular, shocked him.
“She was – I didn’t take a picture of her – she was like nothing I’d ever seen before in a living child,” he said, “clearly emaciated, clearly dehydrated.”
Haiti suffered severe devastation in 2010 when a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the country. The Haitian government estimates more than 300,000 people were killed and more than a million lost their homes.
When an urgent plea went out for relief workers, Bosma’s son Chris responded. Bosma went with him for a few days last year, and when Chris went back this year for a 12 week internship, the Speaker planned an eight-day stay.
Bosma and his son went to Haiti through a group called Nehemiah Vision Ministries, based out of Kirkland, Indiana. Communications Director Kevin Emerson says having public figures get involved raises Nehemiah’s profile.
“Having Speaker Bosma be on board has just helped us tremendously,” he said, “not only in fundraising but also in public awareness within Indiana.”
While in Haiti, Bosma assisted medical teams in refugee camps and, because of his background in engineering, he was able to help out with technical problems ranging from a malfunctioning water pump to broken air brakes on a bus.
Bosma says all of those experiences not only changed his view, they changed him…and he says others noticed. At the height of the five-week Democratic walkout during the last legislative session, Bosma says a Democratic representative even commented on the change.
“She said, ‘I’ve been telling people, you’re different.’ I said, ‘Well, what do you mean I’m different?’ She goes, ‘You’re just different. Something’s changed in your attitude. What is it?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s probably Haiti.’”
Bosma says the trip refocused his perspective; he didn’t view the problems with the walkout – or the entire session –as being nearly as earth-shattering as he would have before.
“The trials that come up seem to be overwhelming sometimes and we react to them not with a long term vision,” he said, “but with an immediate, crisis-of-the-moment vision.”
And Bosma says a trip to Haiti will definitely change one’s vision. On the last day of his trip, he woke up early and was sitting on the roof of one of the buildings at the ministry campus, watching the sunrise. Looking at the photo again, Bosma gets choked up with emotion.
“Yeah,” he said, “this picture of a sunrise over the mountains was the last day and you asked if it was overwhelming down there, and it can be.”
Bosma is already making plans to return. He’s currently working on securing funds and construction plans for a water tower on the ministry campus. He says thoughts of the people and things he saw in Haiti are never too far from his mind.