The 45-minute ride from the airport to the Mission of Hope campus was shocking to Matthews and Wentz. Even the smallest things - the things we take for granted - like traffic being organized required a new alertness from the players.
"It's kind of sad that's the main highway because it was super rocky, a borderline gravel road everywhere. Drivers were crazy. It's a different world," Wentz said. "Everyone's got their own plan, got their own mission, driving on the wrong side of the road. Just crazy. And we didn't see cops. The transportation was definitely different."
After getting situated at the Mission of Hope compound, the three joined 19 other members of Connect Church and went to the village of Cabaret, about five miles away. With the help of three interpreters, French and Haitian Creole are the official languages of Haiti, the group divided up and walked to the houses of strangers. The missionaries wanted to know what the people needed. They had come on this trip with tabs to purify water. If medical or dental attention was necessary, Mission of Hope would work with another organization, HaitiOne, to schedule mobile units to come and help out. Since there are no streets or house numbers in these rural locations, GPS coordinates are programmed into a database.
"Even though they were here just a short time, to get them out, get them in front of people, get them serving, I think goes a long way beyond just feeling incredible," said Janeil Owen, a diehard Eagles fan who is the HaitiOne director and regional development director.
The visitors also prayed with the people and helped where they could on the trip. Roughly 80 percent of Haitians are Roman Catholic, but long-standing, local beliefs still have a hold. Voodoo, or superstitions associated with it, are commonly practiced.
For Wentz, the trip was a chance to be of service and to reflect on how to best share his beliefs with people who did not speak the same language or share the same views of the world.
"All of this is through an interpreter. It was just really challenging to us, just how to communicate and really open our eyes to sharing the Gospel, building relationships. If we can do it with an interpreter, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to do it with our own teammates, our own family and friends," Wentz said. "I think that, for me, is going to motivate me and push me to do more and make a bigger influence for sure."
The trip made Matthews think about not only what he wants to communicate about his world view and faith, but how and what does it mean to those he shares with as they face their own struggles.
"One of the biggest things I learned about myself is that my confidence to stand up for what I believe in, sometimes it lessens when I'm in an environment where I have to see the people over and over again," Matthews said. "When you go into somebody's house for the first time and you know they're never going to see you again, it's easy to say, 'Hey, this is what I believe in. This is the type of joy, the type of peace I want to give you by telling you about my faith.'
"But then I come back to America and I'm timid to even go across the locker room and talk to somebody who I know needs help. The reason I do that is because I'm worried about what they're going to think of me. Am I going to be too pushy? Am I overbearing? Sometimes those people who we do see all of the time, those are the people whose opinions matter to us the most so we're a little bit more hesitant with our words, we're a little bit more timid sometimes to express what we may believe or to come out and say, 'Hey, I really think that you're dealing with this, I think this is what could potentially help you.'"
Matthews and Wentz admit there was a "feeling out process" with the local residents. But the children were overjoyed by the spectacle of the visit.
"You can see pictures. You can see videos of this place, but until you're there that's when it really hits you. That's exactly what it did for me being there, seeing the gravel roads and all these kids, barely any of them have shoes. They're just running around. They didn't care. They're kicking plastic bottles because they don't have a soccer ball," Wentz said. "Their clothes didn't fit, kids' pants are falling down. They're trying to hold it up, but they're still playing soccer, laughing, having a blast. It's just a different environment for sure that I don't think anyone should be living this way, but the happiness was there too."
On Saturday, the mission returned to the village to paint two new houses. The homes were basic, only about 20 feet long and 20 feet wide. The walls were made of concrete blocks. They contained just two rooms. Each home will likely provide shelter for six to eight people.
"It was a whole community thing. The kids were coming up wanting to help us paint, taking the paint brush out of my hand. I was holding them up to paint," Wentz said. "To see the passion and the pride they took in knowing that their house was getting painted, it just showed how much they cared. It rejuvenated them, and gave them purpose. It was overall an amazing experience."
One older gentleman from the village, probably in his late 50s, early 60s, helped paint, and at the end of the afternoon returned to his neighboring home, which was nothing more than a sturdy tent made up of Tyvek wrap with a vertical board for a door. He took some of the leftover paint and was able to add a little bit of color to his abode.
"For that man, we brought some dignity. He knows he was seen and valued. That speaks to people," Horner said. "Inside of us, we all want to be seen. We all want to feel like we have value. It was, for me, one of those moving moments."
The people of the village showed their appreciation. A man climbed up a coconut tree, about 50 feet in the air, and used a machete to chop down some fruit.
"My biggest thing is how does this change how I approach day-to-day living in America? That's my biggest mission," Matthews said. "It's not just a mission trip because you leave. You're on a mission trip every time you go into work. You're on a mission trip every time you're around your family. When you're just with your teammates out to eat, how are you going to continue to be that light in people's lives to tell people there's something better to go and aspire for?"