If you were raised in a church, chances are you have a pretty narrow (yet slightly accurate) missionary stereotype etched into your brain.
It’s okay. You can admit it, because before becoming a missionary, I did too.
As a child, missionaries were the ones who came to church once a year on Sunday nights (a time when I would rather have been watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and Rescue 911). Their clothing was typically a little outdated, the man’s beard a little too long, and the kids a little too unsocial. The man usually gave a presentation using some not-so-good pictures from a slideshow and spoke about things far above my head- things like underground churches, persecution, and unreached people. I was from the south, ya’ll. The Bible Belt. What did he mean “unreached people”?
I remember being told once by a short-term visitor that I was “more normal” than they expected for a missionary. “You wear cute earrings and watch the same TV shows as me,” she said. Perhaps being told you are “more normal” than one anticipated wouldn’t be an amazing compliment to you. After all, it does imply that you were previously assumed to not be normal. But for me, all I wanted to do was hug this young lady and thank her.
There are a lot of misconceptions about missionaries out there. Some are true. Some are not. But today I hope to set the record straight on at least a few:
1. We are not super Christians
Just because we live oversees “doing the Lord’s work” does not make us super Christians. We are just normal people following our calling probably just like you are following yours. We are tempted just as much as you. Sin just as much as you. Struggle just as much as you. Missionaries are simply Christians trying to be faithful, and that does not make us more super than you.
2. We don’t all live in grass huts
Not all of us live in some remote village in a grass hut without running water or electricity. Some of us do, this is true. But most of us live in fairly decent homes. Maybe our water isn’t necessarily clean and maybe our electricity is scarce, but we live rather comfortably.
3. We don’t spend all day everyday evangelizing
Just because we are “missionaries” does not mean we walk around 24/7 with a Bible in hand. Our work comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are nurses, doctors, or midwives. Some of us work in businesses, are administrators, or social workers. Some of us work in gardens, run schools, and teach trades. Some of us spend our days changing diapers and loving on babies while others manage community sport programs. And the list goes on.
4. We don’t all live exotic and dangerous lives alone
I realize it wasn’t a blockbuster, but have you ever seen the movie The Other Side of Heaven? It’s a Disney movie about a Mormon missionary featuring Anne Hathaway. Weird combo, huh? Based on a true story, a young man serves as the only missionary on a remote island in the middle of nowhere. He gets deathly ill, eats bugs, and faces tropical storms. It made for a good movie, but realistically most of our lives don’t like that at all. We get up, get our kids ready for school, go to work, eat spaghetti dinners, hang out with friends, and go to sleep watching Netflix.
5. We aren’t all happy all the time
We are living out our callings, yes, but that doesn’t make us happy all the time. Some days we are outright angry, frustrated, and ready to call it quits. We aren’t happy when we miss family, friends and the weddings, graduations, and funerals of people we love. We aren’t happy when the heat index is 115 degrees and our one lousy fan cuts off for the night. We aren’t happy when locals try to take advantage of us just because of our skin color. But we continue on and learn that if we ask, God can supply joy no matter what the circumstance.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Missionaries are normal people often living fairly normal lives. We may spend our days speaking a different language and eat differing foods than you, but when it all comes down to it, most of us are “more normal” than you would think. At least I hope we are…
What about you? What misconceptions do you have about missionaries? Don’t be shy. Share!
While at the beach the other day, Dalencia and I were approached by a complete stranger and his camera. Sitting on my lap and enjoying the relaxing waves of the ocean, me and my girl were minding our own business when a young gentleman came and stood no further than two feet away from my face. He smiled, tilted his head to the side as if to show us he thought we looked cute together, and stood there admiring us for a minute, camera prepped and ready to shoot.
Unsure of his next move, I began to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and degraded, because now I had at least a dozen new eyes starring at me- for we were causing quite the scene. I felt insecure, unsafe, and pressured. And those were just the feelings I felt about me. You should have seen how tight I was holding on to Dalencia. Knowing full well he was going to take a picture of us, my mind began to race. I never knew so many thoughts could run through my head so quickly. How dare this stranger take a picture of my daughter? What will he do when he looks at this picture later? Will he print it and hang it up in his room? Will he fantasize about me? About Dalencia? After all, she is in her bathing suit. Oh God, how can I protect her? Should I run? Where is Hunter?
Then without permission this perfect stranger leaned in even closer and snapped our picture.
“Excuse me,” I yelled in Creole, “Why are you taking my picture?”
“Because you and the girl are pretty,” he replied in perfect English.
Relieved that I could battle this ordeal in my own language I looked him straight in the eye, “But you don’t know us, so why do you think you have the right to take our picture?” I asked now slightly flustered.
“Well, you Americans are always doing that to us. You come here to visit and “help us” (using finger quotes) and you guys are always taking pictures of us with our kids in our homes, in our streets, and in our poverty, and you don’t know us either. And you all NEVER ask us if it is okay to take our picture. No, you just take it. So I thought I would try doing the same to you.”
I sighed. I smiled. I relaxed and I put my guard back down. This young gentleman was no threat at all, actually he was was a breath of fresh air. What he said was true and his little social experiment- to attempt to teach the nearest blan (white person) how it feels to be on the other side of the lens- intrigued me.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Jephte,” he replied.
“Jephte, I like you,” I told him.
Confused, he sat down beside me. I guess after his previous statement, my befriending was not what had he anticipated. Perhaps he expected me to tell him to get lost, not sit down for a chat.
I went on to explain how I live in Haiti, how I wasn’t one of the visitors he was referring to, and how I was actually on his side of the issue. These facts alone surprised him and led him to a dozen apologies- none of which I would accept. I then thanked him for helping me to feel, first hand, what a Haitian mother might feel like when a short-term visitor approaches her and her child with a mere smile and a camera for a photo op. The only reason these feelings quickly subsided for me was because I, unlike a majority of Haitian mothers, had the ability and know-how to stand up for myself. And quite frankly, I also knew I had the “right” to my privacy. If I didn’t want my photo taken, he couldn’t take my photo. Most Haitian mothers do not know they have that “right”- unfortunately because us visitors with the cameras have done a poor job of ever really giving them that right in the first place.
Jephte, feeling rather guilty, looked at me and said, “If I knew who you were, I would not have done this to do you. But this was my intention, to make you feel embarrassed, because that is how visitors make us feel when they take pictures of us. I know you know that. But earlier when I saw you, I just wanted one of you to feel what we feel for a change.”
“And I did,” I replied. “Even though I am not a visitor, I felt it. And I am really glad I did.”
We talked for a little while longer, Jephte and I. We did end up taking a few more pictures together, just to remember our time with one another. And before we parted ways I made him a promise. I promised him that I would share his message with you:
If you ever come to Haiti, which someday I do hope you do, bring your camera. This country and its people are beautiful. But also bring some respect. You aren’t here as tourist; you are here to help. And we aren’t aren’t animals in a zoo; we are people. Our suffering isn’t free for all to capture on film. It is real and it is hard and it is personal. Bring your camera, and if you see something or someone you want to take a picture of, just ask. Ask because it is respectful and because if you were on the other side of the camera, you would want us to ask you too.
For more reading on this subject, check out one of my favorite blog posts on the topic by Tara Livesay.
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The bread there is mediocre, but since I am not much of a baker I can’t complain…too much.
The bread is without preservatives. A plus to our health, I realize. This, however, means its shelf life is minimal. By the time we purchase the bread from the store we have at least two- three days tops- to finish the loaf before mold starts to overtake each slice.
At first we thought the heat may be a contributor, so we tried storing it in our refrigerator. But since our limited electricity only allows us 6-8 hours a day to run our fridge, it wasn’t much of a solution. The mold still came, sometimes even quicker.
So now our bread sits on the countertop, and it’s a daily race to see how quickly we can consume it before the mold- or the ants- take over.
Perhaps this metaphor is a stretch, but sometimes I feel as if life down here is like my quickly molding Croissant D’Or bread. In other words, if I’m not careful, I can quickly let the mold and ants take me over. And too often, I have not had what was needed to preserve me.
* * * * *
About a year after Hunter and I moved to Haiti, my heart turned as quickly as our bad bread. Like, bread of the worst kind- sour, moldy, and infected with all sorts of critters.
A lot of things were at play in contributing to my heart’s downfall. There is really no need to get into them…I’ve ranted and raved enough before. I’m still trying to move past many of such events/people/circumstances, forgiving them one by one.
Regardless, I let the bad, the dirty, and the evil around me seep into the pours of my heart- places which used to be filled by grace, love, patience, and a general optimistic outlook on life. I chose anger over peace, bitterness over forgiveness, fear over trust. And.It.Ate.Me.Alive.
We are told in Proverbs to guard our hearts for “everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4: 23). This ain’t a joke. I know because for a good year or so, I strayed from this wisdom, and I suffered for it.
But not only me. I think I also hurt a lot of people in the midst of my suffering. I took my problems and often threw them back at people. Possibly even you.
And so all excuses aside, I just want to confess today. I want to say I’m sorry. Sorry because I let my heart sit out on the countertop for too long and I didn’t guard it. Sorry for my angry words. Sorry for pointing the finger and casting blame. Sorry for being mean, not kind, and standoffish. Sorry for not being stronger.
* * * * *
When I lived the states my life was fairly easy and my problems were extremely minimal. Moving here, I didn’t know how to struggle well, mainly because I never had to before. I didn’t know what it really meant to have to persevere. I never had an enemy and my only experience with spiritual warfare was what I read in the Bible. In other words, my heart wasn’t prepared for life in Haiti.
I recently read this blog post about missionary burnout. It had a lot of great points, but one statistics she quoted threw me for a loop:
The statistics are scary: 80% of missionaries burn out and don’t finish their term. 46% of missionaries have been diagnosed with a psychological issue, and of those 87% are diagnosed with depression.
There are many dynamics to these numbers, I am sure. But the underlying truth is evident: If you are somewhere in the world working to advance the kingdom of God, Satan is going to try to pull you down. He is going to bring the mold, the ants, and the heat. He is going to try to make you feel alone and make you feel anger and resentment. He is going to try and prevent you from seeing the good so that the bad will make you feel too burdened to continue. He is going to tempt you beyond belief. And he will never stop….
Satan’s destructive ways were in abundance shortly after I moved to Haiti. My heart crumbled with every stab. I was made weak.
So what has changed?
One of my absolute favorite scriptures is from Psalms 51: 10-12. After a while, I got tired of my sick heart. It had contaminated my whole life and I needed a change. So I sang these words, everyday. And slowly but surely God restored in me what was previously broken.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
God is daily cleaning out my heart and renewing my spirit. He is teaching me to be joyful even when difficulties surround me. And He is daily giving me a willing spirit to sustain me.
How about you? Maybe you aren’t a “missionary” oversees per say, but I have a feeling many of you know and understand what I am talking about. All of our hearts are at risk. How do you preserve yours?
Written by: Tanya Pirtle
We are trying to teach our young men to be independent, so while on my last trip to Haiti, when he asked me if Jonathan could go with him to the hospital to retrieve his medical test results, I said, “No, you need to learn to do this on your own, you can do it. Go first thing in the morning and bring me the results when you get home.”
I arrived at Emmaus House late that morning expecting to see him. I didn’t. About 6:00 that evening, he hunted me down so we could talk. He explained that they said he had an allergy. “What took you so long?” I said. He got quiet and explained to me how he woke up at 6:00 AM to be the first one there and he just arrived home an hour ago- almost 12 hours later. They did wait on him first and asked him some questions about a possible allergic reaction he was having.
“Who washes your clothes?”
“Who takes care of you?”
“Who washes your sheets?”
“I do it myself. I live in an orphanage,” he replied. The entire group burst into laughter.
In Haiti, laundry is considered women’s work, something his mother would typically do for him.
They sent him to go sit back down. He was humiliated. He explained to me how this group of professionals sat and talked, ate lunch, talked and laughed some more, helped other patients who came, and placed him on the back burner until they were ready to close at 4:00 at which point they abruptly gave him his paperwork and asked him to leave. Hungry, tired, and ashamed, he finally headed home.
This is why he wanted Jonathan to go with him.
He was, as orphans in Haiti often are, cast aside like garbage that nobody cares about until it becomes a stench and demands to be taken care of.
A fought back tear may sneak by, but it isn’t very often one sees a Haitian man cry. But he cried that day. He was deeply wounded. At almost 20 years old, this experience cut to the heart of this young man’s identity. This is how his culture sees him and the 14 others he lives with at Emmaus House. The battle they fight to see themselves as overcomers rather than as abandoned, thrown away, and bereft is one they will fight every day.
During a seminar I taught on attachment issues in Haiti last month, I relayed this scenario to the participants of orphanage caregivers. Did they see this injustice as a possibility in their culture? They all quietly agreed that this was a very likely scenario as they hung their heads in shame for how their countrymen sometimes treat the ones they are trying to help.
Rejection of the orphan in Haiti is a societal survival tactic in a way. An orphan is seen as a threat to future economic development. They, for the most part, are not educated and grow to become a further burden to a society already in distress. They are not seen as contributing to progress. And why not? Most of the time this is the case. They often lack access to proper medical care and are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Many end up on the streets, increasing crime dramatically. In a culture where so many are simply trying to survive, one is not always afforded the luxury of caring for those in distress. How will the aunt who can barely care for her own children care for her dead sister’s child?
How will these young people make their way in a culture who sees them as nothing more than a burden? The fact that they have inherent value as a creation of God is not enough. At Emmaus House, we are spending a great deal of resources and time on the preparation and education of our youth. We are working to create an identity within them that defies what their culture says they are. We will show Haiti that these young people can and will serve and contribute not only to their country’s economic development and to their churches, but they will break the cycle of creating more orphans. Our standards for our youth at Emmaus House are very high and with good reason. Their culture will not (as America sometimes does) cater to them in any way based on the challenges they face, and their time spent at Emmaus House must prepare them to live in a society unsympathetic to their plight.
As we sat together on that chair and I helplessly watched him hurt, I placed my hand on his arm and we discussed how he is fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator who has a purpose for his life. He has a great deal to overcome and his story is wrought with loss and pain. My prayer is that he will not let those around him choose his identity. I pray he will own his identity as a child of God. As we continued to talk, I remembered that this young man is indeed an “orphan.” I forgot. I’ve known these young people for 5 years, and I forget sometimes that they don’t have a family and that others see them not as typical people, but as orphans. I forget that they are bereft. I forget because I see this young man as one who has a sensitive heart that knows how to serve others. He knows how to love despite his loss. He makes himself vulnerable and knows how to make others feel special. He is truly a remarkable young man who is loved by many. Unlike these hospital workers, I see him through the lens of what he has to offer the world, not what he will take from it.
Secretary of the Board
Opportunity is not something we take lightly here in Haiti.
The opportunity to attend school.
The opportunity to have three meals a day.
The opportunity to work.
Opportunity does not come easily for the average Haitian. Opportunity is often for the wealthy and for those with status and connections.
Opportunity is the great divide between potential and success.
For youth who grow up as orphans, opportunity is rare. Many hang onto the hope that a foreigner would one day help support them and their dreams. That hope, however, often comes up empty handed and, quite frankly, is not entirely helpful.
Hope that is solely dependent on the welfare of another is not hope well grounded. It is unstable. Uncertain. Misappropriated.
I’m not saying that to hope in another is wrong. Instead, what often becomes problematic, is when one’s potential is contingent only on charity rather than their work ethic, their personal determination, and even their faith in God.
Sometimes I feel as though “hope” is such a cliché here in Haiti. Every other organization has the word in their name. Heck, we claim it in our mission statement: Bringing hope to the youth of Haiti….
Haiti needs hope. It’s true.
But hope without opportunity is often no greater than wishful thinking.
I know many who hope for a job but have no opportunity to find one; children who hope for parents but have no opportunity to be adopted; teens who hope to finish school but have no opportunity to pay for it. I held a young woman at my gate tonight as she wept over lost opportunities and (what she believes) is a hopeless future ahead.
We talk a lot about hope with our teens and staff at Emmaus House. Accompanied with that, however, we also try to create opportunities for our youth to work for and earn the futures they want if they are willing. And not all are. We have actually had to dismiss youth from our program because they wanted hand-outs more than the responsibility that often accompanies opportunity.
Opportunities are precious down here and we want our youth to never take this gift lightly if offered. We encourage them to dream and to hope, but we also require them to work, save, and earn.
Over the past few weeks many of our teens have had opportunities- opportunities to serve, to translate, to work, and to shadow professionals. All of these opportunities were purposefully and given to them in order to help prepare their for their futures. Here are some snapshots of what they have been up to….
We are blessed to be able to offer opportunities to our youth. And we are thankful to those who are helping us provide them. I continually pray that God would continue to send opportunities our way- opportunities for college education, professional schools, internship, service, and jobs. Opportunities like these don’t come easy for teens like ours, but we at Emmaus House are choosing, despite all odds, to remain hopeful.
Last Sunday at church, somewhere between the second wave of announcements and the sermon, a woman came forward to share with the congregation. Her child (around age 3) had been sick for the past week. Diarrhea. Fever. Stomach pain. The standard here in Haiti. Very animated like, she spoke about how she took her child to the doctor where she received medicine. Now, one week later, her child stood beside her sucking on a bottle full of milk, healthy as could be. Almost in tears she raised her hands and sang praises to God.
Once we got home Hunter looked to me and asked, “So what did you think of that testimony?”
“What do you mean?” I replied. “Did I miss something?”
“Well,” Hunter said, “Her kid had diarrhea for a few days and she went to the doctor and got some medicine. Now her kid is better. It’s not that big of a deal. Kids get diarrhea all the time. Did she really need to get up in front of everyone to cry and sing about it?”
We sat at our table for a minute both silently assessing the former testimony and both feeling slightly guilty for questioning the worthiness of it.
I broke the silence.
“I guess to the mom, her child getting sick (even if with a minor illness) and getting better was a miracle. To her, the medicine was a blessing. To her, God was caring for daughter. Maybe we are the ones in the wrong because we are sitting here questioning it. Maybe we don’t give God enough credit when we have a headache and can heal it with a couple Tylenol or our kid has a cough and we can heal it with some cough syrup. Maybe we should raise our hands and praise God every time He blesses us with healing too…even when the healing seems small and mundane.”
“I think we just expect to be healed of the small things,” Hunter said after a few minutes.
* * * * *
What a luxury.
This is what I have thought about all week.
What a luxury it is that I expect to be blessed. What luxury and a curse.
It’s a luxury that I have always had my small things provided and a curse because in the abundance I have too often failed to see God.
It’s a luxury that God has blessed me so many times in my life and a curse that I often give myself the credit.
It’s a luxury that I expect God to bless me and a curse that I get angry when He doesn’t.
* * * * *
Living in Haiti, among such poverty, you’d think I’d have the hang of this by now. You’d think I would better notice the small things and the Giver who stands behind them. One would think.
One of Hunter’s favorite things to do for me is to find me special treats downtown- things we crave from America but can never find down here. This past week alone he found a Diet Coke, Salt and Vinegar chips, a Kit Kat bar, Doritos, and a large bell pepper. (Which one of these is not like the other?) Every time he brings me a special treat I get super excited- way more than a 28 year woman should honestly get about such things. However, these “small” treats feel enormous to me. They bring me joy. They keep me going. And they remind me that I am thought of and loved by my husband. Back in America, I wouldn’t have even noticed if Hunter brought me home a candy bar. But here, now, I long for the candy bar and praise Hunter when He blesses me with one.
I guess it is the same for the woman at our church. In a country where quality medical care is scarce and medicines are more than the average day’s wages, being healed of any sickness, big or small, is noticed. The “small” healing feel enormous. They bring joy and keep you going. And most importantly, they remind you that you are remembered and you are being cared for by the ultimate Healer.
* * * * *
A blessing is a blessing no matter how small. This week I am asking God to reveal the small things to me. Every. Single. Thing. May I learn from this dear Haitian mother that small blessings are in fact big blessings when they come from God.
I’ve been a short-term mission participant,
Short-term mission leader,
I’ve played many roles when it comes to missions, specifically in Haiti. Overtime I have learned that service without wisdom and understanding is not service at all. So I started reading…a lot.
Today I want to share my favorite books on missions and Haiti. This is not a complete list. There are many other great books out there. Many I have not even read myself. These are just my favorites…today that is.
If you support missions in Haiti, serve here in any capacity (short or long term), or are considering starting something new of your own please pick up one or more of these books.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost you all that you have, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7
ON MISSIONS & HAITI
…you can truly understand only when you realize that to love Haiti is to come away bruised; that loving Haiti is to love something that may not even love itself, but that it’s still love, after all…
Between the 1950s and the 1970s foreign aid had become the only significant source of wealth in the country and because of the associated corruption, negligence, and near total absence of any accountability, it had become a monster. All the politicians and any industrious, entrepreneurial, and ambitious individual focused on the NGOs. Politicians, schoolteachers, craftsman, contractors, they were all feeding at the trough of foreign aid. It was the singular economic force, the pace setter, the final and only front in the war being waged against a disaster that in retrospect I try show in this book was largely the making of the NGOs themselves.
Superiority cloaked in a desire to serve is still superiority. It’s not our words that count but the perception of the local people who watch our lives and sense our attitudes…If you try to serve people without understanding them you are more likely to be perceived as a benevolent oppressor.
Avoid paternalism. Do not do for people what they can do for themselves.
What we do as cross-cultural ministers can have a powerful effect on a country either for or against a movement for Christ. Although our cross-cultural strategies are almost always well intended, they can actually hinder genuine growth of the church of Jesus Christ within nations. Our imprint upon another culture cannot be instantly recalls. As missionaries, our words and actions carry weight for years to come- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I believe that God grieves for every child who is living in an orphanage because that situation was never meant to be. It maybe a temporary “fix” in a time of crisis, but as a long-term solution, orphanages simply aren’t enough to nurture children as God intended.
If we are serious about significant impact, the missions we invest in must produce measurable results. And to achieve measurable change in the lives of the poor and the communities they inhabit, focused, not diversified, investment is required.
ON MISSIONS & MONEY
Good intentions are not enough to ensure good outcomes in cross-culture partnerships.
Besides the differences Westerners face in language, culture, and skin color, they are not part of the basic interdependence of socity, even though they frequently interact with it and constantly bump into it. They are economically independent, so they never have need to be on the receiving end of reciprocal relationships. They obviously are not part of any local ethnic group or extended family. They are usually only present for a short time in an African community. So it is very difficult for Westerners to really fit into African society as equals or even as valid partners. The Westerners are people who appear to have ample resources that many Africans would like to have them share but lack most other qualifications for meaningful relationships.
Our challenge is to find a way to help that does not leave others with the impression they are too weal, too helpless and too uninformed to help themselves.
ON MISSIONARY RESOURCES
This handbook has been written primarily for those who live far from medical centers, in places where this is no doctor. But even where there are doctors, people can and should take the lead in their own health care. So this book is for everyone who cares.
Missionaries who communicate God’s eternal message in the contemporary contexts of the world’s people cannot base that message on Western cognitive domains because they cannot assume that all people accept these domains. They must learn the domains of their recipient culture and judge whether Christianity can be communicated through those categories or whether other categories of reality must be introduced.
This is something I frequently hear from my six-year-old daughter. Considering Dalencia was only four months old when her mother passed away, her cry often catches me off guard. She has no real memories of her mother, not even a picture. Yet she misses her.
My two oldest children are biological brother and sister, but their stories are very different. One was a sick little baby who grew up in an orphanage, never getting the chance to know her family. And one lived with his father until he was almost six.
Tying to make sense of their first family vs. their “forever family” (common adoption term) has been tricky for my little ones, especially since Baby Jake entered the scene. Dalencia has now created all sorts of fantasy memories of being a baby with her first mommy. Listening to her stories breaks my heart.
If only she had a picture…
Recently we have been working on some paperwork in preparation for our adoption. In doing so we had to meet with our kids’ biological father last week. We do this at least twice a year. He lives pretty far away and we try to be strategic with the timing for our kids. Nalandson, who lived with his father until he was five, has had a difficult time with these visits, mostly with the goodbyes. Dalencia, on the other hand, has no recollection of her father and simply follows Nalandson’s lead on being excited for their biannual reunions.
No matter how difficult the visits can be, however, we want our kids to remain connected to their first family. We want Nalandson to have some sort of relationship with the man who he will grow up to look exactly like. And we want Dalencia to remember her story and where she came from.
This past visit went pretty well. I think they enjoyed their time. Communication is becoming more difficult as they are slowly losing their Creole- something I am not proud to admit. But for the first time there were no tears. Maybe time is healing all wounds. Then again I think it is opening up hidden scars as well.
Adoption is beautiful, but it is also hard. As Nalandson and Dalencia’s father said last week, “Blood is blood”. His blood runs through our children’s veins. They will always be connected. Always. And I am glad for that. I pray for that. But it is still hard.
Dalencia often tells me that if God told her she could pick any white mommy in the world then she would always pick me. I put the emphasis on white because so does she. I used to correct her. Dalencia, you mean if God said you could have any mommy, right? She nods, but I know what she means. She loves me and she knows I love her, but she misses her first mommy- the mommy who carried her in her belly, the mommy who gave her her big, brown eyes, and the mommy she will never know…
I met Gerome when I was a young college student visiting Haiti on a short-term mission trip. I don’t remember a lot about our first interactions, but I do remember thinking he was an extremely genuine guy.
Today I consider Gerome to be one of my closest friends. I am often asked if there is anyone in Haiti I can fully trust and without hesitation I always give Gerome’s name. It is for this reason that we brought Gerome on as our Haitian Administrator at Emmaus House.
But it isn’t just his genuine, trustworthy character that makes Gerome such a vital member of Emmaus House. His faith, past experiences, and true desire to see his country grow make him irreplaceable.
This weekend I asked Gerome if he would be willing to share his faith, story, and dreams for Haiti and Emmaus House with you guys. Here is what he had to say….
* * * * *
Me: Tell me your story. Not necessarily about your childhood, but about how you came to know Jesus and how you became the man you are today.
Gerome: I grew up with my mom. My father was the chief of police and had an affair with my mom. He paid for me to go to school. I saw him often but we didn’t have a very good relationship. He liked me but he didn’t have a lot of time for me. But I was very close with my mom.
Me: You said your father paid for your school, but you never finished school. Why?
Gerome: When I was 18 I lived on the street- 21st street. My father died and I could no longer go to school. I was 17 when I finished the 10th grade. I left my mom’s house to live with friends. I learned how to do A/C work from my brother and cousin. For a year I went to A/C school. I couldn’t pay for it so I traded my services for a cut on my tuition.
Me: Tell me about your life on the street.
Gerome: Life was very difficult because I had to take care of everything on my own. I never knew where I was going to sleep or what I was going to eat. I learned to make contacts with people. There is a saying down here that goes, “If you know 1 word of English that is $1.00.” So I started listening to English music.
Me: How did you end up leaving the street?
Gerome: I met a man named Dan. He was an American mechanic who was working downtown. He offered me a job to work with him and he let me move in with him. Then Dan became friends with Ron and Diane (previous orphanage directors). They invited him to come live at the orphanage and after a while I moved there too.
Me: Were you a Christian when you moved to the orphanage?
Gerome: No. But once I moved to the orphanage I started seeing a new life. I started noticing the difference between Ron and Diane and Dan. They were Christians and he was not.
Me: What differences did you see?
Gerome: My time with Ron and Diane was when I met love for the first time. They talked with me and treated me with such love. They were such an example for me. It was amazing being with him. I would sit outside in the mornings with Rob and Diane would serve us coffee and we would just talk. I started wondering what made them different so one Sunday instead of going to the beach with Dan I went to church. I hadn’t been to church in 10 years. After that Sunday Ron and Diane gave me a Bible. I started studying everything and after a few months I gave my life to Jesus.
Me: How did that change you- becoming a Christian?
Gerome: I finally had hope. I didn’t have hope in the street. On the street I was always thinking about where I was going to sleep or what I was going to eat. But I learned that God is faithful and never lets us down.
Me: What did you do at the orphanage?
Gerome: Ron hired me to do mechanical work for the truck, generator, inverter, and water pump. He couldn’t pay me much. I could have gone back to the streets and made more money, but I stayed because I knew God was choosing me for something greater. And I stayed for the relationships too. They were my family.
Me: Tell me about being a father in Haiti. You had your first daughter when you were young. Many men under your circumstance in Haiti would choose to leave the mother and child. Why didn’t you?
Gerome: The way I am, when I commit to something I keep it. It wasn’t easy when my daughter was born. Down here in Haiti, abortion happens every day. But this was not an option for me. When she (Gerome’s now wife) told me she was pregnant it was like I had a bullet hit my heart. I kept thinking about how I didn’t have the resources to take care of a child. I knew abortion was a crime. So I said that no matter what I would stay for my child. I would work harder, make more contacts, and keep my child. I had to make a lot of sacrifices. Sometimes we went to bed hungry but I stayed strong. My daughter was now my job. When I had my second daughter my mom wanted to take her but I told her no. When I was a child I was my mom’s responsibility. Now is it my turn to take my responsibility with my kids.
Me: Let’s fast-forward to your life now, specifically your work at Emmaus House. The teens you work with are the same age you were when you began living and working on the streets. What differences do you see between you as a young adult and them?
Gerome: The biggest difference has to with expectations vs. hope. Expectations are different than hope. You can hope something will come. You wake up one day and you can hope that the sun will shine, but at 12:00 you may see that the sky is cloudy. Expectations are different. Sometimes you expect something to come because you know it is going to come. You plan for it. The youth at Emmaus expect things because they have what they need. But when I was their age I couldn’t have expectations. I had to live day-by-day and survive on my hope. I had to live by hope, not expectations. I never knew what was coming. I just hoped everyday that the sun would one day shine on me, but I never could expect it.
Me: So the youth at Emmaus House are different because they have always had their basic needs met? But one day they will leave our program and have to learn to take care of themselves like you did. How can we prepare them for this?
Gerome: For our youth they need to be in the field. They need to keep moving. Like a waterfall, they need to keep moving. We need to help them get attracted to the field, attracted to work, and hopeful that good will come in their life. They need to get familiar with the street, with the people, and interact with business and life in Haiti. When I was there age money wasn’t my priority. Knowing people was my priority- getting to know them and making friendships. You need people and you need to make them need you. We need to push our youth. There will be a time when they grow up. They already have in many ways. But soon they will be on their own and they need to learn to do things by themselves.
Me: How can churches and people in America help us prepare our teens for life as an adult in Haiti?
Gerome: We need help to educate them and to help them reach their goals. We need people to be godly examples for them and help them become men and women of God that can serve others in Haiti.
Me: What about sponsors? How can they help our teens?
Gerome: A sponsor is someone who can encourage our teens. Just like a parent doesn’t stop supporting their kid once they are no longer a child, our teens need sponsors to help them until they are ready to leave the home. And even when they leave then still you are there to support them with your words and prayers for life. Our teens do not have parents, but when you choose to sponsor them, you show them love. They need people to commit to encourage them in their dreams. They need hope even though they don’t have parents. They need people to stay close to them. At their age there are many temptations. It is important for them to have people to show them love, a good example, and encouragement.
Me: What about the local church? How can they help our youth and/or how can our youth help the local church?
Gerome: In order for the church to grow we need more Haitian leaders. For example, there is a preacher who I recently spoke with who had a lot of help in his church. But because the church members struggled financially they all moved away to find jobs. Now the church suffers for leaders. This happens in many churches. Potential leaders leave because there are no jobs and then the church responsibilities fall only on the pastor.
Me: So the church needs good leaders. Do you think our youth could be these leaders?
Gerome: One thing I have been thinking about is when we write goals with our teens none of them have goals for leading in the church. All their spiritual goals are individual.
Me: Why do you think that is?
Gerome: Our teens, from the beginning, have never had a good experience with the church. They have lacked a good example of what a good leader looks like and what the church should look like. So many of them struggle to love the church. We need to help them love the church first then teach them to be leaders. But first they have to love the church. Then they will want to lead.
Me: So obviously the church here struggles. What do you believe is the greatest problem our teens face in Haiti?
Gerome: This is a big question that I don’t’ know how to get into. The problem is not the county. It is not the land. It is the people. If you read our history we have never had a good, Christian leader for Haiti. Politics in our country is always about dark stuff, about Voodoo. And it is the same with the people. All of our faith is being tested all the time. For us, we can say we are Christian. But most people down here can’t stand problems. So when problems hit they turn to Voodoo. And education- people here aren’t educated. They don’t know God or anything so they just do whatever they want. Voodoo and education are big problems in Haiti.
Me: What potential do you see in Haiti?
Gerome: The greatest potential is unity and being of one mind and one spirit with each other under one God. We need to be willing to help others and focus more on people’s lives. If we can change the mentality of hatefulness and pride, then together as one nation we can change. The change needs to start from within. Then our youth will want to stay and serve their families and country. We have the strength to change this country. I don’t see it. But I know we can.
Me: Let’s think about the future for a minute. In five years where do you see Emmaus House?
Gerome: In 5 years I want Emmaus House to grow in a way where we can see progress in our youth. I want the progress to be an example for our future. I want a program where we can assist the youth in need. I would like for us to own our organization. I want a property where the youth can be divided girls and boys. I want a place to teach them professionally. I would like to see us have a church building so the youth grow spiritually with others. I want them to have a place where people can care for them and love them. My dream is to see Emmaus House grow into a beautiful program.
Me: With that dream in mind, what motivates you to keep going? And what fears do you have about your dream?
Gerome: What keeps me motivated is that I know God cares about His people. I trust Him that He will take care of us. I trust He will help us find help for our teenagers. And I know He will help lead them. I know the work is not only on me. All God’s people can put their hands together for those who are in need at Emmaus House. I want their success. I want to see them to become people of God that want to help Haiti. Giving a chunk of money to them is not the answer for them. But the lessons we are trying to teach them at Emmaus will stay with them forever. And that desire keeps me motivated.
What keeps me up at night and makes me think harder is my dream for Emmaus. I want us to become more independent. I think of all the things I want for Emmaus- own property, education opportunities, a church. I don’t know where that is going to come from. I can only hope. I hope one day God will bring this all together. My fear that keeps me up is that we won’t have finances to continue or to grow into what I want us to become. But we know our God is a faithful God and He has us here for a reason. Only God can lead us to where Emmaus needs to be.
Me: Any final words to share with readers?
Gerome: In the church we are one body and we are all supposed to work together. I want to thank everyone who is a part of our body and who works together to help us in Haiti. What we need to do here is a big work, but as one body we all have our own work and at the end we will glorify God.
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Thanks Gerome for taking the time to share. Your dream for the future is my dream too. May God continue to bless us and guide us!
Have more questions or comments for Gerome? Post below and he will get back with you soon!
I once referred to the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” about my (now previous) life at the orphanage. The friend who I was speaking to, however, interrupted me just before I was about to compliment the thought: “You know the Bible never said that,” she said. “It was Hillary Clinton. It takes parents to raise a child.”
At first I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and pretended I already knew that. (I had no idea who actually said the phrase first.) But it did get me thinking, especially as I became a parent myself. Villages are nice to have, but my kids need me.
Raising kids in a culture that is not your own has its challenges. Some of the challenges are obvious like language barriers, where to send them to school, fitting in with other kids, church, and helping them discover their own unique identity between cultures.
I’ve been a mom for almost four years now. Raising Haitian children in Haiti, I have learned to be a humble parent- meaning I have had to learn to accept constant advice and criticisms from my Haitian neighbors. I went through a phase of daily critiques on how I styled (or didn’t) Dalencia’s hair. My approach to health care (meaning I don’t send my kids to the doctor every time they have a runny nose or fever) has raised many of eyebrows. Barely anyone agrees with my approach towards punishment. And don’t even get me started on the days when I homeschooled!
In my early parenting years, I was often offended by others telling me how to do my job as a mom. I thought the people here were rude and had no place to openly share their opinions on how I was choosing to raise my kids. But slowly I came to accept the fact that this was just life in Haiti. It wasn’t personal; it was culture.
Then came Jake. And although he has a Haitian birth certificate, he is currently the whitest baby in town. I already get called “blan” multiple times wherever I go. Now put a white baby boy in my arms and I am like a freakin’ circus act walking down the street.
And although that is super annoying and all, it’s all the critiquing, especially from complete strangers, that gets me the most.
After being put on bed rest for 48 hours following delivery, the first two women who came to visit told me I needed to get out of bed and start working again or I would get sick.
At the beach the man cleaning out the fish tank told me Jake should never go barefoot and I needed to put socks on him.
Twice in the grocery store someone told me it was not okay to bring Jake into the A/C.
On the street I have been laughed at for using a baby carrier.
A woman told me I needed to care for Jake better when she saw his clogged eye-duct.
I’ve been instructed to never let Jake outside without a hat.
I’ve been told he cries too much which is a sign I don’t feed him enough.
And when someone caught me drinking an ice-cold beverage the other day, I was criticized for not taking care of my post-pregnancy body. (What?!?)
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Now, I’ve never raised a baby in America before, but from what I recall people don’t just walk around giving their unsolicited advice and critiques to new mothers. But in Haiti it is a totally different game. The people here aren’t trying to be rude or anything; they are just treating me as their own. And I know that. But still…socks at the beach? Come on!
In Haiti, villages really do raise children. Grandparents, extended families, neighbors, schools, churches, and orphanages all pitch in to raise the children of this country. So when a random man in the grocery store offers me parenting advice, he is just doing his part. And instead of getting offended, I now thank him and then look at Hunter and laugh. I mean, what else am I supposed to do?
Being a mom in a culture that is not your own is difficult. You have to be confident and strong or you can easily break. Often I am neither- confident or strong. But by the grace of God I am getting there…
How about you other missionary mamas? Does this happen to you?