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.
* * * * *
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?
Not gold but only man can make a people great and strong; men who for the truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long. Brave men who work while others sleep, who dare while others fly…They build a nation’s pillars deep and lift them to the sky.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
This week I chose to be extra observant, but look around on any given Sunday and you will see that our church building is mainly filled with women. Women both young and old, accompanied by their children, fill the pews. Sitting as close to the front as they can, they give their all to the service- singing, clapping, and raising their hands in prayer. The men are typically dispersed in the back. Less engaged, they are usually lower in numbers. With the exception of a few, most of the men in our church sit through the service arms crossed, silent, playing on their cell phones, and occasionally even asleep. Over a few years of watching the women to men ratio in our church I have come to wonder: Where are the men?
Haiti is often referred to as the NGO Republic– meaning we are packed full of non-government organizations here to aid the poor in their own given way. And many of these NGOs, rightfully so, focus on women. Maternity centers, education programs, micro financing companies, fair-trade artisan groups- we have them all. There is a reason for it. The United Nations Develpoment Programme is correct when they say, “Women’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduces infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation.” Give a mama here in Haiti a loan and she will use it to start a business to support her family and send her kids to school. Give a man here a loan and he will more than likely go upgrade his telephone, build an addition to his house, or spend it on booze.
This is not just true of Haiti either. Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn speak of this worldwide problem in their book Half the Sky. Based on their research, in the most impoverished areas of the world where the poorest of the poor call home, an average of 20% of a family’s income is spent on alcohol, prostitution, candy, and soft drinks. According to them, “some of the wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes, but also by unwise spending- by men. It is not uncommon to stumble across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net and then find the child’s father at a bar, where he spends $5 each week. Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses.” Although that sounds rather discriminatory, it is true. And it is the reason why so many organizations invest in women. Given opportunity and inspiration, women have the ability to create long-term change.
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The central problem of every society is to define appropriate roles for the men.
Margaret Mead, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World
Understanding the gender dynamics in Haiti is rather difficult. In many ways I applaud Haiti. Unlike most under developed countries, education is equally available (although not free) to both boys and girls. Many well-achieving businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and stores are run and managed by women entrepreneurs. Many women fill positions in the government. And many Haitian homes are run by the woman (as the breadwinner, the mother, and the financial manager). On the flip side, however, it is a rarity to see a woman driving her own vehicle. A husband beating his wife is still considered acceptable by roughly 31% of the population. It is the norm for a woman to have multiple children from multiple fathers. And a majority of women still do not wear pants.
But enough about the women. This blog is about the men. You see, I am worried for the men in Haiti. I am concerned for the examples (or lack there of) that are being provided to the young men I work with. I’m concerned as I watch men step away from their God given responsibilities as fathers, husbands, providers, and church leaders. And more than anything, I worry for this country, which seems to not only accept but also excuse the absent man.
Spurred by observing Hunter through my pregnancy, I recently had two conversations about such concerns- one with a co-worker and one with a young gentleman in our program. Amazed at how present and active Hunter was while I was pregnant my co-worker laughed when I told him Hunter was by my side during the labor process. A devoted father himself, I asked him why Haitian men aren’t more involved with their babies. “If a man was present for the birth of their baby then they may feel obligated to help financially with the baby. So it is easier for them to not be present at all. If they don’t see the baby then they won’t feel guilty,” he replied. This wasn’t a shocking statement. I realize absentee fathers are a universal problem, not just a Haitian one. But it was the way he said it so matter-of-factly that caught me off guard, as if it was a common and acceptable choice.
A few days later I found myself in a rather extensive conversation with one of our students about dating in Haiti. “It’s so hard to find a good Christian girl to date,” he said. “Even the ones at our church aren’t really that good. Most girls my age are the matrons of their families. They don’t have a father in their home and they have many brothers and sisters (not all from the same dad) that they need to care for.” “So what makes them not good?” I asked. “Girls in Haiti are desperate. Most of the girls I know never knew a father’s love, so when they get my age they go chasing a lot of boys. Most girls I know have multiple boyfriends and they have sex with all of them,” he replied. “I’ve heard in America that it is the boy who is supposed to pursue the girl, but in Haiti the boys can just sit back and wait because the girls here just come to us,” he said with a smirk.
Whether he meant to or not, my young friend diagnosed one of the hugest issues in Haiti to its core: Where are the men?
The teens I work with have all been affected by this manless epidemic. A handful of them have no record of who their father is, even on their birth certificates. Some know a name, but as soon as their mom passed away their father brought them to the orphanage, believing it was not his responsibility to care for a motherless child. A couple of them were born out of their father’s affairs, making them illegitimate, making them fit for an orphanage- a place where the product of an embarrassing affair can be hidden. But no matter what their story, all of them have been abandoned by a man.
* * * * *
So who’s at fault? What’s the problem? Where are the men?
I think there are a few reasons why so many men are falling short in Haiti. You can blame poverty and desperation if you want, but in the end I don’t think those cut it. Poor men can be strong men. Just see the Bible for a multitude of examples. No, I believe so many men are struggling to be men in Haiti due to three underlying problems: lack of expectation, tampered dignity, and minimal accountability. Let me take a minute to explain each one further:
Lack of expectations: A young boy grows up unable to finish school, so we don’t expect him to find a good job. He can’t find a job, so we don’t expect him to make much money. He doesn’t make much money, so we don’t expect him to be able to provide for his family or contribute a whole lot to society in general. (After all it is the ones with the most money that have the most influence.) And the list goes on. In general, Haiti doesn’t expect a lot from its men. Poverty is too often the excuse as to why men have no obligation to rise up in this society. And when they don’t it is widely accepted as norm.
Tampered dignity: Dignity is valuable. Dignity in one’ s self, one’s family, one’s culture, one’s community, and one’s county is what motives people to help themselves and to help their own neighbors in need. When that dignity is comprised, however, people can easily accept being a charity case.
Now I’m going to try and say this as nicely as I can, but I must be honest. We (the foreigners) who come to aid the people of Haiti too often tamper with the average man’s dignity. We come in and provide for their families for them, we build their homes for them, we pay for their kids’ school for them, we build orphanages and take care of their kids for them, and we come lead in their churches for them. We do these things because we see the need and we care, but behind the scenes we are taking away the responsibilities of the local man.
Minimal accountability: Being accountable to your neighbor is difficult no matter where you live in the world, but it is a rare practice here in Haiti. A few years back I caught a former employee stealing money out of our office. The evidence was clear and even the local authorities agreed she was guilty. However the other employees and children I worked with excused her behaviors. Believing she was cursed to do these things and therefore was not in control over her behaviors, no one held her accountable.
I see this a lot in my teenagers as well. One boy recently lost something of value to my husband. When I approached him about it, I asked him what a mature man should do in this case (hinting that he should replace the lost item). “Well, I didn’t mean to lose it. It was just an accident. So it isn’t my fault,” he replied. And surprisingly enough, the others teens around him agreed. No accountability.
And this lack of accountability translates into a society of unaccountable men. A man here can easily walk away from a child, not work, and have multiple affairs. No one scorns him. Most people here just look the other way, put the blame elsewhere (i.e. lack of money), or contribute it to Voodoo.
* * * * *
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
1 Timothy 3:1-7
Lack of expectations, tampered dignity, and minimal accountability are all contributors to the manless epidemic in so many Haitian homes. But what about the church? Where does it fall into place?
Well, if a man can’t fulfill his God given duty to lead in his own home how can he lead in the church? In 1 Timothy 3:4 Paul says that an overseer of the church must first be able to oversee the affairs in his own home respectfully. For “if anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”
And this perfectly explains the scene I described above from our church. The men aren’t stepping up and leading in the church, barely even participating, because many of them have no practice even stepping it up in their own homes.
* * * * *
Working with teenage boys here in Haiti, I have often struggled as I watch the lack of strong male influences in their lives. What kind of men will they grow up to be? Will they provide for their families? Will they commit to their wives? Will they raise their own children? Will they be leaders in their church or just join the other men in the back pew? Can our boys help break the cycle of absent men in Haiti. I pray so. Everyday, I pray so.
Multiple visits from family members?
I haven’t blogged in a while, have barely even checked Facebook. Time, well, I can’t seem to find a whole lot of it these days.
Time and sleep. WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?
For all of you who have ever doubted, sleep deprivation is a real thing. And yes, you can actually function daily (although not well) on < 3 hours of sleep.
Despite how busy and exhausted I am, the New Year is going to hit me whether I have energy for it or not. Reflecting back on 2014 and looking forward to 2015 I thought it would be appropriate to share my top praises for this year and my prayers for the next.
– God provided our monthly needs for our family and Emmaus House. No matter how tight our budget was, He never let us down. He always provided. Sometimes at the very last minute, but always.
– Nalandson and Dalencia successfully transitioned into Cowman International School. They are enjoying the 1st grade and have made a lot of much needed friends.
– Merly successfully transitioned from the CHCH to Emmaus House.
– The tremendous growth of our teens at Emmaus House. They are all maturing into beautiful young adults and we are so grateful to be a part of their lives here in Haiti.
– We hosted four groups at Emmaus House who helped with Emmaus Works, professional trainings, devotionals, community service projects, and building relationships with our young adults and staff.
– Our family came to visit us for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Living oversees, especially with two kids who cannot yet travel, time with family does not happen often and every moment is priceless and precious.
– God blessed us with a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery in Haiti, and beautiful little baby boy. Jake joined our family on November 26th and is the perfect addition to our family.
– Hunter was given several local photography jobs which provided for our personal rent and other family needs.
– We pray that God would help move things at the port so our truck can be released and that His justice will be over those who have been negligent and corrupt for the past year regarding our shipment. Please join us in prayer as we are currently trying to decide how to proceed and for our ability to be mobile as a family without transportation.
– We pray for wisdom for the board and staff of Emmaus House as we prayerfully seek God’s will for our future. Please join us in prayer that God will provide us with direction and the finances to build and become a more sustainable program.
– We pray for Djooly and Merly as they plan to graduate this year. Both have the potential and desire to attend college. Merly wants to attend a school in Port-au-Prince to become a Physical Therapist and Djooly wants to attend school in the states. With many interests in mind, his major is not yet decided. Please join us in prayer as they take exams this year, begin applying for schools and scholarships, and seek sponsors to assist with their education.
– We pray for our adoption. Hunter turns 30 in October meaning we will finally be eligible to begin the adoption process for Nalandson and Dalencia. It will be a long and expensive process once we begin, but we are more than anxious to get started. Please join us in prayer as we begin looking for agencies to assist us.
– We pray for blessings over Hunter’s photography. Living on support can be difficult, especially with a growing family. Through Hunter’s photography, God has blessed us with a way to help make ends meet. Please join us in prayer that He would continue to open doors for Hunter in Haiti.
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This year has truly been both a time of blessing and a time of challenge for our family. As always, though, God used both to bring us closer to Him.
We are excited to see what God has in store for us in 2015. From (hopefully) being able to start the adoption process to watching Djooly and Merly graduate we pray for God’s will and purpose to direct our every step.
We want to thank each and every one of you for joining us on our journey in Haiti. We are truly blessed to have you in our lives. May God bless you and keep you in 2015.
~ The Kittrells
I’ve never automatically loved someone. I guess as a newborn baby you “love” your parents, but as a baby you don’t know that.
As a wife and as an adoptive mama of two, I have “fallen in love” with each member of my family. But never have I loved someone, head over heals loved someone, simply after hearing their first cry for air.
It’s an exhilarating feeling- the rush of that kind of love. And last Wednesday at 7:42 pm I experienced it for the first time.
* * * * *
I had previously pulled an all-nighter. Anxious about just passing my due date and experiencing hours worth of inconsistent contractions, I nervously paced our house for most of the night. Thanks be to God my good friend Erin came over to keep me company and tried her best to call my nerves.
Believing no progress had been made, I was able to catch an hour of rest after the sun rose. The morning continued with our normal routine- sending the kids off to school, eating breakfast, and catching up on emails. At round 9:30 Erin and I went for a walk around the neighborhood and my midwife, Sandi, came over around 10:00.
At that point I was already 4 centimeters dilated and over 50% effaced. Happy, but still not satisfied, Sandi sent me to my room with a few strategies to try to induce the labor process. (I’m keeping my blog PG rated so I’ll pass here on the details.) By 11:00 I was able to time my contractions. Active labor had begun.
At first things weren’t bad. I spent the first few hours sitting on my yoga ball, chatting with Hunter and Erin, listening to music, eating between contractions, and I even watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Looking back, those first few hours were bliss. A little uncomfortable, yes, but fairly easy and exciting.
I lost all concept of time as the contractions picked up. But as they grew longer and closer together I started to develop rather intense lower back pain. I have pinched my sciatic nerve before on multiple occasions. From bending over to pick up a child to shaving my legs, it’s pathetic what has triggered such surges of pain. In my 2nd and early 3rd trimesters I experienced a lot of lower back pain as well. I survived many of days thanks to an abundant supply of disposable heating pads left behind from a medical missions team. All that to say, my lower back has always been rather sensitive. And labor, apparently, was not going to agree with it AT ALL.
With every contraction my lower back literally felt like it was breaking apart. I found it hard to concentrate on all my breathing and relaxation strategies because I was so distracted by the paralyzing pain swelling in my spine. Erin, Hunter, and Sandi all took turns massaging it the best they could. And as helpful as that was, nothing really helped.
I tried different positions- in the pool, in the chair, in the bed, and even on the toilet. Nothing would give me relief. I felt like a hopeless mess. With tears streaming down my face I remember sitting in the pool and telling everyone I couldn’t do this anymore. My back hurt too much and I didn’t believe I had what it took to survive. As the sun started setting (which is around 5:00 here in Haiti) I looked out the window and prayed to God that the end would soon be near.
At some point, I don’t know when, Sandi broke my water. From there my memory is a bit blurry. And although I fully intended on doing a water birth, by 7:00 I was so tired and the cold water in the pool just made my back muscles more tense. It took Hunter, Erin, Sandi, and Hope (a visiting nurse) to transition me to my bed. Hunter put two heating pads on my back (Why had I not thought of that sooner?) and he held me as I crumbled to my side.
I vaguely remember Hunter asking Sandi when I should start pushing. And I remember her saying that it would just come naturally when my body was ready. I don’t know if that was the permission I needed to hear or if I was just desperate, but a few minutes later the urge to push consumed me.
By 7:42 pm Jake let out his first cry. True love. Sandi guided Erin, who is currently in midwifery school, to catch him. That wasn’t planned, but I love that is what God worked into the story. I mean, how many people can say a good friend delivered their baby in their home? Not many I imagine.
As Sandi placed Jake on my chest I looked over at Hunter. He was sobbing. Never have I seen him cry so much. A bit delirious, and quite frankly out of tears, I remember looking down at this new baby and thinking, “You are a real person. Like, no longer a moving being in my belly, but a real, live, person.” I held him close. I still have no idea what words I conjured up. I just remember being so in awe of the moment, constantly exchanging glances between Jake and Hunter, and thanking God for seeing me through the day.
* * * * *
All this happened a week ago, which is crazy. It seems like forever and like yesterday all at the same time. Things have been going well. I am taking a bit longer than I’d like to recover. A UTI and a slow-to-recover back can do that to you. But I’m coming around.
My parents arrived over the weekend and that has been a huge help. Honestly, I’m not sure how our family would have survived the past few days otherwise. Cooking us meals, entertaining Nalandson and Dalencia, and helping Hunter and I navigate through our first few weeks with Jake has been a blessing.
* * * * *
I’ve tried reflecting a lot these past few days on my previous hesitancies towards pregnancy, my fear of all things baby, and on my decision to deliver naturally in Haiti. One natural birth abroad and one week of parenting a newborn down, here is what I now think…
Pregnancy– I once told my mom I didn’t want an alien growing inside my body and that is why I didn’t want to get pregnant. She laughed, but I was totally being honest. Sharing my body with someone for nine months and allowing them to take so much from me really freaked me out. Having to watch my body change for the benefit of another- I’ll admit was a selfish thought- but it just never seemed enticing.
I know women who love being pregnant- say they would be pregnant all the time if they could. Now, God blessed me with such an easy pregnancy. Really, other than some lovely hormonal acne and back pain here and there I had zero complications. I didn’t gain a whole lot of weight and my migraines practically disappeared for nine months straight. But I don’t think I LOVED being pregnant.
I think there are few reasons for this. Not being surrounded by friends and family through the exciting stages of the process made me feel someone alone as my body changed and time grew near. And Hunter, bless him, didn’t always notice. And being pregnant, in our situation down here, really disabled me. I spent more time at home over the past nine months than I like to admit. Without personal transportation and trying to avoid public transportation (Because let’s face it, a white pregnant woman on a tap-tap full of people with no personal boundaries is just not ideal.) I just couldn’t go anywhere. And so for most of my pregnancy I felt alone and isolated.
On the other hand, I no longer have the fears towards pregnancy like I once did. It honestly was a beautiful thing. Creating a life with Hunter and then being responsible for growing and nurturing it was exhilarating. And all my fears about alien babies and the sharing of my body completely disappeared once I found out I was pregnant. I was still nervous for the unknown, but never fearful.
Babies– I’ve never been one to want to hold someone else’s baby. No offence, your babies are super cute and I have spent my life admiring them from a far. But I have always felt a little awkward around babies. Maybe just because I didn’t know what to do with them. But then Jake entered my arms and now I can’t seem to get enough of him. He’s so tiny. So cute. Currently so squirmy. And he’s mine.
I still have no idea what I am doing with him. Baby books aside, Hunter and I are simply learning as we go. And ladies, let me just be honest, watching your man love on and bond with your baby is kinda the greatest thing in the world.
Birth- Even before getting pregnant I made the decision that I would give birth in Haiti. To me, this was non-negotiable. I wasn’t going to break up our family. I would only do this if it could include Nalandson and Dalencia.
That decision also meant I needed to do it naturally. So I began doing my research and the more I watched, read, and discovered, the more passionate I became about that as well.
Even though I was completely confident in my two decisions I was still completely terrified of birth up till the very end. But that fear had nothing to do with Haiti and nothing to do with being natural. There was just no way to prep me for what was coming- what contractions would be like, how I would feel emotionally, what energy pushing a baby out would take. I read books, watched countless documentaries and YouTube videos (Ya’ll there are some scary things out there on YouTube about birth.), and listened to my friends’ personal stories. And although it was all helpful, no two births are alike. Pregnancy could be semi predicted, but birth was the big unknown.
Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my birth story. The pain was intense, yes, but what came from the pain was worth it. And I am not just talking about Jake, but also the experience, the memories, and the strength and confidence it gave me.
* * * * *
Jake has only been around for a week and he has already been such a blessing for our family. Nalandson and Dalencia, as predicted, are the best big brother and sister. Dalencia, especially, has taken on a very motherly role around the house. Our lives have now become that much busier, but we will learn to manage in time.
The teens at Emmaus House are precious. Most were too scared at first to touch him, but I didn’t really give any of them the option. A newborn baby in the arms is good medicine for anyone’s soul. So far, Jake has taken a particular liking to Manno, which was completely unpredicted, but I am tending to think God has something up his sleeve with that one. We’ll see.
* * * * *
Before I go, I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us as we prepared for Baby Jake. We were so overwhelmed and grateful for you prayers, words of encouragement, and gifts.
A special THANK YOU to Sandi who took time out of her crazy, busy schedule to come to Haiti to help us deliver Jake. Your wisdom and guidance was priceless.
A very special THANK YOU to Erin who not only gave me the confidence I needed to embark on this whole journey to begin with, but also guided me through so much of it. Thank you for staying up all night with me for never leaving my side. You are going to make a rockin’ midwife.
And lastly, THANK YOU to everyone at Emmaus House who has been so patient with me during my pregnancy. Thank you for caring for me so much and for being my family away from home. I love each of you dearly.
* * * * *
So welcome to the world Baby Jake. You are loved.
Oh yeah…almost forgot these adorable shots. I like to look at them and try to create their captions. What do you think they are saying to each other?