Confession #70: We Have Been a Crutch (Part 1)

Disclaimer: Opinions shared in the following blog posts in no way reflect the orphanage itself in which the teenagers I work with were raised. The care they received and the many people who loved them there throughout the years were a blessing for them all.

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Community Orphans

If you are looking to read a feel good go-out-unto-all-the-world-and-help-the-poor-orphan kind of blog, you may want to go elsewhere. This ain’t going to be one of them. As a matter of fact, I have so much to say, I am taking the whole week to write a series on a topic that has had my head full and my heart heavy for quite some time.

What I am about to say is going to offend some of you. I am about to step on some of your toes. I am bracing myself for a few I don’t agree comments and emails. For others, my words may simply be shocking. And that is okay. What I am going to say is something most people usually don’t say and quite frankly, something most people often don’t realize. Therefore, I will try my best to be gentle. I promise.

Lately, however, I keep thinking back to the words of Troy Livesay in a little old church classroom in Austin, TX. Although I can’t quote him verbatim he said that sometimes he wonders if the best thing for Haiti would be for all outside aid to pull out and let Haiti finally learn to stand on its own two feet.

It sounds harsh.

I know.

But just think about it.

I work with 17 teenagers, all of whom have been supported by outside aid from America for 18+ years and none of them have yet to develop the skills needed to be able to stand on their own to feet.

That says something.

You know what I think?

I think we have been a crutch to their development. We have been a hindrance to their growth. And we are one of the main reasons why so many (like the 17 teens I work with) don’t know how to stand on their own two feet here in Haiti. Because as long as we are around to help them, we stand so they don’t have to.

Now, before you get too offensive, notice that I said (we) as in the collective term meaning I am including myself in this catastrophe. I say (we) meaning I, too, have been a key player in the problem. Sadly enough, it has taken me years to realize my mistakes: helping where help wasn’t needed, feeding into the beggar mentality, enabling people to not have to work for what they needed, handing out money left and right, always giving (because they were the poor ones) but never asking for anything in return (because they were the poor ones).

All this meant that most Haitians LOVED me.


Because I gave them a lot, but never asked them to give me anything in return. It was the best kind of relationship possible for them. I could stand. They could sit.

Until one day I got tired of standing for all of these people who I knew could stand on their own, so I asked them to stand with me…and they complained about it. How dare I ask them to stand? That is why I was in Haiti, right?

It was then I began to see the bigger problem…

This “bigger problem” is what I want to talk with you all about this week, because it is what our teenagers at Emmaus House are currently learning to overcome. For way too many years, years when they should have been taught to stand on their own, (we) stood for them. And now, not only do they not know how to stand, but many of them don’t even believe they have what it takes to try without the assistance of an American by their side to hold their hand.

And that breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart that they believe their potential reaches only as far as their sponsor’s dollar will take them.

It breaks my heart that many of them have become so Americanized in their ways (due to the frequency of American influence in their lives) that many of them have become far removed from the reality and the poverty of the country they call home.

And more than anything, it breaks my heart because as teens who have never grown up with parental love, we have taught them to be dependent on short episodes of affection from visitors who have come and gone all their lives. As teens who were once abandoned by their parents, yet grew up with the continuous cycle that people come to love on you and then leave you…they have been hurt. They lack the ability to bond, to trust, and to attach as they should. And it breaks my heart. (But more on that throughout this week)

In an effort (a good meaning effort) to come into a foreign land and help orphaned children, I fear that there have been three mistakes made at the surface largely on the part of Westerners (I will go into further detail about all three of these throughout the week):

  1. Too many of us (although not all) have tried to be the saviors and the heroes for orphaned children in other countries- of which we are not.
  2. Too many of us (although not all) see poverty as primarily a material problem (lack of money, food, clothes, housing, water, etc.) and treat it only at the material level- of which it is not and cannot be treated as such.
  3. Too many of us (although not all of us) don’t realize the psyche of an orphaned child and how coming just to “love on them” for a week or so at a time or sending them gifts throughout the year may, in fact, be hurting them more than helping.

As I said before, this topic has been brewing in my mind for quite some time now, and I have hesitated whether to go public with my thoughts. After all, this is pretty gutsy of me. To stand up, as a missionary whose mission relies 100% on Western support, and suggest that perhaps the Western influence has hurt more than helped our teens is risky.

It is a slap-in-the-face kind of statement. I know.

But for all of us who work with oversees missions in one form or another- whether it be full time, short-term, financial support for a missionary or an organization, or anything in between we all have a great obligation which goes beyond having a good heart and a passion for helping those in need. For those of us committed to working with people oversees, no matter what the mission, we have a responsibility to be responsible. And sometimes that means we have to take a step back, reflect, and observe where (we) as a collective have messed up and how (we) as a collective can do better so that (we) in the future don’t continue to enable the problems we are trying to help in the countries we are trying to work in.

What I am wanting to talk about this week may mean that we need to start doing missions the hard way. Truly loving, working, and enduring with not just for the orphaned child. As I know too well, making them love us is easy, but suffering and loving with them is where it becomes difficult!

So this week I am choosing to speak out- not as the missionary pointing fingers but as a fellow sister seeking God’s way of redemption and not my own. I speak not to preach, but instead to share what I have witnessed here in Haiti and encourage dialogue as to how we, Westerns helping orphans in cross-cultural contexts, can do things better.

Want to continue with me?

Post 2: Confession #71: Their Voice : Their Heart : Their Pain

Post 3: Confession #72: We Are Handing Them The Line

Post 4: Confession #73: The Healing Process

~ Jillian

25 Comments on “Confession #70: We Have Been a Crutch (Part 1)

  1. Ts speaks out my thoughts exactly and exactly the things we are struggling with. When you ask people who are used to having it all done for them, to start learning to do it for themselves, their typical first response is to fight to return things to the way they’ve been. It’s not best for them, but it’s what they’ve known. And that has to change for Haiti to ever become what it has the potential to become. Thank you for writing it out so beautifully! Looking forward to the rest of this week’s posts.


  2. I comprehend what you’re saying. In some ways, it’s like training one’s own child to become independent enough to go away to college, to fend for his/her self! I agree that fostering dependence inhibits the growth of any person/group/nation. So I look forward to reading your first-hand observations this week.


    • In ALL ways it’s like raising one’s own child. When we stand as their advocates we take the place of their parents. We have the same obligations as birth parents. We must do the best job possible with their entire lives in view. Introduce them to Jesus and teach about eternal salvation, teach them to follow God, to read the Bible. Make them responsible for themselves, give them chores. Make sure career planning is addressed in effective ways at the appropriate times. If we don’t approach orphan care with this mindset, we fail God.


  3. Good thoughts. We, as westerners, have definitely created and sustained what I call the “M grangou” culture in Haiti. The million dollar question is: How do we correct it without making things even worse?

    Personally I think helping Haitians help Haitians is a start.


    • “M grangou” culture- you need to coin that!
      And you are right on the million dollar question. I also agree that teaching Haitians that they can/should be helping each other is one of the best places to start.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Jillian.

        I’m sorry to have stepped into your discussion inappropriately.  I thought you were confessing your own wrongdoings.  I’ll be following your posts to see how you think the problems can be solved.  Obviously, we don’t all need to leave Haiti.  I do not believe that orphanages are necessarily bad, only that some need to be more realistic about their goals and how to achieve them.  Since you are still there and working with the kids, you agree. 

        Good luck with your campaign for change.

          Dorothy Pearce Faith-Hope-Love Infant Rescue   “And now these three remain:  faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  I Cor. 13:13   Donations: Christian Light Ministries, Inc. P.O. Box 23881 Jacksonville FL 32241-3881 Memo: For D. Pearce, Haiti


  4. Maybe you are identifying a problem that is “American” to begin with. Think about it… we’re raising our own young to not be able to stand on their own feet if they don’t have summer jobs, mommy goes with Jr. on his job interviews, we yell at the teacher when Susie fails, and everyone gets participation ribbons. And we go out as missionaries with the same mindset. I applaud you for speaking up. God bless!


  5. Anyone raising orphans has the same obligations as birth parents, i.e., your goal from the beginning should be to prepare them to care for themselves. Perhaps it’s not the fact that you (plural and generic ‘you’) have helped but the fact that your goals were all wrong from the beginning. All parents succeed and fail to some degree. We have never parented these particular children before. But surely you accomplished something! Are you sure the kids aren’t just acting like typical spoiled American kids, trying to get away with doing nothing? Or are they in fact incapable of thinking and working for themselves. That’s so sad. I hope you are wrong about their helplessness.


  6. Oh my goodness, Jillian. I just read your “About Me”. You’ve only been in Haiti since 2010? You haven’t been here long enough yet to claim responsibility for untrained, undisciplined teenagers. Don’t confess to something you didn’t do! Start over with younger kids and do it right. believe me, there are plenty of abandoned and challenged kids in Haiti who you can help without breaking up families. These kids would die without your intervention. Not a question of poverty but of neglect, evil, hatred on the parts of their parents and extended families. Don’t accept defeat so easily, especially for someone else’s mistakes. Good luck!


    • Dorothy- Thanks for your comments. Even though I am confessions my struggles here, I am not confessing defeat. I love the teenagers I work with. I know I have only lived with them for three years and many of their issues run years deep, but I am here with them to face their struggles today. I am committed to them- no matter how hard! They are like the average teen in many ways, but in many ways they are not. I hope to touch on that throughout the week.


      • I’m glad to hear you think they can be salvaged. So many kids are lost from this point on. I guess I misunderstood part of your blog. Kudos to you for keeping on going. I suspect you’re doing a lot more good than you think. Raising children who have no one else to help them is not bad: it is a very good thing. Acknowledging their situation and dealing with its reality is far better than leaving them to fail or die alone.


  7. Jillian…I don’t care how long you have been in Haiti…I think you have a valid point and I look forward to reading the rest of the week…I think you may be seriously on to something here…


  8. Not all missionaries should leave, most should never have come! The Great Commission does not include American social works, it is about warning of eternal punishment and winning men from darkness! But Americanization of the gospel and missions has negated that biblical mandate. Individuals who have never read the bible through, never studied it in depth, never learned the creeds, the doctrines, the theology, board planes w backpacks and self will instead of surrender and submission to His word and will; they are unprofitable servants, everyone. I could go on and on, but I think blogs like this are more sickening American self centered, introspective, scab picking to avoid the real work He has given us and that is to give and give regularly and generously to established soul winning works. Not “short term” trips, not social work, not poverty profiteering; but real historic hero of the faith type missionaries who struggle every day to do what God told them and PREACH to men!


  9. Its funny you write this because every trip to Haiti makes me see this more and more. My first thought when seeing Emmaus House for the first time was wow, what a nice house, who would ever want to leave this place? It is truely a gem in Haiti and nicer than some american homes. I truely hope those teenagers put in the effort to learn skills to support themselves and not rely on a sponsor. As a parent you can be an enabler or you can choose tough love and make your kids into self supporting adults no matter what country you live in!


    • Agreed! And that is what we are trying to teach our teens at Emmaus House. But old habits die hard for most of them. The cycle needs to stop while they are still young children that way when they become young adults like they are now they will be more independent.


      • Well said, Jillian. I completely agree. We should not let this happen in the first place but, if it does, we need to do what you are doing — work hard with lots of prayer to correct their thinking and help them reach their full potential as sons and daughters of the King.


  10. Jillian, you’re showing me that teenagers, perhaps in many more places than America, share a common anthem: “Leave me alone; I want to be free…but, wait a minute, will you still be there to take care of me?” It’s a desire to be independent, while still needing a security blanket.

    And when I think about it, I see how parented children, even as they grow into their 20’s, have the comfort of knowing that they do have a family to turn to, if need be. On the other hand, though, an orphan likely sees that moment of stepping into the adult world (and away from the orphanage/Emmaus House) as a time when they lose the only nurturing and only home they have ever had for an uncertain future, with no home/family to return to…and that must be terribly isolating and extremely frightening!

    Certainly, then, the teenage behaviors you deal with must include a hesitance to conform, to learn new skills, to become independent…because in doing those things, they will be ready to leave…and will lose what love/security/ nurturing they have received from you in the past. That makes your difficulties even more complex, more challenging…and, in the end, even more rewarding!

    P.S. I am wondering…is there some type of annual reunion the orphanage/Emmaus House has for past residents? And would that type of “touch base reunion” give them a sense of still belonging after they leave? In fact, former residents helping the orphanage children might be a perfect opportunity for “Haitians to help younger Haitians”!


    • You are right on in so many ways- especially when you said they are hesitant to conform because if they gain independence they fear the loss of love, security, and nurturing. Even as a married woman with kids, I still rely deeply on all of these things from my parents. So you are right, I can’t imagine how scary that must feel for them. Also, I really like your reunion idea! I am going to have to think more on that and see if we can’t make that a possibility!


  11. I notice that Tipton Children’s Home, a church-sponsored home in Oklahoma, organizes reunions. They appear to be well attended, a huge family reunion, of sorts. The home also publishes in their newsletter updates of marriages, births, deaths, etc. of former residents…which all seem like amazing bonding tools. I have a vision of you, the young mother of Emmaus House, in the center
    of a circle. From every direction, Haitian teens’ hands are reaching out to hold onto you. The caption says, “Don’t leave me. I’m afraid if I become independent, I’ll lose you, too.”


  12. Pingback: Confession #71: Their Voice : Their Heart : Their Pain – Jillian's Missionary Confessions

  13. Pingback: Confession #72: We Are Handing Them The Line – Jillian's Missionary Confessions

  14. I was only in Haiti for 2 years (came in 2010, like you), but in conversation with those who have been there for decades and my own observations, I agree with you and admire your courage for writing about it so honestly. Good writing on important topics are always polarising, aren’t they? I’m behind you, sè m. Ou gen sipò m.


  15. Jillian, the donations, the sponsors, the gifts. All responses to needs missionaries have expressed. If you have learned you asked for the wrong things, or the right things without direction, go ahead and tell us what you want, what will help. We will continue to respond. Because there’s so much we don’t know. We trust you and depend on you to let us know. You are there. We are not. We trust you to tell us, trust us to respond. But please do not approach it negatively, questioning motives. Telling us what we have done wrong has its place. But the real healing comes with the information on what to do that is right and good and helpful. Because that is surely what we all want. The reality is that the problems: spiritual, physical, psychological, emotional, financial, are inextricably intertwined, enormous, overwhelming, complicated and longstanding. There are no magic answers. There or here. But we are listening, as we have been, so tell us what will help if you have new perspectives. We are listening. Trust us. I love you. God bless.


  16. Pingback: Confession #73: The Healing Process – Jillian's Missionary Confessions

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