Confession #123: Church, Voodoo, Expectations & Hope: An Interview With Gerome
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….
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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!