Some of us have been fortunate enough to have someone in our life who has looked past who we are and seen who we could become. Michael Geilenfeld was that person for me. I came to Haiti with an artist’s heart, but an undeveloped one. When I saw what Michael brought out in the boys who lived at St. Joseph’s, I knew I was onto something, although I could not have named it. The more I saw these street boys doing nearly professional level dancing in the Resurrection Dance Theater, the more I marveled at his ability to affirm people and actually make them think they could accomplish more than they ever dreamed.
Even after observing how one of Michael’s key beliefs affected these children – that the Creator obviously was a God of creativity and thus would be honored if His children developed that sense in themselves and He would affirm their efforts – I never dreamed that principle could work for me also.
Again, it was Michael who helped me realize my creative potential. I showed up in Haiti with a video camera I had barely removed from the box, and even though I had no experience, he opened himself and his mission to me, giving me full access to tell the story of St. Joseph’s. His unbridled belief that I could pull off such an ambitious documentary project convinced me also, and I went on to do several video documentaries about this remarkable ministry.
I also went on to teach memoir writing at St. Joseph’s, and I have never worked with a group of students more open to creative expression. The boys then turned their memoirs into plays and performed their often-difficult stories of living on the streets to audiences who were moved beyond words. Michael had created a safe environment of love and support and affirmation through the arts that – in my experience – is unmatched.
I have returned to St. Joseph’s many times. I have been a group leader on many of those trips, during which I would be in charge of 15 or 20 adults or teens, and I have never seen a place that inspires people the way St. Joseph’s does. I would even say being welcomed into the St. Joseph’s family has changed the lives of many of those adults and children, in addition to me. His is a model of unconditional love and encouragement and affirmation that is rare, and I am eternally grateful that I have been a beneficiary of Michael’s enormous God-given creative and loving spirit.
— a founding member of Hearts with HaitiShare this: