In this story, Shelley Wiley, one of the founders of Hearts with Haiti, shares how the family at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys represents “resurrection living.” This is a family who – in many ways – is like any other. There are arguments, laughter, eye-rolling, and complaints about chores. But what has always set the SJF apart is their posture of genuine hopefulness and gratitude and the firm belief that, with God, all things are possible.
In January of 1997 I took my first trip to Haiti and stayed at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys – this was in the days before the chapel and roof were complete. It was also before there was a pump system for water in the house, so a daily chore for the boys was hauling 5-gallon buckets of water to all of the bathrooms.
The house was full, with boys ranging in age from about 5 to 20, along with assorted guests. Laughter would ring out when guests and boys played games, or when the Sunday morning darts tournament was underway.
To this day, though, I still believe that what captured my heart was the evening gathering of the boys and Michael, to which guests were always invited. Any of you who have visited will probably have your own memories of “Bravos.” During bravos, boys give a “bravo” to others for things they did that were kind or for assistance given or even simply for being a friend. Bravos were followed by family discussion of random issues that needed to be addressed, such as missing school books or upcoming field trips. Last, the family would then turn to evening devotions and prayers.
During the prayers, boys would pour out their prayers of confession, owning up to ways in which they were not being who they could be. There were also prayers of thanksgiving for the life and resurrection and hope that becoming part of St. Joseph’s brought them.
They all understood, even the youngest, that their lives had changed from suffering to resurrection living.
Like all families and homes, things were not perfect. Sometimes the house ran out of operating money, and they would have to wait for their allowances. Sometimes some of the boys did not want to do their fair share. And yet, I couldn’t help but be moved by the raw honesty in the boys’ prayers and in their voices.
But, where it became most clear to me that Michael’s vision of providing “family” for the boys was a holy calling was in just how normal the boys were. The youngest ones needed help and attention. They sometimes drifted off to sleep during devotions. They looked at the older boys with admiration.
The oldest guys had moved into the stage of life where they understood it was time to be helpful and to give back. They willingly took on their chores. One would get up very early to go pick up the bread for the day. Another would get up early to make many gallons of sweet, sweet lime juice for all the others.
And then there were the young teens. At bravos, they would often roll their eyes as others expressed appreciation. They would poke at the little ones. At times they were a bit surly or in very grumpy moods. In other words, they were going through that change from childhood to young adulthood, with all the attendant changes in hormones and moods, and they did it freely. When they went too far in their grumpiness, their punishment was extra chores, or requirements to help the younger ones with their homework. Just like in a “normal” family.
As I have gone back again and again over the years, I’ve seen those same awkward young teens turn into amazing adults. They mature and grow, just like we all hope our children will do!
What I realized was that the boys of the St. Joseph Family were allowed to be who they were at the various stages we all go through as we mature. But they were also being nurtured into responsible young adulthood by Michael, the older boys, and even the men who had grown up at SJHB and came back on the weekends to visit.
They didn’t all make it. I remember one boy who had survived on the streets by stealing what he needed to live, and they could not get him to break that habit, and thus he had to leave. I remember another boy who simply thought the chores and daily routines of being a part of a family were not fair to him, and he left of his own accord.
But so many more did understand the new life and new possibilities that were given to them because of the St. Joseph Family. The ones who couldn’t manage family life were also given second and third chances to make the adjustment, and many were helped to survive on their own for a time when they couldn’t.
Finally, though, it has always been the eye-rolling that has given me the most hope. Being 13 years old is difficult anywhere, but even more so for these boys whose early lives have brought them so much suffering. I know in my heart that if these surly teens can grow into strong men, something akin to resurrection is surely going on!Share this: