Being seen by Michael

Being seen by Michael

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.

Shoe Shine Dance - RDTHI 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 Haiti

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Art, Music, and the St. Joseph Family

Art, Music, and the St. Joseph Family

For many in the United States, life in Haiti seems filled with hardship.  This idea of a ‘suffering Haiti’ is what we see in the mass media.  And, after all, the country is still recovering from what was, by many measures, the most devastating natural disaster to strike our world in generations.

While it is true that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and, because of that, life is hard for many, many people, the reality is that Haiti is also a place of profound beauty.

Aside from the natural beauty of the country – the mountains rising up from bright blue seas and abundant wildlife – the people of Haiti have also created a richly beautiful and unique artistic heritage.  This artistry can be seen in so many places — from the myriad street vendors selling bright paintings and iron art to voices lifted up in song on any given morning to the poetry of Haitian proverbs that pepper everyday Kreyòl. Haiti is a country truly immersed in art.

Recognizing this, the St. Joseph Family was founded on the belief that art, music, and dance are things of beauty that should not be reserved for the wealthy. Instead, they should be cornerstones of life for even the most disadvantaged members of society.

As a visitor to Haiti and as a guest at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, Wings of Hope, Trinity House, and Lekol Sen Trinite, I was always amazed by the artistic beauty exemplified by this ministry.  The daily prayers at St. Joseph’s are not just spoken, but rather sung with an entrancingly beautiful plainsong.  The dancers of the RDTH pour out their hearts and souls through stunning and complex choreography.  The residents of Wings of Hope are transformed through daily song and dance that lift up their spirits and help them forget their mental and physical challenges.

Indeed, as a musician myself, the deep fulfillment I experienced performing my viola alongside drummers at Wings of Hope and young singers at St. Joseph’s is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

The music and art of Haiti touched my soul, and the kindness of its people opened my heart.  The St. Joseph Family was my portal to this culture, and as they celebrate their 30th anniversary, they are deserving of blessings and support.

St. Joseph’s is a remarkable ministry that believes in the value of human life and recognizes the capacity of art and culture to bring beauty and joy, even at the ends of the earth.

Bonne fete zanmi mwen!

— Geoffrey Hamlyn

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