Hope reborn in Haiti

Hope reborn in Haiti

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” 1 Corinthians 13

Among our church’s longest and strongest Outreach relationships is that with the St. Joseph Family. Founded in the 1980’s to provide a home for boys living on the streets, it has come a long way and this year achieved two new milestones, in which our partnership played an important part.

In the 1994, the boys in St. Joseph’s Family saw a new need in their community. Many disabled children in Haiti were faced with bleak futures—they often were born into families without the financial resources to provide the care needed and some in the culture did not accept these children, viewing them as a sign of God’s disfavor. This led the St. Joseph Family to take a leap of faith, creating Wings of Hope, a home for disabled children, once again using the approach of rebuilding a family for those society had neglected and rejected.

The earthquake in 2010 shook the foundations of many institutions in Haiti, and the St. Joseph Family was among them. Both of their facilities were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. For the last five years, the thirty members of the Wings of Hope family have been living in a jury-rigged rental house in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The love and support of the caregivers remained unchanged, but the physical challenges of a three-story house accommodating severely disabled children, many in wheelchairs, were daunting.

Faith, hope and love are the true foundations of the St. Joseph Family, however, and they put these to work, dreaming of new facilities to replace the old, places where loving care could take place in a setting tailored to the needs of the children. With the help of their Raleigh-based fundraising arm, Hearts with Haiti, they raised money for a world-class facility and began construction. Your generosity through the Capital Campaign tithe played a key role in this process. In January the new Wings of Hope opened in Jacmel.

Our Mission Team visited the new Wings in late March and was blown away by the new facility. Brightly colored, all on one level, and surrounding an open-courtyard, it’s a facility designed with the needs to the disabled first and foremost.

The bCardsoy’s rooms, paid for by your donations, was bright and spotless, with beautiful Haitian art decorating the walls, and the girls dormitory was similarly beautiful. The smiles on the faces and the joy in the voices of the children provided the clearest message—they love their new home. We were blessed to share the Easter service with them and were moved to tears by the way in which all, even those who cannot speak in words, are included in the service. We also had a chance to give each child a set of Easter cards made by the children in our Sunday School classes, which were received with great excitement.

The St. Joseph Family has also experienced a second re-birth over the last year. The plan of the founder was to ultimately turn over leadership of the Family to the alumni of the program. That is now coming into fruition as boys who grew up in the family have become young men, and are assuming leadership roles. Three of them, Maya Fond-Rose, Daniel Jean Mary, and Walnes Cangas spent the last three weeks in the US, meeting and thanking supporters and spreading the word about the good work of the family. A group from our church shared dinner with them, hearing first hand of their triumphs and challenges. All of us came away with a new sense of commitment to our partnership, which has brought much to so many in Haiti and in our congregation. We also hope many more people in our congregation can join trips to visit Haiti, and experience the beauty of the land and people first hand.

– Mark, for Global Outreach

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I hold out my hand to you in trust and curiosity
Will you ignore this gesture?
Will you slap my hand away?
Will you grumble in disgust?
Or will you reach out to me in friendship and solidarity and fill my waiting hand with your own?

When your pockets are empty and your resources are few
All you have to offer is your heart
I trust you with my most precious gift
I trust you to keep me safe
I trust you to help me grow
I trust you to believe in me

And as I hold your own waiting hand I promise…
To be worthy of your trust in me
To always keep you safe
To help you grow
And to believe in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself

Let us walk this path of friendship together
And always trust that where it leads us
Is where we need to go

Written by Renee Dietrich for the 31st anniversary of the St. Joseph Family ~ January 31, 2016

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What is done in love is well done

What is done in love is well done
The reflection below is written by Sara, a long-term volunteer at Wings of Hope. Jonas, who passed away recently, was an SJF employee working at Wings of Hope. He loved and was loved by many. 

Jonas grew up at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys and was one of the original street boys who started what is now the ever-growing St. Joseph’s family. The values of respect, hard work, and faith that he learned there as well as the love and acceptance he received growing up in the St. Joe’s family, are part of the reason why Jonas became who he was: someone who could help even the most broken heal and find hope.

When I came to Wings of Hope for the first time in 2011, Peterson was one of the most quiet and withdrawn people there. He mostly kept to himself except when he was working with Jonas to wash the residents’ laundry. Jonas understood Peterson, and they had a connection that is hard to put into words. Peterson came from a background that afforded him little trust, especially for adults, and Jonas knew just how to make Peterson feel at ease. They were “best buddies,” to say the least. The consistent mentorship, compassion, and attention that Jonas gave to Peterson is one of the largest reasons why I believe Peterson began to slowly open up to visitors and why he has become one of the more engaging residents currently living at Wings of Hope today. Jonas helped to nurture Peterson’s ability to be vulnerable with those around him.

Van Gogh once said, “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” Jonas lived his life full of love and commitment to others, and it was such a beautiful life.

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Haiti….. Heart…and Home

Haiti….. Heart…and Home

My heart was heavy, my spirits were down and tears that could flood a football field covered my face and soul as I watched with disbelief the result of the earthquake. My mind traveled back 24 years to a hot day in August in a crowded, no air conditioned room at the airport in Port Au Prince, Haiti. I was surrounded by 13, brown faced, bright eyes little boys, with my photo saying, “Villie, Villie?” Although, I didn’t understand them I recognized my face and said yes, I am Villie. With luggage, we exited the building and there beside a red truck stood a tall bearded face, with a wide smile was Michael, the founder of St. Joseph’s Home for Boys. Michael Geilenfeld at the age of 33, from Algona, Iowa came to Haiti 25 years ago as a Brother with the Catholic Church and from that work founded the home for street children.

When we arrived at the house, I was seated in a kitchen chair. Suddenly at the top of the stairs appeared the boys with flowers descending, singing, “Come into this house, praise the Lord.” Each gave me a flower and a hug, and by the time they finished I was an ugly crying mess of humanity.

In that moment, I knew that as long as I lived, I would be connected to this family, this home and these boys who which had claimed my heart, my spirit and my soul. Knowing the history of Haiti, I named my self, “Auntie Willie”, for as an African America mother these were my sister’s children.

This house at the end of the road was filled with purpose, energy, fellows travelers with different missions, and a sense of we—ness. The children and the paying house guests ate beans and rice as family. I looked forward to folks sharing their day and bonding with kids whose language I could not speak. Hospitality is when the host welcomes you, but there is also the atmosphere that is created by the host where all gather as members of the community and become family. In those early days, for $10.00 a day each guest was provided with 2 meals, safe drinking water, laundry and 24 hour security. These funds paid the rent and supported the needs of the boys, including education and empowering activities, art classes, music, dance, and or karate lessons and tutors.

Over the years I have traveled home to my “other” family, where I have seen the boys grow, finish school, learn trades, become self supporting, get married and begin their own families. I have cried at weddings, funerals, and blessings of new homes. I have cried with joy as we expanded our family by establishing a home for the physical and mentally challenged children. Feeling at home and unafraid each morning I have walked Demas, the main street, to volunteer at Mother Teresa’s Baby Hospital and in the evening rode the tap- tap, truck, or any thing that was moving to get up the mountain and home.

Now I cry as St. Joseph’s Home for Boys is no more, the building collapsed, but the good news is all of the family survived. My annual trip was scheduled for next Thursday, January 21st, the ticket is on the table, two packed duffle bags sit in the living room and I remain in prayer wondering what has happened to the babies, to the other folks I have met over the years.

The second house named Wings of Hope, next to the Baptist Mission, is now where Michael and the boys are living since their own home is uninhabitable.

I cry because a place that was safe & secure, clean & comfortable, a place where you lived in community with Haitians, that you heard roosters in trees crowing day and night, and dogs that become the hallelujah choir as they answered each other. You heard neighbors who might be having a not so friendly discussion work it out. St. Joseph’s rooftop was my Reality TV or HBO, for from there you observed laundry being hand washed, children being bathed or punished, witnessed young people play, study, fly kites and court on adjoining roofs, and the local barber or the beautician performed magic on their clients.

My memory will always yearn for nights on the patio as they were special for me, especially when the neighborhoods roof churches begin their worship. Where else can you see and hear the Lord’s name being lifted up the last thing at night, and before the break of dawn as Michael and the boys would gather in the chapel, meeting to give thanks.

In this house, because the other concrete houses are so close, the neighbor’s music became what I wanted to hear, the laughter of children is what I needed to remind me of what the silence meant when they were not allowed out after dark during the embargo. Seeing little children carrying water taught and constantly reminds me to be more grateful and less wasteful.

If you are not prepared to be influenced, to change, don’t read the history of Haiti and don’t accept the hospitality of this home.. For in the house, tell us what you need and we can show you how to live in abundance without it; learn to live without electricity 24/7, without A/C. microwave, the evening news, total privacy, hot showers, flushing toilets, or getting your socks back from laundry. But think of the joy of living with singing mosquitoes, daily hugs from boys who call you “ Auntie”, the recognizable laughter of the founder, excellent coffee, the beautiful and well prepared  meals — all speaking the visible sign of love.

Learn to live with other members of the family who care as much as you do and who can expand your world and worldview. Live with and know that we all come not only with special gifts, but also our personal needs. Haitians who have suffered from slavery and multiple invasion, try to maintain self-direction in spite of outside pressure and policies, and they seem to carry within them the ability to share, to love, and survive with dignity. I was there years later and watched Haitians of all ages stand in the broiling sun, without complaining just to vote for the first time.

This earth quake was a natural disaster, a wake up call which claimed the world’s attention and highlighted their daily struggles. St. Joseph’s Home for Boys will be rebuilt because we believe in the goodness of God and the people of God.

I have responded to calls saying what can I do, inquires from Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland, Georgia, and Illinois. Where do you run when the earth shakes, who do you turn to when your world falls apart, who do you lean on when buildings crumble, what do you hold on to…your faith, your family and your friends. The motto for the home is “with God all things are possible”. This is my belief; my faith tells me that we will rise from the rubble as family.

— Willie J. Dell

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