In November we posted about a new member of the Wings of Hope family, Jonas. Shortly after we introduced Jonas it because clear that there was more to his story then we knew. His mother and father had two boys, Jonas and his brother. The mother apparently didn’t want to care for a child with special needs and abandoned him at the Missionaries of Charity home in Jacmel, then left town with her other son. Jonas’ father, however, very much wanted his son. He searched for days at all the orphanages looking for him. Finally he went to the authorities to file a missing child report. They knew about the little boy who had been abandoned and came to Wings to pick Jonas up and return him to his father. All of this happened on Thanksgiving Day in the US, which became a Homecoming Day for little Jonas. We are sure his father is glad to have him home, given all he did to find him. We are thankful for the short time that Jonas was in our lives and we wish him and his father well on their journey together.Share this:
Our Hearts with Haiti board members know first-hand how critical your donations are toward sustaining the transformative ministries of the St. Joseph Family. They believe so strongly in the mission of the SJF that they – board members past and present – pooled their funds to form a $60,000 matching grant.
Thanks to your generous that goal was not only met, it was exceeded! We thank you so much, mèsi anpil!
But wait…that’s not all. Later the board members presented a challenge. They would match up to $10,000 for all NEW donors or donors who haven’t given since November 2015. That goal was not only met but exceeded! We thank you so much, mèsi anpil!
It is because of your constant support that we are able to help sustain the transformative ministries of the St. Joseph Family. Jesus calls us in John to go and bear fruit, with your donations we are able to continue to pour into the lives of vulnerable children in Haiti and bear fruit within the St. Joseph Family communities.
In June I had the chance to introduce my daughter to Haiti, and to the St. Joseph’s Family. Having said that phrase so many times, the word “family” starts to simply become part of the name, but this visit once again reminded me of its true meaning.
The only thing about the trip that worried me a little was the airport arrival, as I had previously arrived with a group including old Haiti hands. It can be a bit chaotic, and seeing my brother Walnes standing at the end of the gauntlet of tap-tap drivers awaiting our arrival made my morning. He made us welcome at St. Joseph’s in so many ways.
Perhaps the highlight of our entire 10 day trip was the invitation he gave to visit his new house under construction in Peguyville, just a couple of miles from St. Joseph’s. It was so delightful to meet his wife, brother-in-law, toy poodle (no kidding!) and especially his two children, the youngest asleep in her crib. My daughter fell in love with his son, who followed us upstairs as we took a tour of the construction site and heard Walnes’ vision for the house and his studio. It was the sort of “family visit” one can expect when you are welcomed into St. Joseph’s family.
At St. Joseph’s Home for Boys they have a tradition every year which involves choosing one of the beautiful pictures that hangs around the home and inviting guests at the anniversary celebration to comment on what the picture means to them and their connection to the family. This year the picture depicted multiple young Haitian men, of all shapes and sizes, playing and talking out on a street corner.
The most interesting feature of the painting to me was the fact that none of the boy’s faces had any distinct features. They were all painted more or less the same without eyes, noses, or mouths, just blurry outlines that made all the boys look more or less the same. As I reflected on why the painter may have made this choice, Gasty, one of St. Joe’s younger boys, kept poking me in the side, teasing me as we sat together. In that moment it hit me: the faces are blurry because the details aren’t what are important.
I have been coming to Haiti for nine years now, and everywhere I go, I am welcomed by people who look nothing like me, whose lives are nothing like mine, who’s experiences and backgrounds look nothing like my own, and yet we are able to put all of that aside because the specific details of our lives that separate us are not important. What’s important is that I have found a place where all you need to do is be able to smile and love in order to build trust. All you need to do is keep showing up year after year and offering your heart, your friendship, and your love.
My relationship with St. Joseph’s Family and all those who are a part of it is a beacon of hope in my life. It reminds me that people are strong, they can literally “rise from the rubble” as this family and all those in Haiti have done time and time again. They can continue to trust in something greater than themselves. They can continue to “turn the other cheek,” and teach love instead of hate no matter how many people have hurt them in the past. The details that separate us are not important. Instead, it’s the qualities of love, hope, and trust that are important – which is why I know I will be celebrating many more anniversaries with this family for years to come. Happy 31st Anniversary St. Joseph’s Family!
More photos from the 31st St. Joseph Family anniversary celebration
Bill Nathan drums at the anniversary celebration
Hearts with Haiti board members shared in the celebration
Wootrod shares his tremendous musical gifts with the celebrants
The theme of the 31st SJF anniversary was Trust
More sharing of musical gifts
What a blessing to have so many visitors from near and far present for the celebration!
The streets of Haiti are hot and chaotic. Dust and gravel rumble underneath the wheels of broken down and overly crowded pickup trucks. The sun beats down, blinding and scorching. It burns your skin and dries your throat. Trash and debris. Livestock. Rusty motorcycles and graffiti line the alleyways.
But a long descent down Delmas 91, and you find yourself at the doors of the St. Joseph Home for Boys. Knock on the red iron gate, catching a glimpse of a wooden cross mounted in the chapel above you and the cascading greenery, overgrown and luscious. Take a step inside, and you are home. A cool breeze rushes through the courtyard while your eyes adjust and absorb a shock of bright colors. Paintings and statues. Potted plants and trees with the faintest twinkle of Christmas lights. Beautiful mosaic tiles and butterflies. And laughter. Quieting the sound of the street, filling your heart, calming your nerves.
It isn’t just that St. Joseph’s Home is beautiful. Or that it is safe. Or that it is peaceful. When you step inside the doors of St. Joseph’s, into this beautiful and quiet haven, you step into a family of love, acceptance, and friendship.
The boys and young men of St. Joseph’s welcome you into their lives. They are playing soccer by the kitchen, washing clothes in basins by the stairwell, making art in their study room. Algebra and French are scribbled in chalk on boards resting against bright yellow walls. In a community where domestic slavery is common, and more commonly not addressed, the boys of the St. Joseph’s Home are healing, maturing, and learning. Learning what it means to feel safe. What it means to be responsible. What it means to be a Christian. What it means to be loved.
You are handed a glass of ice cold water and told you are welcome. That by your presence in this place, in this family, you are showing love. And that you are loved. This is the miracle of St. Joseph’s: witnessing boys learning to love, because they are loved. Just a glimmer of the God-given blessing of family. A family built from love, ever-growing, flourishing, and changing. One cup of water at a time.
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: