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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That which binds us

That which binds us

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 SJF anniversary celebration

Bill Nathan drums at the anniversary celebration

Hearts with Haiti board member at the anniversary

Hearts with Haiti board members shared in the celebration

Wootrod plays guitar at the 31st SJF anniversary celebration

Wootrod shares his tremendous musical gifts with the celebrants

31st SJF anniversary painting

The theme of the 31st SJF anniversary was Trust

Lou Lou plays drums at the 31st SJF anniversary celebration

More sharing of musical gifts

Celebrating family!

What a blessing to have so many visitors from near and far present for the celebration!

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One cup of water at a time

One cup of water at a time

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.


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Resurrection Living

Resurrection Living

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!

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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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A model for the world

A model for the world

It is hard to even put my experiences at Wings of Hope into words. It is my happy place and the place in which I feel the most “full.” Everyday that I am back in America my heart is in Haiti at Wings of Hope.

I was beyond lucky to spend a total of two months at Wings of Hope this summer, and four weeks there the past four summers. From the second I stepped foot into the Wings of Hope doors I felt an overwhelming sense of love, compassion, happiness, faith and mostly selflessness.

I believe that the way this organization is run is the way that the world is supposed to be.

This organization has taken children and adults off the streets who otherwise may have been left with nothing. No love, no hope, and no chance of having the happy life that everyone deserves. These beautiful people are the perfect example of Gods work and of “possibilities, not disabilities.” There is nothing these kids can’t do.

When so many others turned their backs, Wings of Hope opened their doors and hearts to each one of these residents and provided them the best life possible. Without Wings of Hope most of these children and adults would have nothing.

The staff goes above and beyond making sure that each child and adult is as comfortable and accommodated for as possible. They leave their families at home every day to take care of their second family. They work endless hours just to assure that no child or adult goes a day without a hug, smile or laugh and to assure that they receive a clean change of clothes, three warm meals, and a day filled with education, recreation and games.

They are a family that is run by love and they dance and sing and celebrate all of the good in the world. The pure joy that surrounds this place, especially during music time, makes me feel closer to God than I ever have.

They praise God every morning and demonstrate the true meaning of compassion and caring for others.

Alice and friends

There are countless small moments that have changed me forever. Just simply holding Junior, while he wraps his arms around me as tight as he can and lets me know that he trusts me.. laying with Mamoune and just bobbing our heads or giving her a shoulder to lay her head on… sitting on the porch listening to music with David, sitting in the sun with Delome and watching his bright smile shine through… talking sports with Lazar and Teddy, morning prayers with Gesner as he grips your hand, jumps up to dance whenever the singing starts, and then sits back down to put his head on your shoulder… having eloquent conversations with Raoul that you will never understand, picking jokes and pulling pranks on others with Jozye, talking to Esther, Fabiola and Funa just to see their faces light up… throwing dance parties in the girls room and watching all of them dance in their own unique way… or simply just spending time with some of the residents who aren’t able to communicate well, sitting there peacefully, enjoying each others company, and just looking off the balcony and observing everyone around with Peterson. I could name a special memory with every single child and adult, but I would go on forever.

These children and adults have made me feel more love than I have ever experienced in my life, and I have never had an actual verbal conversation with half of them.

Wings of Hope is a place that is so special to me, and these people are my family. I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything in the world. I love each and every person in this organization an immense amount, and I am always looking forward to my next visit.

The world could learn a great deal of compassion by taking a trip to Wings of Hope.

— Alice

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