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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30 Years with the St. Joseph Family

30 Years with the St. Joseph Family
Thirty years ago I took a leap of faith and got into a cab to go across Port-au-Prince to visit Michael Geilenfeld and the five boys he had come to know during his time with the Brothers of Charity. His mom, Mabel, asked us to visit him at the start of his new adventure.
There were four of us; none of us spoke Creole and the cab driver didn’t speak English. All we had is the address Michael’s mom gave us.
When we arrived at the small house behind the cardboard factory Michael and the boys had just finished their morning meal. They had no furniture, only mats on the floor on which to sleep. They were hoping to get enough money to purchase a guitar and some furniture. What a humbling experience!!

 

Previous to our visit, some journalists from the Gazette, our hometown paper, had also been there. When we returned to Cedar Rapids there was a separate section in the Sunday Gazette about our trip to Haiti and their visit to Michael’s. They were so impressed with the work he had started.

 

In the past thirty years I have traveled to Haiti at least once a year. Most years I have celebrated their anniversaries with them in person, missing very few — which tells you how much they are in my heart.
The St. Joseph Family is my family.
We have watched many of these boys grow up and take on leadership roles. Gary and I have hosted the Resurrection Dance Theater at least three times. Each time they became more professional. I am so proud of them.

 

In 1994 we visited just after they took over Wings of Hope and they were still in the rented house. We visited the house in Fermathe that was to be remodeled and become their home. What a big leap of faith for the family.

 

I have witnessed through the years the growth of the family to include Trinity House in Jacmel and eventually Lekol Sen Trinite and now the new bakery.

 

A little more than 12 years ago my daughter, Renee, decided to join the family. We were so pleased with her decision and also a little frightened for her. I remember vividly leaving her in the square in Petionville to catch the bus to Wings of Hope. She has grown and prospered in the family, and I am very proud of her.

 

Since the earthquake five years ago many things have changed. The loss of two of the homes meant a long rebuilding process. The original house on Delmas 91 was purchased and used as a temporary home until the new St. Joseph’s home was build. What a joyful anniversary that was when the new building was dedicated!

 

Wings of Hope was very lucky to find two adjacent homes to rent so that they could keep the members of Wings of Hope safe. Although they have been made to be handicap-accessible, it is only nominally so. Hopefully this year they will be able to move into the new home being built in Jacmel. It is built on a flat piece of ground and will meet the needs of the Wings family very well. It is adjacent to Trinity House and the Nuovo Vi Bakery. It should open many new opportunities for the Wings family.

 

It is with great regret that I am not there in person for the celebration 30th Anniversary of the St. Joseph Family, but I will be with you in my thoughts and prayers.

 

These thirty years have not been without challenges, but “with God all things are possible” — as has been proven many times over the years. I wish all the best for all the family.

 

Michael is a very special person who wanted to help the children of Haiti. May God Bless him and the St. Joseph’s Family.

 

— Lucy Dietrich
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