Communiqué #119

Communiqué #119

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

January 19, 2016

I M A G I N E

 

Sometimes when I am an eye-witness to certain things here in Haiti, I find myself wondering if people who have never been to a third world country could even imagine that situations like this could really still exist in today’s world.

 

On my recent visit to a school on the tiny island of Île-à-Vache, those types of thoughts surfaced.

 

I was volunteering in a third grade classroom and decided to ask each of the children to write down their name and their age on a sheet of paper. One boy did not know his full name. He needed to look at the cover of his notebook to see what his name was and how to spell it. The age range of the children was also interesting. The ages ranged from 8 to 17.   Most certainly the 17-year-old was in third grade because he had never had the opportunity to go to school when he was younger. There were several in the 12 to 15 age range where maybe that also was the case. For those from 9 to 11 perhaps this too was true OR they had failed to pass third grade and were repeating it for the second or third or fourth time in an attempt to pass to the next grade level after finally achieving successful academic results. I must admit that I really admire the oldest students for their desire to receive an education, even though it places them in a class with far younger children who may be unkind to them. I try to imagine if I were in those shoes if I would make the same choice.

Names and ages of 3rd graders

Names and ages of 3rd graders

Some 1st graders see electricity & a lighted ceiling fan for the first time EVER!

Some 1st graders see electricity & a lighted ceiling fan for the first time EVER!

Now imagine what it was like for a first grade class whose lesson for the day was taught in the rooms of our guesthouse. The first room that was visited was one of the bathrooms. For most of the children, they had NEVER seen a sink, a toilet or a shower. The teacher patiently explained what each of those modern conveniences was and how to use them. Imagine, in today’s world, living in a home that had none of those items. The next room they visited was a bedroom. The beds were a marvel to many, who most likely sleep on grass mats in their home or the bare and sometimes earthen floor.   The next stop was to the dining room where two large tables had lots of chairs surrounding them.   Many of their families count it a luxury to own even one handcrafted chair.   Also in the dining room was a ceiling fan with a light. Little eyes gazed in wonder as the switch was flipped and the light came on.   An even greater marvel was the rotating of the fan when the chain was pulled. As the children exited the room, many strained to get a little longer look at the marvelous rotating fan!          IMAGINE!

 

Nora Léon                   

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic       Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #118

Communiqué #118

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

January 12, 2016

 

P R A Y E R S   M A K E   A   D I F F E R E N C E

 

After spending extended time in the USA to deal with some immigration issues for Léon, we are settling back into life in Haiti. One of the first items on my agenda was to talk to the parents of the baby who had surgery, as we have learned that a second surgery is needed for an unrelated abnormality that needs to be corrected before the baby (now almost 16 months old) needs before returning to her home in Haiti.

 

I tried to call the mother several times, but each time a recording informed me that her phone was not in working order. Then, I sent someone to find the mother at her home. It was learned that the family had moved and no one knew where they had moved to. Remembering that I had a phone number for a cousin in Port-au-Prince, we called her and eventually we reconnected with the parents and they came for a visit.

The parents came bearing two pineapples that they presented to me to show their gratitude for the help that their little girl is receiving! I am always touched by such gifts as truly they are giving what little they have that they can give!

 

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Gift of Pineapples

The main reason I needed to talk to the parents was to get permission for this second surgery, but I was also looking forward to sitting down with them and showing them the chronological photographs that I had of their precious little daughter. We started with the photos of the day that I first met this little gal and her mama at a one-day clinic held by our mission team. We worked our way through the photos of the time spent in Port-au-Prince to get her medical visa, the travel time that the baby and I had to get to our destination in Virginia, and the meeting of her host family and pediatrician.   In the mix of photos, I had a photo of the young mother who volunteered to be the baby’s wet nurse on the day the baby arrived in the USA with just having been abruptly weaned from her mother. That photo brought about some fun discussion with the parents. They were amazed that another young mother would be willing to do that for their little one. It brought joy to their faces. The parents also watched short video clips of their daughter. The photos brought pleasure. The movies brought elation! They watched as their daughter mimicked her host siblings with “bye-bye waving” and hand-clapping. The progress made with therapy to teach their little one to crawl, using her previously weakened legs, brought even more joy. It was such a pleasure watching their reactions!

 

We learned that the mother and father are currently living in separate homes of extended family members because they could no longer afford the rent on the house where they had been living. They had not had a place to charge their cell phones, so they had been doing without. The reality of their situation was made even clearer when they needed to ask us for money for the motor-taxi ride home. This is a family truly living day-to-day, but a family who deeply loves their little one that they have been separated from for over three months.   It is hard to imagine that kind of love!

 

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Mother & Father of our little angel

There have literally been people praying for this child and her family from all corners of our world! Please continue to do so, as your prayers have made a difference!

 

REMEMBERING … 6 years ago today …

the devastating Haitian earthquake of 2010!

Nora Léon                   

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic        Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #117

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

September 2015

I N     H I S     H A N D S

As I write this, I am sitting in North Carolina awaiting my return flight to Haiti while leaving a part of my heart in Roanoke, Virginia.   No actually, not my heart, but the precious child who has been blessed with the gift of a future that would not have existed if she remained in Haiti where the needed medical care was not available.

Over the past six long months, God has proven, time and again, that He is in control and that things that I fretted about and planned for were not in my control at all, but in His!

The summer months were spent on getting official papers for me to travel with someone else’s child, obtaining a passport, re-working ID documents for the parents, re-doing paperwork that was now obsolete and replaced by new forms and new regulations, requesting an appointment with the embassy to apply for a medical visa and so-much-more!

After a summertime of slow progress in finalizing the myriad of steps to make it possible to submit an application for a medical visa, God moved things along in the month of September.

The embassy appointment was set for September 16, requiring traveling by public transportation the four-hour trek to Port-au-Prince. The mother, child, translator and I would have a five-day stay in Port-au-Prince. Various steps were required before I even dared to buy a plane ticket to avoid the cost of having to change the date of travel or perhaps not need the ticket at all!

Office where permission is granted to travel to another country with a minor that is not your own!

Office where permission is granted to travel to another country with a minor that is not your own!

So many people were praying!!!! I just know that God showed His amazing good favor by allowing the process that can take several days to actually be wrapped up in only three days. It is a reality that “nothing in Haiti is easy”, so, it was a pleasant surprise when the process went so much smoother than I could ever have imagined. The visa was approved AND issued in a couple of hours – unheard of! The travel papers from the social service office were filled out in a matter of minutes and on the same day as the visa appointment– also unheard of! The actual travel document was in my hands the following day, although 2 ½ hours later than promised, but nonetheless in my hands. The flight was booked. A slight glitch finally took place when the flight confirmation failed to show up in my email inbox and I would learn that my credit card was rejected and we were in jeopardy of losing the last seat on the plane. God too handled that, as we were able to make a couple of long phone calls and resolve the matter with confirmed seats for travel the next day.

Mama & child - just prior to the child's departure!

Mama & child – just prior to the child’s departure!

Early the next morning, the mother arrived from a family member’s home with the baby. I had asked that she be sure to breast feed the baby before turning her over to me to assure that the baby had one last feeding before I would need to attempt to switch her to bottle feedings. I also asked that she braid the baby’s hair so that it would look good for the long hours of travel – a thought that had already occurred to the mom.   I took a photo of mother and daughter so that later I could give a print to the family. We headed to the airport. On the way, I asked the chauffeur to translate for me, telling the mama how we would take very good care of her daughter, that I would be praying for the mama and the rest of the family during their months apart, and that she would be going to a very good home where the family would treat the baby as their very own. When we arrived at the sidewalk outside the airport, the mama said her goodbyes as tears filled her eyes.   She was one of the few mamas who I had ever seen cry when they gave their child into the hands of the unknown. Many mamas just seem resolved that it is a necessary step for the survival of their child. The chauffeur told her not to cry because the baby was in God’s hands. The mama wiped her tears and nodded. They climbed back in the van and disappeared from sight as porters helped me with my luggage and led us into the airport for check in.

As we went through the various security checkpoints, people watched as this white woman carried this adorable black child through the airport. Questions were asked as to whether or not she was my daughter, or being adopted or what?!?!? Some were surprised, but pleased, to learn that this baby was actually being transported for medical care. Many people offered assistance and were happy to help in any way that they could.

All throughout the airport the baby scanned the many black faces. It was obvious that she was looking for the face of her mother.  Her eyes would dart from one woman to another and then back to me. With the need for comfort, she often tugged on my dress wishing for the breastfeeding that she was so accustomed to.   Needless to say, it was something I could not offer her. Her distress mounted and she refused to drink from a sippy cup or a bottle. She refused to try the unfamiliar baby food that was so different than the beans & rice with sauce that she was so familiar with. Occasionally she would cuddle on my shoulder, but only for short periods of time before she again searched for the breast milk that would calm her.   If I would stand with her cuddled close to me while doing “a little dance” she would settle down. If I would maintain the same position with her but sit down, she would again display her distress. I knew that meant that sitting in a plane for a long period of time was going to be quite the challenge. And that was exactly what happened. Before the plane even left the gate, I was apologizing to fellow passengers for what would prove to be a long ride with a bellowing baby. One hour of a “non-stop, nothing is going to calm this child” episode was very trying for me and for the rest of the people on the airplane. As passengers learned her story, they were a little more sympathetic, but nonetheless, it was an unpleasant experience for all.   Thankfully, the baby finally gave in and took a nap for the remaining 30 minutes of the flight.

At the airport with "my little angel"

At the airport with “my little angel”

When we finally disembarked in Miami, I looked forward to being able to change her diaper and again attempt to get some liquid into her tiny 15 pound body. She enjoyed going through the airport as it involved movement that seemed to settle her a bit. It also gave her a chance to once again scan the crowd for that one black face that might be the face of her mother. We had a long wait at the luggage carousal, where several women who once lived in Haiti were working. The baby was becoming agitated again, as she scanned their faces and actually reached out to a woman who resembled her mother. The kind woman came over to hold her for a short while, calming her down and doting on her. I warned the woman that she might not dare leave, as the baby would start crying for her, which is exactly what happened. Having to get back to work, some of the remaining women began to ask questions. “Was I adopting the baby?” etc. etc. etc. When they learned of the baby’s medical condition they expressed their gratitude at my willingness to go to such lengths to get help for her. They wanted to know everything about my little angel.

The time came to find our next gate. I started to contemplate what the next leg of the journey would be like, knowing that we had a long day ahead of us. By day’s end, we would have three airplane rides and would have been through four airports. It was not looking good for the next flight to be any more stress-free than the first one. As I sat down in my seat with the baby, an older couple filled in the two seats next to me. I felt compelled to let them know what they were in for. The woman was very kind and proceeded to try to find a way to appease my distressed baby. Out of her carry-on bag came a set of keys that was sure to entice the baby to enjoy the jingle of a newfound toy. Not! Oh! Certainly a tiny box of Cheerios was a tried and true way to distract a tired and hungry child. Nope! Well, an offer by the couple to move to another set of seats seemed like the best bet for them to get some peace and for me to have room to more easily care for the child. Yes, the extra room was nice, but the peace for this couple and the rest of the passengers was not to be had. Another hour of loud protests was quickly becoming a habit. I prayed for patience! I prayed for tolerance from the other people! I prayed for comfort for the child! I prayed that the baby would give into feeding in a new and different way! I prayed that she would not become dehydrated! And then noticing her swollen gums and new teeth about to break the surface, I prayed some more. It seemed that she was developing a fever, but finally she slept again.   All too soon, I needed to disrupt this pleasant state as the plane had arrived at the next airport.

With a very tight connection, we boarded a motorized cart and were whisked away to the next gate just in time to board the next plane. No time to stop for anything. Upon boarding the plane, I asked for a volunteer to hold the baby while I headed to the bathroom. Again, when arriving at my assigned seat, I explained to the passenger who would be sitting by me of what she could expect. She kindly offered me her aisle seat in the event I needed to get out to change the baby’s diaper.   Much to my relief, this shorter one-hour flight ended up being the one that this worn-out child finally napped on.   For a few moments, I too could close my eyes and breathe a sigh of relief before arriving at our final destination.

A fellow missionary who had been instrumental in locating a doctor and hospital (whose services would be gratis) greeted us at the airport. It was she who also offered her home to me as a place to stay for the few days that I would be in town!   My host even located frozen breast milk to entice the baby to consume the liquid that was so needed by this child. A bath for the baby was the next thing on the agenda, with hopes that a restful night would follow. Upon bathing the baby, we learned that the baby’s skin had become compromised on the site of her meningocele, most likely caused by the long travel day. I started beating myself up feeling like I was responsible for her condition. With a heavy heart, I headed to bed after my host offered to relieve me of my baby duties, so that I could get some much-needed sleep. While I zonked out for the night, my host and her husband endured a long sleepless night with our restless angel.

The following morning, another family member graciously offered to be a wet nurse for the baby, as she continued to long to be breastfed. Doing so, we were given the assurance that the baby would not become dehydrated. The compromised skin continued to be of concern, thus, the pediatrician who would be seeing the baby was contacted. On a Sunday morning, she dropped everything and had us bring the baby to her office for an exam. The host family agreed to meet us there. The skin situation had the potential of delaying or cancelling the upcoming surgery altogether, so special measures needed to be put in place to assure that no further breakdown of the skin would occur. After a thorough exam and the fitting of a protective cover for the affected area, the baby was ready for the journey to her host family’s home.

Amazingly, the baby slept through the night on her first night at her new home. The second night, however, proved to be a challenge. The following morning a return visit to the pediatrician took place. The baby would be given five vaccinations (to get her up-to-date) and a fluoride treatment for her teeth and medication for thrush and low-iron. Her skin condition was monitored, and thankfully, showed no worsening of the condition.

Immediately following the doctor visit, I headed for the airport for my return trip to Haiti. Upon arriving in Haiti the next morning, I was greeted by the chauffeur that had earlier escorted us all around Port-au-Prince and had been the one who delivered the baby and me to the airport, with the mother coming along to say goodbye. Out of curiosity, I asked him what the mother’s reaction was when she saw us leave and enter the airport. He explained that she had cried loud, long and uncontrollably.   Oddly enough, it made me feel good. It demonstrated to me how very much she loved her baby and how she would be looking forward to the baby’s return. The chauffeur had calmed her by telling her that she could trust me to take good care of her daughter and that her daughter was being given the gift of a chance at a full life.

Now back in Haiti, I was able to meet with the parents and bring them photos of their daughter in the USA. I assured them that I would give them updates and they would remain in my prayers.

I have been notified that the surgery has been scheduled for 7AM on October 1. Please join me in praying for a successful surgery and recovery and for all who are involved in her care while she is in the USA. Pray for her birth family!

What a great God we have, as through this all, this little angel is IN HIS HANDS!

Nora Léon                   

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic           Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #116

Communiqué #116

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

May 26, 2015

T H I S     L I T T L E     O N E

To tell you today’s story, I must take you back in time to the day that I first met this little one who is burrowing a special place into my heart.

In March of this year, a mission team was here. On their last full day here, we held a medical clinic in the slums of LesCayes. Each year when this team comes here, it is their desire to hold a clinic in this impoverished community that has such an obvious need for free medical care. This year would prove to be no exception. Far more people showed up at the clinic than we could possibly see in the few short hours that we would be there. At one point, we were forced to make an announcement that it was imperative that we see those who had a critical medical need first.

For some reason, on entering the building that day, my eyes had been drawn to one particular baby who was sitting on her mother’s lap on a bench near the front of the line. When our announcement was made, her mother came forward pleading for her baby to be seen. As it turns out, she had good reason as her baby was born with a condition described as “a congenital meningomylocele in the lumbosacral region”.   Another term that is sometimes used is spina bifida. When she was born, the doctors in Haiti told her the baby would die.   Upon seeing the baby, I was almost certain that I could find a doctor to treat her. With that in mind, some of the team members promised funds to help make that happen.

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“This little one” at her current age of 8 months with Manmi Nora!

After inquiring with an American doctor who comes often to our area, I was informed that she needed to see a specialist.   I made other inquiries and was excited to learn of a doctor in the USA who was willing to treat this baby. Could I possibly pull everything together so that I could escort this baby to the USA when I departed Haiti in mid-June for my summertime visits to supporters???

It was at this point in time that I started communicating with the team members who had met this little girl when they had been here in Haiti. In a private message format on Facebook, the updates have begun. As things unfold, I am able to tell them of her needs and to most importantly ask for prayers. It is prayers for miracles that will really make this journey to the USA possible. There are so many obstacles that could in reality sabotage this journey from happening at all. I really believe that those prayers are bringing about some surprisingly quick resolutions.

To begin the paperwork trail, it is imperative that the parents have a government-issued photo ID. The father has one, but the mother had lost hers and never replaced it. Getting a replacement ID can literally take weeks or even months. While at the notary’s office, the notary made a call to a government official. He was given the instructions on how we could get a document that would satisfy the officials. So within 24 hours, I had two acceptable forms of ID in hand. A miracle!

Another challenge! A birth certificate in Haiti is not considered valid unless there is documentation on the certificate that the child has been baptized. This little one had not been. In addition, a verification paper from the government office in Port-au-Prince (a five hour road trip from here) has to also be obtained to prove the birth certificate is authentic. This too can take weeks.

OK! Now what?   First things first! A baptism needs to take place! We talked with the pastor of the Church of Grace and he consented to performing the baptism. We talked to the parents to see if they would consent. It turned out to be a way for us to talk to them about Jesus, because we are not at all sure that the parents are Christians. We suggested that we could do the baptism at our home, since Church of Grace is located an hour boat ride away. They agreed!

This is how today’s story came to be. In our front room, I prepared a small table by covering it with a flowered fabric tablecloth and a bouquet of silk flowers. I searched for a white bowl that could hold the baptismal water. Now in Haiti, these things are common … I found a suitable bowl, but it had previously been visited by a mouse (or two). It now contained several mouse droppings. Ewww! But as I was washing the bowl out with Clorox water, a thought occurred to me. Is not this a fitting symbol of what baptism is all about?!?!?   God takes us with all of our “yucky-ness” and through the water of baptism and ultimately His death on the cross cleanses us and purifies us. Hmmm!

"This little one" - a Child of God!

“This little one” – a Child of God!

In an attempt to make the day a little bit special, I asked the women who cook and clean for our household if they would be willing to sing at the baptism. They too agreed! I also searched for a small gift to give the baby on her special day. I located a children’s Bible Story book in Kréyol that would be a way for the family with their three other children to learn more about Jesus.

The parents and baby arrived and the short ceremony took place. With simple water, blessed by God, this little one became a Child of God!

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this little one and her family. Another thought occurred to me in the process. For some reason, God has placed this little one in my life. I now know that one of the reasons is so that she would be baptized. If that is the only reason that our paths have crossed, that is enough! Ultimately, isn’t my main concern for her that she spend eternity with Jesus? Yes, that would be enough!
If God should see fit … He will continue to bless the efforts to get this little one to the USA for treatment, but for now … I am comforted in the fact that this little one is now, most importantly, a Child of God!

Your prayers and financial support are greatly appreciated!

If you wish to make a donation to help this little one or others like her,

please mail your donation to

CARIBBEAN CHILDREN’S FOUNDATION, PO BOX 33, JENISON MI 49429.0033 USA

Nora Léon                   

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic         Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #115

Communiqué #115

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

May 17, 2015

H O N O R E D     W O M A N

Honored in 2013 Mother's Day Celebration!

Honored in 2013 Mother’s Day Celebration!

Today, at the age of 105, the eldest woman of this small village on the island of Île-à-Vache passed from this life to the next. It was just two years ago that we had honored her as being the oldest mother of the community at our first-ever Mother’s Day Celebration. In a country where the average life expectancy is about 50 years of age, this is indeed a woman who lived a long life.

Today as I was standing in the backyard of the orphanage, I noticed a gathering of men constructing something with cement block. When I asked one of the boys of the orphanage what they were building, I was told that an elderly neighbor lady had passed away this morning and they were building her above ground tomb.

Activity in the neighbor's yard

Activity in the neighbor’s yard

I spent the afternoon with the orphanage boys, but at the same time I kept an eye on what was transpiring in the yard of the neighbors. Several men were mixing mortar, cutting rebar, placing forms and laying blocks for the final resting place of one of their own.

Final resting place!

Final resting place!

Before returning to the guesthouse where I am staying, I asked someone to escort me to the yard where the tomb was taking shape. A multitude of neighbors were stopping by the gravesite and also at the home where the body remained to pay respect to the family.   For a fleeting moment, I felt a part of the community … not the out-of-place “blanc” in the crowd. Babies, toddlers, youth and grownups all mingled in the yard around the men who were making work of completing their task before dark. The tomb must be finished and the concrete dry for the early morning burial of the next day. In later years, this same tomb will house other family member’s of the deceased matriarch.

I cherish the times when I can get a true glimpse of what life in Haiti is like as if I am invisible and not intruding on a private moment. Today I received one of those glimpses!

Rest in Peace Honored Woman!

Nora Léon                   

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic      Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #114

Communiqué #114

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

May 6, 2015

S W E E T     R E U N I O N    J O Y

 

 

Today, I want to share one of my recent days of JOY. Working on the mission field is not always the glamorous life that some people may envision of “saving the world!”   In reality, many times it is filled with more witnessing of suffering and sorrow than joy.  It is because of this, when a JOY does occur, I need to stop and say a special “Thank you!” to Jesus and bask in the joyousness of the event. The joys seem so much more precious when they are few and far between.

It is with the permission of my friend Jean-Pierre (not his real name) and his adoptive mom that I share this story of JOY from my perspective. It would be interesting to read their perspectives on this same story as well!

I first met Jean-Pierre when he was about 4 years old and living in the city of LesCayes with his parents and (at that time) 8 siblings. He had been severely burned and help for him in Haiti was not available.  Through a series of events, of which I played a small part, Jean-Pierre was able to receive treatment for his burns in the United States while living with a host family that consisted of a father, a mother, two daughters and another child from Haiti being treated for burns.

After several months of treatment, Jean-Pierre returned to Haiti to live with his birth family. It soon became evident that re-adjustment back to life in Haiti was not going well. Jean-Pierre had become accustomed to living in a home where whenever he was hungry, he could “go to the refrigerator” and get something to eat. Life back in Haiti just was not that easy. Food whenever you want it just is not a reality for many families in Haiti. In fact, food every day is not even reality for many families. This was no different for the family of Jean-Pierre.

At some point in time, Jean-Pierre’s parents in the frustration of not being able to care for Jean-Pierre in the manner that he had become accustomed to wrote a letter to the host family and asked if they would consider adopting Jean-Pierre.   When the decision to go ahead was made, the long and agonizing wait began.   In the meantime, the dilemma of Jean-Pierre’s re-adjustment remained. The Haitian pastor who I was working with at the time decided that perhaps he needed to approach the family to see if taking Jean-Pierre into the boys’ orphanage would be a solution. Jean-Pierre would be able to eat everyday, have clothes to wear and be able to attend school on a regular basis – things that were a luxury for his birth family.

The family agreed and turned Jean-Pierre over to the care of the orphanage. Jean-Pierre would continue to see his family on a regular basis. His mother and sister often did laundry at the orphanage. His family attended the same church that he did. Many of his siblings attended the same school as he did. Jean-Pierre was aware when additional siblings were born into the family – a family that would eventually include 12 siblings.

Now the wait for the finalization of the adoption began. Through delay upon delay upon delay the adoptive family and Jean-Pierre waited.

In the meantime, I was able to be a liaison between the adoptive family and Jean-Pierre. When the family wished to send a gift for Jean-Pierre, I would make sure the gift was delivered.   When funds were sent to help feed the birth family, I would deliver the bags of rice and other grocery items. When Jean-Pierre needed reassurance that his family in the USA had not forgotten him, I was able to convey that information. When the adoption advocate needed additional information on Jean-Pierre or his family, I helped to obtain what was needed. If travel to Port-au-Prince was necessary for adoption appointments, I would accompany Jean-Pierre there.

Years (Yes! Years!) went by before the adoption of Jean-Pierre took place. I have always said that with the Haiti Earthquake of 2010 came blessings. One of those disguised blessings was the finalized adoption of Jean-Pierre. Because of the earthquake, the government permitted many in-process, delayed, and complicated adoptions to be expedited. Jean-Pierre was blessed to be one of those approved adoptions!

Since that time, I have periodically stayed in touch with Jean-Pierre and his adoptive family. I have also stayed in touch with the families who adopted two of his youngest sisters. All three families were put in contact with each other and have openly shared the knowledge that they were siblings – born of the same father and same mother. I have remained in touch with the birth family.

About a year ago, the adoptive mother and I had a conversation. She explained that at this point in her life, she was considering bringing her two adopted sons back to Haiti for a visit.   She wanted her boys to experience Haiti, but she also wanted to come to serve in some way, not just come for a “vacation”. Since she was a nurse, it seemed natural for her to come serve in a medical capacity. She was wondering if I had any idea on how to make that happen. I mentioned that in March of 2015, I had a team coming. Part of the team’s mission was to hold medical clinics in two different locations, both of which were close to LesCayes where Jean-Pierre was originally from. After some time, she contacted the team leader and the plan started taking shape for the three of them to join this team. The first several days of the trip would be devoted to team activities. The team would leave and the three of them would stay one extra day to be reunited with Jean-Pierre’s birth family.

At some point in time, I visited the birth family. All through the years they had asked questions about the welfare of Jean-Pierre and his two sisters. They always wanted to see recent photos and to hear about how they were doing in school and other events in their life. The most important question they would ask was as to when they would come back to Haiti to visit. Finally the day had arrived that I could tell them what date Jean-Pierre would return. The family was beyond excited!   The date was months away, but yet they had the appointed day to plan and yearn for.

As I thought on the upcoming event, I wondered what kind of experience it would be. How would it feel as an adoptive mom? How would it feel to come back to a place where memories had started to fade of the sights and sounds and smells and the harsh realities? How would the birth family react? Would it be a positive experience or one that did not go well? Would the leaving again be too difficult? There would really be no way to predict if this experience would be a good one!

The team arrived in March as planned and we set about doing all the things that we had planned for the team to do. I was amazed that at no time did Jean-Pierre or his birth family approach me during the week and ask to re-connect before the date that had been set for this occasion. Jean-Pierre was fully immersed in being a part of the team’s activities, connecting with the children we worked with and in re-learning some of the Kreyol words that were so long ago a natural part of his vocabulary.   Jean-Pierre was a pleasure to have on the team. He and I reconnected in ways that brought me joy. We talked about things that he remembered. I shared with him my thoughts of what he might like to see and do on the day he would be reunited with his family. I asked him to tell me if those indeed were the things he wanted to do and if not please let me know what things he desired. We talked about visiting his school, his church, the orphanage site where he once lived (even though the campus has since relocated), the kids still living at the orphanage (at their new campus) when he was a resident, the beach where his father built boats, his grandmother’s house by the beach and last, but not least, his family’s home. Jean-Pierre expressed a desire to have coconut milk (right out of the coconut), to eat from a sugarcane stalk, and to try banana and fruit champagne soda and other such tastes of his memory. I did every thing in my power to make all those things happen.

Boat construction in progress!

Boat construction in progress!

On Jean-Pierre’s BIG day, the team left very early in the morning for the road trip to catch their flight in Port-au-Prince. By then, I think Jean-Pierre could hardly stand for this long-awaited day to begin.   I had hired a translator to go with us, as I did not want the language barrier to cause Jean-Pierre to miss out on one single thing. The translator had his work cut out for him, as the day unfolded. Myriads of questions and answers would take place throughout the day.   It ended up being an educational experience for the translator as this was his first exposure to someone who had been adopted and furthermore someone who had returned to Haiti for an adoption reunion with their birth family. What a privilege it was for all of us who witnessed this event!

I first drove Jean-Pierre and his adoptive mother and brother and our translator to the school were he attended. As we traveled, familiar landmarks came into view – the soccer field, the community water spigot, the streets of his old neighborhood! School was not in session on that day, but we were able to peer into some of the classrooms and look at the guesthouse, the church and the former site of the girls’ orphanage located on the same property as the school. We were able to go on the roof of the building where we used to watch the local soccer matches (without having to pay an entrance fee!) Jean-Pierre’s mother and brother have never been to LesCayes, so showing these sights to them was also a part of the fun!

Eventually, and not soon enough for Jean-Pierre I am sure, we arrived at the home of his birth family. Father, mother, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and onlookers soon filled the area outside the home as smiles and hugs abounded. He was able to meet family members who he had never met – ones who were born after his departure to the USA. The home itself was of interest to Jean-Pierre. There had seen some changes to the house, so he was interested in seeing the new and old parts of the home he remembered. We toured each room seeing the bedroom where many of his siblings slept – some on beds and some on the floor. We saw where the family cooked over a charcoal fire and where lumber was stored for a future boat his father hoped to build when his health allowed. Jean-Pierre’s mother’s face donned a huge smile. Jean-Pierre’s father took the time to thank the adoptive mom for all that she has done for his son. The father was interested to see the scars from the burn of his toddler years and to know how he was doing in school. All these questions and more were asked with a “standing room only” number of people gathered around to hear every aspect of this happy reunion. The adoptive mom shared photos of the events of Jean-Pierre’s life in the USA. The family filled every moment asking every possible question that they could possibly think of to update them on the events of Jean-Pierre’s life since they last saw him. Jean-Pierre had brought gifts for many of his family and the excitement of the day continued. The family brought out freshly harvested almonds and homemade “tablet nwa” as a special reminder of childhood treats. They all gathered around Jean-Pierre and excitedly watched as he consumed some of his old favorites from the past.   A multitude of family photos were taken to commemorate the big event. We then asked about Jean-Pierre’s grandmother. Upon learning that she was still living, we decided to pay her a visit at the nearby beach where she lived next to the ocean.   As some of us traveled by car, a large number of the family raced there on foot, meeting us as we got out of the car. Once at the beach, coconuts were whacked open with a machete and coconut milk was enjoyed by all. More onlookers and relatives appeared and new babies were introduced. The grandmother in her regal gentleness appeared and hugged Jean-Pierre with delight!   A brief walk to the beach area where wooden boats were being built took place.   Midday was approaching and we explained that we were planning an afternoon reunion with the boys and the girls of the orphanage who would remember Jean-Pierre from his time there. The father then asked if we would please return to share a special meal that the family wanted to prepare for Jean-Pierre. The meal would include freshly caught fish and other favorites from Jean-Pierre’s childhood. We promised that we would return by 4PM.

We returned to the guesthouse for a quick lunch and then traveled the short distance to reunite with the kids at the orphanage. Jean-Pierre had never lived at the new campus that was built after the earthquake, so a tour was given of the childrens’ cabins. Re-introductions were made of the kids that he had known and introductions of kids that had arrived after Jean-Pierre’s departure. It seemed awkward for everyone. The kids did not know what to say, but photos taken with old friends seemed to ease some of the tension. Eventually, the kids overcame their shyness and asked about Jean-Pierre and his life in the USA. Jean-Pierre had brought an ever-welcome gift of candy for all of the kids there. After a brief visit, we returned to the guesthouse to await the time of departure for the special meal prepared for Jean-Pierre and his family!

As I was leaving with the three of them the next morning for a return to the USA, I explained to Jean-Pierre and his family that I would drop them off at the family home and return for them later so that I could finish packing my bags for the journey! I was saddened that I could not watch the late afternoon events unfold, but knew that it would be a wonderful family experience.   I was later told that the birth family was just going to watch as Jean-Pierre and his family ate the meal specially prepared for them. It was upon the insistence of the adoptive mom that both families enjoyed the meal together. The time together was also spent playing games familiar to the family and dancing in the streets with siblings and others – a time filled with laughter and cheers. Later, I viewed a short video clip of the dancing. It made my heart swell with the love that was so evident within this family at being reunited with someone they had only been able to hold in their memory. I was told that the family also opened their hearts to Jean-Pierre’s adoptive brother, now welcoming him as part of their family.   When the time came for them to leave, it was my husband who picked them up. I can only imagine the mixture of emotions as the time to say goodbye came to be.

The next morning would quickly arrive as we had a 5AM departure for Port-au-Prince. Jean-Pierre would end up sitting in the seat behind me on the long ride. Occasionally, he would lean forward and verbalize some of the thoughts and questions that were whirling through his mind. He asked things like: “Manmi Nora, what do you think my family will be doing today?” or “ Would it be possible for me to come back and spend a month or two here?” or “What does it cost for a bag of rice and how long would that last for my family?”   My heart ached as I knew that going back to the states would be a time of processing and reflecting, not only for Jean-Pierre, but for both sides of the rest of the family.

After some time, I contacted Jean-Pierre to see how he was doing. He was continuing to bask in the experience and feeling the joy on being re-connected. I also asked the adoptive mom how she was doing. She said she did not feel that she had lost a son, but had gained a whole family – a whole incredible family!

I count it a JOY to have been a small part of this “full circle” experience. I pray for Jean-Pierre and his family as the future unfolds for all of them. I pray also for other adoptees who contemplate reunions with their birth families. I pray that their experience can be equally as JOY-filled!

Nora Léon                   

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic               Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #113

Communiqué #113
TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY
to the PEOPLE of HAITI
April 12, 2015

A N E W B E G I N N I N G

What a glorious weekend it was! What a sight to behold! Witnessing the marriage of 21 couples in a mass wedding on a tiny island in Haiti was the culmination of many months of planning and preparing by Grace Ministries of Île-à-Vache. A mission team and I were blessed to be a part of this incredible weekend!

For years, we have heard of couples on this little isle that wanted to marry but could not afford a beautiful bridal gown, a suit for the groom, rings for the couples or a reception for family and friends. Before plans went into full swing, a marriage seminar was held several months prior to teach the couples about Christian marriage. Following the seminar the couples were asked if they would like to make a commitment to marriage. Many, many said, “Yes! We want to get married!” And with that … a plan to make it happen started to take shape. Through the generosity of many friends, all the obstacles were overcome and a real wedding was made possible. Donations came in many forms. We received gently used bridal gowns and veils and men’s suits, wedding bands, flowers for bridal bouquets, decorations for the church, photographs of the couples, cake mixes and cake pans, candy favors and monetary donations for a celebratory meal for the newlywed couples and a food treat for the hundreds and hundreds of guests.

It seemed fitting that the weddings would take place on March 21 – the first day of spring – the day of new beginnings! Some of the bridal couples walked 5 hours, from the other side of the island, in time to change into their wedding attire prior to the mid-morning wedding. The grooms were like many others, as they sat on a bench out-of-the-way of the brides who were taking much too long to get ready. The brides would eventually emerge from the school classroom where they had make-up applied and the dresses and veils were adjusted to perfection. All ages of brides appeared with a glow on their faces as they were finally able to experience this special day. For at least one couple, which had been together over 30 years, this day was a day that they would be celebrating both with children and grandchildren!

The grooms waiting for their brides!

The grooms waiting for their brides!

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Sauvnette – one of the beautiful brides!

Preparations for this big event started taking place at least 3 days before the event. The professor for the culinary arts/cosmetology classes of our Trade School was put in charge of many things. He and his students literally worked three days and three nights to get everything ready. They used ONE propane-powered stove/oven to prepare three tier cakes and over 900 cupcakes. They prepared the “fancy” meal for the newlywed couples. They decorated the bridal reception room that was held in a school classroom and also joined the missionary team in decorating the church – a task that would be an interesting combination of Haitian & American decorating techniques. For the brides, they styled hair and gave manicures & pedicures (using a good old-fashioned 5 gallon pail for the foot bath).

One of the tier cakes prepared by the students of Grace TRADE School!

One of the tier cakes prepared by the students of Grace TRADE School!

People from all over the island, as well as people from the mainland and others who had traveled from other countries to witness this ceremony, had begun arriving long before the wedding was to take place. So many people came it was soon evident that a vast majority of them would not be able to fit inside the church. Appointed people were in charge of not letting any guests into the church until the bridal procession of all of the couples and their “parans” and “marans” was in place outside the church and the start of the service was imminent. When the doors opened, the crush of people vying for a seat was a bit daunting. In the end, even the aisles of the church were crowded with people standing tightly woven together and a multitude of people were left to find a place outside where there might be some hope of at least hearing the service. But hearing the start of the service was impossible, both for the people outside the church and those inside. People who could not get into the church were loudly protesting the fact that they would not be able to enter. The service started anyway with several choirs sharing musical numbers and finally the vows of the couples being exchanged.

Hundreds and hundreds of guests arrived!

Hundreds and hundreds of guests arrived!

No matter what, anything that did not go perfectly on this day did not spoil the day. It was a glorious day for all of these special couples!

As a “maran” for one of the couples, I was invited to be a part of the bridal meal that was served. A not-so-typical meal was served to the couples that usually dine on rice & beans or less. It was at this point in the day that an oxymoron thought began tumbling through my mind. I observed a bride refusing to eat anything of the specially prepared meal, but rather, looking out of the room in search of her hungry children she called them in one-by-one to feed them morsels from her plate. Only when they all had received something to eat did she chose something for herself. There was no food left on her plate, but she was able to salvage chicken bones from some of the other brides and feasted on the marrow of the bones. The luxuriousness of this day and the of eating a special meal was impossible for this mother to enjoy as on a daily basis she struggles to have food to feed her children.

Following the wedding and the reception, we were invited to attend a few open houses in the community. Some families chose to have an additional celebration at their homes for their close family and friends. The homes were small, but the largest room was cleared for the setup up of a very large array of food! I am sure that the family budget for the month was all spent on this special occasion, but nonetheless a celebration like this does not happen very often and families were willing to make the sacrifice to share their joy with their family and friends. Outside the family homes, people would stand under mango trees or crowd on a borrowed school bench to enjoy the food on their plates. It was a joy to be a part of the happiness of the day!

An array of food was served at an open house in the community!

An array of food was served at an open house in the community!

One would think that no more joy could be packed into one weekend, but what occurred early the next morning only added to the “incredibleness” of the weekend. Fourteen people were baptized in the Caribbean Sea just prior to the Sunday morning worship service. At least one bride was baptized and one of the team members who had been adopted from Haiti when he was a baby was also baptized! What a glorious reminder of yet another new beginning! Again, what a privilege to have shared in this wonderful weekend!

An early Sunday morning baptism in the Caribbean Sea!

An early Sunday morning baptism in the Caribbean Sea!

What a great God we have!

If you wish to view additional photos of this weekend, copy and paste these links to view

THE WEDDINGS
https://www.facebook.com/nora.leon.393/media_set?set=a.1021412417872293.1073741852.100000106345432&type=1&pnref=story

THE BAPTISMS
https://www.facebook.com/nora.leon.393/media_set?set=a.1021497727863762.1073741854.100000106345432&type=1&pnref=story

Nora Léon
Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time, God willing …………

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