We went to visit them, one by one, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Mostly on the weekends when the kids did not have school. I could write an entire book on each reaction. The depth, the confusion, the inability to conceal big emotions. It was all so beautiful but also so many other things, mostly sad. There were twelve of them when we first came. Twelve precious ones in a variety of ages- four to eighteen. We instantly saw their value, their worth. Each one full of personality bubbling out, oozing for validation.
When we actually arrived to Haiti there were only eleven. Eleven not twelve. For the purposes of this journal we will change some names. Stevens was gone back to his mom for reasons we will not discuss yet. But for reasons that should not be an issue to a four year old.
I remember being so caught off guard that a child in an orphanage could go back to their parents. I did not realize children in an orphanage had parents and if they did, I had assumed they were unfit to parent... so why would we put Stevens back in an unsafe situation?
The truth of "poverty orphan" was completely lost on me until a full three months into living in Haiti.
An orphan is defined as a child without parents- you can also have lost one parent and still be defined as an orphan.
"An estimated eight million children worldwide live in orphanages or residential institutions and 80% of those children have parents or family members still alive." -https://www.wearelumos.org/resources/children-orphanages-hidden-global-problem/
Eight million children worldwide are being forced to grow up in an institution without their family, even though EIGHTY PERCENT have families they could be growing up with instead.
When we moved to Haiti to work with an orphanage we figured we would become parents to twelve children who had none. Our hearts were honest in wanting to be parents, the effort was noble and from a place of so desperately wanting children of our own. The truth was only three of those children did not have parents (but still had family). In fact, they had siblings who were being raised by extended family.
Think back to a time you watched the movie Annie, or any other movie with a hero that is an orphan. The ideas of an orphanage are absurd for the year 2020. However, we have no problem going to visit one in another country. Often times this orphanage tourism fuels a growing problem of children being separated from their families and made into poverty orphans. "Stevens" went back to his mom because he had one, he had a completely capable MOM. Unfortunately, he returned to his mom with new behaviors, I can almost guarantee, he picked up in the orphanage.
You see, all of these kids were taken from family because they were promised a better chance. They were promised hope and a future without want. They were promised provision of physical needs. At this point impoverished families happily allow their children to go without knowing all the facts because poverty creates a desperation that I hope you never know.
The reactions though, the ones like when we visited "Brian" to his loving mother and he could not bring himself to approach her. He was so excited to see his brothers and was just telling us how much he missed his mom but the anger and confusion of the situation was too much for him.
Or when we visited "Silas" to his mom. He was so excited to hug her and she was so unsure. She introduced him to his newest baby brother at our visit. A beautiful little baby brought so much weight and many tears to our usually stone-faced Silas.
There was the time we took little "Sarah" to visit her grandma and she remembered the exact path through the village to get to her house. She was practically dragging me because she was pulling so hard at my hand telling me how wonderful her lovely little grandma was. When we finally arrived to the house where grandma was raising her other two or three siblings, "Sarah" instantly fell shy and could barely speak. She spent a lot of her time hiding behind me, but she had the biggest smile on her face the entire time.
"Kevin's" dad did not even know where he was or that he was alive for eight years. The reunion was as precious as they come. The time together was brief but both "Kevin" and dad were elated to see each other. So much emotion packed into moments and then just as much while we drove away with his boy back to the orphanage in hopes that dad would come find him.
"Timmy's" parents were both alive and he did not have any siblings. His dad had moved to another country to send some money home while mom was still there. He was timid and so was mom. I know she missed him, I could see it in her eyes. He had outgrown the memories of her at this point because he was so young.
There are seven more stories like these.
But the one that has impacted me the most is the Joy-Bearer.
Joy was aging out (well had been aged out but because of falsified information she was listed as a nanny at the orphanage, this happens a lot with orphanages here because they are not registered with the government and at times the systems in place to protect them fail.)
She came to us seeking help with what to do next- she did not have parents and she did not know her siblings well. One time when we visited her family she sobbed so hard she could not breathe because she had a realization she did not know this family well. She cried because her sisters never visited her, because her sense of identity was solely in an institution where she was a number, not someone who belonged. Joy had mentioned to us on multiple occasions a desire to end her own life. You see, spending any amount of time as a product of a business instead of being loved and nurtured as a though you belong takes a toll on your life and on your brain. We were not made to live outside of a family's love.
FAMILY IS MORE THAN JUST PHYSICAL NEEDS BEING MET.
And it is time for us to recognize the importance of keeping families together, it is time for us to support children being FAMILY STRONG.
This is what being family strong looks like, this is what we are fighting for:
Joy left the orphanage and chose to live with a sister she had over a few other options we had given her! We partnered with Joy in her efforts to stay with her family by paying for this year of school so she can continue her education and see it through to completion. In sharing her worth and value, in loving her right where she was at she has become an entirely new and confident person. The bonds of family are so innate within us and we were more than blessed to watch Joy choose her family over the lies that she did not belong. This is FAMILY STRONG.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." -Lao Tzu
Oh, this journey we have been on- have you been following? It has been a doozy for sure, not one we have ever expected. When we first moved here to work with the kids, we thought they were going to be our kids. However, we learned most orphanages here in Haiti (and many around the world) are full of children who have parents. These children are usually victims of poverty and a system that tells their parents an institution will provide for their needs far better than the parent ever could... you probably already know this about us and actually that is not the focus of this blog. Our journey began when we moved here and met the kiddos. However there was a small part of our journey that came in the form of a tiny cat- and this is where this blog begins.
When we moved to Haiti there was a cat that we kept while her kittens were too young to rehome, and in the weeks where they were getting big enough to walk around, one little one kept finding her way to us while the others stayed close to mom.
This little kitten earned herself the name Journey. I would say we chose her for ourselves but really, she chose us.
Journey was always fearless as a kitten. She was curious like any cat but had no issues taking on our bigger cat Maysi, mice, or even tarantulas. She even loved our giant new puppy Raj and really loved our crazy chihuahua Riley. She snuggled him the most, even though it was not a mutual love.
Journey was fiercely loving and would follow us wherever we went in the house- even as a full grown cat. She LOVED to follow us in the shower. She would wait between the curtains for us to get out, sometimes she did not wait and would walk right in suddenly realizing there was water then rushing out. After waiting for you to finish showering she would watch as you grabbed your towel and then promptly jump up into it as you dried off and she would purr, snuggle, and love on you. It was seriously the cutest thing.
Journey got hurt somehow while we were gone this last trip home and it appeared she had somehow broken her back. She was only two years old and had to be put down.
It felt extremely silly to feel sad over just a cat. In a country where poverty takes it toll on the people we are living to serve, it is hard to justify feelings over animals.
However, I am a deeply loving and mercy-filled person so this little Haitian cat taught me much! Someone helped me to see clearly why I had these sad feelings and I wanted to share with you just what Journey the cat taught me about life.
1. Love fiercely- love whenever possible. Love without condition. Love anyway, even when they do not love you back. She showed this on the daily in her pursuit to make Riley the chihuahua love her.
2. Live your best life- when someone is having a rough day, be present. Maybe that looks ridiculous like attacking them with love and forcing snuggles on them, but you can really impact someone by being there for them. Living your best life often isn't about you at all but by how you choose to impact others.
3. Leave your fear behind- do not let fear keep you from living your life. Life is a gift and wasting any time on fear is not worth the part of the journey you might miss. Journey weighed less than a pound when she adventured around the house to find us. She was not too much bigger than her first tarantula catch either, she lived fearlessly.
4. Loyalty goes a long way- Journey would attempt to follow me into the shower just because she loved being with me, and I will never forget it. She would jump in fearlessly and then get right back out once she got wet but she then would wait for you until you were done. I want to be a loyal friend to others and meet them where they are at (well, maybe not in the shower LOL ;)
5. Locked doors mean nothing- for Journey she learned to knock, climb, jiggle door handles, push, and scratch the door until someone would come and open it. She was relentless and I have learned this same principal applies to our prayer lives. Ask and the door will be opened to you.
I know God uses all things for our good. I am a firm believer that GOD DOES NOT WASTE.
These little lessons from a tiny cat are something that apply to everyone. Our journey in life is small compared to eternity. Our journeys are all but a vapor in the wind but I know when we live for God our journey matters.
What is the one step you could be taking today for your journey? What is holding you back?
So I hope you laughed a little with me about some silly things my silly cat used to do, but more than that- I hope you too, always find God in the small things and joy in your journey.
In Memory of Journey the cat- teaching us lessons about taking the first step since 2017.
We have been back home on this little island now for a week and a half. We have had seven meetings already, eaten our fair share of missed Kreyol Mange (Haitian food), caught a stomach bug that was destructive, walked through the community center house and property again, killed a giant centipede, and shed a few tears for the injustices this nation, these people so often face.
We love this place so deeply. We find much joy here, everywhere, all around. We have learned more than we could possibly offer.
However there is a lot that comes with living in a place so full of desperation and trauma.
Currently there have been many kidnappings happening around Port au Prince. It seemed these are a new form of roadblock, of protest, a way to spread fear.
It's a fear that has become widespread throughout our Haiti home. Our staff travel in pairs. They walk their children to school. They ask us to not go to certain areas even though Americans have yet to be the targets of these kidnappings.
Yesterday while we were at the grocery store I was catching up with one of our favorite grocers. In Haiti it is common to greet with a kiss on the cheek and a light hug. But for some reason, overcome with much joy at seeing his face, I hugged him big and instantly felt the stress and weight shift. We stood and talked about his daughter (she is almost two years old now!) We talked about normal things like teething and fevers but he seemed so uneasy. And then he looked at my face and told me his country has a problem. He told me it has many problems. He began to ask me to be careful while we are out and told me someone was kidnapped by his house. And his face was grave as he told me how he does not want his daughter to grow up in his country. You could physically see the toll of a divided heart. On one hand, he is proud of his Haitian heritage, but on the other he knows there is danger and wants nothing more than to protect his baby girl.
The difficulty he was experiencing was not lost on me. I wrestled with it while waiting in the truck for Alex at the hardware store, while driving, while going to sleep, and when I woke up this morning. My heart is broken for the injustices my friends face.
Can I ask you to try to make this friend of mine your friend? Can I ask you to change his name to your "So & So" and imagine how you would feel hearing this news and seeing his face, physically feeling that stress through a hug. I have no doubt that hug was very intended for Mak right from Daddy God. Something so simple as a hug and a listener. God does not need elaborate or complex but can operate in the simplicity of sincerity. Will you be sincere in simply praying for this country right now? Pray against the fear that is gripping my friends, that is tugging at their confidence in their country, that is ripping apart their hopes, and stealing their dreams.
He just wants a safe place for his daughter to grow up in.
He is not asking for extravagant or excessive, he just wants his daughter to be able to be a child who grows up knowing she is loved, protected, and safe.
We are fighting what they are fighting.
"Justice is NOT a trend, it's the heart of our Father." -Ashley Abercrombie
We love this place deeply and her people so dearly. We want others to realize that justice is not something we do because it is trendy but because we are called to have a heart like the Father's.
Join us in our fight against injustice. Join us in our journey to see restoration happen in this nation. To see people reconciled to the heart of a Daddy God who loves them. To bring the Love of Christ to each and every person we encounter.
This starts with our community center initiative. This begins with obedience and a simple yes.
This is our call to action- please consider partnering with us financially and watching as God works through "The Dwelling Place" to move on the hearts of the people and disciple this nation.
Stay tuned for more blogs talking about the importance of community and having a community center.
If you gather nothing else from this blog but compassion for others being important or fighting injustice is crucial or even just realizing that hugs can be a big deal, then I have written well!
As always friends-
Abide in Love- a Love that does JUSTLY.
(**EDIT: Some have inquired about the kidnappings and I want to be clear that Alex nor I feel threatened or unsafe. We monitor many different reports and heed the advice of trusted sources. We have restricted our travel to certain parts of Haiti for now and do not travel at all at night. There are usually a lot of kidnappings happening around Haiti in a regular year but it seems that these can cause fear politically and act as yet another way to keep the people oppressed. It is extremely disheartening knowing our people are constantly having to be diligently aware of their surroundings. We are taking on this same practice- extra caution, extra awareness, and using roads that we know are safer while avoiding areas/roads/entire zones that we have heard from our sources are unsafe at this time. No Americans have been kidnapped or targeted as of now. And it seems these kidnappings started out politically motivated and maybe the many we are hearing about daily could even be rumors used to spread fear. It is hard to say what is true as far as the numbers. But we are definitely being bombarded with more than what is normal. It is also all over the Haitian media right now. The police have stepped up their checkpoints around Port au Prince and are capturing many gangsters. Be praying for the police force to be strengthened and to be blessed. Many of the photos of the men captured are YOUNG men. Some of them just barely adults- this confirms for us the need for youth programs to help young men find something better than the streets to keep them occupied. Thanks for your continued prayers for us and for Haiti- God heal this land.**)
Kristen & Alex Bradshaw