The Haitian sun blasted through the naked windows of the makeshift workshop. The air was thick and musty with the monotonous hot breath from an electric fan. How did I end up in this room filled with sweaty young black men? No deodorant or cologne to mask natural body odors mixed with the lingering smell of burning trash coming from the gravel covered streets of Port-au-Prince.
My head felt woozy as I read through the notes I had typed up weeks before in my air-conditioned home. Airrrrr-Conditionnning...
What am I doing here?
This was my second visit to Haiti, but I had come with the resolve to bring jobs to young men who had recently transitioned out of an orphanage. They were going to grow into jewelry artisans and make beautiful handmade goods and people in the U.S were going to swoon over their stories. HandUp Global Goods (HUGG) was going to be BIG, y’all!
But on this particular afternoon, I had diarrhea. I went from teaching the guys how to make macrame bracelets to running to the bathroom with the janky lock and unpredictable toilet. Will it flush or will it sit? At least no one seemed bothered by the high-maintenance American woman asking the househelp to bring her buckets of water to wash away her poo and shame. Apparently there had been many more before me.
I learned that day that all the jewelry-making instructions that I had typed up were of no use to this group of former street boys who had little grasp on following formal instructions. I clung to my crumpled, typed- up notes with shaky, sweaty hands like my life depended on it, like somehow they would hold this project together and keep it from flushing down the toilet with the rest of my insides. It took me three days out of a short 6 day trip (instead of the one day I had allotted) to teach them the concept of measuring and why it was important to standardize the jewelry they would be fabricating. All the while I wondered whether my translator understood the concept himself.
What am I doing here? I asked myself again.
I had no business teaching these young men how to make jewelry. For starters, I am as uncrafty as they come and once dropped out of a Mommy and Me class because there was too much gluing and cutting involved. I wanted a Mommy and Me class that involved a few more snacks and a little less construction paper. I had never been interested in crafting anything but the boys had already been making macrame bracelets and crafting jewelry seemed like an easy launching pad into other artisan skills. Plus, we had lots of pretty, shiny beads.
(Prior to this trip, I had reached out to local bead shops and mercifully received instruction by a willing jewelry artist. I typed up the instructions and prayed that my memory would hold out long enough until I dumped the information in Haiti.)
Aside from the heat and the offensive odors (maybe coming from me), I also had a cacophony of very foreign Creole coming at me from hungry boys eager to figure out this whole job thing. The translator, who was also functioning as my manager, looked at me with heavy eyelids. Was he bored or did he need a little afternoon siesta? I began to question whether my first hire was a mistake.
So I asked the question again—What. Am. I. Doing. Here?
Already there was a movement in Haiti that touted the slogan, “Orphan Prevention through Job Creation.” I was eager to join the ranks of people who resisted the standard form of “helping the poor”. I wasn’t here to hand out food on the streets nor love on orphans to whom I was a smiling-stranger. “Come here and sit on my lap so I can stroke your hair.” (helloooo? Can we say grooming children for future exploitation?). I wasn’t coming to sponsor a child or lead a Vacation Bible School. And I certainly wasn’t going to wield a dripping paint brush in the name of Jesus. I had read “all the books” like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity and I had taken part in my fair-share of feel good mission trips.
The people of Haiti didn’t need another short-term mission trip; they needed partners that would help build up strong men and women of character in the most effective and dignified way. Our partnership with Grangou, a children’s home, gave us the opportunity to work with the boys aging out of their care. Our hope was to create and build a model that both discipled and employed young men so that they could be transformed from potential orphan makers to opportunity makers in their communities.
Jesus and jobs is what Haiti needed and I was here to give them both. “You are welcome, Haitian People. ” (Me in my best super-hero voice.) I had on my shiny red cape with the letters J&J vinyled on the back. Not really, but I was so wide-eyed and eager that I might as well have donned a shiny red cape. The truth is that it was just me: Middle-class Mama on a mission to do my part in Haiti with a few other like-minded Mamas….. and lots of Pepto.
These young men, although unskilled and inexperienced, were strong, smart and eager to work. They were survivors. I could see their eagerness to prove themselves to the Pepto Posse and I wanted so badly to help set them up for success. However, I sensed that trouble and heartache would come and I was second-guessing everything that had taken place up to this point. Already I felt defeated and the battle had barely begun.
I went upstairs to my room of the guesthouse we were staying in and got on my knees to pray.
“Please, Lord...make this work. You led me here, right?”
“This isn’t another Natul-idea bred out of suburban boredom, right?”
“Was my faith a facade for ambition?”
That evening, we were having dinner with Pastor Pierre, the owner of the guesthouse and the Pastor of the church the boys attended. He shared a story with me that went like this:
“A couple of months ago, I preached a sermon on poverty. I explained to my church that poverty was a lack of faith. I told them that God wants us to work and that if we would repent and pray sincerely for Him to pull us out of poverty--He would do it. I told them we needed to pray that God would bring us work. I asked people to stand if they believed with their whole heart that God would bring them work. And you know what, Natul? Every one of the young men making bracelets today stood up with raised hands. Each of them prayed that God would bring them work.
Three weeks later, you showed up. Jesus brought you here to bring jobs.”
Pastor Pierre reminded me that I was here for a reason. God brought me and the Pepto Posse with the pretty beads for a reason. I needed a reminder that faith wasn’t about believing in myself, but believing in the One who called me to this place.
This was my first mountain top moment, you know, my red cape flapping in the wind and my hands strongly postured on my hips. But it was also the place that I dedicated my first memorial to the Lord. A memorial patched together with grit, gravel, sweat and faith.
God did call me to Haiti. Not to bring Jesus--he’s already here. The job creation was a stepping stone towards the real work: to help build up men and therefore build up the women and children in their communities. What once stood for HandUp Global Goods is now He is Under God’s Grace.
Because His story is a BIG part of solving the orphan crisis in Haiti and beyond.
This is a journal of what I and others have learned about the way we approach orphan care and poverty alleviation both abroad and here. It is a cluster of transparent stories of how God has revealed and healed our own brokenness as we walk alongside people in hard places. It’s a reminder to us all that we are here for a reason. Caring for orphans and widows is not a gifting--it is part of our purpose. We hope these stories will inspire you to fulfill your James 1:27 calling. It will take all of us doing our small part to stop the cycle of orphanhood.