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  • Nora Léon

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!


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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