On my last day in Port Au Prince, Haiti, while standing atop the mountain overlooking the city, I realized something profound: I had been chasing the wrong thing most of my adult life. At that moment, with my heart shattered and my emotional strength gone, I knew that my life was never going to be the same.
Below is a portion of the blog that I wrote while in Haiti for the first time, serving in The Home for Sick and Dying Children in Port Au Prince, Haiti.
As this little girl sat with me, I began to study her, and I noticed that she had been psychologically, emotionally, physically and verbally abused in the past. I could tell that just by watching her demeanor.
As I held her, I quietly wept. At one point, I noticed that someone had carved an X into her temple and that the X was now a scar. In fact, I saw that she had many scars all over her body.
This little girl was so beautiful, and I felt a pain in my heart that I had never felt before. I held her as long as I could, and when I left, I told her goodbye and said in French that I loved her. She didn’t respond, though. She just curled back into a fetal position in her crib.
I rode all the way back to the volunteers’ house with tears flowing from beneath my sunglasses. When I got back to the house, I went to wash my face, and I wept in the washroom for a while. I just could not hold myself together. I went to my room, crying out to God because my soul screamed out in such pain for this girl.
I was beginning to find something in my heart that I hadn’t known was there before: a calling to help children in extreme poverty who did not get the option to choose their place in this world. God was stirring something in me that was making me feel crazy on the inside, like nothing I had felt before.
On my third trip to The Home for Sick and Dying Children, while accompanied by my wife Stephanie, I was on a personal mission. I wanted to find out as much as I could about the little girl who God was using to change my life.I quickly found out where she was and that her name was Jenika. I found out that she had a fever and was severely malnourished. I found out that her caregivers were busy cleaning her and that I’d have to wait to see her.
When I finally entered her room, she immediately recognized me, and I saw a look on her face that I had not seen before. I saw that a little peace was now in her spirit.I picked her up and said “Bonjour, Jenika mon amour” (hello, Jenika my love). She hugged me and cuddled up to my chest.We went back out to the courtyard and sat down. Once again she was finding peace in my arms, and once again her scars were reminding me of the terrible pain that had been inflicted upon such a beautiful child.
Unfortunately, she was sick, and the nurses had to get her ready for an IV that would help her fight her fever. Jenika was severally dehydrated, and could not hold down any food. She screamed in fear like nothing I had ever heard before. I held her hand, but it didn’t help. She was trembling with fear.
The nurses took a long time to prepare her, and on their first attempt to insert the IV they missed the vein. My heart and soul were being crushed and shattered.I eventually tried to hold and comfort some of the other babies, but the screams coming from Jenika’s room were horrible, and they were too much for me to bear. I was starting to realize that I loved her as if she were my own child. If I could, I would take her home to America without a moment’s thought.
My wife was standing with me, and I could see that she understood why my heart was broken. I could also see that hers was breaking as well. But all we could do was go to Jenika, to comfort her, to hold her hands, to rub her feet and back.Finally, mercifully, the nurse got the IV into Jenika’s arm, but by then we had to go. I was shaking, and once again, my eyes were filled with tears. God was moving me in a more powerful way than I have ever experienced. But we had to go.I knelt down beside her and looked into her eyes. I gave her a big hug, then whispered into her ear “Au revoir, Jenika mon amour.” (Good-bye, Jenika, my love).
Both of us were crying as she responded, “Au revoir, mon amour…”
As you can see, my trips to Haiti have changed my life.
Since then, my wife and I have dedicated ourselves to serving others and to helping those in need. We have returned to Haiti several more times, and we have helped Jenika get better by helping with her medicine, by providing for two years of schooling, and by providing a gift to her aunt and uncle, who saved her from the bad situation she was in, so that the family can start a business. Right now, the paperwork is being filed to start the Jenika Fran-cois Foundation. Several like-minded individuals have pledged to serve on the foundation’s board.
And we have launched a company with the core value of being dedicated to serving others.We have pledged to do local community service every quarter, such as volunteering at Feed My Starving Children or at local food kitchens for the poor. Our hope is that starting next year, we will be able to offer one extra week of paid vacation to all staff who want to do mission work. We also hope to be able to offer trips to Haiti to any of our clients or possible clients so that they can help us serve the poor.It’s a large world, and we can’t be significant to everyone in it. But we can be significant to one child or one family at a time. Our help can be the difference between life and death. We can mean the world to them.
I encourage you to chase significance over success. I truly believe that, if you put the right one first, it will make all the difference in your life – as it has in mine.
This article first appeared as ‘Lessons Learned from a Little Girl Named Jenika’ in NEFA Newsline, July/August 2015 Issue