Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Jezula showed up at the myLIFEspeaks Campus in early 2012 with two children in tow. She looked exhausted, frustrated, and at the end of her rope. The children were dressed in tattered clothes that were more like rags than articles of clothing.
When she came into the building, she told us through a translator (Dr. Peter Mesiline), that the children were her sister’s children, and her sister left and now she needed to give the children away because she couldn’t care for them. It was obvious that something was wrong but no one knew what was going on. The children were weak and lethargic and Jezula’s eyes held zero hope.
As we talked to her and then amongst ourselves wondering out loud what we should do to help these poor children, Leslie Antoine (our community director at the time) came over and asked us why Jezula had brought her kids to the campus.
We informed Leslie that they weren’t her kids but they were her sister’s children and the sister had left them. Leslie then laughed and started talking to Jezula in Creole. Immediately the story changed. These children WERE Jezula’s kids.
When we asked Peter why he didn’t tell us this in the beginning, he simply said, “You didn’t ask.” This is a very Haitian answer that we have worked hard to help eradicate in the work of myLIFEspeaks. Then Peter spoke up saying, “You have to help her. She’s poor and has been sleeping on people’s porches and in their spare rooms for months. She has nothing and her kids aren’t eating. She beats the children severely when they cry because she has nothing to give them. She is hopeless.”
This moment of trust with Peter broke my heart. He believed the only hope for Jezula and her children was for her to abandon them and for myLIFEspeaks to raise them. That was NOT what we are about at all. We want children to stay with their families, but in this situation, it actually made sense. Why would we leave those children with a mom who wasn’t taking care of them? The answer came when we brought Jezula back over to us and asked her one simple question.
“Do you want to keep your children or do you want them removed from you?”
We needed to know what she wanted at her very core. Jezula’s answer was a soft but determined, “Yes.” She indicated that she wanted her children but had no idea how she could do that. She was willing to make the decision that too many people make in Haiti every single day. She was going to give her children away to someone else (who she didn’t know) because anything had to be better than the nothing she had.
The next few hours were filled with conversations. Conversations amongst ourselves and conversations with Jezula. Some of our staff took the children to clean them up and keep them occupied. We had the opportunity to finally get the whole story from Jezula.
Jezula was living in Port-au-Prince with the father of her oldest child. They were happy and she got pregnant again. While she was pregnant, the 2010 earthquake hit, killing her husband and destroying their home. His mother chose to take Jezula into her house and help her with the child and the coming baby.
After the baby was born, Jezula’s mother-in-law got very sick and died. Jezula had nowhere to go and started looking for help in all kinds of places. She eventually met a man from Neply who took her in. She then got pregnant again and when he found this out, he forced Jezula to leave the house.
Jezula found herself alone, pregnant, homeless, and without any money.
When we heard all that Jezula had been through we were overwhelmed. She had been living with this for over a year and we had only been aware of it for an hour or two. We knew we had to do something for the children but we also knew we had to help Jezula.
We talked for over an hour, listening more than we spoke. Our silence was not because we were smart but because we were truly speechless. After talking with our staff on-ground and with Peter, we realized the children needed some serious intervention. We also knew Jezula needed help and someone to look at her and tell her that she was worthy of love.
For a reason we can only describe as Holy Spirit-inspired wisdom, we told Jezula we would take her children for a period of 30 days, but only during the day. She could bring the children to the myLIFEspeaks community center each morning at 7 a.m. but she had to pick them up each day at 4 p.m.
When we explained to Jezula what we were going to do, she was both disappointed and hopeful; a crazy combination. She was disappointed to know we weren’t going to fix things for her, but hopeful that we were going to treat her with worth and respect.
The next morning Jezula showed up bright and early to the community center with the kids in the same ragged clothes as they were in the day before. This time though, there was a man with her. The man that brought her to Neply showed up and walked in with Jezula and the children.
I can’t explain the frustration and anger that burned in me as soon as I found out who he was. This was the guy who had sent her away when she got pregnant and now he was here holding one of the children and smiling. But like everyone, he had a story. He sent her away because that is all he knew to do. He didn’t have a job or a house and was living with other family members. He didn’t know what to do either.
We told him and Jezula to have a seat and we would talk with them. We had a breakfast set up that morning and told Jezula that she could get some food because we knew she was hungry. Jezula got the biggest plate of food that I have ever seen. I eyed the plate with astonishment because I knew there was no way she could eat that much food, and she didn’t.
Instead of eating the food herself, Jezula fed the children. We tried to tell her that a baby didn’t need to eat the eggs and needed a highly specialized diet. She just laughed at us and fed the baby what seemed like half the plate of eggs.
She changed at that moment. She saw hope for the first time in a very long time. She fed the children and her demeanor changed. She smiled for the first time. I remember that moment because that was the most vivid and beautiful smile I had seen in Haiti. She fed the children and then she did something that brought tears to my eyes. She began to straighten up the clothes they were wearing. She made those tattered rags look presentable. In that moment, Solomon, in all his splendor, wasn’t dressed as beautifully as those children were.
The children changed too. They leaned into their mother as she fed them. Their tiny eyes were filled with hope also. They had their mother back for that brief moment. Jezula leaned over and wiped the children’s mouths and gently kissed each one.
After the children finished eating, one of our staff members brought Jezula and her partner a plate of food and then took the children to get cleaned and to change their clothes. We had just received a suitcase full of children’s clothes a few weeks earlier and we didn’t know why. At that moment we knew what to do.
We talked with Jezula and explained multiple times that this was a temporary solution to her situation. This was only going to go on for 30 days. She HAD to come back and pick them up at 4 p.m. We also told her that during that 30 day period, we wanted her to try to find a job so she could begin to provide for her children. We also told her partner that we expected the same from him. She smiled an exhausted smile but her eyes had that hopelessness to them that she had the day before.
I told Jezula that she needed to go home and take a nap. I knew she was exhausted and hoped that maybe catching up on some sleep would ease her troubled mind. She laughed and said she had laundry to do. I insisted that she needed some sleep and some of our staff offered to help her with her laundry. At that moment, I experienced what true community and the love of Christ looks like; doing something for someone that could never repay you because you truly love them and want what’s best for them. I was humbled to my core.
As Jezula and her partner walked away we prayed and began to wonder if she would actually return that afternoon. She could run and leave her perceived problems behind. Only time would tell.
Sure enough, that afternoon at 4 p.m. she showed up to the campus to get her children. She had a smile on her face that was maybe a little less exhausted than before. her children were smiling and it was a beautiful moment of reunion.
That scenario played out over and over for the next 30 days.
Around day 28 people started coming to us and telling us we had to do something for Jezula. We had to take the children from her because she was looking everywhere for a job but there weren’t any available. Peter, our translator the day we met Jezula, explained that she had been going to everyone’s house in the village offering to do work for them. Many people had some odd chores she could do but no one could pay her. She was doing everything she could to help better her children’s lives but she wasn’t finding any solutions. Her mood was starting to change.
On day 29, Miracia, the head of our kitchen services at myLIFEspeaks, came to us and took a chance. She spoke up for Jezula (Proverbs 31:8) and said that she was a good person but wasn’t going to make it if we didn’t do something for her. So, Miracia offered to give up her salary so Jezula could have it. Miracia offered to work for free so Jezula could get paid. Miracia offered to train her and teach her how to work in the kitchen.
As Miracia sat with us and cried, we knew we had to help.
On day 30 when Jezula came to bring the children for their last day at myLIFEspeaks, we asked her to talk. We asked her how things had gone for her over the past month. She was grateful for our help and for all that the children had been able to experience. However, her eyes told the story of fear of what the next day would bring.
We brought Miracia in and asked Jezula if she thought she could work in the kitchen at myLIFEspeaks. Her face was puzzled and frozen. Of course, she would like to but there were no jobs. Miracia took Jezula and held her and said that one had just opened up. (No, Miracia did not have to give up her salary. We created a new position just for Jezula on faith and God provided the funds that very day for a year of Jezula’s new salary!).
Jezula began working in the kitchen that day. Within a couple of months she had a place to live that she paid for. She was a working mother now and very proud of it. Her partner began staying at home with the children and became a stay-at-home dad until he left Haiti to go to Chile (that’s a story for another day).
Today, Jezula is in charge on the days that Miracia and Rose go to the market to purchase supplies. She no longer works in the kitchen but she helps lead there.
Many times over the years we have had parents show up with a child that they can’t take care of. Now, Jezula is one of the first people to meet that parent and explain that there is hope and that they can’t let go of their children. She shares her story often but the credit never goes to myLIFEspeaks. Instead, it goes to God, because He called myLIFEspeaks to Haiti.
One day a couple of years ago, Jezula came to talk to me. She said that she doesn’t live in her house anymore. I was afraid that something had happened and maybe her landlord raised the price of her rent or maybe her partner was beating her. She quickly said it wasn’t for any reason like that, it was because she had bought her own house! She was now a working mother who owned her own home.
She asked me to stop by the house so I could see it. When I got there it was clean and tidy. It wasn’t anything most people would look twice at. It was small, about the size of a large walk-in closet, but it was hers.
Hope is available. Jezula found that hope.
- Mike Wilson, CEO/Co-Founder of myLIFEspeaks