Our dear friend James passed away today in a motorcycle accident, he would have been 23 on February 28th. Please pray for the Respire Staff as we walk through this loss together, however, ultimately rejoicing knowing that He is in the safe and loving arms of Our Savior. Josh and I always joked that James was our 5th child. We love him, his heart and his stubbornness. The below is a post from September 2013, that shows a glimpse of his compassion and willingness to serve others.
Written Friday September 6th, 2013.
Today broke me. Physically and Emotionally.
Many people on our staff learned about Hearing Loss and Impairment when we discovered a child in our Kindergarten was having speech and hearing problems. The family of this child, neighbors, everyone called this 5 almost 6 year old Bebe (baby which means deaf) because she couldn’t speak. The rumors flew about her…how her tongue was cut, Voodoo Spells were involved, etc. And finally when I met her all of this was dispelled.
Throughout this many week process, James our motorcycle driver listened and learned intently. He’s a young, outgoing and sarcastic boy of 20 that keeps us all laughing. He calls me his mom and Josh his dad, jokingly but yet at the same time says it in all seriousness. He once explained how he’s been on his own since 6- both his parents are deceased. When I first asked him who raised him he gently shrugged, looked down and answered, “People.” When I would question him and ask what people? He would just look up, half smile and just say he doesn’t really know.
So James came forward a few days ago and said he found another “Bebe” but younger, he asked me if I would look at her. Knowing I probably couldn’t do much seeing as we STILL haven’t been able to find a hearing aid or reliable test for BeBe, I still said yes.
James looked up grinned and with his exaggerated Creole said, “It’s FARRRRRR Meg.” and laughed. I asked if it was still in Gressier and he said yes. So with my naive thinking I thought it can’t be that bad!
As I hopped on his moto James began telling me that we were headed next door to the place he stays and this is where he goes back to every night. We drove farther and farther into the mountains. More and more into what I can only describe as the jungle of Gressier. Trees that were incredible, towering high above. Sounds of faint streams. Birds chirping.
Before I knew it we were deep in the heart of it. Voodoo crosses made of old wood and obviously scarred from burning began to appear more and more. As I looked up to see the beautiful trees again what I found was enormous trees immersed with hanging black bags of offerings to the Voodoo Spirits. We passed more color wrapped poles for worship, many more crosses and the oppression grew and grew. Just as I felt the oppression become nearly suffocating. We arrived.
As we got off the moto, young children ran away screaming and old people began to point and gasp. I looked around amazed at the mud huts interspersed with USAID tents. James walked ahead and we began on a small hike to get to the childs house. Looking around at the beautiful scenery, I couldn’t believe we were still in Gressier. As we got to the young childs house, we saw no one. The neighbors began shouting from afar that they were gone and had gone to a funeral for a few days. Being that they had no phone number we decided to return to the moto. Standing next to his moto with people and children peering at us through trees and the brush around, I grilled James with questions. Do kids go to school? Where are the schools? How do they get food out here?
He smiled and gently answered all of my rapid fire questions. As he pointed to a mud covered hut that had a small mixed thatch and metal roof, he explained that this is where he sleeps at night but not where he grew up. More interested now I asked him where he actually grew up and with his back to all roads he pointed toward the next mountain. The mountain looked deceptively close so I exclaimed, “We should go visit!” His eyes lit up.
We headed toward the next mountain as I spoke the Haitian Proverb, “Beyond Mountains there are mountains.” We drove through the jungle with the occasional shouts of “Megan” getting fainter and the shouts of “Blan” (white) getting more frequent. Again passing crosses, offerings, masks and more, the confusion that filled the air was THICK. James went on to explain (probably feeling my tenseness as I gripped his shoulder a little tighter every time we passed a cross) that people often sacrifice cows and pigs here for “nothing”. That families starve while they make their offerings. Almost immediately after he said this we passed a wooden cross with a whole plate of food lying at the base.
We continued to ride up the mountain then our speed came practically to a crawl. As we slid back a bit James decided he couldn’t go forward anymore, that the path was too slippery and we needed to walk. Not wanting to ask the imminent 5 year old question, “Are we there yet?” I got off the moto and continued trekking.
Passing more screaming children and Haitian Adults both yelling “Blan” and asking me to come visit their house I had a brief moment of thanking God that Haitians aren’t Cannibals as I heard them steadily calling out to their neighbors to come and see the white person.
As we passed through the growing group we arrived on what seemed to be a small foot path dug into the rocks. Continuing to ask James more questions about this area, its kids and what it is like his response seemed the same as before. No schools, no money to send kids to schools, no respect or understanding of education.
Walking by another wooden cross I imagined how the enemy must laugh at this situation. Of course the enemy’s mindset is to OPPRESS and trap the people of Haiti by never giving them the opportunity to get an education. To never read or write their name. To never READ the Word of God. What a way to halt generations and keep them repressed, confused and naive of the TRUTH.
As we moved forward my prayers for this community grew stronger. Feeling the Holy Spirit desiring for these children to know HIM and His truth, identity and freedom, my prayers began out loud in English.
Just as soon as I thought again, Are we there yet? The sky opened up and the rain began. We kept walking, slipping through and trekking up a steep mountain. I laughed at what I must look like, James with his flip flops gracefully walking up the mountain and me slipping, yelping and falling the whole time .
As the rain continued to pour on us James announced for the 3rd time that we were almost there. Walking with rain soaked clothes, clawing at the trees to climb up the mountain, mud beginning to crawl up in-between my toes. Falling for the hundredth time, James turned around asking for my sandals so I would slip less. Conceding because I believed at this rate I would never make it up the mountain, I moved forward, barefoot, dirty and soaking wet. It seemed like only a few more minutes then we finally arrived.
James’ grandfather greeted us when we arrived and as I looked around I thought the “MIDDLE” of nowhere is an understatement. The rain stopped. We began visiting and joking about the color of my feet, completely orange from the mud. And James began describing the many times I fell (as if they couldn’t see my mud covered skirt and arm. I was utterly amazed at how far James really did live, I couldn’t believe that he grew up here, in this Voodoo ridden jungle.
We saw the sun was going to begin setting soon so we began to head back. Thinking the way down is ALWAYS easier than the way up, we were off, deciding barefoot would be the best way this time.
Still slipping shoeless, I had the quick thought, I “wish” there were some rocks so I wouldn’t fall so much. Within a few minutes my prayer had been answered and we continued walking down on a steady mix of rocks and mud.
After a few more minutes I realized how silly of a thought that was and that rocks were NOT the better choice. The cringing began. Every few steps it felt like my bottom layer of skin on my feet might fall off. As I asked James, who was many steps ahead, for my flip flops, not seeing my point he yelled back, no you will keep slipping. So we moved forward.
The rocks slowly turned from a decent “foot massages” to crippling pain. As I watched men, women and children walking up and down this rocky path without shoes and most with tools, buckets of water or food on their heads my sympathy and respect grew. I thought about my daughter Micha fetching water barefoot nearly 2 miles away from her then home. I thought of my other daughter Johanne’s trek to my house many miles away barefoot just to come and see us.
I continued reminding myself how my current “pain” is minimal compared to the normal days in the life of a Haitian.
Walking and sliding back down the mountain seemed to take forever. The sun had almost set and my feet felt like they were raw and almost numb. Finally with tears welling up in my eyes I called out to James saying I couldn’t walk anymore like this. As he ran back up to meet me where I was, he bent down to put my flip-flops on the ground. Sliding them on, I continued walking down the mountain, slower than a 6 year old child next to me.
After what seemed like hours, we arrived at the motorcycle. Seeing the slippery rocks ahead, I walked down to let James meet me at the plateau below. Finally sitting on a rock, my heart felt like it was going to explode with all of the emotion from the day. The thoughts came flying through….the privilege of education, the privilege of school, the privilege of electricity, water, cell service, and most incredibly the PRIVILEGE of knowing our Savior Jesus.
My heart ached at hearing the stories of parents paying Voodoo Priests out of fear instead of paying for a child’s education. Or a child dying from malnutrition because the family owed the “spirits” too much, so they continued to give their only food to the cross in the middle of their yard.
Hopping back on his motorcycle to head home, the ride was silent as I processed James’ world. DEAD silent as I processed the world of the many other children I saw, children (and families) who are being deceived by the enemy to believe in the lies of Voodoo, children who are NOT being given a fair chance to learn, grow and be educated, children who are being HIDDEN in the jungles and unaware of the love of Jesus Christ.
This powerful experience left me shaken, broken and SURE that Christ brought us to Gressier, ALL of Gressier, to fight for these children to know their Identity in Christ and to give these children an opportunity for education.
Pray with me as HE reveals what this means.