July 16th – Becky Crosby – with audio
Psalm 139: 1-12
Matthew 18:1-6, 10-14, 25:34-45
One of The Little Ones
Click below to listen
In my usual fashion, I will begin this morning with a story from Haiti. For those of you visiting today, my husband, Ted, and I founded a scholarship granting organization in Haiti 13 years ago. We began with 32 high school students and today offer scholarships to over 400 students from kindergarten to university bachelor degree study. In January, we opened our new Education Center that supports education in the region through tutoring, teacher assistance programs, literacy courses for adults and many other special educational programs. The Center also offers a permanent base for our work in Haiti and houses our 16 staff members and tutors.
With my backpack full and my day planned, I set out on foot from the hotel where we stay to the new Education Center, about one mile away. It was a Monday morning, and we had opened the Center the day before with a grand celebration. I had a work team meeting me, and we were going to tidy up after the big party and start to organize the new offices. I walked out of the driveway unto the busy corridor, where motorcycles and trucks, filled with travelers and supplies, travel much to fast alongside the people on donkeys and those traveling on foot. But that is where I saw her. A little girl in rags, alone, who looked to be the size of a four-year old was struggling with a very large and heavy container of water on her head. She took a few steps, staggered a bit under the weight, and put it down, waited, and went through the process again. Concerned about her safety on this busy corridor, I rushed to meet her. Now most children are afraid of ‘blancs,’ especially those who live in remote areas. But when I approached her, she gave me the biggest, sweetest smile that grabbed my heart in an instant. I observed her big hard belly protruding like a pregnant woman’s and I noticed her hair was turning red, both telltales of malnutrition. “Ki kote ou rete?” (Where do you live?), I asked. She mumbled something that I couldn’t understand, so I picked up her water jug, took her by the hand and we walked down the corridor together in the opposite direction from where I was going.
Seeing her alone on the corridor at her tender age was disturbing. Most Haitian parents are good parents; they may not be able to provide enough food for their children, or be able to send them to school, but most children are protected from dangerous situations such as this one. This little girl should not have been on this treacherous street alone with the task of carrying the families water for the day. I felt angry. In the 18 years that I have been traveling to Haiti, I have only become involved in the care of a child twice, because I understand that Haitian family life and their cultural norms are very different than in the U.S., and I do my best to not interfere, but here was another case where I couldn’t stand by.
After a short walk, we came to a house in a terrible state. Half of the house had fallen down and was in a rubble heap, and the other half looked as if it would meet the same demise in the near future, yet here is where she lived. There was a young woman about 16 years of age and a man about 45 years old sitting on the remains of the front steps. They were very surprised to see me with this little girl. In my best Kreyol, I asked if she lived here, and they confirmed that she did. I followed with a statement on her need to be protected, and that she shouldn’t be on the corridor alone. The man answered, ‘She has no mama and no papa; they are dead.’ I told him I was sorry, but now she is in his care and he is responsible for her. He repeated, ‘She has no mama and papa; they are dead.’ I replied, “But she is hungry and needs food,” and he answered, “We are hungry too.” I learned that he is her uncle and the teen-aged girl is his daughter. Throughout our brief conversation, the little girl never once let go of my hand. I asked her her name, and she answered, “Remmie,” and I learned that she was 5 years old. Curious, I asked her what she had to eat that day. She answered, ‘water.’ My heart was breaking. I gave the uncle $50, and told him to buy some food for his family, and that I would return later to check on Remmie. She clung to me and didn’t want me to leave. It was hard to go, but I promised I would return.
As I walked toward our Center, I saw a neighbor who had seen me with the girl, he confirmed the little girl’s parents were dead, and she came down from the mountains to live with her uncle about 6 months ago, and he didn’t want her. The neighbor thought she was in training to be a restovek and that is why she was made to fetch the daily water. I asked him what can done to help this situation? He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘This is the Haitian life.’
A restovek is a child in Haiti who is sent by family members to work as a domestic servant in exchange for room and board, because the family lacks the resources to provide for the child. Oftentimes, the child comes from the rural areas in Haiti and moves to a city with a family with some means to provide care. Yet the reality is that many of these children are at grave risk for physical, emotional and sexual abuse. They rarely receive any education. The Haitian culture tolerates this system, because they see it as a way for the child to survive, yet the international community defines the system as modern-day slavery and child trafficking. I read that over 400,000 Haitian children work as restoveks in Haiti today and some are here in the United States as well.
With all this on my mind, I tried to work the rest of the day, but I caught myself feeling sick over Remmie. My heart was breaking, “What should I do?” I continually asked myself. I was leaving in 3 days, and I couldn’t take her home with me, and it was clear the uncle and his daughter did not want her and could not provide for her. Later that afternoon, I returned to Remmie’s house. Before she saw me, I watched her sitting on a pile of rubble, and she was holding a pair of pretty, black sandals, wiping them with her rag of a dress. The sandals looked too small for her, but it was clear she loved them and tried to keep them clean. I saw nothing else for her to play with. I called her name, she looked up and ran to me and hugged me. It was as if she was begging me to take her. I asked the uncle and he agreed that I could take her to the hotel with me for a few hours.
Kettelie Petit Loute, is one of our staff members who runs the primary scholarship program. You may remember when she visited our church several years ago. I told her about Remmie earlier in the day, and she joined us at the hotel to meet the little girl. She brought with her some books, a coloring book and crayons for her. While Remmie was coloring, perhaps for the first time, I tried to feed her some mashed mango, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t eat it. She just drank water. I know with malnutrition, eating becomes painful after a while. Kettelie and I talked about her situation, and we agreed to put her in our scholarship program, so at least she would receive an education, and we could keep track of her as well. I was glad about this, but it wasn’t enough, and it was hard to return Remmie with her books and crayons to her uncle.
The next few days, I continued my visits. My heart was breaking, and I was having trouble sleeping at night. I thought to myself, this is the danger of getting involved in Haitian family life – because what can you do to help? There is no social service agency, there is no one to help with these sorts of cases. Everyone is struggling to provide for their own families and cannot take on another mouth to feed. Food insecurity is so great. Everywhere you look there is someone who needs your help. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the constant need.
Ted and I try to focus on our work in education, and when asked daily for money, we say that we cannot help them because all our resources are going toward our scholarship program. I justify this statement in my mind by the knowledge that we cannot possibly help everyone, and that is true. Naturally, we are very kind and friendly and listen to their request, but we simply do not help unless we see it as an emergency. Sometimes I feel ashamed of myself, as I walk by someone that I could have helped, that probably needed it, and I had money in my bag.
I am sure you have had moments like these too, for example when you are in the city and you walk by a homeless person asking for help. How do we as Christians justify walking away from a needy person knowing in our hearts Jesus’ parable of the ‘least of these’: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” That parable haunts me in Haiti.
But when I saw Remmie alone on the busy corridor. I didn’t hesitate, I immediately knew I should help. To not help in her case, truly felt wrong to me. And when she smiled at me, a total stranger, there was something in that smile and in her eyes that felt familiar, leaving me with no choice but to get involved. Perhaps it is because I have a 5-year old granddaughter, and I couldn’t bare to think of her living in this condition, or maybe it was the way my heart felt and a strong intuition that felt as if God was telling me to do something for her. I am not sure, but I heeded it.
The day before we returned to the U.S., I saw Kettelie at the office. I once again shared my concern for Remmie. I couldn’t bare the idea of leaving her in that terrible living condition, and I truly feared for her life. And then God answered my prayers. Kettelie told me that she had talked with her husband Hugue, and they agreed they would take Remmie to live with them. I couldn’t believe me ears, I burst in to tears and hugged her and thanked her and hugged her again, because I know Kettelie and Hugue are wonderfully kind people and would take very good care of Remmie and love her as she needs to be loved. “Can you legally do that?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied,“ if the uncle agrees.” It is that easy in Haiti to move a child permanently to another family. Kettelie has one daughter who is 12 years old, and she said “Bithja has always wanted a little sister, and I am not able to have more children. Remmie will be a blessing to our family.” I was overjoyed with hope and happiness and incredibly relieved.
That afternoon, without Remmie knowing the plan, I said goodbye to her, and Ted and I returned to the U.S. During the next few days, I waited with nervousness for the news. Finally, Kettelie shared with me that she visited the uncle and he agreed to the plan. Remmie was now with them and adjusting to her new situation. Within a week, Remmie was calling Hugue and Kettelie, “mamma and papa.” Kettelie took her to the hospital for an examination. Remmie was suffering from malnutrition, pneumonia, and worms. She was put on medicine, vitamins, and a special diet to reacquaint her with food. She was also given pain pills to help her eat. Kettelie bought her new clothes, and she entered the kindergarten class in Ecole Flamboyant, where Kettelie is the principal. Through the months that followed, I watched through “WhatsAp” a little girl slowly return to better health. And I learned that Kettelie and Hugue have begun to officially adopt Remmie as their own daughter.
During our last two trips in April and this past June, I have seen Remmie, and we spend time together. She is very affectionate to me, and I am called her grann. I will always have a special place in my heart for this little girl and give thanks to God every day for Kettelie’s generous response to Remmie. I feel as if God truly participated in changing Remmie’s life.
The experience of Remmie has caused me to struggle more with the needs of the people, especially involving children. How do we know who to help and who to walk away from? There are several on my mind that I still regret not helping. Their little faces haunt me.
My first thought is that we must follow our heart and trust our intuition, having faith that God will guide our actions, as long as they are based on pure love and kindness. What follows may not turn out as you hoped, but at least you were true to yourself and were guided by faith. The second thought is that our actions must never be self-motivated, but purely for the good of another. It is a great feeling to help a person in need, we all know that, but we always must be sure that the help we give is the help that is truly needed by the other. For example, there are many people on the streets who ask for money for food, yet their intent may be to buy drugs or alcohol. In a case such as this, it is not in their best interest to give them the money, but you could buy them a sandwich, or make-a-donation to an organization that supports the homeless or those who are addicted. The same is true in Haiti, Ted and I generally do not give money, but if the request is for medical care, for example, and we want to help, we will pay the medical bill directly to the hospital, if it is to help with a child’s education, who is not in our program, we give the money to our staff to pay directly to the school. It is in everyone’s best interest to have truth, love and faith be the guiding principles of our giving.
Children are especially vulnerable in Haiti and all over the world in places of poverty, war, occupations, and inner-city violence, and we all need to strive to support organizations that protect and care for these little ones. The Gospel writers portray Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd,’ one who dearly loves and cares for children, calling them to him. I think we all feel a special call to care for these little ones and it is particularly hard to bear when we witness their suffering.
As we become more deeply involved in the fabric of Haitian life, it is a challenge to live our lives as faithful Christians with the Bible in one hand and our work in the other. For me, I am comforted with the faith that God is with me always, and I know in my heart that God supports our work and knows my every thought, struggle, and deed. Even though at times, I doubt my actions, and know I am not perfect, God stands by to guide me through it all, just as God guides you throughout your lives. I felt this so strongly after Kettelie agreed to receive Remmie in her family. It was a prayer directly answered with the very best solution for everyone. As I hugged Kettelie in gratitude and immense relief for receiving Remmie, I felt as if I was hugging the Good Shepherd too – the Good Shepherd, who had found one of his little lost sheep and brought her home. Amen
The Rev. Rebecca Crosby
Old Lyme, CT