I spent my 20s a drifter of sorts, wandering from city to city, apartment to apartment, searching for and building my life.
The later I got into the decade, the more the resounding voice of my Dad said, “You need to put down roots.”
In April 2013 I made a decision that surprised a lot of people and confused others. I applied for a job at the University of Miami teaching sports law. The job would not only take me 2,000 miles away from home to a place that in all honesty, the first time I visited in 2006 for a 21st birthday party I didn’t care for, but would also lead to the winding up of my legal practice.
It was a bold move, a brash move perhaps even. And I couldn’t fully verbalize or explain why I felt compelled to do it, other than I loved sports, I knew about the law and I wanted to work with young people. For some, though, these answers weren’t enough to justify a life changing decision.
In the back of my mind, though, I knew there was another reason why I was going to Miami–a reason, that at the time, I just couldn’t put my fingers on.
I dream every night. Bold, vibrant, memorable dreams, many of which come true. Rarely are there monsters in my dreams. Instead, my dreams are peeks into the exciting things about to come into my life.
Last July, I had a dream where clear as daylight, the voice in it said, “There is a boy.” A week later, Prosper came into my life. Because of Prosper and his life story, I am now a Community Champion for an organization called I’m Me, which is working to end the orphan crisis in Haiti.
I truly believe that had I not laid roots down in Miami, I never would’ve become involved with an organization located in and focused on Haiti. I do not think it’s coincidental that months before my life would cross with Prosper’s that I moved to a place that is less than a two-hour flight from Haiti.
A few days before Easter, I’m Me’s founder, David, invited me to spend Easter with the I’m Me kids. I didn’t blink at the opportunity and said, “Yes!” I flew into Haiti on Good Friday–one of the darkest, most solemn holidays of my Christian religion. Straight from the airport, David took our group to one of the darkest places I’ve been in my entire life–the orphanage from which he got Prosper and the other nine children now living in I’m Me’s home.
I went to that orphanage for the first time in November, and it’s safe to say it rocked me to the core. Going there changed my life. I held babies that hadn’t eaten in a week. I held lives that although young, were dying a slow and miserable death. I smelled sweat and sat in dirt and saw bugs fly by. In that darkness, I realized for the first time in my naive life that Hell exists on Earth.
Going there again this time still rocked me. There will never be a day that seeing children helpless and hurting becomes easy. There is no way to prepare for the pain that stings your heart when you see the sights that exist in Hell on Earth.
This time, David walked us down into the basement that we wandered into last November. In November, we didn’t find any children in the basement. This time, though, was worse. This time, we found a room full of babies, diaperless, lying in a dark room unattended to. I wanted to pick them all up, hold them and carry them home with me to America.
Unable to do that, I picked up one, Patrick–named after David’s brother, the co-founder of I’m Me–and began rocking him. I looked into his eyes, which wouldn’t meet mine. I ran my fingers across his soft face and up into his curly hair. He didn’t coo, giggle or smirk. He was lifeless, stoic. My heart was breaking in the darkness of the room I held him in.
As I stood in the dark room, I realized there was a glimpse of light breaking through the room. I turned over my shoulder and saw that the light was beaming through the sliver of a window behind me. I knew what I needed to do.
I walked Patrick over to it. I wanted to show him the light. I wanted this boy, who prior to my getting there was lying alone, half-naked in the dark, that life exists outside of the walls of his personal Hell. I wanted to bring the smallest bit of life to a boy whose life the world had all but forgotten.
When I got to the window, I moved Patrick from the cradled position I had been holding him in and propped him up in my arms so that his eyes could peek outside of the sliver of a window.
I received the most beautiful gift in that moment. I received the gift of watching life come to this boy’s face, as for perhaps the first time, his eyes were met with light.
We spent more time at the orphanage this time than we did last time, which didn’t make leaving it any easier. The time, though, came for us to leave. Afterward, we went to the I’m Me house, where I was quickly reminded how quickly love, encouragement and empowerment can change the lives of neglected children. I thought the I’m Me children were thriving in November. They are thriving even more five months later! They’ve learned their numbers and letters and can write their names. DaeDae, who couldn’t speak the first time I met him, is the chattiest toddler I know and even sings in English! It’s amazing the work that God can do in the lives of children and I am so blessed to be able to watch this journey unfold.
On Saturday we woke up, hopped in the back of the truck and set out for a 2-hour drive into a voodoo village near the mountains. The long drive underneath the hot Haitian sun took us through the biggest per capita slum in the world, Cite Soleil. Cite Soleil can best be described as organized chaos. There are beautiful parts of it–the scenes of community, the pictures of people working hard, the visions of creativity coming to light in its street-side markets. There are ugly parts of it–the children wandering naked, the garbage spread out in large heaps everywhere, the hopeless eyes in some of the poorest people in the world.
The organized chaos is one of the worst parts of Haiti, but also one of the best. I tell my friends that going to Haiti is like an adventure. Where in America can you pile 12 into a truck and drive without getting pulled over? Where in America is there a place where you can drive 100 miles and not encounter one stop light, or stop sign? Where in America can you go and just let your hair down, sing at the top of your lungs and laugh with the wind blowing on your face? I love Haiti for the adventure it provides. I love Haiti for the beauty that exists within its borders. These two things, signal to me Haiti’s great opportunities.
After hours in the back of the truck (and my hair literally resembling a rat’s nest), we arrived at the voodoo village. It was Saturday afternoon, about 12 hours before Easter. The village was quiet, with a few people milling about. It was surrounded by a good number of trees and a mountain. Before entering the village, there’d been talk in the truck about what goes on in the village. Talk about the poverty of the village. Talk about the rituals of the village. Talk of the sacrifices performed under a tree in the village.
As the truck crept through the village, I saw all of these things. I saw the village’s poverty as its children ran about its dirt roads in tattered clothes without shoes on their feet. I saw a glimpse of the village’s rituals when I saw the church where it holds voodoo ceremonies. And I saw the existence of the village’s sacrifices when we drove past the tree boldly marked with a red line under which the sacrifices are performed.
We drove the truck to the end of the village and parked. There, we saw a handful of children playing soccer without their shoes on in dirt underneath a beautiful tree filled with leaves. They laughed and giggled, and most notably to me, they didn’t run, when we, strangers, appeared.
We met them on the dirt field underneath the tree. In our shoes and pressed clothes, we turned a jump rope for some. We joined a soccer game whose goals were marked by rocks and whose players largely went without shoes. And we were merciless against them in soccer, as David, an NFL player, may have scored at least four goals on my count against them.
We let them take selfies on our smart phones. We laughed and giggled with them and chased them up the mountain only to realize they were a lot better at getting down than we were.
We didn’t speak their language, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter, because we each spoke a common language–a language whose diction was marked with sounds of friendship, care and understanding.
As time went on, more children appeared. They journeyed down the road that wound through the voodoo village. Their shoeless feet hit the hot dirt to get there. They climbed over the mountain and down the hill to reach this space, marked with a beautiful, lush tree filled with leaves. At the time, I didn’t wonder why they were all coming to this space marked with nothing but a tree. Looking back, though, I should have.
About an hour into our time under the beautiful tree, two men appeared. They had with them long, wooden benches. I watched from the side as they set them up under the tree. Once all of the benches were set up, I noticed that the children wound up their games and began making their way to sit on the benches underneath the beautiful tree.
I approached one of the men to figure out what was going on. He spoke English, and I learned his name was Pastor Mark. “I come here every Saturday,” he said. “This village has been practicing voodoo forever. The adults won’t come to Christianity. Every Saturday, though, the kids come. They come to sit under the tree with me and learn about Christ.”
Pastor Mark is putting down roots. He’s putting down roots in a community that has suffered the effects of poverty for far too long. He’s putting down roots in a community whose populous is largely uneducated. He’s putting down roots in a community where sacrificing animals is still a common, accepted practice. He’s putting down roots with a younger generation that is accepting that there might be another way.
Most of all, though, Pastor Mark is putting down roots with a group of young people to teach them that love is the only way, and that forgiveness is the key to a life well lived.
The best part about the roots Pastor Mark is setting, is that they are taking hold–they are gripping the ground. The world in this community, is about to change. Light is getting ready to come in on the heels of these children, who on their own accord, walk away from the voodoo tree every Saturday evening and enjoy laughter and joy under the beautiful tree down the road.
Sunday was my favorite Easter. I ate macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, instead of my mom’s typical amazing Easter feast. I didn’t go to my home church, let alone church at all. Yet, I felt Christ and his power the most this Easter Sunday of any Easter Sunday I’ve experienced.
To me, Easter is about redemption. The story of Easter literally involves darkness and light. Good Friday–the day on which Jesus was crucified–was the darkest day in the Earth’s history. The Earth literally turned black. Three days later, on Sunday, when Christ ascended into heaven, light was restored to the world. If one believes in Christ, they understand that it is only through His love that the world saw light again.
I saw Christ’s truth come to life this Easter Sunday. I saw it come to life, as I sat close by and listened to David recount the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven to I’m Me’s children. I watched firsthand as the children accepted Christ and what He offers into their life. I saw the light beam from their eyes when they acknowledged that because of Christ, anything is possible, that their transgressions and those of everyone are forgiven, and that love is the only answer in this confusing world.
We all dig roots. Some we dig as the result of our choices. Others, we are led to dig. Regardless, roots stick. The power that they sink into the Earth remain and move forward through generations. The greatest gift of my life are the roots I’m digging in Haiti–roots that I never imagined I’d dig. As my life continues forward, I look forward to seeing the results of the deepening roots, and the light that hopefully shines over them.
I’m Me is laying down some roots of its own. A year ago, the money it raised through its “House the Vision” campaign allowed it to take in 11 orphans, feed thousands of street children, provide jobs to 12 Haitians, and feed 200 children per week. I’m Me has just launched its “House The Vision: Part 2” campaign. This campaign is focused on fundraising for state-side office space in Dallas, TX. I’m Me has grown much faster than any of us anticipated or dreamed! Due to this, it is critical that I’m Me is able to hire the necessary people to carry out our vision and also provide these people with a safe, clean space to bring their dreams for ending the orphan cycle in Haiti to life. This campaign will fund the office space for I’m Me’s employees to help empower Haitians. To learn more and donate, click here.