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Light

June 12, 2017

Before daylight broke, I quietly climbed down the wooden stairs of the top bunk, confining every move so as not to wake the three others I was rooming with. When my feet hit the tiled floor, I looked over my shoulder to make sure I hadn’t woken anyone. Seeing everyone still sleeping soundly, I slowly opened the creaky door and made my way outdoors.

Outside, roosters crowed and strangers milled about the dirt road outside the gate, their busy days already starting.

I used my iPhone as a light and shuffled my bear feet across the driveway sprinkled with dirt and up the stairs on the side of the house to the rooftop. I climbed into a rocking chair and sat in the dark rocking back and forth, trying to drown out the persistent sounds of the rooster to just let my thoughts unfold.

“Tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

I shouldn’t have been in Haiti. My to-do list was longer than it’s ever been, and that’s saying a lot, knowing what my to-do list typically looks like.

Yet, I’d received an invitation from the KORE Foundation–an organization I’d admired from afar since my first trip to Haiti in 2014. They were heading down and invited me to see their initiatives, which create sustainable solutions to poverty in Haiti. I wrestled with the thought of going as I was one-week out from hosting the second annual University of Miami Sport Conference and preparing to welcome over 300 guests and keynote speakers, Greg Norman and Alex Rodriguez.

The world told me I didn’t have time to go to Haiti.

The Spirit told me, “Go. Run. Get there as fast as you can.”

So I went, knowing that with spotty electricity and Internet service, it was highly unlikely I was going to get any of my to-do list done.

Little did I know, though, that it would be one of the most productive trips of my life.

Earlier that week I received a job offer from Pepperdine University. The job offer was an answered prayer–literally. I prayed for the opportunity to become a professor at Pepperdine. I only began praying about it in the fall of 2016, though. I prayed in a way that I asked God for the opportunity to become a professor at Pepperdine at some point in my career, thinking it would be at least five to ten-years away. Little did I realize how quickly God would work and that I’d have an official offer in front of my eyes some mere six-months later.

I was so grateful for the offer. Truthfully, though, I was scared. Was it too soon to leave Miami? There was so much more I want to do in Haiti. Was I abandoning a place that healed my heart when I didn’t think I’d ever find joy again? Was I turning my back to my second family to return to a peaceful coastal life?

As overfilled with joy as I was to receive the offer, I knew I needed to pray about it. I knew I needed to ensure it was a decision I could make fully knowing that my relationship with and belief in the people of Haiti could not only continue, but grow.

As busy as I was, the trip to Haiti with KORE came at the most perfect time.

In our three days together, I saw light in places where I thought there was none. I saw hope and a future for a country and people I love so much. I saw for the first time a path and a plan and a way to give these amazing people the true freedom they deserve.

One of the main operations of the KORE Foundation involves giving Haitian people micro loans to build businesses as chicken farmers. Members of the KORE team help the farmers build their coops, teach them how to care for and grow healthy chickens, along with how to market, price and sell the chickens.

To date, KORE has helped 185 Haitian families enter the farming business. These farmers see on average a 400-percent increase in their incomes. The opportunity they’re given has allowed many to build homes and send not only their children to school, but also care for children in their communities. Beyond this, 2,000 Haitian children are fed with chicken raised by KORE farmers.

One of the most beautiful gifts God has given me is bringing me to Haiti at a time when there was much darkness in my life. He took my broken heart and dropped me in a place where the naked eye only sees so much darkness, hopelessness and despair. Selfishly, on my first trip in November 2014, any heartache I felt quickly disappeared, as I realized there were people fighting much greater battles and pains than I. On this trip, though, I finally saw the light. Literally.

The grandchild of farmers and a proud Wheat Ridge High School Farmer, I am the epitome of a city girl. I knew zero about farming until my visit with the KORE Foundation.

It seems simple and obvious now, but I never realized that the fatter the chicken, the deeper the pockets of the farmer. Chickens only eat when it’s light outside. Recognizing this, the KORE Foundation realized that if they equipped their farmers with solar power lights for their chicken coops, the chickens would eat at night and thus, eat more, get plumper and be able to be sold on the market for higher prices.

On the second day of our trip, we drove to a beautiful village located near Nepaly, Haiti, next to the clear water of the Caribbean. All I knew is we were there to install a solar light in one of KORE’s top farmer’s coops.

As we parked our car and made our way towards the home with a coop in the backyard, children seemed to come from every direction. They grabbed our hands and tugged at our skirts, chattering quickly and joyfully in Creole. They pulled us back towards their play area in the back of the house, near the coop.

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Once there, we were met face-to-face with one of the most stunningly beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She was tall with a strong jawline and nose, her head wrapped in the most vibrant red piece of cloth.

“Bonswa!”

Hello, light.

This woman, Magdalee, is one of KORE’s top chicken farmers. She is a mother, a community leader, entrepreneur and honestly, the truest depiction of #GirlBoss I’ve ever encountered.

Her pleasantries were short as she had work to do. She quickly greeted us then got back to work in her coop, moving in and out of it seeming to do an infinite amount of tasks my mind couldn’t begin to comprehend.

As we watched her hustle, I was told her story. As a mother, she would frequently come to the Christian mission near KORE’s Haitian headquarters in Gressier, Haiti. Jobless and impoverished, she had no option but to beg to feed her children. She’d go without food so they could eat.

One day, a leader from KORE asked if she’d like a job. With the job, she’d be able to feed her family.

“Oui!”

Yes. Yes she did. She fed her family. She fed her neighbors. She fed her community. She raises the fattest chickens around. She was given light and with that light became light for the world around her.

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The next day, I said my goodbyes to the wonderful people at KORE and the beautiful community of Gressier. I was headed back to Delmas 75, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, where the organization I’ve worked with since 2014, I’mME, is located.

So encouraged by the future KORE is painting for Haiti, I knew there was one more affirmation I needed to see to feel comfortable relocating an eight-hour flight away from Haiti.

My trip to Port-au-Prince would be short, but I knew what I was looking for. I wanted to see signs of hope for the community in Delmas. I wanted to see opportunities brewing for the children there I care about so much.

And saw I did.

I met Jessica Drogosz and Renise Jean, the co-founders of Sa Voix, an organization using the arts to give Haitian women their voice, while also designing and selling some incredibly beautiful handbags. I went to the top of a mountain to visit Wynne Farm, one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen in this world. I learned how the granddaughter of Victor A. Wynne, a Harvard and MIT civil engineer, is fighting to promote environmental education and sustainable development in a country that has been ravished by forest destruction and environmental disasters.

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I saw light in the way these women and their organizations are bringing hope, possibility and dignity to Haiti and its people. I saw a future in the handbags they’re selling and the tour groups they’re hosting. I saw the plausibility of a beautiful, booming economy and the eventual eradication of deep-rooted poverty.

It was enlightening.

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I came back home to the house in Delmas 75 that night with the greatest hope. And then, I received my answer.

I spent the evening playing soccer with the I’mME kids. When it was about time to go, I sat down with the boy I sponsor, Prosper. We chatted about school and soccer and plans for the summer.

Then I asked, “Do you remember where you’re from, where your family lives?”

“Oui.”

“Where?”

He told the interpreter, the interpreter told me and I looked at the map.

“Near Gressier?!”

“Oui!”

“I was just there! Do you want to see pictures?!”

“Oui, oui,” he nodded his head quickly, with happy eyes.

I showed him pictures of his former home as he looked on interestedly. I thought, “Wow. What are the odds?”

“Do you know where you want to live when you grow up?”

“Oui.”

“Where?”

“The U.S.”

“Where in the U.S.?”

“California.”

This boy–who helped heal my heart, who was a pinpoint of light amidst darkness–who grew up in a quiet village and found his way into a children’s home in a bustling city, told me unprompted that he wants to live some 4,000 miles away from home when he grows up.

I nodded and smiled.

“It’s nice there. It’s sunny and bright and there are glowing city lights.”

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The next morning I crawled onto the roof and sat in relative quiet.

I rocked back and forth on the sturdy wood rocking chair, just me, my thoughts, humid air and vast land in front of me. I thought about how far life has taken me in these last few years. I thought about the great magic of God’s tapestry and how when we just let what is to be unfold and stop fighting against His plan, our greatest stories are told.

My soul is restored. I’ve regained hope. I can see a vivid future despite not knowing entirely what may come. I’ve given up the need for selfish control. I’ve let go of the desire to dictate outcomes.

I’ve accepted I don’t need to know all the answers or reasons why. I may not always receive a sign. But I can always go by and do what is right.

And it was with the utmost assurance, grace, belief and peace that as I walked back down the steps to join the now bustling house for coffee, I knew where my journey was going.

I wanted to see the lights of California.

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