Prison Ministry

2017 in Review

It's been another year.  We have another opportunity to look back and see God's providence, His faithful hand, His leading...and to see that once again, we never walked alone.

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The first four months of the year were marked by change as the children came under our care. We also began to discuss the idea of expanding Haiti Awake outside of Port au Prince, hosted teams in the new upstairs guesthouse, launched our child sponsorship program, and added stateside coordinators - Hannah Telman, Liz Kyle, and Alicia Mercer.

Glwa pou Bondye.

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The middle four months were characterized by teams - five of them to be exact . . . in addition to the four we had already hosted in the first four months of 2017.  Fun times.  Busy times.  Times of growth.  Many of this summer's team members became sponsors to our children, and for that we are grateful.  

Relationships. 

Gospel. 

Hope.

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The latter part of 2017 brought great joy, as well as some hard times.  The children returned to school for their 3rd year of schooling since Haiti Awake began providing for their tuition, and we rejoiced. Haiti Awake was also able to open the copy center and begin its first chicken project during this same period. We are thankful that God continues to expand our resonsibilities. We also were forced to think about the brevity of life when Wesly and Idelmy were involved in a serious accident.   And we finished out the year with a wonderful Christmas celebration provided by friends and sponsors.

We look forward with great anticipation to where God will providentially lead in 2018.  We anticipate growth through new business opportunities as well as outreach and expansion of responsibility outside of Port au Prince.  But we recognize and affirm the truth found in Proverbs 16:9:

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.

Tout glwa pou Bondye. Toutan.

Hope that's hard to find

Let me first say, I’m not an author. I’m not a blogger. I do not pride myself on my ability to write, but I was asked to write something about the day I visited Centre de Reeducation des Mineurs en Conflit avec le Loi (CERMICOL), a boy’s prison in Haiti. I will attempt to do that.

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I was taught from a young age, just like many American boys, that men don’t cry.  I’m not in any way saying my parents raised me wrong, but I deal with emotions like many other American men - I bottle them up.

The night that followed my trip to the boy’s prison, I cried,  and then I cried some more. I wept in a way I haven’t wept in a very long time. I cried at the position these boys were in, the hopelessness of the situation, how their entire life is altered. Forever. I cried because if I had been born into poverty, I could have faced a situation that some of these young men faced, made a similar decision, and ended up in a boys prison at age 14.

This could have been me.  

 

I have an 11 year old son. He’s a good kid, but he’s done things that are, well, regrettable. Just like every other kid. I could not help but picture him when I was at the prison. I don’t know the kid's ages, but some were young. Probably 12 or 13 years old.

The boys are locked up for various reasons, I don’t know what each one did, I didn’t care.

I saw children. I saw my son. In a green jump suit with CERMICOL on his back. Hopeless.

Now, I’m far from saying that these boys should not be held responsible. But to see a kid that has been locked up for a crime, and find out some go 2 years before they ever see a judge, that’s heartbreaking. Some of them committed crimes, some terrible crimes, stuff we spoiled Americans only see in TV shows. They do not need to be told that’s ok. They need tough love. They need to be educated. And they need hope.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
— Jeremiah 29:11

When we arrived, we unloaded the supplies we brought - rice, sodas, toiletries, a hand written scripture for each boy. Each item was inspected by guards and then loaded into a wheelbarrow. There were 3 prisoners that were pushing the loaded wheelbarrows into the prison. Quite obvious this was their reward for good behavior. Once it was all in, there were a few conversations between guards, some more waiting, and then we got to enter. They escorted us to a room, set up similar to a classroom, with a chalkboard, seating for 30 or so, one door.

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There was a large window that opened to the common area. The cells with bars were across from this. We could see the boys. They looked at us, they didn’t look angry, or threatening, they looked like my son. Some were a few years older, but they were young men, trying to find their place in life. While in a holding cell with 125 other prisoners. Hopeless.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
— Deuteronomy 31:6

The guards ushered in about 40 at a time, 3 groups. The groups came in, we spoke to them. Told them God loved each one of them, that we at Haiti Awake loved each one of them. We prayed. Then they left, back to their cells.

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We left, empty handed, sad with the situation, angry thinking the boys may not get a fair shake, disappointed that decisions were made to put them here, but hopeful that some of these young men heard our words. Hopeful they heard us pray for them. Hopeful they heard the message we had for them. Heard that it’s not over. They have decisions to make every day going forward. Maybe as they make one of these decisions, they will think back and remember the Haiti Awake team, and remember some words we shared, or a prayer, or a verse written to them.

Maybe this will be what they need to get through a rough day. Maybe it’ll help them make a good decision in the future.

Maybe it will give them hope.

Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Hebrews 13:3

How do you explain a place that does not even make sense?  How do you describe a place few will ever have the opportunity to visit?  

These photos don't explain.  They don't even describe, but they are all we have.  

Over the last year, Haiti Awake has been actively pursuing a relationship with both the prisoners and the staff of Cermicol, a juvenile prison in Delmas.  We are thankful to have been granted access to take these few photos to help you understand a place where on most days over 100 teenage boys are imprisoned.  Their alleged crimes vary, but their stories are the same.  

Their stories are similar to yours.

Their stories are similar to mine.  

They are broken people in need of a Savior.

For those of you who have generously given to support our prison outreach in the past, we thank you.  The boys were thrilled to get care packages filled with soap, shampoo, hard candy, and a snack on our last visit.  Everyone appreciated the food, sodas, and water we were able to purchase through the financial generosity of those who support Haiti Awake monthly.  

As a mom of boys who are the same age as the prisoners, I always struggle in my heart when we go to Cermicol, and yet I always want to go back.  For me the highlight of our last visit was seeing one young man get a big smile on his face when he saw Lifesavers in his bag and to hear so many of the boys say, "Mesi," with genuine gratitude.  It was also good, though sad, to talk with boys we've met in the past.  

Please pray with us that we will continue to find favor with those who have the authority to allow us access to the prison, and pray that our visits are a way to show Christ's love in action.

Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.
— Hebrews 13:3