In the recent movie, “News of the World,” Tom Hanks plays a former Civil War soldier who travels from town to town reading newspapers to the locals. They pay ten cents apiece and gather together, anxiously awaiting his words. He is their connection to the outside universe, their conduit to something new that could delight them, fascinate them, maybe even change their lives.
Although I don’t read newspapers to our kids, I sometimes feel like that Hanks character, arriving with an announcement that, for the moment, only I know, an announcement that will surely elicit a response. I stand in front of our assembled horde gathered in the gazebo, the smallest kids sitting on the older kids’ laps.
“All right, timoun (children), I have something to tell you!”
Sometimes, it’s nothing more than “Tonight we are going to watch a movie!” which still elicits a huge cheer. Sometimes I share that a beloved former visitor is returning the next day (more big cheers) or — and this is a huge one — that we are going on a field trip the next day to the beach (leaping, screaming, hugging, mass hysteria!)
Still, the best announcements are when I get to share some good news about one of the kids. These are some of my most cherished memories in 12 years of bringing the news to our little orphanage.
Previous good news: Manno rocks a Madonna University t-shirt while celebrating his graduation from high school. He’s currently a pre-med student at the Livonia, Michigan-based university.
One of those moments came last week. It was really special, and I asked someone to film it so I could share it with you here.
I’ve written how our four oldest kids, two young men (JJ, Chivensky) and two young women (Samanza, Esterline) have been grinding to get their English language testing completed for their college application process.
It has been a nightmare. COVID-19 and kidnappings wreaked havoc on the TOEFL testing schedule. Our weak internet foiled multiple attempts to take the Duolingo English test online. It felt like tossing clay pigeons into the air. Every time the kids tried to post a test score, they got shot out of the sky.
Finally, after Yonel, our Haitian director, went to the internet company and begged for better modem boxes, we were able to get a strong enough signal for the kids to take one test a piece. And all four passed with high scores. We quickly hurried the results into the college application process. And we waited.
This ultimately led to the moment I want to share with you.
Because my email is listed as the contact email (since our kids lack regular access to computers or email accounts of their own), I was notified last week that ALL FOUR OF THE APPLICANTS HAD BEEN ADMITTED to Hope College in Holland, Michigan, an excellent, liberal arts college on a beautiful campus that goes back more than 150 years.
I read that email and nearly fell to my knees.
But then came the best part. Sharing the news of the world. Having just returned from the orphanage, I didn’t want to wait until my next trip.
So I called Yonel and arranged to dial in during our nightly devotions. And with Yonel holding up his cell phone, I yelled as loud as I could for JJ, Chivensky, Samanza and Esterline to stand up and get close to the speaker.
I then read aloud the email that announced that all four of them had been admitted, and — on top of that — each had been granted a partial scholarship!
Because the internet is so weak, I couldn’t see any images. And because Yonel’s phone was being held up, I couldn’t hear any one voice reacting. But when I said the word “Congratulations!’ I heard a whoop of high pitched squeals, and I shivered, as I almost always do, and my eyes began to tear up.
There is nothing like delivering good news to children who have so little of it. And there is nothing like delivering hope — or in this case Hope College — to kids who so desperately cling to it.
Esterline, Samanza, JJ, and Chivensky
When I saw the video, I smiled. It brought me back to other moments over the years when a piece of news prompted spontaneous cheers: the news that Emmanuel had been admitted to Madonna University, our first college acceptance. The news that Edney had scored a 96 on his TOEFL exam, the best performance of any kid to that point. The news that 7-year-old Gaelson, who had been airlifted to America with lung disease and a hole in his esophagus, was out of the hospital and coming back to the orphanage.
Big screams. Big whoops. Spontaneous joy. Group happiness.
It is such a privilege to be the bearer of good news, and to get to watch it register on young faces. In a place where stories of hurricanes, earthquakes, disease and death are often the words that arrive on your doorstep, now and then, the orphanage lets me be the mailman of hope.
What could possibly be a better job than that?