Wherever you go in the world, go now with all your heart

Welcoming our college students home for the holidays, with gratitude for how far they, Have Faith Haiti, and I have come.
Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom

November 28, 2023

One of the happiest moments for me at Have Faith Haiti is my arrival each month. That’s because the kids spill out of classrooms or the dorm or come running from the field just to give me hello hugs.

But over this past weekend, I had a different sensation. A different set of hugs. It was Thanksgiving, a break from college, and here came the “little kids” I remembered, exiting cars and making their way up the porch in the November cold.

Here came Djouna and Junie-Anna, who used to hug my knees, now in their first year at college, dressed in sweatpants, their hair braided beautifully.

Here came J.J. and Kiki and Edney, who used to chase each other all over our concrete yard with a half-inflated soccer ball, now muscular and sporting whiskers, bounding up the steps.

Here came Manno, who used to study under the light of a single bulb, swatting mosquitos with a dull pencil, now wiping his feet and carrying his computer, which contained his work as a medical school student.

All told, eight young men and four young women — all of whom I used to refer to as “kids” at the orphanage — were walking through the doors of my home in Michigan, ready for a Thanksgiving meal.

Haiti North.

IMG 3741

Coming home for the holidays

For our four newest students, the weekend was an overwhelming experience. Their first Thanksgiving. We do it pretty large in our family, hosting all my relatives and my wife Janine’s relatives, plus friends from all over the country. This year, counting our Haitian guests, the count reached 81.

So, amidst the noise of that many people, we had to do some explaining about what stuffing was, why the sweet potatoes were mashed up, and why we called a certain dessert of chocolate chip cookies and whipped cream “Motown Mash.”

We had to introduce them to this uncle, this cousin, that longtime friend. We had to explain to Nahoum and Widley, two freshmen, that helping themselves to seconds — or thirds — was perfectly fine.

The first year we had any of our kids up for Thanksgiving, I worried about the abundance of it all. From a nation where hunger is a daily issue, where clean water is luxury, and where the violence and gang warfare make every day about survival, a feast like Thanksgiving, for the average Haitian, might seem incongruous.

But the idea behind the day is gratitude, and that is something our kids understand very well. So when Janine and I stood before our guests and talked about the countless things we have to be grateful for, and how much we miss the loved ones who no longer fill seats at the table, I saw the kids nodding slightly in recognition.

And when, on Friday, we took everybody bowling, and I watched the kids shriek as they knocked down the pins, I knew they were having fun.

And when we sat around watching a movie Saturday night, the kids flopped over the couch, the pillows, or the floor, I knew they felt at home.

IMG 3766 eggs
Djouna and Esterline make work on breakfast

And when we gathered for breakfast Sunday morning, and they helped me make two dozen eggs, and they asked if they could have them “Haitian style,” which is code for very dry and overcooked, I knew they brought Haiti with them, as they do wherever they go.

And when we sat around the table afterwards, all 12 of them, and they spoke about their challenges at college, the good, the difficult, the people who have embraced them and those few who have made them feel uncomfortable, it was honest and real. And in its way, was no different than the countless talks we had at the orphanage after nightly devotions, or on Saturday afternoons, or just sitting on a balcony in the humid Haitian evenings.

At one point we took an old photo from nearly 10 years ago and recreated it, subbing in our friends Jim and Jane McElya with Janine and myself. When I looked at how much the kids had changed, I felt a lump in my throat.

Going back home for good, to do good

My father used to sing a song called “Sunrise, Sunset.” I’ve mentioned this before. He sang this song at family events (he had a great voice, operatic, really, and was always being asked to perform) and I used to watch my older relatives cry at the lyrics, which I have mentioned in this space:

Is this the little boy I carried
Is this the little child at play? 
I don’t remember growing older
When did they?

I’m beginning to know why it made them tear up. I had that same sensation watching our kids make the eggs at Thanksgiving, or cracking jokes in Creole while eating around the table, or playfully shoving each other the way brothers and sisters do when they are happy.

All of these young men and women are heading back to Haiti when college is over. All of them will work at the orphanage for two years, as a way of giving back to the place that gave them wings.

And all of them look forward to it. Which may be the truest sign that they are growing up.

IMG 3544 nahoum widley
Nahoum and Widley at the skating rink

It is a privilege to watch. A joy to behold. I remember telling Nahoum, when he was six years old, that one day he could come with me to America, but only after he finished high school. 

That night, I found him under the covers with a flashlight, reading the Bible. I asked what he was doing and he said “I want to finish high school by Wednesday, so I can go home with you.”

Well, it took longer than Wednesday. But he finished. He’s here. More importantly, he has a future.

He has a future, because, thanks to all of you, he is getting educated. He is part of the one percent of Haitians who ever go to college, and even less than half of one percent who get to do it in America, and come home for Thanksgiving break. 

When we said finally goodbye Sunday afternoon, it was snowing outside. We were about as far from Haiti as you can get. But it many ways, we were all still there, exchanging hugs, grateful for the day, and filled with hope.

Mission to

With your help, we can move mountains

Support the continued building of a new home for Have Faith Haiti through the Mission to Move Fund this Giving Tuesday.

12 Comments

  1. Charlene Tinkham

    Such a great accomplishment. You all should be proud of all your hard work.
    Have a blessed Christmas.
    Charlene Tinkham

    Reply
  2. Emily Nelson

    This brought tears to my eyes. We love them all. ♥️

    Reply
  3. Susan King

    So in awe of how God uses you Mitch, and how wonderfully open you are to follow and lead. Blessing to all these dear young adults and to you Mitch… keep living and giving in your extraordinary rich life!!!

    Reply
  4. Deborah Laurent

    Thank you for sharing this part of our world with all of us.

    Thank you and your wife for having been so unselfish as to create this bond.

    God is never outdone in generosity, therefore God is blessing both of you.

    Again, thank you!

    Reply
    • Catherine Rodgers

      I “second the motion” as to what D. Laurent said

      Reply
  5. Jean

    “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
    Mitch & Janine: אלוהים יברך אותך

    Reply
  6. Theresa Ramus

    So nice to share how they are doing and the pictures are great. I always enjoy reading about them.
    Thanksgiving sounded wonderful this year for you

    Reply
  7. Victor H Cook

    Mitch, You should be very proud, this is truly the time to grow my friend ! Victor Cook

    Reply
  8. Judith Sanborn

    I have been supporting this orphanage for years! I have read every book Mitch has written and have just finished The Little Liar which was heart wrenching and powerful. I am in awe of what he and Janine have accomplished over the years in Haiti against all odds. Words cannot express how uplifting these newsletters are about the success of this program and the young people who are being given an opportunity to rise above their challenging circumstances

    Reply
  9. Maggie Carlson

    These “kids” are truly a blessing in our lives!

    Reply
  10. JAMES N BOELKINS

    I have tried to sign up for your email but I keep getting a message that there was an error and try again. I’ve done that. I’d appreciate it if you would sign me up per the information below.

    Reply
  11. JAMES N BOELKINS

    You can ignore my last request regarding signing up for the newsletter – I’ve succeeded using the form at the end of the newsletter. Thanks, Jim Boelkins, Provost Emeritus, Hope College and President of the Haiti Nursing Foundation.

    Reply

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