An aching heart.
There has been a burden heavy on my heart for the last month or so. I've been thinking about it everyday.
His name is Nelson. He lived with us in 2012 when we took care of severely malnourished children at the Mission House in Palo Seco. Back then we referred to him as 'Big Nelson' because he was almost 4 years old and we also had a younger Nelson who was close to 1 year old. Big Nelson was known for his infectious smile, hypochondriac tendencies (you should have seen it when he had a hangnail...end of the world haha), and his fierce independence. To this day he is the only child who came into the house so very sick but insisted on washing dishes at the sink and putting his own shoes on. Needless to say, he is a special little boy who has earned a very guarded place in all of our hearts. He was returned back to his biological family about 8 months after we first met him. In subsequent years we began sending interns into the mountainous region where he lives to do community health assessments as this region of Haiti - DR is in desperate need. I'm devastated to report that since returning home in 2013, Nelson has become severely malnourished several more times, bouncing in and out of the Nutrition Center in Las Matas. Most recently (May 2017) he was brought to our medical clinic in Rosa la Piedra in a very severe state.
You see.... all of this is particularly worrisome because the human body can only overcome the trauma of malnutrition a finite number of times. Brain and organ damage are very real and very serious consequences of repeated severe starvation and hunger. Our greatest fear is that Nelson will pass away from malnutrition complications similarly to Papito (a young boy who died at the age of 9 in 2014).
And while the poverty that leads to such cases is a real - devastating - tragic reality of our world, there is a poverty that is far greater.
"We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty."
--St. Mother Teresa
On top of material poverty, Nelson is also living in a home that is spiritually and emotionally poor. Nelson's biological mom left him with his father 'when he only had 2 teeth' (the only indication of age that we were given, information we received and verified through the community and family members). His dad and step mother haven't had a particular interest in him, and many accuse/suspect this is why he has been fed very little. There are multiple types of abuse taking place between members of the household. ....and so many more examples of being unwanted and unloved.
And yet -- despite all of this information -- Nelson was returned to his biological home 10 days ago. He made major improvements over the last month (which I credit in part to your prayers! Thank you!). As a Haitian child with living parents, whose home is actually in Haiti (as opposed to on the Dominican side of the border) our hands are very much tied. There is no social safety net that his case would fall into, there is no social worker, case worker or foster home. The reality of life here is that we had to return him to his biological father, knowing full well the abusive environment.
Talk about a bad day at work. So many tears, frustrations and feelings of failure.
Yet -- our hope is in Him.
The Lord of the universe loves Nelson in a way that my human mind can't even comprehend. God has been with Nelson every single day of his difficult life and will continue to be present.
As a team, we have by no means given up on Nelson's case. We continue to pray for guidance for God to open to doors so that we can provide a better future for him and all of the other children like him living along the border. At this time we are learning more about how the Haitian version of social services operates with great hope. As two organizations (BBOH and FUMSIL) that operate in the DR, we must pursue the legal and moral route -- which often means lots of red tape, waiting and delays.
Tomorrow we are going to Port au Prince to meet with a parish group from Michigan that supports a religious sister, Sr. Lluvia. We are filled with hope that Sister can help us navigate the murky waters of Haitian politics and social services. This is also a particularly special trip as we will be picking up one of our good friends, Kailey, and bringing her back to the DR with us for a visit.
I hope that this post has served as a glimpse into the "child advocate" hat that we wear as missionaries here in the DR. Of all of our responsibilities, this is one that I hold particularly close to my heart.
For safety, perseverance and peace as we continue to discern exactly what can/should be done to help Nelson and all other children in similar situations.
For travel mercies as we embark on a short trip to Port au Prince, Haiti tomorrow (6/26).
For Nelson's mind, body and spirit - that he may feel the loving presence of Jesus in the most lonely and difficult moments.
In Thanksgiving for Olivia, a supporter and friend who has come to the DR for 6 weeks just to help us with our children. Her presence is a true blessing, allowing us to accomplish so much!
**All information mentioned about Nelson's family was received from aunts, uncles, siblings and bio parents themselves. All info was verified through our community connections.
**Nelson's actual name is not Nelson. This was the name that we used for him when he lived in Palo Seco, but it is not the name that he is known by within his community. This and other identifying facts have been altered and/or left out for his personal privacy.
**No photos of Nelson will be published nor will be taken in accordance with the Nutrition Center's photo policy and our desire to honor his human dignity.
We are Catholic lay missionaries serving along the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
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