I met a man here who runs an orphanage from his home. He currently has 13 kids, though since I’ve known him that number has fluctuated to almost 30. He considers himself a pastor. His English is good, he lived in Canada several years, and apparently his Ex-wife still lives there.
There are rumors. That he is crooked. That he is trying to get support for his own personal gain.
This much I know: Sometimes he lies. Little lies?
For instance, he told me he started the orphanage after the earthquake. Then I found out he started the orphanage a good many years before the earthquake.
Or again, he told me the kids were all homeless from his neighborhood that he took in. Turns out the kids aren’t from his neighborhood, and most weren’t homeless. In fact, most came from villages in the countryside, where family or relatives apparently gave them up in promise of a better life in Port-au Prince.
Meanwhile, his house/orphanage is in very bad shape. Sanitation is deplorable. There is a hole in the roof. The children use the bathroom by going in a hole in the ground outside. The girls put a square piece of plywood on their lap for privacy while they do their business. Sickness is present every time I visit. The two bunk rooms smell thick of urine. Chickens roam through the house dropping feces where the children play. The place should be condemned.
The man in charge, let’s call him Jean, keeps asking me why us white people aren’t supporting him? I’ve brought several teams to see his plight. They’ve donated sandals. They’ve taken pictures. Some have offered to help in the future.
Why don’t the “blans” who came to visit do more? Surely we all see the need? After deflecting these questions over a period of time, I decided to be honest.
“Yes,” I said, “People see your need, but they don’t trust you, we think you’re shady. That’s why you’re not getting support.”
“What?! Why would anyone not trust me?”
“Well, for starters, because you lie.”
“I lie? How do I lie?”
I gave him several examples. He took these accusations in stride and admitted, “Yes, I do lie, but I’ll tell you, I only lie to help the kids.”
“How so?” I asked. It seemed to me he lies out of habit.
“Well, for instance, I say the children are younger than I know they are. That way people will be more sympathetic for helping. I will even get legal papers made to give the children a younger age. That’s easy to do here, you know? But I’m lying for the kids, to help them. Like when I ask for rice from an organization, I tell them I have a big orphanage with lots of kids so they’ll give me many bags of rice. That’s how I lie for the kids.”
“You may justify your lying,” I said, “but your lying is one reason people don’t trust you, and why they are reluctant to support what you’re doing here.” I then add, “Don’t you know lying is wrong?”
“Well, everyone lies in Haiti, this is a corrupt country! You can’t be straight here”
“That’s not true, not everyone lies in Haiti. And even if it were true, don’t you call yourself a pastor? What does the Bible say about lying?”
“The Bible is full of liars! Every big man in the Bible lied. Abraham. He lied about his wife being his sister. He did that twice. Jacob: big liar. David, oh, big, big liar. All the big men of God lied, it’s what they did.”
“When these people lied, it wasn’t necessarily their finest moment,” I countered. “And what about Jesus? Did he lie?”
Long pause. Then emphatically, with a finger raised, “He is the only one who didn’t lie.”
“Yes, and the word Christian means Little Christ,” I pressed. “Jesus is our example. If you can promise you won’t lie to me anymore, I’ll see what I can do to help support you.”
There was a lengthy pause, and then a load groan, “Uggh, I can’t promise that! But I’ll promise to pray that God helps me say the truth more.”
“No go,” I responded firmly. “I want you to promise to tell me the truth from now on. About everything. That is, if you want help.”
This dialogue was condensed from a number of conversations over several months. This last week I saw him again (we donate bread to his orphanage twice a week and he comes to pick it up) and he said he’ll be honest with me. He told me how some of the children do have parents, how he only has 13 kids because 4 of them sleep somewhere else, he told me he’ll answer my questions.
So I asked him if he lives at the orphanage? This is something I’ve wondered about: Did he have a nicer place elsewhere? He assured me he lives at the orphanage, though sometimes he sleeps at a friends house, whatever that means.
At least he is trying to make an effort at honesty now, which I appreciate. We still have a ways to go. I feel like Frodo trying to cut a deal with Gollum. He swears dishonesty is the only way to get ahead. I tell him the opposite is true: being honest is the only way to get ahead in the long run.
One thing is that my relationship with “Jean” has improved markedly after I began speaking to him candidly about my concerns. Things are better now that I’ve come out and told him I think he is a crook.
What does he really want? What is his angle? It’s not until I have a satisfactory explanation to that question that I can begin feeling good about supporting him. Jean, like all of us, is a mixture of good and bad. I truly believe there is an element deep inside him that wants to help hurting children. But I suspect there is a larger element that wants to personally profit off said children.
He is patient. He just needs to find the “blans” who will change his life. He told me how another orphanage in the neighborhood started looking for blans 18 years ago. Now they have many sponsors from America. Sponsors who have built a beautiful house (for the kids of course, but the director gets the benefit of it too, yes?) with electricity, a generator, even refrigeration.
I think that is what Jean is holding out for. Here in Haiti, orphans have the potential to generate a hefty income for the shrewd and patient man who plays his cards right.