“As Francois’ head hit his pillow that night, I walked by his exhausted body and prayed over him. The miles his feet had walked; the things his eyes had seen; the hunger, fatigue and fear he must have felt.”
Someone inside belted out, “Se Ki Es?”
So they repeated louder, again in Creole, “Who is it?”
A small voice responded on the other side of the gate, barely audible. Finally, someone opened the gate and there stood Francois— a tiny 10-year-old boy who has been missing from Respire Haiti Christian School for nearly a month.
He walked in looking completely exhausted and worn.
Running down the stairs, I bombarded him with big hugs, kisses and smiles. The corners of his mouth barely turned up. I knew something was different in this boy who is normally so joyful and full of life.
He walked in and sat down. The first question out of his mouth was, “Where is Natacha?”
Natacha is his sweet 12-year-old sister whom we rescued from a Voodoo Temple only months earlier.
Trying to understand where Francois had been and how he had gotten to our house was a difficult task. Things were not adding up and we could tell he was hesitant about giving us all the facts. His young cousin was sitting next to him, confusing us even more with so much information that didn’t make sense.
Francois’ body showed proof he was starving, yet he wouldn’t eat anything offered to him. Looking at his sunken eyes and fatigued body, it seemed like ages before the truth finally came out.
He had arrived—on foot—from Jacmel, a town nearly three hours away by car.
He had left early in the morning the day before and walked over numerous mountains. His tiny 10-year-old frame, walking and walking to reach his sister.
My mind spun with the beauty and sadness of his story.
As we listened, tears filled everyone’s eyes. He had walked for two days on foot to get here. That’s how badly he wanted to see his sister.
For Francois, his sister is his only family; their mother and father have both passed away. And he knew if he came to our house he would find Natacha.
Within minutes we called Natacha who immediately left the Freedom House (a Restavek transition home/safe house we opened for girls in dangerous living situations) where she now lives.
She arrived at our house winded from running. Sprinting towards her brother she nearly knocked down his frail body, embracing him and smiling.
As she looked up at us wide-eyed, her eyes screamed out what she was thinking: he can’t go back there.
She said confidently, “He needs to go back to school—everyone misses him.”
She told her brother how she had passed school this last trimester and that if he had been there for testing he would have passed too. (Both are in a class designed especially for children who have never been to school before and are completing first grade and second grade in one year.)
Only minutes after sitting with Francois, she took off her bracelet and placed it on his wrist. “Team Jesus” it said. She hugged him and smiled.
Looking up again, Natacha spoke strongly saying, “No one wants us to go to school. He can’t go back or they will never let him go to school.”
As he sat in front of our house with his cousin we began reasoning with him to let Francois stay. After a few minutes, Francois pulled out his school uniform shirt. The cousin looked at Francois, looked back at us and said firmly, “he should stay.” He agreed that Francois should go to school.
In the arms of Jesus
As Francois’ head hit his pillow that night, I walked by his exhausted body and prayed over him. The miles his feet had walked; the things his eyes had seen; the hunger, fatigue and fear he must have felt.
I still wasn’t clear about exactly where he had been or how he came to leave in the first place. But as he slept peacefully knowing he was near to his sister and that he was in the arms of people that loved him, I couldn’t help praying that I hoped he felt like he was home.
Home, not only because he was in our home, or because he was able to see his precious sister after a month, but because he was sleeping in the sweet arms of Jesus.
I hoped that our house, this refuge, was something that taught him that God is always with us and He will never leave us.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV)
Image Credit: Katie Richardson