Reflection from Sr. Joanna Sokora
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
For me, Haiti is children’s faces. While we were there, whether my eyes were open or closed, I saw little faces peering into mine. Even now, they come back to me often: at prayer, at meals, while I’m sweeping, on a walk. Sometimes even when I first wake up, memories of them rise up to greet me as cheerfully as the rising sun. Blandina, David, Daniel, Mylove, Michelin, Deborah, Santa, Jorlin, Dison, Jedli. What a joy and a privilege to meet them, to love them, and to be loved by them. I really don’t know who enjoyed whose company more, but I’m sure I received much more from their bright eyes and smiles than they did from me. These little ones peered around every bend and small hands wound their way into my hands as quickly as their faces found a place in my heart.
It was wonderful to be with the same little ones each day during “Winter Life,” our first venture into bringing the Harlem and Bronx Summer Life programs that we Sisters and Friars run in the city down to the poorest of the poor in Haiti; our Haitian campers were too poor to even attend school. I taught an art class for the children; we had crayons and coloring books one day and decorated canvas bags with permanent markers the next. Fania, the translator with me, recommended to the children that their new bags would be good for carrying home bread, as they usually didn’t have anything clean in which to carry it. What a different world we live in. Fania was also kind enough to teach me a few phrases in Creole, so I was able to ask the children: “Ki koule ou pi renme?” “What is your favorite color?” Those little boys proudly taught this American sister her colors in Creole, and “survey says” the most popular colors are “jaun” (yellow) and “jianabuco” (orange). From the looks of their bright artwork, these children love the natural beauty that surrounds them!
I didn’t realize at first how difficult the language barrier would be for me until I froze during our first time of ministry. What am I supposed to do? How do I show people that I’m here for them if I can’t speak their language? I really struggled with that poverty of language the first few days, but it turned out to be a great gift. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” I had to recognize in a tangible way that I couldn’t do it by myself; I had to lean on the Lord and the people He had surrounded me with. What a grace. My continual reliance on our translators was an unexpected opportunity for authentic conversations and sharing, and it was through them that I came to understand more clearly what life in Haiti is like. Even when I was without them, the Lord provided grace for the moment. Fania taught me how to pray the “Our Father” in Creole, and so I was able to go around the Medical Clinic and pray very simply with the people waiting there. It was truly a privilege to be with them, to pray humbly and simply with people who can teach me so much about how to live those virtues. They received me with such kindness in my poverty; I asked them how they were doing – “Komo ye?” – and they were perfectly content that I couldn’t understand their response. And I think the children heartily enjoyed that I had to act out all of my instructions for recess games and that they in turn had the opportunity to teach me a few! What a joy to “let go and let God” do it!
I saw with new clarity the work and love of God the Father one afternoon at the Medical Clinic. I had been playing one game after another with a group of children, and together we were amusing all of the adults around us. First, we threw an imaginary ball, and then did impressions, played with a real ball we found, and on and on. Finally, it came time for me to leave and the children’s response to my farewell was to hug-mob me, to hold me there with them. All I could do was to touch each little head surrounding me, saying “bye, God bless you, Bondye benou, I love You, Jesus loves you.” I felt my spiritual motherhood powerfully then, looking to Jesus and praying, “You have to take care of our kids.” I entrusted them all back into the Father’s hands, imagining His hands where mine were, understanding a little more clearly how God really does love through us if we allow Him to do so. It was so easy as well to imagine myself as one of those children – I am as needy and dependent as they are – and letting the Father put his hand on my head the way I had placed my hands on theirs. What a place of safety, of being known, cared for, loved!
Now, I’m trying to stay in that place more and more, learning from the children how to be a child with the Father, learning from them how to run to meet Him with open arms, ready to love and let myself be loved. Some days it doesn’t go so well, but “novice” does mean “beginner,” and I have lots of memories of little ones running to meet me to remind me of how I should be in prayer. To close, in the midst of writing this, this reading came up in Evening Prayer that captures much of what I experienced and continue to receive from Haiti:
“To God Whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine – to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations.” - Eph. 3:20-21