“I thought I was going to die!” says Abel, stroking his bald ebony head with the palm of his hand. “I was driving taxi at night. Working in day. Preaching at church on Sunday. Going to Haiti two, three times a year to help with the orphanage, and trying to be a good father. It was too much. It was impossible.”
“The doctors, they told me, ‘Eat, sleep, rest!’ But when? How? The orphans, they need food. My family, they need me. My church, there is no one else to preach! So, my body gave up, and I went in hospital.”
“I was so scared!” Abel’s wife, Ceret, whispers, swaying and sitting in the kitchen chair beside me, her eyes dark with memory.
My own family of six crowds around the dining table in the Barthelemy’s galley kitchen, lone light dangling over the faux-wood table and Haitian-American food spread side-to-side like a Thanksgiving feast. Ceret commands, “Eat! “Eat!” and floats between loaded table and kitchen counter, frying yellow plantains, pouring water.
Abel leans back in the metal kitchen chair, hands spreading eagle-wide, “My heart gave out. I was in hospital. But God. He is good. Even when life doesn’t make sense, God is so grush-us.”
“Grush-us.” Gracious. The word rolls thick with the sound of Haiti, Abel’s Caribbean-blue home pockmarked by corruption, tin-roofs, and fear. Nineteen years ago, Abel left a thriving mission in Port-u-Prince for Bible college in the US, dreaming of returning to train pastors, but God kept him stateside, spreading him thin as water.
“In United States I preach the gospel to so many people—at work, driving my taxi, and they do not believe. Over and over again they do not believe. But when I was in Haiti, so many believed. Why not here!? Ceret—she know how hard it is for me, to keep preaching and helping people who do not listen.”
Ceret interjects, “Yes! Yes! You have to let them go. Give them to God. Sometimes we argue about this—it is hard for him to let them go.”
Abel nods, “I realize, I do not have the power to change people. Only God can change people, only God can do the impossible. There are things that have made a mark on my life that teach me this—only God can do the impossible.”
Abel’s life, like the country he loves and the Jesus he serves, is riddled with impossibilities. In 2018 his mother passed away in Jacmel, Haiti. Able, barely making enough money to feed, clothe, and house his family and send money back to the orphanage he established after Hurricane Katrina, scrambled to raise $4,000 cash to bury his mother; God provided just enough, so with money in his pocket and Bible in hand, he flew into Haiti’s capital city.
“I was spending the night at my sister-in-law’s, near the airport, waiting to leave in the morning to go to the funeral in Jacmel, and I feel something bad is going to happen. I feel this! So in the night, I prayed over Psalm 91—’The Lord is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’ My heart is very heavy and I feel I am going to face a situation, but I don’t know what. When morning come, I put my Bible next to me in the car, and we leave for Jacmel. But people keep forgetting things—a hat, food, shoes—and we have to go back—again and again, three times!”
“Then we are finally back in the car down the road to Jacmel. There are four people in the car: the head of the orphanage, my brother-in-law, the driver, and myself. We driving on a very big, very busy road. Lots of cars. We come to this big hole in the road and the car cannot go fast over this hole and slows down. Then out of nowhere four men on motorcycles drive up to our car. They all have guns. At first I think they are just going to check the car for something, like the police in the United States, but then one of the men puts a gun to my head and asks me to give him everything I have—my money, passport, wallet, everything.”
“There are people everywhere on the road and they do nothing. Just shaking their heads at the gunmen but doing nothing. I’m so scared, I give them everything I have. Then the four gunmen all shoot in the air—po-po-po-po-po! And ride off on their motorcycles. Still no one does nothing. Just shaking heads as the men ride off. I’m in shock— my cell phone, documents, birth certificate, passport, money—gone.
“We drive to the police station, but the police don’t do nothing except make the report, and I can’t go to the funeral now without my money or documents, so I call my friend, Russ, in the United States to tell him we got ambushed, and he calls the State Department. We are still in shock and drive back to my sister-in-law’s house. We are afraid the gunmen will come after us, so we all sleep in the same room that night, and then I get a call from the State Department and they got me an appointment at the Embassy. I go early, with nothing, just my clothes and a Bible. When you have nothing, all you can do is depend on God. They created a passport for me to come back to the US, and that was amazing, since I have no identity to prove who I am, and I think it was God that made them see that I am a good person and got me on a plane and said ‘Go back to your family in America.’
“God was so gracious, but I went to bury my mom and I not get to see my mom one last time. I didn’t get to share the gospel and the resurrection at the funeral—I was prevented to do that. That was very hard for me. When I think of other people celebrating their mothers at their funerals, I’m sad that I didn’t get to do that for my mother.
“But life, it’s like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fire—they endured a lot, but God delivered them. Like Joseph, you can be suffering in prison and wondering where God is at, but God is always there and working for you. God is working all these bad things for your good.”
Abel and Ceret’s journey through the fire flamed anew this year—in the midst of Covid-19, their oldest son was diagnosed with a growing brain tumor sitting on his optic nerve—headaches, blurred vision and fear of the unknown descended like a cloud. Now, two surgeries and radiation later, the tumor is shrunk, but not gone. Then only this month, Ceret’s father, several states away and hospitalized for a stroke, began turning a corner, then a second stroke flashed through his frail body, taking his life.
This Christmas the blanket of suffering lays heavy over Abel and Ceret—the reality of life’s uncertainty, the pouring out of their lives in ministry only to see very little growth, the endless struggle to raise enough support to house and clothe the orphans in Isaiah Children’s Home, the pain of losing family without being able to say goodbye.
Abel, in the midst of the burning cinders of trial, once said to our four little ones, crowded round his kitchen table, drinking sweet Hatian soda, “Always listen to God’s voice—even when life doesn’t make sense, listen to his voice.”
For God’s voice declares to every sufferer, sinner, and saint:
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Please consider how you might draw near and enter the suffering of brothers and sisters living in poverty this Christmas. Isaiah Children’s home currently houses sixteen orphans in a rental space, and the prayer every year is that God would provide enough funds to buy land and build a permanent location. Also, the mission recently acquired a large passenger van but needs the funds to ship it to Haiti. To learn more about this mission and donate towards the housing needs, transportation, and education of the orphans see this website