The Social Conscience of a Missionary

It's a long way from LoDo to Haiti, but Dan Jeune wants to bridge the gap. With friendship.

"Whatever happens with other organizations, I can't control," Dan says. "Whatever other organizations like TBN do or say, all that I know is that I have seen my dad help thousands of people."

On day three, everyone finally gets a chance to help when more than 10,000 children arrive at the compound for the annual Christmas party hosted by Dan's family. This year, ICOF is helping. Every spot on every pew is packed, but the buses keep coming. People surround the open-air church, craning their necks to watch the puppet show and see the children sing.

After the service, everyone is supposed to get into a single line for lunch: a chicken leg, rice and beans, salad and a juice box. The child-to-adult ratio is at least forty to one. Boy Scouts have been called in to help with the security, and they manage to keep the slow food line somewhat orderly.

That's what friends are for: Terrance Roberts (left), Traci Grilley, Dan and Stephanie Jeune, Merlie Walters Meis and Lee Ramirez in Denver a few days before departure.
Mark Manger
That's what friends are for: Terrance Roberts (left), Traci Grilley, Dan and Stephanie Jeune, Merlie Walters Meis and Lee Ramirez in Denver a few days before departure.
Like father, like son: Dan and Joel Jeune at the guest house in Haiti.
Like father, like son: Dan and Joel Jeune at the guest house in Haiti.

But the toy line is another story.

The ICOF team has helped to package up the brown bags stuffed with cheap plastic balls or cars that you'd find at a dollar store. A few hold nicer stuffed animals donated by a church in Miami. With 10,000 kids and only 7,000 toys, the scams soon start. Big kids stealing from little kids. The "Hello My Name Is" stickers used as identifying "badges" for invited guests are stolen, too, then passed along.

As Dan tries to distribute sacks of toys from a big metal cage at the back of a truck, people keep sticking their hands in, begging and pleading, moaning in Creole. One woman snatches a toy from a child's hands and runs away, swinging her fists at the Boy Scouts who try to stop her. Before Dan can distribute all the toys, the driver fires up the truck and puts it behind a locked gate, to maintain order.

Although the toy giveaway is over, the children continue to run around the compound for several hours. Fights break out in the church.

The kitchen keeps serving long after the sun has set. Some kids probably sneak in more than one meal. Others won't get any at all.

After a week in Haiti, Traci witnessed a road-rage incident on Peña Boulevard. Just one side of Peña is at least triple the width of the road leading from the airport in Haiti, but somehow the drivers there keep it together. She didn't see a single accident.

"I highly recommend a trip like this to not only slow down your world, but to know what's out there," Traci says. "People don't understand, and I don't know if people want to understand. My reality is so limited to what's really out there. It gave me an appreciation for what I do have, for what I don't need. There are so many things in my life that I don't need. I don't need the newest Coach purse. I don't need the things I work for. There are people living in trash piles working all day to make $2, and we're sweating what lane you should be in."

Traci's response to the trip is all Dan had hoped it would be. She and her fellow travelers have vowed to keep working with ICOF, to continue helping out in Haiti and to recruit other members, too. Dan knows it won't be easy to convince people in this country to use their vacation time and money to travel to the Third World and live out of carry-on luggage on a religious compound where their main source of protein each day is one chicken leg. He knows that his parents would like him to move back to Haiti and join Bishop Joel in his good works there. But Dan's determined to make ICOF work. Already, the Denver chapter is subsidizing six kids at his father's school and five more in the village.

But it's not the scholarships, nor the 800 pounds of clothes, toys and school supplies they took to Haiti, nor the assistance the ICOF team provided at the Christmas party that was the most important part of the trip for Dan. Instead, it's the relationship that each member of the team has built with Haiti. Lee snapped about 500 photos on the trip — but he doesn't feel that he captured an accurate portrait of the situation there. Problem was, people smiled and posed for all the pictures. Most had never been photographed before. "Nobody would ever understand it unless you were there to see it, to see what it was like," he says. "The experience of the country and the culture and how they live, and just the comparison with what we have here. I wasn't able to define it, going to the village, going to the school, passing out school supplies. It wasn't narrowed down to one thing. It was the experience of seeing it, being immersed in it."

Merlie says that Haiti made her homeland of Costa Rica seem like a Second World country, even though it technically shares the Third World label with Haiti. "It opened my eyes to a whole new realm that existed, at least on this side of the world," she explains. "I knew there were people in Africa living in those conditions, but I didn't expect Haiti to be that bad."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help