She would often tap-tap-tap on the back screen door of the Bell Mission House built by my husband’s grandparents, where our family typically stayed. The first thing most people notice about Comère is she’s blind. Comère walked more than 5 miles from her home in Bahoncy beyond Fontaine in the northern mountains of Haiti. She would bring one of her six children to guide her steps on the dusty road to our house.
Part of her story that you might not guess is that Comère is a widow. Her husband died 9 years ago because of malnourishment and dehydration. Comère’s frail frame and gentle voice always stir up compassion in my heart.
In the early days, she would ask me for canned food to help feed her children. The cans were something they could carry on the long journey home to share with the others. I would dig through our cupboards and send home canned chicken or tuna, and sometimes tomato paste or soup with her. She would down a glass of water and squeeze my hand before she left.
I don’t remember exactly when I met Comère. In my 19 years of traveling and working in northern Haiti, she has shown up regularly. Somehow, she always knows when I am in town.
Widows in the country of Haiti are among the most vulnerable members of society. Comère is just one of many widows who struggle to survive. Many widows become homeless and outcasts when their husbands die. Few have extended family to care for them. While widows in the United States might have access to social security, life insurance, or death benefits, there are no government programs to provide for the needs of widows in Haiti.
When my husband Ericlee and I were first married, we talked a lot about God’s heart for the vulnerable. Our own hearts were especially burdened for the orphans in Haiti. I remember one summer we looked up all the verses in the Bible that talked about orphans. What I didn’t realize was important at the time is that most of the scriptures that talk about caring for the orphans also mention providing for widows.
It wasn’t until my husband soared to heaven in 2014 that I returned to the Bible to investigate these scriptures that express God’s heart for widows. As a newly-minted widow with three fatherless daughters, I wanted to remind myself what God said.
James, Jesus’ brother, describes it this way: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
I believe James exhortation is literal. God wants us to care for orphans, widows and the most vulnerable in our culture. Dozens of scriptures from the Old Testament to the New Testament show this heart.
This past July, my family traveled to Haiti again to visit friends and so I could speak at a women’s conference in the northern city of Pignon. While we were there, my long-time friend, Pastor Gerby, invited me to share at his country church in Fontaine. I delivered a message on the book of Ruth and how God sent His son as our ultimate kinsman-redeemer.
After service, I asked Pastor Gerby if I could meet some of the widows in his congregation. I was surprised when more than 20 women shuffled their way to the front of the church. They were a mix of ages – some had children or grandchildren, some did not. Several of them had been attending the church for years. My heart was overwhelmed as I realized almost 20 percent of the church was comprised of widows.
That Sunday morning, I got to hear the stories of several of these women. Their grief and loss was familiar, yet the struggles they faced were so different. Jobs were hard to come by. I learned the church fed them after service. For some, this might be the only full meal they would enjoy for several days. I prayed and wept over my widow sisters.
Sitting on the end of the front pew, was my friend Comère. After our time of sharing she rose, reached out for my hand, and clung to me. Pastor Gerby led us outside the church. He showed us the orphanage and school that were part of the campus. Then he began to illuminate his vision for building a Widows Home for these women in his church.
My heart was immediately moved by this vision. My new husband Shawn also felt the call to invest in this project. We were especially impressed by the idea that the local church was already moving. They were already feeding these women. Pastor Gerby also talked about how these women could be given jobs on the campus like serving lunches to the school children, helping in the orphanage, or beautifying the church. They would have a new sense of purpose and community.
I couldn’t help thinking about my own grief journey. After my husband’s death, I questioned my calling and my purpose. I stepped down from my work helping direct the non-profit we started in Haiti. I needed time to heal and navigate loss with my children.
Over these last five years, I’ve learned that there is profound purpose and healing in coming alongside others in their distress and grief. God has given me many opportunities to share my story and to journey with others who are grieving. As it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Now, I believe, He is opening the door for us to help build this home for widows in Haiti. Sometimes offering a helping hand can lead to our own healing journey.
Friends, we are inviting you to link arms with us today to raise up the Widows Home in Fontaine, Haiti through Haiti Gospel Outreach. We know many of us here in the United States have resources that can be used to help provide not just a house, but a home for these Haitian women. Every little bit counts. Our goal is to raise $15,000 by November 30, 2019. If you would like to give toward this project, you can donate here. Please include “Widows Home – Dorina” in the notes.