We attended an extra special occasion two Saturday’s ago. Emmanuel Joseph, the foreign exchange student our church has helped sponsor for five years, was graduating from Alice Lloyd!
It has been a very long journey….even from his birth. But this day….this spectacular day, he has achieved the unimaginable. He graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology-the unthinkable for a poor young man from Haiti. He is wrapped in his black gown with his graduation cap seated firmly on his head. His smile is as broad as his face can hold-no tooth is unseen. He is surrounded by his American family that has grown to love him so very much. Many hugs are shared and tears shed. There will be cake at church to celebrate his wonderful achievement.
His mother always told him he would do great things. That’s an enormous statement to tell a child in Haiti. We tell our American kids all the time that they are wonderful and they will do great things, but a mother in Haiti that envisions greatness in her destitute child is something great in itself.
Many years ago, Emmanuel’s mother, Elionne, gave birth to a son. She named him, Ledonair. She longed for more children but suffered greatly from repeated miscarriages. I was told that she also had two babies that died. After six failed pregnancies, it took such a toll on her mental state that it was well-known in the village of Ouanaminthe where she lived. One miscarriage can wreak havoc on your sanity and well-being. Six is hard to fathom. Missionaries came to Ouanaminthe and heard of Elionne‘s heart-wrenching story. They went to her tiny block house and asked to pray for her. She gladly accepted their offer. She also accepted Christ that day!
Much to Elionne‘s dismay, she became pregnant again very soon afterward. But, this time it was different. She carried the baby to term and he was as fine and healthy as he could be! She named him Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. Emmanuel was told practically from birth that he would do great things, that God had a plan for his life, that he was a miracle.
Emmanuel told me his story in 2009 when we first met. A group from our church was on a mission trip to Ouanaminthe. We had the privilege to meet “Mano” and his family for the first time at their home. Our church had agreed to sponsor him as he pursued a two-year degree at Big Sandy Community and Technical College. (He would live with our family in the parsonage.) We knew beyond a doubt that it was what God was leading us to do. Our church had agreed, before even meeting him, that we would treat him as a son and not as a foreign exchange student. His family was trusting that we would care for him and help him with his education. (Whew! That’s a lot of responsibility!)
Mano was thrilled to show us his room that day. He showed us his small bookshelf filled to the brim and wanted us to take a picture of him reading on his bed. As we filed into the room eager to learn as much as we could about our new son, I noticed a Martin Luther King, Jr. poster on his wall. There was no plumbing and no electricity in the house. No one spoke English except Emmanuel. He was unconcerned…only excited on meeting his new church family. Many pictures were taken that day. Several were with his mother. Surely she was nervous at meeting us. She had welcomed us into her home as all the neighbors watched. Emmanuel, her special son, was going to America! I wonder what was going through her mind!
We have been so blessed to have Emmanuel in our lives! From the president of BSCTC, the provost and professors, to our precious church members, so many have worked to aid him in his quest for a college education! And he has touched so many lives on his way!
After two years at Big Sandy, and living with us, an amazing couple stepped up to sponsor him as he pursued an Associate’s Degree. Against ridiculous odds, they secured a place for Emmanuel at Alice Lloyd. They have loved him beyond measure, going extra miles-literally-in helping him realize his dream. While at ALC, Mano has enjoyed the college life and has been involved with the Voices of Appalachia. They have sung all over and traveled to so many places! This year they went all the way to Disney World!
He leaves soon to return to Haiti where he has a commitment to teach at the school that helped him on his road to college.
During the past five years, Emmanuel’s mother has continued to have tragic mental and health problems, digressing rapidly. In a third world country, where medicine and treatment are hard to come by, it has been brutal for her and her family. So many times they were simply unable to help her, yet stayed with her as she suffered.
As Emmanuel crossed the stage to receive his diploma, he surely thought of his mother who had told him he would do great things. She had told him he was a miracle and that God had a plan for his life. This was the day they had dreamed of!
She died three days before Emmanuel’s graduation.