The darkest part of the night always has the hope of the morning. I feel that way today about my Papillon. This year has been hard in every way. While sales continue to be good, setbacks, personal relationships, hurricanes, unexpected expenses and having to grow up into a real company have made this year a tough one financially. We ended the year in more debt that we were comfortable with.
The year in Haiti always ends paradoxically with the best sales, but with a looming state-required bonus month’s pay for all of our workers. It makes it feel insurmountable to get everyone paid. As much as we plan for it, and anticipate it all year long, we can never get it together enough to have money in the bank to afford it. It is a struggle every year. This year was no different, but was harder than we anticipated. It is now January 15 and we have not been able to pay everyone for December yet. We can’t ask the day workers to come back to work because we have no money to pay them, and so we are relying on a small core of salaried staff to make all of our products until we get caught up.
The message has been hard to hear for our workers.
Several of them have lost homes, their kids won’t be going to school in January. Some of them are showing signs of malnutrition and the stressful toll is visible on their faces. I couldn’t go out on the street this week because of it. They were waiting for me. Wanting to beg, to plead for work. And yet my hands are tied. The math just doesn’t add up. I can’t pay people with money that I don’t have.
This morning they knew I was leaving to fly back. Almost all of the day workers showed up and crowded the artisans center. Sonia, who was working in my house, approached me and warned me that there was a small riot with the workers at the main house and to be careful when I left. I asked them what they wanted. They all wanted to talk to me, Sonia told me.
I knew I couldn’t just sneak out of the house and leave my people hanging. It didn’t feel particularly safe to walk into a crowd of angry workers who felt like I had abandoned them in their need, but I knew it was the right thing to do to show my face and try to explain myself.
I walked up the small pathway to the main house where I could hear the noise. I rounded the corner to a mob of 100 familiar faces. They were yelling. Junior was yelling back. They were threatening to take us to court. They were threatening to get a lawyer. Junior was explaining that we were doing everything we could according to the law and that if they wanted to quit, we would offer severance pay, but for right now, we just didn’t have the work for our day workers to come every day.
Time stood still for a minute.
The yelling continued.
I looked at each of their faces. One was a father of four. His anger stems from his kids not having eaten for a day and a half. Another is a single mother of three, whose oldest son will not be able to finish the tenth grade this year because of the setback. Another has a sick child and doesn’t have the money to take her to the doctor. Their needs are real. They feel the weight of it all and are desparate. They know that they just need steady work. I could give them a handout today (if I had any money) but tomorrow they would be no better off.
I stepped into the crowd as it calmed down a bit and asked if I could say something.
They all pleaded with me to speak and tell them what is going on. They needed to hear words of hope.
I explained how there was no money to bring them back, just yet, and I told them I am working hard to promote more sales and get more buyers. I asked them if they could just hang in with me for a few more weeks to see what I can do. I told them I could see their struggle. I reminded them that my whole reason for being in Haiti was for them- for jobs for them. The pressure and the struggle got to me.
I started to cry.
They started to cry. The anger dissolved. The tears flowed.
We are all in this together. It is my heart for them to have what they need.
“God has always been at the center of Papillon.” I said. “Who knew you could come in to a country- pick up the trash- an empty cereal box, and create economies and livelihoods for people out of the trash.” “What about the dirt?” I continued. “Who knew we could make such beautiful ceramic necklaces and mugs out of the dirt? Only God can do that.” I said. “He has always been the reason we are successful. And he cares about you so much. And he cares about your children more than you do.”
They nodded in agreement, tears still flowing.
God has always been with the poor. And he is with Papillon. And He will continue to be.
I asked them to pray.
A song erupted. A hymn of praise went up as they all stood together and thanked God for his blessing.
“He never forgets us.” They sang.
And then they prayed. A deep groaning prayer of blessing over Papillon and the workers and for more business and jobs. It was a long and fervent prayer led by one of the women in our group.
When it was over, I opened my eyes to big smiles. One by one, they came up to me and hugged me with bear hugs. I was covered in sweat by the end of a hundred hugs from workers who had been waiting in the sun all morning to see me. It was the best feeling in the world.
They left content. They left satisfied- for now.
Tomorrow they will wake up with the same challenges. It is only a matter of time until things get critical.
Now it is on me to do my job well and get new clients to help turn the tide.
As I step onto the airplane to go back, the burden is heavy. But I know my God is bigger and he cares a whole lot more than I even have. So I can’t wait to see what he does.
Will you join me in watching HIS story of LOVE for the poor unfold?
The prayers of the poor went up today. Stay tuned as He starts to move.