Four Generations – Welcome, Jonah Steele!

One of my first tasks was to reacquaint myself with the stories that Haitian Christian Outreach has accumulated over the years. Looking through photos, videos, and blogs, I found something that I wrote during a summer internship eight years ago:

“My grandpa once told me that Kapotier is the place in Haiti where he felt God the most. I would have to agree; it’s hard not to fall in love with the natural beauty all around you. But no matter how beautiful your surroundings are, you can’t help but notice the brokenness as you bounce around in the Land Cruiser on the way up the mountain. Undernourished children, dilapidated homes, inadequate infrastructure – the signs of poverty are everywhere. The strangest part about taking a trip up to Kapotier is the contrast between the intensely beautiful landscape and the intensely broken community.”

Jonah Steele, HCO Blog July 2016

That tension stays with you. As best I can describe it, every experience you have in Haiti feels a little like you’re stealing something. No matter how hard you try to give of yourself, your energy, your resources, you still come home feeling like you’ve been changed more than any of the wonderful people who you’ve met. I’ve heard similar feelings shared by many, many visitors at evening devotionals in the gazebo. 

I remember the first time I came to Haiti. It was 2011, and I was a middle schooler tagging along with my dad and a team from our church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Driving through Port-au-Prince, we saw the lingering effects of the earthquake all around us. I don’t think I had the experience or tools to really understand the scale of what I was seeing back then, and I don’t think I would even now.

I remember the second time I came to Haiti back in 2015 with a crew from our church in Zanesville, Ohio. We stayed in Peredo, working on the in-progress hospital building and traveling to schools to meet children, teach some hygiene skills, and worship with them. We had skilled medical folks, skilled tradespeople, and everything in between. 

I remember the third time, as an intern with Allison, Faith, and Kara. And I remember the fourth time, as the (way too young) lead intern with Corey, Crysta, and Elaine. There are too many stories to tell about my time with these wonderful people, and I think now I’d ask for their forgiveness before I’d ask how they’ve been!

As I’ve grown up, finished seminary, got married, had a baby–as I’ve lived my life, I still cherish memories like those trips up to Kapotier, where we always stopped for warm bread halfway up and scrambled around the rocks by the water after church. I especially cherish the relationships that remain frozen in time for me (due to my own neglect and the pace of young adulthood). But those people are not frozen in time. I came home; my friends stayed home. I came back to all the privileges and comforts of my life, and they continued on through the challenges of theirs. That tension has never left me. I hope it never does.

Jonah and his wife Charli Steele

I know I’m not alone with this feeling: Haiti and HCO have left such a mark on my family that I’m now the fourth generation to be involved with the work. RoRo likes to remind me that there’a a school cafeteria with my Great Grandma Virginia’s name on it in Port-au-Prince. Going down the line: My grandpa David sat on the board, and my own dad, Chris, is the current Chairman. My whole family traveled to Haiti together in 2015. My sister-in-law Lizzy spent a summer in Peredo. It’s part of us, and I’m certain that all of my family members would echo me in saying that our time in Haiti and our relationship with the mission has changed each of us more than anything it’s done for our Haitian brothers and sisters. The Steele family is thankful to have been invited into this work–even though it always feels like we’re getting more than we put in.

Jonah, his younger brother Levi, his mom Tonya, and his dad Chris Steele

I now take my turn, and I am thrilled that I’ve been invited to serve on the team. 

The ongoing work of HCO’s churches, schools, medical facilities, and every piece of the puzzle that I don’t even know about–it all continues whether the stateside team is able to visit the country or not. We (and you!) are partners and supporters of God’s work through his people who live in Haiti. This isn’t our mission, and it never has been. If we’re being honest, it’s never been the Eustache’s either. They have (by a longshot) put the most blood, sweat, and tears into this, but I’m pretty confident they would tell you the same thing: the only reason that HCO is able to do something in Haiti that will last is because we are all partners and supporters in God’s work.

There is a scene in Luke’s gospel where Jesus stands up in front of his home synagogue, and he reads from their Isaiah scroll. 

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners     and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21

We come to find out in the rest of Luke and later in Acts that this mission is something Jesus invites his church into. Stepping into this role, I am grateful and excited (and not a little bit nervous) to join HCO in working toward Jesus’ vision.

Jonah Steele

Program Coordinator, Haitian Christian Outreach