The Sleepover

Posted Nov 20, 2009 by 8 Comments

Whenever one of World Next Door’s journalists is “embedded” in an organization or ministry, we attempt to find the answers to two questions.  One, what is life really like there? And two, what is God doing there?

To help me answer those questions on this trip to Haiti, I decided to spend the night in the Nehemiah Vision Ministry orphanage in the village of Chambrun.  I wanted to sleep in the tiny three room house to get a sense of what life is really like for the orphans living there.

This sign is a symbol of hope for the orphans who live here.

This sign is a symbol of hope for the orphans who live here.

I knew that it would be hot and uncomfortable.  I knew that I would have no way to communicate with the kids or house-mothers, who speak only Creole.  And I knew that, with the soft spot in my heart for kids, it would be an emotionally challenging time.  But I still really wanted to do it…

A standard mud hut in the village of Chambrun.

A standard mud hut in the village of Chambrun.

So, as the sun set behind the mountains, Pastor Pierre and I headed for the orphanage.

As we drove into the village, I thought about the things I had learned during our visit the day before.  Chambrun is extremely impoverished. The average income in there is $100 a year.

With such pervasive poverty, things like absentee dads, unprotected sex and disease, many children are left to fend for themselves.  In fact, there are around 40 orphans in Chambrun alone, but NVM only has the capacity to take care of eight.

We walked through the gate and into the orphanage property.  Sitting on the porch were eight adorable little ones, practically bouncing up and down with excitement.  This was the first time anyone had ever slept over like this before.

Fedlene, abandoned by her parents and left for dead, now alive and well!

Fedlene, abandoned by her parents and left for dead, now alive and well!

After setting up my cot, I sat on a bench on the front porch of the orphanage building.  All the kids crowded around me.  Laughing and giggling, they touched my hair, pulled my clothes, rubbed my arms…

Sweating because of the heat, I laughed thinking, “this has got to be the only place in the world where kids will actually want to rub someone’s sweaty, hairy forearms!”

Eventually, the kids began to settle down.  A couple of them crawled up into my lap, the rest sat around me, and as the village around us became still, the orphans began to sing.  (Click here to hear one of their songs!)

It was an incredibly beautiful and tender moment for me.  Here I was, surrounded by fatherless and motherless children who were thrilled and excited simply to be close to me.  To feel my presence.

Eventually, it was time for bed.  The kids ran off to their rooms: boys in one room, girls in another.  I walked in, gave them all high fives, and said goodnight.

The girls' room at the orphanage.

The girls' room at the orphanage.

Before crawling into bed myself, I decided to journal and process a bit of what I was thinking and feeling.  Writing by the dim light of a lantern, I realized that my heart was moved most by these kids’ incredibly strong need for physical affection.

They weren’t just crowding around me and rubbing my arms because they wanted to goof off.  They were doing it because they are rarely ever that close to an adult.

With no father to carry them on his shoulders, with no mother to rock them to sleep, these beautiful children were not getting the physical touch they so desperately need…

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of little girls talking quietly in the other room.  The sun had just risen, and I was drenched in sweat from the hot and humid air.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and realized that a couple of the girls had started sneaking down the hallway to see if I was awake.  I sat up and said, “bonjou!” (“good morning” in Creole).

Within seconds all eight orphans were standing around my cot, their bright eyes checking to see if I had, indeed, survived the night.

The rest of the morning was spent largely the same way as the night before.  We sat around, played a few games, sang songs… When the kids realized that my camera could take video, they all wanted to sing and dance to see themselves on the little screen.

Finally, it was time for me to leave, and also to receive the hardest lesson yet.

I put on my backpack, walked onto the front porch, and knelt down with my arms wide.  “Bye guys!  Can I have a hug?”

Davidson.  What a great smile!

Davidson. What a great smile!

I knew they didn’t understand what I was saying, but I figured that the obvious body language of welcoming arms would give them the right idea.  I was mistaken.  They just stood there, looking at me with quizzical expressions on their faces.

I didn’t want to be left hanging, so I gently grabbed a couple of the kids and held them close.  Then, I opened my arms again and reached out to Mitanise.  With a big sweet smile on her face, she walked over to me and fell backwards into my arms.

I hugged her for a few seconds, and then stood up.  The rest of the kids were still looking at me like I was playing some sort of game.  The half smiles on their faces and questioning looks in their eyes revealed to me the heart-breaking truth.

Mitanese, willing to try out hugging, even if she didn't know what it meant.

Mitanese, willing to try out hugging, even if she didn't know what it meant.

They didn’t know how to hug…

This realization shook me up.  The whole drive back into town, I mulled over what I had just learned.  They didn’t know how to hug.

How many times have I been hugged by my parents?  How many times have I been hugged by my sister?  My grandparents?  My friends?

The answer?  Too many to count.

I have been extraordinarily blessed by parents that care for me and by a loving home to grow up in.  These orphans have never had that.

Thankfully, Nehemiah Vision Ministries is there, giving these incredible kids a second chance.  This orphanage may not be able to help all 40 orphans in Chambrun, but it is helping eight.

With a house mother, a safe environment and three square meals a day, these children have advocates fighting on their side.  Many of them have sponsors in the U.S. who provide them with the opportunity to go to school.

Because of NVM, these kids are now in a place where maybe, just maybe, they’ll learn what it means to hug…

Thanks, kids, for an unforgettable sleepover!

Thanks, kids, for an unforgettable sleepover!

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Next Steps
    • Sponsor a NVM child for just $40 a month! Click here.
    • Financially support the work of NVM. Click here.
    • Go to Haiti yourself! Check out NVM’s upcoming trips here.
    • Pray for the work of Nehemiah Vision Ministries. Pray that they would continue to have great success in bringing hope, life and a future to the people of Chambrun!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Carrie said... 


    November 20th, 2009 at 1:36 pm  

    This breaks my heart. Even though I heard you tell this story, your words here, along with the pictures and video, bring tears to my eyes. Wow. Thanks.

  2. Rick Radcliff said... 


    November 20th, 2009 at 5:17 pm  

    Another great shot of Widley! Thanks again for going to NVM, furthering God’s kingdom and helping the poor.

  3. Aaron said... 


    November 20th, 2009 at 5:45 pm  

    The audio of the kids singing is spot on, straight from heaven. I wish I could go back and hang out with those amazing kids some more!

  4. Leah said... 


    November 21st, 2009 at 7:03 pm  

    you hit my soft spot… I want to adopt them ALL… I don’t know that Noah will go for it, but thanks for sharing the story, Barry!

  5. Nick said... 


    November 23rd, 2009 at 2:06 am  

    Inspiring is the only word I can come up with. Such a lovely family of 8, I hope something will be done also for the rest who are not under NVM so that they too can have a chance to live a good life and access good education. We might not choose the circumstances and places where we are born, but we can sure change our destiny. God bless WND

  6. Jim M said... 


    November 24th, 2009 at 9:22 pm  

    Barry, What happens to the other 32 orphans? Where do they find help?

  7. Barry Rodriguez said... 


    November 26th, 2009 at 5:58 pm  


    As far as I know, several of the other orphans in Chambrun are involved at the NVM school, and those with extended families are being helped through the feeding program and health clinic.

    If you are interested in helping personally, there are ways to support NVM through their website:

    Or, if you would like to find out more about their long-term plans for work with the village’s many orphans, feel free to contact them directly.

    My hope and prayer is that, as NVM continues to break the cycle of poverty in Chambrun, there will be more loving homes for the orphans and, even better, fewer orphans to begin with!

    Thanks for your comment!

  8. Steve H. said... 


    March 8th, 2010 at 1:27 pm  

    I have to stop reading these at work…they rip me up!

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