It seems to me, the past few weeks, I’ve only had conversations about the past. I find it to be very interesting, because it keeps on happening with almost everyone I’ve spoken to. Maybe it was not a coincidence that it kept on happening. Throughout my life, I have met a lot of people with difficult pasts. Some get over it, and some can never move on. Here’s what I believe: the past is the past and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s called the past for a reason, and that reason is because we can’t go back. I can only do something about the present. I can plan for the future, but it is not at my command. Planning for the future is great, but I can’t plan it step by step. If I could do that, I would be God. I am pretty sure you’ve heard all these things before, but most of us still dwell in the past. In life, sometimes it does not matter how many times something keeps on happening. We still end up doing the same things. It’s not that we haven’t learned anything; I believe we’re just human!
When we look at the past and learn about the Israelites, we think they were very stubborn. We asked ourselves, “Why would they keep on doing the same thing over and over again?” They saw God in some physical ways that no other nations on earth had ever seen. But still, they did not learn anything. They were human, just like us. They wanted things their own way. We do the same. We want to see if we can fix the past ourselves. And at times, we don’t think we need God. The truth is, we always need God. God is in the past, present, and the future!
Many of you know that I was adopted from Haiti. I was not the only one. There were over a hundred kids who came here with me, and over a hundred before I came. When a native leaves Haiti, everyone there always thinks that life will be easy for them, the moment they step foot in the U.S. You and I both know it is not that easy. The thing is, poor or not poor, we have a past, and sometimes that past is what defines us. To me, one of the most beautiful things in life is that God gave us choices. Your past can be very beautiful or very dark, but you still have a choice to make. Are you going to let it take over, or are YOU going to take charge?
My very good friend from Haiti came to the States two months after my arrival. We had both been in the orphanage for almost six years. Our pasts were different before we got into the orphanage. I don’t think he went to school at all before he got there, he lived in the province (the country side), and he had never been in the city. In contrast, I was born and lived in the capital of Haiti my whole life. Before the death of my father in 2001, I went to school and was a very successful student. I was disciplined when my dad was around. Everything was great until he passed. My mother did not have the money my dad had, and things got very bad for us. I was out in the streets stealing from people and doing whatever it takes to live. I spent three years of my life in voodoo, because my grandfather was a voodoo priest. I was destined to take his place, because his children were not interested at the time. Fast forward nine years after the 2010 earthquake: My friends and I both are living in the U.S. as young adults. Just to be clear, I am not comparing us. I am no better than he as a person. I am simply saying that our choices on how we deal with the past shape who we are today.
Anyway, while in the U.S., he had great parents who loved him dearly. I mean, they would do anything for him to be successful. His school and everything was paid for. All he had left was to do his part, which was go to school. Meanwhile, for me the home life was not the same. So, I decided to leave home after my senior year in high school. This is what I told my mother, before I left the house, “I am very grateful for what you have done for me, I would not be where I am today without you. I thank God for you and I love you. The thing is, it is not good for me to stay here because it is unhealthy. Things are out of control and I know you guys are very unhappy with me, and I am very unhappy as well. In the coming weeks, I’m going to live with a friend. Thank you for everything you have done for me, but it is best that I no longer live here!”
By the grace of God, I turned out okay! I ended up going to school, because a great friend paid for my education. Now I have the job of my dreams. I could not be happier doing anything else. As for my friend, he has been in a dark place for the past four years. He did not finish college, jobs are not stable, and he’s not “there” mentally. Again, I am no better than he, because of what’s been happening in our lives. If you were to sit next to us and have an interview, you would find that our attitudes about the past are what makes us so different. He and I had many conversations about our past. I love him dearly, and he has my respect. I am sure that he views me the same way. We will always be brothers because of the orphanage. My main problem with him is, he blames the past for everything. He would tell you, “I am the way I am today because of the past. I had no education growing up. I saw my mother die, and I spent years thinking that I was nothing. I don’t know what real love is.” The truth is, we both went through those things. My dad died when I was seven, and I spent some years without education. Another thing we don’t agree upon is dealing with the history of this country. He talks about slavery and segregation. He thinks that has had an effect on him! According to his words, “White people take over, and they control everything. We don’t have the same chances, and we can’t go forward and become something because of what they have done to black people.”
To be honest, as a black man, I agree with some of what he has to say about the way things are in the U.S., when it comes to race. With that said, we’re no longer in the past, and somethings are better today. It is still difficult for minorities, but that should not stop us from becoming something. A lot of minorities make it because they have the desire to work hard! A fellow student once told me the same thing as my friend did about “white people being in control of everything.” Truth is, that same person used to smoke weed and get high at least three times a week. He was barely in class! He has no one to blame but himself in the future.
I know that African Americans here view me quite differently than themselves. When I go play pick-up games at the YMCA, or any other places, black people never really accept me. They always ask me, “Where are you from?” the moment they hear me speak and, all of a sudden, I am the last pick. When the game starts, I don’t usually get the ball. When I was in high school, I did not have any black friends, except the kids who came here from Haiti and a kid from Africa. I used to be mad because the black culture here never accepted me, since I was not born here, and the fact that I was with white people all the time. The truth is, now I know who I am in Christ. I don’t need any race, or ethnic group of people to accept me or to tell me who I am.
My friend, on the other hand, was accepted by the African American community. Most of his friends are black, and most of them are doing drugs. (They were what you call, “the cool kids” at school.) And now, let’s go back to the “white people thing”. Both of our families here are white. Is that not something to think about? He keeps on dwelling on the past and forgets who God used to bring him here. I’ve told him this, “I am not saying that you go and worship your parents, but you need to be thankful. From the moment you got here, they have shown you nothing but love. These people would do anything for you, and they are doing their best to give you an education, teaching you how to be a man, but you can’t see that. Why? Because your friends are telling you about all the things the white men did. What about the ones who did not know you and did not owe you anything, but they got on a plane and went to Haiti to pick you up? They gave you their last name. That is real love, and you’ve been experiencing it from the moment you landed here.”
Truth is, I know many kids in Haiti who did not get the chance to come to the U.S. They are men now, and it is very sad for me to see them when I’m there. We’re the same age, but we couldn’t be more different. Again, I am no better than they, but I am blessed to be where I am. The thing is, I always think about them and put them in my friend’s situation. Would they do the same and focus on the past like he has? I don’t know the answer to that question; only God knows. Someone once asked me, “Why don’t you get rid of the name Leyendeckers?” I said, “I can never do that because, with God’s help, they brought me to this country. I owe them my respect, even when we don’t see eye to eye.” I know what my personal past was like, and I have some knowledge as to what the past was like in the U.S., but I can’t let that hold me from becoming who God called me to be. The past is the past, and there’s nothing that I can do now to change it. I can only focus on what is happening now. Besides our differences, my family here loves me, and my Haitian family loves me. So, it is my duty to love them as well. I must respect my parents, I must honor them, and I must do what would make them happy … because I am their kid. I love and respect my last name because it represents them, and not the past or what people have done. But most importantly, I respect them because that is what God calls us to do as children. The past is history. What do we do with history? We learn about it and see where we can improve. It’s very simple, but it is the same thing with our lives. We must make improvement and move forward. It is not easy, because we’re human, but by putting God first, everything is possible!
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give glory, for the sake of Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness!”
(Kenlley Leyendeckers is a Haitian native, who was adopted by American parents at the age of thirteen. As a young boy, living in an orphanage there, he had met missionaries who inspired a growing vision within him. He knew he wanted to help bring hope to the children around him. The 2010 Earthquake precipitated his father’s going to Haiti to escort him to America. He quickly adapted to the American language and culture, graduating from high school and attending college. He is now the associate director of Mercy International.)