An Open Letter. Around 3:30 AM on March 29, I received the call from my younger sister in Houston that my mother (a three-time cancer survivor) had accidentally overdosed on Oxycontin. It set the tone for a difficult day but a transformative 99 days.
Letter No. 849 is the first free newsletter in many weeks; the last was sent on March 28 as I was trying to then-balance a period of self-reflection with the work that 2PM was known to publish. I realized that I couldn’t really do both at once. So with the support of 2PM’s small team and my family, I mostly stepped away to focus on my spiritual life. No. 849 is the first one published since my return from a missionary trip with my wife Lindsey – where we served Haitian immigrants and poor citizens in the Dominican city of Santiago.
When you receive the message that I did from a younger sibling, it can be disorienting. Within hours of that early morning call: the day presented more, acute challenges. But while it was difficult to experience, I was grateful that over the previous months – I’d spent so much time working on my mental health and spiritual priorities. I spent an extraordinary amount of time reassessing how I lived my life. A few weeks later, we saw an opportunity and jumped at it.
It was on our way home from my younger brother’s wedding that Lindsey and I decided to commit to work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as we flew over the island of Hispaniola to get back home. We filled out the paperwork and committed financially while flying over the island of Hispaniola on a connecting flight to Atlanta.
And then one day I decided to take what was left and support a missionary trip to help Haitians in limbo as their country’s political environment presented an instability so severe that Americans cannot legally travel into the country of Haiti.
That early morning March 29 phone call from my sister was a reminder that life can be volatile and unpredictable. For me, it was yet another reminder that I wasn’t yet who I wanted to be.
That day, I voluntarily paused the one growth engine for 2PM: the Monday Letters even as churn spiked and the business struggled. And instead of spending days that had been devoted to professional study, consulting and writing – I spent that time focusing on servitude. Before making the decision to do international missionary work, I had been involved with small, local efforts around the Midwest and South. But on that plane flight, I decided to take what was left in my personal account and support a missionary trip. I am not sure why we were called to help Haitians but I knew that the problem was vast and personal to us. I am grateful that we followed through because it changed so much within me.
Lindsey and I worked with the Mission of Hope. In high school and early college, she did missionary work with them in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For nearly 17 years, we donated to the organization to help young Haitian children through grammar school. It was a natural fit and so we just went for it. During my time there, the perspectives that I formerly criticized her for, throughout our 17 years, became one that I became obsessed with honoring. She’s pious and graceful. She’s a natural empath. She’s really, really, really good at leading people by serving them and saying nothing at all. Whether a child or adult, she maintained a magnetism that reminded people of the hope that they should maintain for themselves. Over the 17 years, I often minimized the importance of work like this. She maintained the spirit of it no matter what profession she was in. She succeeded in her professional work without ever losing the side of her that a new generation of Haitian children got to observe for themselves in the early 2000s.
To me – the Mission of Hope staff, the interns, and even the brilliant Haitian translators were younger versions of her. They were each exceptional, whether 19 or 28. And for me, I found myself in an interesting juxtaposition. I am deeply flawed; I have never been pious like her (though I strive to be). Though it was my idea to pause our lives to take the leap towards international missionary work, I was not the person who pattern-matched as the type to commit to that level of service. But I felt called to do so for some reason.
And while there, I found myself at an interesting bridge between two worlds (the pious and the worldly). We’d sit in living rooms and talk to people who wanted nothing to do with missionaries or faith or simple help. I saw myself in those women and men. Until months ago, I was them and I would have acted in disgust as someone tried to help me. I do hope that my relatability made it easier for them to connect.
There’s this idea that only the best of us can be used for good. And in ways, I represented the worst. Yet, I still found myself useful and that provided me a lot of hope. The impact of that feeling was profound; I wish that everyone could understand it. In fact, I am devoting a lot of my life to try to make that a reality.
In our time there, we saw so much pain, poverty, and sadness. While we slept, ate, and worked on the makeshift campus at Hogar de Alabanzas: we were under protection of a rotation of armed guards. Far from the appeal of Punta Cana, it was the part of the country that Americans usually avoid. It was a necessary place to be and the people that we encountered were welcoming. The mission cared for the lowliest of the Dominican citizens. Many had no running water, food, unstable shelter, and close to no opportunity. The mission also continued to care for the many Haitians who fled their own country in search of the opportunities that are so abundant in countries like the United States. Americans were not legally allowed to be in Haiti; travel there required either diplomacy or secrecy. The Haitian translators crossed the border to visit their families every four to six months – they strongly discouraged Americans from following suit.
The Haitian children that we worked with were bright and energetic. They would succeed in the United States if our government allowed them to be here. The Haitian translators that we worked with, men like Vadson, Christian, and J.J. blew me away with their talents, charisma and superior intellect. It was customary for them to maintain fluency in four languages. One of the youngest of them, Vadson, was so knowledgeable in the world of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency that I am almost certain he could achieve an ascendant life in a city as competitive as New York City. But it’s more likely than not that these opportunities will not present themselves to them. And because of that, I am committed to helping anyone who can survive that place find a way to thrive in another.
It is awkward to highlight matters of faith, hope, and love on a platform that has been devoid of it. I can admit that 2PM’s commentary can be robotic or hyper-focused on capitalistic principles. I’ve purposely focused 2PM’s energy on the business principles required to operate in an ever-changing space. So, I came to the conclusion that this sort of commentary belongs here because this type of work will remain a part of my motivation to see this platform grow. My hope is that the work that I do for 2PM will fuel that purpose and my hope is that it becomes an even better product as a result.
If you have read this far, our time there re-enforced within me that hope may be the most powerful force there is. Yes, it is intangible but it attracts tangible resources. It even pulls someone like me to do meaningful work.
The experience that we just returned home from was the result of months and months of self-reflection and countless hours of processing outward and inward criticism. One of these criticisms remained at the top of my mind. I am not the leader that I envisioned I’d be. Right now, I am focused on trying to serve. These are the moments that touched my heart and reminded me of who I wanted to become.
There’s a quote that has been bouncing around my head for a few decades. I never thought I’d have a reason to apply it to my own life again. It’s from Isaiah chapter six and verse eight:
Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
The trip was physically and emotionally difficult. Nights were harder than the days. Drinkable water was a luxury and maintaining one’s health was a gift. But there, I have never felt more joy – just by doing what I should have been doing all along. I am going to try harder to live this way, whether in leadership or servitude. I prefer the latter.
By Web Smith | Art by Alex Remy