This is one in a series of posts about my recent trip to Jacmel, Haiti, where I spent a week at Faith Orphanage.

January 3rd, 2010, was the first time I met Jameley (pronounced Jehm-lee) Destine. I knew from the moment I saw him that he was going to change my life. His smile was enough to make me melt; though, now that I think back, the blazing Haitian sun could have played a part in that as well.

My first trip to Haiti was good and the two of us created a bond; as much of a bond as you can create with a 3 or 4-year old boy that doesn’t speak any English and rarely wears pants. I decided we’d sponsor him and when I got home we printed a picture of him and added him to our family. I wish I could say we prayed for him every day or at least that I prayed for him every day. Sadly, I can’t. Whenever I remembered, I’d pray, “Lord, keep Jameley safe and healthy and help him to sleep well and to have a good day tomorrow.” About as general as you can get. So, I was pretty nervous heading back this year, wondering how it would go. Would he remember me? Would we be starting over? Would he have created deeper bonds with someone else?

My answers came quickly. When we arrived at the orphanage a couple weeks ago, it was as if I had never left. I got off the bus and a bunch of the kids were yelling, “Pastor Ryan!” Then, the next moment they were grabbing my hand and pulling me toward another area of the orphanage while pointing and saying, “Jameley!” They knew. Finally, there he was, smiling just as wide and as bright as ever. He ran to me and we hugged and the music swelled and the audience cried. It was great.

From that point on, we were nearly inseparable (much to the relief of the rest of the team; I’ll explain later). One of the first things I noticed, though, was how possessive of me he was. Many of the kids were infatuated with my left arm and wanted to look at it and touch it. Jameley was not ok with this. He yelled at them and swatted them away, a little scowl on his face. He was mad, but seemed really concerned about me, too. And sad. Finally it dawned on me that he might think I’m hurt! I asked Wakendy to see if Jameley thought I was hurt. He asked and Jameley quietly said, “Oui.” Poor little guy! Wakendy relayed that I was not hurt and that I was, in fact, completely healthy.

That was just the first of many instances where Jameley cared for me. On movie night all the kids were in the “dining hall” watching “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” so I stepped inside to take a look. A minute later, from across the room, I heard a voice yell, “Ryan! Ryan!” Then a tiny shadow ran at me and grabbed my hand. Jameley pulled me all the way up front, wiped off a seat for me, and sat me down. Then he climbed up on my lap and we watched until he fell asleep in my arms. Adorable, right?

Another time, we were all getting sandwiches for lunch and Jameley grabbed one for me and brought it to me. He decided it was too crowded for me to have a good seat in the dining hall, so he pulled me over to another shelter and had me sit with a couple of my other friends. He made them scoot closer together so I had more room. Then, he stole one of their plates to cover my sandwich so flies wouldn’t land on it. I’m telling you, he took amazing care of me!

The kid is hilarious, too. One night some of the girls were singing and all of a sudden he just starts screaming. And I mean, it was loud. Then, as I listened a little more intently trying to figure out what his deal was, I realized what he was doing. He was singing along! He knew he was being hilarious, too. My friend Mitch and I had sore ribs from laughing so hard. Besides singing, he loves to dance. He hams it up pretty good, too.

Now, another thing about Jameley is that when he has a meltdown, he has a meltdown. If he doesn’t get what he wants, he literally goes limp, falls to the ground, and then starts screaming and flailing around. He kicks his shoes off and throws them and whatever else is near. It’s at this point that I get up and walk away. And I never feel bad about it. If he had a room, I’d send him to it. The other thing is, even though he’s hilarious and adorable and everybody loves him…he can be equally annoying. The tantrums are one thing, but he also just gets into everything and causes a lot of trouble. That’s why I said earlier that the rest of the team was glad he stuck with me the whole time. I’ll even admit that there were times I took back-channels through the orphanage grounds so he wouldn’t see me! As soon as he saw me, he ran to me. Sometimes that was great and other times…not so much.

It speaks to a simple fact all parents know about: sometimes you don’t want to be around your kids. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But it’s true. We love them and that will never ever change, but sometimes we need a break. And it was like that with Jameley. It felt like he really was one of my own kids.

Another thing that really hit me during my time with him is that he is going to be a person of influence. I mean, he already is a person of influence and he’s only five! This kid is going to grow up and affect a lot of people; I truly believe that. At church on Sunday, the pastor had Jameley come up to the front and he was talking to him in Kreole, so I didn’t really understand what he was saying, but Jameley would smile his famous smile and everybody would laugh. Then pastor said something else and Jameley made a sad face, holding back a little grin, and everybody laughed harder. The kid had control of the room. Everybody is under his spell.

Because of this, my prayers for him have become more specific and purposeful. I somewhat jokingly said to my trip-mates, “This kid is going to change the world and I need to start praying now that he uses his influence for good and not for evil. Because, honestly, ‘for evil’ is still a very likely possibility.” I really believe that. So, in addition to his safety and health, I now pray for his current and future influence. I pray that his heart stays tender and compassionate and that he becomes a strong leader who will change people and, ultimately, the world.

He’s already changed my world; for good and not for evil.