Endless points of light reached into the night sky as the jet plane approached the city. Breathlessly, the young boy peered from his window seat, the shimmer in the distance beaming hope.
“There were lights everywhere. I’d never seen so many lights – even on the streets on the edge of the city there were street lamps,” Dexter McKinley said, recalling his first glimpse of America in 2001, his 13-year-old mind reeling with emotion. “In Haiti there’s no electricity, only sometimes, maybe 7 or 8 at night. When it comes on it’s like scoring a soccer goal, and they all start cheering for the power.”
A boy familiar with the dark – and dangerous – streets of his birthplace, Carrefour in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the abundance of light in the city was only the first of many changes life would bring with his adoptive American parents.
Still, it is memories from his childhood in his Caribbean homeland that have brought understanding.
“There was no public education, no welfare. I spent most of my time in the streets running with friends,” Dexter said, remembering how his mother was away for extended periods in an effort to support six children in their fatherless home. “I went to bed many nights hungry.”
Extreme poverty and desperation brought Dexter and his younger brother to the Heart of God orphanage in 1997.
There was no public education, no welfare. I spent most of my time in the streets running with friends. I went to bed many nights hungry.
“My mom took us to the orphanage and left, but I thought she would come back so I was always looking for her.” Dexter said, the anguish he felt from the separation and infrequent visits playing on his face.”
There were iron gates and concrete walls surrounding the compound, jagged glass at the top to keep out thieves. But for a number of impoverished children inside there were beds with blankets, and meals three times a day.
“It was like the Comfort Inn or the Hilton,” Dexter said, smiling at the memory of 15 boys in a room. “When we went in, I felt rich.”
For three years, Dexter lived at the orphanage and it was there God’s love touched his heart; the promise of a good future — a hope — illuminated his soul. Trusting in his newfound faith, the little boy prayed and prepared for God’s plan to unfold.
“Other kids were getting adopted and I thought, ‘Darn, when is it going to be me?’” Dexter said, remembering how he put in extra effort to gain attention from visitors. “I worked hard on my English, always wanting to come to America.”
In 1999, Janice McKinley traveled from her home in Colorado, the Haiti orphanage her destination.
Dexter clearly remembers how the loving American woman brought gifts – Frisbees, soccer balls and unique American candy. He also recalls how he playfully demonstrated his streetwise break-dancing while speaking in English, his goal to impress her.
Shortly afterward, Dexter learned he would have a new home in America, his long-held dream finally coming true.
Other kids were getting adopted and I thought, ‘Darn, when is it going to be me? I worked hard on my English, always wanting to come to America.
“It took a year for the process,” Dexter said, remembering the vaccinations, and paperwork required until an adoptive family member could come to help him transition. “I spent two weeks in a hotel, living the American life – food, the pool, eating spaghetti and drinking orange juice, as much as I wanted. Then I went back to the orphanage until everything was ready for me to go.”
The old worry of having enough to eat each day fell away as the 747 took to the skies in August 2001, carrying a very excited orphan in route to America. Haiti to Miami was the first leg of the trip, accompanied by missionaries heading to the U.S.
“They put a passport around my neck and my eyeballs were so big!” Dexter said, remembering how the huge airport was filled with so many Americans. “I boarded alone to Atlanta,” he said, thinking back to his confusion in the new culture. “I never went to the restroom on the plane because I was afraid that if I walked to it the plane would tip. I thought it was out on the wing!”
From Atlanta, Dexter flew to Dallas where his adopted parents lovingly welcomed him and then drove the rest of the way to their Colorado home. The teen settled into the American lifestyle.
“We lived 17 miles out of town and we had cows and other farm animals and I learned to work hard,” Dexter said, reminiscing about the chores his dad, Wes, expected him to do. “Dad made me break the horses and I was afraid of heights. I really appreciated the hard work, once I was older.”
After 16 years in America, Dexter is grateful for the strong work ethic and enduring faith instilled by his adoptive mom and dad. Today he is a REMAX real estate broker, one who understands the American way of living, but hasn’t forgotten his roots.
A trip to his homeland shortly after the devastating 2010 earthquake magnified the destitution in Haiti.
“Now I really saw the poverty after being in the USA,” Dexter said. “The trash, the kids in the street and people killing people. The road was so bad because there were rocks everywhere, bodies and people lying in the streets on their blankets.”
This businessman realized more than ever the dark life from which he was rescued, and he plans to give back. Dexter and his wife, Sandra, have opened a REMAX franchise in Pétion-Ville, Haiti.
“The reason we’re opening the real estate office there is to help the people,” Dexter said. “We want to show them how to structure their laws so people can actually purchase real estate and not be taken advantage of.”
But there is more this adoptee’s heart wants to do, his initial mission and life-purpose.
“We plan to give a percentage from the real estate sales to raise money for an orphanage,” Dexter said passionately. “We’re already tithing to orphanage pastors there,” he said, his thoughts turning to a distant time when a future in America seemed impossible. “I came from a dark world. This is a calling from God.”
For the homeless children in Haiti, it is a promise of light – and hope.