Jacky Meremable is a man with his feet planted in two very, very different places. One foot is planted firmly in the tropical soil of his native Haiti. The other is buried deep in the cold and sometimes snowy plains of Madison, Wisconsin.
They’re a long way apart no matter how you measure it: miles, cultures, or degrees Fahrenheit. It’s 1,942 miles from Madison to Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Stoic Scandinavia to lively French indigenous. A chilly -30 degrees to balmy mid-80s.
But maybe the best way to measure the distance is this way: who Jacky was when he left Haiti, and who he was when he returned.
Jacky grew up in Gros-Morne. After high school, he won a scholarship for promising young leaders to study in America. Of the many warm places in the U.S. where he could have studied, he landed in the not-so-warmest: Wisconsin.
Once there, Jacky enrolled at Northcentral Technical College (NTC) in Wausau for two years. Despite the friendly people and abundant resources available to help international students feel welcome, Wisconsin initially failed to entice Jacky to make it his permanent home.
“When I first got to Wisconsin, I thought that I didn’t want to come back. It was very cold,” Jacky said, laughing. “Generally people were very nice. But at the same time, it was cold and different from Haiti. [In Wisconsin] everything runs on a schedule. In Haiti everything is a little more laid back.”
The weather and culture weren’t the only things calling Jacky back to his home country. The terms of his scholarship offer stipulated that, after studying community development in America, Jacky would return to Haiti and use his new knowledge and skills to serve the Haitian people.
Jacky’s commitment to community development work was stoked, in part, by his Christian faith, which grew significantly through the InterVarsity chapter at NTC. He said, “Before I moved to Wisconsin from Haiti, I met another Haitian student who had been in Wausau previously. He was telling me, ‘When you get to Wausau there are a lot of organizations on campus. One that you should get involved with is InterVarsity.’”
Jacky had grown up in a Christian home, but one that he described as more of a “church” family. “It was always about doing the right thing and going to church on Sunday,” he explained. “Nothing like sitting down and actually talking about salvation or Jesus Christ.”
When he arrived at NTC, Jacky followed his friend’s advice and joined the InterVarsity chapter—and his faith took a leap forward. “Mike [Hughes] was the staff worker there,” Jacky said. “We got to be very close, and I met some other people from very strong Christian backgrounds that mentored me. Through [those people] I drew closer to Christ—or rather, Christ drew me closer to him.”
In his second year at NTC, Jacky continued to grow, both spiritually and as a leader in his chapter. But God had even bigger things planned for him at the 2012 Urbana Student Missions Conference.
Jacky was excited to attend the conference, but not for the reasons one would expect. “I really wanted to go, but I was also mostly interested in the opportunity to travel regionally, see different cities. That was the main thing,” he said with a smile. “[Friends] kept saying, ‘It’s huge. It’s this big event. There will be great speakers.’ But in the first place it was about the experience of traveling, of seeing a different place.”
As soon as the conference started, however, everything changed. God took center stage and began to work on Jacky’s heart. Jacky was blown away by the 700 people who showed up to study the Bible together each morning in his hotel. And speaker David Platt delivered a message that had a powerful impact on Jacky. “He was talking about people leaving their homes to go out as missionaries, [and] the sacrifices that other people make,” Jacky said. “Those people are just like us, and this is what they have to do to follow Jesus. In Africa he led a Bible study and when he was finished, people just asked him to keep going because they wanted to hear [so much]. Some people came at night because they couldn’t come during the day because of persecution. It was so real.”
God also used Urbana to change Jacky’s heart and mindset about his own abilities. “Before I went to Urbana I was prideful about what I was able to do—my capacity, my ability to do things,” he explained. “After Urbana, I realized that this is all because of God’s grace. God gifted us with any talents that we have, any intelligence or opportunities, anything. So coming back from Urbana, it was about working for God’s kingdom instead of my pride.”
“Before I went to Urbana I was prideful about what I was able to do—my capacity, my ability to do things. After Urbana, I realized that this is all because of God’s grace. God gifted us with any talents that we have, any intelligence or opportunities, anything. So coming back from Urbana, it was about working for God’s kingdom instead of my pride.”
In the three years since that Urbana, Jacky has used those God-given talents to expand God’s kingdom in a variety of ways. He started a non-profit—a vocational school called Act For the Future—in his home community of Gros-Morne. Act For the Future teaches teenagers without the financial resources to attend school how to sew, tailor, and make clothing. They then use these skills in the community to make money and support their education.
Jacky also works with the Madison, Wisconsin–based non-profit Next Step. Next Step helped build an orphanage in Haiti, and Jacky translates for their ongoing short-term missions trips in Haiti, as well as serves on the board of advisors for both Next Step and the Fond-Blanc Foundation, a division of Next Step that works exclusively with Haitian orphans.
The epicenter of this God-glorifying work was Jacky’s experience at Urbana 12. “It’s a life-changing experience. I could not even explain it. For anyone who has the opportunity to go to Urbana, [I would say] to go, and to go with an open mind. Don’t go with expectations,” he said. “Pray that God would teach you whatever he wants you to know. God has so much to teach us and we have so much to learn. You never know where his Spirit will lead you after Urbana.”
You never know, indeed. Even the frozen tundra of Wisconsin.