Coming from drastically different cultures, the odds were against Watson and Mary. But with God's provision and an undivided commitment to one another, they found a united purpose in their new lives together.
Across the globe, nearly seventy million people are engaged in a language in which they are giving their undivided attention. In many cases, the conversations deliver joy, whether it's a funny joke or happy news. They can also be filled with pain, conveying heartache and struggle. No matter the peaks and valleys in a person's life, in this language, you cannot take your eyes away from the messenger.
To truly understand sign language, you must have an undivided presence. The language requires that you not look at your cell phone that just vibrated or divert your eyes away from someone who is engaging you in difficult conversation. For those who use sign language, the messenger must have the undivided attention of those who lend their time to listen.
All of this to say, God merged the souls of Mary and Watson Dard in the school yard of the Haiti Deaf Academy in the summer of 2014. And while they have their audible language, they have come to know in their story how essential it is to abide in a Father that empowers us to live in a love undivided.
On January 12, 2010, the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates shifted, sending Watson Dard’s life projection down an entirely different route. In the aftermath of the historic magnitude seven earthquake that struck Haiti, hundreds of thousands were killed and over a million residents lost their homes. Whatever assets had been stored in the local economy plummeted in an instant. Not only was Watson’s country in shock, but so were he and his family as his sister and girlfriend did not survive the disaster.
To go along with the chaos, Watson’s mind had already been cycling through ways he could be a point of pride for his family. As a young adult, he landed in the capital, Port-Au-Prince, with his relatives at home in Cabaret thinking he was in school. In truth, he was finding day-to-day work and buying books of interest along the way with the little income that he had. Among the rubble of the stately capital, however, Watson began hearing the linguistic landscape of Haiti changing. The expected murmur of Haitian-Creole now sounded more like Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish. Most notable to Watson was the tongue of a neighbor whose shores were 700 miles north. International aid workers and missionaries had arrived, and they would need English translators.
Watson poured himself into studying the English language. He gathered books, CDs, and pictures to help him break down barriers between the foreign and native vernacular. As a man of immense faith, Watson took no offense to making the highlight of his “coursework” watching American sermons syndicated over Haitian television. The first airing came on at midnight and Watson would test himself for retention four hours later. As he gained confidence, he went from a translator that could be paid $10 a day to an often-requested expert earning $25 for the same time. Learning English was certainly paying off.
The deaf community in Haiti was consistently overlooked in the wake of the earthquake as a result of a scrambling and under-resourced government. Without such advocacy, a slum in Port-Au-Prince became home to approximately 168 deaf families. Their resolve, however, crossed Watson’s eyes as he translated for an American group of college athletes who came to the island nation to directly serve this makeshift neighborhood. It was a church service, however, that caught Watson’s undivided attention. He was mesmerized by the silent symphony of the gospel acted out through gestures that evoked emotion he had not previously tapped into. A woman noticed his intrigue and let him know that she was starting a school for the displaced deaf children and needed a Project Manager to host interns and manage the facilities. Watson said yes.
Mary Davenport’s first exposure to Haiti came by means of a 6th grade culture report in which natural curiosity drew her to the “Pearl of the Antilles.” Seemingly arbitrary at the time, her love for the land and its people only deepened as she found her greatest passion: deaf education. The granddaughter of a woman who used sign language, Mary had early exposure to the community and studied it intently at Stephen F. Austin University. The summer after her graduation in 2014 she secured an internship at the Haiti Deaf Academy. There to greet her upon arrival was a man named Watson Dard. He was the Project Manager.
Watson will not hesitate to describe his first interaction with Mary as “love at first sight.” Mary will not falter in sharing that his immediate interest took her aback. To be a young woman in a foreign country with a native co-worker showing interest so soon was a great deal to process. While she had seen attractive qualities in his looks, work ethic, and complementary nature, she still could not look past the notion that she was a visitor in his homeland, soon to return to the United States. It was not until she saw him working with the students on the playground one day that she began to feel hints of affection for him.
Mary went to her supervisor to express her newly found feelings for Watson and was promptly told that “all the intern girls liked him,” and to not make much of it. Her supervisor had previously seen these crushes fade into nothing once it was time for the intern to return home. Sensing their deeper connection, Mary and Watson continued to seek each other out in their free time, taking walks and reflecting on their days with the children. Ultimately they both agreed that they needed to have the blessing of each other’s families before moving any further.
Mary’s welcomed trip to meet Watson’s family in nearby Cabaret was much easier than Watson's attempts to enter the United States. After months of gathering documentation and visiting the American embassy, Watson was finally granted permission to fly on a plane for the first time. The Davenport family, like Watson’s tour groups, took to him quickly. With the blessing of both families, Watson proposed to Mary in a Haitian bakery in the fall of 2015. They were happily wedded in Austin in December of the same year.
In the flurry of romance and making a lifelong commitment to one another, Mary and Watson reflect today on how present God was in His provision for this new relationship that He had crafted. Their wedding was done on a frugal budget, which allowed for family and neighbors to fill the celebration with personally crafted and pro bono charm. With Watson holding a temporary visa and on the path to a Green Card, the Lord opened a path for him to learn a trade upon entering the United States through Hill Country’s Community Impact Ministry. By attending courses at the Christian Resource Center, Watson received free hands-on training to become an electrician in order to help provide for his new household.
While Watson and Mary felt the joy and excitement of any newly married couple, they quickly realized they had a unique challenge to help Watson adjust to a new culture. Where Mary’s immersion into Haitian customs was approached as a temporary part of serving at the Haiti Deaf Academy, Watson’s permanent residency in the United States created urgency in transitioning to a foreign culture. Driving became a point of contention between the couple with Watson wanting to get his license and Mary being hesitant to loan him the keys to drive on the sprawling freeways that didn't exist in Haiti. On one notable day, Watson’s phone died on a work site in downtown Austin. Dressed in dirty work clothes and soaked by the rain, Watson experienced standoffishness from pedestrians as he asked for directions to the bus. With the help he received from a deaf man who could sign with him, Watson got on the bus heading the opposite direction of where he wanted to go. Mary was able to pick him up when she finished her day of interpreting.
Watson’s acclimation became the moments where the flow of their love hit communicative speed bumps as Mary herself was completely at home in Austin. While it would have been easy to look away from their challenges, Mary abided in the realization that Watson was trying his best in everything he was doing. It was in these moments that Mary remembers leaning on God the most. He had brought them together for a reason, even though their marriage was anything but typical. She would need His strength to be a more a supportive and understanding wife. What Watson and Mary realized was that they needed an undivided approach to trailblazing their new life together in the grace of God. Even among the joy and struggle, there was no excuse to look away from the hearts and intentions of one another. They needed to find common ground that was new for both of them.
When Watson first arrived in the United States, one of the first things he asked when driving up her neighborhood’s road was, “Where are all the people?” This question struck Mary in the moment as she reflected on what community meant to Watson. In Haiti, the lack of home air conditioning units made indoor climates more unbearable than the outside weather, so neighbors were constantly outside visiting, working together, or cheering on their favorite soccer team over satellite television. Alternatively, in America, it's not uncommon for people to simply drive from work to home, close the garage door, and never interact with those who live around them. As Mary explained this to Watson, he decided he wanted to bring Haiti with him to his new home. Mary agreed, and it became clear why God brought a Texan and a Haitian together to serve His kingdom. Undivided, they felt called to build community and be neighbors that pointed to Him.
Today, Mary and Watson are partners with the CARES Apartment Life community at their complex in Austin. Organized by HCBC's Community Impact Ministry, CARES empowers Mary and Watson through subsidized rent payments to host community building events with their neighbors. The monthly gatherings are typically held at their apartment’s leasing office and community center and involve delicious food, games, and intentional discussion to connect people that would otherwise be behind closed doors. In true Haitian passion, Watson is currently building a recreational soccer team with his neighbors. Mary has connected with a deaf woman in their community. And they have both been fused together in service that ultimately shows themselves to be stronger and better together for the kingdom than apart.
It is no accident that Mary and Watson’s souls were merged by God in the school yard of the Haiti Deaf Academy. In a place of silence, they could speak audibly to one another. By His grace, they had the ability to be open, honest, and hopeful with His will for them. In that will, the relationship that seemed impossible became a reality. And Mary and Watson felt the joy and anxiety of it all.
But with hearts pointed towards service for one another, their family, their community, and their God, Mary and Watson have amplified what they see when they look into each other’s eyes. They see creations of a loving Father who don’t always get it right by the world’s standards, but are ever on the pathway to promoting His glory and will. They see that maybe their love just might point to His undivided affection for us all, and He is a messenger we ought not to take our eyes away from.