By Kim Plummer Krull
With hundreds of thousands of people still living in squalid, makeshift camps, a first-time visitor to Haiti might assume that little has changed since the tragic earthquake devastated an already struggling nation two years ago this January.
But for 12 Haitian families who received keys to homes in the newly dedicated Lutheran village in an area of Jacmel known as Beaudouin, life clearly has taken a turn for the better.
“When you see families receiving keys to a new home and you see the joy on their faces, you know that recovery and renewal is slowly coming to Haiti,” said the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of Disaster Response for the LCMS. “One [new homeowner] who stepped up to the [church] chancel area could not quit saying, ‘Thank you … merci, merci, merci.’ She kept repeating it over and over.”
Merritt just returned from his 22nd trek to Haiti since the disaster, taking part in the Jan. 14-15 dedications of three Lutheran villages made possible by the LCMS, donors and partners in collaboration with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (ELCH). The Beaudouin families are among the most recent homeowners to benefit from an ongoing earthquake recovery project, Building Homes and Hope in Haiti (BHHH).
In addition to Beaudouin, Lutheran villages were dedicated in Jacmel and Leogane. To date, the three communities include a total of some 70 homes, two four-unit apartment buildings, two new Lutheran church buildings, the new ELCH seminary headquarters, three medical clinics and two guesthouses. The guesthouse in Leogane also serves as the seminary dormitory.
Haitian Senator Joseph Lambert was among hundreds of people at the Jan. 15 dedication in Jacmel. Lambert told how he was buried in earthquake rubble on Jan. 12, 2010, with 39 other people. Only four survived.
The senator, who suffered a broken arm, said he gives thanks to Jesus every day for delivering him to safety. He also thanked the ELCH and LCMS for helping his country recover.
Lambert and other Haitian dignitaries at the dedication praised the design and solid, cinder-block construction of BHHH homes, Merritt said, and the village concept that includes medical clinics, schools and churches as the center of each community.
“They said what we’re doing far exceeds what most other [relief organizations] are doing,” Merritt said. Such acknowledgement “really validates our patience and planned approach for building well-constructed homes in Haiti. People attending the dedication also noted amenities such as bathrooms and kitchens in the homes built as part of the BHHH project.”
Ministry leaders, including ELCH President Rev. Marky Kessa, also participated in the Jan. 14 dedication of the new ELCH seminary headquarters in Leogane. The new facility will serve as the focal point for some 80 students now studying in locations throughout Haiti and for visiting professors from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.
To watch a new YouTube video that features Kessa and LCMS leaders in Haiti, click here.
Volunteers, funds still needed
While construction will begin soon on eight new homes in Leogane, Merritt stressed that new building can continue only with continued donations and volunteers.
“Volunteers are still needed. Money is still needed,” Merritt said. “We’re encouraging groups that want to fund and build a home to make a donation in advance to LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) so we can have the foundation and all the materials in place when they get there.”
Also taking part in the dedications were Jackie and Mark Rychel, members of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Chesterland, Ohio. The Rychels have supported BHHH as both donors and volunteers.
Along with the Rev. David Luecke of Royal Redeemer Lutheran Church, North Royalton, Ohio, Jackie started the project to build the Jacmel guesthouse, with support from the LCMS Ohio District and WR-HC.
When people question how the LCMS can make a difference in a country with such enormous challenges, Jackie Rychel wastes no time answering. “Because our church has such a great relationship with the Lutheran pastors who reside in Haiti, they give us a strong foothold and a safe arena in which to work,” she said. “The people living in these villages are so thrilled to be part of a community. We’re helping Haiti not by moving mountains but by teaspoonfuls. The church has the purpose, the spirit and the basis to do just that.”
The Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III also wants fellow Lutherans to know that despite huge challenges, progress is being made in Haiti. “The media talks about how bad Haiti is two years after the earthquake and, yes, there are challenges,” said Collver, director of Church Relations and assistant to LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. “But problems existed even before the quake. And we are seeing people who are actually better off now and who we have truly helped.”
Collver told of a Haitian mother who was homeless before the earthquake. After the disaster, she lost her job and her meager income. Today, she is a homeowner in the new Lutheran village in Beaudouin.
“The earthquake was a great tragedy, but for this woman, good actually came out of the disaster,” Collver said. “In this season of Epiphany, a time when the Wise Men visited Jesus at His home, it’s very fitting to dedicate these Lutheran villages with these homes that mean so much.”
Also representing the LCMS at the Lutheran villages dedications were the Rev. Ted Krey, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean; the Rev. Walter Ries, missionary in the Dominican Republic; the Rev. Willy Gaspar, project manager for the LCMS in Haiti and pastor in the Dominican Republic; the Rev. Dr. Edward Grimenstein, manager of Disaster Response; the Rev. Carlos Hernandez, director of Hispanic Ministries; the Rev. Darrell Howanitz, assistant for Disaster Response; the Rev. Dr. Arthur Just, professor, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne; Hans Springer, director of Direct Response; Al Dowbnia, director of Digital Media.
For more information about serving as a BHHH volunteer, contact volunteer coordinator Lutheran Church Charities at 866-455-6466 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help meet continuing needs in Haiti:
- make a gift online at http://givenowlcms.org.
- mail checks (noting “Haiti Earthquake Relief” in the memo line) to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- call toll-free 888-930-4438.
Any funds not needed for this relief effort will be used for other disaster purposes as determined by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Your gift is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted Jan. 18, 2012/Updated Jan. 23, 2012