Hearts Connect in Haiti

The hearts and lives of RCA folks from Iowa have been changed as they've brought hope and healing to people of the Central Plateau of Haiti.

It started in 1983 when Steve Ross, a member of Second Reformed Church in Pella, traveled to Pignon, Haiti, as a volunteer. Ross met Guy Theodore, a Haitian who had served as a surgeon in the U.S. Air Force and returned to Haiti in 1981 to start Christian Mission of Pignon.

Christian Mission of Pignon has become Promise for Haiti (PFH). It operates 65-bed Hospital Bienfaisance, nine Christian schools, and a farming operation and has established more than 2,500 clean water wells.

In 1984 Joanne Schafer, another member of Second Reformed, went to Haiti with her husband, Charles, a doctor who had organized the first surgical team to work at Hospital Bienfaisance. Today Joanne coordinates a scholarship program she created to help underserved children attend school in the Pignon area. The Haitian Education and Literacy Program (HELP) has served more than 3,000 students. In 2012, HELP offered a training forum for 72 teachers and nine principals. One of the trainers, Bev Brand, a member of Third Reformed Church in Pella, says, "These teachers have no running water, no electricity, no visuals, no books--nothing! They were so receptive and appreciative."

Bev's husband, Denny, helped build a cistern on his first mission trip to Haiti in 1986. Today he serves as volunteer executive director of PFH.

Virg and Dorothy Dykstra of Meredith Drive Reformed Church (MDRC) in Des Moines took their first mission team to Pignon in 1997 and have led many trips since then. MDRC has given more than $500,000 in support over the past decade and most recently raised funds to provide cement floors for homes and new desks for PFH schools. MDRC and the Dykstras have played a huge role in building and supporting the schools. Larry Madole co-led the first mission team from MDRC and has since become project director for PFH, traveling there several times a year to oversee building projects.

When Chris and Sue Den Ouden from The Bridge (RCA) in Johnston traveled to Haiti in 1998, they learned that patients had a great need for eye care. Chris is an ophthalmologist and Sue has a background in medical administration. In 1999 they founded MDRC Vision Mission Team; they have seen 11,782 patients, performed 871 surgeries, and dispensed 5,077 pairs of glasses.

Tim Brand, a member of Third Reformed Church in Pella, participated in a 1998 Dykstra-led mission trip after his senior year of high school. From there, Brand went on a number of trips to the area, and he began leading Third Reformed trips starting in 2007. In 2009, Brand founded Many Hands for Haiti (MH4H) to help churches improve trip coordination, project management, and financial oversight on the ground in Pignon. Brand now serves as full-time executive leader of MH4H, which is based in Pella. In the Pignon area MH4H has built a primary school, managed upgrades to existing schools, purchased more than 2,700 Bibles for PFH school students, and sponsors a feeding program for Hospital Bienfaisance patients and staff.

In 2001 Dean and Paula Van Roekel of Sunnybrook Community Church (RCA) in Sioux City joined a group from Meredith Drive to work on a primary school. Sunnybrook later began supporting the school. "We reprioritized and simplified our lives to allow us to become more personally and financially involved in mission work," says Dean.

In 2006, Christi and Craig Gabhart and their 12-year-old son also became involved with the primary school, and their church, Hope Reformed Church in Spencer, joined Sunnybrook to support the school. The two churches now raise money each year to buy rice and beans for needy families in the Pignon area. They also recently presented men's and women's conferences in the area on topics such as leadership, marriages, and spiritual development.

Dean Van Roekel also is on the board of directors with United Christians International (UCI), a mission about five miles from Pignon where a group from First Reformed Church in Sully, First Reformed Church in Hull, and Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City regularly serve. Kristie Mompremier, who founded the mission along with her husband, JeanJean, is the sister of Bob DeBoer, associate pastor at Trinity Reformed. Grant Willits, team leader at Trinity, says, "Connecting our congregants to the people of Haiti moves [them] to greater depths of faith and greater compassion."

Also part of the Iowa-Haiti connection:

  • The GEMS club from Trinity Reformed in Pella sent more than 600 salvation bracelet kits to Haiti to be used by groups presenting outdoor Bible schools.
  • A children's ministry at Third Reformed in Pella collects quarters so school kids in Haiti can have a meal; they have enabled the purchase of nearly 28,000 meals.
  • Third Reformed and Meredith Drive middle and high school students have raised money and sent mission teams to help construct buildings and desks for schools.
  • Orchard Hill in Cedar Falls regularly sends volunteer groups to Haiti and sponsors many children there.
  • Many Iowa churches raised Haiti earthquake relief funds in 2010, and many sponsor children in the scholarship program.
  • Jared and Stacey Nikkel from Third Reformed in Pella served two years as full-time missionaries in Pignon, and Heather Brown from Hope Reformed in Spencer and Cassidy Mejia from Third Reformed in Pella will begin serving full-time with MH4H in May 2013.

"The hearts of these churches have been changed as they experience and share the love of Jesus with their brothers and sisters in Haiti," says Denny Brand.

Posted 4/26/13

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