To Haiti, With Love

By+Kelli Stopczynski

Oak Creek Community Church Members follow the calling to join a Haitian pastor who has dedicated his life to helping his fellow Haitians break the cycle of poverty.



Pastor Espérandieu Pierre grew up in the impoverished country, but studied abroad, worked as a linguist for the United Nations then as a Christian missionary in Africa before choosing to return to Haiti with his family.  Their goal was to help children, families and their communities meet the basic needs of life.  Pierre created Nehemiah Vision Ministries (NVM) – a non-profit organization dedicated to providing people an opportunity to live in an environment where they can be trained and equipped to contribute to their own personal development and eventually to the rebuilding of Haiti. 

Pierre came in contact with two men from Indianapolis – Aaron Sherrick and Jim “Chip” Mann – who would spearhead the American side of NVM.  Chip’s brother was a member at Oak Creek Community Church, and when Pastor Darin Garton learned about the organization, he wanted his congregation to become involved. 

When Pastor Pierre first spoke to church members, he told them about the village of Chambrun, located about six miles from Port Au Prince.  He described the lives of about 1,200 people living in mud huts in what is best characterized as a brush area in the middle of the desert.  The congregation learned about the daily struggle for food, medicine and other basic necessities in Chambrun.

But Pierre went on to talk about his vision for systemic change in the community.  He told members at Oak Creek there were more missionaries in Haiti than anywhere else in the world, but years of outsiders throwing money into the impoverished country had created a welfare mentality among Haitians.  They were getting used to hand-outs and freebies.  Pierre wanted to raise up a new group of people and re-build a society that had integrity, a love for its country and a love for God.  He had already created a school in Chambrun, but he needed help to bring his vision  to fruition.  

Answering the Call

Pastor Pierre struck a chord with the Oak Creek Congregation.  In October 2008, 14 church members took their first trip to Haiti alongside 6 other volunteers from the Indianapolis area.

“As a small church in Northern Indiana, we can’t do everything.  And we realize that,” said Oak Creek’s Pastor Garton.  “But we can do something, and we wanted to be a part of this.”

During their week-long mission, the group built a roof on the

school in Chambrun, set up a medical clinic to see and treat the roughly 275 children attending the school at that time and launched the Nehemiah Vision Church (members worship in the school on Sundays).

“I couldn’t believe we got it all done!” Garton exclaimed.

For each trip, donors from the United States supply all the building and construction materials and ship them to Haiti on a box truck.  The equipment is waiting for the volunteers when they arrive.  

Dr. Randy Kline, a podiatrist at Mishawaka Orthopedics and Sports Medicine and also a nine-year member at Oak Creek, was on that first trip. 

“I was amazed at how little these people had on a basic level – food, shelter, clothing, water – yet how content most seemed,” said Kline, who acted as a primary care physician on the mission trips.  “Haiti is a very forbidding place with scorching temperatures, dangerous terrain, tropical diseases that we normally don’t encounter here and a history of civil unrest that dates back to the early 1800s.  In spite of that, you can see Christ working through the missionary efforts there.” 

Kristie Cerling, principal at The Crossing Educational Center and adjunct professor at Bethel College, was also on that mission.

“It was really not my intention to go to Haiti,” Cerling said.  “When I heard about the trip, I thought maybe my husband could go work.  NVM said it needed help with construction, painting and soccer fields – all things he would be good at.  In the end, we decided God had a reason for me to go.”

While in Haiti, Cerling helped with the group’s projects and met with educators and students in the Nehemiah Vision School Pastor Pierre had created.  The tenacity of the Hatian people struck her as well.

“I always think of a couple of children who got up each morning to walk two hours each way to sit outside the school door to hope to hear the words of the teacher,” Cerling said of her first trip.  “[It made me think of] how many opportunities we throw away without thinking: skipping classes, not valuing educational opportunities or thinking that there is always tomorrow to change.”

Like Cerling, local businessman and church member Dale Nagel said he really didn’t want to go to Haiti.

“It was certainly outside of my comfort zone.  I went because I felt called by God to go.  My fulfillment is knowing that I obeyed the call,” Nagel said. 

That call would come again for Oak Creek’s members.  Another small group returned to Haiti in April 2009, then a larger group went again last October. 

Congregation members spent the months in between trips collecting money, hygiene items, medical equipment and anything else that would be needed during the next visit. 

To date, more than 400 children are enrolled in Nehemiah Vision School in Chambrun.   Each Sunday, hundreds of church members gather to worship.  NVM missionaries also built a medical clinic in the village, complete with exam rooms, a dental office and a pharmacy. 

During Oak Creek’s trip last October, Garton said some of the natives would walk more than three hours seeking medical treatment; and if they had to be turned away they would walk home then come back the next day in hopes of being seen by a medical professional.

What’s more, Haitians have learned valuable skills that are truly changing the way they live. 

“We stopped doing what Americans do – throwing suckers and giving them everything,” explained Garton.  When we leave, we do give some things.  But we do it through Pastor Pierre and the ministry that’s there because he’s going to be there over the long haul.  And we want them to understand that Haitians are helping themselves and not just looking to us to help them.  It creates dignity.”

Unprepared for Disaster

Once they leave Haiti, volunteers come face-to-face with a range of emotions.  Some feel overwhelmed, relieved and sad all at the same time.  Garton said NVM tries to prepare missionaries for the fact that they’re going to feel guilty when they come back to their nice homes and all they have.

But nothing could have prepared them for how they would feel after learning a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated parts of Haiti on January 12, 2010.  Pastor Garton first learned of the quake through an e-mail from a church member.  The following hours were a blur and even today, tears fill Garton’s eyes when he talks about it.

“Because Haiti is in the hearts of our people, I just got call after call – ‘Have you heard what’s going on?’  ‘What’s going on?’” he recalled church members and other NVM volunteers asking.  “So I tried to get in touch with our partners there and with Pastor Pierre.  I cried like a baby, I was so shocked.” 

The next day, Garton and other NVM volunteers got word Pastor Pierre and his son were in Trinidad when the earthquake hit.  They were unharmed, but the school where the pastor was scheduled to be that evening collapsed, killing 200 of his classmates and teachers.  Since Pierre was out of town, his wife and daughters were at their home instead of the market where they usually go on Tuesdays.  The market was also destroyed,

but the Pierres’ home was untouched.  Miraculously, the village of Chambrun was also intact.

A New Vision

On January 29, Pastor Pierre called on his NVM contacts to send doctors, medical experts and other missionaries who had been in the country before.  Oak Creek sent four members – Pastor Garton, his wife Stacy, Dr. Kline and a nurse, Sheri Nater.

“I went back because I think God still has work for me and my church to do.  Sometimes you just know that you’re supposed to do something,” Kline said.

After the quake, many Haitians fled their inner city dwellings, fearing their homes and apartments would collapse.  They ended up in small makeshift “tent cities” crammed into the outskirts of the heavily damaged city of Port Au Prince.  Still, so many in those “cities” needed healthcare.

By the middle of their post-earthquake visit, the group had grown to about 50 doctors and nurses from the United States.  They organized mobile medical triages that traveled to the tent cities, providing medical care for up to 250 patients each day.  Garton said he heard story after tragic story from survivors, and being there was emotionally demanding for all the volunteers.  He remembered a grandmother who came to him holding twin infants.  Her daughter died in the earthquake and the woman had no idea how she was going to care for the two tiny grandchildren.

“You realize when you’re there, this is not going to be fixed in years,” said Garton.  “Our main goal of going is to let Pastor Pierre know he’s not alone.  We still believe in the vision.  We still are here to help.”

They’re also acknowledging the fact that their vision for the distressed country has changed.  Following the earthquake, Nehemiah Vision Ministries learned the Haitian government will relocate 100,000 people to the Chambrun area.  About 50,000 of them will be within a mile of the NVM school/church and the new clinic. 

“This could be viewed as a coincidence or the work of a loving Father that has had a plan the whole time for these people, in this small town.  We’ve seen many people come to Christ as a result of the ministry there and it appears many more will be entering the area,” said Dr. Kline after his February visit. 

A Known Quantity

Nehemiah Vision Ministries continues to send volunteers and supplies to Haiti.  Oak Creek Community Church members like Dr. Kline and Kristie Cerling keep giving their time and money to the cause because they believe in it and the difference it is making for the Haitian people. 

“NVM is a known quantity for me.  I know where my money is going,” said Cerling.  “I can see kids’ faces, I can walk through the community, I can sit down in the classroom with the teachers.  Many of the children eat one meal a day: the bowl of rice they receive at school.  What if NVM was not there providing school, lunch and love?”


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