Knox churches, individuals offer a hand to Haitian communities
Faith guides them.
That is about as rational an answer as Luke Wilkerson, Jordan Pyda or Marsha Fisher can give as to why they feel called to a place as destitute as Haiti.
There, Wilkerson has found trust among forsaken street kids. Pyda found a 63-year-old Haitian woman who could be his grandmother under different circumstances. Fisher found a school headmaster who is determined to change the world one child at a time.
How else but through divine intervention could the Knoxville residents have been flung to a far land and yet have found a familiar feeling of belonging?
In separate missions, Wilkerson, Pyda and Fisher – and countless others from East Tennessee – have given many in the small Caribbean country a reason to believe again.
But these three say they have received much more.
"You can’t out-give God," Fisher said.
Luke Wilkerson, 28, intended to create a documentary about orphans, and he can’t really explain how it’s come to this.
In March, he will embark on a fourth trip – for which he has no definite return date – to Haiti, where countless street kids eagerly await his arrival.
Wilkerson has found a place in the hearts of these children and young adults who say they feel dismissed by society.
His mission in the country is twofold.
First, he will create a documentary about a ragtag group of street kids who have banded to form a family of sorts – sharing shanties, food and protection. Ultimately, he hopes to raise enough awareness – and funding – to build a boarding school for street children.
The second project Wilkerson will undertake relates to The Good Samaritan orphanage, which is an operation run by a 57-year-old Haitian woman, Madam Paul, in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of Port au Prince.
Wilkerson hopes to help the orphanage gain funding as well as certification for adoptions to the United States, which would create another funding stream.
With no formal church or organization backing, Wilkerson has spent a lot of time in prayer "to make sure it’s an investment He’s condoning." A great deal of his time is also spent on planning how to live on $150 per month of his personal savings.
But he finds strength in Isaiah Chapter 58: "Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not."
Prayer was only the beginning for members of Sacred Heart Cathedral and their missions since 1999 in Haiti.
"You are not going to get very far if you don’t have clean water or electricity for miles," said Jordan Pyda, who is with the Knoxville church.
Pyda, 22, left Friday for Boucan Carre, Haiti, with a group of eight Catholic teenagers to, among other duties, build a home for a 63-year-old Haitian woman. In previous years, the church has built a medical center, constructed a clean-water system and paid for a grain-mill machine.
Pyda said the reason his group will build a home for the woman, who lives in a crumbling stick-and-mud structure, is that "She is the embodiment of the disparity and violence perpetrated on Haiti. How can you forget this person?"
Pyda’s other goals for the community include creating a chicken farm, bakery and gristmill.
Ultimately, he plans to attend medical school. In the meantime, he said: "I’m taking time off to focus my activities and pursue what I think is good medicine. It’s a human right.
"You pray in church, ‘Oh, for the poor, Oh, for the hungry.’ I think we should pray for ourselves to have the strength to change the circumstances of others."
This story begins about 10 years ago with Marsha Fisher and her husband, Paul, when they agreed to sponsor a Haitian child. Today, eight area churches, most of which are Presbyterian, sponsor more than 80 children.
The faith groups have also sent the School of New Vision in La Jeune, Haiti, trucks, school uniforms and a generator. The groups have organized numerous trips to help with construction and health care.
But Fisher takes no credit for how East Tennessee churches have transformed the school and propelled its mission forward.
Fisher points to the school’s headmaster, Ludner St. Amour. He is the one, after all, who sold his sugar crop and donated 60 percent of his personal profits back into the school.
"I have given a lot to this ministry, but I don’t give 60 percent," Fisher said.
She calls her chance meeting with St. Amour several years ago a God-incidence, not a coincidence.
In March, she will accompany a group of youth to Haiti to conduct a Bible school. Last year, she accompanied a group on a medical mission.
"A corrupt government can’t exist if people are educated," Fisher said.
"Every time I go down there, I just come back so full. The more we give away, the more He gives us."