In Haiti, a calling — and a baby
TITANYEN, Haiti — Ten days after Jason and Jennifer Carroll…
AKDESÉ, Haiti — In this remote mountain village, water gushes from a well drilled by Healing Hands International.
As one woman pumps the handle, another gleefully splashes the clear, flowing liquid on her face.
Little boys and girls giggle as they cup their hands under the spout, taking giant gulps before filling plastic buckets to carry home.
In an area where donkeys ferry supplies and entire families squeeze onto small motorbikes, the $7,500 well’s dedication brings celebration and dancing — and the opportunity for healthier lives.
“The people wanted it so badly,” said Art Woods, president of the Nashville, Tenn.-based humanitarian aid organization, which is associated with Churches of Christ.
It’s a scene repeated hundreds of times in this impoverished Caribbean island nation: Since the Jan. 10, 2010, earthquake that claimed 230,000 lives and left 1.5 million people homeless, Healing Hands has focused on providing access to clean water.
“We truly believe that if you’re going to change the world, it’s going to start with water,” said Sean Judge, director of Walk4Water, fundraisers by Healing Hands that involve dozens of Churches of Christ.
Roughly 1,800 miles from Haiti, Janice Fuller — a 67-year-old grandmother of four — coordinates the annual Walk4Water sponsored by the Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ in Austin, Texas.
About 350 members of the congregation of 600 participate, said Fuller, who helps lead an outreach effort called Hands & Feet.
“It’s probably the biggest thing we do all year,” she said.
Fuller joined more than 20 Christians from the United States who traveled to this nation of nearly 11 million people to witness the completion of Healing Hands’ 1,000th water well — including 350 in Haiti.
“I just think how incredible this is.”
“I just think how incredible this is,” Fuller said as trucks carrying the American mission team rumbled up a mountain road, making repeated stops to inspect pumps emblazoned with Healing Hands’ round, blue-and-white logo. “These people were drinking dirty water for so long, and now they have a place to come get clear, clean water because people cared enough to contribute.”
After “la tranble” — the Creole term for “the shaking,” as Haitians referred to the 2010 earthquake — Healing Hands bought a drilling rig and shipped it to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The drilling hasn’t stopped since.
“It’s something that the government is not doing for us in Haiti. But HHI, they think about the need for water for the Haitian people,” said Phenix Port-Louis, a Haitian preacher who works with Healing Hands.
“Back in the day, there were a lot of cases of cholera,” he added, referring to an epidemic that killed 10,000 Haitians and sickened 800,000. “But now we do not have cholera because HHI put a lot of wells in our community, in our country, so that the Haitians can have water to drink.”
Here in Akdesé, Woods recalled the day the faith-based nonprofit’s heavy machinery made it — but just barely — through the woods and across a shallow creek.
Related: In Haiti, a calling — and a baby
The hopeful natives had used machetes to clear a half-mile of brush and trees.
Still, Curt King, Healing Hands’ field director, said his 35,000-pound drilling truck got stuck.
“The road just collapsed on us. We got out and couldn’t figure out what to do, because we couldn’t go forward, and if we went backward, it could collapse even more,” recalled King, a third-generation well driller from Washington state. “Eventually, the Lord and I had another conversation. I said, ‘OK, Lord, this one is on you.’”
King, who is nearing retirement, kept pressing the gas pedal.
God, he said, nudged the truck the rest of the way.
Near the site where a rotary drill would cut through the earth and — 307 feet underground — finally hit water, a crowd of about 200 greeted the team from Healing Hands.
“This whole entire valley was there,” Woods told the mission group. “It looked like a sea of people cheering and chanting and singing.”
The 1,000 wells drilled since 2001 include 400 in Ethiopia, 350 in Haiti and 250 in 14 other countries, said Joseph Smith, Healing Hands’ director of operations.
“It warms my heart,” said Patti Simmons, a physician who traveled to Haiti with her husband, Steve, and helps with Walk4Water at the Greenwood Park Church of Christ in Bowling Green, Ky.
The remaining wells are in Botswana, Chad, Ghana, Honduras, India, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
La Tremblay, a village east of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, welcomed the drilling of the 1,000th well.
“Jesus us tells us water is life.”
Residents came out of shacks with tin roofs to watch as the concrete base was finished and a pump installed.
Growing up, Jean Levelt said he walked miles to retrieve water from a river. He’s thankful children won’t have to do the same in 2018.
“Jesus tells us water is life,” Levelt, who teaches a Sunday school class, said in a report posted by Healing Hands. “This community well will help our church reach out to the community. Kids won’t have to fight for water.”
A plaque placed on the 1,000th well’s pump quotes Matthew 10:42: “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
Wells inevitably become the focal point of community life, said Smith, who estimates 2 million people have benefited from Healing Hands’ clean water projects.
That opens doors for evangelism, he said.
“If you were doing street evangelism or prayer walks or something like that, you wouldn’t get invited to some of these places,” said Matthew Brown, owner of North Carolina-based Yadkin Well Co., who has helped with 50 of Healing Hands’ well projects in Haiti.
A few miles from the 1,000th well, Healing Hands partners with the International School of Theology, which has connections with Bear Valley Bible Institute in Denver and Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.
The school’s students and faculty members have baptized more than 700 people, director Larry Waymire said.
“It’s touching thousands of lives, it really is,” said Waymire, a veteran missionary who has worked on at least 20 Caribbean islands. “Hundreds are being saved, as well.”
Healing Hands also planted a community garden at the school and offered a seminar on improving agricultural practices.
“It’s just exciting to see,” said Jim Gillespie, a missions committee member at the Mayfair Church of Christ in Huntsville, Ala., who traveled to Haiti with the Healing Hands team. “I wish we could get people back in the States a little more on fire for evangelism.”
Back in Akdesé, the mission group dedicated the well in memory of a longtime Healing Hands supporter and staff member.
Ronald Kay White worked for Healing Hands for 13 years and spent 45 years in full-time preaching ministry. Much of that time was devoted to the Lincoln Park Church of Christ in the Detroit area. He died last November at age 79.
“I think Ron would be really excited that he’s had a lasting impact on a community that he probably never thought he would,” said Matthew Perry, a 37-year-old father of two who coordinates the Lincoln Park church’s Walk4Water.
At the dedication, Perry prayed and thanked God for bringing water to Akdesé.
“God, you’re great. … You move mountains,” he said as the Americans and the Haitian villagers bowed their heads.
Afterward, Perry trekked 20 minutes — back through the woods and across the shallow creek — to where the Healing Hands trucks had parked.
As he caught his breath, he expressed awe at what he had witnessed.
“If we dig far enough in the ground, there’s this perfect, clean water right there,” Perry said, reflecting. “It’s free, provided by God, and it’s drinkable. It’s amazing.”
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