Building a church

Editor’s note: This story is published as it appeared in the June 11 edition of The Times of Port Royal.

The people of Haiti are no strangers to disaster. Hurricanes, droughts, cholera epidemics and earthquakes have taken a toll on the country and its people. Through it all, they have shown a resilience that is amazing in its strength and a hope for a brighter future for all the children of Haiti. Four years after the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that rocked the country, the Haitian people are still working to put their lives back together. Many of them still live in temporary camps, their food supply is not consistent and malnutrition is still widespread. But, thanks to their determination and the generosity of the public and governments around the world, progress is being made.

Denise Detra, who owns Make it Personal, an embroidery business located near Thompsontown, knows just how hard it is for the Haitian people to cope on a day to day basis, and she’s seen their struggles firsthand. She and her husband, Brad, have sponsored three Haitian children (from two different families) through New Missions since 2005. Denise explained that children in Haiti can’t attend school unless they are sponsored by someone. The whole families of the sponsored children receive medical care, and the children get schooling, school uniforms and one meal a day. Once a year, the family receives a bag of rice and a surprise box. In return, the sponsors receive yearly pictures of the children, along with information of how much they’ve grown and how they’re progressing.

Denise (Brad sometimes goes along, if he can get away) has made nine trips to Haiti over the past few years, as part of a group. The first mission that the group went to was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, so they were forced to find another mission. On the latest trip, taken this past January, Brad and Denise stayed with the pastor of the church, Pastor Jackson, and his wife, Martha. The people they’ve met while working at the mission have made a lasting impression on the couple, and when the local children see the couple, they come running to greet them.

Denise noticed that there was a basketball court at the church where they stay, but no basketballs. On her last trip, she took basketballs along and even played a few games with the children! It’s little things like that that have made her so popular with the local children, and something that amazes Denise is the fact that she receives gifts from them – something almost unheard of since the Haitian people just don’t have anything. Her gift on the last trip was a pair of chickens which she had to give to the pastor and his wife to do with as they saw fit.

Denise explained a typical day in Haiti. Since there’s no refrigeration, the women go to the market every day to get fresh food, and since everything has to be shipped into Haiti, it’s very expensive. The church ladies make sure that the children get a cooked meal every day. They cook in covered pots over charcoal fires. The vegetables are steamed in plastic, and Denise still hasn’t figured out how they do it without the plastic melting! Everything is done by hand, and the women even make milk out of coconuts. Every meal consists of rice, sometimes beans are added and whatever fresh vegetables are available.

Some time ago, Denise asked the families of her sponsored children what she could do to make life better for them, and what they needed was better housing. Each family was living in a small shed made out of old pieces of tin, patched together. The floors were dirt, and they used curtains to separate the space into rooms. Denise and Brad made up their minds that when they got enough money saved, houses would be built for the families.

When they went to Haiti in January, work began on the houses. On their second day there, cement blocks, sand and dirt were delivered to the site. Through the church, Denise was able to employ (and feed) eleven people who worked on the construction of the houses. Although the couple couldn’t stay to see the progress, reports came in telling them how the work was going. It took about three months to put up the 28 x 28 foot houses, each with three rooms and a porch. Since there’s no running water, the families have to use outhouses and outdoor showers that consist of barrels, using rain water. The families are both in their new homes now, and Denise has decided on a new project – she wants to build a church for the people in Haiti.

The present church is nothing more than pieces of wood and tarps that were taken down after the hurricane. The inside houses small chairs that are used during Wednesday Bible Study, as well as church and Sunday school. Denise is hoping that when people hear about this project, that they will want to help make the new church a reality.

If you would like to help, checks can be sent to Locust Run United Methodist Church, 11998 William Penn Highway, Thompsontown, PA 17094. Questions about the project can be directed to Denise Detra at 535-5877.

Denise is hoping that enough money can be raised by January to start construction. She will be going back to Haiti then, and she may be taking a motorcycle along on this trip – just one more goal she hopes to meet!