In 2002 Sean Forrest traveled to Haiti with a fantastic organization that provides medical services to some of the poorest people on the face of the earth. While there, Sean visited an orphanage and was moved by the heartfelt compassion and heroic efforts of the caretakers. It disturbed him to notice, however, that for most of the day many of the children were just sitting around waiting for their next diaper change or meal — the only times that they seemed to receive any physical contact. There were no games or sports being played; no stories being enjoyed. So many of the children would just stare at the wall and rock back and forth for stimulation, like a lion does when it is caged.
The man who runs the orphanage told Sean he avoided picking up the kids because most of them had scabies — nasty little parasites that crawl under the skin and itch like crazy. Just after the man spoke, a little boy of about four years old came near and stood looking up at Sean. He didn’t put his arms up for Sean to hold him because he thought Sean simply wouldn’t. His arms had powder on them — a medication they apply to the skin to help with scabies and which signaled, “Don’t touch!” For a moment Sean stood there, hesitating in fear, but his heart was bursting, and he just couldn’t help himself. Sean had to pick Him up, for this little boy was Jesus standing in front of him. How could he tell Jesus that he couldn’t pick Him up out of fear of contracting this sickness? How could he tell Jesus, Who took his sins upon Himself, that he was not willing to hold Him? The boy lit up when Sean held him, and he clutched his neck so tightly that he knew he was going to stay for a while.
Then Sean experienced one of the most overwhelming moments of his life. When the other children saw that he had picked the boy up, they all ran at him and were holding their arms up, just dying for some love. He tried desperately to hold them all, as he fell to his knees and just put his arms around as many as he could. It was so sad, but infinitely beautiful at the same time. They were smiling brightly at him and so excited to play. That moment will forever be burned into Sean’s mind.
Before Sean left the orphanage, he entered another room that housed some children who were too sick to get out of their cribs. There was a little girl about one year old who was suffering so badly from encephalitis that her head was swollen to twice its normal size. This illness can often be treated with basic drugs, but this poor child did not have the opportunity to receive them — or even vitamins or proper nutrition. Sean quietly held her in his arms and listened to her shallow breathing, realizing that she was dying. She would probably be dead in the next few days, and there was nothing he could do for her but pray. When he got back to where they were staying he fell apart and wept in his room.
There are so many. So many Haitian children who are sick and dying and feeling there is no hope and no one who cares about them. Yet, they still have an amazing faith in Jesus. Jesus is the champion of the poor — and He is their champion.
When Sean came home to the States, he asked God to let him build an orphanage for them that would be more like a home. Sean asked Him to let him build a dormitory that could house 20 to 30 missionaries so that we could bring over people who could feed these little ones, hold them, and play with them. The problem was … where could we do it with no land — and how could we do it with no resources?
With the help of an amazing team, we turned to what we had been doing for years with God’s grace — music and teen ministry. We produced a powerful concert that raised $20,000 for the poor of Haiti. And we dedicated the proceeds of two of our annual Movin’ With The Spirit summer camps to purchase the land and a home for an adopted Haitian family. We had begun the journey, but there was so much to do.
At camp, Sean was speaking to his friend and co-worker Johnna Sullivan. He had met her about seven years earlier while running her confirmation retreat. She told him that she desired deeply to work at an orphanage in Haiti and that she had been traveling there every year to care for children. Sean shared with her his dream of building an orphanage there, which of course generated an amazing amount of excited energy! Now Sean wanted to do this as fast as he could, but had no idea how or where to start. What land? How do we get land? People told him it would be impossible. But because God is the architect of this mission, He led Johnna to introduce Sean to her former Residence Director from Franciscan University of Steubenville.
His name is Louis Merosne. He is a graduate of Franciscan University, with a master’s degree in theology, and was discerning a call to the priesthood. Louis and Sean first spoke on the phone — for about two hours — and very quickly realized they both had the same vision for the orphanage. However, Louis informed Sean that there were other dire needs there, as well, for a school and a health clinic. As Sean began to feel that our challenges were growing by the minute, he brought hope. For he told Sean of land that we could use — and that it wouldn’t cost us a thing. “How could this be possible?” Sean wondered. Sean could feel Louis smile through the phone, as he told him the land belongs to his family. Louis grew up in Haiti and moved to the U.S. in 1993. His family in Haiti is truly excited to give us their land to build all three projects and help to change their village in a powerful way.
After a few meetings we set up a trip to go to his village. We would be staying in little huts with dirt floors and no electricity, running water or bathrooms. But none of that kept people from signing on for the mission. Louis and Sean kept laughing as God assembled an amazing team of people to join them on the trip. Louis’ family and the local villagers will help to oversee all the programs, and we continue to get requests from doctors and nurses who want to go and help out at the clinic. God is truly amazing.
When we pulled into the village — after passing through wild terrain and swollen rivers that had flooded the area after a recent hurricane — the people came out to greet us. We found out later that these people had just spent an entire day clearing hundreds of enormous rocks out of the river so we could pass through. That evening, we had a beautiful, faith-filled prayer service with 300 of the local villagers, some of whom had walked hours to attend. Afterward, they shared with us their contagious enthusiasm about helping us — how they wanted to be an integral part of this mission through their sweat and hard work, not just receive a handout. Their faith and devotion inspired our team in ways they’ll never fully know.
Before the night had ended, one of the younger men in the village stood up with tears in his eyes and asked us not to forget them when we left. There had clearly been many broken promises in the past. He begged us to stay, even offering us his home and his food. Sean promised him from his heart that we would be back; that we would never forget him or the village and that God had not forgotten them, either.
Louis’ cousin, Brother Delord, met us at the village and kneeled with us before a tree on his land. He told us that this spot was where he had been kneeling for years, praying earnestly to God that missionaries would come and build in order to care for the people of Haiti. How moving for us to see the hope in his eyes when he looked at us and said, “And now you are here!” May God’s will now be done.