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#2544: Phoenix church helps support Haitian children (fwd)
Phoenix church helps support Haitian children
By Kelly Ettenborough The Arizona Republic Feb. 26, 2000
Eating every day, going to schooland seeing a doctor are luxuries in
Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Life
expectancy is 50 years.Children who are born handicapped are abandoned,
often to die, because they can't contribute to the family economics.
In the sheer hopelessness of the situation, two homes for abandoned
children are making a difference.This moved one pastor to enlist the
help of his congregation, and now Bethel Lutheran Church, 7310 N.
27th Ave., Phoenix, is helping support the home for boys and the home
for disabled children in Haiti. In 1999, church members sent the boys
their first Christmas gifts. This was the first time the boys had
received mail with their names on it. The pastor has made three trips
since 1995 and has taken a variety of supplies for the homes as well as
a computer and printer, all donated by the congregation.
"Ultimately, for us, it goes back to what Christ invites us to do.
You've got to reach out to the least and the lost. It's led our church
to Haiti," said the Rev. John Lemnitzer, pastor of the 200-member
congregation. The church also participates in projects such as feeding
the homeless in Phoenix and supporting other mission work. But the
church wants to pursue its relationship with Haiti further, with other
members of the congregation taking trips.
"You can't leave the church on Sunday morning and not do anything. It's
a matter of living your faith fully," Lemnitzer said. The St. Joseph's
Home for Boys was started in the early 1980s by a priest with
the Missionary Brothers of Charity as a home for abandoned boys.
As the boys in the home grew older, they wanted to help others. In 1994,
they took on the care of 14 severely mentally and physically
handicapped boys. That home is called Wings of Hope and today has 24
children, half of whom are handicapped.Twenty-three boys live at St.
Joseph's. The home has grown from four rooms to seven stories over the
years. The boys are given love and an education. They live a frugal
lifestyle, and the boys who are not handicapped grow up with the
ability to support themselves instead of living on the streets. The boys
also run guest rooms for visitors to Haiti. When the boys from St.
Joseph's first visited the home for disabled children, the previous
caregivers referred to the children as "living pieces of furniture."
Soni, one of the handicapped boys, was confined to his crib until age 8
because of cerebral palsy and neglect. He now dances with the other boys
in a group that raises money for the home. Soni's Mended Wings, a new
children's book written by a Canadian author, tells his story. The book
sells for $10, and all proceeds benefit the children, said the Rev.
Philip Norris, an English pastor who moved his family to Haiti to work
with the homes after seeing the need. Norris recently visited Bethel to
update the congregation on the homes and building projects.Police had
brought a boy, 11, who was mentally handicapped and physically abused to
the home after finding him on the street. At first, he was shell-shocked
with a blank expression."Now he comes up to you and puts his arms around
you for a big hug,and that's the thing that makes a difference for me,"
Norris said. As part of the relationship that has developed with the
church, the boys at St. Joseph's have pictures of church members and
pray for them.Bethel members pray regularly for the boys in Haiti.
Norris spends part of his time traveling to speak about and raise money
for the homes and in particular a physical therapy center at Wings of
Hope. So far, $110,000 has been raised and used toward the building,
and about $40,000 more is needed. Building in Haiti is expensive, with
a bag of cement worth $5 here costing $20 there. When the expansion at
Wings of Hope is finished, it will have room for 40 disabled children,
Norris said. As he visits churches around the country, he also
encourages Americans to visit Haiti, 700 miles southeast of Florida, and
see the poverty firsthand. It's a transforming experience, he said.
"So often I find in church life that as Christians we want to argue
about the stupidest things -- what color cups are you going to have? I
say, let's have the arguments after we go to Haiti," he said.