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Hearts: a chance meeting leads to a mission partnership between St. Andrew's, Fergus, Ontario, and Cap Haitien's Baptist church in Haiti.

By the Pool of St. Jacques, a rank open sewer that serves as an unholy baptismal for devil worshippers, Good and Evil took the physical form of two seething Haitian men -- one, a Christian preacher and, the other, a voodoo witch-doctor.

They were locked in battle over the souls of a pregnant girl and her unborn baby whom the witch-doctor had been ritually dedicating to Satan. The young preacher could tolerate it no longer and, at great risk to his safety and the safety of three other Christian onlookers, he intervened. Raising his arms, he advanced into the midst of the macabre sacrament, preaching the gospel and throwing the ceremony into utter confusion. Trembling with rage, the witch-doctor turned on him. For several eternal seconds, the two men stood face-to-face in the smothering heat, glaring at each other. Then, pressing his numeric advantage, the witch-doctor advanced on the intruders. They had no option but to retreat.

Today, Satan had won.

But there would be other days when he wouldn't. With God's help, the young preacher, Esterling Eugene, and his brother, Emmanuel (Mano) Eugene, pastor of Cap Haitien's Ebenezer Evangelical Baptist Church, would be back to claim the souls of other young mothers-to-be for God and, perhaps, even the witch-doctor's. And why not? Numbered among the congregation of 700 are three former witch-doctors and their families.

What of the other two witnesses to the battle between Good and Evil by the Pool of St. Jacques? Who were they and what was their business there?

They were Julie Groves and Russell Gammon, two founding members of HEARTS -- Haitians Educated And Reaching Toward Salvation -- an action committee formed in August 1995 within Fergus, Ontario's St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. The group began after Julie Groves and her husband, Wayne, met Emmanuel Eugene the previous March when they and their family drove a vanload of relief supplies to Florida for shipment to Haiti. The expatriate father of three was studying for the ministry while he held down two jobs.

An instant bond developed between the Groves family and Mano. He told them about the horrific suffering in his homeland. Julie asked him if he would consider returning to Haiti to co-ordinate relief efforts from there. She confesses now she had not realized what she was asking of him. He had a signed offer in his pocket from a South Florida congregation to become the pastor, a prospect that would have enabled his family to join him in the relative safety of the United States. If he returned to Haiti, he would be throwing away his freedom -- likely forever.

He needed time to think things over.

By September '95, he had made his decision: Yes, he would return to Cap Haitien, to his wife and children, to the people who needed him, to his church ... to hell on earth.

The previous month, HEARTS was formed with the aim of funding and providing supplies for the students and families of an elementary school housed in the church Mano would lead, and to provide food, clothing and support for orphaned children who attend the school.

In March 1996, when they stood in terror by the Pool of St. Jacques, Julie and Russell wanted desperately to run but, instead, searched for and found some of the same courage that had helped the young preacher to intercede. They had come to Haiti, at their own expense, to assess the short- and long-term needs of the church, school and orphanage so that practical fund-raising targets could be set and budgets struck.

But they were not prepared for what awaited them in this, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Russ Gammon: "I've been everywhere. And nothing in any other country I've been to prepared me for this -- not even Brazil, and Brazil really knocked the stuffing out of me! I was down there and saw the orphans and the poverty, and the kids drinking liquor, and horses that looked like caricatures of horses with bones sticking out of their skin. But it was nothing compared to Haiti. Nothing! Because Brazil is not a Fourth World country. Maybe second or third. Haiti is a Fourth World country -- theoretically, hopeless.

"These were eight overwhelming days. Everywhere we went, there was something that made an impact on me. The car that got crunched at the side of the road. The people washing dishes at the side of the road. A man taking a bath at a well. Someone dying over there in the corner. Someone else begging over here. A whole bunch of kids bursting joyously into the school! It was a confusing acceleration of feelings and events, and there was little I could process at a normal mental rate."

Julie Groves: "I don't think there's a vocabulary to describe the horror of that place. Though the mountains and the people are beautiful, the poverty is more than your mind can dream up and hold. That's why, if you go there, you'd either be in pieces in the first 10 minutes and stay in your room until the plane comes to take you out, or God blankets you with the ability to cope until you get home. Then, you fall apart.

"If you let yourself be overcome by what you are seeing, smelling, experiencing as you watch what other adults and the children live with every day, you couldn't control your mind; you'd go insane."

Neither fell apart nor went insane. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and helped members of Men for Missions, who had come to Haiti on a work crusade, empty a huge container in which HEARTS had been allotted space for supplies bound for Emmanuel Eugene's church, school and orphanage. Then, they helped assemble 25 water-pumps for installation at various wells around the countryside to provide fresh water for 30,000 Haitians. At the missionary school, they helped paint walls and build a roof on the teachers residence. When that was done, they raked the schoolyard and poured concrete for a set of steps.

Together with Mano, Julie and Russ did a pragmatic assessment of what needs HEARTS could realistically meet. At first, it was agreed they could only commit to feeding the orphans and contributing to the salaries of their teachers because the 75 cents US per pound freight charges imposed on relief supplies were prohibitive. But shortly after their return to Canada, thanks to the efforts of another member of St. Andrew's, John McCluskey, who is employed as the executive assistant to MP Murray Calder, HEARTS discovered it would be permitted to send relief supplies free of charge aboard Canadian military aircraft.

Since learning this news, HEARTS members have undertaken a number of fund-raising events. They have assembled two tons of clothing, school supplies and sanitation products. They also began to find sources of medical supplies with which to stock a dispensary at the Ebenezer compound. They have made a commitment to provide for the salaries of the school teachers, the cooking staff and the pastor. To meet this commitment, they are seeking a $20-per-month pledge from 125 families. As well, HEARTS started on a building fund of $5,000 -- money that will pay for the sinking of a well and an addition to the existing church/school building.

"[We have found] many fund-raising opportunities," says Russ Gammon. "Over the past year, HEARTS members and supporters have been working together to raise the funds for this project." Thanks to an eleventh-hour donation by a St. Andrew's member, the $5,000 target was reached.

They have accomplished much in a year, and Julie Groves believes she knows why.

"This whole thing has been spiritually led. Pastor Eugene's decision to go back was totally in God's hands in a way that was more than I could understand at the time. After being there, and seeing what he went home to, it made even more of an impact on me. The decision he made had to be God-given."

A few days before she went to Haiti, Julie Groves, who had never flown, never left her family, never done any public speaking, fell tearfully to her knees in the living room of her Fergus home. She pleaded with God to let her off the hook, to let her stay in her own comfortable world. Then, she read Joshua 1:9: "Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Russ and Julie went back to Cap Haitien in September. They were joined by Wayne Groves, the three Groves boys and Jeremy Woods, another HEARTS member. They went to distribute the 5,500 pounds of supplies they had assembled and to build a dormitory onto the school to house orphaned children.

Once again, they accompanied Esterling Eugene and his brother, Mano, to the Pool of St. Jacques in their quest to reclaim lost souls for God.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Presbyterian Record
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bob Cooper
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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Next Article:Remembering Henri Nouwen.

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