Late in 1997, my parents, Bernie and Sheryl, began a ministry in Haiti. They had been involved in Haiti through another organization for several years, but here God opened new opportunities, and they responded by founding Starfish Ministries in January of 1998.
As many of you know, the Starfish name comes from a story that begins, “One day, after a particularly severe storm . . .” and goes on to tell of young boy who finds thousands of starfish stranded on a beach, dying, and with no way back into the water. The boy picks up starfish after starfish and throws them into the ocean, until a man stops him to tell him that with all of the starfish on the beach, nothing one little boy does can possibly make any difference. The boy shows the man the starfish he’s just picked up and says, “It makes a difference to this one.”
That story continues to shape our ministry. We focus not on the enormity of the problem but on the difference we can make in the lives of the ones God puts in our path. Our calling is not to fret over the incredible challenges facing Haiti but to minister to individuals, faithfully using whatever resources God provides.
The starfish story has additional meaning this month. “One day after a particularly severe storm” defines Haiti today, except that instead of one storm, four have ravaged the country. Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike hit Haiti within the span of a month, killing hundreds of Haitians, leaving as many as one million homeless, and undermining the food supply for the entire nation. There are millions of “starfish” stranded on the beach today, and for many rescue is unlikely.
In our ministry area – a number of villages in the Tricotte-Gros Morne area and the village of Bethel – there are 198 families whose homes have been completely destroyed. In many cases these families lost all of their other possessions when their homes washed away. And some lost their gardens and along with them their main source of food. Even in the best of times, most Haitians barely survive. Today, the situation for many is critical.
So what do we do? How do we respond? We believe there’s only one answer to that question, and that is to remember our calling, to minister to individuals, faithfully using the resources God provides. Right now, God has provided us resources to rebuild homes for eight families. So today our focus is on partnering with those eight to see them back in homes. Here is how we will approach it:
First, we’ll rely on Pastor Diogene and local church leaders to select the eight. We believe they are in a better position than we are to make this difficult decision, and they’ve shown themselves trustworthy and wise over the years we’ve been in ministry together.
Once the families are chosen, we will covenant with each one for the construction of their home. Because there is no shortage of labor in Haiti (only a shortage of employment opportunities), it would be a poor use of resources to built the houses for these families. Rather, we will provide the finances for the materials that need to be purchased. We’ll also provide guidance and accountability when necessary as well as someone to stand beside them, to encourage them and pray for them.
In order to establish the necessary accountability, we’ll make the funds available to the families in stages, and they will be required to show specific progress at each stage. Once the foundation has been dug and rocks and sand have been collected, we will provide the family with funds for cement and rebar to complete the foundation. When they’ve finished that, we’ll provide them with funds for concrete blocks and more cement and rebar so they can build the walls. Following the walls are corner columns; then rafters and metal roofing, and finally a concrete slab floor.
In this way, these needy Haitians will play a significant role in building their own homes, and we will make efficient use of God’s resources. The home we’ll help a typical six-member Haitian family build is 18′ x 18′, includes a main room and two bedrooms, and can be built for just $2,700. The climate in Haiti doesn’t require doors or windows to be installed. And, like the vast majority of homes in Haiti, these homes won’t have electricity or running water. But for many this will actually be an improvement over what they had before the storm, and will provide them with the safe home they need.
We look forward with eager anticipation to the day when we stand with each of these families and dedicate their completed homes to the Lord. For on that day, the story that began “One day after a particularly severe storm” will culminate with “It makes a difference to this one.
Thank you so much for your prayers and support. Your partnership with us is making a difference in many needy Haitian lives today.
Serving the Lord together,
Bernie, Sheryl & Philip Bovenkamp