Long Beach church raises $29,000 for Haitian church bathrooms

 Bill John, a member of First Baptist Long Beach, plays with Willis Simone at the Handicapped Association of Carrefour in Carrefour, Haiti Dec. 30.
SARA MARIE MOORE/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD Bill John, a member of First Baptist Long Beach, plays with Willis Simone at the Handicapped Association of Carrefour in Carrefour, Haiti Dec. 30.

CARREFOUR, Haiti -- The Rev. LaRue Stephens of First Baptist Long Beach stood on a shiny tile bathroom floor at a church in Haiti, joyfully pointing to a septic tank.

It is the pride of his South Mississippi church, which fell in love with Haiti in July 2014. The church has sent money and several mission teams a year in 2014 and 2015.

The sanitation project cost $28,000. But it was what the Rev. Jean Robert Clement of Bertin Evangelical Baptist Church in Carrefour really wanted, Stephens said.

Stephens knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of well-meaning but off-target aid. His church was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. So he asked Clement what he really needed. The Haitian pastor, principal and seminary teacher said he needed something better than the church's simple latrine. And he wanted an enclosed church building in place of his open-air pavilion.

Stephens understood. His church went without a building for three years.

Now his parishioners are building one in Haiti. They started with bathrooms. The church structure is in progress.

The two churches were brought together in 2014 through a mission agency, Praying Pelican Missions. First Baptist was drawn to Haiti to help in the impoverished country's long recovery from a 2010 earthquake.

The first mission team in 2014 met Clement, who ran a church and school. Church leaders found him to be a man of vision with a heart for his community. The team and members of Clements' church handed out fruit trees to families in nearby neighborhoods.

"We used the tree as a segue to share our story with them," Stephens said.

Clement's church loved the tree evangelism idea so much they kept doing it after First Baptist went home.

Throughout that first week, the Long Beach team also heard Clement's vision for his church and school. He wished first of all for bathrooms.

"We realized that this is something we have the resources to assist with," Stephens said.

His church members concurred. "Several shared with me after we returned home that they felt like they had left their heart in Haiti. Within three weeks, we had a follow­-up trip scheduled for December (2014)."

On this trip, the two churches hashed out a plan to help Clement reach his extended community.

Clement asked for help with school supplies for the children, as well as showers, flushing toilets and a water well.

"Within three months, our church had raised $29,000 to pay that project," Stephens said.

And so many members and their friends signed up for two July trips that he scheduled a third trip. The teams took 175 backpacks filled with school supplies to Clement's school. A medical team from First Baptist saw 126 people their first day in Haiti. Three children were referred to the hospital for surgeries, and the team was able to cover the costs.

When Stephens and his wife, Sandi, came back with a team the day after Christmas, the bathrooms, showers and septic tank were completed. First Baptist had raised the money and funneled it through PPM, and Clement oversaw the construction with a local foreman and construction crew. The project created jobs for locals and could continue when the mission team went home.

"It was a big challenge for us, but God used you to help us with this project," Clement told the next team, who came to visit in December.

First Baptist is now looking to the future with Clement.

His church still meets under a pavilion, but First Baptist is raising money for a concrete church building. Parishioners also plan to help build a schoolhouse with an attached medical clinic, another of Clement's dreams. They envision raising money for a school library, desks and blackboards, and medical equipment for the clinic.

Another goal is to do a geological study to try to tap into a deep-water well.

"Our dream is to be able to provide not only water for the church, schoolhouse and medical clinic," Stephens said, "but also run a pipe out to the street where the people of the city can come get water at certain times of the day."

First Baptist, a church of 500, is reaching out to other churches in the area to help reach this goal in Haiti.

First Baptist is planning four trips to Haiti in 2016 -- in March, June, July and November. Also in 2016, parishioners will head to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico and India.

"It is not a show trip, it is not a feel-good trip and it is not something you do to check off your list," he said. "It is more about serving others than your own self. To me gospel ministry is about making disciples and ministering to the needs of other people."