Our story begins long ago, but more importantly, is still being written everyday. After 25 years of working in our own business, we — Jeff Gacek and Alyn Shannon — were blessed with the opportunity to seek our God-given purpose here on earth and focus on faith, transformation and living our lives with significance.
It is a challenge in the world we live in to put God at the center of our lives, and keep Him there, but that is what we seek to do every day. When we get to heaven, and we stand before our Lord, and He asks, “What did you do with the gifts I gave you?” we want to say “We used them for the purpose You put us on earth to fulfill. We sought to become more like You and 'live a life of love'.” Ephesians 5:2
We didn't choose Haiti... God chose Haiti for us.
After years of supporting a mission in Haiti, we finally took the time to go on our first mission trip in January of 2006. What we saw tore our hearts wide open. People living in extreme poverty, with no clean water, no electricity, no toilet, garbage everywhere, little food… where 10-12 people live in a one-room tin shack with a dirt floor, and where the floor turns to mud during the rainy season. Can you even imagine?
This is a country right in our back yard—considered One of the Americas—and yet the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Bono from U2 says, “The accident of longitude and latitude should not determine whether you live or die.” We are so blessed to have been born in the longitude and latitude of the United States. God has blessed us with so much and through our walk in faith, we believe these blessings should be given away.
As Bill Hybels would teach us, we had our Popeye moment—how the poor, yet faithful people of Haiti live, became our Holy discontent.
Making an Impact
In Haiti, there are many challenges and opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the poor. Mother Teresa teaches us, 'If we can't feed 1000 people, then feed one'. We have so many stories and experiences to share. Here are just a few.
In the spring of 2006, by the grace of God and with the generous help and support of our “friends and family”, we were able to help a small school in the mountains of Lespinasse, Haiti. The school, Reiser Heights was built by Fr Reiser and other charities from Minnesota years before. It is the only school in this rural mountain area and was beyond capacity, in need of repair and overflowing with students.
In the summer of 2006, we broke ground on a 4-room school addition, a 30,000-gallon cistern (to collect clean water off the roof of the school), a 4-stall sanitary block (concrete outhouse) and a kitchen to replace the tin shack that was being used to prepare food for the children. We finished construction and dedicated the project in July, 2007.
Later in 2007, we funded a 3500 gallon water truck, delivering 364,000 gallons of clean water each month for free, in the slums of Cite Soleil and with the help of ECOsmarte and Reiser Relief were able to ship a second 2500 gallon water truck to Haiti.
In the summer of 2007, we began supporting a small orphanage, in the poor rural village of Titanyen, who live in two 8x10 rooms. We provided, rent, food, water, beds and sent the children to school.
In the 2008, with the help of our donors, and only by the Grace of our living God, we purchased 16 acres of land that would provide the foundation for Grace Village, a place where God's loving grace can touch the children of Titanyen.
That year, we shipped and distributed another 273,000 meals from Feed My Starving Children.
Healing Haiti met with about 40 community leaders in Titanyen to share our vision of Grace Village and ask for community input on how we best could meet their needs.
Working with MSAADA Architects, a Non-Profit organization who specialize in the developing world, designed plans for Grace Village.
Tried an experiment. Our director Jean Fils-aime asked if we would be willing to send 10 street kids to school, who wash windows at intersections he drives through every day. We agreed and had a requirement that they boys needed to show report cards every quarter for the support to continue. Only four boys continued through the entire 2008 school year.
Ship and distribute another 273,000 meals from Feed My Starving Children.
The day before we were to leave Haiti, God put Gulliam, a desparate yet faithful man, in our path. He approached us and pleaded for help for 30 children he was taking care of in an old abandoned school outside of Cite Soleil. Our first visit revealed 30 children sleeping on the floor with no beds, not mattresses and no means of providing for themselves. We made the decision to help this small orphanage by providing rent, food and emergency medical care.
We begin paying teachers salaries at The Christian School for Poor Children in Ttitanyen as a way to support the community that Grace Village is part of.
In the fall of 2009, we broke ground on phase one of Grace Village which included a Feeding Center that will feed 80 children at one sitting and also be used for a gathering space for church services, bible studies and educational settings, and a girls dormitory and a boys dormitory that will become home for the children of the two orphanages that we support. Each dormitory will be home to up to 40 children.
In 2009, we brought 10 short term mission teams to Haiti.
Nothing could have prepared us for what we experienced in 2010.
In January of 2010, Haiti experienced a 7.2 magnitude earthquake killing over 300,000 people, leaving over 1 million homeless. Healing Haiti was blessed that our children and mission programs were safe, so we returned to Haiti 3 days after the earthquake to help other missions serve the victims of the quake. We worked with Heartline Ministries shuttling victims to makeshift clinics and started delivering clean water into the hardest hit areas and tent cities of Port-au-Prince.
Our new orphanage buildings were moderately damaged with some of the walls tumbling... but thankfully, none of our workers were seriously hurt. Praise God. Clean up and construction was delayed because of lack of diesel fuel, a damaged port and lack of construction materials.
In March of 2010, my wife and co-founder of Healing Haiti, Alyn Shannon was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. She was given 3 months to a year to live. I am so proud of her. I witnessed her strong faith in God, her resiliency and resolve to continue to serve those in need. Alyn never missed a beat and continued to go to Haiti four more times before God took her to Heaven on November 10th, 2010 at 7:35 in the morning. She was and is, the love of my life... a gift from God, my wife of 28 years, my best friend of 30 and my soulmate for eternity. I miss her everyday and can't wait to be with her but know that God has more work to be done and so I have to get about it.
Construction on phase one of Grace Village continued with the addition of two septic systems and an 8 foot wall surrounding 5 acres of land.
We were blessed in 2010 to bring an additional 17 short term mission teams to Haiti. We believe God is calling us not only to Haiti but also to the mission field back in the states. We believe He uses short term missions to transform the lives of those that go... giving them a new lens to see life through. We are so blessed to be used by God to be part of this transformation and give Him all the glory for all good that comes of these missions.
in 2010, we shipped 1.25 Million meals to Haiti from Feed My Starving Children and Kids Against Hunger.
In 2011, we brought 43 teams to Haiti through our short term missions. Over 400 people experienced the extreme poverty of Haiti along with the joy and faithfulness of the Haitian people. God promises to use everything for His glory and through these experiences, He is transforming lives and revealing Himself to those that go. He asks, 'Who will go for me?'... and over 400 responded, 'Here I am, send me'.
We continued to care for our over 50 orphan children, pay teacher salaries at 3 schools so over 1000 children can go to school for free, run water trucks delivering clean water for free in one of the worst slums in the world, care for 30 orphaned elderly in the rural village of Titanyen and continued to work on phase one of Grace Village.
On December 21, 2012, we were blessed with the opportunity to bring our orphan children up to Grace Village to their new home. It was such an awesome, humbling experience to see the power of God and the joy of these children as they experienced their new home for the first time. God is good.
We are so excited to report that we've planted our first Church in Haiti. Église de la Grâce (Grace Church) held it's first church service in the Feeding Center January 2012. Pastor Gary and Pastor Wesley joined our efforts helping us to hold services on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening and daily morning worship 6-7am Monday-Friday. By years end, we had 300+ regular attenders. Église de la Grâce had a Prison Minsitry and a Hospital Ministry fufilling parts of Mathew 25:35-40... caring for the least of these.
Four long term missionaries (Jessica, Kathy, Kristina and Skye), made the choice to follow what God put on their hearts and commited to serve for at least a year at Grace Village. We are blessed to have their hearts serving the least of these and being Christ's hands and feet in Titanyen.
In 2012, we brought 48 teams to Haiti through our short term missions and over 600 people experienced the transformation that is promised when we put God in the center of our lives. Many of the short term mission goers were repeaters wanting to go again and bring their friends and family with them. We introduced our first medical/dental teams and also introduced Parent/Child trips.
Many new team leaders were being trained in anticipation for our new Guesthouse II that we're buiding next to Guesthouse I. We have our first team scheduled for the second week of January 2013. This will allow us to bring 70 teams to Haiti in 2013 and extend God's reach both in Haiti and back here in the USA.
Our ministry continued to grow as we launched 'Institution Modern Vision', our new school at Grace Village in Titanyen. 300 children who had not gone to school previously were now going to school for free. Thirty Christian certified teachers with college degrees were hired to insure the best education that we can give these children. Mwen Kapob (I Can) Christian curriculum was adopted from Mission of Hope giving these children a curriculum that will encourage them to change and excel.
In addition we added 2 new schools that we support bringing the total to five. Over 1600 children are now going to school for little or no cost because we are paying teacher salaries each month.
And finally, we started construction on our new Medical/Dental Clinic at Grace Village. We are so excited to help our community of Titanyen with their medcial and dental needs focusing on prenatal/postnatal and hypertension.
We take no credit for what God is doing through Healing Haiti. When we use the word 'we' we are referring not to what we are doing, but to what God is doing both in and through us... all for His glory... for it is only through Him that we get to do what we do — All glory to God.