As soon as the three men landed in Jérémie, Haiti, they knew.
George Clerie, Ryan Haggerty, and Dan Moriarty were on a reconnaissance trip to Haiti. They were seeking God's guidance for a project for students enrolled in Impact 195, the Rock Church's discipleship training program through Rock University. George is the Rock University Pastor. Ryan is Rock University Sending Coordinator. Dan is the videographer.
The three men first toured the Caribbean country's devastated capital, Port-au-Prince. They walked through the crowded tent cities occupied by hundreds of thousands of Haitians made homeless by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake. They talked to aid organizations, like the Rock Church's partner, World Vision. They prayed.
"The needs in Port-au-Prince, even three months after the January 12  quake, are overwhelming," said Ryan. Still, they did not feel God's call to plan an Impact 195 project in Port-au-Prince.
If not there, where?
The men decided to take a quick trip to Jérémie. George's father had been born there. "We thought it would be a sentimental trip," said Ryan. "But as soon as we landed, our spirits settled. We knew we should do something here."
If you think of Haiti as somewhat like the shape of a "U" on its side, with the bottom arm longer than the top, Jérémie is on the top of that bottom arm, on the Pointe de Tiburon. It faces the Gulf of Gonâve, inside the "U".
Jérémie is isolated and desperately poor. No industry, little electricity, no plumbing, no refrigeration. To make matters worse, "it normally gets most of its supplies from Port-au-Prince. Since the earthquake, it hasn't been receiving any," said Ryan.
George, Ryan and Dan discovered that nearly 38,000 people had one source of water: a contaminated spring a mile and a half from the town. Drinking water, or water to cook or bathe with, requires a daily hike to the spring. A few entrepreneurs with water trucks fill their tanks and sell the water in town.
"We were in shock that no one from the outside had fixed this," said Ryan. "All it would take would be a little bit of know-how, some pipes into town, and the next day, you've got 38,000 people drinking fresh water."
They had found their Impact 195 project. But that wasn't all.
50 Students with Impact 195
"We thought, with all the people moving out of Port-au-Prince and coming to these small cities, that one of these small cities is where we [Impact 195] can make a real difference, a real impact. And bring fresh hope and sense of what the love of Jesus can do to a community," said George.
He was walking through the downtown square as he spoke, and went past a rusted playground with broken slides and teeter-totters.
"How cool would it be to give the kids a playground again, a place for them to laugh in and start having fun again?"
George, Ryan and Dan have begun a dialogue with Jérémie's mayor, government officials and pastors, with the goal of establishing a sustainable and long-term presence in the city.
"We want to spearhead an effort for the local churches to do something for their own people," George said. The team is encouraging the mayor to inspire the population and cast the vision.
A team of about 50 Impact 195 students will spend two weeks in Jérémie, from June 4 to June 19, working alongside Haitians to make the love of God tangible and real, to make the Gospel something they can see, hear and feel.
Among the actions Impact 195 is considering:
- A water system feasibility study: A small team of engineers with Impact 195 will look at what it will take to pipe fresh water into town.
- Community revitalization: Rebuild the playground, paint the buildings and walls, clean and spruce up the town square.
- Celebration and dedication event: Hold a celebration in the town square, with live music, a public pledge by the mayor, and food for 10,000 ("on faith!" said Ryan).
- Backpacks for every child in the city's orphanage: Impact 195 wants to bring down in June a backpack for each child, with their names embroidered on them, stuffed with school and hygiene supplies and a gift.
- Health check-ups: Each child in the orphanage would be evaluated and given needed vaccinations.
- A five-year plan: This will include a community center that includes a library, a health center, family development programs, and micro-finance projects.
"We want to help the people turn Jérémie into a model city," said Ryan.
To track the Impact 195 students maiden voyage to Haiti, go to www.therockuniversity.org and click on the Haiti link. Prayer requests will be posted daily.