HAMMOND — During a post-earthquake mission trip to Haiti in 2010, Deven Pedeaux got a message from God.
“Pastor Deven said he felt like God said, ‘Go to Jeremie,’ ” Jim Grega recalled.
Pedeaux and his wife, Kathy, are lead pastors of The Mission Church in Hammond, while Grega serves as foreign missions pastor. Grega was leading a group from the church who were helping re-establish a closed mission site in Marbial.
Language translators around Pedeaux, though, wanted to talk about Jeremie. Fleeing the sprawling and devastated capital city, Port-au-Prince, earthquake victims were flocking into the Jeremie area, about 100 miles from the 7.0 quake’s epicenter west of Port-au-Prince.
“Children were dying because they had lost their parents, pure poverty,” Grega said.
After touring Jeremie on the next trip in December 2011, the church purchased 7 acres on the oceanfront in the tiny village of Chateau, just east of Jeremie. The Mission Church Haiti became the Hammond church’s major project.
A fence surrounding the land was erected the next year, followed by the 2,700-square-foot nondenominational Evangelistic Mission Church to serve a congregation of 125. Ministering to the small flock had, of course, come first. The worshippers gathered in a tent until the church was built.
“We built it by hand. We did every block ourselves. We put all the cement, did the foundation, we built the church from the ground up in summer of 2012,” said Grega, who travels to Haiti about every other month. Organized mission trips, which have also come to encompass other churches, are scheduled throughout the year, but concentrated during the summer. Raising funds is an ongoing task.
Last year saw construction of a two-room schoolhouse. The school year began in September with two grades, and plans are to add another grade each year.
Fortunately, some of the teams on the mission trips have engineering and construction expertise. Materials, however, are another matter.
“There is no Lowe’s,” Grega said, laughing. “You adapt. We wired our whole church building. They were the correct wires; they might not have been the right colors, though. You’re always adapting.
“An engineer type drives them crazy. A guy who’s lived on a farm is used to piddling and tinkering, they do pretty well. The biggest tool, I say, in Haiti is a rock.”
Adhering to the proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” the church’s work is defined not by hand-outs, but hand-ups, Grega stressed.
Take for instance, the micro-economic development programs, which include a chicken farm and a vegetable farm.
“We’ve now sold over 1,000 chickens. We started in March of this year. We got together 10 church members, brought in an agriculturist from Haiti who trained them how to plant seeds, take thoseplants, put them into the earth.
“We’re specializing in peppers. They’ve found that they do real well with peppers. It’s a pretty good market, about four kinds of peppers,” he said.
The produce is sold in town, and the farmers use the money to feed their children and support the church.
“Our whole idea when we got to Jeremie, Haiti, is to make it self-reliant, self-sufficient,” Grega said. “We want to go in there and help the people, but we don’t want them to feel like we’re going to give ’em, give ’em, give ’em.”
Grega said the villagers had a real problem with people putting church and business together, because of the differences in the culture. But, they’re catching on.
“We’re picking those 18, 19, 25, that age group. We’re targeting those with children or planning children, church members, so the kids grow up in it, then they become leaders,” he said.
Other businesses include small transportation (a three-wheel motor bike with a pickup bed in back), wedding dress rental and telephone card sales.
“The idea is definitely to prepare everyone spiritually and help them grow in God, and the church is our main focus,” Grega said. “But, from that, we’re taking the same concepts of living a proper life by letting them start businesses.”
The real change will take more than a couple of years, Grega said, thus the church’s mission committee, which meets weekly, has mapped out projects and expansion at the mission for years to come, including a medical mission team outreach in early 2015. And eyes are always on the young.
“They’re going to be our change,” Grega said. “And they’re going to be Christian leaders. That’s the good part about it.”