Amidst the life-threatening dangers of mass flooding, the shock of once sturdy homes crumbled into nothing, and the sheer fear of uncertainty in a country offering no help, Hurricane Matthew left Haiti in utter destruction in October 2016.
Though the malicious storm devastated more than topographical features and food sources of the forlorn state, one Red Oak couple has been bringing hope to the most hopeless regions of Haiti for 34 years.
“When people are starving to death, you can preach the Gospel to them all day long, and they’re not going to hear it. All they’re hearing is the rumbling of their stomach,” stated Donna Bryce, who co-founded Feed a Child with her husband, Eldon. "To reach them with the Word of God, you’re going to have to help them first, and let them see that you love them and that you want to help. That’s what we try to do. That’s what God has started with the feed programs, medical clinics, and everything we do – just to reach them spiritually."
Established in 1983, the active Christian non-profit is located in Fond Parisien, Haiti, bringing help and hope to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Supplying more than 15,000 hot meals per month to hungry children, the Bryce’s also conduct regular medical clinics in connection with their building programs of churches and schools. Supplying and encouraging despairing people in need of basic essentials, such as food and shelter, is what the Bryce’s have continued to do through faith and love for the Haitian nation.
Married in 1958, the Bryce’s quickly began their faith journey, pastoring several churches, while mainly residing in Coffeyville, Kansas, for 19 years. After their first trip to Haiti in 1973, the couple started a deep-seeded desire to answer the call of a desperate generation crying for help.
“The Ambassador from Haiti to the United States, at the time, Arthur Bonhomme, heard Eldon on the radio,” Bryce recalled her first memory of being introduced to Haiti through her husband’s radio program. “We had a daily radio broadcast when we were pastoring in Kansas, so Ambassador Bonhomme happened to overhear it and contacted us. He was living in the States because he had been exiled from Haiti by the then-dictator. So he asked if we’d be interested in going and taking a group over, to which he’d set up all of the arrangements."
Having a misconstrued view of missionaries in her mind, Bryce and her husband left for Haiti unprepared for the unexpected.
“Haiti got to me so, and I had always hated missionaries. I thought they were the dumbest, backward people in the whole world, and they had a personality like a doorknob,” Bryce chuckled at the prideful notion. “In my mind, I always thought, ‘I can’t see me doing this kind of thing because after all, we in the US, we’ve made it on our own without all these people helping us. What’s the matter with all these other people around the world who can’t do that?’ So I didn’t like them.
“But somehow while we were on that trip, I don’t know how the Lord did it, but he kept me from realizing we were going on a ‘missions trip.’ The minute I set foot on Haitian soil, the Lord turned me upside down. I fell in love with Haiti, and I fell in love with the people.
“For the next ten years after that trip, I couldn’t get Haiti out of my mind. Eventually, I couldn’t stand it. I was working in a bank at the first desk, and I would sit there with tears rolling down my face thinking about Haiti."
With a longing want to aid a hurting people, Bryce’s passion for living in Haiti outweighed her husband’s desire for permanent residency.
“Finally, I got Eldon to agree to let me go to Haiti by myself, and I would go and fall in love with it more and more. I thought if I could just go back one more time it would get out of my system,” she nodded with a grin. “It went the other direction.”
Prepared for her first trip with a good friend, Bryce left the States on another mission to the Caribbean island in October of 1982, with Eldon joining her a few weeks later.
During that time, more confirmation racked into focus when Bryce’s father called her, offering to pay for a Haitian car, and Bryce’s friend prophesied that “within six months, you and Eldon are going to be living in Haiti.”
Keeping this to herself, Eldon later joined his wife, conducting a crusade with over 1,500 natives in attendance.
“When Eldon came over, I didn’t tell him one single solitary thing. We went out in that jungle village to have this outdoor crusade, and Eldon started to preach, laying hands on people and praying for them through the crowd,” Bryce described the moment that changed her life.
“After that was done, we got in the car to drive back to Port-au-Prince, and as if nothing had ever happened, he said, ‘I was just thinking, it seemed like the Lord spoke to me when that service was over. And he said, why are you spending all of your time butting your heads against the wall in the United States with people who don’t even want to listen to the Gospel, when you could cross over the water and fish on the other bank with people are so hungry to hear it? You know what? I think we need to move to Haiti,’” she laughed at the irony of the situation, sealing her fate with the Haitian people.
After ten years and several trips back and forth, the Bryce’s finally moved to Haiti March 10, 1983, and began their non-profit, Feed a Child. Ever since, they have pastored other missionaries, operated Christian radio stations, and networked with other ministries.
Partnering with, Love A Child, the Bryce’s began an adventure that has lasted over three decades of work, narrow escapes, faith, and miracles - transforming entire regions of Haiti.
“We never knew what we were going to do when we got over there; the Lord never bothered to tell us,” Bryce teased. “Once we got there and discovered we needed to do these projects, they gradually developed over time.”
ONE PROJECT AT A TIME
As more problems arise in the weary country, Eagle News reports that 90 percent of Haiti is unemployed and two-thirds of the labor force does not have formal jobs, making Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
“The very poorest of the poor live in this country, and our poor people here in the US are rich compared to what I’m talking about. Seriously. Sometimes in our services in America we have people come up to us and say, ‘We have poor people in this country, why don’t you do something for them?’ You don’t even know the meaning of poor,” Bryce admitted. “There are facilities in this country where they can get help, but in Haiti there is nothing, and nowhere they can get any help at all. That’s why it so necessary for missionaries to be there. All of their help comes from missionaries, and I guess the dire need is what really got me. I have never seen such need as that."
According to Haiti Partner, 59 percent of the population lives on less than two US dollars per day and 30 percent of the population is considered “food insecure.”
Between the poverty line and hunger depletion throughout the island, the Bryce’s have been restoring hope by feeding over 240 kids at one of their school locations in Lartigue for 32 years.
“It’s not even in a village, it’s out in the boonies, maybe four or five mud huts. You wouldn’t think there’d be more than 30 to 40 people at most, even with kids in that little area, but there are 240 kids in that school. They come from miles and miles every day, and walk to school through ravines, rivers, and go over the mountains just to get to school,” Bryce explained. “That’s why it’s so important to have a feeding program in connection with your school. Most of those kids don’t have anything to eat before they leave home in the morning, and it takes them hours to walk to school on that rough terrain. When they get there, they’re exhausted, and because of the malnutrition, they’re also not that strong physically. So they’re wiped out when they get to school in the mornings.
“We’ve had kids pass out in class. In one of our schools, before we had a feeding program, there was a little boy who passed out on a Monday morning. When they brought him to, asking him, ‘Do you know what is wrong? Do you know why you passed out?’ And it was because he hadn’t had anything to eat since Friday at school."
Along with their feeding programs incorporated into the schools and churches, Feed a Child also builds the churches, which serve as multi-purpose buildings for the villages, encouraging both faith and education.
“The churches are like a lifeline to the people. Every Haitian is very religious, nearly 90 percent is voodoo,” Bryce stated, adding to not only the spiritual importance of the church but also the practical significance. “Almost always, there’s a school connected with the church, and it’s for the kids of the church people, plus the kids in the particular village of where they live. It’s not exclusive, and it’s for the whole village."
However, building a church in Haiti is the equivalent of “bare bones” in the United States with nothing more than a few chipped cinder blocks, reused wooden beams, and a hard-to-come-by tin roof. Yet, somehow, despite the overwhelming challenges of hiked prices and low-income rate, Feed a Child manages to build these helpful structures through the help of their donors.
In addition to their work, the organization also runs a gospel radio station and conducts routine medical clinics throughout the nation.
“Over there, I’m considered a brain surgeon,” Bryce laughed.
WHEN TRAGEDY STRIKES
Though Feed a Child’s programs have proven to be successful, nothing can ever be expected when a natural disaster hits. Still recovering from the 7.0 earthquake in January 2010, CNN reported that 300,000 people were injured, 1.5 million were displaced, and nearly 316,000 deaths occurred.
“There’s still rubble everywhere from the earthquake back in 2010. Family members were digging out their loved ones out from the rubble, and they would burn the dead bodies,” Bryce cringed.
Adding to the devastation five years later, category-four Hurricane Matthew brought more chaos than predicted.
“Haiti never actually recovers from one tragic event until there’s another one. Hurricane Matthew last October hit Haiti the hardest. We lost three churches and three schools, and three parsonages, plus many people’s homes,” Bryce recollected. “The people out there are living in caves because they’ve lost everything. It flattened all of the fruit trees, crops, animals, or anything they could live off of. So they had nothing to eat, and even the thought of it is horrible, but they had to eat the flesh of the dead animals that drowned in the waters – spoiled meat. So a lot of them got cholera."
For the last five months, the Bryce's have been hard at work to raise funds and rebuild what once was lost.
“It was probably between two months before we could get out there at all to take anything because of the rains following the hurricane,” Bryce recalled. “It's out in an area that is virtually impossible to get to. We’re in the process of rebuilding the churches and schools now, but I can’t even get there. It’s about 20 hours drive from Port-au-Prince, and that’s as far as the road goes, so you have to leave your vehicle and you can’t even take donkeys up there. So whatever you’re carrying out there has to be done on foot.
“Out in that area of Haiti, a long time ago there were volcanoes, so you have humongous mountains that are lava rock. Up in those mountains is where we lost all of that. Because of the porous and sharp lava rock, the Haitians are the only ones that can climb four to five hours over that to get to the villages, and most of them can’t."
As people are now residing to live in cramped caves, and search for any means of food, Feed a Child is determined to see the project through, even as constant hurdles jump in their way. From broken down transportation trucks, to flushed out roads, and outrageously priced building materials - they are unwavering in their efforts to help no matter the cost.
“So that’s our main project right now. We normally have everything scheduled for the on-going projects as far as finance is concerned, but when a tragedy like that hits, you’re wiped out,” Bryce disclosed.
For those who wish to help, Bryce shouted, “Give them our address,” She laughed, adding that supporting the missionary will get the job done. “The best way to help is to help the missionary. It’s the missionaries who are helping Haiti, doing the legwork. I don’t care if it’s Feed a Child, or whoever, I’m not trying to say ‘send us money,’ even though I wouldn’t refuse it because we use every dime to go towards Haiti, but help the missionary. Teams and teams of missionaries come in from other countries, helping Haiti.
“All of our grandkids, except one, has been there, and they’ll tell you, ‘All of our lives, we’ve heard your stories and seen your pictures, but when we got to Haiti, nothing prepared me for what I’m seeing. Nothing came close to preparing me.’ And that’s just the way it is."
Though the need is great, Bryce remains optimistic as they push ahead.
“We’re pretty encouraged with the president Haiti has right now. Thankfully, he’s not a dictator like we’ve had so much of. The first thing he did, which was just last month, he called for three days of prayer,” Bryce expressed the difference. ”It’s one thing to say that in this country, but it’s entirely different to say it in Haiti, because of all the voodoo, and for somebody to be that outspoken is amazing. So I’m encouraged.”
“As for us, we’re continuing to educate, feed, hold medical clinics, build churches and schools, and get people saved – we’re just going to keep on what we’re doing. Even though there’s devastation, there’s always a glimmer of hope,” she finished with a smile.
To connect or donate to Feed a Child, visit feedachildhaiti.com or email email@example.com.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer