LEWISTON — The South Lewiston Baptist Church adopted a sister church in Port-au-Prince five years ago and has since made annual trips to Haiti to work on adding two stories for a school.
The work was nearly done, only part of the roof left to go, before Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January. When it hit, the pastor’s wife and their four children darted for the floor with the unfinished roof while ceilings and walls crumbled around them.
“They continuously thank us for not finishing that portion of the building,” said Andrew Letourneau, a church elder at South Lewiston. “It was so heartwarming to hear that’s what saved them.”
He’s leading a mission trip next Thursday to start rebuilding the church and school, Baptiste English. He’ll take 19 people eager to help, including Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert.
Construction expertise isn’t a must.
“Sand has to be sifted (for concrete), every yard of it. It takes days just to do that,” Letourneau said.
Before the earthquake, the school had 500 students, some of whom were sponsored by Partners With Haiti, said that group’s president, John Eklund, who lives in Connecticut. The government has encouraged schools to reopen, but 80 percent in Port-au-Prince were destroyed.
Baptiste English will resume with children getting lessons outdoors under a tarp, he said, until they can go back inside.
This trip, Letourneau said he would like to get the second floor close to finished. The group leaves April 22 and returns May 4. They’ll take one personal bag each and a second duffel with supplies: thousands of pencils, pads of paper and camping chairs, along with tents and air mattresses to sleep on that they’ll leave behind.
Chris Pomerleau, youth pastor at South Lewiston, said the local church supports the pastor down there, Nathan Cherules, and helped find his family a home to rent while the building is under repair. He extended an invitation to join the Haiti trip to his former boss, Peter Geiger, who took Pomerleau up on it.
“You see this happening on TV, ‘If only I can go and do something.’ And here, I can,” Geiger said.
Gilbert learned about the trip from another church member, Lewiston police Sgt. David Chick, who also is heading down. Gilbert said he met Port-au-Prince’s principal mayor last year in Paris during an International Association of Francophone Mayors meeting. He’s hoping to reconnect with him and the mayor of Cité Soleil.
“It’s manual labor and I can certainly do that,” Gilbert said. “I’m looking forward to it, to being a help, so these children can get back to school.”
Letourneau visited Haiti in February to assess the damage and was disappointed at how much work had been undone, he said.
“The pastor looked at me, ‘Andrew, not to worry about it. God is in control; we will rebuild,’” he said.