ST. PETERSBURG – Recently, Reverend Louis M. Murphy, senior pastor of Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, embarked on an improbable journey of discovery to Haiti.
Murphy was accompanied by Marlene Berthelot, founder and executive director of Haitian Mission Par La Foi (HMPLF)-an orphanage and school program that teaches Christian values and provides much needed education to orphans and poverty-stricken children from the community that surrounds the ramshackle structure that currently houses the mission.
After the devastating earthquake in January 2010, the Mt. Zion congregation helped HMPLF with a donation that enabled Berthelot to return to Haiti and begin to sort through the remnants of the home she provided for the children and to build their current shelter.
Murphy expressed his desire to help after the disaster, but times were hard financially for his congregation. He postponed the vision God gave him to forge an alliance between Mt. Zion and HMPLF, but it was never far from his heart.
“The first time we talked about her mission, I was so moved by Ms. Berthelot’s passion,” Murphy reflected. “She sold most of her possessions to build the mission to care for needy children.”
Her passion fueled his commitment to move Mt. Zion’s missionary work beyond their local community. He couldn’t stop thinking about God’s needy children in the tiny Caribbean country of Haiti.
In 2000, Murphy got a glimpse of the country when his Royal Caribbean cruise ship stopped for a day in Labadee, Haiti. What he saw piqued his curiosity.
He wanted to see what was behind the high walls guarded by armed men. Somehow, he sensed that beyond the beautiful white sandy beach and the turquoise water, lived a people in need.
Fourteen years later, Murphy came face to face with the realities beyond that wall. He experienced many emotions that week that left him physically battered, emotionally drained but spiritually charged.
When he met the children of the orphanage, they filled him with hope and joy with their innocence and positive outlook of a future that seems so bleak. They live with no running water or electricity in a structure fashioned with scraps of materials salvaged from the collapsed home they once occupied before the earthquake.
Currently the structure protects them from the baking sun, but not always from torrential rains and pests. They sleep on mats on the floor in small rooms partitioned with tin sheets. The space converts to classrooms during the day.
Murphy spent three nights at a local motel close to the orphanage. The rusty and leaky pipe in the small room made him question the status of his tetanus booster and his sanity. He came back sick with an upper respiratory infection and an unhappy tummy, but he also returned with a sense of urgency to help these children of God.
The needs of these orphans are great. Medical care is non-existent, food is scarce, shoes and clothing are needed, but the pastor observed how the children valued a piece of chalk that they could barely hold to write.
His vision is to build a school where these children will have a clean and safe environment to learn, a school with desks and school supplies, a school with a roof that protects them from the elements.
Murphy related the story of how Berthelot wanted him to carry the candies she brings on every trip for the kids because her luggage was already over the allowed limit. He was reluctant to do it. He had already packed his suitcase, but in the end he took the bags. The children swarmed like bees towards the candies when they were passing them out. Their cries of delight for that one piece of sweet that will last but a minute warmed his heart.
“I have a soft spot for children,” Pastor Murphy said, a smile playing on his face. “I’m so glad I took the candies.”
Murphy felt the strong presence of God in the midst of the poor people in the community who welcomed him. Taking part in a revival, the pastor was in awe by the depth of the people’s faith in the face of daily calamities. He would like one day to take the youth of Mt. Zion to meet these children, who have so much to teach in their simplicity, their appreciation, their strength, their thirst for education and their faith.
Pastor Murphy needs the help of the community—churches, businesses, individuals to help him and Mt. Zion build a school and dormitory for the children of HMPLF. This endeavor will require “the village” to raise these children.
“I see a great people. I see God restoring and healing the land,” said Murphy.
Complacency and looking the other way will not bring this project to fruition. Educating children of any country is the greatest and most lasting gift one can give.
In hopes to return to HMPLF in the future, Murphy would like to bring individuals from the church and the community. He wants them to experience what he did first hand and be moved to action.
Assistance is needed in the areas of fundraising, marketing and volunteering. Donations can be made payable to Haitian Mission Par La Foi-building funds through Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, 955 20th St. S. St. Petersburg, FL 33712.
Please call Mt. Zion at 727-894-4311 or Marlene Berthelot at 727-543-0867 for more information about how you can help.