Photo: Local laborers hard at work building a new Fuller Center home in Pignon, Haiti, in January 2022. After two difficult years for the Caribbean nation, the generosity of churches and private individuals has been crucial for continuing the Pignon home-building success story.
St. Peter’s UCC’s generosity helps Fuller Center’s work in Haiti continue to thrive
ELMURST, Illinois — Haiti was a popular destination for Fuller Center Global Builders teams before the Covid pandemic erupted in 2020 and put a temporary halt to the mission trips. Then, just as trips were ready to resume in 2021, Haiti was engulfed in political turmoil followed by a devastating earthquake in August.
Yet, The Fuller Center for Housing’s work of building safe homes in the community of Pignon has continued to flourish thanks to determined local leadership and enthusiastic work by local laborers. But even that would not be possible without the generous financial support by churches, private groups and individuals.
When Chris Wood and Susie Sands — co-chairs of the Core Mission Team at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ — looked for a special Advent Project to support, they decided supporting The Fuller Center’s work in Haiti would be a worthy effort. After all, they had led an effort to build two Fuller Center homes in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016, and both of those homes remain in perfect shape today. And the church has taken multiple service trips with The Fuller Center, serving in such places as Macon, Georgia and New Bern, N.C.
“When Susie called to tell me that the church was interested in sponsoring a house in Haiti, I was quite happy for the news because Haiti has gone through another very difficult year,” said Ryan Iafigliola, The Fuller Center’s Vice President of International Programs. “Even worse, conditions prevented us from sending teams, which is one of the best ways we connect our supporters into our projects. Meanwhile, the Fuller Center in Haiti was finding ways to keep on building and was ready to start with more families, but lacking funds.”
The question was: With many members of their congregation still not attending church in person due to pandemic-related concerns, would they be able to drum up the same kind of interest and donations that could get a home built, much less two?
“Many weren’t attending church in person and people were listening remotely, so I wasn’t sure how many people were paying attention to the emails they were getting,” Susie said. “So I was hoping for one house, and Chris was saying, ‘No, we’re building two!’”
They wound up funding not one, or even two, but at least four new Fuller Center homes in Haiti with a total gift of $26,100. Because the cost to sponsor a home in Haiti is $6,000, that actually leaves another $2,100 that will go toward a fifth home.
“I told Ryan I was so thrilled — not really totally surprised because our congregation is generous for special things, and this was a special thing — but I was overwhelmed,” she added.
“When Susie called again to tell me that the church had raised funds for four houses, I didn’t know what to say!” Iafigliola said. “It seems every time resources seemingly run-out for Haiti, God moves someone’s heart to be generous. We truly have been moving on faith.”
The recent troubles in Haiti appear to have truly tugged on many heartstrings within the St. Peter’s UCC family.
“We all listen to the news, and we all hear the plights of so many places,” Chris said. “But Haiti just kind of touched us because they just seem to not get a break. We’re a church of families, and we just think of how awful it would be to not be able to put a roof over your families’ heads and not be able to keep them safe from the elements and everything else. It just kind of struck a chord.”
Pulling out all the stops
Chris and Susie took multiple approaches to raising money for the Advent Project. Their main push started with a fundraising letter explaining the project and connecting it to a Bible verse as they do with each Advent Project. This year’s verse was from Mark 12:30-31:
30. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.
“It says really clearly that is what we are called to do,” Chris said.
The effort also highlighted another verse (Isaiah 4:6) directly related to The Fuller Center’s work: It will be a shelter from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and the rain.
Another way they highlighted the project was with the help of two men at the church who constructed a small model of a Fuller Center home in Haiti.
“Each week as the money comes in, they’d decorate it and put doors on it so the congregation can watch the house being built as the money came in,” said Susie, noting that they had done the same in 2016 for those two Fuller Center homes but later threw the old model away. Fortunately, they were happy to construct a new model for this effort.
In addition, they had a program for supporters to donate to the fund as a Christmas gift in a loved one’s name. The supporter could then give a Christmas card to their loved one to inform them that they were part of a bigger gift for a family in need.
“We’re Americans,” Chris said. “What do we really need, most of us? Instead of buying a tie or a sweater, you could make a donation to an amazing cause and change lives.”
“We’ve all been living through these last couple of years, and I think it just touches people’s hearts that they can do something good,” Susie added.
Gallery: Fuller Center homes in Pignon, Haiti
The Fuller Center for Housing’s leaders on the ground in Pignon, Haiti, have continued building through ups and downs, inspiring hope throughout the community. They also add decorative touches to the homes to make simple and decent simply beautiful. (Click thumbnails to see larger images.)