Hope for La GonaveBy JAMIE PATTERSON,
Ben Rush has an outlook on life different than most. He tries to not let problems with the hectic race of everyday life get to him. He knows how good he really has it made, even right here in Yazoo City.
He knows that because he has seen firsthand the challenges and woes that come with living in a third-world country.
“My problems are not third-world country problems,” Rush said. “My problems really aren’t problems.”
Yet despite seeing the ugly scars of poverty and hunger, he has seen the love of a renewed heart and a transformed mind in those same stricken areas.
He has Hope for La Gonave.
Hope for La Gonave is an organization that provides a ministry to the children of La Gonave, Haiti. Children in the poorest area of Haiti are taught God’s Word, as well as pushing literacy and overall health and nutrition.
“Our hope and prayer is that through this ministry children will be taught God’s Word and will become literate individuals who can lead and teach those that come after them from generation to generation…” the mission states.
Rush joined the organization in 2015, serving on its board of directors for the past two years. Through the organization, he has traveled to La Gonave to train pastors and other church leaders. Through his journey, he and his wife Connie have also sponsored two children he lovingly refers to as “his girls.”
“It’s been tremendous for me to be a part of that organization to watch kids grow up,” he said.
The island of La Gonave is about 15 miles off the mainland of Haiti. The island is about 35 miles long and 12 miles wide at the widest point.
“And it is home to about 120,000 of the poorest of the poor in Haiti,” Rush said. “Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and La Gonave is the poorest of Haiti. That gives you an idea of just how poor it is.”
Hope for La Gonave was established after Matthew Baugh, missionary to Haiti, was traveling to meet a group of Haitian pastors. As he neared the fishing village of Luly a truck pulled into his lane of traffic and hit his motorcycle head on. Matt died in his wife’s arms before they could reach a medical facility.
God’s call to return to Haiti was recognized, and Hope for La Gonave was born to continue Baugh’s mission of educating and spreading the Gospel.
“During Matt’s time there, he was distraught at how illiterate the population was in general and the real need for schools to be planted there,” Rush said. “The family decided they would start one school for Matt. That one school has turned into five schools.”
According to reports and statistics, Haiti’s literacy rate sits at just 61 to 64 percent compared to a 92 percent average literacy rate for Latin American and Caribbean countries. Fifty percent of Haitian children do not attend school. But for those fortunate primary school students who do, 60 percent will drop out before the sixth grade.
Hope for La Gonave has established four elementary schools in four separate towns, as well as a secondary school that will expand to the twelfth-grade next year.
Rush said getting to La Gonave is either by boat or plane, landing on a coral strip.
“Typically they have to run cows and goats off before they can land,” Rush said. “When you step off the airplane, it is almost like stepping back in time about 200 years.”
With a $126,000 budget, partly finances through child sponsorships, Hope for La Gonave employs 63 people, mostly teachers. The program provides tuition-free education to the children of La Gonave.
“For $30 a month, you can sponsor a child,” Rush said. “That money goes exclusively to uniforms, a balance meal that may at time be the only meal they have, and mental and dental care during the course of the year. It also goes towards paying teachers. Not one penny goes to administrative cost. Whenever I go, about twice a year, I pay for the trip myself or the church raises support.”
A dentist visits the children about once a year, and he also trains dental students on the island.
“These children, who might not ever see a dentist, have access to dental care,” Rush said. “I can’t tell you how many abscess teeth that could have led to someone’s death had the tooth not been pulled.”
Nurses also visit the schools periodically to perform wellness checks and meet other medical needs.
At times, the need is spiritual. Rush remembers when he witnesses a little girl who was demon possessed.
“She was a patient, getting out of her chair, she went into what I thought was a seizure,” Rush said. “This went on for hour and a half. It was so violent, it took five grown men and two women to hold her down to keep from hurting herself.”
And then God came in.
“To show the providence of God, she had just recently started going to school and we were there in February of 2018,” Rush said. “She had just started November of 2017. 17. As a result of Christian education that was given to her and as a result of the follow-up of people caring for her soul and sharing the Gospel with her, she was converted.”
Hope for La Gonave also helps with providing clean water to families. Cisterns are built along the schools that collect water from gutters, and filters are provided to clean the water.
And the joy and dedication found within the spirits of these children is the biggest reward for Rush. He is amazed by the children who walk three hours, one way, daily to get to school.
“We are transforming lives by renewing minds,” Rush said. “And to see the love of Christ spread across the faces of the people I have met is amazing.”