ORANGE PARK – In one of the most iconic passages of scripture, David declared that the Lord lead him beside the still waters. However, for the residents of one Caribbean island, there is no water by which the spirit can lead them. For about 100,000 Haitians living on the island of La Gonâve, there is no access to fresh water.
Nearly 1,000 miles away from Haiti, is a small church on Blanding Boulevard. Inside that church are people who have an answer to the prayers of the people on that island.
New Beginnings Christian Fellowship of Orange Park, has found itself becoming a leader in bringing aid to the people in La Gonâve.
“We have the ability to buy water here,” Pastor Jerry Lankford said. “We have water in our taps, and we don’t care if it’s in our yard. We even have pools of water to swim in.”
New Beginnings formed a partnership with a group called Bethesda, which means “House of Mercy.” In 2012, Lankford went on a trip to La Gonâve with a church member who grew up on the island. There he met Pastor Micler and Rosiane and was introduced to their work on the island. It is on that trip that he made the choice to help make a difference.
La Gonâve is not the average developing island. Lankford said he had been places where there was “hope,” but this place had none. The people there suffered from what he referred to as “sustained poverty.” Essentially, several generations of a family in La Gonâve will be born, live and die on the island. Then the cycle repeats itself again.
The families are mostly illiterate, malnourished and deprived of one of life’s precious commodities – water.
“They don’t waste water like we do, with a shower,” Lankford said. “There are no creeks, no lakes and no rivers on this island. No sources of water.”
The people in La Gonâve use rainwater as their source of water, they have even gone as far as to study the types of rocks that hold water. The issue is that those sources of water are not always clean.
In La Gonâve, children and adults are dying rapidly from drinking contaminated water. Lankford believes that what his church is doing there will change that.
Before Lankford and company went to La Gonâve, the idea that water could come from the ground, was foreign to them.
“They believed that the island was cursed,” Lankford said.
Now, with the use of water wells, they can finally get clean drinking water from earth. Currently, they produce about 15 gallons of water a day, which is not enough, but New Beginnings is hoping they can increase the amount of water exponentially by providing them with more wells.
After the church decided to help, New Beginnings plans seemed to fall into place overnight.
They received a donation from a Texas missionary group. Using donated funds, they purchased a drill from Bronco Well Drilling in Keystone Heights, a Green Cove Springs ship captain will transport the drill to Haiti and an Orange Park pilot will fly the ministry to and from the island. Lankford described the serendipitous support for the mission as “divine.”
The church will be traveling to Haiti from July 5 to August 25 to make the project come to life. Lankford is welcoming anyone to become a part of their missionary work in La Gonâve, as well as accepting donations.
According to the Bethesda mission’s website, “Our vision is to drill wells that will yield fresh water. This will attract people from the upper half of the island to Bethesda, where their basic needs will be met, and they can receive the Living Water.” The “living water” they are referring to is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“There are many Christian religions in Haiti,” Lankford said. “There is also a voodoo religion, what they generally do is mix the two together, because their needs are so great.”
Even with all of struggles La Gonâve has endured, the people there still manage to have faith in their beliefs, to fix what they cannot change.
“If they have sickness in their body, they tell Jesus. If they don’t get a response, they’ll go to the voodoo doctor,” Lankford said. “They are desperate, and they are trying anything that they can to recover.”