TRAVERSE CITY — When they helped establish a sister church in St. Marc, Haiti, Christ Community Church congregants had no idea it would one day welcome survivors of a devastating hurricane.
Now the small Traverse City congregation is helping to found an orphanage in St. Marc, the coastal province where thousands fled after the January earthquake that leveled the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
The church and its sister church, Christ Community Church of St. Marc, recently secured a building for the orphanage in St. Marc, now the third largest city in Haiti, said the Rev. Doyle Berg, Jr., pastor of the Traverse City church. It will begin operation soon, he said.
"The government is still in such shambles they can't even process papers on an orphanage," Berg said. "So we started the orphanage and when the government gets set up they will come and tell them what paperwork they need.
"Our ultimate goal will be to build a connection between our orphanage and an orphanage stateside" that can help with American adoptions, with the idea of eventually finding the children permanent homes, he added.
Berg said the orphanage will start small, with seven to 10 children. They include several already living with the pastor of the St. Marc church, Robinson Louis, and his wife.
"He's already taken in six orphans," Berg said. "He had three before he got married."
Berg said the orphanage is a longtime dream of Louis, an orphaned Haitian who was about 21 when Berg became acquainted with him. The men met after Berg's father, a water well driller, traveled to Haiti to help drill wells and then brought Louis to Traverse City for training.
"I worked with him here every day," said Berg, also a water well driller. "I recognized the potential (in him) for something greater than well drilling because he's got a heart for his people. So I gave him permission to start a (sister) church there."
The first services in St. Marc took place in an 18-foot-by-32-foot house with two dozen congregants including friends from Louis' first childhood orphanage, Berg said. Meanwhile Louis attended seminary school in St. Marc with the support of the Traverse City church.
Eventually the congregation outgrew its home and built a 21-foot-by-56-foot industrial tent. Now it has 600 members — three times as many as the Traverse City church, Berg said.
Although Christ Community Church of St. Marc operates independently, Berg said the Traverse City church continues to support its mission, which includes giving away thousands of glasses of clean drinking water a day through a recently completed distribution water well on church property.
Berg estimates that the orphanage will cost between $5,000-$7,000 a year to run with the handful of children it has now. The costs will grow as it adds more children.
He said the orphanage will be funded the same way as the St. Marc church: with donations from the Traverse City church and other area churches, businesses and individuals.
"It's a very local community effort for us," he said.
Traverse City church members Alisa and Jim Gallo hope to add to the orphanage fund with two fundraising events scheduled for today. They include a motorcycle ride along the scenic Old Mission Peninsula and a barbecue and silent auction.
"My husband and I are motorcycle riders so we thought, 'What better way to help them than do a benefit day?'" said Alisa Gallo, adding that Louis — currently in Traverse City — will participate in the ride on the back of Jim's Honda Shadow.
Gallo said the couple was inspired by a 2009 trip to St. Marc to see conditions there and to help out at the church.
"You go there and you can't help but be touched by the people," she said.
The couple plans to make a return trip in November, she added, and this time will help with the orphanage too.
"As a family it's something we all believe in and support. It's sort of been our passion to help Haiti," she said.
Berg stressed that every dollar given through the fundraisers will go to Haiti, making even small contributions count.
"A dollar will be an hour's Internet time for Robinson to communicate with us, or a glass of water," he said.