As the black metal gate opened, 20 missionaries stepped onto a small covered patio, set down their dusty backpacks and water bottles and proceeded inside an orphanage in which they would work for the next few days.
Most of the team was apprehensive because the children inside were not only abandoned by their families, but were abandoned because they had disabilities, mental, physical or both, and most have never been educated about, or around children with disabilities.
“My first reaction of the house was overwhelming. I had never worked with special needs kids and there was a language barrier. I didn’t want to stay long, but toward the end of the day I was more comfortable and my heart fell in love,” Maddie Coffel, 16, of Minooka said. “I fell in love once I realized how much they needed my love.”
From Jan. 1 to 9, a team of 20 people from Minooka Bible Church (MBC) traveled to Port Au Prince, Haiti, with Don Shire Ministries for a mission trip. The church began its relationship with Shire in 2012 when the first team went and built a church in only five days in Haiti.
At first, MBC was going to go with Shire every other year. But after the second trip, it was realized by Life Bridge and Adult Missions director, the Rev. David Jankowski, that there was a great interest in trips to Haiti, so the church has sent teams each year since the 2013-14 trip.
Don Shire Ministries was created in 1997 by Don and Kathy Shire, who now reside in Wisconsin, but both grew up in Will County, Kathy in Joliet and Don in Romeoville. Shire had a lucrative computer business, but in 1995, he felt the calling to leave that lifestyle behind and follow God’s calling into ministry.
He and his trumpet began to play concerts and on his international travels saw the disparity of the widows and orphans. He has a widow’s home in India and orphanage in India and two orphanages in Haiti.
The journey in Haiti began after the 2010 earthquake, when a pastor he befriended named Lineus Cenor tried to help children on the street who had been orphaned and others in poverty. Shire wanted to help the children with food, but God had extended plans for him.
“My intention in Haiti was to help feed the orphans and Cenor didn’t have a way to feed them,” Shire said. “So, then what was I supposed to do, stop feeding them? We rented a house, which became the Faith in Action Orphanage.”
Each year, relationships with other organizations, pastors and ministries grew so the projects for each MBC trip varied. Some trips included medical missions, evangelism, construction of homes for widows, clothing and feeding orphans and other children and a large part of the trips were focused on being the hands and feet of Jesus; to show love to those who feel they have been forgotten.
The 2018 trip was a special trip because Don Shire Ministries partnered in July 2017 with Pastor Jean Phillipe Dare and his wife, Madame Yphosia Dare, to aid with their special needs orphanage called the Jehovah Rapha House, which has begun to decline with the lack of food and proper housing conditions and the loss of support from a missionary due to illness.
Madame Dare worked as a nurse and visited homes to take care of special needs children and even cared for some in their home. She witnessed mothers and fathers throw their disabled children in a dump to die because they would not or could not care for them any longer. She desired to fill the need to care for these children.
Madame Dare and Pastor Dare said a father (who was a pastor) of one of Madame Dare’s clients offered to help with food, and asked them to gather a list of those disabled children in need. She came to the pastor with a list of 69 children.
She was told the number was too high, so she sorted through the names and took the children who were the most extreme cases, pleaded with the other parents to take their kids and began the Jehovah Rapha House on July 7, 2012.
In Haitian culture, disabled children continue to be looked down upon, as well as the families as those with disabled children, for two reasons.
One was that many in Haiti practice Voodoo, so disabled children have been seen as a curse or bad luck. The other was that, financially, a disabled child will not bring any income to the family, so many parents do not want to feed and care for a child who cannot produce for the family in the future.
In January 2017, the team from MBC visited the 30 children at the Jehovah Rapha House which was in a location not conducive to the vast needs, and the pastor and wife were out of food. In May 2017, Julie McFadden, Haiti director for Don Shire Ministries and church member, and physical therapist Jen King visited the home to decide the needs and what Don Shire Ministries could do to help.
Later that summer, the pair returned and Don Shire Ministries took over the responsibilities of the orphanage, and McFadden and King put together a list of needs to be met so that the 2018 team from MBC had a base for its trip.
“It pulled at my heart strings to see such need. The workers were doing an amazing job with what little they had,” King said.
Don Shire Ministries found a new home for the Jehovah Rapha House. Shire and McFadden said it took a long time to find a rental because neighbors threatened landlords because they did not want disabled children living next to them. They now have a house, but the first need was beds and equipment.
The 2018 team went full force with the construction team leader, Kevin Fleming of Minooka. He had a team of men and women who helped cut wood and construct eight bunk beds in two days. Team members then sanded and sealed the wood. Another major feat was to create a ramp inside the home.
The main floor was open, but there was one large step which divided the front and back of the house and those in wheelchairs or walkers could not tackle the step without assistance. Fleming and team built and installed the ramp and the children took turns going up and down, down was more fun, on the ramp which made their faces light up that they had freedom.
“I was surprised how much everybody reached out. It’s difficult because the deformities are big, but everyone looked passed it, loved the children for who they are and loved them the way Jesus would love them,” McFadden said.
The team also brought with it multiple child-sized wheelchairs and walkers. Some were donated by NuMotion in Lombard. King will travel again to the home in February with more equipment and teach the full-time workers how to properly stretch and work with the children in hopes they can start to be mobile.
The group also worked at a malnutrition clinic, built tables, led women’s Bible studies, brought clothing, offered children’s ministry, took the 23 Faith in Action children to the beach, performed skits and songs in English and Creole to hundreds of children in orphanages, and led a church service in Cite Soleil to 220 kids, along with Bible studies to more than 100 men and women.
To learn more about Don Shire Ministries, visit donshireministries.org.