Jacob Battle walks the walk.
This local minister/businessman spent Christmas in Haiti, his second trip to that ravaged country in two years, building homes, feeding the hungry (over 1,000 on this trip) and spreading the word of God. He flew out of Atlanta on Dec. 11 and returned on Dec. 28.
He was working with Homes from the Heart, a program that builds houses around the world for the poor through the Catholic Relief Fund. Battle’s funding is coming through the Rector’s Discretionary Fund of Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus.
Battle is passionate about his aid work, having worked side by side with the late Millard Fuller in building houses through The Fuller Center for Housing.
This Christmas trip was his second with Homes from the Heart. He and others built a triplex which will house three families, some 18 to 20 people.
Battle described the triplex as three large rooms, large by Haitian standards, 16 by 16 ft. with a concrete floor and vents, no windows. There is no running water in the houses and consequently no bathroom facilities. But, he says, this shelter is a luxurious for people in this country who were poor prior to the January 2010 earthquake and tragically more so now.
Battle worked alongside Michael Bonderer from El Salvador and a team of 10 students from the University of Cincinnati. In total, including volunteers from the community, paid workers and members of the three families being benefited, there were some 25 to 30 people working on the project.
“These are very poor people,” Battle stresses. “They are very grateful for a dry place to sleep at night. They spend their days outside because of the weather, and do all their cooking outdoors.”
Battle says the triplex is earthquake and hurricane resistant and the vents at the top of the structure allow for the flow of air throughout without windows.
The triplex was constructed in Bellanton, about eight miles outside the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The building materials were all purchased in-country and a translator, who was paid about $20 per day, worked with the building team.
Battle says the group was housed in a hotel-motel which was once a private residence. Their days started with breakfast from 6:30-7:30 a.m. and morning prayers, followed by a full day of work from 8 a.m. until dark, between 5:30 and 6 p.m. In the evenings, they had Bible studies.
On Christmas Eve, Battle said he fed over 300 children and on Christmas Day over 500 people in the mountains of Haiti. He fed them simple foods such as rice and beans and even chicken, which is considered a luxury.
“The need is great,” he says.
“Haiti has been forgotten basically,” he says, “around the world. There are no longer any TV cameras on Haiti. There is no business moving into Haiti to open up and employ the people. There is devastating poverty and sometimes you feel there is just no hope.”
Ever the optimist, Battle adds, “But there is hope. God is present in Haiti and He says not to give up. We have to continue to trust that the world well open their eyes and the churches ... will see the great need and respond to it.”
Of the myriad problems in Haiti, one is that the people are oppressed by bureaucrats, Battle says.
“Another hindrance is the message that billions of dollars have been sent to Haiti, so people stopped giving,” he said, adding that the bureaucracy controls the aid coming into the country and it often doesn’t even get to the people most in need.
But Battle says there are Christian organizations working all over Haiti — the Catholic Relief Fund, Love a Child, the Joyce Meyer Ministries, Samaritan’s Purse, James Robinson and others.
“These are organizations where the government can never get their hands on the funds,” he says. “It took $12,000 to build the triplex. Every cent went directly to the mission of the trip and to feed the people.”
While Battle says he is forever enriched by seeing the grateful faces of the Haitian people, he also experienced some very poignant moments.
He tells the story of two days prior to Christmas, when he was honored with an award and reception at the school that he founded on his previous trip to Haiti.
“They were all dressed in their Sunday best, even in if they were torn and tattered. They served little bits of dry bread in a little basket as refreshments. What was so sad is the children were eating this bread like it was cake,” he said.
In that particular school of 219 students, they can afford to feed only 80 each day, Battle says.
“That is the only hot meal the children get,” he added.
Battle obtained a pump for the school’s well, a well cover and iodine tablets to purify the water supply.
With each visit to the country, Battle says he sees more need and in spite of the efforts of Christian relief workers in building wells and schools and housing, the need is still great. He is presently raising funds to complete two more houses which are now under construction and to build a third one. There is also a plan to build an orphanage to be run by the native people.
“The earthquake left mental and physical effects,” he says. “The children were greatly affected.”
He tells another story of a young girl student, dressed in a torn ballet dress, of about age eight, who stared at Battle while he spoke, through a translator, of what he and the others would do for the people in the way of help.
“She just continued to stare right at me,” he said. “It was as if she was questioning me. ‘Should I believe in you?’ Will you help?’
“God brought all these things through my head as I looked at her,” Battle continues. “Her eyes asked, ‘Are you real? Will you stand by me?’”
Battle, who was so deeply touched by the child, took her up front and held her, trying to gain her trust that he and the group were sincere. He also plans to use the face of the little girl in promotional literature for the cause. She is the face of Haiti.
Battle was asked if the Haitian people are slowly recovering from the earthquake.
He says no.
“When I went downtown to Port-au-Prince ... that is where the mansions, the government buildings ... all were collapsed and are still down. The roads are just terrible. You don’t see any improvement. You see a few buildings being built but when you look at the overall picture it’s not being done.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Battle shared this story.
“Millard Fuller asked me this question, two months before he left for Heaven. He said to me, ‘Jacob, you saw how poor those people were In El Salvador, didn't you?’ I said, ‘Yes, Millard,’ and he replied, ‘How can I turn my back on those people?’”
“I am faced with the same passion for the poorest country on earth. Please help me stand with these poor and desperate people by sending a generous offering,” he said.
Donations can be sent to The Rector’s Discretionary Fund, Calvary Episcopal Church, 408 S. Lee St., Americus GA 31709.
There are photos of Battle’s Haitian mission trips on Facebook. For more information call him at 815-3354. Battle says he returned with a renewed commitment and that he will travel where ever he needs to go and speak to civic or church groups to get people to stand up and help the people of Haiti.
Jacob Battle returns to Haiti
Jacob Battle walks the walk.
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