It was a Monday evening in September 2002, and I was making dinner at our Edisto Beach, South Carolina, home. Trisha and I had finished our first day of work since returning from a mission trip to Haiti.
Trisha sat on the stool at the kitchen island across from me and asked, "So, what about Haiti?" I said, "I want to go." She said, "I do, too!"
It is now 2007, and we have run an orphanage for children born with HIV/AIDS for a year.
We stutter-stepped for nearly 2 ½ years searching for our calling. We sought three different ministries, thinking we would work for someone else, but it was not to be.
During that time, we had taken in a 10-year-old street kid, afflicted with advance-stage AIDS, TB, pneumonia, scabies, a scalp of sores, malnutrition and a neurological disorder affecting balance and coordination. Roodline (Wood-lin) has been with us now for two years, going from near death to becoming a strong adolescent. Roodline was the inspiration of Kay (pronounced "ki") Konfo -- Comfort House.
In June 2005, we started to resurrect a filthy three-bedroom house, and on Dec. 9 of that year, took in our first two children. At that time, we drove more than three hours on mountain roads to get to an AIDS clinic. Today, we are only six miles from Hospital Albert Schweitzer, which started its children's AIDS program because of our orphanage. We now offer high-quality care, with an ever-improving nutritional diet and a regimented drug program for 12 children.
Chance for survival
We take children that need care and cannot survive in their present situation. Most of our children's parents are dead, and the rest of the children are abandoned. We work closely with the hospital for leads and references of children needing critical care. God has given us some critical-care children who take a long time to become even close to "normal."
Seven of our children are on full medication regimens or "cocktails" of three AIDS drugs, getting some in the morning and some at night. For now, three more who were diagnosed with AIDS are only on vitamin and antibiotic regimens, and one more will be tested again to diagnose with certainty.
Our youngest is Darlen, who we received in January when he was 4 months old. Darlen has a CD4 count of 345, which is in the range to start AIDS medication. CD4 cells are a measure of the strength of the immune system. HIV patients usually have CD4 counts around 1,600.
Darlen is young to have levels this low, which means the disease is growing at an aggressive rate. It is critical to get him on medications, but he has TB, whose eight-month treatment regimen renders AIDS drugs useless.
This program is meant first to start the physical healing along with healing the traumas of their short histories. We say our prayers of thanks and supplication and sing the Doxology before every meal, and each bedroom has prayer before bed.
Church at home
For almost nine months, we have had church here at home. The children rise Sunday morning, dress in their Sunday best and set up all the chairs, while we set up the altar and arrange the music. We sing Haitian and American hymns and confess our shortcomings. Trisha tells a continuing Bible story, and Richie, our Haitian assistant, reads a psalm. Afterwards, we have a big pancake breakfast.
Haiti is a tough place and can be a "survival of the fittest" society. The children often tell lies and steal when they first arrive. We are very strict about correcting these ways, and we expect the staff to live up to Christian values.
At first, staff members didn't take us seriously. We had to let some people go for stealing, refusing to listen to our direction and failing to be the role models that the children needed. The staff was amazed when we disciplined the children for disrespecting them.
We're fast running out of room. The living room is our office, living room, bedroom and nursery. We have three rooms with kids in each, and the oldest sleeps on the porch. At best, we can take two or three more children. Two of the bedrooms are small, and storage is extremely tight.
We have purchased, with our own money, eight beautiful acres on a river about 25 miles form here. We have a fairly good-sized tree nursery in our front yard with many young fruit trees. We are growing potatoes and peanuts on two and a half acres.
We have drawn up plans for an orphanage for 50 to 60 children. Before we can do this, we must build a security wall. Together, these will cost close to $80,000, if we build it ourselves. We have started a powerhouse for our generator and the orphanage's foundation. A water filtration unit will be installed in the powerhouse. Our operational budget of $2,000 a month (for the present orphanage) means that we are working slowly.