Source of Life Ministries provides a safe home for former street children in Haiti.
When Jacques Merine’s youngest brother was killed in 2012, Merine struggled with whether he should keep running the safe home they had founded in Haiti.
“When he died, I’m like, ‘OK, I think I’m gonna just stop everything there,’ but it didn’t take me long to realize this is not about him, this is about God,” said Merine, director of Source of Life Ministries. “So that’s what kept me going. … I must proceed with God’s purpose.”
His brother, a pastor at the time, was shot in the head because he called out a fellow pastor who was “not following what the Bible said” and “was doing extremely, very bad things, too,” said Merine, of Mount Joy Township.
After being shot, his brother was taken to a hospital that had no beds or doctors available. Merine said that his brother was shot at 5:20 p.m. on Sunday, April 21, and died at 8:45 a.m. the next morning. He wasn’t even given a Tylenol.
“He suffered a lot before he passed away,” Merine said. “That is still eating me alive today because (of) the way he died, because he was such an honest and good man to die that way.”
But, in a country that struggles with simply feeding its people, Merine believed justice would be too much to ask for.
“If we would even try to call him for justice, his wife and he has three boys, they would get killed, too, so we just let it go,” Merine said.
His brother had a great passion for the ministry, and Merine credits him as the reason why they have been so successful. “He was very excited that we were going to open a home, and he took it and ran with it.”
Since his brother was the on-site director, Merine had to quit his job of over 13 years and make Source of Life Ministries in Hanover his top priority.
As of 2014, Merine visited the safe home in Haiti six times a year for a month at a time. This year, though, protests and gang violence that broke out in February against Haitian President Jovenel Moise caused him to cancel all but two trips to Haiti, both of which he had to cut short for safety.
Now, Merine spends his days listening to the local Haitian news eagerly awaiting the day he can go back and continue God’s work.
‘There’s nothing to make you proud of’ in Haiti
Like many in the country, the Merine family of six struggled with basic needs like food.
Merine said that his mom would give him and his siblings pennies to get a snack during school and then spend the day just trying to find something for them to eat.
“I remember most of the time on our way from school we were talking between us siblings (that) hopefully when we (got) home my mom would be able to find something to cook, but sometimes we get home (and) she (was) not able to get anything, and we had to tie our belt and stick to it,” Merine said.
Though they struggled with food and other necessities, they had each other.
“But, that didn’t really displace us, we were not homeless,” Merine said. “We had a small house where we lived. Despite the house (was) very small, we still had cousins (come) to live with us because, at that time, they didn’t have a place for themselves.”
The struggles that he faced soured Merine’s opinion of a country that never allowed him to succeed.
“It’s basically you born out of misery, grew up out of misery and you die in misery,” Merine said. “So basically there’s nothing to make you proud of.”
Stay up-to-date:Associated Press coverage of Haiti
Coming to America
About 30 years ago, Merine was able to get his U.S. residency and bring his wife and their 4-year-old son to America. They first settled in Florida and are now all citizens.
“That was a big dream for me to come here to this country (so) that I can have a chance to live as a human being,” something that is unheard of in Haiti for the many that are not wealthy, Merine said.
Language was an initial challenge for Merine.
“I think I would never move to a country where I don’t speak the language again,” he said.
But, after living in Florida, where there are many Haitian communities, Merine decided to move close to Gettysburg in an attempt to be as far from Haiti as possible.
He chose Gettysburg because his oldest brother had come to work in Pennsylvania picking apples. When his brother left because of the cold, Jacques decided to stay. That was in 1991, and ultimately he had his daughter there, too.
Although moving to Pennsylvania was at first an escape for Merine, the support and friendships that he found here would ultimately lead him to his purpose.
“I finally realized, ‘Man, God, you are good, you really bought me here,'” Merine said with a laugh. “I thought that was running away but He brought me exactly where He wants me to be.”
One of those friends was Vern Annis, director of Thirsty Souls Ministries, who helped him start Source of Life Ministries.
“(Jacques) may be the most transparent person I’ve ever met. Jacques doesn’t put on airs, doesn’t pretend to be something or someone he’s not, he has a deep integrity,” Annis said “I’m really impressed with the guy, and I count it a blessing that he’s a friend of mine.”
‘An island of serenity in a sea of chaos’
Merine spent the majority of his time in the U.S. wanting nothing to do with Haiti, but he eventually found that his love for the people and God would call him back.
In 1998, Merine reached out to his church, then known as Calvary Assembly of God in Hanover, to help his homeland. He asked them for money so that his brother and a group of Evangelists could build a church for a congregation they had gathered in southern Haiti.
Annis said the “church had a big heart for missions,” so they decided to help him and by 2005, the missionaries had built a church, a school, a water well and more for the community. That is when Merine first heard his call from God to create his ministry.
“One time, 2005, I went back to Haiti and I saw a little child (sitting) at the curve of the street, and the child was looking at me,” Merine said. “At that time I felt a very, very guilty feeling about that child and at that time I heard a voice (say) to me, ‘What about street children in Haiti?’”
Merine said he resisted the call for a long time, “but when God created you for a specific thing, you can run, but you cannot hide.”
That’s when he reached out to Annis, whose ministry serves as an umbrella for others to create non-profit missionary organizations under. They gathered $5,000 and began Source of Life.
“(Jacques has) turned out to be every bit the leader my wife and I were pretty sure he was going to become. He really has grown into it, he’s a great leader, great father figure for the kids that he is now serving through his children’s home,” Annis said.
Source of Life safe home was built in February 2009. They now house 17 former street children and give them food, a place to live, education and a connection to God.
But, it’s not an orphanage.
“There are a lot of ministries down there that are orphanages. They put kids up for adoption, they provide basic things, meals, clothing and an elementary school education,” Annis said. “Jacques’ got a different vision, his vision is to raise up a generation of basically culture changers.”
“We are about saving lives, we are about mak(ing) these children become good people (so) they can help their country,” Merine said. “If we really help these kids to grow up right, train them right, today, they can become good men and women tomorrow.”
Source of Life doesn’t allow for adoptions. Rather, they have built a safe haven for the children so that they can grow with God and focus on their education.
“I say it’s an island of serenity in a sea of chaos, because everything around us, as soon as you get out of our compound and out of our little community there, it’s a mess,” Annis said.
The compound has a place where the kids live and eat, with a garden full of fruit and vegetables, and a church. But, their reach goes beyond that as Annis said “we have a real desire to … make a difference in the community, the village around us.”
They do that by opening the church to the village, doing community outreach and feeding programs.
Since beginning the ministry, Merine has regained his pride in the people of Haiti, especially their “resilience.”
“Over the years now, with the work God put in my heart through Source of Life Ministries, my love become very deep for the Haitian people, for the culture,” Merine said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful country, but it’s just the system.”
And Merine and Annis have high hopes for what their children can accomplish through God.
“We believe that that little group of kids down there, if they grow up and become a force to be reckoned with, and I don’t mean like a power force but an intellectual, spiritual, a force of love, a force of offering a different vision to the people that live around them of what life could actually be in Haiti with Jesus at the center of your life, I think really incredible things will happen,” Annis said.
How the humanitarian crisis in Haiti has blocked Source of Life
Merine has witnessed a lot of turmoil in Haiti, but this year has been the worst.
“The crime down there is so overwhelming, … I can’t even think about taking the chance to go because basically everywhere you go (is) controlled by gangs, you can’t go anywhere,” Merine said.
Merine described the situation in Haiti as “hopeless,” saying he wishes he could plan his next trip to see the children and continue the projects but right now that’s impossible.
“It’s unusually bad now. I mean, even though there’s always been great poverty, life had kind of a rhythm to it for them, and now everything’s disrupted,” Annis said.
One thing Merine believes would help is if the world was made more aware of the situation in Haiti.
“Why (for) Haiti everybody close(s) their eyes and turn(s) their back around, why?” Merine said. “That hurts a little bit. I learned as long as you’re a human being, I don’t care what your color, you are (a) human being.”
That’s why he wrote an opinion article pleading for people to become aware of the dire situation in Haiti so that they are not forgotten.
“I’m hoping somebody would do something to stop all the misery of the Haitian people down there because it’s almost nonsense to me for God’s children (to) live that way,” Merine said. “I don’t believe God created them to live in that desperate situation.”
Merine believes that the one thing that will ultimately help Haiti is God.
“Unless they give God their heart, I don’t see Haiti going anywhere because they are so deep and in crisis,” Merine said.
Read or Share this story: https://www.eveningsun.com/story/news/2019/12/18/haiti-humanitarian-crisis-blocks-source-life-ministries-helping-kids/4307516002/