'A Time of Great Need': Food For The Poor, Churches Align in The Power of an Encounter

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (July 9, 2021) In the middle of the pandemic, Fr. Eddie Mercado wished out loud for a cow so he could sell the milk and use the money to build a home in Haiti for a family in desperate need.

It was said in passing, but someone was listening.

Months later, a man who had been sitting at that same table in Muleshoe, Texas, and happened to work in a nearby dairy farm told Fr. Mercado that his boss was going to grant his wish.

On the same day he received the cow in November, a member of Food For The Poor's Speakers Bureau visited his congregation and encouraged them to help their neighbors in Haiti.

"When the church least had money, we were actually able to help more, because this is a time of great need," said Fr. Mercado, who shared his story Thursday during The Power of an Encounter, a virtual gathering of more than 150 clergy and laity from around the United States and Canada hosted by FFTP.

The event included testimonials on the impact of encounters with severely impoverished children and families, and what happens when people's hearts are moved to help those living in extreme poverty.

Special attention was devoted to Haiti, which has been rocked by months of civil unrest, gang violence and a spike in COVID-19 cases, culminating in the assassination of the president of Haiti on July 7.

FFTP President/CEO Ed Raine urged everyone to pray for Haiti and unite in both the awareness of the problems facing the country and the mission of the charity and others who are desperately trying to provide aid to families who are suffering.

"We have to come together," Raine said. "This is about all of the teachings of the Gospel to love thy neighbor. It is about coming together as the body of Christ. It is about providing the opportunity for a mission, for a community, a parish to come together to do God's work."

Fr. Mercado named his cow Isla, Spanish for "island" for the island nation of Haiti. He was working on making cheese for his cause when Isla died unexpectedly in April.

But soon he was blessed with the gift of another milk-producing cow.

Every Sunday after church, parishioners and members of the community buy milk from the cow. They're also are collecting aluminum cans to generate additional donations to build the home in Haiti through FFTP.

"I promised to get up early, milk the cow, sell the milk and pray for Haiti," Fr. Mercado said. "I never imagined other people would come and give us more calves, buy our milk and pay a higher price for it. And my hope is that one day, a family in Haiti can own a house and when they open the door, it smells new and like home."

Laurie Hartner, of St. Paul Lutheran Church and Helping Hands for Haiti, said one of her most meaningful encounters occurred during a visit to a women's prison in Haiti to distribute much-needed toiletries and words of hope.

As they shared the supplies, Hartner recalled still feeling distant from the women, whose faces were weary and wary.

"There might as well still have been iron bars between us," Hartner recalled.

Hartner and her mission companions began singing an Easter hymn, Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!

"When we stopped signing, the women in the prison had picked up exactly where we left off," Hartner said. "They began singing and clapping, echoing down the halls. They were raising their hands up in praise. We had connected through God's amazing and most wonderful grace. We were sharing joy.

"The power of an encounter? For me, it's in the poorest country, in the darkest place there. Joy can erupt and fill that place and take over and then how much more can joy fill my darkest places, my poorest places," Hartner said. "Joy can reside in me no matter what."

Nativity Catholic Church Pastor Fr. Robert C. Cilinski spoke about the late Fr. Richard Martin, whose commitment to love and service has led to the transformation of the lives of tens of thousands of people in Haiti through FFTP.

"He had a vision about how we can make a difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor living so close to our shores in the United States where we are so blessed," Fr. Cilinski said.

Since 1998, Nativity Catholic Church has built more than 1,470 homes and has established 12 thriving villages in various regions in Haiti. Another is in the works.

"The generosity of our parishioners to Food For The Poor has not taken away their giving to our offertory," Fr. Cilinski said. "As the generosity of the parishioners has been shared with the poor and needy, their generous spirit has been matched in their giving to the work of the church and the parish. When we give and share especially to the needy and the poor, God always has a way to give it back to us double."

In the community of Meyer in Grande Colline, Haiti, the shack that Espwadye and his daughter and two sons call home is a tiny, one-room hut made of wood slats and rusty tin sheets like many. The lack of sanitation that puts them at even greater risk of illness and disease.

"If God gave me the chance to have a house, I would be eternally grateful," Espwadye said. "I'm praying to God for another house. I can't do it on my own. Only God can do that for me."

Attendees on Thursday were challenged to raise funds to build homes for 30 vulnerable families in Meyer, including Espwadye's. In one year, the hope is that donors will be able to travel to Haiti to see the transformation in person.

Each new home in the Meyer Community Development will include furnishings, sanitation, access to clean water and solar-powered light kits, which will allow children to study even after the sun goes down and improve their success in school.

To learn more about the project or to donate, please go to: www.FoodForThePoor.org/powerofanencounter.
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry children and families living in poverty primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for vulnerable children, care for the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

Michael Turnbell

Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6054