The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 25, 2014

VIDEO: Haitian mission still going strong after 40 years with help from Joplin

FOND-PARISIEN, Haiti — As Betty Prophete puts the finishing touches on a pineapple upside-down cake, she thinks back to the beginning 40 years ago, when her husband, Etienne, and his friend, Len Clevenger, became partners in a leap of faith.

Prophete, a native of Haiti, and Clevenger, of Joplin, got to know each other as students at Ozark Christian College in Joplin. Their friendship would eventually transform a primitive village in Haiti into a bustling little town where people know all about Joplin and that it, like Haiti, is no stranger to catastrophe.

Betty Prophete said they were on a trip from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic when they passed through the tiny village of Fond-Parisien.

“It was a desert here. It was dry. There had been no rain for a year,’’ she said. “There were only mud huts. There was no school, no church, no paved road — no nothing. The children were dying of malnutrition. But there was fresh water.’’

After their first encounter with the village, a larger group decided to come back a week later and propose the creation of a mission with a school and church. This was in 1974.

“We met with the chief of the village, a voodoo priest. He brought out a chair for us to sit on and others in the village brought out chairs for us to sit on,’’ she said. “We told them that no matter your condition, ‘God loves you.’ They understood the message.’’

They were accepted into the village. They rented a little house and threw up a tent that would serve as a school. They would make weekly trips to the village to teach the children there. Eventually, the elders of the village donated eight acres for the construction of a church and school that continue to operate today, along with a medical clinic and surgery center. Fond-Parisien is now a small town.

“What I’m telling you is this: Joplin is the foundation for all that we have done,’’ Prophete said. “We got $190 from the Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin to start the mission. We now have more than 50 churches and that many schools.

“Len Clevenger was the first to come here from Joplin and the people of Joplin, as you know, are still coming.’’

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