Len and Carol Demert weren’t planning on being missionaries.
“My idea of a missionary was someone who went to Bible College, studied, learned the language, and then went to some ‘far off’ country to teach, preach and live their lives serving others,” Carol said.
Len and Carol focused their lives on raising their four daughters Carla, Penny, Patty, and Lynn. The family attended Footville Church of Christ, a church that championed mission support.
“Mission support was always an important part of the church budget,” Carol recalled. “These early memories left a big impression and shaped my vision of the importance of mission work.”
The Demert family had no idea that God was already laying a foundation for the family to become missionaries themselves.
“I don’t think Dad ever expected to do something like this,” Carla said. “From the very beginning this was God’s thing.”
Carla and her sister Penny were the first in the Demert family to travel to Haiti. After several mission trips they encouraged their mother Carol to go too. Carol traveled to Haiti several times before convincing her husband to join her on a mission trip.
A few years after Len made his initial trip to Haiti, he met a pastor at the National Missionary Convention (now ICOM) who was trying to find someone to come teach English in the Haitian schools. Len felt led to pursue the opportunity and it is here where he was first exposed to the educational system in Haiti.
“Once he saw the school he decided to raise money for a clean water well and it mushroomed from there,” Carla shared.
In Haiti, there very little free public education. 80% of the schools are run by individuals, missions, or other organizations. Most schools charge tuition which excludes many children because they are too poor to pay. When Len Demert became aware of the issues surrounding Haiti’s public education, he felt compelled to help.
The first school built was near Saut d’ Eau in central Haiti. The school building was constructed on land near a church pastored by Pastor Paul Souffrent. Pastor Souffrent took over the oversight of the school as the director. After the Saut d’ Eau school was up and running, Len connected with another pastor, Pastor Benoit Andrevil in Mirabalais. Here a building was built that serves as both a school and the church. In Mirabalais there was also a great need for adequate shelter for orphans. Money was raised to provide a dormitory complete with bunk-beds, a radical upgrade for the orphans who had previously been sleeping in tents placed on gravel.
Two other schools and another children’s home were constructed in other parts of Haiti, all because Len saw a need and sensed God leading him to help.
“It wasn’t surprising that when Len had the opportunity to get involved in helping children who could not afford to go to school that he was willing to step out in faith and begin Schools For Haiti,” Carol reflected. “God blessed in ways we could never have dreamed. It gave him the assurance he needed to continue and to expand from one school to four.”
Today Schools for Haiti works with four schools and 2 children’s homes. The ministry has an impact on over 800 students including the adults who serve at the school. When Len began the mission in 2004, the family had no idea what was in store.
When Len passed away in September 2012, the family wasn’t sure how to continue the work Len had started over 8 years ago.
“After Len’s death, we had no idea just where we were to go with this work, but again God had it all planned ahead of time,” Carol said. “So I need to say again, it is not surprising that our family has been led to continue the work in Haiti and that God is still blessing our efforts.”
Lynn said, “We are praying that we are making a difference in the lives of the Haitian children, men, and women that my dad called his friends. And we are carrying on what he began to the best of our ability.”
Carla adds, “Instead of having one person to use, Dad, God now has 22 of us!”
Included in the 22 are the husbands of each Demert daughter. Bruce Flesch, Roger Langseth, Jack Nicolay, and Marcus Neal work alongside their wives, championing the mission in Haiti.
The family routinely makes trips to Haiti to visit the schools and homes. Typically a trip includes checking on the day to day operations of the school while doing a few other things like assessing the health of the children, delivering much needed medical and school supplies, and bringing clothing. But the trips allow for fun things like playing with the children and giving the kids toys and treats.
The Demert family has long maintained strong ties with Crossroads College. All four of Len and Carol’s daughters attended the college. Penny says, “Not only did Crossroads give me a good foundation in the Bible and my faith, but it also assisted me in an education that can be used to help others.”
“Crossroads impressed upon the students that no matter where God calls us or whatever work we are given to do, it is to be done to bring glory to God.” adds Lynn.
Patty shared the connections Crossroads has provided their family have been especially useful in connecting people with Schools for Haiti. “It is nice to go to different churches and run into people that we have that connection because of Crossroads.”
As the mission of Schools for Haiti grows, the family continues to seek connections with individuals and churches who feel called to offer financial support. While the financial need continues to grow, Carla is not deterred, “This whole thing is beyond us, but not beyond our God. God has taught all of us that we pray too small. He is the God of more and He has taught us to ask and follow.”
To learn more about Schools for Haiti please visit the website www.schools4haiti.org