It began in 1973 with a visit to Haiti by a pastor from St. Albans, W.Va. Dr. S. Robert Weaver met Haitian Pastor Andre Jean. Inevitably, they became fast friends. Later, Dr. Weaver introduced architect J. D. King to Pastor Andre, and the ripple effect of friends telling friends spread to touch hundreds of others and to nurture a bond between the Jerusalem Baptist Church (JBC) in Fort Liberté, Haiti and many other churches in the U.S.
J. D. took a group of youth to Fort Liberté in July 1975 with the goal of digging footers for a new church building. As word spread, churches in West Virginia and Ohio joined the ever-expanding work in Fort Liberté, which for the next 20 years focused primarily on construction.
As they witnessed the great needs of the Haitian people, American visitors could also see the desire of Pastor Andre and JBC leadership to feed not only the spiritual hunger of the people, but to minister to their physical needs as well. The visitors wanted to help and in 1987, the first “official” American/JBC program was begun. It was a child sponsorship program we called the Haitian Children’s Fund but was affectionately known in Fort Liberté from the very beginning as “Mister King’s Program”. Administered by J.D.’s home church, First Baptist of Elkins, WV, and starting with just 8 needy children Pastor Andre and Madame Justine Jean were already helping, the program quickly grew to 45 children by 1988.
In 1989, J. D. King died after a short battle with cancer. During the next few years, Haiti became unstable and the U.S. imposed an embargo which made visits impossible and communications very difficult. The thread of friendship was not broken, however, as those in Elkins continued to find ways to get sponsorship money for the 45 children to Pastor Andre.
An important FFL milestone was reached in 1993 when a core group of friends in Elkins applied for and were approved by the Internal Revenue Service of the U.S. government as an official 501(c)3 non-profit organization. That effort was led by our first financial administrator, a young Alderson-Broaddus College graduate named Rachel Hayes who had made her one and only visit to Fort Liberté when she was 16.
The Friends of Fort Liberté was officially born when the first Board of Directors signed the paperwork at the wedding of Annette King and Drew Crislip on September 4, 1993.
Groups began to travel to Fort Liberté again in 1995, led by Annette Crislip and Les Enterline of Warrenton, VA, and medical teams became a standard part of the work plan. Under the leadership of Les and of Bonnie Woodrum, the temporary clinics held once, then twice a year, eventually developed into a permeant clinic facility in 2005.
The number of teams that travel each year, the spread of child sponsorship to states across the county and the scope of ministries and programs in Fort Liberté have continued to increase each year since the beginning of FFL. Thanks to both the vision of the Fort Liberté church leaders and of friends telling friends about the work when they come home, many needs of many people have been met - but more importantly, a partnership has been built.
Fort Liberté, Haiti has changed and even improved a lot since 1973. Pastor Andre Jean and his wife and partner Justine faithfully led the work there for more than 40 years. In 2015, Pastor Andre retired and a new, young and energetic Pastor Dasnis Pierre was installed to lead both JBC and the Haiti side of FFL work, which is constantly expanding. What has never changed is the bond of friendship and the love of God that drives every effort of the Friend of Fort Liberté/Jerusalem Baptist Church partnership.
Fort Liberté is a Small Town with Big Hope! As God leads us, we pray to continue the partnership forged so long ago and to someday see the FFL Vision Statement come to pass for: A poverty-free Fort Liberté, Haiti, with access to food, health care, education and meaningful work for all.