Feature Story, Online edition!

Miracle on VooDoo Mountain, by Susan Brown

The Boudreaux Family, Saintil, Micha, Jessica, Megan, Josh and Gabby

Megan Boudreaux never expected to return to Haiti. When she volunteered for a brief trip with Our Lady of the Lake Foundation, she came home overwhelmed. “It was crazy, and I thought I could never live here,” she said. But she couldn’t get Haiti out of her mind…or out of her dreams. 

At age 24, she sold everything and planted her life in Haiti, the most economically deprived country in the Western hemisphere, and the site of a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake only a year earlier. Her new home in Gressier was ten miles from the earthquake’s epicenter. Nearby,  Bellevue Mountain, also known as Voodoo Mountain, inspired fear in local residents for the ongoing practice of animal sacrifice. That was 2011. 

Eight years later, the nonprofit she founded, Respire Haiti, provides schooling for 540 children, 60% of whom are former child slaves. Some 140 Haitian employees run the school, medical clinic, counseling service and micro-finance program for small business development. 

After a year’s respite in her native Lafayette, and the birth of their daughter, Megan and husband Josh Anderson fly back into Port-au-Prince this week. They plan to expand the micro-finance program, and eventually, start a church that welcomes people affected by economic distress, abandonment and child slavery. Their strategy is simple: commit to obey God, and be quiet and listen for his direction.  

As soon as she took the first step of obedience in 2011, Megan met a child who would define much of her ministry. “I didn’t have a plan, but the Lord just kept unfolding these little things,” she said. On Bellevue Mountain, she saw a bird and a little girl with a bunch of rocks in her hand. “She was throwing rocks at the bird because she was hungry, and she was going to eat the bird.” So, Megan bought food, teamed up with a friend who cooked local dishes and handed out meals from the back of a flatbed truck. 

Later, she observed that the same little girl was constantly busy with chores. One day, she followed her from the market to her tent-house where she faced piles of dishes to wash. Megan googled “Haiti” and “slaves.” She was stunned to learn that there were half a million Restaveks – child slaves – in Haiti.  

“They are basically domestic workers, kids that have been given to other families or kidnapped or taken from their home, and they just do all of the work,” Megan said. “That was the moment I remember looking at this little girl and going – she’s not in school. She’s six years old and she doesn’t even know how to hold a pencil.” The next logical step was to start a school. 

When Bellevue Mountain was selected as the school site, one of the women helping with paperwork burst into tears. “She said, ‘We have gone up on this mountain every single Sunday for 12 years to pray for you,” Megan said. “Bellevue Mountain used to be where they would do voodoo sacrificing and ceremonies, and now it’s just this beacon of light and hope.” The school, medical clinic and sports programs cover the mountain, and efforts to nurture families and provide seed money for entrepreneurs encourage families to keep their kids, rather than send them away to work or to orphanages.

“About 80% of the kids that live in the orphanages are poverty orphans which means they have parents, but the parents can’t take care of them,” Megan said. “What we’ve been doing with our programs is showing them it’s actually cheaper to keep a child with their family and sponsor their school, help them eat at school and get their needs met through school.” All of the children live with their families, caregivers or foster families, a situation that promotes better emotional and psychological well-being in children. 

Megan and Josh have welcomed three adoptive children into their own family, including Micha, the little girl she first met throwing rocks at a bird. Micha’s sister, Jessica – also a Restavek –  joined their family at age three. Their son, Saintil, was adopted after walking a day and a half over mountainous terrain to reach the school. 

At Respire Haiti, children attend Bible classes and have the opportunity to ask questions about the Christian faith. Despite a strong Catholic presence and work by other denominations, Christian beliefs are often absorbed into culture and tradition. “There’s a lot of clouded confusion and voodoo in that, as well, and it’s kind of picking apart what do people understand about Christianity and what do they believe about having a relationship with God,” Megan said.

“My encouragement is – you don’t know how, or when, or where God is going to use where you are now,” Megan said. She had struggled with the idea of finding her purpose after college. As a marketing professional for Cajun Industries, she learned about building construction. “I remember thinking Lord, why am I here? She said. “Now I look back and I’m like, of course, and I know what rebar we’re using, and I know how we’re supposed to build.”

Some 70-75% of the local buildings toppled during the 2010 earthquake and powerful aftershocks, and the threat of future earthquakes makes residents nervous. Respire’s structures are an exception. “We have an incredible guy who has designed all of our buildings. They’re engineered correctly and seismically up to code,” Megan said. “He trained local workers, so they know the placement of the rebar and the quality of the block and sand that they use.” Their construction standards are having a trickle-down effect on new home construction.

As needs become evident, God keeps providing. Donations from The Chapel on the Campus provided seed money for the ministry. Recently, a proposal to expand the school to add 7-9th grades came with a steep cost. Twelve hours later, two young men visited Respire Haiti with the goal of building an orphanage. But after learning about the program to keep kids with families, they felt God’s direction to pay the exact cost: $125-thousand for the four additional classrooms. 

Megan’s number one request is for prayer. “The spiritual warfare, it’s intense. There are a lot of attacks on myself, my husband, my ministry. That should be expected – we’re built on an old voodoo site.” Her second request is for financial support, especially through student sponsorships that cover uniforms, books, medical care and mental health care.

Respire Haiti is a 501c(3) nonprofit. For more information: www.respirehaiti.org or Respire Haiti, P.O. Box 52845, Lafayette, LA 70505-2845.  

Susan Brown began her career in radio news. She was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds master’s degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminar, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.

Cover Story, October 2018

Memories of Family and Faith with Coach Dale Brown, Cover Story

memories of family and faith

by dale brown

Dale Brown was the men’s head basketball coach at Louisiana State University from 1972 to 1997. During his 25 years at LSU, the Tigers won 448 games, appeared in 13 NCAA Tournaments, and earned Final Four appearances in 1981 and 1986.

Two days before I was born, my so-called father—I’ve always referred to him as “my mother’s husband”—left my mother, two young sisters, eleven and twelve years of age, and me, and he never returned. His departure put my mother in a difficult position. She had an eighth-grade education, came off the farm in North Dakota, and couldn’t get a job during the Great Depression in 1935. She became a maid and baby-sitter to earn money, and she had to put our family on welfare.  We lived in a one-room apartment above a bar and hardware store, and I remember my mother getting $42.50 monthly from Ward County welfare.

Two times during this difficult period, my mother taught me a lesson that has stayed with me during my entire life. I saw my mother put on her winter coat, walk down a flight of stairs, and take back to the Red Owl and the Piggly Wiggly grocery stores 25 cents and 40 cents, because the clerks had given her too much change for the groceries she’d brought home. Her actions remind me of a poem by Edgar Guest. 

I’d rather see a lesson than hear one any day 
I’d rather you walk with me than to merely show the way
The eye is a better teacher, and more willing than the ear  
And counsel is confusing but example’s always clear 
The best of all the teachers are the ones who live the creed 
To see good put into action is what everybody needs 
I soon can learn to do it if you let me see it done
I can see your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run 
And the counsel you are giving may be very fine and true

But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do. 

My mother always followed the advice of St. Francis of Assisi when he said, “Preach the gospel every day, and if necessary use words.” I saw other lessons in the life of my wonderful mother. Not once, after being abandoned, did I hear my mother talk negatively about the man who had walked out on us and never returned, never sent any money, never wrote. She never, drank, smoked, or used profanity. She was never bitter, angry, or ever complained about her situation in life. I learned from her that if you are looking for a helping hand, look at the end of your own arm. 

My mother’s faith was unbelievable.  She brought me to Mass and Communion daily — not just Sunday, but daily. For me, the daily trip to church was a ritual. To my numerous fake illnesses and attempts to avoid going, my mom’s response was always, “Get up, Son. We’re going to Mass and Communion.” I never slept in a bed the first 21 years of my life but the spirit that grew in that little one-room apartment we lived in, uncomfortable and cramped though it was, made it attractive and peaceful. I was blessed. 

Being a small place, the apartment never provided any place for me to get away on my own. So at night, I often went to sit above the alley on the fire escape. One night, the faith my mother instilled in me deepened when I came back in from sitting out there. My mom asked me to sit in her little rocker.

She pulled up the footstool and said, “Son, I notice you go outside at night a lot. What do you think about when you’re out there? I said, “Mama, I think of two things. I think of travel.” (We didn’t own a car, a bicycle, or any other form of transportation.) “I think of climbing mountains.” (North Dakota is a very flat state, flatter than the top of a table.) That dream came true — I have been in 90 countries and climbed the Matterhorn.  

My mother hesitated just a moment and then said, “You know Son, I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I need to teach you a lesson. You know when these people come to pick me up to go baby-sit? I’m so embarrassed. There’s no husband in our house. We live in this little one-room apartment. I’ve just got an eighth-grade education. My clothes smell of mothballs.” (She bought her clothes at rummage sales.)

“So I’m so worried about my image when these big shots come to pick me up. I look up big words in the dictionary, and then all the way to their house, I inject these words into conversation to try to impress them. That’s called making an image. When you sit out there on the fire escape at night, it’s just you and God, that’s your true character. And Son, if you spend too much time polishing your image, you’ll eventually tarnish your character and be an unhappy man.”

That night, my mom taught me that being my true self was far more important than trying to impress people or pretend to be someone I was not.  Your character is who you really are and your image is what you are perceived to be.

The Church’s Effect on Me  
No matter how financially tight things got, Mom always scraped together enough money for me to attend Catholic school. I learned a great deal over the course of the 12 years I attended a Catholic school. I learned that rules were important. I learned we all are on this earth to help each other. 

Two particular lessons stand out in my mind. One morning, I was standing with two friends by the radiators in the hall at school, warming up. We had religion class before school every day at 8 a.m., and we were out there before class, talking about the things kids talk about. One of the guys said, “Yeah, the Salvation Army, isn’t that funny what they do? You know, they’re outside ringing the bell, and they’ve got that little pot.” Not really making fun of the Salvation Army, but sort of jesting, like kids do.

Well, the bell rang, so we went to religion class. Our religion teacher was Father Hogan. He called on the three of us who had been talking in the hall and asked us to stand up. He said, “You know, I heard you three boys out there talking about the Salvation Army. I wonder, do any of you guys know the motto of the Salvation Army?” 

We each responded, “No, Father.” 

Father Hogan continued, “Well, let me tell you what it is. It’s to love those who aren’t loved by anyone else. The next time you good Catholics are going to make fun of something, remember that.” To this day, that lesson about compassion and sensitivity has stayed with me. Every year at Christmas, when I’m shopping with my wife or daughter and we encounter a Salvation Army volunteer with a red kettle and a ringing bell, I walk over and put money in the pot. I also share with that volunteer what that wonderful priest taught me. 

Father Hogan taught me a second lesson on the importance of being prompt. There are rules — and they are not meant to be bent, twisted, manipulated, or bartered with. The moment I learned this lesson is vivid in my mind. The sports teams at our tiny Catholic school played the biggest schools in the state. I thought I was a big shot athlete. I was the leading scorer in the history of North Dakota High School basketball. I broke the school record in the 440, and was a star on the football team. I thought I was something! Getting a little full of myself, I felt some of the rules didn’t necessarily apply to me.   

Every Monday afternoon by 1 p.m., we had to turn in an eligibility slip to play sports that week. One Monday afternoon, I took my eligibility slip down to the office and laid it on the desk of our principal, Father Hogan. Holding my eligibility slip in one hand, he looked over the top of his horn-rimmed glasses at the clock on the wall. “Dale,” he said, “what time does that clock on my wall say?”  

I had no idea where he was headed, so I said, “One-fifteen.” 

He held my eligibility slip in front of my face and he said, “What time was this due?” 

I said, “One o’clock.” 

“Ah-hah, that’s good you can tell time. And you knew when it was due in my office.” He started ripping my eligibility slip into small pieces, then deposited the pieces in the wastebasket and said, “Now get back up in your classroom and start learning promptness. This slip was due at one o’clock. You’re not going on the road trip this week.” I thought he must be joking. After all, I was the superstar. Well, guess who didn’t go on the road trip?  

Stay tuned for more next month, Getting Over the Four Hurdles of Life, with Coach Dale Brown. 

The long relationship between former LSU coach Dale Brown and former Tigers Star Shaquille O’Neal is one of Browns fondest memories as a coach
Dale Brown had a winning season his first year at LSU, and achieved success for the LSU men’s basketball team for the next 25 years

True Leadership Brings People Together 

If there was ever a moment in our history when leadership was needed, it is now. With all the greed, dishonesty, selfishness, evil, and bad things going on in the world, we need good leaders. A common quality of great leaders through the ages has been their mastery at articulating a vision of the future. They see something that is not yet there and can relay the image to others. In any leadership position, the most important aspect of the job is getting everyone to work together. 

However, working together is only a beginning. The world needs leaders who find their strength in faith and character. Exceptional leaders will get their team members to feel they’re an integral part of a common goal. How is this done? This may sound odd, but the underlying theme of teamwork is our ability to convey a renewed sense of optimism. Teamwork doesn’t just happen – it takes a captain to steer it in the right direction. The role of the captain – whether it’s a coach, teacher, father, mother, or whomever – is to give the ship direction, purpose, and ultimately success. 

“The role of most leaders is to get the people to think more of the leader. But the role of the exceptional leader is to get the people to think more of themselves.” — Booker T Washington 

We need to make a difference, but we can do it only through the grace of God. I am convinced that we are capable of solving any problem, whether it’s race, crime, poverty, terrorism, pollution, drugs, or whatever plagues humanity. 

You, with God’s help, are responsible for your future. You’re really free the moment you don’t look outside yourself for someone else to solve your problems. You will know that you’re free when you no longer blame anyone or anything, but realize you control your destiny and are capable of changing the world. People can be divided into three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. We’ve got to decide which group we will be in. 

The most important thing to God is our relationships with one another. He made us in such a way that everybody needs somebody. And God’s idea for success is a community, a group of people who are committed to each other and who strive to follow his will. Humans have not advanced a centimeter in the history of the world if we are still fighting, hating, killing, and cheating. 

The only notable advancement humans have ever made is becoming brothers and sisters who labor toward a common goal. You see, the best potential of “me” is “we.” So the question in our life journey is not whether God can bring peace, love and happiness in the world. 

The question is, can we?

Cover Story, February 2016

Catholic Charities Fulfills Its Mission of Mercy

by Lisa Tramontana

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” — Matthew 25:35-36

DSC_0951-2These words from the gospel of Matthew illustrate one of the most basic tenets of all religions — mercy. Defined as compassion or forgiveness toward those in desperate situations, mercy is something all of us have the power to extend. At Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, staff and volunteers are constantly performing acts of mercy to create hope and healing in our community.

“Our strength is our diversity and the number of programs we offer,” said Carol Spruell, communications coordinator. “We touch the lives of people of all faiths as we serve those who need our compassion.”

Indeed, Catholic Charities ministers to pregnant women, prisoners, refugees, seniors, families in crisis, and many other populations. The agency covers a 12-parish area and since 1964 has improved the lives of thousands of people. Catholic Charities also partners with local nonprofits, other faith groups and churches, foundations and universities to provide financial, educational and spiritual support.

Spruell highlighted three of Catholic Charities’ ministries — pregnant women in crisis, refugee resettlement, and prisoner support.

“Sanctuary for Life is a housing program for pregnant women, many who don’t know where to turn,” said Spruell. “This is a time of high crisis. Some women are abandoned by their families, and some of them are encouraged to have abortions. It’s one thing to be pro-life but another to actually support pregnant women and new mothers. They need jobs, housing, counseling and medical care. We help with all of those things.”

DSC00289-2Refugee resettlement is another ministry often associated with Catholic Charities. After the fall of Vietnam in 1974, Catholic Charities took the lead in providing services to refugees. This includes establishing housing, employment help, financial advice, and guidance to help them acclimate to a new culture.

“These family arrived in the United States with only the clothes on their backs, having fled violence and war in their home country,” said Spruell. “We make sure they have a place to live, hot meals, clothing, and eventually jobs. We help them find schools for their children, learn the bus routes, handle emergencies. We offer English classes so they can speak the language. There is a lot involved. Fortunately, we have a great number of resources, and if we don’t have a way to address a need, we can refer to other agencies that can help.”

DSC_0124-2Since Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, Catholic Charities sponsors a program to help former prisoners adjust to life in mainstream society. Imagine what it’s like to leave prison after 20 or 30 years and walk into a society that has completely changed. The challenges of successful reintegration are staggering.

“Our Joseph Home provides traditional housing for homeless men after they’ve been released from prison,” Spruell said. “Each man has his own apartment, but lives in a community with other men in the same situation. They can receive counseling, join support groups, and attend substance abuse meetings. Without emotional support, newly released prisoners are five times more likely to re-offend.”

One of Catholic Charities’ best qualities is its ability to match people of means to people with needs. And not just wealthy patrons, but working families who have a little extra to share with those less fortunate. A good example is The Community Comes Together for Christmas. Over the holidays, the program helped more than 500 families and seniors. Sponsors and donors signed up to purchase gifts such as clothing, blankets, shoes, gift cards and toys for children.

Catholic Charities has been a blessing to the community for more than 50 years, but it relies on the support and generosity of others, and always will. Volunteers are needed in so many ways. Do you own a business that needs workers? Can you teach English? Do you have baby clothes packed away in boxes? Are you knowledgeable about finances? Are you a counselor? Can you help someone with his tax return? Do you like to spend time with the elderly? Can you provide transportation to someone in need?

Everyone has time, talents and gifts that they can share with others. If you are interested in volunteering or making a donation, contact Catholic Charities at (225) 336-8700 or visit www.CatholicCharitiesBR.org.