Mission organization founder sends a lifeline to the Haitian peoplePublished 10:40am Thursday, January 14, 2010
Niles Daily Star
BUCHANAN – Arnold Lemke’s phone has been ringing off the hook and his inbox has been overflowing since news broke of a magnitude-7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti Tuesday afternoon.
Lemke, the founder and chairman of the board of Children’s International Lifeline, a Christian missions organization in Haiti, was in his small office at his home in Buchanan all day Wednesday taking calls and reading e-mails with updates on the situation.
“It just breaks your heart,” Lemke said. “All the places they’re talking about I’m well acquainted with. I’ve been there so many times. It’s just a shame there’s so much gone.”
Lemke has received dozens of photos via e-mail from the missionaries working at the Children’s International Lifeline mission in La Digue, Haiti.
“I know all of these people,” Lemke said, pointing to a photograph of a family standing outside its destroyed home. “It just breaks my heart.”
Lemke has been through some major hurricanes in Haiti during his 150-some trips to the country, but he said this earthquake may be worse than anything he has seen before.
“I have a feeling from the news I’ve heard so far, it could be one of the worst,” he said. “It’s got to be tremendous death tolls.”
No official count has been reported, but the Haitian president, Rene Preval, told the Miami Herald that he estimates thousands have died. The quake hit just before 5 p.m. Tuesday about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. The International Federation of Red Cross estimates 3 million people have been affected by the earthquake.
Lifeline’s mission building, which includes five school classrooms, a seven-room medical clinic and missionary apartments, has suffered what Lemke thinks is a couple thousand dollars worth of damage.
But that’s nothing compared to what has happened to the homes of the people who live in the village. Many of the houses have been completely destroyed.
“We have got to do something to help those poor people,” Lemke said. “We have to help, and we are going to take any money we can get to do it.”
Lemke says the mission already has 4,000-5,000 cement blocks that were going to be used to build a wall around the mission, which will probably now go toward helping repair neighbors’ homes.
“I wish I could go down there now and help,” he said. “But I just can’t afford to do it. All we can do is pray and trust God.”
Answering the call to missions
Twenty-seven years ago, Lemke was getting ready to enjoy retirement in his newly built Florida home. His photography business in Buchanan was doing very well, and he and his wife were ready to call it quits.
That is until he visited Haiti.
“My pastor talked me into going to Haiti with the church one year,” Lemke said. “I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t interested in missions, but being a photographer I thought it would be fun to photograph a different culture, a different place on earth. I was tired of taking pictures around Buchanan. I went, and it changed my whole life.”
What Lemke saw and photographed changed his retirement plans.
“I got down there and you see the kids and the suffering and you just can’t help but change your attitude,” he said. “Believe me, I had a hard heart. My life changed completely. I knew I wanted to help.”
So Lemke and a group of his friends started a non-profit organization based out of his living room in 1987.
“We started out with feeding 12 children in Haiti, who were very needy. We knew they were going to die unless we fed them,” he said. “We had a Haitian woman helping us. We’d send her the money and she would buy the food and feed the kids.”
As the word got out to churches and friends, Children’s International Lifeline began to grow. Now the organization feeds 2,500 children a day and has more than 1,000 children in its school. The mission also has a trade school to teach children valuable skills like carpentry, plumbing, welding and sewing.
The goal of Lifeline is to raise up young leaders in Haiti.
“My philosophy was what better gift can we give a third world country than to feed their children, cure their diseases and educate them?” Lemke said. “Those kids will become the businessmen, the political leaders, the doctors and the pastors that Haiti needs so bad.”
Lemke says they are starting to see results. He recently met a young man who was a part of the Lifeline program who went on to get a college education and is now an interpreter.
Lemke retired from the position of president of the organization a couple years ago and passed that position on to Donald Curtis, who now runs the organization out of Clay City, Ky.
But Lemke has stayed active in the organization serving as the chairman of the board and helping with special projects. He plans to visit Haiti in late February.
Those interested in donating to Children’s Lifeline International or for more information, contact Arnold Lemke at (269) 695-2300 or Donald Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org.