In July of 2010, Cheryl Fogarty and seven others from Joplin, MO, boarded a plane bound for Haiti. Once on the plane, Cheryl felt a wave of peace envelop her and she told herself, “This is what you’re supposed to do.”
And then she got off the plane in Haiti. Cheryl, who suffered from chronic asthma since childhood and depended on inhalers and several medications to breathe freely, was unprepared for the stench of decay she inhaled when she stepped off the plane and into the suffocating heat and humidity of Port-Au-Prince. Her immediate thought was, “Surely God didn’t bring me all the way here to die.” Once again, she began to pray.
Six months before her first trip to Haiti, Cheryl began a quest to understand her life’s mission. As she recently told me, “I had achieved all my goals. My husband and I have been together for twenty years. We have four children, a beautiful home, and my practice is thriving. Yet, I felt there was something more I was supposed to do. So, I prayed and asked God, ‘what is it? What am I supposed to do?’ And then the earthquake hit. And then I knew.”
I smiled and nodded as Cheryl told her story, cringing inside just a little bit when she mentioned the words, God and pray. I had invited Cheryl to coffee at our local Panera so she could tell me a bit about her medical mission trips to Haiti, a third-world country that sits approximately 680 miles away from one of the most affluent countries in the world. I could then use her story to help inspire readers to use their talents to help others, too. I had no intention of speaking about God.
I don’t write much about spirituality and God. This is mostly because I’m very cynical about religion, and, truthfully, have drifted into a state of near disbelief. It’s far too easy to credit God’s “goodness” when circumstances in our lives go the way we want them to. I find it just as illogical to attribute unpleasant events or tragedies to the wrath of a Higher Power who, at the same time, declares his unconditional love toward mankind. For me, neither of these philosophies explains the incongruity of a world where so many starve while others have so much more than they need.
However, about thirty minutes into our conversation, I realized that what Cheryl was involved in was bigger than I, or she, or even the small mission group she initially traveled with to Haiti. As I listened intently to the incidents that led Cheryl to decide to help fund a maternity clinic, an outpatient clinic, an orphanage, and the upcoming construction of a forty-bed hospital and neonatal ICU, I recognized the thread of something powerful weaving through our lives, carefully connecting us to each other.
The idea to go to Haiti didn’t come to Cheryl via a call for physicians through an organized medical effort, as I had originally presumed. God doesn’t work that way. Instead, she told me, “About ten days after the earthquake, I woke up at 3 a.m. I looked over at my husband and said, ‘I have to go to Haiti.’”
However, getting to Haiti after the devastating 7.0 earthquake that hit on January 12, 2010, proved challenging. The capital city, Port Au Prince, was decimated. Chaos ruled and organized relief efforts proved difficult, if not impossible. Safety was Cheryl’s number one concern, and she began earnestly searching for a way to fulfill her goals while not exposing herself to danger. “Doctors were working alone in tents, with little more than whatever tools they could fit in a backpack,” Cheryl explained, “It just wasn’t safe for a woman to go by herself. I had a husband and four children. I still needed to find a way to travel safely.”
Finally, in late spring 2010, a friend told her about a group from Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin that was heading to Haiti for mission work. Cheryl contacted the group’s leader, Brock Cummins.
“Can I go with you? I’m Catholic, you know,” she told him when they met.
“Of course you can join us,” Brock answered, “we worship the same God!”
After they cleared Customs at the airport, the group set off for the village of Fond-Parisien, headquarters for the mission they were assigned to, Haitian Christian Mission (HCM). Once they arrived and got settled, they met with the mission’s leader and founder, Pastor Etienne Prophette. “You are from Joplin?” the Haitian native asked. “I graduated from Ozark Christian College (in Joplin) in 1974!” Immediately a bond formed between the pastor, his wife and son, and the small group from Forest Park.
The next day, Sunday, the group attended their first Haitian church service. About an hour or so into the service, a messenger entered the sanctuary and informed the congregation there was an emergency. Intrigued, Cheryl – an OB/GYN physician back home in Joplin - followed the messenger to the makeshift outpatient clinic hoping she might be of some assistance. To her surprise, she found a pregnant woman who was three weeks overdue, in labor, and needing an emergency C-section. The woman and her husband were turned away from a Port-Au-Prince hospital due to their inability to pay the id="mce_marker",000 surgery bill. Once his wife was settled into the clinic, the man left to bring his mother-in-law back to the mission to say her final goodbyes.
Cheryl informed the patient she did not have to worry about any charges – Cheryl’s intent was to perform the life-saving procedure regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. Twelve hours after her arrival in Haiti, Cheryl successfully delivered and resuscitated a baby girl – named, appropriately, “Cheryl” by her parents – and realized her personal mission in Haiti: “To help mothers and children, one at a time, and ultimately help teach them to help each other.”
Since her first trip to Haiti in 2010, Cheryl has visited the country twelve times. Her efforts have helped HCM’s maternity clinic deliver over 1,600 babies. Her funding for the three full-time midwives and part-time OB/GYN physician that staff the mission’s maternity clinic helped lower the death rate for women in childbirth from 10% to 0.3%. She helps support an orphanage at the mission, and helped procure a playground for the orphanage’s children after a chance meeting with the head of an organization that builds playgrounds in Haiti. During her most recent trip this past November, she and her group finalized plans for the construction of a new forty-bed hospital and neonatal ICU on the mission’s grounds. While in Haiti she realized that she and her partners needed to be more open to telling the story of their work in Fond-Parisien in order to procure the funding necessary to support the proposed hospital. Ironically, I contacted her about the idea of writing a piece about her work in Haiti approximately two days after she returned from her last visit. She immediately agreed to my interview because, as she says, “Here is my chance to get my story out to people who can help.”
I must admit, I felt a great responsibility to tell Cheryl’s story as accurately as possible. Chills ran through my body as I listened to Cheryl tick off each coincidence, one by one, that led her from one project to the next in her mission work. And I realized something vital to my own perception of God: A person of true faith understands, and accepts, that there are some things beyond her control. Instead of worrying about why the world is full of injustices, she opens herself up to the possibility that her talents and gifts can be used to help others. Coincidences are events that appear to happen randomly. But, what if not all coincidences are random events? What if “coincidences” in our lives are really God’s way of speaking to us, showing us ways we can make a positive impact on the world around us?
Cheryl Fogarty was willing to listen to God, and then do the work He asked of her. It’s not hard – she is using her talents and training in a way that helps provide for her family, helps keep women and babies healthy here in the United States, and helps save lives in Haiti. It is her willingness to tell people that she is just doing what God has led her to do that makes her extraordinary. Not only is she changing lives with her work, but she is also demonstrating the power of true faith in God and how that faith can – and should – be used to help others.
All I did was ask her to go have coffee and tell me her story.
Cheryl’s non-profit agency, The Labor of Love Project, which she established to help fund medical personnel at Haitian Christian Mission, needs assistance in funding the operations of the new hospital she is helping build. Is God speaking to you now?
One last thing: Remember how dependent Cheryl was on her inhaler and asthma medications? She hasn’t used any of them since she first set foot in Haiti back in 2010.
To donate to Cheryl’s Labor of Love Project, please visit her website at www.laborofloveproject.org, or send your donation directly to Haitian Christian Mission at 4550 HWY 20 SE, Conyers, GA 30013(Please indicate “Labor of Love” in your donation). Or, contact Wendy Zehner toll-free at 800-721-4955
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