It was March when Joseph Bail and the Rev. Douglas Poole first saw the concrete church on a hill in the middle of nowhere.
It took their breath away.
The Shiloh Church had no electricity. It had holes in the ceiling. It had holes in the walls. And the restrooms, if one could call them that, were not indoors.
"There were two 5-gallon buckets set outside the church," said Poole, pastor at Cypress Meadows Community Church, "and somebody has the job of emptying them."
Poole and Bail were on a mission discovery trip to St. Louis Du Nord, on the northwest coast of Haiti. Like a handful of local Christians, they are trying to help the impoverished nation _ especially its children, many of whom walk around with bloated stomachs and red-tinged hair, both signs of malnutrition.
So four months ago, Poole and Bail, 41, a self-employed painter, and his wife, Molly, both of whom help feed Clearwater's homeless every week, began a campaign to raise money for the Shiloh Church and school, which educates 500 students.
Poole asked the 300-plus congregation members to adopt students for $100 each.
"People come into this world one at a time, they suffer one at a time and they die one at a time," he said. "And you can help one at a time."
He reminded them that, "Jesus said when you're helping someone in prison, caring for the sick, clothing the naked . . . whatever you do for the least of these of mine, you are doing for me."
That day, the church, which began in a stable on McMullen-Booth Road three decades ago, adopted 200 children. So far, members have raised $23,000. (If you would like to help, call 725-4570.)
The students "get a little uniform, one healthy meal a day and textbooks," said Mike Williams, a six-year Cypress Meadows member who adopted several children. "They are going from a golf ball-sized bit of rice" to a nutritious lunch.
Poole and Bail found out why the U.S. State Department strongly urges Americans either not to travel to Haiti, or take precautions if they do.
One Saturday they went to the marketplace, where vendors sold shoes with holes in the bottoms.
The place was filled with thousands of people.
But Poole and Bail stood out among them.
"I'm almost 6-3 and a Danish-German," said Poole, 48.
Suddenly, a group of women protesting the price of rice drew near.
A Haitian man, angry that the United States was not doing more to assist his country financially, noticed the men.
"He started (yelling) at us in Creole and pointing at us," said Poole. "He charged at us and backed off, and charged at us and backed off. I thought maybe there would be street justice and maybe I would get a beating. But I had a weird sense everything would be okay. After a few charges, he backed off."
Unafraid, Poole and Bail plan a return trip in the spring. They want to supply the school with a blackboard, desks and chairs.
"We look at the (children's) faces and we see doctors, lawyers, the intelligentsia of the country," Bail said.
"If people reach out, if they build those bridges, incredible things can happen. I'm still naive enough to believe a nation can be transformed."
_ Eileen Schulte can be reached at 445-4153 or schultesptimes.com.