Freeborn County natives talk about new life helping at orphanage in Haiti
Published 12:54 pm Monday, June 20, 2016
Holly and Dan Ravenhorst and their three young children packed the last of their things in early September and got ready to move their family to Haiti for three years to work in missions.
“Though we have had our struggles, we have seen more reward,” Dan Ravenhorst wrote in an email from Haiti. “It’s hard not to complain, but when we get to see the kids we are here for to serve, it makes our calling here clear.”
The Ravenhorsts grew up in Freeborn County before settling in Austin. But they left their home, careers, family and friends on Sept. 14, 2015, to follow God’s call to work with a Back2Back Ministries orphanage in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.
“I guess (God) just gave us a passion for it,” Holly Ravenhorst said. “He gave us a passion and a will and a determination to move forward to what it would look like to move there.”
The Ravenhorsts sold their home and most of their things since they will be gone three years.
Dan Ravenhorst, who worked as an accountant at Hormel Foods Corp. for about 11 years, is working as a financial controller of the ministry, dealing with day-to-day costs, working in administration of the ministry and helping with mission teams that come to Haiti. His wife, who has a background in child development and worked as a children’s ministry director at her church and taught preschool, is working in the orphanages with the children, assessing their needs and looking at how to better care for them.
Holly Ravenhorst explained the ministry works with a five-point child development plan, including looking at the spiritual, physical, educational, emotional and social needs of the children. The goal for the children is to build relationships and learn to be self-sustaining, mature adults who can give back to the community when they are grown, which aims to break the cycle of poverty.
Though the work is rewarding, it can pose its challenges.
“I did not expect how difficult it would be to witness people and families struggling to survive each day,” she wrote. “It is hard to drive by and not be able to help every person or child we see. It is frustrating to realize I can not fix every problem and that I must stay focused on our mission to care for the orphans we serve.”
The couple traveled to Haiti on mission trips in the past, and said every time they came back home, they felt as though they left a part of themselves in Haiti. They felt called to take the next step and commit to the three-year commitment through Back2Back. Holly Ravenhorst said they never imagined moving to Haiti when they first started going on mission trips.
“We still miss our family, friends, church and neighborhood dearly, but Haiti is slowly starting to feel like home,” she wrote in an email. “We are falling in love with the children we serve and enjoy visiting the orphanages to continue to build into those relationships.”
Her sister and nephew have been able to visit, and her husband’s family plans to visit at the end of March through a mission trip.
The couple’s three children, Ellery, 8, Ethan, 4, and Gerrit, 1, are home-schooled with another family joining the ministry from Ohio, and Holly Ravenhorst is providing Ethan preschool. Dan Ravenhorst was excited to show his children what it means to follow God’s call and help others.
“We’re really excited to teach our kids what it means to serve, and help them understand the needs of the kids down there,” he said. “And also just to build those relationships. They’re going to be able to take that with them forever.”
His wife said in the four months the family has been in Haiti, everyone has adjusted well. Their sons enjoy playing outside every day. She noted Ellery had a tough time adjusting at first as she missed her school and friends back home. But she said their daughter now thanks God for clean water to drink, indoor plumbing, that she doesn’t go to be hungry and for a generator for electricity when needed, compared to taking those things for granted in the United States.
Holly Ravenhorst has had to adjust to life in Haiti as well.
“Being a stay-at-home mom in Haiti looks very different from what it did in Austin,” Holly wrote. “I wash all my dishes by hand, hang all our clothes on a line to dry and since there are no options for preschool for my son, Ethan, I am now homeschooling him. Since it is not recommended that we are out after dark for safety reasons, we are home each night as a family. Life is much harder here but also more simple. I don’t feel like I am being pulled in a million different directions like I used to in the States, because there are no after-school activities for the kids such as sports, lessons and church events. I am able to have more quiet moments with God, spend more quality time with my children and focus on our calling to care for the orphans.”
The couple has raised funding support for their journey to pay for living expenses, such as housing, health insurance, travel expenses, home furnishings like a generator, beds, tables, a refrigerator, a vehicle and 24-hour security. Before leaving, they met with people personally, asking if they wanted to be a part of what God is doing in Haiti, and they got a good response.
“We would not be able to be on the mission field serving in Haiti without our support team that I would like to say thank you to — our support team who sacrifices their time to pray for us and also gives financially for our living expenses,” she wrote. “If anyone would like more information about how they can support us and join us on our journey please visit www.homesweethaiti.com.”
Throughout the experience, the Ravenhorsts have learned many things, but Holly Ravenhorst said a big piece has been learning to become more dependent on God. Her husband said it hasn’t been all easy, and though the couple is excited to see how God works through them, there have been tough times during the process. Recently, Dan Ravenhorst experienced the health system in Haiti as he suffered from issues with kidney stones. While he received good care despite some unsanitary conditions, he admitted finding prescriptions was tough as the pharmacies were closed when he was released.
Cost adjustments have also been difficult to get used to, as things easily taken for granted in the United States cost much more in Haiti, such as $9 for a jar of peanut butter, $15 for a frozen pizza and $90 for a frozen turkey. Yet things like water, bread and local fruit are very cheap.
They also experienced some issues with their water system.
“I didn’t expect to have so many water issues,” Dan Ravenhorst wrote. “Our apartment had many leaks. Our water pump broke, and now we just recently have an issue with dirty water that we are pumping.”
Another challenge has been the language barrier, which he admitted has been tougher than he expected.
“I also did not expect that the language barrier would be as difficult as it is,” he added. “We are slowly learning the language, but it is challenging on top of many other things.”
The couple has one thing in mind, which is following God’s call and seeing him work through their obedience. Holly Ravenhorst hopes above all, the children they work with get to know Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.
“That they would know who they are and just because they’re orphans, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have an amazing plan for their life, a story he has written for them,” she said. “And then the goal that when they are out on their own, they would have the education and everything else they would need to be successful in their life and to give back to their community. We’d love to raise up some leaders of Haiti that could be there to change their country.”
Dan Ravenhorst said past trips have shown them that going to serve in a third-world country isn’t only about helping others — it’s also changed their own lives.
“We thought we were going to Haiti to change them, but they changed us,” he said.
Current town: Bon Repos, Haiti
Fun fact: “I believe bacon makes any food better.”
Holly (Matson) Ravenhorst
Current town: Bon Repos, Haiti
Fun fact: “Dan and I are high school sweethearts, class of 2000 from Albert Lea High School.”