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Clean Water, Living Water: Turning Point Missions Partners with Living Hope Mission to Make Both Possible

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Turning Point Cutline No. 1From left: Tom Doane, Pastor Wilbert Merzilus and Mark Wybenga.Turning Point Missions fuses home renovations with job training in Grand Rapids so clean drinking water is possible for Haitians who otherwise may die from water borne diseases.

It's that simple. And that profound.

The backstory

Tom Doane and Mark Wybenga initially purchased a home about eight years ago so they could renovate it, sell it and use the proceeds to fund a mission trip they had their eye on.

It snowballed into renovating and selling a second house. While working on it, a handful of unemployed people they knew asked if they could hire on to help with the project. Their question sparked an idea.

"Does God have bigger plans that we have envisioned?" recalled Doane.

They now know the answer.

A faith-based nonprofit is born

Turning Point Cutline No. 2Pastor Merzilus: ““Pray for our country, for God to change people’s hearts toward Him.”Wybenga and Doane are co-founders of Turning Point Missions, a nonprofit Christian outreach that purchases homes generally in the Grand Rapids market, temporarily hires underemployed and unemployed people who are college students, homeless or released from jail. The temporaries get to earn some money and learn a skill in the trades while assisting with renovations.

Then the homes are sold whereby 100 percent of the profits are donated to Turning Point toward outreach work in Haiti.

That outreach work involves installing water filtration systems that cost $7,500 each, which serves 1,000 Haitians.

Drink deep

Turning Point partners with Living Hope Mission, a nonprofit ministry based in Cap-Haitian, Haiti, whose executive director is Pastor Wilbert Merzilus. They work in tandem to supply water filters.

Besides being Turning Point's co-founder, Wybenga is the nonprofit's chief operating officer and a licensed residential builder. He is in charge of scheduling the remodeling of homes, which includes coordinating the workers and various trades and does much of the carpentry work as well.

Doane is Turning Point's chief financial officer. After serving in the U.S. Army in the Republic of Panama, Doane worked for several engineering firms designing water and wastewater treatment facilities before joining BDO Seidman's tax department and working in the real estate. He retired from BDO in 2008.

The home renovation side of Turning Point has provided temporary employment to around 30 people. Daily devotions are held at the work site.

"The intent was never to provide full time employment, but to give them a resume to demonstrate they've shown (for work) on time and are dependable," said Doane. "We're not busy enough to give them a full time job but we can give them a certain amount of work for a certain amount of time."

Why Haiti?

Situated in the Caribbean Sea, Haiti is a 90-minute flight from Miami. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, meaning 54 percent of Haitians live on less than $1 a day. One in 8 Haitian children do not live to age five, often because of water borne illnesses that could have been prevented if clean water was available.


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But it doesn't stop with clean water. Jesus' living water also is proclaimed.

"We're also going to start a Bible distribution program there as well to all the kids in school," said Wybenga. "We'd like to teach them about the living water of Jesus Christ. They need clean water but they need the living water for eternal life."

Merzilus' first-time visit to Grand Rapids

Pastor Wilbert Merzilus recently visited the Grand Rapids area for the first time to discuss the need for untainted drinking water in Haiti and for Christ's living water.

"I came by invitation by Tom and Mark and share how we might work together with churches that might be interested in coming to Haiti," said Merzilus. "For the past couple of years with the new (water) filtration systems, I've seen how lives have been changed. People dying of waterborne diseases have stopped. The kids have clean drinking water. It's a 100 percent success.

"Living Hope Mission has established 20 new churches, built 19 schools that has about 3,000 students," continued Merzilus. "Turning Point has for now, worked on water filtration system and soon will concentrate on drilling new wells."

Earthquake eight years later

Merzilus said the aftermath of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010 is still visible.

"We have families there trying to find a better place to live," said Merzilus. "Some of them still live in tents. It is tough. After the earthquake, many have come to the Lord. I'm not hoping for another earthquake but sometimes, hard times bring people closer to God than we would ever imagine."

Americans tend to take clean drinking water for granted and so, it's sometimes a disconnect to understand why water borne illnesses are a reality for others, said Merzilus.

"In Third World countries especially water is a luxury," he said. "In America, people don't pay attention. They turn on the facet and don't know how much that means to people especially to children in Third World countries.

"Water is the main source to keep people healthy."

"The filter removes all those diseases," added Doane. "We teach the pastor at each village and another gentleman how to take care of the filters, which can last for number of years. If they need replacing it's just the guts of the filter, the cartridge, which run about $85 each."

As critical as clean water is to Haitians, Merzilus' focal point is for Haitians to embrace the living Word of Christ.

"Pray for our country, for God to change people's hearts toward Him first of all," said Merzilus. "I always believe since I was a kid reading the Bible Matthew 6: 33: 'If you seek first the kingdom all these things will be added.' Pray for Haitian people to seek the kingdom first.

"We need to encourage the young people to have more education," continued Merzilus. "We have our two feet on the ground but we're not in heaven yet. We've got to work, to become good citizens, to take care of our own families. I would like people to know what Turning Point is doing to reach out more people for the Kingdom."


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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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