Sixty and counting. That’s the number of years Wallace and Eleanor Turnbull have served the Lord as missionaries in Haiti, making a huge impact on what has traditionally been called the poorest country in the Americas. We can say “and counting” because now, as residents of Lynchburg, Va., the Turnbulls’ work continues in the lives of Haitian students at Liberty University.
Through financial assistance and support from the Turnbulls, more than 13 Haitian students have studied at Liberty in all different majors, with seven currently enrolled, all promising to return to their homeland armed with the career skills and Christian values so desperately needed there.
“With the way the world has painted Haiti – economically, intellectually and socially and morally – we believe the inside of Haiti has a different look and a different possibility,” said Eleanor Turnbull. “That is what we would like for these young people who are here at Liberty – [to take] the message and the actions of Liberty University to become a bold expression out in Haiti … They’re not going to accept it [the world’s view of their country] and speak out and work out against it.”
The Wallaces spent their years in Haiti developing the Baptist Haiti Mission (BHM), leading the way in mission work in that nation by establishing schools and medical facilities and teaching lessons in sanitation and agricultural methods. BHM was the first organization in Haiti to provide books, uniforms and other school supplies. Now, it serves more than 65,000 students at more than 300 schools associated with local churches started through BHM’s efforts to train local pastors.
The Turnbulls still visit the Mission twice a year. Though their work in the United States is independent of the Mission’s work, they said their role of encouraging young people didn’t stop when they moved to America.
“This is more of the same. It’s more of what we always did,” said Wallace Turnbull, affectionately called “Grandpa” to the Haitian students.
The Turnbulls’ story was featured in “WORLD” magazine last summer, along with several of Liberty’s Haitian students.
Recent graduate Cardinye Brevil was one of them. A nursing student, Brevil knew the impact she could have on her people. She worked as a summer intern in a hospital established by BHM (the scholarship program requires students to return to Haiti during the summers to work there), and saw firsthand how the connection she has with Haitians gives her an advantage.
“The problem [with foreign workers] isn’t just with translation,” she told WORLD. “It’s with the way people see things. I think if they hear it from me – being a Haitian – they might be more open to it.”
Daniel Jean-Louis was one of the scholarship program’s first graduates. He earned a B.S. in Business from Liberty in 2006 and is now active in entrepreneurship and development at Haitian State University and University Quiskeya in Haiti. He founded and operates his own hotel business, Trinity Lodge, and runs Partners Worldwide, an organization in 20 countries with a vision to help facilitate the creation of 100,000 jobs in Haiti by 2020.
“The Turnbulls helped me with finding LU, sign-up, finding scholarship and providing ongoing support with every aspect needed to succeed – including financial, spiritual, mentoring and welcoming me to their lives as their own,” Louis said.
“Liberty provided me with the best education and a Christian environment and principles that are priceless. … This education has been enabling me to help my country where it’s best needed: job creation. There are about 85 percent of Haitians who are unemployed and this education has not only helped me employ people directly with my own business but also teach others on how to create jobs in sustainable ways.”
Anyone who has met the Turnbulls can see the desire they have to see young people grow into Christian leaders in their own country.
“We always worked with young leaders [in schools] who were prominent in their local churches, teaching them everything possible. … I told them, ‘Fill your basket like somebody going to market, fill it with good stuff… and go back to your people,’ ” said Wallace Turnbull.
The Turnbulls act as the screening committee for the program, and once the students are here, they become their foster parents, in a way.
That’s why you will find them out at a local pizza restaurant, treating students to lunch after church on Sunday, or in their own home making a traditional Haitian meal of beans and rice, as they did on Thanksgiving for the students.
The Turnbulls raised three children of their own. All joined them in their work in Haiti. Their youngest, David, died at age 26 in a scuba diving accident shortly after graduating from Liberty and returning to Haiti. A residence hall (No. 19, by the prayer chapel) has been named in his honor.
But in speaking about his death or the tragic earthquake that left more than 200,000 dead in their beloved nation in January 2010, the Turnbulls do not want to focus on the events of the past. They are too focused on what God is doing now and for the future.
Now, both at 87 years old, they have become prayer warriors for Liberty’s international students from all over the world.
“We pray daily that the Lord will use Liberty,” Wallace Turnbull said. “With kids from 80 countries, hundreds of them, [we pray] that the Lord will use them in their countries to develop the church and make it effective.”