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By all accounts, Beverly and Richard Felmey of Bell should be having the time of their life cruising around the Caribbean on a tour ship sending postcards home to their son, Levy County Deputy Brian Capps, of Fanning Springs, and their daughter, Healther Class, of Bell.
They made it to the Caribbean, but not as tourists. The Felmeys operate the Feed My Sheep Mission in Montrouis, Haiti. It's a mission, school and clinic that the couple has operated since 1998.
Beverly Felmey is a graduate of Chiefland High School and Richard Felmey is a graduate of Sumter High School in Bushnell. Their home church is First United Methodist Church in High Springs.
The ministry is about 60 miles from the epicenter of the devastating center of the earthquakes that have shaken Haiti since the first one hit at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
And if things had gone according to Richard Felmey' plans the couple and five Pennsylvania students working at their mission would have been in Port-au-Prince when the first massive quake shook the port city at 6:53 p.m. on Jan. 12.
Felmey was notified two days before that a tractor and agricultural supplies he was expecting had arrived in Port au Prince and he needed to come pick them up the next morning. But Felmey, who was also expecting medical supplies for the ministry's clinic wanted to wait until they arrived the following day and pick up everything in one trip.
“But they said no, I had to come get the tractor because they had uncrated it and we needed to be there by 8 a.m.,” Richard Felmey said. “That meant I had to get up at 4 a.m. to drive there and load up the tractor.
“That annoyed me, but I didn't know God was watching out for me.”
Once there, the students took pictures of the port, the huge yellow crane and the tractor next to it.
“We got back to our base and two hours later the earthquake struck,” Felmey said. “It hit that port harder than any place else. That big crane, the one the students took pictures of, was tossed into the water and blocked the port.”
The Felmeys say Montrouis, which they describe as “a village of about 40,000 people,” was rolling in the quake.
“We weren't really shook,” Beverly Felmey said. “But you could look out and see the Jeep was rolling. ... It was as if the ground was heaving.”
Richard Felmey described it as “like being in a rubber raft. It was actually lifting us up.”
The Felmeys say the Haitians in their village were immediately praying after the quake to thank God for their safety.
In the days after the quake, the Felmesy realized their bank was gone, limiting funds at the mission to what was on hand and that they needed to get the visitors from Pennsylvania back to their families.
After giving the staff all the money they had, the Felmeys and the students made their way to the only operating airfield in the country and were evacuated on a U.S. Air Force plane. “We have a very competent staff to run things,” Richard Felmey said. “We can do more here.”
Now the couple is spending time with their son and traveling to churches to spread the word that the Haitian people need a helping hand from folks in Levy County and North Central Florida.
They are also arranging for cargo boxes of relief supplies to be sent to Haiti. The first of what they hope will be many shipped out on Tuesday.
“There is a mission in Jacksonville that ships cargo boxes of supplies,” Richard Felmey said, detailing the list of available supplies. “We are hoping to send 80 containers. “ Felmey said the containers can hold up to $100,000 in relief items and the boxes can be purchased for $6,000 each.
The Felmeys want folks to know that the Haitians are hardworking people who are turning to Christianity, abandoning the once officially sanctioned practice of voodoo, who want the opportunity to earn a living and provide for their children. “Right now Christianity had outgrown voodoo,” he said.
“If they have one meal a day, they are grateful and praise God,” Richard Felmey said. “If they have two meals a day they praise God more for it.”
That one meal a day for many Haitians may be the reason for the amazing survival stories like that of the boy rescued after 11 days in a crushed building.
In addition to the small diet, Felmey noted that many Haitians live in “itty-bitty” houses. “They have many who live in a two-room house that we would call a storage shed in size,” Richard Felmey said.
There is no widespread public school system like the American system, he said. Most education is done at Christian and missionary schools supported by foreign congregations.
And the Haitians are hard-working, start their day at 4:30 to 5 a.m. — with prayer before work, he said.
After the earthquake, Beverly Felmey said, most of the homes in their village were standing. “And people were paying and singing gospel.”
The Felmeys see God's hand in the quake. They see it as a wake-up call to Americans and the world.
“The living conditions are being publicized,” he said. “It's a tragedy of this nature that can get people's attention.”
At their website, one message says it all: Continual prayer is always appreciated. After all, we are in HAITI.
But now they need more than prayer and the couple is seeking donations.
To donate, send checks to Feed My Sheep P.O. Box 341 Bell, Fla. 32619 or visit their website, www.feedmysheep-ministries.org and click on the “Earthquake Relief Donate” link where you can send money via a credit or debit card and via PayPal.