Central Ky. family answers call to live with poor in Haiti as missionaries

Leah Cherven hugs a Haitian child during a mobile clinic to treat people living in a tent city following the 2010 earthquake that killed 300,000 people.
Leah Cherven hugs a Haitian child during a mobile clinic to treat people living in a tent city following the 2010 earthquake that killed 300,000 people.

They've sold their house and furniture. They've sold their car.

Now Leah and Dana Cherven, both 42, and 13-year-old daughter, Brianna, are about to embark on the adventure: to live as missionaries among the people of Haiti.

The Chervens, formerly of Garrard County and temporarily living in Lexington, will leave their family and friends on Oct. 28 for the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

They know what they'll be facing. Leah has made six trips to Haiti (her first was in 2009), and Dana has been to the Caribbean country five times. Brianna has also accompanied her parents on one trip.

Nevertheless, the family is stepping out in faith to do what they feel called to do.

"I feel like God has called me to a specific area," Leah Cherven said. "I have to be there living life with them, doing life with them, being part of their culture and community to do that fully."

Once in Haiti, the Chervens will operate the mission house for ReachHaiti, a ministry that, among other things, starts new churches, trains Haitian Christian leaders and rescues abandoned and orphaned children. In operating the mission house, the Chervens will be responsible for the logistics involved in lodging the 15 to 17 teams who visit Haiti each year for short-term visits.

The Chervens will also host church leaders from around Haiti who periodically come for training at Croix-de-Bouquets, a city northeast of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

The Chervens had lived in Garrard County since 1998 and attended Lancaster Baptist Church. The Rev. Harold Best, pastor there since 2012, said serving others is nothing new for the Cherven family.

"Dana has been a deacon, and they taught Sunday School for children," Best said. "They've worked with the youth and they've coordinated (Lancaster Baptist's mission) trips to Haiti. Last year, when I went with them, you could tell they just had a heart for that. You could see them as missionaries and giving their lives to that. I think several felt like that is where they would end up someday."

Still, it takes a maturity of faith and confidence to sell everything you own and leave the familiar behind.

"I've been in ministry going on 14 years and they're the first couple that's felt called to full-time missions," Best said. "I mean, some have been called to ministry and preaching, but to sell everything and go to a foreign country, they're the first couple that I've been involved with."

Leah Cherven said she and her husband had felt the call to go to Haiti for some time. "We feel at home there," she said.

Then one Sunday, as the family drove home from church, Brianna said, "Do you kinda feel like you're not home here?"

"And that was confirmation that, OK, it's time to go" to Haiti full-time, Leah Cherven said.

Other things happened which the family interpreted as confirmations, such as when their house sold before the family put it up for sale. Dana works as a maintenance manager at a Nicholasville factory. Out of the blue, someone from work called him and said, "I heard you all were moving. What are you going to do with your house?"

After looking at the three-bedroom, two-bath house, the co-worker purchased it. The Lincoln MKZ sold, too, and three yard sales at church sold furniture and other personal possessions.

Brianna will leave friends, but she said "it's all good" because she will be able to see and talk with them via Skype, the Internet video and phone service. One friend has already put dibs on Thursdays as her scheduled day to talk to Brianna.

Meanwhile, Brianna will do schoolwork online from Haiti through a program set up through the Barren County school district. The virtual school has authority from the Kentucky Department of Education to grant high school diplomas.

One of the ReachHaiti's ministries is to provide safe and secure housing, food and education for abandoned or orphaned children. The Haitian children touched the hearts of the Chervens in ways they hadn't expected.

"We went there to love on them, but they had so much love to give back to us," Leah Cherven said. "To watch them worship was so joyful, so they knew that there's a hope beyond this world, even though they were hopeless in the situation they were in. I wasn't used to anything like that."

She remembers one moment in particular, when a little boy came up to her and washed her legs and feet after they became dirty while walking through an open-air market.

"He saw us and saw that we were dirty, and he was just taking care of us," Leah Cherven said. "I thought of how Jesus humbled himself and washed the feet of the disciples.

"We go to show the love of Christ, and sometimes they show us love that feels like so much more than we could ever give," she said.