Beyond Mountains There Are Mountains

by Andrew Atwell, Co-Founder and Creative Director

I remember watching the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake play out on every news channel. It was devastating. Over 100,000 dead and many more injured. A whole city displaced.

I wanted to help. I didn’t know what that would look like, but I was in a unique position as part of Next Step’s leadership. Maybe there was something we could do?

I didn’t know much about Haiti at that time. So I bought a book called “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” It chronicles the fascinating life of American Dr. Paul Farmer and his efforts to fight tuberculosis in Haiti, Peru & Russia.

The book took its name from a Haitian proverb — beyond mountains there are mountains. As you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would become a constant theme in our efforts to support an orphanage in the community of Fond Blanc.

About a year after the earthquake, I travelled to Haiti with Nick Cocalis to meet with a man named Pastor Jean Claude. Pastor was a Haitian man in his 60’s who spent his life serving and bringing the good news of Christ to people all over Haiti. He had an orphanage in Port-au-Prince that was damaged in the earthquake and no longer safe. So he pilled the children into trucks and drove them up to Fond Blanc, a mountain village about 90 minutes from Port-au-Prince. A half-finished orphanage in Fond Blanc became their new home.

When Nick and I arrived in Fond Blanc, most of the orphanage was finished, but it was still lacking many basic amenities we take for granted in the states. Pastor wanted a better life for these children and asked us to help.

In that moment I figured he was asking us for help because he couldn’t do it on his own. But I was wrong. And it’s taken me 4 years to see that. Pastor, like all Haitians, is incredibly resourceful and capable. He didn’t need our help. Instead, he wanted to give us the opportunity to be a part of what God was already doing in Fond Blanc.

It was a gift.

But if I’m completely honest, at times this gift has felt like a burden. Just when we think we’ve solved one problem, another problem presents itself.

Next Step began by helping Pastor build a new church on the orphanage grounds. His goal was for this church to be a spiritual hub for the community. We began working on this church, Americans and Haitians, sweating side-by-side. But it was impossible not to notice that as we poured our resources into the church, the basic needs of the children at the orphanage weren’t being met — a new mountain.

So a few of us who had fallen in love with the community started the Fond Blanc Foundation. The Foundation’s main goal was to provide for the basic needs of the children in the orphanage. Alongside Pastor, his Haitian staff, Next Step teams and generous supporters, we were able to help support their food program, build a new kitchen, showers and provide additional care givers for the children.

These were great improvements, but there were still more mountains. The children received some education through a school on the orphanage grounds, but a shortage of funds meant that teachers went unpaid, school supplies were scarce and the learning environment was poor. So just last month, the Foundation partnered with local businesses in Madison and the University of Wisconsin Athletics to raise all the funds necessary to pay the teachers for a year and provide books and supplies for every child.

While this journey has been incredibly rewarding, it’s also been incredibly challenging, testing me physically, emotionally and spiritually. It can be difficult at times for people from different cultures to work together on a project of this magnitude. And at times I’ve made some really bonehead decisions. But through all the difficulties, I know God has been with me.

The last time I was in Haiti I decided to go for a hike. I spent an hour climbing to what I perceived to be the peak of a mountain behind the orphanage. Only it wasn’t the peak. Not even close. There was another peak that revealed itself over the horizon. So I climbed to that one, and yet another peak presented itself. Tired, I decided to stop and look back towards the orphanage. From this vantage point, the orphanage looked so small in comparison to the larger village of Fond Blanc. And Fond Blanc looked so small when compared to the mountains that surrounded it, and the distant ocean that seemingly stretched on forever. And in that moment, my mountains didn’t seem so big.

I don’t know what our next mountain will be in Haiti, but I know I serve a God who is big enough to get us over it.

If you are interested in serving in Fond Blanc with Next Step Ministries, or supporting the children through the Fond Blanc Foundation (, please reach out to us. Send us an email. Give us a call. We’ll get you plugged in and give you the same gift that Pastor Jean Claude gave us.

Next Step Ministries