The Social Conscience of a Missionary

It's a long way from LoDo to Haiti, but Dan Jeune wants to bridge the gap. With friendship.

At Waney, ICOF hosts a dinner for six kids it's sponsoring at the school there. Each of the scholarship recipients gets a new book bag, some school supplies and a soccer ball. "Thank you, ICOF," they say in unison.

Seven-year-old Benjamin says he wants to be a pastor when he grows up. Twelve-year-old Johnny wants to be a mechanic. Twelve-year-old Rosema wants to be a nurse. Six-year-old Christelle wants to be a doctor, as do five-year-old twins Cassandra and Cassan.

Their mother may not be around to see that day. In fact, she doesn't expect to survive until the twins finish first grade, she tells the ICOF team, because a doctor told her that she's dying. Rumor has it the doctor was a witch doctor, Dan says.

That's what friends are for: Terrance Roberts (left), Traci Grilley, Dan and Stephanie Jeune, Merlie Walters Meis and Lee Ramirez in Denver a few days before departure.
Mark Manger
That's what friends are for: Terrance Roberts (left), Traci Grilley, Dan and Stephanie Jeune, Merlie Walters Meis and Lee Ramirez in Denver a few days before departure.
Like father, like son: Dan and Joel Jeune at the guest house in Haiti.
Like father, like son: Dan and Joel Jeune at the guest house in Haiti.

Voodoo was the country's first religion. But over the years, Christian missionaries have come in and converted most of the population, and the heavy Christian influence has rendered voodoo taboo — in public, at least. But witch doctor flags still hang by the roads across the country, and many Christians consult them.

Before she goes, the twins' mother says, she wants to raise enough money to celebrate her children's graduation from kindergarten. She claims she needs $120 per child — more than the tuition of $100 a year.

That night, Terrance tells Dan and Stephanie that ICOF needs to get more organized. Everyone on the trip should have signed a waiver, he points out, and the organization also needs to tighten up its accounting or risk trouble with the federal government. "In a lot of ways, I can tell he's used to seeing charity work," Terrance says of Dan. "He's not as new to this as people may think. He grew up around it, watching his mother and father do great things. But right now he's just getting stuff and dumping it off. He's not used to the business end of it, and it is a business — the business of helping kids.

"I think the accountability factor hasn't settled in yet for Dan because he's more used to it in Haiti than he is in the U.S., where the business factor of helping people comes first. In Haiti, the need is so great, it's all about helping people first."

"I don't think charity works as a business," says Dan. Still, he plans to apply for ICOF's 501(c)3 status as soon as he has a spare $700 he can send to the government rather than use to help the poor in Haiti. And so far, the lack of tax-deductible status hasn't kept people from making donations — albeit small ones. Nor has it discouraged local bars from hosting his events.

"I have to make a choice between that $700 or sending it to the kids," he says. "I always try to negotiate that. My dad did that, too. I've noticed that, for him, what happens in Haiti is more important than what happens in the United States. I don't have anything to hide. It's good to be cautious, but I don't really need ICOF to do what I am doing. It would be good to get a 501(c)3 so that I could do more, but all I need is a group of friends to get together and get things to people who need them."

Bishop Joel may not have it as easy as his son thinks, however. Grace International is now inactive, according to the state of Florida, and the hospital that stands on the compound is a long way from finished. According to Bishop Joel, about $3 million has already been poured into the structure, which is only two stories tall but has a strong enough foundation for five and will need another $3 million before it's complete. But funding dried up when Smile of a Child, a nonprofit connected to the Los Angeles-based Trinity Broadcasting Network, pulled out of the project. Bishop Joel says that was because the nonprofit wanted complete control and ownership. But officials at TBN — which broadcast Bishop Joel's show for more than twenty years before calling a halt in 2006 — dispute that. "We have been in a conflict with Grace International, in particular with Bishop Joel Jeune, regarding his organization being able to provide a proper account of the funding," says TBN's John Casoria. "He says he's got $3 million into it. My response would be, 'Prove it.'"

TBN had only agreed to build a two-story building with a $1.75 million price tag, he adds, and the organization put the brakes on in 2006 when $2.3 million had already been spent on a project that wasn't 50 percent complete, and Bishop Joel gave them "woefully inaccurate records" that investigators determined to be "somewhat fraudulent" — a term Casoria says he doesn't use lightly.

The compound also has a small clinic, which Bishop Joel says has been there since 2000 but Casoria says he suspects was built with TBN's money in spite of TBN's opposition to building a medical clinic alongside a hospital. TBN also paid for the guest house, according to Casoria, which was supposed to house doctors volunteering at the hospital. Bishop Joel is now renting that building to missionary groups, including ICOF.

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