FERMATHE, Haiti and LYNCHBURG, Va.-When Dieuseul Saint-Ange's mother contemplated a name for her fourth child, the Haitian woman in a rural town thought about her first three babies: None had survived. Before giving birth again, the young mother experienced her own rebirth: She converted to Christianity, along with her husband. The new Christian understood that the life of her unborn son depended on God's protection alone. When he was born, she called the healthy child "Dieuseul"-a name that means "God only."
Twenty-nine years later, the baby from a village in Haiti's central plateau is a man sitting in a student lounge at Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va. His journey-and his graduation on May 14-is a story of hard work by the student, his parents, Haitian pastors, missionaries, and teachers. But when Saint-Ange leans back in an oversized chair and contemplates how he got here from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, two words come quickly: "God only."
Saint-Ange was one of six Haitian students sitting around a mahogany table in Liberty's visitor's center less than a week before graduation, discussing summer plans and job opportunities. Seventeen Haitians studied at the university this year, but the six students at this table had something else in common: They've all pledged to return to Haiti.
That's a notable promise for students earning marketable degrees in areas like information technology, computer engineering, and nursing. But it's the non-negotiable aim of a program led by two American missionaries who spent nearly 60 years in Haiti and now serve Haitian students at Liberty.
Wallace and Eleanor Turnbull-the energetic, elderly couple at the head of the table-aren't interested in finding more Americans to work in Haiti. They believe the best help for the country comes from within: well-educated, Haitian Christians leading their own country by example.
Along the winding roads north of Port-au-Prince, the signs of the Turnbulls' six-decade ministry are carved into the sides of the cool, green mountains: Crops grow on the hillsides in terraced rows-a technique that Mr. Turnbull helped introduce to poverty-stricken locals fighting soil erosion in the 1960s.
A prominent sign around a nearby bend in the town of Fermathe identifies the ministry that the Turnbulls spent decades developing: Baptist Haiti Mission (BHM). The ministry aims to train local pastors to lead churches themselves and train local residents to become self-sustaining through projects like agriculture and marketable handicrafts.
On a crisp afternoon at BHM, a greenhouse brimming with tree saplings and a store full of handmade crafts and furniture near the mission's entrance showed the fruit of teaching practical skills. Down a small hill, a 100-bed hospital that serves locals evolved from the Turnbulls' helping to introduce basic healthcare to the area. (The once-remote area is now more developed, but the mission didn't have phone service until 1982. By 2010, the hospital served as a critical medical center for disaster-struck Port-au-Prince after the country's massive earthquake.)
But the Turnbulls say the most important part of their work lies in the hills around the mission: hundreds of churches led by Haitian pastors. Mr. Turnbull says three locals attended the mission's first church service in 1947. Today, the mission reports that thousands of church members attend some 330 churches established by local pastors across the region.
Rob Baker-a former Michigan pastor who now directs the mission in Fermathe-says he's grateful for good projects that help Haitians in practical ways, including the projects at BHM, but he says good churches with sound, biblical teaching are foundational to lasting change in the country: "We recognize it's got to start with the church."
Starting with the church meant overcoming a substantial problem when the Turnbulls began working with rural pastors in the 1940s: Like most of the locals in the region at the time, most of the pastors couldn't read. Without a change, future church leaders would be illiterate, too. Mr. Turnbull organized the area's first primary school in 1948, and Mrs. Turnbull remembers: "Wallace told everyone that the child of God should read the Bible, His word for them."
Over the years, former students eventually sent their own children to school, raising the literacy rate in the region. Some sent their children to secondary schools, and some have managed to attend college. Today, the mission serves some 65,000 students across the country at more than 300 schools connected with local churches. The mission serves the local churches by providing training for pastors, including a summer training institute in Fermathe.
Elsa Peterson-a BHM worker-coordinates a sponsorship program that connects overseas sponsors with children in the local schools to help with the costs of education. In the living room of her Fermathe home, Peterson lists a handful of careers that students from the schools have pursued: civil engineering, medicine, and mechanics. "That's why I am so sold on this program," she says. "One child at a time, you could change a country."
The desire to change Haiti drove Saint-Ange-the recent Liberty graduate-to college in America. With limited educational opportunities in Haiti, Saint-Ange pursued a scholarship program that the Turnbulls founded after returning to the United States in 2004.
An arrangement between the Turnbulls' private foundation and scholarship funds from Liberty covered the costs for Saint-Ange-and the other students in the program-to study at the school. (As many as eight students participate in the program at one time, and they must pass an English test when applying for admission.)
The students come from local churches in Haiti and promise to return when they graduate. (They also return home during summer breaks.) While many international students stay in the United States after graduating from college, Mr. Turnbull says Haiti desperately needs educated citizens who can serve the country: "Haiti has plenty of pastors but too few educated lay leaders who understand ethics, responsibility, and accountability."
Saint-Ange agrees, and he plans to take his understanding of information technology back to Hinche, his small hometown in central Haiti. The graduate says he most enjoys database management and networking-areas that need massive improvement in a country with fledgling infrastructure, especially in rural areas: "We don't have many people who have these skills."
When Saint-Ange arrived in Lynchburg in August 2006, his own skills were limited: He knew how to check email, surf the web, and use the basic functions of Microsoft Office. Two years later, he completed an internship with World Vision in Haiti, working with the Christian organization's computer systems. "My goal was to figure out what Haiti needs most," he says.
Without the scholarship program and the Turnbulls' mentoring, Saint-Ange says he doesn't know how he would have studied in the United States. Financing would have been nearly impossible for his family: Saint-Ange's parents work as meat sellers in a local market, and neither progressed beyond grammar school. But the Christian couple worked hard to make sure their children completed high school in a country where education isn't free. Saint-Ange says his parents are proud of him, but he quickly adds: "I'm proud of them, too."
When he returns to Haiti later this year, Saint-Ange hopes to find a computer-based job in Hinche and serve in his local church. He says the development of local churches is crucial because education without morality is "even worse than having no knowledge." "We need education, but I think what people need most is to be God-fearing," he says. "That can bear fruit."
Saint-Ange hopes to bear fruit that will help his country progress, and he says staying in Haiti is a central part of that effort. "The more we have people leaving-especially people with knowledge-the worse it is for Haiti," he says. "I'm very excited about someday having my name on the list of people who did something wonderful for Haiti."
Cardinye Brevil hopes to be on that list, too. The nursing student from Fermathe is in the Turnbulls' scholarship program and is set to graduate from Liberty in December. She's already spent a summer working at the BHM hospital, learning from Haitian nurses and doctors.
Brevil says that experience taught her the advantage of Haitian nurses treating Haitian patients. "The problem [with foreign workers] isn't just with translation," she says. "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."
Jean Claude Bernard-a Haitian doctor who has worked at BHM for more than 35 years and oversees the hospital-is grateful for visits by medical mission teams who help perform surgeries in specialized areas. But Bernard's Haitian advantage was obvious during late evening rounds at the Fermathe campus in January: The doctor moved from bed to bed, speaking in Creole with ailing patients and worried family members.
Bernard noted that many patients come to the hospital from rural areas and have little health knowledge. That means they often wait until their condition is critical before making the trek for help.
For example: In an open-room ward, a limp, 9-year-old girl lies on a bed, surrounded by family members. She barely moves except for occasionally fluttering glassy eyes that don't focus. A tube running from her nose drains yellow fluid into a silver pail on the bed.
A large bandage across her abdomen reveals the problem: appendicitis. By the time the girl's family brought her from her rural home in the surrounding mountains, she was suffering a high fever and her life was in danger. But an emergency surgery saved her life, and by the next morning the child was stirring in her bed and locking eyes with her mother.
Bernard talks with patients who rarely see a doctor about the importance of seeking care for serious symptoms, and helps parents understand how to monitor children's health. He says Haitian physicians have a distinct advantage, and he works hard to train local doctors and nurses. (Bernard's three children all work as doctors in Haiti.) "I know the area very well," he says. "I know the people also."
Brevil-who worked with Bernard during her summer internship-says she hopes to educate Haitians on nutritional issues that could improve their health. She says in the countryside some Haitians grow vegetables but sell them at market and buy unhealthy food. "They're exchanging the good stuff for bad," she says. "They have problems they could prevent if they only knew how."
Like other students in the program, Saint-Ange hopes that he can help solve and prevent problems in Haiti when he returns. He looks forward to reuniting with his family, friends, and church, and he's eager to work with them: "I miss them, and I feel that if together we could create something for Haiti, it would be very, very good."