Niceville family follows passion to help Haiti through Mission of Hope
NICEVILLE — Bryson Turner’s parents took him to Haiti when he was 7.
The Niceville family wanted to expose him to life in other countries. What they didn’t realize, though, was that Bryson would take a piece of Haiti home with him, one that still would live in his heart seven years later.
“I just fell in love with the country,” Bryson said. “It was a great experience. It was an eye-opening experience of really how much poverty they’re in. I think it’s three-fourths of the country live on less than a dollar a day. Most of them get one meal, if that. Most of them don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It pretty much breaks a 7-year-old’s heart.”
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Bryson hasn’t stopped wanting to help Haiti since. He did his second food fundraiser and packaging event for Haiti on Oct. 17 at Coastline Calvary Chapel in Destin, and will visit the country for the third time on Nov. 30.
After Bryson's first trip to Haiti, the Turners went again the next year. Then they moved to California and couldn’t return for a while, said Mhari Turner, Bryson’s mother.
“He wanted to still be able to do something to help them even though we weren’t able to physically go visit them,” Mhari said.
Then they discovered the nonprofit Mission of Hope’s feeding program.
“Through their schools, orphanages and churches throughout the country, they feed over 100,000 kids one meal a day at this point,” Mhari said. “We found out you could raise money to do these food packing events and then the food would go straight toward Mission of Hope’s orphanages.”
The required minimum amount of money raised to host a food packing event is $6,000.
“At that point, Bryson was 9 or 10 years old, so we were like, ‘No, we’re not raising $6,000,’” Mhari said. “He was quite determined, though, so he kept asking and asking for probably about a year.”
“I was scheming for months trying to get my parents to let me,” Bryson said.
“At one point, we were like, ‘OK, go ahead and figure it out then,’ ” Mhari said.
So he did.
“For about a year, maybe over a year, he did all sorts of things,” Mhari said. “He collected people’s recycling and took it to the recycling center to get money. He did several different types of fundraisers and was able to raise about $6,500 all by himself.”
Bryson admits it was more difficult than he thought.
“Once I got started, I knew there was no way I was going back,” Bryson said. “It was a really fun project, a really back-breaking project, but I had to keep reminding myself, whatever I’m going through right now — hauling a cart around to collect recycling — what they’re going through right now is so much worse.”
Bryson raised the money required and packed the meals in the summer of 2019 at Coastline Calgary Chapel after the family moved back to Florida. Church volunteers helped.
“We kinda came to them with this project Bryson had done, really hoping they would love it as much as we did and be willing to host it there the first year,” Mhari said. “And then after we hosted it the first year, they were all onboard and they were like, ‘When can we do this again? When can we do more? We can’t wait to engage with this more and partner with this organization more.’ They absolutely fell in love with the vision."
What Mhari loves about Mission of Hope is how it doesn’t focus on only one aspect of helping people.
“Their goal is to see complete life transformation for these kids,” Mhari said. “They work toward not only these nutrition projects and helping these kids have food every day, but they’re giving them an education. They’re sharing the gospel with them.”
They also have technical schools where children can learn a trade, she added.
“It provides hope for them, essentially, which is why it’s called Mission of Hope," Mhari said. "They’re giving them an opportunity to really break the cycle of poverty in their own family and own communities. These kids that have been going through their schools and things, they are now seeing them raised up as leaders in the community and really being able to make some lasting transformation that gives people hope to break out of a generations-long cycle of really no hope.”
Ric, Mhari’s husband, shares her belief in the organization.
"Mission of Hope is not focused on swooping in and saving a nation, but instead coming alongside to love and coach people and allow God to work in their lives,” Ric said. “Mission of Hope lets Haitians lead the Haitians.”
The church not only hosts annual food packing events, but also annual mission trips to Haiti.
The Turners have had many memorable experiences in Haiti. Bryson remembers making more than 200 rainbow loom bracelets for the children in Vacation Bible School.
“We gave out those 200 bracelets while we were feeding a bunch of people,” Bryson said. “It was really fun and we could tell, 'There’s no way we have enough bracelets for this entire VBS.' It was looking like our bracelet bag was getting low. I don’t know, God did something. He provided enough for every single child to have one, and there were a couple extras left.”
Bryson also remembers walking through the villages sharing the Word, when a little boy approached him.
“I had one of those mini fan things, a handheld one,” Bryson said. “He started blowing it on himself and thought it was awesome. We let him keep using it. Eventually he gave me a kiss on the cheek and offered me his scooter, which goes back to how generous they are. We were blown away like, ‘No, no, no, keep your scooter.’ ”
Mhari also witnessed their generosity while feeding the children their one meal a day. Most of the children will eat half of the meal and ask for an extra plate to cover up the rest.
“What they’re doing is saving it to take home for their brother or sister or parents because they know that people at home likely don’t get a meal that day,” Mhari said. “That part is heartbreaking. They’re getting this meal, but they’re thinking of the other people at home who are not getting a meal. Those experiences are what drives us forward with this, because no one should have to experience that — especially children, knowing they need to take care of their parents.”
Mhari and Ric have four children: Bryson, Jace, Aly and Makenna. They plan to take one more child on each mission trip as they get older.
“We definitely want to raise our kids knowing there’s a bigger picture of what the world is like rather than just what they see right here,” Mhari said. “And that, as kids, they can do something to better the world and better the community locally and globally, and they’re not just kids that can’t really do anything. It is important to us knowing that the Bible is taught.”
"Serving others is core to what brings people together,” Ric added. “We want our kids not just to hear about it, but do it. Now they are all eager to go.”