Dawson Vision will be providing free eye exams to an orphan children’s choir from Haiti next week as the group visits Dawsonville for the second time.
The children from LifeSaver Orphanage were stranded in the area in the fall of 2016 after concluding a months-long singing tour in the southeastern United States. They were set to fly home in early October when their native island was struck by Hurricane Matthew.
The choir, sponsored by the Love Him Love Them ministry based out of northeast Georgia, was hosted at Harmony Baptist Church while they waited to safely return home. They performed concerts at the church and were embraced by the community, who provided food, clothes and entertainment to the displaced group.
The choir came to the United States to share Jesus, according to one of the founders of Love Him Love Them Ministries, Linda Gunter.
The Atlanta area businesswoman turned adoptive mom initially heard the group sing after she and her Haitian-born children visited the island several years ago.
Gunter's best friend had adopted Haitian children over Gunter's own protests and when her friend passed away, Gunter and her husband eventually took the kids themselves.
Gunter and her new family was visiting another orphanage in Haiti and a local pastor told her about an orphanage that had become one by default- LifeSaver Orphanage run by a music teacher and his wife.
William and Gertrude Paul, who had four children of their own, were known in the area as a place of stability. After the earthquake in 2010, people began taking children who were orphaned by the quake to their home.
Almost overnight the Pauls had acquired 30 kids.
Gunter and her husband David visited the Pauls with their own children.
"We were about to leave and he asked if I wanted to hear the kids sing," Gunter said in 2016. "They sang for me in five different languages and I lost my mind."
Gunter immediately wanted to know what they could do to help the kids and decided to try to bring them to the United States to sing.
"There was no electricity, no running water and yet they were singing," Gunter said. "It was Christmas Day and they didn't have any food. They sang in a way that the joy of the Holy Spirit just exuded out of them. I also realized that day too that my joy did not come from Jesus. My joy was coming from my circumstances.
"There are children in the United States who need to get the fact that when Jesus is really all you have, He really is all you need."
Linda and David Gunter began what was an uphill battle to find a way to get the group out of Haiti. To have travel visas, they needed passports. To have passports, they needed birth certificates. Children pulled from the wreckage of an earthquake did not have birth certificates on them.
"If you have been crushed underneath two houses, and you watched your family members die and you just happened to be the one that got pulled out and you are in an administrative country like Haiti?" Gunter said.
They were eventually able to acquire performance visas for the group. They first had to have a tour scheduled.
They called churches all over the southeast scheduling dates prior to having visas in hand.
"The whole reason we came here initially was to share Jesus, but then people said why don't you take up a love offering?" Gunter said.
The money earned by the group through the tour two years ago was used to support their orphanage and others as well, according to Gunter.
Now, the group is returning to the county and will be receiving full vision exams at Dawson Vision on Aug. 29. The exams come at no cost to the ministry.
Dr. Brian Burke, an active member of the Rotary Club of Dawson County and volunteer at Good Shepherd Clinic, as well as Dr. Karla Thomason, a graduate of Leadership Dawson, will be conducting the exams.
Thomason learned that the orphans were in need of eye exams during a Braves game a few months ago. Her cousin’s wife tagged her in a post requesting aid in eye and audiology exams for the choir, and Thomason said she knew immediately that she wanted to do the eye exams. She started messaging Linda Gunter while at the game.
Thomason, an active member of Liberty Baptist Church, has been on a mission trip in the past and said she would love to go on another; she now has the ability to do a “home” mission trip by providing eye exams to the orphan choir.
“I was in my second year in optometry school and I went to Costa Rica,” Thomason said. “We did I think 500 eye exams over three or four days, it was very rewarding.”
The exams will start at 9 a.m. and continue through 5:30 p.m., depending on how it goes, Thomason said.
A donation box is set up in the waiting room at the office for supplies requested by the choir. Chick-fil-a of Dawson County will be providing lunch for the choir and Dr. James Hays of Woolfson Eye Institute will provide eyeball-inspired cake balls for dessert.
After the eye exams, the choir will have a potluck dinner at 6 p.m. at Liberty Baptist Church and will perform a concert following the dinner. Everyone is invited to attend and hear the children perform.
For more information about Love Him Love Them ministry, contact Gunter at (706) 599-7525 or Lisa M. LaFleur at (508) 410-9318 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For other dates and locations of performances, visit www.lovehimlovethem.org.
Dawson Vision has been providing vision care for Dawson County and the surrounding area since 2013. The office is located at 76 Bethel Drive in Dawsonville.