Cindy Oelke’s home in Lutz is comfortable and spacious, but step into a back bedroom and you’ll see piles of clothing and shoes all over the room.
Oelke has been collecting the items to prepare for an upcoming trip to Haiti.
This will be her third mission trip to the island nation to help provide basic necessities for people who are still recovering from a devastating earthquake there.
“The first year, I took maybe 100 pieces. Last year, I took 1,200 pieces,” she said. This year, she’s expecting to take around 2,000 items.
On previous trips, she also has pitched in on projects organized by her church — Grace Family Church, which is located on Van Dyke Road, not far from her home.
“The first year we went, we painted one of the new churches and schools. Last year, they helped build an addition on to the mountain school. This year, we’re going to be working within all of our orphanages,” she said.
She’ll also take on a new role.
“They’ve asked me to go and teach the mommas how to sew. So, I’m taking a lot of fabric, so I can teach the moms how to sew for their children,” she said.
She also will be leaving fabric behind that they’ll be able to continue to use.
And, passing along four donated sewing machines to Haiti.
Oelke, who works part-time, believes she’s been called to do God’s work in the impoverished country.
It all began rather simply.
“I said a prayer one day. I prayed for a sewing machine and a bicycle. And, within a week, I received both. I figured, well, I need to listen to the Lord more.
“The second week, I was also given another sewing machine.
“At that point, I really felt like God was talking to me, so, I just asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And, he said, ‘Sew for children.’ ”
She wasn’t sure what would become of the clothing, because she knows how expensive it is to ship packages overseas.
But one day, as she was getting ready for Bible study, she felt a prompting, she said. “The Holy Spirit sort of said to me, ‘Don’t forget your promise to Haiti.’ ”
Then she recalled how she and her husband had visited Haiti as part of a cruise years ago, after a huge storm had hit the country. They saw the devastation.
“We took a bus trip around. The children, the adults — they were just standing on the road. They were just trying to survive.”
When she got back on the bus, she felt sick.
“I just said a silent prayer, ‘Lord, help these people.’ I told my husband, ‘I will come back here and help the children,’ ” she said.
Years passed and life got busy, and the idea faded.
But after she began sewing the clothing, she began thinking about joining a church trip to take it to Haiti.
She inquired about going on the next church trip to Haiti, but was told it was already full.
She said her Bible leader mentioned to someone, “You know, Cindy has really sewn her heart out for Haiti.”
And a short while later, someone cancelled, and she was invited to fill the opening.
Still, she wasn’t absolutely certain she should make the trip. So, she prayed for a clear sign.
A really clear sign.
She asked God to put two animals in her backyard, so she’d know she was meant to go.
“The next morning, I got up. I went over to my bay window, and I started screaming for my husband to come. There, right in front of the window, were two doves. Just sitting there,” Oelke said.
That happened in April of 2013. She took her Haiti mission trip that August.
This year, the group will be leaving on Aug. 15 and returning on Aug. 22.
Oelke said her solicitation — in The Laker/Lutz News and elsewhere — has yielded good results, with people donating items to help.
“I had asked for slightly used clothes, for boys and girls, and shoes.
“I got a lot of both, but I also got a lot of winter clothes.”
“I’m thinking, ‘Why are people sending me winter clothes for Haiti? “Haiti is hot year-round,” she said.
As she thought about it, it occurred to her that people often ask her why she doesn’t do more to help local people.
“So, I just know, I’m supposed to help the homeless,” she said.
She plans to store the winter clothes and give them to the homeless when colder weather arrives.
So, instead of being involved in one ministry, it seems that Oelke is involved in two.
You can help
Here is Cindy Oelke’s wish list:
- New or slightly used spring or summer clothing for boys and girls, from age 2 to 16; new or slightly used shoes for the same ages
- Fabric, preferably cotton, for making clothes
- First-aid kit items, such as Wet Ones, bandages and gauze
- Suitcases to carry donations and to leave them with Haitians, for them to store their clothing
For additional details, call Cindy Oelke at (813) 963-7541.
Published July 22, 2015