by Terrell Clemmons
The suffocating heat had been engulfing Jessica from the moment she stepped off the plane. Then there were the street musicians playing for tips. The music was lively, but the sights, sounds, and faces of this unfamiliar place threatened to bring on sensory overload for the 16 year old on her first trip outside the United States.
“It was really intimidating because I could have been taken and no one would ever have found me,” she reflected later. “It was really scary.” She had come to Haiti on a mercy mission, along with her family and about 25 members of the high school football team her father served as chaplain. It was mid-summer 2010, just five months after a major earthquake had devastated much of the already impoverished island nation.
Jessica stuck close to her group that first day as they traveled on to Jacmel, a smaller city about 30 miles south of Port-au-Prince, where they would stay and work for the next seven days. But over the ensuing week, while the men labored building homes, she ventured out to get to know the people—especially the children who scrambled like little puppies to get next to the strange white girl. “No, it’s okay,” she told a swarm of them at the orphanage when they tried to pick the freckles off her face. “They’re from the sun!” (From then on, they tried to shield her from the sun.) So many of the children were sick with various ailments, but she was drawn to them and they to her. You could say it was something like love at first sight.
There was always work for willing hands to do. Next to the orphanage sat the hospital where she made homemade medicines, particularly scabies medicine, out of powder. The medical needs, she noticed, were great, but the resources were thin and the staff scant. She also visited Tent City, where thousands of displaced Haitians had been living since the earthquake.
Tent City is where Jessica’s connection to Haiti would take root.
I met Jessica Faust in September 2010, about three months after that life-altering week, and Haiti was still on her mind. “Walking up and down the aisles of the big army tents, my brain was going in a thousand different directions,” she told me. “I was happy that these people were happy even though they were living in such poor conditions, but I was also upset because they were living in tents. These were people like me, some of them the same age I am. Just because they live on different parts of the globe doesn’t mean their lifestyles should be so different.” But they were, and Jessica was simply not okay with that.
It was during a walk through Tent City that Jessica met Esther. One glance at the child resting in her mother’s arms told Jessica something was terribly wrong. The little girl’s head was nearly twice the size of a normal child’s. At 18 months of age, she still couldn’t lift it on her own. “This is Esther,” she heard someone say in English.
Esther had hydrocephalus, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain. Often called “water on the brain,” hydrocephalus is treatable, and Jessica was struck by how a difference in geography could mean the difference between life and death or mobility and disability. Had Esther been born in America, she would have had surgery long ago to relieve her condition.
“I wanted to hold her but I wouldn’t have asked,” she continued. So Jessica prayed for her right there. The next thing she knew, she was in tears. “I know God is so powerful,” she explained to me, “but I felt like I couldn’t do anything. I had to walk away. That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do—not take her home with me and get her help.”
Doing the Hard Thing
A week after returning home, “Our youth minister challenged us to do something that was hard, and of course, Esther came straight to my mind.” Soon after that, she went to a youth conference, made some connections, and from there “the fire ignited.”
That fire grew into a 501(c)(3) non-profit mission organization founded and directed by Jessica with the goal of filling the gap between Haiti’s enormous medical needs and scant resources. Since the name Esther can mean “star,” Jessica named her organization STAR, which stands for Saving, Treating, Aiding, and Redeeming. Esther would be STAR’s first aid recipient.
Jessica Faust is an exceptional teenager. She’s a role model to be sure, but she’s not the only one among her generation. She follows in the footsteps of other young people who have served, often unknowingly, as role models for her. Although Emily is only one year older than Jessica, she has already finished high school and lives in Jacmel full time with her father who works at a children’s home. Emily goes into the hospital daily to minister to tuberculosis patients and perform whatever tasks need to be carried out. Jessica watched her while they worked together, and plans to join her in Haiti in the future.
Jessica and I met at a pro-life fundraiser keynoted by another young woman from whom she would draw inspiration. Lila Rose took up the cause of the unborn at the tender age of 9, after having seen a horrifying picture of an aborted child in a book in her home. A few years later, she invited a few friends over to brainstorm. She also invited the leader of a pro-life organization from a nearby town to join them and help them respond to the ongoing injustice of abortion. Within the year, Lila and the members of her newly-formed pro-life club gave their first presentation and went out to a local abortion clinic for peaceful protest and prayer. She was 15 years old.
Sometime around the year 540 BC, a remnant of Jews returned to Jerusalem after a 70-year exile to Babylon. Their land and temple were in ruins when Zerubbabel, their leader and governor, laid the foundation to rebuild the temple. It was a small act, but it was the start of something big. “Do not despise these small beginnings,” the angel said to the prophet Zechariah at the time, “for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, New Living Testament).
Jessica, Emily, and Lila saw needs. Rather than feel momentary pity before going on about their lives, they did something. More than that, they started something. In the eight years since that humble beginning in the Rose family living room, Live Action, the 501(c)(3) corporation Lila subsequently founded, has exposed rampant corruption inside abortion behemoth Planned Parenthood of America, and as a result of their investigative reporting to date, Planned Parenthood has faced defunding or legal action in eight states.
Jessica may not have been able to bring Esther home with her, but she found another way to help. In the fall of 2010, STAR teamed up with Project Medishare, a Florida-based non-profit organization working in Haiti. Between the two, sufficient funds were raised for Esther to undergo surgery in November.
Back to Haiti
In April 2011, Jessica returned to Haiti with her mom and two friends who have joined her in STAR. Medishare sent Jessica pictures and she kept in touch with the surgeon by e-mail, but Jessica wanted to see Esther for herself. That wasn’t a simple task, given that Esther still lived in Tent City. Undaunted, the group set out to locate the toddler in the tent maze. Now more at home among the Haitians, Jessica approached the first woman she came to and wrote out, Gwotet, Esther’s nickname, meaning “Big Head.” Remarkably, the woman took her straight to Esther’s tent. And there she was. She needed a new nickname, too. Jessica took out her cell phone and showed Esther’s mother a picture of Esther she had posted on STAR’s website. The gratitude flooding her face was enough to fuel the teens on to their next “starlet.”
A lifelong athlete, Jessica dropped all her winter sports last year to pursue STAR’s mission, but she has no regrets. She says, “Holding a child you’ve helped save is a lot more gratifying than winning conference championships.” STAR’s next starlet will be Charles. Charles was born with a birth defect called gastroschisis, a condition in which the intestines protrude outside of the body. With good medical care the defect can usually be repaired, but for Charles, a diaper around his waist serves the dual purpose of protecting against infection and holding his intestines.
Jessica, and now her team members, are simply not okay with that.
Terrell Clemmons is a freelance writer in Indianapolis, Indiana.
To find out more about Jessica’s mission organization, go to:
And for Lila Rose’s pro-life organization, go to:
Perhaps you or a student you know is interested in reading more about teens who have begun to discover they are commissioned to make a difference in God’s kingdom. These two books are filled with teen testimonies:
Encounters with God: True Stories of Teens on a Sacred Journey
Encounters with God 2: True Stories of Teens with a Sacred Calling
Find out more: