ATLANTA – Attendees of the Passion conference on Sunday heard about and watched a video of founder Louie Giglio traveling to Haiti to meet a family that survived the earthquake that destroyed their home and killed two family members. What the crowd did not expect was to see Ernest Leo and his 7-year-old daughter, Therissa, walk out on stage.
The surprise was palpable as an arena-wide gasp occurred, which was quickly followed by applause.
Giglio declared that the Passion movement "will be anything God wants us to be for them (the Leos)." He called on the 22,000 students at the Passion conference to donate $1 each that night to a college trust fund for Therissa so attendees can experience how collectively the church can be a force for good in the world.
"Tonight I feel something special. I feel your love," said Leo to the Passion audience on Sunday. "In your face, I can see Jesus, spirit of the Lord, love, compassion. Thank you so much."
Giglio said he first heard about the Leos in an article in USA Today that gave an update on Haiti six months after the quake. After reading the article, he contacted the reporter thinking he would have to wait in line behind people who also wanted to help the family. But to his surprise and dismay, the reporter told him only two people have called about the article in five days.
Ernest Leo is a computer technician who lost his wife of 12 years and older daughter in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, according to USA Today. At the time of the article, he had lived in a tiny tent in Port-au-Prince that could only hold a mattress and a few possessions. He used about a third of his daily salary of $8 to buy food for his daughter and pay her tuition at a nearby private Christian school that did not collapse, leaving him little money to feed himself.
Since the article, the Leos have been able to resettle in Miami with the help of Ernest's parents, who are U.S. citizens. Ernest and Therissa also have Green Cards and Ernest has a driver's license. A few days ago, he also secured a job.
As for Therissa, she attends school and will be fitted with her first prosthetic arm in a few weeks. The little girl had lost her right arm when a building collapsed and buried her under rubble for two days.
Before the Leos left, the Passion crowd prayed for them by reading Isaiah 61, a passage about the year of the Lord's favor.
In addition to helping Ernest and Therissa Leo, Passion conference attendees have donated enough money to build six homes in Haiti for earthquake victims as of Sunday night.
Through the Do Something Now effort, a movement that funnels resources to address some of the world's greatest needs, Passion has chosen to build 15 homes for families living in a tent village in Leogane, Haiti, among other projects this year. Students are asked to donate $36 each. The combined funds of 100 students is enough to build one home for a Haitian family.
Next Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. After one year, most survivors are still living in tents.