If our life paths have crossed this will help you catch up. If we have not yet met, I hope we will.
My name is Wallace Rutherford Turnbull Jr. and I am called Wally. I was born to missionary parents in Port-au-Prince, Haiti during the summer of 1949 and spent the next 13 years of my life in the rural mountains of Fermathe on that island. I attended the following schools and studied at some of them:
- Ecole Baptiste de Fermathe, Haiti 1955
- Madame Scott Kindergarten, Petionville, Haiti 1956
- Richard Carroll Elementary School, Bamberg, South Carolina 1957
- Collège Boyer Tête de l'Eau, Pétionville, Haiti 1958-1960
- Norwood Baptist Christian School, Cincinnati, Ohio 1961
- Nouveau College Bird, Port-au-Prince, Haiti 1962
- Union School, Port-au-Prince, Haiti 1963
- Hampden DuBose Academy, Zellwood, Florida 1964
- Wheaton Academy, West Chicago, Illinois 1965-1966
- Rockford College, Rockford, Illinois 1967-1970
- Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 1971-1972
While attending Rockford College I was employed by the Rockford Morning Star and Register Republic newspapers as a press photographer. I enjoyed the work, the wages, the perks - especially the company car for the weekends. The only downside was that I worked weekends from 3:00 to midnight so dating began when I should have been going to bed and most places except Mister Donut were closed.
In 1970 Betty Jane Brune and I were married simultaneous to graduation. We honeymooned in Europe, traveling and sleeping in a Peugeot station wagon. The Peugeot was powered by diesel while youth and love powered us. Having a mid-range Selective Service lottery number, I escaped being drafted for Vietnam by just two days.
While I attended Ohio University College of Fine Arts graduate school, Betty taught first grade to rural children of coal miners many of whom had dirt floors and outhouses. We rented a big old farmhouse and became ‘pilgrims’ of naturalist Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Stalking the Healthful Herbs, and Stalking the Good Life. We enjoyed each other and life while gathering and eating wild mushrooms, apples, plums, hickory nuts, grapes, persimmons, pawpaws, cattails, and sassafras roots.
Unaware that God had other plans for our lives, we were preparing for a comfortable 1970’s ‘back to the land’ life with Betty teaching grade school while I taught university and published between picking tomatoes and milking the goats.
Following grad school and a stint teaching at Rockford College we responded when a short-term mission service opportunity became available with the Baptist Haiti Mission where I had grown up and my parents served. We volunteered for a two-year term to help the mission establish a handcraft teaching and marketing program called the Mountain Maid Self Help Project. We reasoned that this was an ideal time to give a couple of years in volunteer service before life, family, and obligations got in the way.
Youthful energy, a strong sense of purpose, compelling needs, and the joy of helping bring about eternal change in the name of the Master soon led to what some describe as a calling. After a few months we never spoke of two years again.
Betty taught sewing, did bookkeeping, and helped start the first preschool program in rural Haiti that became the model for hundreds of schools to follow. I taught and administered the self-help crafts project, worked with the mountain farmers to improve crop and livestock production, started a reforestation project that grew to become a national program, and helped develop a national school network through the local churches.
It was all good, fun, and challenging. One of the most fun projects was helping the farmers turn snails, the primary agricultural pest, into a cash commodity as escargots. Quite by accident, I discovered a way to put snails into hibernation so that they could be shipped to New York City for consumption in fancy restaurants without decomposing along the way. Believe me, you don’t want to smell a decomposing snail. The farmers collected the snails from their gardens, craftsmen wove baskets to hold them and we shipped millions of escargots (200 tons a year) to NYC and other markets. The process continues to this day, managed by a couple of the more entrepreneurial members.
Because the tree seedlings were given to the farmers, the reforestation project required funds to operate. We practiced ‘organizational self-help’ and raised money to produce trees by growing flowers to sell to the affluent from the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Tree seedlings could not be planted in the field during the long dry season of October through April. That left the nursery free to produce poinsettias for Christmas and mums for Mother’s Day. The ladies loved the flowers and everyone enjoyed supporting the cause of conservation. That same program continues to this day.
The most important and rewarding work we did was to help grow and empower the rapidly expanding association of local churches and church schools. There is minimal public schooling available in Haiti mostly limited to the cities and towns. When we arrived only one in four rural children attended school and only completed an average of grade four. The first thing parents would do when a new church was formed would be to create a little school, usually with one teacher working without any books from a blackboard under a palm leaf-covered pole arbor. It was clear to all that the best way to break with the traditions of superstition was to teach the children to read and write. Parents were convinced that the lives of their children, the leadership of their churches, and the economy of their communities would all be improved by those schools.
They were right too. The problem was that the rapid growth of the Gospel and increase in the number of schools made it difficult to find the resources necessary to help them do what needed to be done. There was a need for everything, buildings, books, food, water, and teacher training. We did fundraising, began a child sponsorship program, and wrote grant proposals (my least favorite job in the whole world) seeking funds to help the people change their lives and their futures.
The glass is not full by a long shot but it is not three-quarters empty anymore either. By the end of our thirty years of service in 2002 three of every four children were not only in school but most of them completed grade six and many went on to high school and even university. Problems remain, big ones, but the momentum of change has begun and like a wave it will not be stopped.
Approximately half a million students were educated in the schools we grew from 1972 to 2002. Those who have remained on the land are better farmers. Others have gone on to become teachers, professors, pastors, doctors, lawyers, mayors, senators, and future presidents. Those schools now numbering more than 300 continue to grow and improve under Haitian direction and their local community school boards, serving more than 60,000 students. To God be the glory!
Our life in Haiti was good for our family. We have two sons, Wallace III (Rhet) and Andrew and a daughter Elizabeth. All three were born in Haiti and grew up in the mountains there. We lived on a small farm, raised much of our own food including many kinds of fruit, vegetables, chickens, pigs, goats, rabbits, and a cow. We did our own butchering and cured meats. We used wind and solar power and collected rainwater for drinking and irrigation.
Our kids trekked the mountains of Haiti and made friends everywhere. They attended Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, a long daily tap-tap ride back and forth but enjoyed school and did not suffer academically for growing up in Haiti. They went on to attend the Air Force Academy, Duke and Wake Forest. Rhet is a major in the Air Force, Andrew has a medical software company, and Elizabeth has a marketing company for non-profits. We are very proud of all three not just for what they do but for who they are.
In order to encourage and empower the Haitian leaders to look to themselves, in the power of God, rather than to us, and because of my increasing health problems, Betty and I returned to the US at the end of 2002. Having gone to Haiti shortly after university and because we took no furloughs during the thirty years we served in Haiti we had no roots on this side. We had made two-week visits to the US every year or two for R&R and to purchase supplies for the mission and our family but we had not lived over here. Our re-entry was quite a shock, especially for me. I wandered in a daze for about a year. As our friends grew in number and depth and as we became increasingly involved with our local church, the Chapel Hill Bible Church, North Carolina became home.
Nevertheless, to say that life has changed dramatically since Betty and I moved to NC would be an understatement. We maintain close ties with friends in Haiti. We continue to serve the Baptist Haiti Mission but as consultants not as direct participants. I spend a lot of time with church elder responsibilities and as President of the Turnbull Clan Association. We have become grandparents. I have had major heart surgery with a quadruple bypass. We have written a few books, run a small publishing business Light Messages, and a medical software business Triangle Medical Solutions.
We are enjoying our Scottish heritage and genealogy as the Baron of Bedrule, Scotland and Honorary Chief of the Turnbull clan. We led a large group of our clan members to Scotland in 2007 and will meet up in the Borders of Scotland with seventeen of our immediate family and hundreds of Turnbulls from around the world in July 2009 for the unveiling of a Turning of the Bull Turnbull monument. That’s another story about which you can read on the clan website.
If you knew me from the distant or not-too-distant past please get in touch. I won’t write you a long letter but perhaps a short email and I would definitely enjoy a visit or more on the phone. If we make contact perhaps our earthly paths will cross. If not, then I hope to see you on the other side. If you’re not sure what that means, ask. It is one of the few things about which I am certain and I would be happy to share. But then, don’t wait for the other side. Make your life matter to someone else today.
Durham, NC 27713 USA