David Vanderpool was 15 when he first questioned his privileged childhood.
At the time, he was a student at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas. His father was a successful surgeon. The family lived in a beautiful home, drove the nicest cars and dined at the fanciest restaurants. They also traveled the world for mission trips.
Vanderpool found himself in Nazareth, Israel. He was talking with a local girl his age who’d taught herself English.
The girl asked Vanderpool what he wanted to be when he grew up. He shrugged. With his family’s wealth, his opportunities were endless.
“I’ll probably be a doctor,” Vanderpool recalled saying. “What about you?”
The girl seemed offended. She was female, not to mention a Christian in an Arab land.
“I will carry water and have babies for the rest of my life.”
Vanderpool was stunned. He felt embarrassed. Here was this intelligent girl who could’ve done anything with her life, but in the circumstances she was born into, she had no options.
Why was he the one with privilege?
Jacklyn Vanderpool holds a child in her lap as she worships with her father, Dr. David Vanderpool (center), during church services at the LiveBeyond compound on Aug. 27, 2017, in Thomazeau, Haiti.
Jacklyn Vanderpool holds a child in her lap as she worships with her father, Dr. David Vanderpool (center), during church services at the LiveBeyond compound on Aug. 27, 2017, in Thomazeau, Haiti. (Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
In the coming years, Vanderpool would become exactly what he predicted. He studied at Abilene Christian University, Texas Tech and Baylor University Medical Center. He became a vascular surgeon and opened a private practice in Jackson, Tenn.
He married and had three children. The Vanderpools lived in a beautiful home, drove the nicest cars and dined at the fanciest restaurants.
That’s when he and his wife, Laurie, sold it all. Their house. Their cars. Even Vanderpool’s treasured $20,000 guitar collection. Anything that didn’t fit into a backpack was gone.
They moved to Haiti, where they would live permanently, to help revive a country still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.
The decision was easy, and for Vanderpool, now 57, yet another attempt to answer the question that’s burdened him since age 15.
Volunteers wave to children along the roadside as vans transport them through a village during a mission trip to Thomazeau, Haiti.
Volunteers wave to children along the roadside as vans transport them through a village during a mission trip to Thomazeau, Haiti.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
A couple’s pact
Years before the move, David and Laurie made a pact. When their youngest child, Jacklyn, left for college, they would live in a third-world country.
That’s because, for more than 20 years, the Vanderpools have provided free health care in developing countries following natural or man-made disasters.
They helped former child slaves in Ghana. Provided free medical care in Mozambique. Built a medical clinic in Honduras.
In 2005, they went to Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina for the same reasons. Afterward, they decided to formally brand their operation as a nonprofit called Mobile Medical Disaster Relief.
The nonprofit was a family affair. Following a disaster, Vanderpool would leave his practice in Tennessee, and the family, including their three children David, John and Jacklyn, would spend days in the affected area.
Jacklyn Vanderpool, LiveBeyond director of evangelism and discipleship training, delivers meals to villagers during an outreach visit in Thomazeau, Haiti.
Jacklyn Vanderpool, LiveBeyond director of evangelism and discipleship training, delivers meals to villagers during an outreach visit in Thomazeau, Haiti. (Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
That’s how, in 2010, the Vanderpools found themselves in Haiti. An earthquake had devastated the country, and two days later, they were on the ground, providing medical care and assisting in any way they could.
They stayed nearly two weeks. During that time, Vanderpool learned of an orphanage in a poor town called Thomazeau. When he visited, he realized the children were deathly ill.
Vanderpool treated as many children as he could. And when he eventually returned to Tennessee, he made a promise to himself and his family: Every month, they would return to Thomazeau for a week and treat these children.
Vanderpool kept that promise. Around the same time, the family changed the name of the nonprofit. It would now be called LiveBeyond.
In 2012, with Jacklyn preparing to leave home for college, it was time for David and Laurie to make good on their pact.
They had always imagined living somewhere in Africa. But then they thought about Thomazeau.
What if, instead of transforming the orphanage, they could transform the town? They could bring purified water to one of the poorest cities in Haiti. And share food with the community. And build a school and a hospital and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
LiveBeyond purchased 63 acres in Thomazeau.
“Some empty nesters just repaint their kids’ rooms,” Vanderpool said. “We sold the house and left.”
Villagers walk into the LiveBeyond compound for Sunday worship services in Thomazeau, Haiti. The LiveBeyond base includes a clinic, school, farm and guest house.
Villagers walk into the LiveBeyond compound for Sunday worship services in Thomazeau, Haiti. The LiveBeyond base includes a clinic, school, farm and guest house. (Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
Purpose and passion
There’s almost no electricity in Thomazeau. It comes on for maybe one hour a week, randomly, via electrical wires strung through the trees.
The surrounding area is home to roughly 200,000 people. Native community members live in huts. There’s no sewage system in Thomazeau. No faucets flowing with purified water.
It’s now been four years since the Vanderpools moved.
“And it’s hard,” Vanderpool said. “But once you start getting into it, it’s hard not to get passionate about it. You can see that you can truly change an area, and it’s just not that complicated. It’s not like we’re splitting atoms here.”
LiveBeyond generates its own electricity through solar power and generators. The nonprofit created a sewage system for its base.
LiveBeyond purifies 220 million gallons of water per year. It provides 30,000 meals each month. The medical clinic treats more than 15,000 people a year and provides maternal health care to 350 pregnant women. The perinatal death rate in the area has decreased by 66 percent, Vanderpool said.
After Jacklyn graduated from Texas A&M University last year, she moved straight to Thomazeau. She is director of evangelism and discipleship training. She teaches a class on the Bible, and every afternoon, goes to a different village and shares rice and beans, along with prayers and the gospel message.
Every day, it’s something different in Thomazeau.
“There’s some hardships that you can’t really prepare yourself for when you move down here full time,” Jacklyn, 23, said.
Recently, she tried to console parents who had lost their premature newborn. She watched a new believer stand firm in his faith, despite being persecuted in his village because of it. She’s seen mothers resort to prostitution to feed their starving children.
“You have all of these situations that are so emotional, and often times so spiritual,” Jacklyn said. “And you’re trying to find a solution to help.”
Jacklyn Vanderpool, LiveBeyond director of evangelism and discipleship training, laughs with children while visiting a village to share food and the gospel.
Jacklyn Vanderpool, LiveBeyond director of evangelism and discipleship training, laughs with children while visiting a village to share food and the gospel.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
Jacklyn isn’t the only one providing that help. Along with the monetary donations LiveBeyond receives, it also hosts 700 volunteers in Thomazeau on mission trips each year.
Mickey Ashlock has been on three mission trips. The 53-year-old is the owner of Ram Products Ltd. in Richland Hills. He’s enjoyed his experiences in Thomazeau so much that he made the trips part of his company’s culture.
Three years ago, on his first trip to Thomazeau, his initial reaction was shock. Endless piles of trash littered the dirt roads.
“And people were literally getting their water out of the same stream they were bathing and washing their clothes in,” he said.
But in the years since, he’s slowly seen Thomazeau transform — with clean water and medical care.
Whenever he visits, his favorite part is spending time with the people there.
“You get to go to these medical clinics, and you get to touch them, hug them, take care of them, spend time with the children,” Ashlock said.
“And this isn’t getting a photo for your Facebook page. When you’re physically putting ointment on someone with scabies, it makes it very real. It makes it spiritual.”
LiveBeyond recently moved its U.S. headquarters from Nashville to Grand Prairie. The headquarters will be stocked with supplies and equipment ready to be shipped to Haiti.
In late November, Vanderpool was in Dallas to help with the move. He flew from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Miami, then from Miami to Dallas. It’s always strange when he’s back in the U.S.: He’ll see someone’s $140,000 sports car and imagine how that money could’ve been spent to fund the hospital in Thomazeau.
It’s especially strange around Christmas. One year, he was back in the U.S. for the holidays and found himself in a mall. He was so overwhelmed by the consumerism — the lights, the decorations and the amount of money being spent — that he had to leave and sit in the car.
“In Thomazeau, they don’t give gifts for Christmas. They don’t have any money. They’re hungry. So we have a big feast for Christmas with rice, beans, goat meat and chicken,” Vanderpool said. “And at the orphanage, myself or one of my sons dress up like Santa Claus, and we give the kids presents.
“In Thomazeau, that’s like winning the lottery.”
Vanderpool doesn’t miss his old life in the U.S. It was imbalanced, with too much wealth and too much free time, he says. That’s why he laughs when asked if it was difficult to sell his belongings, including his prized guitar collection.
“My hobby now is feeding starving kids. To me, that’s what Christianity is about. The guitars made me smile. But they didn’t do anything for a skinny kid.”
To this day, he still thinks back to age 15, about the girl he sat next to in Nazareth.
Why was he the one with privilege?
His time in Thomazeau, and all that he, Laurie, his children and LiveBeyond have been able to accomplish, has helped answer that question.
“I was given something — all this access, all these relationships, all this education — for a reason,” he said.
“To share it.”
For more information on LiveBeyond and its mission trips, go to livebeyond.org.
LiveBeyond’s Jack Locke joins mission participants in prayer during a visit to the home of a program beneficiary during a mission trip in Thomazeau, Haiti.
LiveBeyond’s Jack Locke joins mission participants in prayer during a visit to the home of a program beneficiary during a mission trip in Thomazeau, Haiti.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
CORRECTION, 11:55 a.m. Dec. 21: The timing of the Thomazeau property purchase and Jacklyn Vanderpool’s college start has been corrected to 2012.
Hear the latest news from Haiti, read posts about faith and community development, and find transcriptions from the LiveBeyond podcast.