Featured Difference Maker:
James and Sarah Cammilleri –
Elevating Christian Ministries
It’s amazing how a gentle nudging from the Lord, combined with the willingness to respond, can result in thousands of lives being deeply impacted for the Kingdom. A moment in June 2015 plunged James and Sarah Cammilleri into dedicating their lives to stimulating hope and fighting hunger throughout the most remote parts of Haiti. All that it took was the simple answer of “Yes” to slingshot a transformative movement called Elevating Christian Ministries that is forever changing the lives of people on a small island in the Caribbean.
There is no question that God is blessing this ministry enormously in response to the Cammilleri’s answering, “yes,” when Jesus called them to their purpose. But perhaps the greatest blessing God has bestowed on them, which continues through today, can be found in the hearts of James, Sarah, and the entire Elevating Christian Ministries family.
James was raised in the church. He grew up in a wonderful Christian home, attended church, and had the privilege of going to a great school. Like many Christians, he’d experienced the teachings of the church, but that knowledge hadn’t yet made the journey from his head to his heart. In fact, by the age of 18, James decided that he’d had enough of “religion” and decided to walk away even though he still fully believed that God was real but there were things going on in the church that turned him off.
From that point forward, his journey quickly became one of self-interest. He invested his time into building successful high-end restaurants, which created a self-destructive lifestyle that pulled him further away from Christ. It wouldn’t be until many years later through some difficult circumstances that he’d have a head-on collision with Jesus Christ and his life would be changed forever.
It was while working through those intensely dark moments that God eventually brought James and Sarah together. Separately, both were walking through the deep valley of divorce including family challenges and financial hardships that are so often handcuffed to the end of a marriage. Their paths would eventually cross and the Lord led James and Sarah to join together as husband and wife to spend the rest of their lives together. It is always difficult to see in the moment, but it’s clear looking back that God had a plan that would reclaim hurt and redirect it into purpose. God would use Sarah and James to mend the immense pain in each other’s hearts and set them on a new path together.
God began to open doors for the couple, and in 2013 they would open their first Burger King restaurant together as franchisees. What they didn’t know at the time was that God was planting a seed that would allow them to use their work in the marketplace to sustain a ministry thousands of miles away. As their Burger King restaurant business became more successful, they began to experience more and more of the fruits of their hard labor together. They had opportunity after opportunity to open additional restaurants that quickly became successful in their own right. Suddenly they found themselves able to afford a very nice lifestyle. James and Sarah started traveling more, enjoying beautiful vacations, playing golf, and experiencing some of the more extravagant things in life.
One night while spending some time together, they looked at each other and said, “There has to be something more than this?” They prayed that God would reveal to them their greater purpose. That prayer was answered rather quickly. Within 30 days, James received a phone call from a Christian friend that he hadn’t heard from in 30 years. He and Sarah had just played a round of golf, and like many of us so often do, James could have easily let the phone ring and go to voicemail, but for some reason, much greater than himself, he felt that nudge to answer. This was the beginning of a miracle and his prayer’s answer began to unveil itself.
Through this phone call, James explained to his friend that he and Sarah were in a position to do something greater for the Lord now and this was something they both wanted to do. His friend asked him, “Do you want to go to Haiti?” James looked at Sarah and redirected the question to her. Her answer was, “YES.”
As astute business owners in upstate New York, they would normally have carefully analyzed everything in terms of cost-benefit before acting, but in this situation, when it came to helping these children, it felt like second nature to make a commitment. James said, “We just went. It was clear that we were both finding our larger purpose.”
That moment would set them in a direction that would redefine them forever and with that Elevating Christian Ministries was born. It all started with going to Haiti to help build a school. As the Holy Spirit moved, He began to shape the vision into a mission to feed bread to children in Haiti. Simple, right? Well, not exactly. Malnutrition is one of the most serious crises that Haiti faces. “It was during that first trip that we learned that the schools in the area only had enough funds to feed the children every other day,” James explained. “School was often the only place where kids were fed at all. There’s a saying in Haiti, ‘Hungry bellies have no ears.’ When a child is hungry, they are unable to learn. James observed, “Every child deserves a meal and a chance to reach their God- given potential. When we decided to help on a larger scale, I immediately thought about my mother. I was brought up in a house where my mom would buy wheat in buckets, and she would grind the wheat and bake bread every day.” James was aware that breads made from fresh-ground ingredients contain every essential vitamin and nutrient that the human body needs. He said that he knew they had to start their journey by baking nutritious bread to feed these starving children.
He described those early days as follows: “First, we required an oven. It needed to be simply built with available materials, and it had to be capable of reaching 350 degrees – (the temperature needed to bake the bread.) We enlisted the help of a family member, a mason by trade to create a design that was inexpensive, durable and something I could quickly build. I had to see if I could actually get this thing off the ground. The prototype was an 8-foot by 4-foot block structure fueled by propane.
When we made our first bread, it came out like cake. It was awesome, and the kids loved it. We had the model! On our next trip to Haiti, we built four ovens in four days. We had almost everything we needed including the recipe for the bread and the ovens to get the project started; however the next challenge was finding wheat in Haiti.”
James and Sarah were fully prepared to pay for this out of their own pockets, but felt God was telling them to wait. That wait ended up resulting in 30,000 lbs. of wheat being donated! God is good! Next, he had to find a way to get it there. James discovered that if you rent a shipping container, whether you ship 10 pounds or 40,000 pounds in it, it’s going to be the same shipping price. God opened doors that allowed Elevating Christian Ministries to establish a partnership with Stamp Out Starvation from Oklahoma. This partnership enabled them to source wheat, bringing in more than 70,000 pounds to Haiti in 2018.
Elevating Christian Ministries is now feeding over 5,000 kids daily and they hope to double that in 2019. They’ve created hundreds of jobs by paying cooks and teachers to feed the children every single day. The parents say that because of the bread, the children no longer complain of hunger and their health is improving. The children’s hair was turning brown, which is a strong indication of malnourishment and now it’s returning to its natural color.
All of the salaries, wheat, building materials, labor, plane tickets and so on add up. James and Sarah have uncovered that economy is key to both sustainability and scalability. There is a lot on the horizon for Elevating Christian Ministries in 2019 but it takes funding. They have the opportunity to expand the bread program on the island of Ile-a-Vache Haiti to more children, bringing the program to a total of 2000 of the 5000 children on the island. They are also planning to expand the reach of the Bread Program in Gonaives, Haiti, to a number of schools by centralizing baking at a bakery at the newly occupied “Elevating Haiti House.”
Elevating Christian Ministries has prepared a property to serve the bread locations across the region, reach the city, and host guests that join them on mission trips. In the vein of sustainability, the ministry has just announced the launch of a block and construction business at the Gonaives Operations Center on the outskirts of Gonaives, Haiti. This initiative will employ more than fifteen locals and create an income stream to sustain the Bread Program as it grows. Last but not least, Elevating Christian Ministries has committed support to four schools by providing resources including financial assistance to teachers, school supplies, and ensure that the education programs are effective.
“Everything that Sarah and I have done has been based on an uncompromised pursuit of our faith and leadership. Our hope is that if people see that we were actually out there doing something that we believe in, other people will follow.” For James and Sarah, that might mean seeing people come alongside Elevating Christian Ministries and supporting their efforts, but the Cammilleris would find just as much joy in inspiring them to say yes to the very specific thing God has placed in their own hearts.
Not lost in this program is their emphasis and acknowledgement that Christ made all of this possible. They have worked closely with a number of churches in Haiti. They have remodeled two churches and built two from the ground up. They were asked to build a school in August of 2018 and today 500 children are being taught there. They built another school for 400 children, and another and another. Since their first trip to Haiti, Elevating Christian Ministries has helped build businesses, churches, schools, and bread ovens.
James says, “We know that we can do more. We are building the resources and partnerships to help even more people in need. This is our purpose. This is our vision. We invite you to join us.” The Camilleris are definitely making a difference for the Lord. Please support their ministry through prayer, gifts, and/or answer God’s call on your life and start your own ministry.
Imagine what would have happened if they had decided to continue using their God-given gifts and resources on themselves instead of glorifying God through this powerful ministry. The same could be said for all difference makers. The Camilleris’ attitude has been: Exceed Expectations! – Do Something! – It WILL Happen! You can do it – Just be obedient to the Lord and answer YES!
Pray for them, donate, volunteer, or start your own ministry
using the platform that God has afforded you.
God Bless You.
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