Pointer lives out ‘the greatest of these is love’ – Grosse Pointe News (subscription)

16980 Kercheval Pl • McCourt Building • Grosse Pointe, MI 48230 • 313.882.6900 • Office Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm<br>Sean Cotton, Owner • Anne Gryzenia, Publisher • Jody McVeigh, Editor-In-Chief • Meg Leonard, Assistant Editor
Thursday, December 15, 2022
Sean Cotton, Owner • Anne Gryzenia, Publisher • Jody McVeigh, Editor In Chief • Meg Leonard, Associate Editor
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According to Dr. Tom Graves, love and joy are the twin engines that power the work of HART to bring the hope of Jesus to Haiti.
If Dr. Tom Graves had a tagline for his life, it would come from a Bible verse in I Corinthians: “Love never fails.”
In treating each person he meets — from a Walgreens cashier to an elderly Haitian man — as someone he loves, he’s found a path through life similar to Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol” after the visits from the three ghosts: living for others, a concept that is scientifically proven to bring joy.
As a family physician in Chesterfield, Graves puts his beliefs into action by practicing what he calls the old-fashioned view of a doctor. During each physical, he checks “the sixth vital sign,” i.e. the health of one’s marriage.
The day before meeting with the Grosse Pointe News, he coached a young patient — one he coincidently delivered 34 years ago during his residency — through marriage problems and grief over loss of a loved one.
“The Bible says God is love,” Graves said, “so when we’re loving other people, we’re bringing God into the situation.”
Born at Cottage Hospital and raised in the Farms, the doctor is perhaps best recognized around the Pointes as president of the Haiti and Africa Relief Team, better known as HART.
The 501(c)3 was the brainchild of a St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church priest, Father Sama Muma, and led its first medical mission trip to Haiti in 2010, just months after earthquakes that brought death toll estimates around 150,000.
After that first trip, Graves remembers feeling the country was beyond restoration and there was no way to make a difference. He never wanted to go back.
HART brought bags of clothes, toys, balls and food to these orphans. “They are so joyful despite having so little,” Graves said.
About a month later, a medical student who also had gone on the trip called Graves to say he didn’t believe their work there was done. Around the same time, the doctor received “the starfish email” that was going around: After a big storm washes tens of thousands of starfish onto land, a little girl is running up and down the beach tossing them back in when a man comes along and says, “Honey, you’re not going to make a difference,” and she says, “I will for this one,” and tosses another in.
“I got that email and I believe that it was God telling me that’s Haiti,” Graves said. “Maybe I can’t fix the whole country, but I can really change life for some people and so it just refocused me and gave me the hope that we can make a big difference.”
And make a big difference they have.
Every year from 2010 to 2019 — sometimes two or three times a year — HART has led medical mission trips to Haiti, this year traveling to a sizable Haitian refugee population in the Dominican Republic due to political unrest in Haiti.
Among its slew of efforts, the organization has given medical and dental aid to more than 25,000 Haitians; built three churches; fed thousands of Haitians monthly since 2012; and created a Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus program, which financially supports and educates 50 children who otherwise would be relinquished to orphanages because their parents can’t afford to feed them.
Much like how the scarlet thread of Jesus’ sacrifice can be found wound throughout the Bible, the presence of God is evident through each effort HART has undertaken.
Its first place of worship was built when a Haitian priest insisted what the community really needed was not food or medicine, but a church, because it is their faith that keeps them going. One of the missionaries, who wasn’t particularly wealthy, was so inspired that he vowed to get the funds even if it took him 20 years. But within two years, the church was built aside from the $50,000 roof.
This was mentioned during a Christmas concert at St. Paul on the Lake, after which a woman who had never before heard of HART came forward and said she felt God told her to build that roof. She now is a part of HART’s board and joins the mission trips each year.
Furthermore, it was within that church the community took shelter during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, resulting in not a single loss of life.
The priest said, “They all felt so safe,” Graves recalled, “and it just brought tears to my eyes that this church we built for their souls gave them a feeling of safety during storms too.”
Other efforts have come on a smaller scale, yet are just as life-changing.
One year, an 8-year-old boy showed up at the clinic alone and, through translators, the missionaries learned his parents were dead and his grandmother had died the week prior. Since then, he’d been sitting in his house alone, so when he saw the growing line of people walking toward the clinic, he joined in. Through the help of a local priest, HART was able to find him a place to live and receive care.
“That was the one starfish,” Graves said, “that if that’s all we did, that was a great trip.”
Another year, Graves’ medical partner and his wife joined a trip and returned with more than they expected.
The couple met an eighth-grade boy who lived in a tin-roof hut the size of a shed and while adoption from Haiti wasn’t allowed at the time, they got him an educational visa and paid for him to attend the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Today, he is studying to be a mechanical engineer and caddies at the Country Club of Detroit, where he earned the Evans Scholarship and recently was chosen as its national speaker.
However, Graves is careful to note the many ministries are not gifts HART gives, but are gifts God gives, both to the Haitians and the missionaries.
A friend of Graves donated a wheelchair for a young boy with cerebral palsy who cannot walk. HART missionaries brought it down for him. Before, he had to lie in his home all day on a dirt floor. Now, he can be wheeled out to where other children are.
To illustrate this, he recalled a year when the team itself was facing many struggles. One person’s son was doing drugs and another person was going through a divorce. The first day of the trip, Graves asked the Haitian community if they would all come and lay hands on the missionaries and pray for them.
“It was just beautiful,” he said, “because then it was acknowledging that it’s not us helping them, it’s God helping all of us, because we get healed through doing this and I mean that sincerely.”
The doctor’s favorite part of the ministry experience is the transformation he sees within those who take part, such as an atheist who began raising his arms during hymns by the end of one trip and Graves’ own daughter, who joined him on a mission trip when she was 16.
“She said, ‘I saw all these kids that had one shoe or no shoes, or they didn’t have pants, they’d be in their underwear,’ and she’s thinking about it and she said, ‘But they were so much happier than my friends at Grosse Pointe South who have iPhones and cars,’” Graves recalled. “And you could see her (understanding) that’s not what gives you happiness.
“She’s (now) 28,” he continued. “In 12 years, I’ve never heard her say, ‘I need.’ Not once. Because she knows what need is.”
It was HART’s mission that played a large role in how Graves now leads his life, as well.
“That was my story,” Graves said. “I did everything the world said. I became a doctor; I married a wonderful woman; I had kids; but you always have that feeling it’s not enough.
“But it’s in giving,” he explained. “Science has shown that when we’re givers, we’re happy. In the Bible it says that it’s more of a blessing to give than to receive.”
Graves’ life, and the impact he leaves on others, also is deeply rooted in his faith, one which wasn’t always as foundational to him as it now is.
“I’ve always searched for God, but didn’t really know who He was,” he said, “and when I was 40 years old — I figure probably my life’s half over — and I took a walk down Lakeshore and I was thinking, ‘God, I want to give you my life, but I just don’t know how. If you want me, you have to help me. I just don’t know how to take that step, so to speak, to put Jesus on the throne in my life.’”
It was then Graves met a new friend through coaching baseball, a committed Christian, who took him by the hand and taught him how to have a personal relationship with Jesus — “If we’re going to call ourselves Christian, it starts with Christ,” Graves said — just as he now aims to do for others.
If there is one goal the doctor holds for the rest of his life, he said, it “is to have someone tap me on the shoulder in heaven and turn around and say thank you for helping me get here.
“… Living in Grosse Pointe, it’s an affluent area and a lot of people have a lot, but there’s suffering,” he added, noting it is not him but Jesus who saves. “Oh, they’ve got this nice car and good clothes, but each person is walking around with pain and I want to help as many people as I can, help their pain and suffering and turn that to hope and joy and love, and then help them get to heaven.”
Anyone who wishes to contribute to one of HART’s many ministries, or to the organization as a whole, may do so at hartfund.org.
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