The vision for Centre Lumière first began to develop in 1975 when missionaries Luise and Johannes Schürer arrived in Haiti where Johannes would be serving as a Bible School teacher. Because of drought and hunger, they often had people come to their door asking for help. Many were women who came with needle-work items to sell in order to make a little money to support their families. The items were not of very useful quality, but Luise sympathized with the women and bought some of their products anyway.
Over and over, Luise heard people saying, “Our young women have nothing to do here – there is no future. When they go to Port-au-Prince looking for a better life, they come back with a child or two”. She knew she had to do something to help. God gave her the idea to start a school for young women focusing on living a Christian life and becoming a productive member of society. Luise first went to the local church leaders with her idea to determine if she could use their space to teach. They immediately loved the idea and wanted her to start right away.
Luise initially started the program at two locations that year, but found it difficult to locate skilled teachers, who were essential for the success of the program. She put the program on hold for a year and used that time to learn as much as she could from others in the area who were familiar with sewing and needlework programs. Then in 1977, Centre Lumière was launched in what is still its current location in Simon, just outside of Les Cayes. The sewing ministry focused on three objectives: training teachers, starting schools in connection with MEBSH churches throughout southern Haiti, and providing work opportunities through the Needlework Artisan Program for graduates who did not become teachers.
In 1996, Olga Thissen was attending Bible Seminary when she met Johannes and Luise, who had travelled back home to Germany in search of help for the program. Since Olga had a degree in Business Textiles, and was studying at Seminary, she had just the combination of skills the Schürers were looking for. In 1997 she made her first of three trips to Haiti as a summer intern for Centre Lumière. Because Olga had grown up in a poverty-stricken area of Russia, she felt at home with the simple life of many Haitians, and felt a confirmation that she could use her skills to serve God and the Haitian people.
In 2001, Olga moved to Haiti and began working at Centre Lumière. Since Luise’s retirement in 2009, she has been serving as director of the ministry. She is committed to making sure Centre Lumière continues to be a place where ladies can grow in their Christian faith, obtain a quality education, and develop skills necessary to provide a sustainable income for themselves and their families. Olga loves serving at a ministry that brings real economic assistance to the Haitian community through the holistic development of the individual. Her passion is bringing products to market that have intrinsic beauty and value, so that buyers are supporting Haitian families through the purchase of products they love and use.
Olga met her husband, Caleb Lapp, in 2010 when God called him to Haiti to help with an earthquake reconstruction project. After they were married in 2011, he joined the staff of Centre Lumière as maintenance supervisor. He continues to serve in that capacity and in various administrative roles as well.
Over the years, various graduates of the school have joined the ministry. Building on their own experience at Centre Lumiere, they are investing in the next generation of young women who come to study. Product sales are accomplished largely through a network of volunteers in the USA and Germany. Together, the staff in Haiti and the many volunteers in other countries form an international ministry team that no one could have envisioned in the Centre’s early stages, and that only God could orchestrate. The story of Centre Lumiere is a story of people from different countries and cultures all using their gifts to work together to create human flourishing.
Centre Lumiere founder, Luise Schürer and husband Johannes
Luise heard people saying, “Our young women have nothing to do here – there is no future.”
Olga and Caleb Lapp, current directors at Centre Lumiere