The voice of God saved Francillon Chery’s life in the 2010 earthquake in his native Haiti. Assistance from medical personnel and aid agencies helped him to cope with an unrelated physical disability and develop his athletic and artistic abilities. Today, Chery, now 43, is sharing those blessings with others in his homeland and in Wheeling.
The Haitian artist and amputee soccer player has been visiting Wheeling since early July in connection with the opening of an Oglebay Institute exhibition of his artwork and that of CHAOTICA Art creator Don Bristow. The show, “Art for Mobility: A Gathering of Artists and Advocates,” remains on display at Stifel Fine Arts Center, 1330 National Road, Wheeling, through Friday, Aug. 29.
Chery devotes his time to organizing amputee soccer teams in Haiti as well as creating art and teaching art techniques to people with disabilities and special needs. Proceeds from the sale of his art at Stifel Center and other local venues are earmarked for fulfilling Chery’s dream of opening a center where others can learn and create art.
Accompanying Chery to Wheeling are representatives of the International Institute of SPORT and Operation Go Quickly, a Christian aid organization. Their goal is to spread the word about the artist’s work and their efforts to promote therapeutic recreation, adaptive sport and the arts.
The exhibit is presented in partnership with Dr. Fred H. Sorrells, president of the International Institute of SPORT and Operation Go Quickly, and John Warnick of Small Things-Great Love Ministries in Wheeling. Dr. Kurt Chappell, a hearing aid specialist and vice president of Operation Go Quickly, and music therapist Jesse Dunn also are part of the group visiting the Friendly City.
Over and over, they have remarked that the Friendly City lives up to its “friendly” reputation as they have experienced acts of kindness and witnessed the generosity of spirit that area residents embody.
In turn, Chery is warming the hearts of many with his kind demeanor and his eagerness to share soccer and art with his hosts.
Chery, who speaks French and Creole, isn’t fluent in English, but he communicates with his friendly, warm eyes and shy, soft smile. Sorrells and Chappell serve as his translator for conversations with English speakers. On one leg, Chery demonstrates that he can kick a soccer ball with great accuracy.
During one of his local appearances last week, Chery’s gentle demeanor – and the shared experience of being an amputee – quickly won over Sarah Czapp, age 2 1/2, when he and the Wheeling toddler played a little soccer and created art together.
“He (Chery) is actually serving while he is here,” Sorrells said. In addition to visiting Czapp and her family, Chery spoke to children at Laughlin Memorial Chapel, helped volunteers at the East Wheeling community garden and visited several churches.
Warnick said of Chery, “He’s an amazing witness for God – the gifts that God has given him.”
As a youngster, Chery played soccer and developed an appreciation for art. When he was 10, the bone plate in his left leg stopped growing because of an infection below the knee. He had to use crutches to walk, but he had a recurring dream in which a missionary came to Haiti, took him to another country to play soccer and he could walk upon his return, Sorrells related.
On Jan. 12, 2010, Chery – on crutches – was walking past his Baptist church in Port-au-Prince when he said he heard God telling him to enter the church. He thought he was not dressed properly for services, so he ignored the voice. However, then he heard the words “go inside” more forcefully, and he complied. Minutes after he entered the church, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck, and Chery clung to a pillar in the building, Sorrells said. Miraculously, all of the people in the church survived. When Chery was able to return home, he found the structure flattened amid rubble, Sorrells added.
Reflecting on Chery’s experience, Sorrells commented, “When God speaks, listen. It may change your life. God has a plan for our lives. Even in tragic situations, He is at work.”
After the earthquake, Sorrells returned to Haiti to promote adaptive sport opportunities for the large number of amputees who lost limbs in the disaster.
With the help of the International Amputee Football Federation and the U.S. Amputee Soccer Association, Sorrells introduced amputee soccer to Haiti in June 2010. He envisioned putting together a Haitian amputee soccer team to participate in the 2010 World Cup of Amputee Soccer in Argentina.
Chery, with his non-functional left leg, was invited to a team practice. To his surprise, at age 39, he made the World Cup team. He and his teammates trained at professional soccer facilities in Dallas, Texas, for a week before going to Argentina for the World Cup of Amputee Soccer in October 2010.
After the games, Sorrells made arrangements for the Haitian amputee soccer players to have physicals performed by physicians at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas. The doctors who examined Chery recommended that his left leg be amputated so he could be fitted with a prosthesis. On Nov. 19, 2010, Dr. Paul Freudigman performed the amputation free of change. The Baylor institute donated rehabilitation services and Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics donated a prosthesis and fitting services, Sorrells said. On Jan. 12, 2011 – exactly one year after his life was spared in the earthquake – Chery walked out of the Hanger offices on his new prosthesis.
After amputation surgery, Chery experienced phantom pain. Seeking a distraction for Chery, Sorrells asked if he had a hobby and Chery said he could paint. Given art supplies, Chery began painting, and his artistic talent blossomed. Within six months, he completed 70 paintings.
Now, Chery travels throughout Haiti, establishing amputee soccer teams and teaching art to people with disabilities or special needs, Sorrells said. Through his interpreter, Chery said his goal is to establish an arts center to help Haitians in need.
Currently, amputee soccer leagues operate in four cities, in five of Haiti’s 10 provinces, Sorrells said. The dream, he added, is to establish teams in the other five areas of the nation.
The International Institute of SPORT engages in “activities advocating for people in Third World countries,” Sorrells explained. The group took delegations from Zimbabwe to the International Paralympics Games in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney, Australia, in 2000 and had a delegation from Niger at the 2004 games in Athens, Greece. The group also was involved in the Paralympics Games in Beijing, China, in 2008 and in London, England, in 2012.
“Adaptive sport is a tremendous way to change perceptions, particularly in Third World countries,” Sorrells commented. For example, he said that in Haiti, there is “a lack of appreciation for what people with disabilities can do.”
Through adaptive sports such as amputee soccer, people “start seeing ability,” Sorrells said. “These guys are incredibly talented.”
Sorrells, who hails from Texas, has visited Wheeling four times since a providential encounter with Warnick at the national veterans’ wheelchair games. “On one of the first visits, I was introduced to the nice people here at the Stifel Center,” the Texan recalled, and the idea for an art exhibit developed.
Operation Go Quickly is “a faith-based organization that encourages Christian people to get involved,” Sorrells said. The nonprofit group serves people with disabilities in various aspects, such as public access, education, integration, job skills, physical rehabilitation, therapeutic recreation and disaster relief.
The mission of Operation Go Quickly involves “enabling people and churches to make a difference,” by giving “a hand up instead of a handout,” Sorrells explained. The effort is “celebrating marvelous people,” he said. “They’re all incredible people created in God’s image. We help them in any way we can.”
Warnick, who operates Small Things-Great Love Ministries from an office at Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church in Wheeling, commented, “It’s a real neat connection for them to come to Wheeling … for the heart of Wheeling to commit with people who are local, global, international.” He thinks area residents “need opportunities to empower them to serve.”
Calling the visitors’ stay in Wheeling “a dual blessing,” Warnick observed, “They are blessing Wheeling, and Wheeling is blessing them.”
Through the ministry, Chappell takes new or used hearing aids to people in Haiti. “We can use those by the hundreds and thousands,” Sorrells said.
The organization also seeks donations of soccer equipment and art supplies. Items can be taken to Stifel Center or to Warnick’s office, Sorrells said.Sorrells, who has been going to Haiti since 2004, said the 2010 earthquake killed about 300,000 people and left many residents with injuries that required amputation of limbs for survival. Life in Haiti is extremely difficult for people with disabilities, he indicated.
Chery’s artwork on exhibit at Stifel Center includes a large collage, “Out of the Rubble,” depicting “the sheer destruction, the death and the disability that came out of the earthquake,” Sorrells pointed out. Bristow, who serves on the board of Operation Go Quickly, is donating half of the proceeds from sales of his fractal art to the group’s work with people with disabilities, Sorrells added.
Brad Johnson, director of exhibition at Stifel Center, said it is “a big thrill” to hold the international art exhibition. The quality of art being shown is “fantastic,” he remarked. “To have two artists of the caliber of Francillon (Chery) and Don (Bristow), we’re thrilled.”
At the Stifel, Johnson said, “We want to showcase talent not only in the region, but also now internationally.”
He envisions a future display of art created by students at Chery’s proposed art center. If that happens, “the project would come full circle,” he said.