She was the embodiment of hope. Hope for a college student struggling with her faith. Hope for a family yearning for a child. Hope for a life lived outside of poverty.
“I am really blessed. God has really blessed my life,” said Guerline “Lina” Cloutier from her Gainesville, Fla., home.
Lina, fondly known as “Baby Hope,” left a lasting impact on Huntington University. The college first met Lina in 1996 in a Haitian orphanage for children with disabilities. She was 6 months-old and suffering from hydrocephalus, a life-threatening condition caused by the buildup of fluid on the brain.
Haitian doctors had attempted a surgery to drain the fluid but were unsuccessful. Lina was left to die.
The thought weighed heavily on the team of Huntington College students who had visited the orphanage on a January Term trip to Port-au-Prince.
“When we were back in Huntington, we were thinking about it and praying about it,” said Dr. Bill Webb, a local physician who helped to lead the trip.
Their efforts led them to a neurosurgeon, and within two weeks, Lina was in Fort Wayne, Ind., receiving a shunt that would drain the fluid from her brain and eventually save her life.
From then on, she was “Baby Hope.”
The Beginning of Hope
As the story of Lina unfolded, it became so much more than just a journey to save a baby’s life. It became a journey of hope for everyone she encountered.
For all of the students on the trip, meeting Lina made a profound difference on their lives. For some, it was a choice to pursue missions after graduation. For some, it was the choice to continue to work in Haiti. For others, it was just the start of their faith journey.
Shannon (White) Hartman was a freshman when she met Lina. Hartman was dealing with what she called the “typical” freshman blues. She had broken up with her boyfriend and was struggling with her faith, but God was reaching out to her on that trip.
“I felt like the Lord was telling me, ‘I can take care of her so I can take care of you,’” Hartman said.
After that first trip, she returned twice to Haiti during her sophomore year, and after graduation, she lived in the country for four years working with Mission Haiti and teaching at an international school. She even took her husband there for their honeymoon.
“It will always feel like home to me. It is a part of my life, and it will always be,” she said. “For me personally, that (first trip) was my changing point in my walk with Christ.”
For so many, the same was true, but none more so than the Cloutiers.
At the time, this Warsaw, Ind., family was looking for one more addition to their group of five. Raymond and his then-wife Janet wanted to adopt a child with special needs. When their first adoption fell through, Lutheran Social Services approached them about Lina.
“As soon as Janet saw Lina, she knew that was the baby that we were going to adopt,” Raymond said. “I praise God because he gave me enough faith to say yes to something I wasn’t sure about.”
Within a few of days, the couple made the decision, and with some paperwork, Lina became an official member of the family.
The Road to Hope
Without reservation, Lina has been a light of hope for the Cloutier family. Her presence inspired the family to adopt another young boy, James, from the same orphanage. The same was true for Raymond’s sister, Kathy, who adopted André, another Haitian child with disabilities. The Cloutiers later adopted Nahomie, a girl from Haiti, who was 16 when she came to live with them.
“Lina coming into my family has had a huge impact on my family,” Raymond said. “It’s amazing how God has provided.”
Their road has not been without challenges, however.
Since she was a baby, Lina required regular doctor visits and scans to ensure her shunt was working properly. She was late in her development, including walking, and will never be able to drive or to live alone.
“We continue to try and get her to reach her full potential,” Raymond said.
In 2008, the family faced its hardest challenge yet when Janet passed away after a stroke, but the family continues to thrive.
“Janet had such a heart for children with special needs,” Raymond said. “I just imagine her in heaven playing with these kids.”
Four years ago, Raymond married his current wife, Reneé, and the family has been growing together ever since.
“(God) has blessed my life in a thousand ways,” he said.
The Look of Hope
A smile spread across Lina’s face as she clapped her hands to her favorite song. She sang perfectly one of her favorite songs — a Haitian melody that she learned from her mom.
The music comes naturally to her and she loves it.
“She has just a wonderful, wonderful sense of music, and it’s just wonderful to work with her,” said Lina’s music teacher Dr. Don DeVito. “She just brings the other students along.”
At 18, Lina attends Sidney Lanier School in Gainesville, Fla. She has been attending the school for about three years and has made gainful improvements in that time. She also has been given great opportunities, including playing at Carnegie Hall.
“She was really the highlight of the show,” DeVito said. “She was the star.”
Since then, Lina has continued to steal the show, and she loves it.
“She hears the beat and can master it,” Raymond said.
On one night in September, Lina reached for the keyboard and began to play her song — a song she creates and improvises. She doesn’t read music, but the music flows just the same. It’s the joy of her life, and it brings joy to so many others.
“Music is her gift — that and joy,” Raymond said. “She is constantly blessing people with her happy attitude.”
A Guiding Hope
Lina has done so much for everyone she has met.
Along with guiding those original Huntington students toward missions, she also encouraged her own family to help the impoverished in Haiti.
Her sister, Beth — Raymond’s oldest — has been back to Haiti nearly 50 times since that first encounter with Lina, and now Beth is working to foster a Haitian child after she graduates with her nursing degree.
Her brother, Paul, is a paramedic/ER tech and also has done work in Haiti, especially after the earthquake.
Most recently, her music teacher, DeVito, has been working with the children at Lina’s orphanage over Skype to teach them music. This winter, he is planning a trip to Port-au-Prince to deliver drums and to teach them in person.
Because of Lina, three more Haitian children found a home with the Cloutiers, both with Raymond and his sister.
The stories are endless and will continue with every person Lina meets. They may be small, or they may be life-changers, but it all started with just one small child and a hope for more than just the life she was living.
“A lot of neat stories occurred just because of Lina,” Raymond said. “It just goes on and on. Who knows what the future holds.”