A wintry wind whistles over the lightly frosted grounds behind Evanston High School, the limp, desolate blades of grass barely poking through the January snow, trying desperately just to be noticed.
Inside the building, Marx Succes hears the wind. It blows gusts of angst and heartache crying out from his native Haiti, gusts mixed with a flurry of hope and love from around the world. The blast of winter overtakes Succes, the former state soccer coach of the year; It is pushing him to walk away from his current post at the school and return to his broken homeland.
“I can’t sit back and let everybody else help my country and I don’t do anything but send a few dollars to the Red Cross,” Succes said. “At this point I guess you can call it my calling.”
Oh, he most definitely hears the wind.
Minutes before 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, Succes was arriving home for an early dinner before heading out for high-school intramurals. At the same time, an earthquake was demolishing Haiti, a 7.0-magnitude tremor that in an instant would reduce the country to rubble.
It was not long before his phone rang with news of the disaster. The coach, who emigrated from the tiny Caribbean country in 1976 when he was 10, is fortunate to have his immediate family spread throughout the United States. But he still had relatives in Haiti, several of whose deaths have since been confirmed.
When Succes heard of the quake, his mind did not race to those family members. The first people to cross his mind were the 36 young girls at The Church of God in Christ Orphanage in Carrefour, mere minutes from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and the core of the earthquake’s destruction. Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in Evanston oversees the orphanage, which Succes, an ordained elder, has been involved with since 1988.
In that time, the girls became his extended family.
It was not until Jan. 15, after days off from school and countless attempts at contacting someone at the orphanage, that he lucked out with a cell phone call to the husband of Millone Saintil, who grew up in the orphanage and now runs the facility. Fearing a disconnection, the two spoke quickly. Moments later, Succes breathed perhaps his life’s biggest sigh of relief.
All 36 girls were alive and unharmed.
Saintil’s husband did not deliver all good news, however. Both buildings on the orphanage’s property — the two-story facility that housed the main living quarters, as well as a secondary guesthouse, used mostly for missionaries — were severely damaged. The latter’s structure was in such bad condition it would have to come down and be rebuilt. The living quarters still stood, but were not safe enough to house the girls.
Like so many of their countrymen, the 36 girls were now homeless.
Marx Succes was born in the northern part of Haiti in Gonaives, but grew up with his grandparents and great-grandmother in Port-au-Prince. He did not know the luxuries other societies took and continue to take for granted. There were no televisions. There was not clean, bottled water to drink.
“I was very poor,” he reminisced recently as he sat in the Evanston athletic office, “yet I didn’t know I was poor. It was just what we had.”
Succes never saw grass until arriving in Chicago’s northern suburbs when he was 10, but it was on that grass where he discovered a career. The soccer field became a new home for Succes, where, pardon the pun, he found just that. He was on the Evanston team that finished third in the state in 1983. He played competitively at Northern Illinois.
When his playing days ended, he turned his knowledge of the game into a coaching career at Evanston, cemented in 2002 with a Class AA state championship. The Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association named Succes coach of the year after he led the Wildkits to a 28-0-1 season.
But for him, success is not measured in wins and losses. Truthfully, he does not remember his team’s records from any year other than ‘02. What sticks in his mind are the relationships forged in a 21-year coaching career, the last 14 as head coach, and more than two decades as a physical education teacher. The former players who come back to help him coach. The P.E. students who are able to joke with him after he beat their butts in badminton. The Evanston alums that visit his church, hear him speak, and walk out members.
That is what matters to Succes.
Because at the end of the day, his calling is simply to give back. That is why he is the Field Leader for The Church of God in Christ’s Youth on a Mission Program, a position that has taken him to offer assistance and love in Guyana and South Africa, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic, and many impoverished countries in between. That is why he and his wife Marie took their children, Marx Jr., a sophomore at Purdue University, and Maria, a senior at Evanston, all over the word on different trips to troubled communities, rather than save that money for their college tuition.
“I have a simple belief that if they go to school and become a doctor, a lawyer, or whatever, and get a degree, and they don’t have anything in their hearts to go serve others and make somebody’s life better and serve humanity, than they are a failure,” Succes said. “What I want my kids to do is learn how to give back to the community, and give back to those that are less fortunate.”
And that is why, when he heard of the earthquake and thought of those 36 homeless girls, he knew he had to head home.
Succes last saw his church’s orphans this past summer when he led his own family’s mission trip to Haiti to show his son and daughter their ancestral homeland for the first time and to rebuild a life for the 36 girls.
The girls, forced out of the shelter after the earthquake, were sleeping in makeshift tents in the orphanage’s yards. With so much devastation, Succes decided to ask the high school for the semester off and temporarily resigned as girls soccer coach. The school granted his leave and donated $2,000 raised days earlier at a basketball game against Waukegan to help the orphanage.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” Evanston athletic director Chris Livatino said. “It’s nothing for us to donate one night game receipts to that effort. There are hundreds of thousands of people suffering and in need.”
According to CNN estimates, 150,000 people lost their lives in the quake, and 1.5 million Haitians are now homeless. Succes would love to house everyone in need, but for now his focus is on the 36 girls. With relocating the girls — either temporarily or permanently through adoption — his No. 1 priority, he flew to Haiti in late January with a half-dozen other church representatives from around the country.
The group was small to start, sent mainly to provide basic necessities and assess the orphanage’s situation, but reserves are ready. Succes said Faith Temple is preparing groups of 10 to 15 missionaries, particularly doctors and constructions workers, to travel in shifts to help the orphanage, and the Youth on a Mission program decided to alter its plans and travel to Haiti this upcoming summer.
As for Succes, he does not know what his future holds. He plans on being in Haiti for a few weeks, then hopes to return to Evanston to raise more money before traveling back to his homeland, a back-and-forth trek he expects to make multiple times in the upcoming months.
He is confident the orphanage can be salvaged, just as he believes that, over time, the county, his country, can be rebuilt.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Succes said. “I’m hoping I’m still alive and around to be able to enjoy it and see it for myself. Hopefully my children and children’s children will be able to enjoy Haiti and see a country that’s totally revamped.”
Succes is doing his part. He is giving back. He is following his calling.
He is listening to the wind.