Forging ahead: Church supports project in memory of Detroit attorney

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Members of the Mission and Benevolence Committee gathered recently to present a $1,000 donation to help fund a church building project in Burkina Faso. Accepting the donation on behalf of the church was Dr. Kristin Lavoie (far left). Also pictured are Karen Barger, chair of the committee; Norm Dell; Bethany Thayer; Dave Cheney; and Matt Wickey.

Photo by Tom Kirvan

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

As an honors graduate of the University of Notre Dame in 1975, Pontiac native Mike Lavoie had more than his share of career options back then, including the promise of a potentially successful legal career.

But law school took a decided back seat to the humanitarian work of the Peace Corps for Lavoie, a man who would devote the next two years of his life to villagers in the tiny hamlet of Namtenga, Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa.

There, Lavoie spearheaded a well-digging project in Namtenga, where water was as scarce as hope for a better life among villagers.  It was another step in Lavoie’s lifelong mission to help others, a commitment that his wife, Kristin, continues in his memory nearly 18 months after his death of a heart attack.

Last month, at an informal ceremony in the First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak, Kristin Lavoie was on hand to accept a $1,000 gift from the congregation of the church, money that fittingly enough will be put to good use for spiritual purposes in Burkina Faso.

The money, according to Lavoie, will be used to help fund the construction of a church in the impoverished African country that is heavily dependent on agricultural production to fuel its economy.

“We are very proud of our congregation for their involvement and proud of the people of Burkina Faso for their dedication to a betterment of their society,” said Karen Barger, chair of the Mission and Benevolence Committee at First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak.

The church, Barger indicated, has a history of providing support to the people of Burkina Faso, noting that First Presbyterian “has donated money for many years to help with the building of schools, playground equipment, churches, wells, and community” facilities there.

“As chairperson this year of Mission and Benevolence, I am very happy and honored to carry on this exemplary and inspirational mission in the memory of Mike Lavoie through his wife, Kristin, who is continuing Mike’s unique and special commitment,” Barger added.

Since her husband’s death in October 2016, Kristin has made several trips to Burkina Faso, principally to support efforts to construct a middle school in Namtenga. The building project was launched in 2015 by her husband, a longtime attorney with Butzel Long in Detroit who served as president of the Friends of Burkina Faso. The construction effort was given a boost last year when friends of the former Assistant U.S. Attorney donated nearly $7,000 to the cause.

Coincidentally, that figure is the approximate amount yet to be raised for the church project, according to Kristin, an educator in the Pontiac School District. It is her hope, and that of retired Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred Mester, that the need will be fulfilled in the coming months as plans proceed to establish a nonprofit organization, The Namtenga Foundation.

“Mike had to be looking down from above, with his wonderful smile of pride, as to Kristin continuing their engagement with Burkina Faso and the First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak,” Judge Mester said, adding that he hopes that it will “inspire others . . . to contact their religious institutions, groups, or other organizations . . . to engage them similarly” in support of the building projects.