Mission in Haiti
By Rev. Laraine Waughtal
Central Texas Conference Disaster Response Coordinator
& Pastor at Bluff Dale and Morgan Mill United Methodist Churches
Friday 10-15-10 | We Will Return
Our final day in Haiti was a wonderful and heartbreaking experience like so many other days. We went to Grace Children's Hospital, which was founded in 1967 and is recognized as Haiti's leading medical institution. It is the flagship ministry of International Child Care. The United Methodist Church also supports this hospital.
The entire second floor of the hospital was destroyed. Only small areas of the original building are usable. But, as is always with the Haitian people, they make the best of every situation. Tents have been set up around the hospital so that care may continue for the children and their families. Classes are held daily on health education, birth attendant training, oral rehydration therapy and general health education. New areas of the building have been reconstructed and a small hospital room with multiple beds opened this week and is now receiving patients. Two of the major issues for children in health care are tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. One of the children broke my heart as he lay on the bed all but skin and bones. I went over to him when he called. I offered him my love and prayers and longed to give him more. The nurses and doctors are so filled with compassion for the children.
Several years ago the hospital opened the only eye clinic in all of Haiti. It is the only place that the Haiti people can receive eye examinations, eye surgery and glasses. They have only one functioning eye surgical room because they simply do not have the equipment to do more. They have the surgeons but need equipment. They also cannot make their own eyeglasses, so they must send off to have prescriptions filled. Needless to say, many cannot afford such a luxury but no one is turned away. They long to receive their own machine to make eyeglasses in their own country. They are receptive to receiving donated glasses, new or used.
The hospital lab is incredibly small, yet eight to 10 workers filled the room, diligently doing their work. They have no computer so all the results are logged into a book by hand.
The hospital also sends teams of people out into the neighborhoods to bring health care to the people. They are determined to serve the people of Haiti and make a difference one life at a time. We met with the chief physician and administrator to discuss their needs in further detail. They also have an office located in the U.S. to receive donations and further their cause. If you know of anyone who can help with these needs, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is so much more I can share with you and I do want to share some final thoughts. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. One of our team members who have served in both Haiti and Mexico said that Mexico's worst is Haiti's best. Eighty percent of the families live in poverty, surviving on as little as $1 a day. They are incredibly resourceful people with everything they have. They make our recycling programs look like a beginners class.
The Haitian people are very proud, but unfortunately they live under a very corrupt leadership. They speak of great hope, however, because they will soon have a new election and a new president. They love the U.S. and they long to have a functioning democracy that will have the best interests of the people in mind first. In the meantime, it is largely up to the non-government organizations like UMCOR to make an impact on the people's lives. They are so grateful for every person who comes here. As we stated before, they appreciate the fact that we treat them like fellow human beings and that their lives count.
However, what they long to do is to work and to provide for their own families. With all the people we met and visited with, without fail, they spoke of a proud nation of people who believe in hard work. They worked hard beside us in all the work we did. In fact, we could not even keep up with them. Despite the fact that most of them get only one meal a day they are some of the physically strongest people we had ever met.
As we drove the streets, there is no place to escape from without seeing the tent cities and the poverty. Over one million people are still homeless. Large buildings still lay crumbled to the ground containing the bodies of loved ones trapped inside. Some water lines have been set-up, but people must walk for miles with their five-gallon buckets to bring water to their homes. Proper sanitation still does not exist. People must place their garbage in piles on the street where the government may show up once a week with a front-end loader and truck to haul it off.
Despite all of that, we saw hope each and every day. We were in awe that while we were there a large group of people cleared off a mountain of cement and rubble in three-days time from a business that had collapsed. People took whatever they could — tarps, metal siding, plastic — and tried to form a more secure and dryer home to live in. The market was alive and well with people selling everything from food to shoes to artwork.
I hope that as you have followed my writings and thoughts you have been touched by the people of Haiti and by God. I hope that you are able to support them in any way possible and even consider going on a team to Haiti. I will be returning and taking a team myself next year. I know Lara Whitley will be doing the same and George Murphy will be speaking at churches to help bring a voice for the people of Haiti.
I have been privileged and blessed to have this opportunity and to see the face of God in these wonderful people. Yes, I am grateful for the hot shower and the good bed I slept in last night at home. However, I will never forget and I will go back.
I pray that this time has been meaningful for you also. May God bless us all in the name of our savior Jesus the Christ.
Tuesday 10-12-10 | Moving Mountains
Talk about work! The last two days we have moved mountains of cement, dirt, rock and more. The side of the house we are working on is about three feet wide and is long and narrow. The "backyard" is about 200 square feet. They were covered in piles of debris from the earthquake. We formed a shovel and bucket brigade and removed all of it in less then two days. We celebrated our mountain of debris and along with the Haitian workers. They couldn't believe how hard the Texans worked! Our team is amazing.
I want to back track just a bit. On Sunday after worship I was blessed with one of the Haitian women bringing her beautiful baby girl for me to hold. How precious to see and experience the gift of life in the midst of such tragedy. She and her husband were so proud of their child. I was touched that she brought her to me to hold. When I handed her back I was watching someone else when a small hand slipped into mine. I looked down and here was a beautiful, maybe six- year-old girl smiling up at me. Music was playing and so I began to dance with her. Her eyes lighted up! We had so much fun.
Fast forward to Monday — we were on lunch break and I was standing out on the street (the street is rock and dirt) watching one of our team members play ball with one of the neighbor boys. A small hand slipped into mine and here again was this beautiful young girl smiling up at me! I knelt down and we hugged and we danced again. I asked our interpreter to have her come back on Tuesday with her friends.
Today (Tuesday), I was working inside and happened to look out and there she was with her friends on their way home from school looking for me. I went running outside to our car and brought out the sidewalk chalk for them to play with on a cement slab. They didn't know what to do so we went over and I started drawing pictures with it. Their eyes lighted up and they started drawing also. We gave each of them a large piece to take home and they eventually left with smiles on their faces. We also handed out balls to the children. They were so thrilled.
We brought all the food we could today and shared with the Haitian workers at the house. They were so hungry and grateful. Most Haitian people have only one meal a day. When we left we brought them extra clothes and one of our team members even gave one worker the boots off his feet. This one worker’s shoes were nothing but shreds. He beamed with joy at his new shoes.
Sunday 10-10-10 | Sharing the Sabbath
What an amazing day. We went to worship at Thor United Methodist Church. This church is located right behind where we are working so we were worshiping with some of the workers and the community. Over 200 filled the church that was fed by the breezes from the outdoors. As we entered we were brought to the two front pews! They heard we were coming and they wanted us in special seats. We sang hymns that we recognized, like "Count Your Blessings," during the offertory, and for the hymns we did not know we rocked with the rhythm and marveled at the joy in their faces. The services were in French-Creole.
A young lady came over who spoke beautiful English and interpreted for us the entire service which last two hours and 10 minutes! It did not feel long because the service was filled with celebration of life and messages of hope. Please be sure and read Nehemiah 2:1-5. This is the "motto" for the church, and I will never read it the same again.
They had a lay speaker today who preached about not getting discouraged and knowing that Christ will give them the strength they need to see them through. We were all amazed and humbled with how they can live in such devastation and yet have their faith be so strong by the grace of God.
Despite their circumstances of homelessness and poverty, you see joy in their faces, hear hope in their message, and look to a brighter tomorrow. We marveled at their faith and wondered if we would respond with the same strong faith in such terrible circumstances.
They were thrilled to have us worship with them, and came and hugged us and thanked us for joining them. Nineteen-year-old Sarah is the young lady who interpreted for us. We rejoiced to learn that she had finished her education and was leaving for Jamaica to go to the United Methodist seminary to become a Methodist pastor! I gave her my e-mail and asked her to stay in touch so that I might encourage her in her calling.
Sabbath is observed in Haiti and you do not work. We had a treat today and went to a hotel and enjoyed the local cuisine. After lunch we asked the driver to take us to the Hotel Montana. For those who don't know that hotel, it is where Sam Dixon, the head of UMCOR, Clint Rabb and Jim Gulley were trapped in the rubble during the earthquake. Sam and Clint both lost their lives and Jim survived.
We were only able to get to the entrance site, since they are still working on excavating the property. It was then we learned that our driver was probably the last one to see them alive. He shared his story with us. The short version is that he had dropped them off at the hotel. They wanted him to stay, but he had to go to the market to pick up something. He had barely left when the earthquake hit.
He started hearing explosions around him and it was the hotel and other places collapsing around him. Several times he narrowly missed being hit by a building or falling trees as he raced down the mountain. He finally reached the bottom and survived. He said he looked up and the sky was gray from all the fallen buildings and the cement dust. He began climbing back up the mountain over debris and buildings trying to reach the hotel. He reached a slab of concrete and began looking around to get his bearings since everything was gone. It was then he realized he was standing on the roof of the Hotel Montana.
We felt so privileged to have Eric share his story with us and to know that he cared so passionately for the three men. We were deeply blessed and so was he. We gathered in a circle and each offered our prayers for the people of UMCOR and the people of Haiti.
How privileged we are to be involved with the wonderful people of Haiti and to be allowed into such an important part of their lives — all of it through the grace and peace and unity in the Body of Christ. I pray that many of you will consider coming to Haiti to help rebuild this country, to be the light of Christ, and to receive the light of Christ from these deeply faith-filled people.
Friday 10-08-10 | Shared Holy Communion
Today I want to write not about our restoration work on the house, but the work of God. After lunch today we moved into the house and had a service of Holy Communion. We invited the Haitian workers to join with us. Three of them did.
Culturally, they will not participate in Holy Communion if they do not feel they are "right" with someone. So, those workers listened as we shared in the service. Lara Whitley and I used the liturgy from World Communion Day. Our interpreter spoke for us in French-Creole to the workers. He spoke with such passion, and we got into a rhythm with each other as our two languages blended and sang together the ancient words of blessing!
Each time we spoke about diversity and being One in Christ, the Haitian men would say "Amen! Amen!" The only table we had was a bucket we were using for removing the debris. We flipped one upside down to place our bread and juice on. We shared in Holy Communion through the ancient method of intinction.
After communion we joined in a circle and sang “Amazing Grace,” each in our own language and united as one through Christ. We then passed the peace with each other — including the men who did not partake and our eyes were filled with tears. We did not speak the same dialect, but our hearts spoke the same language of the love of Christ. What an amazing day of blessing!
Thursday 10-07-10 | Lara Whitley Shares Impressions
Today was our first day at work. We traveled by van through heavy traffic for about an hour, passing the realities of life in Haiti: tent cities, meals prepared on sidewalks, and children playing atop the debris that is still very present amid structures that inexplicably survived the earthquake.
Our worksite is in the community of Thor, a residence that is intended to house the area’s district superintendent, a local church pastor, and visiting UMVIM teams. While it was severely damage in the quake, it has been deemed repairable and work is well underway. Local laborers, hired with dollars raised by UMVIM teams and matched by UMCOR were hard at work applying layers of concrete to the newly reinforced walls when we arrived.
Our task was to continue removing concrete, dirt, and other debris from within and around the home - one 5-gallon bucket at a time. The weather was hot and very humid, forcing one member of our team to return to the guest house with heat exhaustion, and by just before lunch we were all soaking wet, anticipating the soreness that is sure to come, and hoping that our efforts are contributing to a greater good.
Our translator’s name is Joseph. His job is to help us build relationships with our new Haitian friends, bridging the gaps that exist between their Creole, our English and the broken French and occasional Spanish our Texas team kept trying in vain to use. He is a kind man with a beautiful smile, and he takes great pride in working with his Methodist teams.
I was refilling my water bottle when Joseph appeared at my side and showed me why it is that we are here in Haiti. After thanking me twice for coming, he said to me, “You really don’t understand why I am so thankful to God for your team…for all the teams.” While I cannot do justice to the beauty of his words, this is a very close paraphrase of what followed. He said:
I am grateful because it is hard to live in Haiti, even before the earthquake. It is hard to walk the streets and see the people hungry and searching for something to eat; to see children playing in trash, and water running down the road from the houses.
It is hard to live in a place that you love, but that breaks your heart and makes your spirit sink. Since we won our freedom, each election we vote hoping that the new leaders will help the people, but it has not happened. It gets harder and harder to convince friends and family members to vote because nothing ever changes. The powerful take the money and do not improve the lives of the people. I vote because I am a Haitian, but then I feel bad when someone I voted for disappoints the people again.
And then there was the earthquake, and everything became much worse. When we watch television we see pictures of other places in the world, and it is easy to believe that Haiti is forgotten. Or that maybe God has made Haiti the world’s trashcan and it’s people don’t matter. I know that isn’t true, but sometimes it is easy to think that.
I know that Jesus came for all people, for me and for you; that God loves all people, me and you, and everybody in the world. But it is easy to be discouraged by what you see around you. Sometimes you have to work hard to hold on to hope and to live what your faith tells you. I am thankful for your team and others because by coming you remind us that we matter. When you work with us and talk with us and worship with us, you are saying that it is true – Christ’s love is for EVERYONE.
I don’t know what the week ahead will bring, but I do know that whatever we encounter I will forever remember a kind man named Joseph who helped us grow in our understanding of the grace-filled power of truly inclusive relationship. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself…do this, and you will live.” It is the Great Commandment, the Shema, the testament of faithful response to the love of God that transcends place or time.
Thursday 10-07-10 | First Work Day
Day one at the work sight was hot, sweaty, wonderful work. After traveling 45 minutes through some of the most devastated areas and to the poorest town in Haiti, we arrived at the Carrefour Manse. This was and will be home to the district superintendent, the pastor of the United Methodist church in Carrefour and housing for the UMVIM volunteers who will come and work in this area.
This home was almost destroyed (by USA standards it would have been), but the home is being restored. You could tell it was once a very large and nice place. We are the fifth team to work on the home and they hope to start housing people at the end of the month.
We spent the day hauling hundreds of pounds of broken and crushed cement out of the home. With two shovels and five-gallon buckets, we hauled the debris to the streets where, at some point, the government will come and haul it off. We worked side by side with the Haitian people on this home. They are so grateful we are here.
When we took a break we walked to an area that used to be a baseball factory and was totally destroyed. They have used the debris to form a road through a "park" area. We admired a man climbing high into the trees to cut limbs with his machete. He would remove huge limbs with 4-5 whacks! He let me take his picture. He was so thrilled with us that he climbed another tree and brought us fresh coconuts to drink and eat! It was delicious and revived us for more work.
We have learned that there is a form of car-horn etiquette as you drive here. There are few traffic lights and there is no such thing as stops signs or other street signs. So as you get to an intersection, you honk that you are coming through. There are certain honks for drivers to move over, other honks that you are coming around and, of course, honks for when they are mad. Pedestrians are responsible for staying out of the way of cars. It is an adventure every time. We feel very safe with our driver, and he has never had a wreck in 23 years!
We drove by the palace and saw how the second floor just collapsed onto the first floor. Of course, the homes here are so badly damaged that most people still live in tent cities or outside their homes. Some even live in the medians of the roads.
The people are so grateful to have us here and to know that the world still cares about them. They know this will last for years to come but dream of the day when they have homes again. Their resilience and faith in God is amazing. They would not even consider blaming God for this devastation. It is just a part of life and God will provide with a lot of hard work too. We have come to be a light of Christ to them and they are being a light to us.
Wednesday 10-06-10 | Arrival in Haiti
We arrived safely in Haiti. Plane flights were fine. What an experience on the ground after we arrived. Customs and luggage were taken care of in a warehouse. After an hour (there is no such thing as luggage at carousel 2!), we found everyone’s luggage and we were on our way.
The ride to the Methodist house was an experience. I will never complain about traffic again! It took 3 hours to go 10 miles. Because the roads are so narrow, are still so damaged, and there are so many cars, it was quite a ride.
The devastation is amazing. The people's resilience and ingenuity for survival is inspiring! I will share more later, but it is late and we are off to bed to rest for our first work day. We have a great group of 10 eager to work.
Blessings from Haiti,
Monday 10-04-10 | Mission Team Bound for Haiti
Oct. 6-14 three members of the Central Texas Conference will be traveling to Haiti on a
mission trip in conjunction with members of the Southwest Texas Conference.
Lay member George Murphy has held several positions at Salado United Methodist Church, including lay leader and delegate to Annual Conference. George is a registered pharmacist and sales representative for Abbott Laboratories. He is married and has two children.
Rev. Lara Whitley, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Joshua, has a keen interest in disaster response. Rev. Laraine Waughtal is pastor of the Bluff Dale and Morgan Mill United Methodist churches, and is the Disaster Response Coordinator for the Central Texas Conference.
All three are eager to serve. Upon their return from Haiti, they will be organizing trips of their own to take folks from the Central Texas Conference to help in Haiti.
The team of 12 from the two conferences will be staying in Port-au-Prince at the Methodist Guest House. The project for the week will be to work at Carrefour Manse in Thor. This is a high priority project for the United Methodist Church in Haiti. We will be the fifth team to work on this house, which is a pastor’s house and possible future site for Volunteer In Mission (VIM) teams to stay at when they come to work. Some of our group will also have a few days working at a medical clinic.
Our small team is carrying some supplies for the people of Haiti — the small amount we are able to carry in two checked suitcase each. My own bag will carry construction paper and other items for children, TUMS for the Haitians whose circumstances often lead to digestive problems, and snack-size zip lock bags for dispensing medical supplies.
Lara is carrying over-the-counter medicines and hospital-grade medical station supplies, deflated soccer and basketballs, jump ropes and Vacation Bible School supplies and craft items.
United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been making a great impact in response to the earthquake in Haiti — helping to provide fresh water, debris removal and building of homes, schools and medical centers along with many other areas of assistance. We look forward to sharing our story with you and will be making reports from Haiti, as access to the Internet is available.
Chuck Newman, a member of First United Methodist Church in Mansfield, recently returned from serving in Haiti. First Mansfield is currently exploring their 2011 calendar and hoping to send a team sometime next year. Also, plans are underway for a mission team from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Texas-Arlington to serve in Haiti.