Monday, July 04, 2011

Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief, Haiti 2011

Its only been a little over a month since my previous entry, but it feels like i haven't written in ages.

We've left for and returned from Haiti. Somehow it doesn't even feel to me that we went to another simply feels that we went to another community where almost everyone speaks a language we dont understand...and we got creative with ministry and creating VBS lessons on the fly, or at least in very little time--praying that the gospel was seen and heard in spite of our stumbling and some grumbling. It was a lesson in letting go of my control on a situation and being extremely flexible--not knowing what was going on from day-to-day very far in advance--trusting each moment to God's all-knowing hands. It was a study in embracing down-time, getting lots of rest--but waking up by the rooster call at sunrise. And even though i wasn't on a trip chaperoning a youth group or anything, It became an opportunity to no longer be one of the youngest adults on the trip, but to have the tables turned to be one of those middle-aged and more "experienced" people. It was my first time out of the country--my first time off the ground, even.
That's the short of are some more details:
On Saturday June 18th we left Augusta about 3:30am. By about 3:30 in the afternoon we were arriving in our home for the week in Leogane, Haiti. During those twelve hours we rode in a van for 2.5 hrs, sat in an airport for 2 hrs, rode in a plane for 2 hrs, rushed through another airport eating and getting to the gate in about an hour, rode in another plane for 2 hrs, waited in lines and baggage claim in the immigration area at another airport for about 45 minutes, then jostled around in a tap-tap for another 2 hrs.
The trip was organized by the Georgia Baptist Convention Disaster Relief. GBC has a house rented in Leogane for the mission teams to use, which includes 1-2 disaster relief volunteers trained to facilitate and supervise all the incoming teams. the house can support about 24 people besides its Haitian staff and the GBC volunteers. This particular week the 24 people were: 8 of us from the Augusta area, a group we'd formed from two sister churches (Lake Park Baptist and Curtis Baptist), 14 GA baptist college students aged 18-27, plus the husband-wife team who lead them. The 8 of us didn't know each other very well, and turns out the 16 of them hadn't all met one another either, so it was a bonding experience all around.
We arrived, rather uncertain what our job would be in Haiti. Not many think of VBS as disaster relief work, but if you stop and think about it, children are deeply impacted by disaster, and very often looked over in the very important things of being shown love and compassion, and more than anything else-they need Jesus. We knew we were "likely" be working with children, but we didn't know how they would be grouped up, if we'd see the same group daily, or if they were churched or unchurched to begin with.
Because we were so uncertain what to plan, we didn't plan anything at all prior to our flight, which God allowed to be perfect, because when we arrived at the GA house, we were shown a beautiful stockpile of supplies at our fingertips! craft kits, outdoor game supplies, construction paper, beads, string, evangelism tools in their Haitian Kreole language, you name it, we could probably find it there in the stairwell!

Our team of 8 worked with 2 churches. The first was what we like to call the "country church" and the second was the "city church." The country church was literally "over the river and through the woods." because a bridge was closed, we drove through a riverbed! (the rainy season wasn't strong at the time, so the river wasn't a big challenge, but it keeps the story interesting!)
We spent Sunday through Tuesday at the country church. This congregation has been in place for over 40 years, and their ministry is vibrant. I saw our time there was a great encouragement to the pastor, who is aging and not feeling well, and the other layleaders within the congregation. We were encouraged to meet several ladies who are great at leading the children in scripture memory and a great worship rally. They were a great help to us and I feel good about the future of that church with women like that helping bring up the truth within the children we met. They currently meet in a tin and wood-frame tent type structure, but have a foundation and are beginning the process of brick-making for rebuilding their church building. We saw 25 to 100 kids, depending on the moment.

Wednesday through Friday we were at the city church. The church has about 100-150 members, but hosts a school of over 400 children. The pastor at the city church is the pastor in charge of lining up churches for all the GBC teams to work with each week, but it is not every week that his own church gets missionaries. It is a Save the Children food site, and directly on the main highway through town. School was on holiday during the days that we were there, due to some testing many of the students were attending. We had about the same numbers at this church, but in a much larger facility. Their church was made of tarps instead of tin, but similar construction. there were "school rooms" set up adjoining the "sanctuary" area. We only used the main area for our activities. (we gradually learned that one translator means keep everyone together as much as we can!)
We didn't see mass-conversions or get any life-changing, mind-blowing testimonies from our time with these churches, but we know that the gospel was shared multiple times, and that there is a strong ministry within each of the communities in which we were able to serve. We know that we planted and watered some seeds. God knows the growth which will occur due to our willingness to love these little ones. It could change the nation of Haiti. But even if it doesn't, it certainly will change more than one or two lives.

Our work at the churches was typically wrapped up each day by about noon, and the final meal in the house was served about 4, so we had a lot of evening time to bond with the other teams. One night someone decided it would be neat to share testimonies, and it caught on so well that it took the span of three evenings. By the time we'd all shared, it seemed that a theme had formed: invest in the life of someone around you. (testimonies about those who'd been invested in, testimonies from those who'd done the investing, requests to find Christian community now that they've returned from college, etc...)

I think it is interesting that we went to another country to be impacted with the message to put our passion to work right where we are. I think we all-too-often try to push off ministry till we are "on the field" someplace...neglecting the fields all around us.
We left the GA house on saturday June 25th just after breakfast, spent about 1.5 hrs in another tap-tap, about 5 hours in the Port Au Prince airport, 2 more hours in the air, 3 hours on US soil in another airport thankful for trash cans and government officials who regulate their cleanup, 2 more hours in the air, them 2-3 more hours by van--arriving home about 4:30am Sunday--And 3 hrs of sleep, up for reuniting with Jenbug and going to church!
I'm so thankful for this opportunity to be able to go. Now I'm eagerly looking forward to continuing and taking up new ministries here through our new church family at Woodridge and through deepening intentional relationships already established. I'm also looking forward to getting some more stamps in this passport of mine within the next 10 years!

amazing things: 1. God sustained our family-we made it through being divided for a week. I cannot imagine making it a whole week without my little girl without God having given me the strength. 2. During a particularly unstable/uncertain experience our team was kept absolutely 100% safe. 3. absolutely no fear of flying (i was fairly confident it would be fine, glad i was right) 4. full provision of all our VBS "resource room" needs, even left tons more for future teams use!

2 Prayer requests:
1. Pray for the pastors of each of the churches we worked with, that they would be encouraged and that workers would raise up alongside them within the community.
2. Pray for those of us who have returned, that we would keep the vision we came home with.