GREENFIELD — There just wasn’t room.
Eight people packed light; they limited their personal items for a 10-day trip to Haiti to carry-on bags only.
Bobby Wade said flexibility was one of the lessons of this journey — reminders that the trip was not about him.
Wade was part of a team from Park Chapel Christian Church that recently traveled to Haiti, carrying supplies to Lifeline Christian Mission in Grand Goave and helping out at the mission begun 35 years ago by an Ohio couple, Bob and Gretchen DeVoe. Now the team is prepping for a presentation about the trip, and some members have set up a fundraising website to build four homes through Lifeline’s Homes for Haiti program.
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The keep-it-to-the-carry-on guideline left each group member with checked suitcases wide open to hold dresses, shorts, baby blankets, packets of infant cereal and other supplies that would be donated. Still, there were items that had to be shipped with the group. Piles of shoes that didn’t fit into luggage were sent to the Haiti mission’s Ohio offices to tuck into a future shipment.
The group with full bags faced a full schedule in Haiti when it arrived March 14.
Some mornings were spent home building under a blazing sun in temperatures that would, later in the week, climb high enough to make cellphones stop working. Team members sifted beach sand so it could be used for cement and mortar. They formed a bucket brigade lugging cement to the site when it was mixed.
There were visits with sponsored children and a day for playing with children at Lifeline’s children’s home. There were rotations to various tasks: painting church benches, painting beds for sponsored children, assembling hygiene packs, distributing clothing and food, and visiting homes to give new mothers bibs, blankets and clothing. Team members also visited homes of those requesting prayer.
Those visits were a highlight of the trip for Julianne Young, even though they were stretching times, with more out-loud praying than she’s done in the past.
“You could really feel the Holy Spirit in the room,” she said. “You could actually see how they live. It’s not just driving by a place.”
Sometimes, though, that up-close view of life in Haiti was challenging. Janet Feeney, who traveled with teen daughters Angelina and Maddi Ostermyer, saw a young toddler or two who walked places independently. Another time, she saw a 3-year-old who weighed 13 pounds; Lifeline operates infant and toddler nutrition programs to help that child and others put on pounds and grow black hair, not the reddish-orange hair that signifies malnutrition.
Group leader Debbie Horn saw some hard realities, too, such as the five miles an 8-year-old boy she sponsors walks to school each day, or the house where the 4-year-old girl she sponsors lives. A 2010 earthquake in Haiti severely damaged it. Since then little Julie and her mother, sister and grandmother cook there but sleep at a friend’s house.
Horn and others have established a fundraising website to build homes for Julie and three other children and their families through Lifeline’s Homes for Haiti program.
“A lot of people want to help, but they just don’t know how,” Horn said. “We spend so much money here without thinking about other people. Until you experience it, it’s hard to really feel what it’s like down there.”
Yet amid the hardships their Haitian friends face, team members saw expressions of deep faith. The church next to where the team stayed in the Lifeline complex had something going on most nights they were there. The Sunday morning service the team attended lasted three hours.
The next day, team members rose early for a 4 a.m. prayer service at a home; they were told one local woman has been attending for 23 years. Horn noted that people they visited didn’t ask them to pray for more food or a better home, but rather for their children’s health, safety and their relationship with God.
“I learned that … you can have all the money in the world, everything you could imagine, but it all depends on your spirit,” Angelina Ostermyer said. The teen recalled children who, through translators, told her how God had changed their lives. “They just pour their heart out to God; it’s just so amazing.”
The team members, having delivered the donated supplies, left Haiti with roomier suitcases. After all they saw of both the Haitians’ struggles and their spirituality, they are finding greater capacities — for compassion, generosity and worship, among others — opened up inside themselves as well.
“I think what will stay with me is seeing God the way that I saw him there. It’s such a humbling experience,” group member Leah Thomas said of her first mission trip. “I’ve tried really hard to remember what it felt like to be there and to remember in my heart to be that same humbled person that I was in Haiti.”
Feeney also spoke of holding on to lessons from the trip. She referred to something her pastor has said about people sometimes being merely fans of Jesus.
Before the trip, “I was just a fan of Jesus,” she said. “Now I am so much closer to him because of the experience that I went through.”
kitchen garbage bags of shoes that didn’t fit into team members’ luggage and were sent to Lifeline Christian Mission offices in Westerville, Ohio
pounds of donated supplies carried with the team or shipped. Among the items were dresses, shorts, baby blankets, bibs — even some cloth purses and hair bows — made by Park Chapel Christian Church’s Unraveled sewing ministry.
cost to build a cinderblock home through Lifeline Christian Mission’s Homes for Haiti program
goal posted on a “Homes for Haiti” gofundme site (gofundme.com/u2wvbxf8) to raise money for four homes
how long it takes to drive the 40 miles between Port-au-Prince and Grand Goave
Richter scale reading for the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti. Lifeline said the homes it has built withstood the quake.