Deena C. Bouknight
In the early morning darkness of April Fool’s Day, nine Discover Church women loaded a rented van to be driven by Pastor Ben Windle to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Destination: Haiti.
Matt Balmer, who attends Discover Church, drove his truck to the airport as well, loaded with 16 large suitcases filled with donated items primarily for orphaned children. The short-term mission of the nine women, eight of whom had never visited Haiti, was to establish relationships with children at HIS Home for Children, assist at an annual two-day Haiti women’s conference, and learn the needs of a growing ministry in a rural area of Haiti called Valley of Hope (Galette Chambon), about 30 miles from Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Despite enthusiasm for the adventure of traveling to a relatively small Caribbean island – four times smaller than the state of Florida – there was apprehension as well, due to recent political unrest and travel warnings. However, trusted contacts in Haiti assured the group even up to the day before their April 1st departure that tensions were quieting among the frustrated people of a country considered by World Bank to be the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, Haiti had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of $870 in 2018. Although roads and sidewalks have been built since the devastating earthquake in January 2010 that killed at least 200,000 people, the economy there is in dire need due primarily to political upheaval. The main conflict observed by the nine women while in Haiti April 1-8 was seen at gas stations, many of which had no gas for Haitians to power cars and generators.
A main focus for many short-term missionaries visiting Haiti from around the globe is to provide necessary supplies, food, toiletries, bedding, etc. to the at least 300,000 children living in orphanages. Little government assistance is offered to run these homes, so they rely on outside donations. And, as co-director Chris Nungester of HIS Home for Children pointed out, “You can’t buy love,” so she encourages as many short-term missionaries as possible to visit and play with their 75-plus children ranging in age from newborn to teens.
The Discover Church team was excited to visit HIS Home children after getting settled into My Father’s Guesthouse in a suburb of Port-au-Prince. Quashona Antoine and Tori Dragoo, who sing on the worship team at Discover Church, led the children in songs with universal lyrics and hand gestures. Plus, Dragoo and Jordan Myers took turns donning a banana suit and surprising the children with a fun song that the Haitian children could identify with since there are banana trees all over the island. The team also engaged the children in coloring, soccer, basketball, and tic-tac-toe. However, most children – especially those with special needs – wanted only to hold team members hands or sit in their laps.
“I felt like I was supposed to be there,” said Michelle Graham. “I enjoyed spending time with the children … it was all about God’s love. I didn’t expect to receive so much in return. They were just so precious and full of love.”
Elizabeth MacBurnie agreed, pointing out that she has had a desire to participate in a short-term mission experience since she was a child herself.
HIS Home co-director Hal Nungester, shared that it costs at least $3,000 a week in groceries to feed the children weekly and around 2,500 meals are prepared. Homes for children in Haiti rely on donations and support to house, feed, clothe, and school the children as government programs do not meet these needs.
A tour of nearby Papillon Enterprise revealed to the women that Haitians often leave their children at orphanages because they cannot care for them. Papillon puts many Haitians to work making ceramics, jewelry, purses, screened printed items, and more that can be ordered online – thus giving Haitians an opportunity to keep their children.
Devonne Jimison explained, “It was started by a woman who came to Haiti with the intent of adopting a baby. When she arrived she was so touched by the people and a mission was formed. Instead of adopting she would help the women to be able to keep their babies. How awesome is that?”
The main teacher at the women’s conference was Ruth Bloemsma, who has taught Bible studies for many years in Macon County and who served full time as a missionary in the past in various countries, but not in Haiti. The 200-plus women who attended the conference in a tiny church down a narrow alleyway of a congested area just outside of Port-au-Prince were taught, through numerous scriptures, about the holiness of God. Each received a donated scarf – mostly gathered from individuals and consignment/thrift stores in Macon County – at the end of the two-day conference.
Helen Gentry said that what most surprised her about Haiti was its beauty. “And also how talented, creative, resourceful, and resilient the people are. The media primarily portrays Haiti in a negative light, which is unfortunate, and one must visit in person to have the true picture.
“Missions work increases our understanding of other cultures which is extremely valuable. The challenges and problems in Haiti are not insurmountable. Our team saw that many positive things were taking place and that progress was being made. If enough people got involved, Haiti could overcome many of the challenges currently facing the country,” said Gentry.
Many churches in Macon County offer annual short mission trip opportunities. Discover Church may assemble a Haiti building-focused team for this summer, although a date has yet to be determined; and, anyone can participate in a Haiti vision clinic, Oct. 29 through Nov. 5. Contact coordinator Barbara Spence, if interested, at (336)263-7217.