A journey from a food truck to an Air Force cargo plane and back again
ALTUS, Okla. — Whenever we come to this southwestern Oklahoma town to…
Before leaving on a weeklong trip to Haiti, a Tennessee mission team prepared for possible emergencies — from road-blocking protests to an outbreak of COVID-19.
But a presidential assassination? Not so much.
The 15 teens, college students and adults from the Clear Creek Church of Christ in the Chattanooga suburb of Hixon were four days into the trip when they got the news. In the capital of Port-au-Prince, 125 miles south of where they were conducting Vacation Bible School, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed during a middle-of-the-night attack at his home.
“I was shocked,” team member Patrick Russell told The Christian Chronicle. But on his fourth mission trip to Haiti, the 17-year-old said he had come to expect the unexpected.
As airports in the Caribbean nation shut down and political leaders debated who was in charge, the mission team prayerfully decided to soldier on. Working with See Him Ministries, a church-supported nonprofit that operates a medical clinic, an eye center and a microloan program in the northern Haitian city of Cap-Haïtien, they continued to host a summer camp and VBS for about 150 kids.
“It was a blessing for the children who came to the camp,” said Bonnie Ray, one of the team’s leaders, “because they were able to leave their homes and not have to hear their parents talking about the assassination.”
In Chattanooga, Dr. Luckson Previl was in regular contact with team members — and their nervous parents back home. Previl, an optometrist who grew up in Cap-Haïtien, is mission director for the See Him Ministries.
Previl said he was encouraged by the parents’ sense of peace and their confidence that God would take care of their kids.
He was equally impressed by the team members who continued their mission work. So were the Haitians who worked with the team, Ray said.
“They said that it spoke volumes to the neighborhood that we weren’t leaving,” she said, “that we were going right on with camp and that we weren’t afraid.”
Closer to Port-au-Prince, workers with Live Beyond, a church-supported, nongovernmental organization that provides healthcare and nutrition, are safe but wary after the assassination, said Dr. David Vanderpool, a Nashville, Tenn., trauma surgeon and founder of the ministry. Live Beyond’s facility is in Thomazeau, about 20 miles east of the capital — a journey that takes more than an hour on Haiti’s roads.
“Many churches and organizations have struggled to care for their people in these trying times,” Vanderpool said. “In the past three years, our organization has had our base manager murdered outside our gates, a second base manager and business manager kidnapped and tortured for five days, dozens of robberies, several staff members’ children kidnapped and the assault of one of our American team members.
“Death and disease seem to stand on every corner, and violence keeps everyone on edge. But as Christians, we fear only one thing. We fear God Almighty. With him on our side, what can man do to us?”
Protests in the capital have shut down street markets and businesses. Food and fuel are becoming scarce, said Ken Bever, founder and president of Hope for Haiti’s Children, an Ohio-based, church-supported nonprofit that operates orphanages and 10 Christian schools in southern Haiti.
The ministry plans, funds permitting, to provide meals for 3,000 at-risk children this summer, Bever said, and is continuing with plans to host 288 teens for Christian Leadership Camps at its Hope Center in Thomazeau.
“We are praying for a peaceful resolution to all the political turmoil and gang violence that has permeated the country this past year,” Bever said. “We pray that the new government that emerges can re-establish law and order, that peace can prevail and our teens can safely attend camp.”
Back in Cap-Haïtien, Clear Creek team members finished their summer camp and returned to the U.S. safely, with no disruptions — except for a missed connecting flight in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Luckson said.
For that, he rejoices. Yet he feels a pervasive sense of sadness as he considers this latest act of political violence in his homeland — one more chapter in a long history of turmoil and cyclical poverty.
“Frankly, I am frustrated and tired of praying for the same thing over and over with no real answers for Haiti,” Previl said. “This probably is not the most Christian thing to say, but it is the state that I am in right now.”
As he speaks with the Haitian workers at See Him Ministries, “I can sense that their hearts are broken,” Previl said, “but they are not about to give up. … My bold prayer is for God to raise among the Haitian people a group of leaders that will lead the country toward restoration.”
For the mission team, the week was filled with “beauty and answered prayer,” but it also “felt heavy and frustrating,” team member Lauren Van Eaton wrote in a report posted just before she returned to the U.S. “There is still so much need in Haiti — spiritually, physically and emotionally.
“It is hard to hope that things will one day be different or better for these kids and their families and these communities. It is disheartening to yet again see corruption, fear and political instability discourage my Haitian friends.”
Nonetheless, the U.S. Christians said they were overwhelmed by the love and support they saw in the lives of those they came to serve.
“The older ones are always looking out for the young kids,” wrote team member Emery Gravitt. “Their bond is so strong, and they are always happy, even with their circumstances. We play a ton of soccer and the kids love it; that’s all they want to do. I have never seen this kind of happiness before, and it’s an unbelievable thing to witness.”
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