New Hope United Methodist Church (Brunswick, Maryland), has been going to Haiti to serve for the last five years. While initially the congregation served in other places, the rural mountains of Furcy, Haiti have been their home for the last three trips as the church has worked to build relationships with the congregation and church leadership there. The trip last week had been planned for some time, but after Hurricane Matthew and UMCOR’s request for mission teams to stand down, New Hope was in limbo. Furcy is not close to the most devastated parts of Haiti, and both the people of Furcy and the Methodist Guest house leadership in Petionville assured the team they would be safe and asked them to please come. With that green light, the team packed missional suitcases full of medical supplies, vitamins, protein bars and prayed for protection and guidance as they set off, with support from several local BWC churches – Good Shepherd, Chase and the Jefferson/Doubs Charge who made donations towards the trip.
The five-member team – all women – noticed a difference in the landscape even before the plane landed. While mudslides and erosion have plagued this country that has little forestation, much further damage by the hurricane could be seen. On the way to the Methodist Guest House in Petionville, children lined the streets begging for food or a dollar. At the Guest House, the team surprisingly learned they were the first team to arrive there since the hurricane! Several teams had cancelled and two were due in shortly.
Before heading to Furcy, they were able to learn about the struggle that is just beginning for Haiti. Mr. Brulan, the head of the Guest House in Petionville had just returned from Jeremie (an 8 hour drive) where the Methodist Church of Haiti had been distributing food kits for about 2,200 families every 10 days. These kits, which cost $20 each, feed a family of 6 for about a week to a week and a half.
The destruction in Jeremie and places on the Southern peninsula of Haiti is catastrophic. Churches, schools, clinics, orphanages, crops, farm animals and homes were completely destroyed. We were told that not one banana tree was left standing. With little access to food and clean water, cholera and other illness is growing. Jeremie and places near it are what one missionary called “the breadbasket of Haiti” – where much of the food for the country of Haiti was produced. Famine and high prices are imminent as they struggle to feed an already struggling community.
The mission team, led by Patty Thornton, was still able to accomplish much of the work they had initially planned when scheduling the trip last April. The community of Furcy had a great need for a motorcycle to transport food to the more remote villages where food scarcity is a real issue, a medical transport for those who had to travel to the hospital, and for the pastor who had to previously walk 6-8 hours one way to reach some of his churches on his 5 church circuit. After partnering with the local American Legion Riders group to do a fundraiser, the team was able to purchase a motorcycle to leave with the community.
New Hope was also able to feed the Furcy church a community meal on Sunday after the worship service and distribute rice and beans for families to take home to prepare later. They left funds to feed the other rural communities on the circuit, worked with a group of young women on producing items to be sold in the US to sustain their families, and visited the school where each class learned the song Jesus Loves Me. The team was also able to help address some of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew in Furcy. Most of the crops were destroyed and farm animals killed leaving the already food insecure community even more vulnerable. The team replaced chickens and pigs and left money for food to be distributed in the months to come. The school had major damage to the roof that the New Hope Team was able to address. The team also met with leaders from the outlying communities who walked 3-8 hours to express their thanks and gratitude for the partnership and work that has been done in the past year.
"You have given us hope by providing meals and we can only give you thanks and pray for your church that God blesses you with great abundance in return" said Mackenson Chery in Creole, one of the 4 men who made the long trek to give thanks.
The team also launched a Facebook campaign from Haiti to raise funds for the Jeremie meal kits. They were able to raise over $6,000 in the past week for the effort to feed the people through the Methodist Church of Haiti with funds coming from their church members, friends on Facebook and the sharing of the post many, many times over.
In addition to funding on the ground, grassroots efforts to care for health and food needs, the next greatest thing the Haitian people are looking for is our presence,” Rev. Katie Bishop, pastor at New Hope reflects. Preaching on Sunday at the church in Furcy, she cited Ephesians 4, proclaiming, “You are not alone. Your suffering is our suffering. Your pain is our pain. We are one Big God Family.” The team was able to spend time connecting with people, hearing their heartache and brainstorming with the people ways to move forward. One of the Guest House employees shared he had three family members in the morgue in Jeremie, waiting for him to raise enough money to bury their bodies.
“When there are no mission teams coming into the Guest Houses in Furcy and Petionville, people lose their jobs and are not able to support their families. Translators, transportation, cooks and support staff were longing to be employed – hoping for teams to come after ours,” Bishop shared. The Haitian people are incredibly resistant and hopeful, despite the heartache. While Hurricane Matthew has dealt another devastating blow, there is hope for a future.
Photos: Jane Dixon teaches the girls how to knit, as they learn a sustainable trade to provide for their education and families.
Team Leader, Patty Thornton, hops on the back of the motorcycle with Pastor Ezaus donated by the American Legion Riders Post #96.