Haiti - Getting There......
Much has happened since I last led a Western PA VIM team to Haiti in November 2010. I’ve retired; UMCOR has completed the four-year funding partnership they began with the Haiti Methodist Church shortly after the earthquake; and volunteer projects have evolved beyond clean-up, tearing down partially destroyed buildings and reconstruction. Volunteers are now expanding their efforts to Spiritual Growth (Vacation Bible School, Christian Education, and Pastoral Exchanges) and Mission and outreach in the broader community (Agriculture, Health & Hygiene, Clean Water, Microcredit, and Teaching Programs).
Four years ago UMCOR set up guidelines for teams and leaders that required team leaders to be VIM trained and have prior Haiti experience with an official UMCOR project. Leader experience with an official UMCOR project is no longer a requirement, but it does help to have Haiti experience.
When Clark Remington, the Mt Lebanon UMC VIM team leader, asked me to co-lead a team with him, it seemed like a good idea. Although Clark has had international experience as a team member, he had none as a leader. Over the years, I’ve encouraged leaders of international teams to co-lead. There are so many details and dynamics to attend to. Our pre-trip checklist for Haiti:
- Get a leader or two (Clark Remington and Diane Miller) and a team of volunteers willing to follow those leaders (Louanne Baily, Kathleen Amant, Liz Paul, Rev. Kimberly Greway, Ken Hendrata, Lori Barr, and Rev. Tom Strandburg, who will become the new pastor of Mt Lebanon UMC July first) .
- Contact UMVIM Team Coordinator Jackie Putt (Jackie.firstname.lastname@example.org) in Haiti and get on her schedule.
- Meet together often enough to get to know each other; uncover hopes for the trip and skill sets of the team. Our team will develop relationships, lead Bible School for children, teach English to 8th graders, and meet with leaders in the churches of the Carrefour Circuit. We will explore options relating to micro-finance and teacher training with the hopes that another team in December can set up more experiences that will further the work of the Methodist Church in Haiti.
- Arrange air transport. If it’s with Delta, contact the airline for a luggage waiver so each team member can check a 50-pound suitcase without paying a luggage fee.
- Contact the Eastbrook Mission Barn. UMCOR will release whatever kits teams are able to carry to Methodist churches in Haiti. We are bringing in School Kits, Health Kits, and Birthing Kits, in addition to Bible School materials, four picture Haitian Creole/English dictionaries, bedding and towels for the guest house, batteries, teaching toys for the pre-school, dress my people clothes for children and a bagful of incredible puppets from the “puppet lady” who attended the Sugarcreek Mission Study I led last Saturday.
“I’ve got a crowd! I’ve got a crowd!” There was an intensity in the voice of the woman at gate 60 as she spoke into her walkie-talkie to the person driving the shuttle bus. We had de-planed, picked up our carry-on luggage at the top of the walkway, and headed for gate 60 where we were to catch a shuttle bus to terminal B. Our plane from Pittsburgh was half an hour late departing this morning. Our itinerary gave us less than an hour to get from our arrival gate at JFK to the departure gate in another terminal.
I‘ve flown hundreds of flights over the years and was a little surprised and very grateful that we didn’t have to figure out how to get to Haiti an alternate way. Everybody going to Port-au-Prince (not just our team) was hustled down long hallways and onto a bus that deposited us at our plane. We were packed in tight, most carry-ons were stowed in the plane’s belly; and after a non-eventful flight of 3 hours and 20 minutes, we indeed landed in Haiti. Surprise of surprises – our checked luggage made it too. After a bit of pandemonium with porters who wanted money to assist us, we found our one-armed porter, Jackson. He and his crew loaded us and our luggage into a “tap tap” which drove us to the Methodist Guest House in Petionville on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. With room in the front of the truck bed for suitcases, grated sides, enclosed top and bench seats along the sides, we felt rather like we were in a paddy wagon.
We’ve walked through the Methodist School on the grounds and talked with some teachers. We’ve interviewed the Haitian in charge of agricultural training and outreach and a British Methodist doctor trying to organize the clinics connected with churches. We’ve eaten a tasty meal and had our official orientation. Now it’s time to rest. Another VIM adventure has begun.
Thank you Lord for the blessings of the day and team members who are watching out for each other.