PIKEVILLE – “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” … Philippians 1:9
As a new year dawned in 2010, a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck just outside of Port Au Prince, Haiti, leaving thousands dead and an even greater number homeless.
Three years later, the Haitian people continue the long and difficult task of rebuilding their lives. And in the face of tremendous adversity, their faith sees them through.
January 5, 2013 – Port Au Prince
“The airport is the same, people dress and act the same, but Haiti is different than anything I have yet to experience,” Lindsey Gilbert wrote in her journal.
At a time when thousands of college students were enjoying a holiday break, Gilbert, of Olive Hill, was one of 16 students from the University of Pikeville who joined Campus Chaplain Rob Musick on a mission trip to Port Au Prince to work with Praying Pelican Mission.
On the drive in from the airport, Gilbert is struck by the contrasting landscape of houses and buildings that bear the ravages of the powerful earthquake. She notes the nice homes with barred windows, and the huts, shacks and tent villages just beyond walls topped with barbed wire and broken glass. All, according to Gilbert, situated against the backdrop of a tropical paradise. “The mountains take my breath away,” she wrote.
Along with a group of volunteers from a church in North Dakota, students spent their time in Haiti living next to an orphanage that was home to 37 children. Mornings began with prayer and devotions. The workday began in a nearby village digging and building a community reservoir. Students passed buckets of sand, gravel and concrete, forming a human chain to help their Haitian friends complete the project. In the afternoons and evenings the mission team joined in the children’s Bible fellowship, leading as many as 75 youth in games and crafts, and later playing with children from the orphanage. The Haitian people speak a mix of French and Creole so students performed skits of Bible stories in order to communicate.
“Although there was a language barrier throughout the week, the universal language of love, compassion, praise and play transcended all barriers,” said Rob Musick. “Haitian children know how to pray and praise with great faith.”
Students kept a journal, packed with details of every faith-filled day. They wrote about the language barrier, the children, the friendships and fellowship … and the food – fried plantains, yucca root, whole fried red snapper, “head and all,” and fresh roasted coffee.
“Throughout the week the team worked and worshipped with local pastor Jackie and his Zion Tabernacle Church as this community leader shared his vision of community transformation through hard work, prayer and the movement of God. Pastor Jackie shared with the team his vision of an elementary school, a seminary, a chicken coop, a village full of fruit trees and a community reservoir,” said Musick. “The students were deeply moved by the faith of this community leader and his church’s deep commitment to see powerful change take place.”
The students hope to return to Port Au Prince next year to help Pastor Jackie realize his dream to build a school. Mission trips require a lot of preparation, logistical planning and fundraising. Students read and watched films about Haitian culture and its geography and history. The trip in January cost about $1,400 per person, a challenge for college students, who raised money from community outreach, friends, odd jobs and a golf scramble. They also collected toys and other items for the children, beginning their journey with 22 suitcases and bringing only 14 bags back on the return trip.
“We went thinking we were going to change lives,” said Gilbert. “In the end, it changed us.”
Classmate and fellow traveler Sally Smith, of Gays Creek, agreed with Gilbert.
“I went on this trip with a totally open mind. I was ready for my life to be changed and I was not disappointed,” said Smith. “I saw God working through each and every one of us. I’ve flown on a thousand airplanes, been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, sang in the churches of Ireland, been to the Acropolis, and zip-lined through the rainforest. Those were all amazing experiences, but they will never compare to the week I spent in Haiti serving the Lord.”