East Linn Christian students get taste of different world in Haiti

For the past three years, students from East Linn Christian Academy have participated in special annual mission trips to the Republic of Haiti to serve a country that is still recovering from the earthquake of 2010.

This year, seven students and three ELCA staffers traveled to the Caribbean island nation March 17 to 25 to finish building a house for a family left homeless from the earthquake.

STUDENTS help install trusses on top of the new house.

ELCA partnered with Mike Miner, a Lebanon resident and northwest regional director at One Mission Society, asking him to lead the trips for their students, he said. Miner’s job is to form teams that can assist full-time overseas missionaries with various activities, including the Homes for Haiti project, which is what ELCA helped with this year.

One Mission Society formed Homes for Haiti after the earthquake hit the country hard in 2010, he said.

“God opened the door for us to begin, towards the end of 2010, construction of well-built homes that could withstand most quakes and hurricanes,” Miner said.

Each home is a 20-by-20-foot structure that includes a living area and two small bedrooms.

“[It] doesn’t seem like much, but to a homeless Haitian family that lost their home in the quake it is a mansion,” Miner said.

When ELCA arrived in Haiti, the house they were to work on had already been started by a previous team, he said. Their job was to build trusses, fit a tin roof, and install the inside ceiling.

STUDENTS Maddison Christenson, left, and Emily Grove hang out with some young friends.

During down time, the team played with local school children and hung out with kids at an orphanage.

“The high school kids from ELCA could not get enough of these moments, and it meant so much to [the children] to be a part of their lives,” Miner said.

The most apparent observation students make on their arrival to Haiti is the poor sanitation.

“For me, the sights of trash everywhere and rotten smells of sewage is common and I don’t notice it much, but for those who have never been there before it is difficult to digest it all in such a short time,” Miner said.

Despite this, Miner’s hope is that the team’s memories will center around the children and families they met.

Lucia Davis, a senior at ELCA, shared her journal during her visit in Haiti. Here are some exerpts:

Saturday, March 18

Today was the day I’ve been waiting for for months.

Like I knew I would be, I was so unprepared for what I saw. I painted this picture in my mind of half-naked people living in mud huts.

What I saw was very different. Port-Au-Prince is much more of a city than I thought it was. This is the best way for me to describe what I saw: there is so much trash – enough to fill what would be river ways.

All around these “rivers” were houses; some were made of brick or wood, and some with metal. In the sky there are lots of kites. The children collect garbage and make kites out of them and fly them from the windows or street.

There is a lot more foliage than I expected. There are mango trees, all sorts of flowers, small bushes. The people look nothing like I expected. They all dress nicely and look very clean, but behind that you can still see poverty being very apparent.

Sunday, March 19

I’m currently sitting poolside at the Villa, writing by the streetlight. My eyelids are heavy and my heart is overflowing.

Today we went to church! The church was nothing more than a cement building, with large gaps in the walls for windows, tarps as curtains, and some wood pews. It was simple, but so full of God’s love.

When church started, I was lucky enough to sit right next to Frantzdy, our translator, so I got the entire service translated to me (which I then had to say to the people next to me, and it continued like a game of telephone).

I tried singing in Creole “Great is Thy Faithfulness” (probably really funny to listen to if you’re Haitian), introduced the group in front of the church, listened to some beautiful ladies lead the church in song, and participated in offering time. The sermon was about God’s faithfulness and how He will always keep you through your suffering, which was so refreshing and a great reminder!

Today we also made the climb up the hill from the Villa to visit one of the orphanages. When we walked in, 13 pairs of eyes were watching us. The orphanage was about the size of the average American’s backyard. The house itself was very small and looked more like a large garden shed than a housing place.

When we first came in, it took the kids a minute to warm up to us. But after some hugs were exchanged and we brought out the balloons, everyone was all smiles.

I hate the language barrier; I want so badly to tell them how loved and precious they are. After playing with them for about 30 minutes, we had to leave, which was very hard, but before we left, they all sat together and sang us “Kumbaya.”

Monday, March 20

Today was the first workday. So, of course, we managed to put it off for a few hours!

We went to pick up some blueprints for the roof, and in the area there was an all-girls orphanage and a school.

The little ones came and sat on our laps and gave us hugs. They were dressed in school uniforms and all looked so sharp and adorable!

Once we were torn away from the kids (none of us wanted to leave!), we made it out to the work site to begin our work. The jobs were scraping out the concrete windows and building the tresses. There are other children on the work site, and when we played we blew bubbles and made funny faces.

I’m sunburned, have nine bug bites the size of quarters, and have never been more alive.

I am in love with Haiti and all of its people.

Tuesday, March 21

I had a pretty long night last night.

About midnight, I woke up very sick. I was running to the bathroom every two to five minutes for two hours, and at one point was laying on the bathroom floor listening to worship music and praying. I didn’t get much sleep after that and continued to be sick, and therefore wasn’t allowed to participate in the workday, so I spent the day in the Villa.

But it’s now the end of the day, and I was able to eat a PB&J and two bananas (the bananas here are a dream)! So I’m going back to work tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 22

I did some building work today – screwing in part of the ceiling, but had to take it easy due to having no energy in me. So I spent a lot of the day with the kids.

We started with eight in the morning (the ones who don’t go to school), and by the end of the day we had 24 kids all coloring and playing games!

One of [the kids] was Clarsen. Clarsen came to the work site this morning and, to our pleasant surprise, spoke amazing English, so we were able to sit and talk with him throughout the day. He was about my age, and was telling us how he wants to go to college to become a surgeon.

Before he left, all of us students came and laid hands on him and prayed for his college education and that God will bless him in his journey. It was such a special moment I will never forget!

Thursday, March 23

Since we finished the house yesterday, today we met the family that will be receiving it and prayed a blessing upon them and the house.

They were such a blessing! But we couldn’t stay there long. I said my goodbyes to the children I made friends with while we worked there.

We played a few more rounds of “A Sailor Went to Sea-Sea-Sea,” and when the truck drove off, they all followed behind it yelling and waving goodbye.

At one point I heard one of them yelling “Lucie! Au revoir Lucie!” and my whole being melted away.

It broke my heart leaving, knowing the chances of me ever seeing them again were slim.

Saturday, March 25

I feel like there are no words to describe how I feel right now.

I guess the best place to start is yesterday. Yesterday was our culture day. We started our day by going to a museum to learn about the history of the country.

Then we went up the mountains to the Baptist Mission, where we had lunch and visited their market.

Outside of the market were all of the different vendors. We were warned beforehand that they were going to be very pushy and we might be a little uncomfortable. But I couldn’t have felt more comfortable!

I loved being right in the middle of the culture and getting to meet all of the vendors – even if they only talked to me because they wanted my money.

We woke up early this morning; I didn’t sleep much last night.

My mind was heavy with the thought of this being the last few hours I would be in Haiti.

We all met in the dining hall to say goodbye to Frantzdy and Nathan (our building director), which is where the tears began. They both felt like an older brother kind of figure to me during this trip, so it was sad to say goodbye, not knowing when I will see them again.

From there we made our way back to the airport and through the streets of Haiti one last time. I was holding up pretty good, mostly just tears that were easy to hide.

But as soon as we got our tickets scanned, I felt the ugly cry rising up, and it came out as soon as I said “mèsi” for the last time.

To see more of Lucia Davis’ journal, visit lebanonlocalnews.com.