The Missouri Conference has been involved in Haiti since soon after the earthquake hit in January of 2010. At that time, providing water filters and training for them was the primary focus of the ministry. This was already in happening before the cholera epidemic hit the country later that year.
Mission efforts in Haiti have received support from the Missouri Conference, and organization for Haiti mission is provided by Rev. Lucas Endicott, who is on Conference staff part-time as a mission strategist. He believes the water filters have been a good place to start.
“Access to clean water is fundamental for everything else,” Endicott said.
Last year 18 clean water teams traveled from the Missouri Conference to Haiti. Teams that travel to Haiti are often able to distribute 100 water filters. Most of the Haitian families reported that members of their household were sick at least three days a month due to water-based illnesses. With these filters, families are able to spend more time at school and work. Since 2011, Missouri Methodists have helped provide nearly 6,500 water filters to more than 15 communities in Haiti.
When the filters are distributed, a public health seminar is presented to the community on filter use. Several of these have been assisted by Volunteer In Mission teams from Missouri. The people conducting the seminar are always native Haitians.
Endicott recalls that once one of Missouri’s VIM teams visited a village where a previous group had distributed filters without training, so there were already a lot of filters there. Yet they weren’t being used because people didn’t understand their importance or know how to use them.
“We got a lot of bang for the buck out of that community health program,” Endicott said.
Teams have also made home visits in areas where filters have been distributed to see that the filters are being used and maintained properly. So far the checks have been positive.
“I think the filters are valued,” Endicott said. “The community health training seems to be effective at convincing people that these will help them not get sick.”
Several local churches in the Missouri Conference are involved in Haiti independently. Kearney UMC supports Gertrude’s, a home and school for children with special needs. LaCroix UMC supports Respire, an orphanage.
Endicott is open to thinking about future ministry in Haiti in creative ways, but it cautious about doing everything possible to ensure mission projects are helpful, sustainable and foremost – that they do no harm. So many charitable non-government organizations operate in Haiti that it has been dubbed “The Republic of NGOs.” Some charitable donations, both large and small, have undercut the local economy and created cycles of dependency.
Immediately following the Partners Conference the first week of February, Endicott met with two people from Lake Lotowana UMC in Missouri to introduce them to mission opportunities in Haiti. When Alice Fuerst, mission chair for Lake Lotowana, heard about the opportunity to explore mission work in Haiti from her pastor, it was an easy yes.
“This came at the right time,” she said. “Several people at our church are interested in being more involved in mission, and this was a chance for us to explore opportunities for our church to connect to Haiti.”
It was the first mission trip Fuerst has been on, although both of her daughters went on mission trips to the Gulf Coast, one traveled to Costa Rica for a language class and added a mission trip to it, and the other traveled to China for language. Those daughters are now married and in their mid-20s.
“I figured it was time that I experienced something like this as well,” she said. Fuerst teaches geology at Penn Valley Community College, and wouldn’t normally take off during the school year, but when she called her boss, she encouraged her to go. She made the trip with her pastor, Rev. Chris Snyder. He had been on a mission trip to Ecuador but had never been to Haiti.
Lake Lotowana UMC is extensively involved in local mission. Twice a year the church goes to the Lazarus Ministry at Grand Avenue Temple a few times a year and locally provides clothes to a school for children in need. They also provide the school with buddy backpacks for weekend meals.
When Snyder saw the announcement from the Conference about the mission opportunity in Haiti, he felt called to check out the opportunities.
“We have a lot of empty nesters who like to travel, and want to give back,” he said. “They have big hearts, and it would be good to give them the opportunity to combine those passions. They’ve done youth mission trips, but it’s been a long time since they’ve had an adult mission trip opportunity.”
The church has raised money more than once to supply water filters for Haiti. Snyder said it will be cool to be able to report back on seeing the filters in place.
Also on the trip was Bill Milanick. He had been to Haiti a year ago on a water filter distribution trip for college-age people that was organized by Missouri UMC. That trip went straight from the airport to a mountain village, where the group did filter distribution for a week and then went straight back to the airport. He appreciated this trip, where he spent five days in Port-Au-Prince and met with different NGOs involved in various charitable causes.
“It gave me a different perspective on what’s going on, and I appreciate on how each of them were concerned about helping people in sustainable ways without a creating a cycle of dependency,” he said.
Before going to Haiti, Snyder and Fuerst met with Endicott. He explained that if you’re inclined to do international mission, there is great need in Haiti, and it is easy to get to because it’s a neighbor. And as a nation, through history we haven’t been a good neighbor.
“One of my focuses is to help the church be a good neighbor, both locally and globally,” Snyder said. “We’re here to try to figure out how to be a good neighbor.”