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Bapt. mission teams stuck but safe in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE (BP) — About 200 Southern Baptists on mission were trapped in Haiti after violent riots closed airports, sources told Baptist Press, but at least one team plans to return home today (July 9).

“The Woodland Community Church (Bradenton, Fla.) and The Glade Church (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) team arrived safely at the airport in Port-au-Prince this morning! They are scheduled to return home to the U.S later today,” the Bradenton church posted on its Facebook page this morning. “Thank you for praying for this incredible group during their extended stay in Neply” about 20 miles outside of Port-au-Prince.

Additional Southern Baptist teams from several churches in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana were working to return home this week, according to BP interviews and published press reports. No Southern Baptist teams have reported any injuries to team members.

At least three Haitians were killed July 6 in rioting after the government announced it would raise gas prices that were already high. One pastor estimated gas was $5 a gallon before the hike, and that the average wage was about $2 a day for some Haitians. The government dropped plans to raise prices after the violence began, and national news reports indicate normalcy has returned to some parts of the capital city.

James Jenkins, church planting director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, rode out the violence while housed at the Croix-des-Bouquets (Flower of the Cross) mission house in Port-au-Prince with 35 mission members from Louisiana. He estimated a total of 120 Southern Baptists were retained at the site, including teams from Alabama and Georgia.

“We’re fine. Looks like the gunfire and smoke … have dissipated,” Jenkins said today. “I’m understanding at least one team of people left here and went to the airport. We should be able to go to the airport tomorrow.”

The Louisiana team composed of several churches arrived in Haiti July 5, just a day before violence erupted in response to spiking gas prices.

“This happened basically on the second day we were here,” Jenkins said. Mission team members who had split into three groups to conduct pastor training, Vacation Bible School and construction outreaches were summoned back to Croix-des-Bouquets.

“For two days (afterwards) I would say it was tense,” Jenkins told BP. “We were blessed that this started to occur when we had come back to the compound that first night. We were not able to leave the compound. There was a team that tried” but turned around when they heard gunfire.

Gunfire was coming “from any direction” at the height of the violence, Jenkins said. “They were burning tires, explosions going on,” and mission teams realized the importance of following government contingency plans for evacuation and safety.

“It just was a tough situation,” he said. “We see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Georgia pastor Jason Webb is lodged with a 22-member mission team about 55 miles from Port-au-Prince at Life Connection Mission (LCM) in Montrouis. Webb, pastor of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Hartwell, Ga., has reserved a flight to return home Friday, he told BP today.

“There are protests scheduled for today and tomorrow, and hopefully by Friday the protests will be over and we’ll be able to have safe passage to Port-au-Prince,” Webb said. “That’s our hope.”

Webb and his team arrived in Haiti June 30 for mission outreaches including a medical clinic, food distribution, VBS and construction work, and originally planned to return home July 7.

“They (LCM) have been very accommodating to us in allowing us to extend our trip. Everyone’s in good spirits. We have plenty of food and water. We feel safe and secure where we are,” Webb said. “We miss our homes. We miss our families. But our main objective is to remain safe.”

He could hear gas cans exploding Saturday, he told BP, and encountered a road block when the team ventured onto the street after Sunday worship.

“We went to a convenience store and had ice cream,” he said. “We encountered a roadblock but it was not manned, so we were able to get through quite easily. We’re OK.”

Chris Watson, senior pastor of GracePointe Church in Douglas, Ga., has received a good report from his 36-member mission team on the island.

“They are doing well,” Watson told BP. “They are in the city of Léogâne, which is about an hour away from Port-au-Prince. They were supposed to return Saturday, but obviously those plans changed. They have been in good spirits and have had adequate resources.”

Watson expects the group to return home no later than Wednesday, he said. The mission team has conducted VBS, evangelism, community service and a dental clinic.

“They’re still sharing the Gospel with those they’ve been working with all week,” Watson said. “They’re actually staying at a Baptists for Haiti home” in an outreach the church established three years ago. “They’ve made the most of their time for the Kingdom,” Watson said of the team.