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Church’s Haiti focus shifts to orphans

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–An Atlanta-area Haitian congregation is refocusing a planned trip to Haiti because they have learned eight children with family ties to the church have been orphaned in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

Now, pastor Seneque Saintil of the 150-member Mitspa Haitian Baptist Church in Norcross, Ga., plans to lead a team to Haiti in a mission that has taken on greater urgency.

Not only will the church take much-needed money and supplies to the earthquake-shattered island, they also hope to bring home precious cargo: five girls and three boys, ages 5 months to 8 years old.

“A woman in my church is the aunt of these children,” Saintil said. “She spoke to other family members on the island who told her the children were alive.”

United Nations relief officials estimate there may be 1 million youngsters who lost at least one parent in the Jan. 12 quake or are separated from their families, according to news reports. Because the children have no one to care for them, they are more vulnerable to disease, child predators and other risks.

Stuart Lang, associational mission action consultant for the Georgia Baptist Convention, led the church in a disaster relief training session Jan. 23. Saintil said he worked non-stop to translate a 24-page disaster relief manual from English to French.

“We want to get Haitians ready when we go to Haiti to do missions, so they can be ready to help,” Saintil said in a phone interview.

More than half of Mitspa’s members have lost loved ones in the quake. However, in recent days, relatives learned that more family members are homeless, living on the streets of Port-au-Prince.

“Some of them, they have a lot of stress, especially those who have discovered they have family members who are orphans,” Saintil said. “Some of them have stayed in prayer and have stayed united. We hope that something good will come out of this crisis.”

If Saintil makes it to Haiti, he hopes to return by Sunday, Jan. 31, to speak at an Alabama church where a classmate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary serves as pastor. Saintil attends classes at the main campus in New Orleans and at the seminary’s North Georgia extension campus.

The seminary has deep ties to Haiti, with an established certificate program that has trained 159 ministers for the pastorate. Many of those former students serve house churches on the island.

Saintil and his church are collecting food, water, clothing, personal hygiene items, medicine and other necessities to send to Haiti. In the initial days, however, the going has been slow.

“I think it’s great that people are contributing to the Red Cross and CARE, but we as a church are going to be doing one-on-one ministry in Haiti and in the community there,” Saintil said. “People are willing to listen, but they feel more comfortable giving to big organizations, not to little churches.”
Paul F. South is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (nobts.edu).

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