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Fla. missions team evacuated from Haiti

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. (BP)–The silence at the other end of the phone spoke volumes to Tim Grosshans. His 15-year-old daughter Faith, the youngest of 17 teens on a mission trip to Haiti, had just survived the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, but she was hardly capable of speaking.

“So I teased her a little bit about shaking things up,” Grosshans recounted.

Four days later, all teasing aside, Grosshans told the Florida Baptist Witness he is thankful for a joint operation of private and military efforts that led to the safe evacuation of the 17 teens and a total of 44 team members representing New Missions from Haiti.

“The last Blackhawk landed just a second ago,” Grosshans said Friday afternoon. “They are in a Dominican military air base.”

The mission team included six from First Baptist Church in Oviedo, Fla., nine from The First Academy in Orlando and nine from First Baptist Church in Winter Garden and its school, The Foundation Academy.

Faith Grosshans is a student at The Foundation Academy.

The team arrived in Haiti Jan. 9 to distribute Christmas boxes filled with gifts for the needy in Leogane Valley, about 30 miles from Port-au-Prince, where New Missions operates schools, medicals facilities and a Bible college.

Shortly after the quake struck Jan. 12, Tim Grosshans said he received a call from youth pastor Keith Yarbrough.

“They were absolutely terrified,” Grosshans said. “The ground was more like waves on the ocean, tossing people 20 feet in the air. Fissures were opening up in the ground and the buildings were crumbling.”

The concerned father remembers just about the time his daughter told him she and the rest of the team were unharmed, the phone line went dead.

Concerned about the threat of a tsunami, something Grosshans said he later learned was not likely, he immediately sent a text and told the group to leave their coastal location and seek higher ground, which they did.

Moving to the mountains near one of the New Missions facilities, they slept outside that night in trucks and on tarps while approximately 30 aftershocks of 3.0 to 5.0 magnitude continued to rock the region.

“Imagine where they were, without any news, with more aftershocks coming,” Grosshans said. “I cannot imagine what it was like.”

It didn’t take long for New Missions leaders, Grosshans and others to decide that the immediate evacuation of the team was a priority — especially of the 17 minors.

Grosshans said organizers and representatives of those on the trip ran two operations “simultaneously” with the assistance of some ex-military volunteers trained in special operations and field medics. Asking for help from congressmen, senators and others, Grosshans said after a few days he and others decided they were “not happy” with word that the United States did not consider the group high enough priority to evacuate immediately.

After watching two failed attempts, one within a mile, New Missions finally arranged for six private helicopters to begin evacuation. Friday morning, Jan. 15, in the midst of that operation, three U.S. military Blackhawk helicopters arrived and the two groups interfaced to get the entire team to safety in the Dominican Republic.

Crediting New Missions for their quick actions, Grosshans said it would be challenging even under normal circumstances in Haiti to keep 17 teens safe.

“This was a big success politically, military, privately,” Grosshans said. “It all came together in one smooth operation.”

Steve Whitaker, headmaster of The First Academy in Orlando, agreed.

“There are more miraculous events that have transpired in the last 48 hours than I have seen in a lifetime,” Whitaker told the Florida Baptist Witness.

With six students from TFA part of the team to Haiti, Whitaker has been talking non-stop to parents and the media since the earthquake hit the island nation. Communicating via conference calls about every three to six hours, Whitaker said parents have “responded fabulously.”

“They have been calm, cooperative and very trusting,” Whitaker said. “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Hearing the first reports of helicopters lifting students away from Haiti caused Whitaker some apprehension, he admitted, when he realized there were some critical moments involved in a mission where multiple aircraft would be moving in and out.

Prayer, however, sustained him, as it has sustained Grosshans and his wife Carol.

“It’s been a prayer meeting every time,” Grosshans said of all of the planning involved in the evacuation. “We’ve said, ‘Lord, thank You for what You’re doing for our children.'”

At the same time, neither man will forget the tragic circumstances of the Haitians left behind or even the families in the U.S. who are still awaiting word on their loved ones.

“In the middle of our joy is a huge sadness and we have been constantly praying for the Haitian people,” Grosshans said.

It is in scenarios like the one in Haiti in which faith is proven genuine, Grosshans said. “You don’t have to go to Haiti to be on mission, however,” he said. “Missions is right across the street. We all are to go into the uttermost, whether it’s financing or praying. The work in Haiti is just beginning.”

Whitaker said there might be further delays, though everyone is hopeful the teens will shortly return to the U.S. He told the Witness late Friday afternoon there was a 737 en route to the Dominican Republic, but so far it had not received permission to land. He said he was told President Barrack Obama might be scheduled to arrive at that military airfield sometime today.

“Pray for those in Haiti who remain in such danger,” Whitaker said. “And pray for favor and safe passage [for the missions team] as they move back this way.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.

For updates on the status of the team that was in Haiti, go to www.NewMissions.org. Southern Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org).

Online, donations to Florida Baptists’ efforts for Haiti earthquake relief can be made at www.flbaptist.org, or to Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32257. Designate checks for “Haitian Earthquake Relief.” For more information, call 1-800-226-8584, ext. 3135, or 904-596-3135.

The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online, www.NAMB.net, by phone, 1-866-407-6262, or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to “Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB.”

Initial funding for the relief effort will come from the International Mission Board’s disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan