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In Haiti, a day in the life of volunteer team

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–About 5:15 a.m., the cell phone alarms chime, chirp and ding as dawn breaks in the Haitian sky. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief “yellow shirts” are donned as the day begins for the volunteer demolition team.

Eight men prepare to sweat and toil to bring comfort to a poor family whose home was practically destroyed by January’s earthquake. The demolition team tackles what is left of the dwelling and cleans the site so the family — usually living nearby in a tent — can slowly begin rebuilding. During the course of the day, individuals will hear the Good News of a God who loves them. The days are long and hard for these dedicated Baptist men.

After getting up, the men enjoy a hot breakfast prepared by capable cooks at “Florida House,” a mission house operated by the Florida Baptist Convention in Port-au-Prince. Eggs, cheese, ham, bread, jelly and fruit juice are served and eagerly consumed to fuel the volunteers’ tanks for the long day ahead.

After breakfast, the group from various Georgia churches gathers outside for a devotional and prayers. The Haitian staff of Florida House — including drivers, translators and construction workers — participate in Creole with the help of one of the translators. After a song of praise, it’s time to go to work.

As tools are loaded and engines rev, drivers and translators loudly discuss the tasks ahead while the American volunteers wonder what the excitement is all about. One learns quickly that the Haitians are passionate people in all they do. The Baptist team has a pre-briefing on where they are going and what they’ll be doing. Job assignments are made as tools are checked off the list.

Soon, the ragtag convoy exits the security gate at Florida House. “Vehicle 1,” a van, transports seven members of the eight-member team, along with their translators.

“Vehicle 2,” a pickup, sways under the load of tools and other materials needed for the day’s work. At the rear of the truck bed, Alex Whitmire, a member of Antioch Baptist Church in Mount Airy, Ga., hangs on while taking in the local color as the pickup bumps over gravel and dodges traffic. Haitians have little concept of personal space and deal with traffic in the same way. Traffic lanes evolve wherever space is available.

Once at the job site — with tools unloaded, quick introductions to the family by a local pastor and a reminder about safety from the team leader — the team goes to work in determined fashion.

What’s left of the house’s columns — a mixture of broken concrete and twisted rebar — are cut and hammered. Within five minutes, the first column drops. Gary Verhulst, a member of Grove Level Baptist Church in Maysville, Ga., heartily swings the sledgehammer until the wall crumbles.

To provide some shelter from the equatorial heat that will soon rise well into the 90s, Jeff Box of Walker Baptist Church in Monroe, Ga., and team leader Ron Brent of Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, stretch a tarp overhead and tie the corners. Throughout the day, Brent regularly reminds team members to stay hydrated. This is hot, grueling work and the body loses fluids quickly. Amidst the heat, sweat and blistering sun, lighthearted moments nevertheless ring out throughout the day.

Regularly, neighbors stop by to view the activity. At such intervals, Chris Fuller, a member of Vineville (Ga.) Baptist Church, stops and visits. Fuller, who speaks fluent French, shares the Good News of Jesus Christ with the Haitians. Other team members witness through the use of translators. By the end of the day, 13 people will pray to receive Christ as Savior.

At the evening debriefing, the exhausted team rejoices as they share what the Lord did today with other teams at Florida House.

When asked why they do what they do, team leader Brent says, “Without a doubt, the work Christ has done in each of our lives — showing us what true love is — motivates us to want to show others.”

The exhausted Georgians will turn in early tonight, excited to see what God will do tomorrow.
Steven S. Nelson serves as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn. He is currently on sabbatical, working on a virtual prayerwalk project in Haiti for the North American Mission Board. To learn more about how to volunteer to minister in Haiti through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief or to make a donation, visit www.namb.net/haiti.

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  • Steven S. Nelson