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Volunteers carry compassion to Haiti, but have ‘no bottled answers’

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–“What do I do?” the Haitian man asked helplessly. Having lost his wife and two children and his home in Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake, he was living out of a suitcase.

Butch Vernon struggled to answer the man’s question.

“I’m not asked that question a lot back in the States, you know?” the Baptist pastor said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Vernon, who was in Haiti as a volunteer with a Kentucky Baptist disaster relief team, later reflected, “It’s not one of those deals where you can say, ‘take two [Bible] verses and call me in the morning. It’s the only time I’m going to see that guy, and there are no bottled answers.

“I prayed with him and I hugged him, and we gave him some medicine…,” Verson, pastor of Thoroughbred Community Church in Nicholasville, Ky., recounted. “We’re seeing a lot of that.”

Vernon and the Kentucky team joined forces with a Mississippi Baptist disaster relief team from Jan. 31 to Feb. 8 as part of a coordinated effort involving the Florida Baptist Convention, which has a longstanding relationship with Haitian Baptists; the North American Mission Board; International Mission Board; and Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization.

The toughest part for a volunteer is that you can’t help everyone, said Daniel Edney, who directed medical response efforts by the Mississippi team.

“But we can take care of those who God puts in front of us,” said Edney, a member of First Baptist Church in Vicksburg who led relief teams in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and in southern Asia after the tsunami.

“When those you help walk out with a smile on their face, you know you’ve done something.”

When the Mississippi volunteers pulled up to a church on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, they were surprised to see people praising and worshipping God even as they were struggling to get by without adequate food and water.

“It was a neat thing to drive up and hear them singing and praising the Lord and worshipping,” said Kay Cassibry, state Woman’s Missionary Union executive director who led the 10-member relief team.

“They have been so receptive,” added Cassibry, a member of Highland Colony Baptist Church in Ridgeland. “People do not know us, but they are receptive to our hugs and everything,” she said during an on-site interview.

During the week, the Mississippi team helped at makeshift medical clinics and saw more than 1,100 patients.

“We have treated all kinds of things,” Cassibry said while walking through one of the clinics. “There were a lot of respiratory problems, a lot of infection. We had to set a couple of bones.

“We’ve got a guy on an IV,” she added. “He asked for a Bible as soon as he woke up. We were pretty excited about that.”

For Hester Pitts, another Mississippi volunteer, the biggest blessings were the thank you letters team members were receiving from Haitians.

“I know what it means for us to be here,” said Pitts, a member of First Baptist Church of Vicksburg, “but [these letters are] tangible evidence of what it means for them.”

Pitts, a retired medical technologist, was on vacation with her husband Kerry and two other couples in Tampa, Fla., when she was contacted about joining the relief team. She admitted she wanted to wait until later to volunteer, but she couldn’t shake her burden for Haiti.

She agreed to go to Haiti immediately and asked others in her vacation group if they wanted to join her. One of the friends, David Baldwin, broke down in tears.

“He said, ‘Hester, I’ve been sitting here praying that God would open that door for me to go,'” Pitts said. “I could not believe it.”

Within two hours, the couples were on the road back to Mississippi so that Pitts and Baldwin could prepare for their trip. For Pitts, giving up her vacation became an opportunity of a lifetime.

“I’m just thankful that I didn’t miss the experience,” she said. “I came so close to telling God ‘no.'”
Compiled by International Mission Board staff. For more on the volunteers’ experience in Haiti, go to commissionstories.com/haitivols.

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).

— 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 at 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 has 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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