Despite earthquake, church group still planning trip to Haiti

Published 7:19 am Thursday, January 14, 2010

Many area residents huddled Wednesday to pray for Haiti.

About 20 people did so in the basement of a youth ministry building, as they prepare to travel to the country, which was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake Tuesday.

Faith Evangelical Free Church was already planning to send 21 of their members to the region this July on a missionary trip before the quake hit.

The group of teenagers and adults was going to volunteer a week of their time with Jesus in Haiti Ministries — working in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation at an orphanage, a school and a church among other things.

When news came that an earthquake had ravaged parts of the country — likely leaving hundreds of thousands dead and the limited infrastructure destroyed — the missionaries did not change their itinerary, but rather their mission.

Jeff Anderson, a member of the church who is organizing the trip, said at a meeting Wednesday that he cannot be exactly sure what work the group will take on.

“The question may have been answered for us by God. I think we may need to build homes,” he said.

While the Jesus in Haiti Ministries compound suffered no damage, as it is located in Bon Repos — about 40 miles from the epicenter of the quake — the homes of virtually all of their church-goers have been destroyed.

The earthquake

As a result of Tuesday’s earthquake, President Rene Preval’s National Palace, hospitals, schools and the main prison all collapsed. The capital’s Roman Catholic archbishop was killed when his office and cathedral fell. The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission was missing in the ruins of the organization’s multistory headquarters as of Wednesday evening.

Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, but conceded that nobody really knows.

The international Red Cross has said a third of the country’s 9 million people may need emergency aid. This burden would test any nation and is a catastrophe for impoverished Haiti, according to the Red Cross.

Local aid

All members of Jesus in Haiti Ministries are safe, and one man is unaccounted for as of Wednesday evening.

Judi Needham, a staff member at Faith Evangelical Free Church, is eager to get to Haiti in July with her husband Dave and their daughter Rachel, 16.

“I felt called to go before any of this happened, and that has not changed,” she said.

Ethan Anderson, 14, son of Jeff Anderson, plans to make the trip with his father and sister, Eliza, 16.

“I wanted to help make a change down there before. And, I knew it would change my life spiritually. I’ll grow closer to God,” Ethan said. “Now I am even more worried about everyone down there, and more motivated to go.”

The Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) is also helping coordinate an emergency nursing mission to Haiti.

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest organization of registered nurses activated its nationwide disaster relief program yesterday, to recruit nurse volunteers to provide assistance to residents of Haiti.

MNA, which represents more than 20,000 registered nurses across the state, is asking that all nurses who are available to participate go to www.nationalnursesunited.org.

“We are calling on nurses across Minnesota and the entire United States to join us in this critical relief effort,” said Minnesota Nurses Association President Linda Hamilton, RN, in a press release. “Nurses can help provide the crucial medical expertise, patient care and support needed in response to this tragic situation.”

On the national level, U.S. officials laid out a massive military response to the Haiti earthquake Wednesday, saying that ships, helicopters, transport planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit were a part of the effort.

Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, said one of the U.S. Navy’s large amphibious ships was likely to head to Haiti with a Marine expeditionary unit aboard. Fraser said other U.S. military forces were on alert, including a brigade, which includes about 3,500 troops, as reported by the Associated Press.

President Barack Obama promised to mount an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort to help the people of Haiti overcome a “cruel and incomprehensible” tragedy.

Though the Austin area missionaries will not head to Haiti until July, they are unfortunately assured that the people will still need help.

“All I know for sure is we are going to roll up our sleeves and work hard,” Anderson said. “We are going to have to be Jesus to the people in Haiti. We will be his hands and we will be his feet.”

For more information on Jesus in Haiti Ministries, go to www.jesusinhaiti.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.