Isaiah 6:8: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Six volunteers from GNJ answered God’s call and embarked on a mission to Haiti from January 7-14. The goal was to distribute 100 water filters to people in the mountainous rural community of Furcy, provide a Vacation Bible School for the children and meet as many needs as possible. The team members came from different towns, backgrounds and life experiences; each bringing a different expectation for the trip.
“I went to Haiti not only to help people but because I wanted to find hope in the world again,” said Brittany Rusk Trinity UMC in Gloucester City. “It’s hard when you look around, and things seem to be falling apart – death, sadness, hate, oppression, violence. I felt that while love may be the greatest commandment, the loudest voices weren’t speaking it to neighbors. I believe we are called to love each other and show that love in tangible ways. My heart has always longed to show the world love through clean water, and this was my chance to do so.”
For Rusk, hearing a call and answering it was humbling. She had ventured out on a couple of mission trips in the past. In Haiti, she stepped into uncertainty without fear and left feeling “truly blessed.”
“I had a peace that while I had no idea how any of this was going to work, God was in control,” she said.
The first day of water filtration training was met with a downpour. The team, concerned that no one would show up due to the weather, had arrived in Furcy the day before to bright sunshine and a bustling community. Townspeople assisted the missionaries down a steep mountain, carrying their luggage, boxes and water bottles on their heads. Furcy had experienced a three-month drought, which was devastating for the community of farmers.
“But we brought the rain,” said Rusk. “Praise God for the downpour.”
With the rain came red-clay mud. The dry, steep road the volunteers had gingerly made their way down the previous day was now a wet, slippery slope and the group couldn’t fathom community members making it to the church for the water filtration training. However, in shoes inappropriate for the conditions, the people came, walking through the mud and rain because they knew the importance of having clean water.
Community members sat through a 90-minute lesson on what contaminates spring and river water, and how bacteria and other contaminates can cause serious health problems and even death. They heard from Haitian Project Coordinator Rodney Chanteur how to assemble the filters and keep water safe , properly washing hands and practicing safe hygiene. They watched as each member of the GNJ team took a gulp of clean, fresh water that moments before was a muddy orange.
The GNJ team provided 108 water filters so over 100 families could have clean water to drink, cook, and wash with.
On the third day of distribution, one small congregation walked through the mountains after two straight days of torrential rains for six hours one way, starting at 2:30 a.m., with their pastor to receive their filters. Several in the group were children, who along with adults, were trained on how to use the filters. Many parents of the children were farmers who had to work in the fields and were unable to make the journey. Additionally, some suffered from cholera, an often fatal water-borne disease.
The GNJ volunteers collected 149 pairs of shoes to distribute to the people who had walked so far to receive their water filters. All were fed with a large plate of spaghetti mixed with vegetables, which for many, was the only meal they had that day. A community meal was held at the Methodist Church where more than 300 people attended.
“It must have been what the disciples felt like when Jesus told them He would feed 5,000 people with just a few fishes and loaves,” said Rusk.
Rice, small pieces of chicken, beans, and beet salad were spooned onto plates and passed from person to person until it landed on the lap of a hungry community member who wasted no time in filling their stomach with nourishment.
“Staring at these plates, I came to the realization that this might be their only meal of the day or longer,” said Rusk. “I tried to pray for every plate I touched as I stood at the front of the assembly line. Sometimes love comes in the form of clean water and a plate of food.”
With the help of a translator, the GNJ team organized a Vacation Bible School and craft activity for 150 children.
“To hear the voices singing the familiar tunes with words I cannot spell is a God moment,” Rusk exclaimed. “We were speaking different languages, but we were saying the same things. We were worshipping the same God. ‘Amazing Grace,’ when sung in Creole, took on a new meaning for me. It was a beautiful cry of a community of people that on the surface, shouldn’t have had anything to sing about.”
Although the Haitians didn’t have running water, electricity, sanitation, adequate food or water, access to education and employment, paved roads, pillows and mattresses, they sang of God’s amazing grace.
GNJ thanks those who donated to the water filtration mission efforts. Kerri and Todd Greineder donated 26 pairs of new children’s Nike sneakers. Janie Schildge, coordinator of the Red Bank Crop Walk, donated nearly 150 new t-shirts. Azura Ahmad collected gently used children’s shoes from HUP and Whiting UMC UMW provided 100 pillowcase dresses for little girls. Additionally, Marie Andreen brought string for friendship bracelets and coloring books as well as medical items to leave with the nurse at the clinic. Marian and Gray Whetstone provided soccer balls, jump ropes, and craft supplies for the VBS and game day. Children at Linden UMC donated protein bars for the children in Haiti. Employees at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia also assisted in providing needs for the mission.
If you’re interested in joining a future United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) trip to Haiti, please contact Kathy Ahmad at (732)865-3730 or email her at email@example.com
Brittany Rusk is a lifelong United Methodist, currently attending Trinity UMC in Gloucester City. She has traveled to Africa three times on mission service, and this was her first time in Haiti. She works at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as the Blood & Marrow Transplant Data Research Coordinator and lives in Mount Ephraim.