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Church group seeks to provide hope

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Nearly a year after an earthquake ravaged Haiti, there is still a lot of progress to be made. While that is evident, the people living in the country manage to wake up every day counting their blessings.

A recent mission trip to Haiti, which included members of Albany First United Methodist Church, lasted from Dec. 27-Jan. 2. A total of 15 people made the journey.

Joel Diaz, the church's student ministries director, was planning on going again after visiting the country during an earlier 2010 trip when Deidra Langstaff -- a member of First United Methodist -- signed herself up to go.

"I knew after the earthquake (in January 2009), that I wanted to go," the Langstaff Marketing president and owner said. "When you have a family and a business it's hard, but I had to get involved."

The main goal of the mission trip, while living off of instant oatmeal and peanut butter, was to help provide hope to people. Upon reflecting on the trip, Langstaff wonders if it wasn't the other way around.

"I'm not sure I did anything, but they helped me," she said. "I believed now that God wanted me to go."

In many cases, the group's role was to just sit with local citizens and talk to them -- or pray for them.

"We had a husband and wife with five daughters under age 10. He asked us to pray for him to find a job," Langstaff said. "People there are living in tents with no running water, and all they asked for was prayer. They were not looking for handouts. That was fascinating to me."

This hope seems to come from the reassurance that the world has not forgotten about Haiti.

"We asked them how they felt about white people, or European people, coming in and they said they loved it because it gave them one more

day of hope," Langstaff said. "People would say to us: 'Thank you. You give us a reason to live another day.' "

While in Haiti, Langstaff also said she gained some insight from the residents there on the earthquake that happened a year ago this week -- specifically regarding what they feel caused it. Many people there believe it was connected to a pact made with the devil more than 200 years ago.

"They believe it themselves; that is their history," she said. "They believe it was because of the pact."

Langstaff also recalled an account given by a pastor the team was staying with. On Nov. 21, 2009, he and a group of 100 pastors came together and prayed for three things: revival, that God would shake Haiti to its core and that the country's government system -- thought by many to be corrupt -- would collapse.

The earthquake occurred on Jan. 12, 2010, just over seven weeks later. Since then, it seems as though people there have become stronger in their faith -- fulfilling the revival piece.

"God did this, and they aren't upset. They are rejoicing," Langstaff said. "I've been to a lot of third world countries, and Haiti is not necessarily different. The only difference is that it is a country that has been totally destroyed, but they are the most joyous people I have been around in my entire life.

"They really believe, that because of the earthquake, there is a chance for a new Haiti."

The earthquake, at a magnitude of 7.0, resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and left roughly 1 million people homeless. Assistance from various countries around the globe has come in, resulting in some road and sewage work being done in recent months.

"I feel that progress has been made," Langstaff said. "Life still goes on over there."

Even though progress has been made, many feel it is not nearly enough.

"My biggest takeaway (from the Dec. 27-Jan. 2 journey) was the frustration over the lack of progress," Diaz said. "I spent a lot of time talking to Haitians about the political climate. There are people in tent communities that have been left to fend for themselves."

At the same time, Diaz also noticed what Langstaff did regarding Haitian morale.

"The resilience of the Haitian people is amazing, and we were reminded of it every time we were with them," he said. "In America, what we lack is true contentment. They (Haitians) are grateful for what they have.

"They are willing to do their part to raise their country up to a level it has never been on."

Another person the mission came across was an English teacher in Haiti that both Langstaff and Diaz called "Carl." On the day of the earthquake, he made it out of his classroom with himself and eight students.

First United Methodist, along with another church in New York, is currently raising funds for a two-bedroom house, plus utilities, for Carl and his family where he can live and teach. This effort is expected to cost $1,500 a year for two years.

So far, close to $2,500 has been raised.

The 15 people that just returned home consisted of 10 youths and five adults. The younger members of the mission team appeared to have gotten a lot out of the experience -- the first thing being a greater appreciation for their own community.

"There are so many things they took away," Diaz said. "They left with an incredible level of compassion. They left seeing that Haiti needs help, and our city, Albany, also needs help."

There are also plans for the church's mission team, on future trips to Haiti, to take part in renovating a clinic near an area orphanage.

"There is (currently) no equipment there other than old exam tables," Langstaff said. "It would be a for-profit clinic, but they would still take care of those who can't take care of themselves.

"People will pay for care, but not prescriptions."

It is also possible a community school will be established, Langstaff added.

Another trip to Haiti is likely sometime over the summer. The church is accepting donations to support its mission work.