WMC Youth do a God-thing in Haiti
Port au Prince, Haiti (WMC) -- Their plane had landed in Detroit just a few hours before. Team members were now heading home. It appeared the trip was over. Yet an enthusiastic team leader, David Hills, said, “We’re just getting started!” Eight young people and four adults from United Methodist churches across West Michigan were back in the state after ten days in Haiti. Mona Joslyn, another team leader said, “They truly were the hands, the feet, the eyes, the ears, the mouth and the heart of God to the Haitian people they encountered. They were phenomenal!”
Joy Mills, Coordinator of Youth Ministries for the West Michigan Conference, remembers a conversation she had with Hills, Superintendent of the Heartland District, two years ago. “David said he thought it would be cool to take a group of young people to Haiti. So we teamed up to make it happen,” she said. A primary goal of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries is leadership building. “Young people today,” Joy explains, “want to learn those skills while making a difference and doing something for others.” And that’s exactly what these young people did from June 20-July 1, 2012!
Mona Joslyn, pastor of Gull Lake UMC, had been on work trips with David so she was eager to come on board. By the end of last year, eight high school and college youth had signed on, too. David’s son, David, and Faith Ludwick served as adult companions.
The trip was supported by the Youth Service Fund, an offering taken at the 2012 Annual Conference, and other fundraising. While there were a couple of team meetings, Facebook played a crucial role in preparing people for the experience and sending daily reports back home to eager family members and friends.
On the job
The work was centered around construction of a Methodist Church damaged in the 2010 earthquake. “What serendipity,” notes David Hills, “that after a frustrating three year hiatus from Haiti due to earthquakes and new calls to ministry, God brings me back to the same place it all started for me.” Hills made his very first trip to Haiti with David Morton in 1998 and they worked at Delmas 33. “Where does our team get assigned? Delmas 33! Wonders never cease!”
One of the youth, Danielle Hilleary, describes the work. “We moved stuff. We mixed cement. We shoveled. We worked alongside eight Haitian workers.” When he wasn’t moving rocks, Alex Hansen enjoyed playing with Haitian children who visited the work site. “A highpoint for me was meeting all the different faces,” Alex said. He was glad for the “welcoming nature” of the Haitians, which he didn’t expect. Hundreds of gallons of water were moved from a nearby creek in five-gallon buckets. Banana trees were transplanted. Bathroom floors were poured.
But when the physical labor ended, the fun began. “Part of the team led a boisterous Vacation Bible School,” Hills said, “with lots of singing and crafts. An essential part of any volunteer in mission experience is the after-work reflections. “Each night we took time to talk about the day.” Hills remarked. “Tears were often shed as these amazing young people talked about seeing how much joy the Haitian people had amidst such tragic life conditions.”
This was also a blessed return for Mona Joslyn. "For David and me, this was a chance to visit the church and school we helped build from beginning to end!" she notes. "It was wonderful to see old friends, in fact one of them came and helped us with Bible School and then shoveled and sifted through the afternoon!"
Danielle shares: “I was surprised by how blessed and happy the Haitians are. Here we have everything we need. They have maybe enough for one meal but they are the happiest people I’ve ever met.” Stephen Szpiech reported on Facebook: “It is an amazing experience to see all these kids and even adults smiling, even though they might not have anything but the clothes on their back.” Mona met a woman named Barbara: “This young woman has an amazing singing voice. She told us she sings for God.”
A highlight for David Hills was a visit to God’s Littlest Angels Orphanage. “Danielle’s family sponsors two babies there,” he says. “I could tell on Danielle’s face and the light in her eyes that she was having a great experience holding the two babies she’d only seen pictures of before!” There were 65 infants at the house under two-years-old. All were moved when they prayed for Port au Prince and the nation from a mountain overlook at Boutilliere. “We acknowledged,” says Hills, “that all we had done was but a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean of work that needs to be done until the day that all God’s children in Haiti have access to clean water, safe housing and adequate food.”
Reflection will continue for days and years. Now home in Muskegon, Danielle looks back and says, “We had children play with us at the site every day. I didn’t think that was weird until I got home. Then I realized they weren’t in school because they couldn’t pay the tuition. My hope for Haiti is that they are able to start a public school system.”
Back in Michigan, Mona took a look into the future. "I hope that we can make this a yearly trip. I think what the youth bring back to their families, churches and the Conference is far more valuable than the cost of the trip! I hope more youth can have an experience like this, of a vastly different culture living in a vastly different way."
Soon after welcoming the team home, Joy, the in-country team leader, was able to write a happy post to Facebook: “Hey, team members - David just let me know that you all decided to donate your excess funds to next year's CCYM Haiti Mission Team. This has been the most exciting and rewarding project that I have taken on since becoming the CCYM Coordinator four years ago!” Tentative dates for the 2013 CCYM Haiti Trip will be locked in with the UMVIM Haiti Response Coordinator soon.
Is there a little culture-shock upon return? You bet! David Hills Facebook post says it all: "Despite being able to see my beloved wife, take hot showers, not having to worry about the water and using hand sanitizer constantly, I miss the hot, sweaty, hard work followed by the mad dash to the pool at the Guest House!" He concludes, "Anyone else got the post-Haiti blues?"
“Sometimes I wonder what God is up to when I am on a plane headed to Haiti,” says Mona Joslyn. “I know whatever happens, I will be the one who’s blessed the most.” The West Michigan Conference can rejoice over the twelve disciples of Christ who transformed the world and were themselves transformed on this first annual Conference Council on Youth Ministries trip to Haiti.
Team members: (front row l-r) Faith Ludwick (Bronson UMC), Mona Joslyn (Gull Lake UMC), Emma Zielinski (Gull Lake UMC), Danielle Hilleary (Muskegon Lake Harbor UMC), Emma Kreuzer (Gull Lake UMC); (middle row) Rob Hoffman (Battle Creek Birchwood UMC), Alex Hansen (Edmore Faith UMC); (back row) Stephen Szpiech (New Hope UMC), Kenny Cole (Georgetown UMC), Caleb Bills (Georgetown UMC), Pastor of the Haitian Church, David F. Hills (Heartland D.S.), and David A. Hills (Mt. Pleasant First UMC).
~reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News Senior Writer; photos courtesy of Mona Josyln