EDITOR'S NOTE: Even before the earthquake struck, Haiti's poverty drew Christian missionaries to the country. Several hail from Augusta. Here's an account of a mission from Augusta resident Elisabeth Curry, daughter of The Augusta Chronicle's photo director, John Curry, and another from Carol Echols, the missions coordinator of Burns Memorial United Methodist Church of Augusta.
Ten years ago, I was sitting in the back of a truck on some of the same roads in Port-au-Prince that are now covered with debris. Then, Haiti's capital city struck me only as bright, warm and exciting. People shouted to each other from across the street, hawked their wares near the airport (many of which I bought and still treasure) and bustled to and fro in a cacophony.
It was the first time I'd been out of the country, and I had been looking forward to the culture shock. I didn't realize until I departed some 10 days later how much I would miss the thrill of a country that, in the face of daily trials someone from the U.S. could only distantly imagine, exhibited an exuberance for life and a resilience of character I'd never before encountered. I spent a little over a week in Haiti, in the mountains, doing what I thought as a 13-year-old to be good, helpful works -- meeting and perhaps to some extent changing the lives of people I would probably never see again.
Looking back, my life was the one that was altered. The people I met were the ones that changed me.
Up until I arrived in Haiti in muggy mid-June, I felt like I had a firm handle on my life, my perceptions and my understanding of courage in the face of adversity. When I stepped off the plane in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the conclusion of my trip, I realized how Haiti had shaped me -- introducing me to joy in the face of chaos, poverty and limited access to the things I'd always taken for granted.
Now the country that taught me what "strength of character" actually means is in the midst of a crisis, the magnitude of which I can scarcely comprehend. The resilience of the Haitian people is yet again called to action. Their strength and bravery -- combined with the disaster relief teams being provided by other nations eager to lend whatever assistance they can -- will no doubt prevail in the face of destruction, fatality and heartbreak. Haiti will rebuild, and, even in the face of tragedy, continue to inspire and shape lives.
-- Elisabeth Curry
Haiti is my passion. I've been seven times. Once we were traveling to Port-au-Prince. There was a little girl who was 3 years old. She had on a cute dress. She looked like she had been taken care of, you know? She was holding a bottle, the kind orange juice comes in, and there was filthy, nasty water running down the curb. She scooped up that water in the bottle and drank it. I couldn't believe it. It opens your eyes.
The people there just won my heart. I couldn't get away from it. Once you go, it stays on your heart. It's that way for a lot of us. People who go to Haiti go back. On our trips we take groups of 12 to 22 people from Methodist churches in the area. A lot of them return every year, but we haven't been in the last two years.
I remember one time we were staying on a compound. I have this thing where I bring great big Hershey bars down there. There was a young man who came over and talked to us a lot. He spoke a little English and we got to be friends. We gave him one of those candy bars and he took off running. In his culture, it's the norm to share whatever you have. He was going to go break it in half and give it away but then he came running back. He asked 'What is this? What do you do with it? Do you cook with it?'
It just hit me that there are countries in this world with kids who don't know what a candy bar is. Unbelievable. I've already decided I'm going back.
I can't say when with all this going on, but we have to.
-- Carol Echols
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES
Share thoughts about your missionary experiences in Haiti at Amen Corner, the blog of Faith and Values Reporter Kelly Jasper, at blogs.augusta.com.