JOPLIN—Over the holiday break, five students from the Baptist Student Union (BSU) at Missouri Southern State University (MSSU) traveled to Haiti to build a wall around an empty lot next to Bethel Baptist Church of Delmas (Port-au-Prince).
The structure was built so children who go to the school there would have a safe place to play away from the street.
Unemployment in Port-au-Prince is rampant, and although the project already employed more than half a dozen Haitians, the team was daily approached by more who desired to work. People were hungry, sometimes thirsty, often living under tarps or in tents, and when they saw any chance to make a few dollars they went for it. Occasionally they would offer threats.
Often they would demand in broken English, “You giving me my money!”
Other times they would just beg. Once a young man came along with his own wheelbarrow and just stood quietly by, watching the students struggle to carry bucket after bucket filled with concrete up the hill to where the wall was being built, begging by the force of his presence alone to be given a job. His desire to work was obvious, but they simply couldn’t afford to hire any more workers. He stood by silently for over half an hour, waiting and watching, hoping for a chance that wouldn’t come.
Haiti is filled with scenes like that. Hope in the midst of hardship.
When the team first arrived in Port-au-Prince, local pastor Paul Harrigan gave them a quick tour of his church and the area immediately around it. Bethel has a school, and Compassion International maintains an office on the grounds, but it is surrounded by extreme poverty; broken buildings and broken lives are everywhere. Children play in the street, trying to avoid cars, motorcycles and the sewage that trickles by all day. The smell is an ever-present reminder that it’s not storm runoff they occasionally splash through.
The BSU students made it a point to play with them as much as they could while staying focused on building what Pastor Paul hopes will become a sanctuary for them. Almost everyone lost friends or family in the earthquake, but a year later children laugh and play almost as if it hadn’t happened.
They have no toys to play with, no air conditioned homes, no running water, no television or Internet, and they’ve all seen things to which the vast majority of Americans cannot relate.
They experienced the terror of a quake that took more than 250,000 lives and the horror of digging out from the aftermath, yet they dare to smile. They dare to hope. They dare to have dreams. The MSSU team went thinking they might make a small contribution to the cleanup effort in Haiti, but as so often happens on short-term mission trips, found themselves blessed immeasurably more. Trips like these are made possible by the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and its many supporting churches.
College students are going and making a difference. The financial support, training and administrative assistance that the MBC provides to future leaders through its student ministry team is a blessing not only to students around Missouri but to the churches wherein those students serve. The MSSU BSU is grateful for the opportunities created to encourage and equip new leaders in the church through this cooperative ministry.