NW ministers share their Haiti experiences, hopes

By John Fortmeyer, CNNW publisher
Christian News Northwest, Subscriptions

A “disaster of Biblical proportions” was a common description of the December 2004 tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 14 nations on the Indian Ocean. Thousands of churches and Christian ministries and churches responded by participating in a huge relief response.

Now, a little more than five years later, “Biblical proportions” is again spoken in news reports, but this time for a disaster much closer to American shores. The catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the island nation of Haiti Jan. 12 has wrought unimaginable destruction, killed an estimated 200,000, and injured or displaced hundreds of thousands.“The damage is so severe that it is difficult to say where to begin, I honestly do not know how they will be able to do it; I believe that the nations need to develop a Marshall Plan as they did in Europe after World War II; if not there will be a chaotic civil war,” wrote Joaquin Vargas, a field partner in Haiti for Vancouver, Wash.-based DELTA Ministries, in an e-mail to the ministry.

Despite the indescribable challenges, Christian ministries and churches — including a countless number right here in the Northwest — are participating in a worldwide relief response so massive that it has almost overwhelmed the tiny nation and its besieged capital, Port-au-Prince. Locally, it was rare for a church not to take a special offerings for Haiti relief the weekend following the quake. Christian relief or mission agencies such as Tigard-based Medical Teams International, Seattle-based World Vision, and Vancouver, Wash.-based Forward Edge International and DELTA Ministries have been quick to either send personnel to the quake scene or arrange for long-range assistance teams there.

So widespread was the response that one week after the quake, the pace of generous donations was amazing relief experts at World Vision. Despite a crippling recession and high unemployment, donations to World Vision’s Haiti fund were far ahead of the pace set by donors after the 2004 tsunami. “Even in tough economic times, Americans continue to give. That kind of generosity continues to amaze us,” said Randy Strash, World Vision’s strategy director for emergency response.

Northwest media reported a wide range of local links to the disaster story:

•Ten days after the quake, Medical Teams International reported that it had more than 30 volunteer doctors and nurses from the Northwest in place in Haiti, performing surgeries and treating hundreds of people daily at the 350-bed Kings Hospital, just outside Port-au-Prince. A shipment of $1.1 million worth of medicines and medical supplies also arrived in Port-au-Prince.

•Dave Thompson, president of Portland-based TEC Equipment, made the company’s nine-seat jet available free of charge to Medical Teams International to deliver seven volunteer doctors, nurses and health professionals to Port-au-Prince Jan. 20. Thompson was then able to transport two U.S. citizens and four Haitian children to Florida before returning home.

•Salem-based evangelist Reid Saunders and his team are partnering with On the Go Ministries to supply water filters directly to Haitian churches that will allow them to dispense clean water directly to the earthquake victims. It also will allow victims to be connected directly to area churches instead of foreigners. One Haitian pastor reported 100 people came to Christ in three days as a result of their efforts.

•The Tualatin-based Voices of Hope Choir, directed by Don Hofer, and Grammy Award-winning guitarist Mark Hanson will hold a Hope for Haiti benefit concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at Living Savior Lutheran Church, 8740 S.W. Sagert St. in Tualatin. Admission is free, but donations will be received for Medical Teams International and the Lutheran World Relief Fund.

•Local media told how Joel Hoffman and his wife, Rachel Coulbourne-Hoffman of Oregon, narrowly survived the earthquake. The two, who had met at George Fox University, were working in Haiti for Mennonite Central Committee and lived on the top floor of a five-story apartment building. They were in the apartment when the building collapsed but found themselves in a tiny pocket that was the only space left in the rubble. They were able to crawl to safety, but then witnessed the horror of the many bloodied or dismembered earthquake victims who surrounded them. They made it home to Oregon on Jan. 17.

•”The scariest thing I’ve ever experienced and probably ever will.” is how Jan Lefebvre of Beaverton described in an interview with KPAM radio morning host Bob Miller what it was like to survive the quake. Lefebvre, who works at George Fox University, was one of 10 women from Beaverton Christian Church who had been in Haiti since Jan. 7 doing outreach to women and children through Lifeline Christian Mission there. She was on an outside stairway at the mission when the shaking started. She said aftershocks continued throughout a very long night. She and the other women eventually made their way back to America in a U.S. military plane.

Lefebvre told Miller that their concerns and prayers are with the people there who face such overwhelming circumstances now. “God will take care of these people,” she said. “That’s all we can pray for.”

Also in the group was Freedom Gassoway, wife of Beaverton Christian Pastor Scott Gassoway. He told The Oregonian that for a time, he wasn’t sure if she had survived the quake.

•Also in Haiti at the time of the quake were nine members of Salem Evangelical Church. Working with the missions agency OMS International, the group was in an area that was not as hard hit.

•Forward Edge sent a team of experienced aid workers to Haiti Jan. 27. January 27-Feb. 2. The team consists of three registered nurses who together have years of experience in responding to disaster and trauma situations as well as ministry personnel who will work to identify key partnerships with Haitian church leaders.

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