Touching lives deeply: Reflecting on a workcamp in Haiti




The workcamp group who was part of the New Fairview Church of the Brethren short term mission to Haiti
Photo courtesy of Thomas Lauer

The workcamp group who was part of the New Fairview Church of the Brethren short term mission to Haiti

By Thomas R. Lauer

The week of Feb. 1-8, a team of 23 people traveled to Haiti on a short-term mission trip. The trip was arranged and facilitated by New Fairview Church of the Brethren in York, Pa. There were at least five denominations represented.

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I know of no other experience that touches lives so deeply. Through the mission experience and the work of the Holy Spirit there is dramatic and dynamic life change. Our team is so excited to tell the stories of the trip, the relationships that developed, and the ways their eyes have been opened, I can only simply say, “Praise God!”

I believe the church in the United States is so isolated, comfortable, and wealthy that it is nearly impossible to break through and connect the church with God’s heart for His people in all other places and situations. We are ignorant of the great need and sadly, comfortable in our ignorance. A trip like this lands people next to sisters and brothers who live out their faith daily in their struggle--literally--to survive. While sharing in the struggle, experiencing the poverty and difficult life, our unknowing becomes understanding, our comfort at home becomes unexpectedly very uncomfortable.

Renovation of a building for the Cap Haitien congregation of the Haitian Church of the Brethren was part of the workcamp experience
Photo courtesy of Thomas Lauer

Renovation of a building for the Cap Haitien congregation of the Haitian Church of the Brethren was part of the workcamp experience

We are immediately aware that neither we nor they decided where to be born, or chose what situations we would experience as a normal life. The disparity is shocking and unexplainable. Here in their hometown, in their neighborhood, in their church we are in their lives, and here God connects His overwhelming love for the oppressed with our hearts and our lives. It is life changing!

We had a very successful work project in the American sense of the size of the project and what was accomplished. The Cap Haitien congregation had purchased a property with a building that had been residences, which needed to be converted to a worship center. We also led three days of Vacation Bible School for local children. A work project always draws many spectators and this provides a great outreach opportunity to the community from the local church. The second day there were over 200 children at VBS.

We did far more than anyone expected or imagined. I suppose that’s good. I know some people believe that is the full measure of the trip, “What needed done?” and “Did we get it done?” The answer is a resounding yes!

However, that measure alone is a narrow view of the purpose. I personally measure success in terms of engagement with local sisters and brothers, one-on-one interaction and relationships, and mutual worship. In this measure also, I say, “Praise God!” For each of these hopes this trip was by far the most successful I have ever participated in. The congregation was excited to work with us, 43 of their members teamed with us. They were dedicated, cooperative, willing to teach, and willing to learn. We worked side by side each day, all day. They were hard workers, probably at least as excited for the progress and moving the project forward as we were. Many of our group mention working together as a major highlight of the trip, probably second only to worshiping together.

Vacation Bible School with local children drew spectators and provided an opportunity for outreach by the congregation
Photo courtesy of Thomas Lauer

Vacation Bible School with local children drew spectators and provided an opportunity for outreach by the congregation

Worship is a high point of many trips. The enthusiasm, joy, and thanksgiving in worship are things that always stand out when compared to our worship at home. As teams participate in worship their reactions are refreshing and inspiring. We participated in three worship services during the week. The first was in Port-au-Prince with the local congregation at the Brethren guesthouse, including communion. It was a great time together. We worshiped with the local congregation in Cap Haitien two evenings. Each was different but all were rewarding and provided varied opportunities for our group to connect with our brothers and sisters.

Along with the high points there were trials. I am confident we were protected from danger and harm through the prayers of many sincere sisters and brothers. Danger was ever present on the project site, there was danger in our road travel, and there was incidental potential for harm. Our exposure was limited to illness. We had a continuous string of team members suffering from a stomach bug. It was generally one or two at a time, but it moved through our group over a two-week period. I have been on trips where there were none, or only one or two who experienced illness. This time it was 80 percent of the team. The discomfort is real and the suffering is intensified by unfamiliar surroundings and accommodations. We had consciously entered the spiritual battlefield, and this was our most vulnerable feature. The enemy tried vigorously to shift the focus of the trip from great victory in spiritual and interpersonal growth to suffering, discouragement, and blame.

Prayers prevailed, we were overwhelmed by love and hospitality, and rejoicing continued. Throughout the trip we were witnesses to God’s faithfulness and His kingdom advancing in many ways.

In closing I assure you, I would gladly promote and lead another group. I have no hesitation whatsoever. The spiritual impact is beyond explanation and I would love to continue to be involved in this type of life change for as many people as possible.

-- Thomas R. Lauer submitted this report for use in Newsline.

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