Haitians in Florida await news of family, friends after earthquake

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Haitians in Florida await news of family, friends after earthquake

By Jenna De Marco | Jan. 13, 2010 {1121}

Sorrow, shock and stalled communication. That’s what Florida Conference members with connections to Haiti said they have experienced a day after a major earthquake struck the Caribbean nation.

Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook

News of an estimated 7.0 magnitude quake and aftershocks centered near Port-au-Prince caused many to seek information about friends and family who reside in Haiti. Phone lines and electricity were down, while reports showed structural and human devastation.

“Most of my church members are still waiting to hear about their loved ones,” said the Rev. Charline Pierre, pastor at St. Johns Haitian United Methodist Church in Boynton Beach. “Some have received news that their families are fine. Others have received news of entire families trapped and killed under the rubble. It is a very difficult time for us.”

Pierre said she received word that her sister and extended family were all right. Her church, she said, will be helping in “the effort to support our brothers and sisters in Haiti” in any way they can.

United Methodists who want to support disaster relief in Haiti are encouraged to make a financial donation to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), said Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker. Online donations are being accepted on the UMCOR Web site at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/.

At South Dade Haitian Mission in Homestead, the Rev. Montreuil Milord called the earthquake a tragedy with a potential for “great loss of life.” Milord serves as chairman for the Haiti/Florida Covenant, a relationship established in 2006 between the Methodist Church of Haiti and the Florida Conference.

In the quake’s aftermath, Milord is telling his congregation “not only to pray, (but) to come together and do whatever we can to support them financially, sending goods and emergency relief.”

Travel canceled

Milord had been scheduled to travel to Haiti Jan. 14, along with Patience Nave, a member of First United Methodist Church in Homosassa, and the Rev. Craig Hammond, senior pastor at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Tampa. The trip, which is canceled, was to develop ongoing relationships with the Methodist churches in Haiti, as well as plan for future mission trips.

Patience Nave visits with a teacher from the school at Carrenage United Methodist Church in October 2008. File photo courtesy of Patience Nave. Photo #09-1083. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0961, 1/12/09.

According to Nave, who is secretary for the Haiti/Florida Covenant, the Port-au-Prince airport is functional, but closed to all air traffic except emergency relief. Reports also indicated that main roads leading to and from the airport were damaged, she said.

Nave said she was disappointed and conflicted about her trip cancellation, having printed her boarding passes just hours before the earthquake hit. She had communicated recently with her March 2010 mission team about praying for her safe travel this week.

“I cannot tell you the mixed emotions I have that I am safe and all these other people are not,” Nave said.

Nave, who is in her late 70s, has traveled to Haiti numerous times in the past several years. On this week’s trip, she had planned to deliver $2,000 to the Carrenage Methodist Church to help feed the children who attend school there.

“I keep thinking about people who had nothing and now they have less,” Nave said. “Isn’t there a bottom? If you were sleeping on the floor, now you have no floor. You had a piece of bread, now you have no bread. …”

Relief efforts begin

Despite the devastation, Nave also said Haitians are a “remarkable people” who are very resilient and capable of recovering from this disaster. She expects that will take years, however, because of the extent of the disaster and weak infrastructure.

She urges those interested in helping to follow one of the organized relief efforts, rather than sending possibly unneeded supplies to the wrong places. People “should not do a knee-jerk reaction to this,” she said, and should instead look for relief efforts that are being done well. The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, the Florida Conference staff liaison for the Haiti/Florida Covenant, also emphasized that relief should be conducted through organized responses.

While visiting Carrenage, Haiti, in October 2008, team members from First United Methodist Church in Homosassa Springs were able to spend time getting to know area schoolchildren. File photo courtesy of Patience Nave. Photo #09-1082. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0961, 1/12/09.

One such channel is a gathering of supplies into shipping containers. The Rev. Tamara Isidore, a native of Cité Militaire, Haiti, is planning a relief response that will send aid where it is needed. Isidore is senior pastor at Grace United Methodist and Oak Grove United Methodist churches in Tampa.

In the coming weeks, she said, a 40-foot shipping container will be available on the campus of Wellspring United Methodist Church for donations of specific supplies. The container will be shipped to Haiti when it is full. A list of needed supplies will be available soon.

The “big challenge,” she said, will be raising the $4,000 needed for renting and shipping the container. Funds for this purpose may be sent to Wellspring United Methodist Church, 10701 Sheldon Rd., Tampa, FL 33626, with “Haiti relief” in the memo line.

Meanwhile, Isidore and her husband are also waiting for information about the status of her sisters and her husband’s two older children, who all reside not far from Port-au-Prince.

“We still cannot account for them,” she said, noting that communication was difficult even before the earthquake.

The Rev. Dionne Hammond, associate pastor at East Lake United Methodist Church in Palm Harbor, has worked closely with Isadore in the past, traveling to Haiti in November 2009. She is also a member of the Haiti/Florida Covenant team.

Communication with Haiti currently is best through social media and text messages, she said, and donors often want to be physically involved in relief.

“I think that people are looking for a way to tangibly help in an immediate way,” she said.

In another show of support, Ed Ritter, a member of North Naples United Methodist Church in Naples, expected that his church would change its “mission moment” this Sunday to focus on Haiti rather than Cuba, as previously planned. Ritter serves as director of congregational development at the church.

Ritter also planned to meet with Milord this Sunday for a possible prayer vigil. Ritter traveled to Haiti recently to help develop a sister church relationship with the Mission Church of New Jerusalem on the island of La Gonâve. The island, Ritter said, had been “shaken around a lot,” according to reports he had received.

Ritter also said he was awaiting word on the safety of several friends believed to be in Port-au-Prince the day of the earthquake, including Shirley and Joe Edgerton, longtime volunteers with the General Board of Global Ministries. Ritter said the Edgertons were in the city for a roundtable discussion between the Methodist Church of Haiti and other United Methodist Church leaders.

Hope offered

At Branches United Methodist in Florida City, the Rev. Audrey Warren said many of the congregation’s families were affected by the tragedy and were in a state of uncertainty. She estimates that 60 percent of her congregation has ties to Haiti.

Children at a school in Cite Soleil, near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, eat meals provided by Stop Hunger Now, which is funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief and has provided more than $44 million in direct aid to more than 60 countries, including more than 5 million meals for the poor. A UMNS file photo by John Gordon. Photo #09-1271. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1058, 07/31/09.

“Mainly, I’m just a comforting, counseling, praying person for them right now,” she said.

Warren plans to offer a Sunday worship service that focuses on hope in the face of destruction, emphasizing “as Christians we have the promise that we’re going to see a different picture — that all things will be healed and put back together, and God hasn’t let go of us,” she said.

One of her members, Jean Daceus, said he had not heard any information about his father or brother, who live in Port-au-Prince.

“I couldn’t even sleep last night,” he said. “They could be alive or dead or they could be injured. We have no idea.”

Warren’s church is located in the South East District, where e-mail communication was down on Wednesday, but expected to return by Friday. The district was in the process of planning a relief supply collection, Warren said, with more information coming later.

Wellspring United Methodist Church is holding a “Hope for Haiti” prayer vigil Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. The church is located at 10701 Sheldon Road, Tampa, FL  33626.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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