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La Gonave Island pastor visits N. Naples, Carlson Memorial

La Gonave Island pastor visits N. Naples, Carlson Memorial

Missions and Outreach
This refugee camp is just one of many symbols of poverty in Haiti. La Gonave Island, once considered a place where the "poorest of poor were exiled," is showing progress with the aid of church mission programs from the U.S.

LABELLE—A heart for missions grew even larger at LaBelle’s Carlson Memorial United Methodist Church during a Wednesday evening gathering when Pastor Jean-Jacques Agones, of La Gonave Island, Haiti, took the microphone and shared the magnitude of accomplishments mission teams have made on his island community.

Mission team in Haiti traveling on the wooden rails in the back of an old pickup truck
The North Naples UMC mission team is ready for travel in what one volunteer described as "an ancient Nissan pickup" while "holding on for dear life." It was the end of their journey across La Gonave Island, Haiti.

He shared being abandoned on the street at age 8, his years of struggle to survive, attend school and become a successful sound engineer and to finally graduate from seminary with a theology degree. As Agones spoke, even the kitchen angels abandoned their pots and pans and quietly came out to hear him tell about God’s many interactions in his life and ministry.

The pastor from Haiti was visiting North Naples UMC for a week and agreed to come to LaBelle.

He described being sent to La Gonave after completing seminary training in Port-au-Prince, and upon arrival there, found several people without an education preaching to residents. Years before he arrived on the island, Agones said that La Gonave was the place where the “poorest of the poor” in Haiti were exiled to get them off the streets.

No one bothered to provide them with food or water, housing, medical care or other infrastructure necessary for their survival, he said. Many—including natives already living on the island—died.

Slowly, over a period of several years, Agones has made a difference on La Gonave with the help of various mission groups from the United States. Wells have been dug to provide safe water, and an elementary school has been organized.

A church group from New York purchased land and has provided building materials and supplies for a place to worship. A home for Agones and his family is planned, as well.

With very few jobs available on the island, the North Naples mission group has organized several “cottage industries” and have taught the local islanders to manufacture items and sell them on eBay and in gift shops. People are being given swimming lessons, and a boat has been purchased—the start of a fishing venture that will provide food, as well as additional income.  

Items that can be repurposed are being collected and sold by the islanders, which includes the braiding and weaving of plastic grocery store bags.

Fresh topsoil and vegetable seeds are also being brought to the island by mission groups with donations from the U.S. Even a herd of goats has been purchased to provide milk for the children in the orphanage and school. Extra milk is sold to island residents, and more donations are being sought to add to the goat herd.

“The La Gonave folks are very proud of their many accomplishments,” said Frankie Jeffery, chair of North Naples UMC’s Haiti mission. “They are not looking for a handout. They are looking for a hand-up, and that’s what we’re providing.”

North Naples UMC has had several fundraisers to equip school children with uniforms and has launched a “Flat Stanley” project to raise money for books and supplies. The first school Agones started now has 165 students and a second school, several miles away, is also growing rapidly.

The church mission group planned to visit La Gonave again in late March.

According to Jeffery, reaching the island isn’t easy.

The trip begins with the long drive across South Florida’s Alligator Alley from Naples to Ft. Lauderdale. Then there’s the almost three-hour flight to Port-au-Prince on Haiti’s south-central coast. The trip continues with a bus ride to the Gulf of Gonave and a boat ride to the island. Once on the island, they are transported in the back of what Jeffery described as an ancient Nissan pickup, sitting on 2x6 planks and “holding on for dear life.

“Getting back home at the end of our mission is just as easy,” Jeffrey joked.

--Phil Keyes is a freelance writer based in LaBelle.

Editor’s Note: Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger! #flumcWeAreBigger