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Bishop's wife has passion for global missions

Bishop's wife has passion for global missions

EDITOR’S NOTE – Melba Whitaker, wife of retired Bishop Tim Whitaker, had a heart for global missions when the couple was serving the Florida Conference. Pam Carter, wife of Florida’s new resident bishop, Rev. Dr. Ken Carter, promises to continue the legacy and offer her own unique set of talents, honed by years of service in Haiti. Today, Florida Conference Connection kicks off a two-part series highlighting her mission service.

Nurse Melanie Hopson with Baby Lovely in Haiti
Melanie Hopson, a nurse volunteering in Haiti in 2006, takes a break from nourishing Baby Lovely, the dehydrated infant that touched Pam Carter's heart. Photo from Pam Carter.

LAKELAND -- It was just a 5-pound wisp of a child that cemented Pam Carter’s love for Haiti on her very first visit to that impoverished island country.

It happened in 2006, when she was volunteering in a medical clinic near Cap-Haitien founded by members of Providence UMC of Charlotte, N.C.

“I turned around and this grandmother, this older woman, was standing there,” recalled Carter, who had been put to work weighing babies and taking their temperature.

“The next thing I know, she turns back this wad of towels, she flings back the corner, and there’s this little tiny baby.

“I don’t know how I knew this, but I knew this baby was in real serious trouble, potentially, so I ran to get the doctor.”

Carter, wife of Florida’s new resident bishop, Rev. Dr. Ken Carter, has since weathered other emergencies in Haiti, including the 2010 earthquake that devastated the nation’s capital. But this was her first brush with the extreme hardships many Haitians face.

It turned out the 3-day-old infant was severely dehydrated. The baby’s family had fallen on hard times, and the mother had no strength or will to nurse the child. 

Child in Haiti photo by David Johnson

The people of Haiti, like this child, keep Pam Carter coming back to lend her talents to mission work. Photo courtesy of Silent Images, David Johnson.

“So they laid that baby on a table in the clinic with the fans going, and the grandmother sat there and they threaded a tiny tube … down the baby’s nose and into its stomach, and at the other end they attached a syringe of sugar water,” Carter said.

The baby had to be nourished very slowly, with a slight squeeze on the syringe over and over, to avoid aspiration. Nurses had no time for that, and a nervous Carter was tapped for the task.

“At one point, the baby just seemed to respond. It was like a sponge, you know, coming back to life. … It began to plump up.” 

The grandmother, sitting nearby, saw the change too. The two women smiled at each other, and Carter asked, through an interpreter, for the baby’s name.

“Lovely,” she was told.

“I still get kind of teary-eyed when I think about it because I just think life is so precious,” Carter said. 

Pam Carter in outdoor classroom in Haiti April 2010

Pam Carter, left, visits an outdoor classroom in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2010. Photo courtesy of Silent Images, David Johnson.

“This baby was helped because people chose to be active and not to be overwhelmed by the immensity of the problem, but to do something.”

Carter has long since joined the ranks of those who choose to be active in UMC global missions, serving as missions specialist for the Western North Carolina Conference before moving to Florida with her husband in September. She also is director of interpretation for Encounter with Christ in Latin America and the Caribbean, a mission initiative of the General Board of Global Ministries.

This week, she departs with Icel Rodriguez, Global Missions director for the Florida Conference, on her 17th trip to Haiti. She also will visit Cuba in May with the bishop and plans to see East Angola in September. She plans to be involved in all of the missions that have covenant relationships with the Florida Conference. 

Aerial view of Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The island nation of Haiti provides stunning views from a distance as well as close-up portraits of poverty. Photo by Jeff Kiffmeyer.

Rodriguez said she welcomes Carter’s contributions to Florida’s mission efforts abroad.

“Pam brings to us the wisdom that comes from years of mission work, passion for the Kingdom of God, and a servant heart,” she said.

“What a great combination of gifts to serve God through Global Missions.” 

Carter is a native of North Carolina. She and Ken Carter met more than 30 years ago in a seminary program in Louisville, Ky., and then moved to Kernersville, N.C., after their marriage in January 1981. Pam is an ordained elder who graduated from Wake Forest and Duke universities. She holds master’s degrees in religious education and theology.

She said in an interview that her greatest contribution may be in telling stories, like that of Baby Lovely, that inspire others to get involved, with ideas, with monetary donations or through volunteer work.

She first became familiar with Haiti when she traveled to Cap-Haitien with a mission team from Providence UMC, where her husband was serving as pastor. She said she was impressed with the medical clinic set up there decades before by Alice and Bill White, longtime members of the Providence church. 

Girls in Port-au-Prince jumping rope David Johnson Photo

Children jump rope in Port-au-Prince a few months after a major earthquake left many living in tents. Photo courtesy of Silent Images, David Johnson.

Later, at the instigation of Bishop Carter, the church tapped into the finance background of some of its members to establish a microcredit lending program in Haiti. The program started by making loans of $200 each to seven women who sell goods in the local markets of their community.
The idea is to give the women enough capital to allow them to buy wholesale and then sell at retail prices, thus providing the ability to make a profit and repay the loans with a small amount of interest, Pam Carter explained. The money is then loaned to another entrepreneur, thus enabling more women to become successful, self-sufficient businesswomen. Carter said the program has reached $40,000 in loans with only one default.

“It is a program that gives people a sense of dignity,” she said. “A lot of women say for the first time they feel respected in their community.”

She said she realized the value of getting people with leadership skills or a particular expertise to visit Haiti and develop a desire to help. Teachers from the church in Charlotte became interested in supplying and supporting the school in Haiti; engineers built a gravity-based water system and a generator.

In fact, it was a networking expedition that put Carter in the middle of an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 that claimed about 200,000 lives. She was attending a conference with other missionaries on Jan. 12, 2010, when an earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, demolishing buildings and streets and devastating lives.

“I spent a lot of time after that speaking and raising money and connecting churches,” said Carter, who weathered three days in the epicenter of the damaged country.

“I’m not happy at all that there was an earthquake. [But] there was this outcome where people were paying attention in a way that they hadn’t before, which happens in disaster. People notice things they hadn’t before.”

Tomorrow: Earthquake terror yields to faith unshaken

Susan Green is editor of Florida Conference Connection.