By David Dawson
FRANKLIN — In most circumstances, being “held over” in Haiti due to safety concerns would be unnerving.
Rebekah Gardner, however, has a different perspective on the experience.
For her and the other members of her mission team, the extra three days in Haiti proved to be a treasured memory — and a time of spiritual growth.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” said Gardner, the events and communications coordinator for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “The Lord used those days to teach us a lot of things that we wouldn’t have had a chance to learn if we hadn’t stayed longer than planned.”
Gardner traveled to Haiti on a mission trip with a group from “Higher Hope Connect Ministries” — a ministry established by her sister, Rachel, and her husband, Wiliamson, who was born and raised in Haiti.
The team arrived in Haiti on June 30, and was scheduled to return home on July 7. But their travel plans changed when riots and protests erupted in Haiti, causing streets to be shut down and the airport in Port-au-Prince to be closed.
At least three Haitians were killed in the rioting, Baptist Press reported, after the government announced its plan to raise the already-high gas prices. Although the Haiti government eventually dropped plans to raise prices — and the protests subsequently ceased — the turmoil created traveling issues for multiple mission teams from the U.S. who had been serving in Haiti.
A shortage of food and water were among the concerns for Gardner’s group during their unexpected extended stay. But Gardner said the Lord used the rearranged travel schedule as a time to display His providence and His provisions. God also used the three days to allow the team to develop even more compassion and empathy for those who they were ministering to.
“The three extra days that we were there, we got a little taste of what normal life is like for a Haitian,” she said. “We got to experience, briefly, what they experience every day. And having those extra days to really spend time with the kids at the orphanage (where Gardner’s team was housed) and getting to really know the people, it was a blessing.”
The Glade Church
The Glade Church, in Mt. Juliet, also had a mission team in Haiti during the time of turmoil. The seven-member team was delayed from returning home for two extra days.
Robert Post, director of missions and young adults at The Glade Church, monitored the situation from Mt. Juliet, keeping in constant contact with the group.
After their return, Post had a “debriefing” with the team leader, Karlie Weathers, and with several other team members. The group told Post that it was clear God was at work despite the obstacles.
“They had a really successful trip in the midst of everything that was taking place,” Post said.
When the team returned to the states, they were a little surprised — and disappointed — to learn that many news outlets were reporting primarily on the team’s travel delays and were essentially omitting the positives of the trip.
“In my conversations with the members of the group, they have emphasized that they don’t want people to focus on the negative things that were taking place,” he said. “Because, in the midst of all that, the things they were able to accomplish were incredible.”
The Glade Church — which has a partnership in Haiti with a ministry called “myLIFEspeaks” — has sent an average of three mission teams to Haiti each year since 2015. During this month’s trip, the group from the Glade Church joined with a youth group from Bradenton, Fla.
Together, they hosted Bible studies and a soccer camp for the children in Nepoli. The team members said they were not hindered by the unrest in other parts of the country.
“Outside of their transportation to and from the airport, they really didn’t feel any effects of the protests,” said Post. “Nepoli is far removed from Port-au-Prince, and it is a very peaceful village. Our group was in no danger there.”
Post, who has traveled to Haiti several times on mission work in the past, said he experienced some anxious moments regarding the team’s flight home, but he knew the team was in good hands.
“I trusted our partners (with myLIFEspeaks), that they would make decisions that would put our team’s safety at a priority and at the same time, make decisions that would maintain the integrity of what they were trying to do,” he said. “So, for myself and the church family, we had that to rest on.”
“We had constant communi-
cations with the team, and we knew that ministry was still taking place and that God was still being glorified in the midst of all the other stuff that was happening,” said Post.
Gardner, who was making her fourth trip to Haiti, said she was forever changed by this visit.
“I learned a lot about how little faith we have,” she said, “and how we put our faith in materialistic things and relationships and so many other things. But with the people of Haiti, they don’t have those things to clinch their hands on,” she said.
Gardner noted that many Haitians earn about $2 per day.
“Many of them don’t have what we consider to be a steady income or a job,” she said. “They have to trust the Lord to provide every day, just as we did during those extra three days.”
Gardner said her team was mostly shielded from the uprisings in Port-au-Prince, but said she and the team members were able to see the smoke, off in the distance, coming from tires being burned and other rioting.
The most alarming part for the team, she said, was realizing that they did not have enough food or water for the extra three days.
“There were definitely times when I was concerned,” she said. “But when you put it in perspective of the people of Haiti — in terms of what they deal with each day — you realize that it is crazy for us to be worried about missing one meal or not having enough water. I mean, compared to what they experience, the inconveniences that we were dealing with were no big deal.”
Gardner said one of the most impactful parts of the extra time was adjusting to the “pace of life” in Haiti. She said there were long stretches when it seemed as if time was almost standing still.
“In America, we are so used to having things to do and we are used to having a set schedule. But for the people of Haiti — especially at the orphanage where we stayed — are finding things to do,” she said. “Whether it is playing a game, or washing clothes, or whatever it may be, they are just getting through the day.
“They are not always just going, going, going like we are.”
Gardner said another one of her biggest take-aways from the trip was truly experiencing the cultural differences between Haiti and America.
“We learned so much about rest and the importance of community,” she said. “The people of Haiti really display what it looks like in Acts 2 in terms of sharing what you have and living with open hands. They realize that everything they have is a gift from the Lord, and what they have is really just on loan to them.”
Gardner said her experience in Haiti helped her grow in her faith and reliance on the Lord.
“I learned so much about trusting in the Lord and knowing that He will provide,” she said. “We definitely saw the Lord do some amazing things.”