By Woody White
It’s a two-hour flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, roughly the same distance between Spartanburg and Chicago. But for those who make mission trips to the Caribbean nation, it’s a step into a world of unimaginable poverty.
Ravaged by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew last fall, Haiti is easily the poorest country in North America, and one of the world’s most destitute.
Shannan Manly, a member of The Mill, recently made her third trip to Haiti, and she saw the country’s poverty in a new light.
“This visit was the first time we got to go into some of their homes,” Manly said. “There would be little to no furnishings, dirt floors, no electricity or running water. People would cook on open fires and carry their water in jugs. Every day is a struggle for survival for them.”
Haiti’s per capita gross domestic product is $1,300, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s 2017 World Factbook. That’s 3 ½ times less than Nicaragua, the next poorest country in the hemisphere. By contrast, per capita GDP in the United States is $57,466.
The 2010 earthquake exacerbated Haiti’s economic problems, killing 300,000 in the nation of 10 million and displacing 1.5 million. Moreover, the World Bank estimates that more than 80 percent of college graduates from Haiti live abroad.
The Mill presently supports two missions in Haiti – Children’s Hope and Faith House, both in Jacmel, a port town on Haiti’s south coast. One group from The Mill recently returned from Children’s Hope.
Children’s Hope is a ministry of First Baptist Church of Montgomery, Ala. Its compound includes a mission house, orphanage and clinic. There is also a surgery center in the works through a partnership with physicians and supporters from Oregon.
Scott and Allison Payne, longtime members of The Mill, felt called to serve at Children’s Hope following a trip there in 2013. The Paynes joined the staff in 2015 and serve as mission team coordinators and hosts, organizing the trips of approximately 40 mission teams a year.
Faith House, launched by Future Generation International Missions of Tampa, Fla., is an orphanage for approximately 30 girls ages 5-14. Girls mainly come to Faith House from broken homes or conditions so dire that their parent can’t take care of them, while others are true orphans, many from the 2010 earthquake.
Faith House was started by Pierre and Lorphine St. Louis. Lorphine is a native of Haiti whose life mirrored some of the girls the orphanage serves. Her parents immigrated to Florida and left her and her siblings behind in Haiti. Her mother brought her to the United States in 2004, where she met and married Pierre.
“The poverty in Haiti is so intense,” said Jason Williamson, The Mill’s Missions Pastor. “Poverty is the most overwhelming thing about going on a trip to Haiti – or to Nicaragua or Uganda. They’re all similar, and there’s no way to prepare for what you’re going to see.”
But Williamson said it isn’t just the poverty that makes missions work so challenging in Haiti.
“Just as there’s poverty, there’s a shallow amount of gospel presence,” he said. “A lot of people there claim to be Christian, but there’s not a lot of discipleship. It’s a poor country, but it’s also dark spiritually. There’s a lot of animism, voodoo, spirit worship, sacrifice of animals.”
Williamson said The Mill has been encouraged by Children’s Hope’s work with pastors and church planters to reach people in the remote mountains of Haiti. To equip the church plants “we need to equip pastors,” he said.
And that’s what the Paynes do in their work at Children’s Hope.
“We work with local pastors and discover the needs in the churches and communities,” said Allison Payne. “We use teams to meet those needs when we can. We organize mobile medical clinics in the mountain communities and assist in them.”
She said they organize pastor conferences, women’s conferences, men’s conferences, eye care clinics, dental clinics and Bible studies for teams to do when they come to Children’s Hope.
“We do activities in the communities. We work with some of the local people we know and host field days for the children in our community and share a Bible story at the end. My favorite part of this work is meeting and getting to know the pastors. I have had the pleasure of working with some wonderful godly men. I also love the translators that we have the pleasure of partnering with.”
She said Scott also serves the compound as head of its construction and maintenance, overseeing projects and upgrading systems.
Allison Payne said she and Scott will be coming back to South Carolina in October.
“I have felt the Lord leading me to get my nursing license renewed – and hopefully He will send us back out,” she said.
Allison Payne said her advice for people considering an international mission trip is to “spend much time in prayer before you go. Ask God to open your eyes to see what He wants to show you. I would definitely tell them to go. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn and grow.”
She said The Mill’s emphasis on missions is important to those who serve.
“Supporting our own missionaries is a huge deal,” she said, adding that it is encouraging to see church members come to work with them.
“It is so very important to remind our own people that they are not forgotten – that they are cared for and prayed for and remembered,” she said.
Manly said that “God always softens my heart towards other people when I’m on a mission trip. He helps me see them through His eyes, and guides me to show them His love. I think I’m going to go on a mission trip to impact others. But in the end, I feel like I’ve been greatly impacted as well.”
A trip to Haiti, she said, changes a person.
“It will make you grow an appreciation for, and feel a little guilty about, the things we have here in America. Don’t think just because there is a language barrier that you won’t be able to communicate God’s love. He will supply you with everything you need to share the gospel.”