A brief period of unrest in Haiti followed by a U.S. government travel warning has led short-term mission groups to postpone travel to the island nation.
Youth groups and college spring-breakers in some cases canceled service trips when parents and pastors became concerned, said Jenny Jenkins, field personnel based in Haiti for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
“So many organizations that use short-term teams are struggling now because everybody has had to cancel,” Jenkins said by phone Tuesday from Grand Goave, Haiti, where her ministry is based.
It all started last July when the government announced increases in the price of diesel fuel. Massive protests occurred for two or three days but subsided when the price hikes were rescinded, Jenkins said.
But over the ensuing months, opposition political activity stoked unrest around the energy crisis and ever-present inflation, inspiring plans for a peaceful protest on Feb. 7. However, a four-day, protester-led lockdown ensured when the nation’s roads were blocked.
“In some areas they used a lot of gangs and it got violent in the urban areas,” Jenkins said. “In my area it did not get violent, but they did block our road.”
On Feb. 14 the government called for peace and vowed to find solutions to the nation’s challenges.
“It’s been all clear since Feb. 15,” Jenkins said.
But it was on Feb. 14 that the U.S. State Department issued a “Do Not Travel” warning for Haiti “due to crime and civil unrest.”
The U.S. agency said it also recalled “all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members” from the Caribbean nation.
Jenkins said it is likely the travel warning will be lifted after 30 days.
But the people of Haiti and the missionaries who serve them are accustomed to such interruptions, she added.
Those include a reduction in airline flights to and from Haiti, increases in the cost of travel insurance for visitors and the inability of locals, for short times, to travel for work or shopping.
“I explained to one pastor that you have to realize Haiti has always been a developing country and such things happen in a moment,” she said.
“The protocol when you hear rumors is you stock up and settle down and wait it out.”
But it’s a much bigger deal for potential visitors, who have to possibly being stranded in Haiti beyond their original departure dates.
The result is missionaries and churches have to make due without the arms and backs that short-term teams provide.
And that’s something Jenkins is definitely feeling.
“This time of year, she’s usually got a church group coming almost every week or every two weeks,” said Stephanie Vance, CBF’s area coordinator of field personnel in the region.
Even at the height of the most recent unrest, Vance said she was able to speak with Jenkins twice a day by cell phone.
Vance said she isn’t concerned about the long-term viability of short-term missions to Haiti, either.
“She has a group of churches who are long-term partners, who go year after year from all over the U.S.,” Vance said.
Jenkins said CBF remains committed to the ministry, as do the many American congregations that work with her.
“Most of our groups that weren’t able to come this spring are in the process of rescheduling,” Jenkins said. “In no way has this daunted their spirit for coming.”