By Jeff Brumley
A handful of Cooperative Baptist churches are proving that short-term mission trips aren’t just for spring break, anymore. First Baptist in Gainesville, Ga. and Calvary Baptist in Lexington, Ky., sent mixed youth and adult groups to Haiti in October and November, respectively. First Baptist Church of Rome, Ga., saw its group return from that island nation on Nov. 21.
Organizers say the timing of the trips has mostly to do with school break schedules, but proximity to the holiday season compounds the feelings of compassion and gratitude associated with this time of year.
“It’s impacted everything in my life,” Emily Jernigan, 17, said of First Baptist of Gainesville’s mid-October mission trip to build homes in Grand Goave, located about 35 miles west along the coast from Port-au-Prince.
“It changed the way I appreciate people and the things that people do for me,” said Jernigan, a high school senior.
Both the location and the work Jernigan’s church and the others have done in Haiti are practically guaranteed to have that effect, participants said. All three of the churches coordinated their fall mission trips with Conscience International, Inc. The organization has partnered with Southern Polytechnic State University to design and build homes for victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquakes.
The project involves collecting rubble from homes and other structures destroyed by the quake to build Rubble Houses. Like many other volunteers, the Baptist mission workers spent their time in Haiti pounding large chunks of concrete into smaller bits of rubble, which is then used in construction.
The work was back-breaking but spiritually uplifting, said Brian Varble, minister of missions and recreation at Calvary Baptist. “You know you are providing housing for someone who is in a tent,” Varble said. He said the recently harsh Haitian environment was extra motivation.
“When (Hurricane) Sandy came through Grand Goave, a mother and her four children living in a tent lost their lives in a mudslide,” Varble said. “They were on a list to get a house in January.”
“It’s life-and-death to get them housing,” he said.
Seeing the poverty of Haiti and challenges of everyday life led one youth at First Baptist, Gainesville, to start referring to his own challenges as “first-world problems,” said Chris Burns, student ministry pastor at the church.
“If my iPhone is not charging right, that’s a first-world problem,” Burns said. “They are not really problems; they are inconveniences.”
Burns said being in Haiti at the beginning of the holiday season was a reminder that with great resources and power come great responsibility to serve others. “You realize, after seeing that, the blessings we take for granted such as food and clean water,” he said.
Inspiration also comes from seeing how joyful Haitians are despite their conditions, said John Uldrick, minster of students and missions at First Baptist in Rome, Ga.
“You realize how resilient they are,” Uldrick said moments after landing in Miami from the Nov. 17-21 trip.
“You realize how little they have, and yet how happy they are,” he said. “And just before Thanksgiving, that’s a pretty intense experience.”