Haitians moving forward with help from Bridgeville missionaries
After arriving in Atlanta to board a plane to La Croix New Testament Mission in Haiti, Jack Crawford knew he was among friends.
“When we were boarding this plane, I (looked) at the people and I started thinking, ‘These aren't office workers. These are people going to (Haiti).'
“The whole plane was full of missionaries. It was all missionaries. Kids from schools and churches. It was something to see.”
Crawford, 71, and his wife, Barb, also 71, were among a group of five from Bethany Presbyterian Church in Bridgeville to make the trek to La Croix, which is about a five-hour drive north of Port-au-Prince. Also on the mission trip were Barb Mours, Sandy Smith and Laurie Sysak.
Pastor Vaugelas Pierre, a Haiti native who converted to Christianity, has served at the mission, which includes preschool to 12th grade school buildings in seven villages in La Croix, and helped it grow since 1975.
Bethany Presbyterian has supported the La Croix mission over the past 10 years, donating money to pay for children's education and food.
Crawford's daughter, Bonnie Eichler, traveled there 10 years ago to work with a medical team and has returned periodically to teach elementary school students.
Jack said the mission started with 20 children and grew to more than 3,000 in the area.
“You can pick them out because all the kids have uniforms on. They all dress alike in each school. It's so neat to see...to see where it went, what it's doing, and to see the results, it's awesome. They've got kids coming to the United States now to go to college.”
This was the Crawfords' first time traveling to Haiti. Jack has participated in numerous mission trips over the years to Africa, Mexico, Kentucky and along the Mississippi River.
“What I saw in Haiti just blew my mind because they were working down there, the whole country works all day long. They might make a couple bucks and buy a concrete block to put on their house. It's not going up quick, but everybody's working. Everybody's trying to fix their houses up.”
Jack said the mission's complex includes five concrete buildings, two and three stories high, measuring about 100 by 100 feet.
“Everywhere you look are houses with (reinforcing bars) sticking out of them. That's what made most of the buildings collapse. There was no rebar in them. They just collapsed.
“When I was in Africa, everything was old and dilapidated. (In Haiti), everything is new and growing. The people are unbelievable. They clean their clothes in the creeks. Their clothes are spotless. Their shirts are ironed with a charcoal iron. The people are so clean.”
Jack said the group met children they have sponsored at the mission during the trip.
“These kids are educated. They're going to know how to do things. Some are actually learning trades besides a regular high school education they're getting. That's awesome.
“We didn't get to meet them all because the school was closed for a holiday,” he says with a chuckle.
The convoy traveled with 100 children's dresses and each person carried two suitcases, weighing 70 pounds each, full of books for their library.
During the week, Jack built wooden tables and chairs for his daughter's classroom.
“They had nothing. They were sitting on the floor. Little tables and little chairs for the little guys,” he said.
“(Eichler) had to have an octagon. It took me a while to figure out how to make an octagon. But we did it and it turned out real good.”
Jack said he hopes to return to the country in the future.
“I've been trying to get down there for 10 years. Back then, there were wars and floods and famine. You couldn't get into the country. They wouldn't let you in.
“I'm very impressed with what's going on....it's totally different now. When (Eichler) first went down there, there was nothing but dirt roads up to La Croix. Now there's a highway, The traveling's not bad, riding on smooth, asphalt roads.”
Positive reactions from Haitians greeted him everywhere.
“The people are just awesome. They're friendly and easy to get along with. They're happy to see you. To the kids, it's an honor to be sponsored. They were very happy.”
Jack left filled with hope for Haiti's future following devastating earthquakes, floods and hurricanes.
“It just flattened the whole town, But everywhere you look, it's growing. Everywhere you look, they're working.”
David Mayernik Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.