Members of three local churches were recently part of a mission trip to Haiti, marking the first time the churches have joined together for a common cause since deciding to merge their congregations into one.
The Rev. Mira Hewlett said the trip was an ideal opportunity for people from Allison, First and Grace United Methodist churches of Carlisle to get to know one another and build relationships that will help the new Carlisle United Methodist Church expand its outreach to the local community and beyond.
“If we can do this in Haiti, imagine what we can do in Carlisle,” said Hewlett, who pastors the First and Allison churches. “That thought brought these three churches together — what can we do together that we could never do separately — and Haiti is a perfect example.”
A total of 20 people went on the trip sponsored by United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Nov. 30 to Dec. 8. The group included 14 members of the three Carlisle churches and a member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Chambersburg.
In Haiti, the group was divided into two 10-member teams. One team worked on a small coastal island called La Gonave, and the other went to the mountain village of Furcy. They were assisted by 20 Haitian workers hired through the church program.
Art Kunst and his 18-year-old son Steven were on the team in La Gonave.
“We were putting a concrete floor on the church, bucket by bucket,” said Art, a member of Allison UMC. “We first had to take out a lot of rocks and rubble, and then we put down a gravel base and rebar. Once that was done, we mixed up concrete, poured it in buckets and had a bucket brigade. It’s time-consuming, but that’s the way they do things there.”
Kunst said he was impressed with the work ethic of both younger crew members and the Haitians.
“It was good to see young people doing good things for others,” he said. “And the Haitians are very hard workers. They started at 7 a.m. and worked until about 4:30 p.m., and never took a lunch break. They have very good attitudes, and there was a lot of laughing. Even though they don’t have much material-wise, they’re still happy.”
Barb Harpel, also a member of Allison UMC, helped to build a guest house in Furcy. When completed, it will be used by mission workers during their stays.
“We sifted and shifted a lot of sand,” she said.
Sand was used to make a mortar-like substance, which she compared to stucco, that covered the cinder block walls.
She said mission workers also organized a children’s vacation Bible school featuring games, activities, crafts and puppet shows.
Harpel went to Haiti for the first time in 2011. She also made two trips to Mississippi to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and is looking forward to the next mission trip to Haiti, which Hewlett said is planned for later this year.
“It’s great,” said Harpel of mission work. “The differences between churches, or the fact that you are affiliated with one church or another, seem to fade. For that one week, you just hang out together.
“It’s a whole different way of looking at the world — (and) we can do a whole lot more together than separately. As a combined church, we have a lot more resources. We can concentrate our efforts in the areas we’d like to serve.”
Kunst agreed. “They all have different backgrounds and different ways of doing things and different ideas of coming together, but it’s good to see us working together for a common cause,” he said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do as Christians.”
Hewlett, who made her sixth mission trip to Haiti, said she enjoys seeing the progress made when all of the teams work together. “The United Methodist Church has teams in every week,” she said. “We’re part of a much larger group. When the work in one area is done, you move on.”
She was also impressed with the support of the three local churches, which together raised more than $15,000 for the trip. “Every time we go, we take school supplies, medical supplies, footballs, soccer balls, jump ropes,” she said. “They just don’t have those things.”
She said the experience can also be an eyeopener for younger team members. “They learn that they can’t just run out and buy something like they normally would,” she said. “As a young person, they realize that not everyone lives like they do.”
Allison, First and Grace United Methodist churches will hold their first service as the Carlisle United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 7. Services will be in the Grace church building, but the long-range plan is to build a new church.
Hewlett will serve as associate pastor of the new church. Lead pastor will be the Rev. Jim VanZandt. Hewlett said membership will be about 1,000, and the goal is have a weekly attendance of 600-700 people.