The Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church has missionary connections in places like India, Guatemala and Africa. About four times a year, the congregation runs mission trips to Haiti, congregation member Jeff Denlinger said.
“Haiti has kind of gripped the hearts of the people of our church,” he said.
The church held an information and prayer session on Wednesday night to discuss and plan ways to help the victims of the magnitude-7 earthquake that struck the country’s capital city of Port-au-Prince Tuesday afternoon. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the country in more than 200 years.
“Right now, it’s just a matter of trying to assess the situation,” Denlinger said. “It’s hard because people are calling, asking what they can do, and we don’t have answers.”
Denlinger, who has visited Haiti six times since 2008, said the country’s buildings are not built with the same stability and under the same building codes and standards as structures in the United States.
“The earthquake would devastate an American city with all our structural advances … I can’t imagine what it’s like down there,” Denlinger said. “There was so much need down there before this, I can’t fathom what it’s like now.”
Denlinger’s mission work focused primarily on the Good Samaritan orphanage, located between five and six miles from the National Palace in Port-au-Prince.
Denlinger reached the orphanage by telephone around 6:15 Tuesday night, about 15 minutes after the quake occurred, he said.
“They told me the kids were OK,” he said. “I asked them three times.”
The short 15-to-20-second phone call was long enough for Denlinger to hear screaming in the background and learn that the citizens could hardly see the city covered by a cloud of dust, he said.
“It’s bad,” he said. “There was a lot of chaos and screaming in the background.”
Since then, communication with the Caribbean nation has been minimal, Denlinger said during Wednesday night’s information meeting and pray service at the South Middleton Township church.
“We all know the reason we’re here is a sad reason,” Alan Robinson, pastor of the of the church, told the more then 100 people in attendance.
Information Denlinger doled out was sparse due to the difficulty of reaching officials at the orphanages that the church is affiliated with. Even before the earthquake, Denlinger said, phone calls were interrupted by crackles and static.
During the meeting, Denlinger read off a list of names of people the church had befriended while doing work in the county. The ones he listed were not in danger as of Tuesday night.
His attempts Wednesday morning to contact friends in Haiti by phone were unsuccessful, although he did get updates through a missionary friend’s Facebook page, he said.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is accounted for and safe.
A number of church members sponsor children in the county that was already reeling from poverty and hunger. It’s likely to be some time before information about those children, those who are not affiliated with a program the church assists with, reach the states, Denlinger said.
When information does role in, he added, it will be posted to his Facebook page and on a blog he helps manage.
The Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church hopes to send three or four members to Haiti in mid-February to assist with relief efforts, Denlinger said.
In the mean time, members of the church, as well as non-members, can submit donations that will help with short-term and long-term relief efforts.
Denlinger also encouraged those in attendance to pray for survivors of the quake.
“They’re just paralyzed. They don’t know what to do,” he said. “It’s a matter of just trying to survive.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.