After watching Hurricane Tomas creep closer and closer to Haiti, a team of four missionaries from Carlisle Brethren In Christ Church decided Wednesday to postpone their departure date until Monday.
Considering Tomas morphed into a ruthless Category 1 hurricane Friday, the day the team was originally scheduled to arrive in Haiti, one could term the decision a divine intervention.
This will be the fourth trip to Haiti for Michelle Bell of Carlisle, who serves as director of sponsor relations for Good Samaritan Ministries Orphanage. The orphanage, which houses 33 children, is supported through Awaken Haiti, a missions organization sponsored by Carlisle BIC.
"Every time I've gone there's been something I get out of it," Bell said. "I'm extremely blessed to be able to serve on these mission trips. Everyone who's been would say you're going to be able to help people, but when you come back, you realize how much your life has also been changed by going."
A love for Haiti
Before she began serving on short-term mission trips to Haiti, Bell financially supported several children who live in orphanages in Haiti. As Carlisle BIC, where she has been a member for 13 years, continued to emphasize the importance of actually traveling to Haiti, Bell felt a desire to make the trip.
"Some of my friends had gone on mission trips to Haiti," Bell said. "I'd heard their stories and saw their pictures, which impacted me greatly. But I'm sort of a person that needs to see things for myself."
She ventured out on her first mission trip to Haiti after Christmas in 2008. The devastation she saw firsthand on that first trip and two later trips still deeply affects her.
"There's always kids that stick out on every trip," she said. "We went to an orphanage in Pétionville where there was a little boy wearing a onesie that was too small so it was sort of hanging off him. He had one shoe on. Not every kid was as bad as he was, but it was quite obvious they didn't have clothes or shoes for him. Stuff like that hits you really hard."
After returning home to Carlisle, Bell told her husband Jeff, principal of North Dickinson Elementary School in Carlisle, he had to experience his own trip to Haiti. The couple has returned multiple times since - traveling to Haiti separately in order to care for their children, Isaiah, 10, Rachel, 8, Eli, 3 - and have set a goal to return every six months.
Carlisle BIC has organized numerous mission trips to Haiti over the past decade, but about two years ago several church members decided to take the church's mission one step further. The concept for Awaken Haiti was born.
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Jeff and Deb Denlinger and their children, Colton, 12, Kylie, 8, and Brooke, 6, serve as Awaken Haiti's full-time missionaries. The Denlingers sold their home in Carlisle and moved to Port-au-Prince on Oct. 14, where Jeff serves as the organization's full-time Haitian operations director.
The Denlingers' sacrifice and willingness to live on the mission field will impact the lives of countless children in the years to come, but Michelle explained it only takes one week to change the life of a child forever.
"There are 100 kids at the orphanage in Léogâne and only a handful of people to take care of them," Michelle said. "The first time we went in July last year, the kids just sat on a wall and stared at us because they didn't know what to do. They'd never had people visit them.
"We went back in December and it was totally different. The kids stood on the roof of the orphanage, waved at us as we arrived and ran down to meet us. It's amazing how just spending a little time with these kids totally changes them."
Michelle had another memorable experience with Redjy Elie, a 10-year-old orphan whom the Bells sponsor through Good Samaritan Ministries. One of the highlights of her trips thus far was meeting Redjy face-to-face for the first time.
"He was very shy at first and it's been neat to see his progression and see him open up," she said. "He's hilarious and has such a great sense of humor, but in the beginning he was too scared to show us that side of his personality."
Redjy is three days older than the Bells' son, Isaiah. Michelle and Jeff had intended to introduce the boys this past summer, but the earthquake canceled those plans. Now the Bells hope Isaiah and Redjy will meet next summer.
In the meantime, Michelle's sights are set on showing love to the orphans of Haiti during her weeklong stay. Unlike Jeff, she has not traveled to Haiti since the earthquake, and she is anxious to see the devastation caused by that natural disaster, as well as the most recent damage from Hurricane Tomas.
But despite what many see as a hopeless situation in Haiti, Michelle said she is inspired by the optimism and positive attitudes of the Haitian people every time she goes.
"The people of Haiti have such a great faith because they have to," Michelle said. "Here in America we have such luxuries. We try to do things on our own and be in control. And we can do that sometimes, but in Haiti, they can't. They have such faith in God that even their most basic needs will be taken care of. We have so much to learn from them."