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Oak Hills Christian College: Mission team reaches out to Haiti

Students at Oak Hills Christian College in Bemidji have a long tradition of spring break mission trips.

This spring, the plan was to work in Jamaica. After the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, those plans abruptly changed. The 25 students and leaders took off March 5 for a March 6-13 stay in Port-au-Prince to clear rubble, teach vacation Bible school and experience the aftermath of the disaster.

The scenes they saw and the people they met in Port-au-Prince surprised them in many ways - both how much the residents need help and how competently the country is coping.

"I was expecting dead bodies on the side of the road," said Carrie Geving. "It was just so amazing to work with the Haitians and live as they live and just being Haitian for a week."

The team members sheltered in tents, as do many Port-au-Prince residents since the earthquake demolished their homes or made them too fearful to enter buildings. They also ate outside at picnic tables, but two months after the temblor, they were able to buy groceries at stores in the city.

Students recapped their experiences Monday morning in the Oak Hills Christian College Chapel for others in the student body and faculty members. Team members said the outreach that was most meaningful to them was praying, singing and worshipping with the Haitians.

Ashley Haynes said the Voodoo religion, dominant in Haiti, gave her a sense of darkness, but many people turned passionately to Christianity after the earthquake.

"There's a lot of fear, and the only one who can cast out that fear is Jesus," she said.

Shelley Johnson said on March 12, many of the students went door to door as prayer teams, asking people if they would like to pray with them.

"That was the most powerful two hours of my life," she said.

She said they prayed that God would cast out their fear and for them to be supplied with food because so many Haitians, especially children, are undernourished.

"It was very heartbreaking to see the living conditions," Johnson said.

The evidence of malnutrition was shocking to the team members.

"That gives more emphasis to our Feed My Starving Children," said Leo Sirucek.

Volunteers will conduct a Mobile Packing Event for Feed My Starving Children from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 27, on the campus of Oak Hills Christian College, 1600 Oak Hills Road S.W., Bemidji.

Another concern that impressed Sirucek was the illiteracy rate; 70 percent of Haitians can't read or write and parents have to pay for their children to go to school.

He said team members gave Haitians they met small New Testaments and copies of the Book of Psalms. Often, he said, the recipients would simply stick the books in their pockets "like a lucky charm."

Toni Groff made friendship bracelets and handed them out at Monday's gathering.

"Put it on to remember to pray for Haiti," she said as she handed the colored strips to other students. She said the green strand stood for growing in grace; black represents sin; red for the blood of Jesus; white for purity; and yellow for the Streets of Gold.

The team members were led by John and Kathie Pederson, 10-year veterans with the Bethany International Short Term Evangelical Mission, which maintains an office at Oak Hills.

"The kids are going to grow through it," John said of the experience.

Kathie said each team member raised $2,000 to cover plane fare and the wages for translators, drivers and other Haitians who assisted them. In addition, 24 Bemidji area businesses donated items for hygiene kits for the Haitians.