Alison Gaddis came home, hugged her dog and told him he was better off than the poor people she had just spent time with in Haiti.
"It blows your mind to go over there," said the office manager of Crosspoint Christian Church in Conyers, which recently sent four of its members on a medical mission trip to that country.
"You're so sad because of their living conditions and then you marvel at what they can do. They're so happy with a bag of rice. There's one doctor for every 9,000 people. It's crazy. It's insanity. They're not even a third-world country; they've been demoted to fourth world. They've got 90 percent unemployment. Our homeless look better than they do."
Gaddis said she just wanted to ask them, "How are you still alive?" The conditions of the people in the villages she and the others visited are so dire, Gaddis said, that unless one has seen it firsthand, it is hard to even imagine.
Gaddis, Ed and Brenda Durham and Wendy Zehner of Crosspoint Christian joined a 30-member mission team sponsored by Fellowship of Associates of Medical Evangelism at the Haitian Christian Mission where they saw 1,100 patients in five days.
"We saw everything from worms to malaria to some people we had no idea what they had," Gaddis said. "Over there it's just hit or miss. There are babies born every night."
Before the Conyers group left, they collected medical supplies, toys and soccer uniforms. Two local dentists provided toothbrushes and toothpaste. With the help of the Rockdale Youth Soccer Association, Casey Black with Black Ink. Inc. and their church's mission ministry, the mission team was able to outfit two soccer teams in the area where they ministered in Haiti under the auspices of the HCM.
"I had the privilege of handing out the jerseys and soccer balls," Gaddis said. "I've never seen such pride and excitement over a T-shirt."
Gaddis came home with the goal of helping start up a soccer academy through the HCM.
"These kids play soccer on a concrete slab with two large rocks as goals," Gaddis said. "Most don't have shoes, but they play their hearts out. God has great plans for HCM. A soccer field and all that goes with that would be a great outlet for these kids and give them hope for something beyond the gates of HCM. Smiles are few and far between. I would love to bring smiles to each of these children."
Gaddis said soccer is a big event in Haiti and the kids play on a makeshift field situated in the center of the mission camp between housing and the school.
"We want to get them a soccer field and a program," she added. "We've got to raise tons of money, of course, but everything over there is cheaper, so it won't cost like it does here. We've very excited about that and they're just ecstatic. They don't have anything over there. No recreation. It's just pitiful."
Gaddis and Rafe Mauran, a Rockdale County High School graduate who is now the director of coaching for RYSA, will travel back to Haiti in January to make plans for the soccer field and program, as well as to see what repairs are needed for the school and the medical facility at the camp. They will also host a soccer camp for boys and girls. It will be a short trip to precede a medical trip others will take in March and then a later trip set for October, which will include Gaddis and the others as they travel with the doctors on another medical mission trip.
This most recent trip was the third time Wendy Zehner has been to Haiti as a mission team volunteer and it continues to trouble her to see how the people are suffering. As the villages came to the mission for medical care, they were excited to receive a bag of rice before they left.
"The country's taken a beating between all the hurricanes and the political unrest," she said. "The host mission is in Port-au-Prince and the violence got so bad, a lot of people fled the city. There is no government infrastructure to fix things after hurricanes and no electricity except in Port-au-Prince. There's no trash pick up. People outside the city are catching rainwater, piling up trash and burning coal... They're just so trapped."
Zehner said despite such harsh conditions, the medical missionary teams along with the work of HCM, FAME and others are able to make progress in helping many of the people, but the work is not easy. Through their actions, they show the love of Christ and talk to the villagers about God.
"They have a combination of Catholicism and voodoo," she said. "There are a lot of demons to battle to teach them. At the Haitian Christian Mission, where the main clinic is, they do a great job of educating the people through the school and the nutrition center. They built a wood shop where the people are building coffins and furniture ... The mission reaches out in a lot of different ways from literacy to nutrition to giving the people a skill they can make a living from."
There are 52 churches under the HCM umbrella and one major goal this year is to feed all the children who attend the HCM school. At present, they are only able to feed one-fourth of the students. Education is crucial, Zehner said, because from the HCM school, sponsored children can move into a language and translation school for higher education. A computer school is also in the works and students who qualify will be able to move into that area.
"They can learn interpreting skills, become doctors and teachers and come back to the mission and work there," Zehner said. "They want to expand the higher education."
She tells how one day they took some of the Haitians and drove a few miles over the border into the Dominican Republic.
"They were stunned," she said of the villagers who had never traveled even this short distance. "They kept saying, 'Where are we? Where are we?' Everything was clean. There were shops, stores, a park. We got out there and they couldn't believe it. They were shocked."
Gaddis, Zehner and mission volunteers are hoping other churches, individuals, organizations and businesses will join efforts to help the mission work in Haiti. They are accepting donations now for what they will need for next year's medical mission trip and invite anyone who has a heart for missions to come along and help the people in the villages.
All types of donations are welcome, including over-the-counter medicines, bandages, hand sanitizer, soap, toys and other items. Medical personnel are also encouraged to go as volunteers.
For information on how to help or volunteer, visit Crosspoint Christian Church's Web site at www.xpt.cc, or call the church at 770-483-1887. Donations may be sent to Crosspoint Christian Church, 4550 Ga. Highway 20 SE, Conyers, GA 30013.
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.