HAMLET — A harried and weary band of missionaries returned from Haiti late Tuesday to the wail of police sirens and the light of scores of electric candles held in the hands of their friends and family members.
The group, from Hamlet’s First Baptist Church, had flown south July 3 to work with the poor in the island nation. They were able to spread good works until Friday, when rioting broke out in the streets, and the missionaries were told to remain in their U.S. Embassy-protected compound for their own safety.
At home, anguished friends and family watched television, eager for good news.
“I lost about 10 years off my life the last three days,” First Baptist congregant Judy Walker said as she stood in the middle of a clot of kissing, hugging church members. “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord, they are home.”
Pastor Allison Farrah moved among her congregants, carrying a curly brown pup and dispensing reassurances.
“We were safe all the time,” Farrah said. “There were some tense moments, but we were safe.”
The size and fervor of the welcome surprised those returning and delighted those participating.
“This is what living in Richmond County is all about,” Farrah said, as police cruisers strobed her face with intermittent bursts of light. “We’re completely overwhelmed.”
Misty Campbell was so overjoyed that her children Austin, 19, and Grayson, 21, were home that she let out a shrill ululation — a call that used to be her specialty at high school ballgames.
Her children both had gone to Haiti on previous trips, so Campbell thought she knew what to expect. But then her daughter, Grayson, called Saturday to tell her mother that the the group wasn’t allowed out of its compound.
“As a mom, I was scared,” Campbell said. But “I felt they were safe where they were.
“I think (this trip) is something they’ll never forget,” she said, “but I guarantee … they’ll be ready to go back next year.”
The group did not come home early but did have some snags on the way back to the States. The missionaries had to be escorted to the airport in Haiti and then were delayed for a couple of hours in Miami, pushing back their flight into Raleigh-Durham International Airport and their eventual arrival in Hamlet.
Richmond County sheriff’s and Hamlet Police cruisers met the church bus at the Moore County line, ending their trip on Charlotte Street in Hamlet at about 10:30 p.m.
Starting late last week, looters in Haiti pillaged burned and vandalized shops in Port-au-Prince, protesting the government’s attempt to raise fuel prices as much as 51 percent, according to the Associated Press.
On Saturday, the government scrapped its plans.
On Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince warned U.S. citizens to shelter in place, noting that many airline flights had been canceled and the airport itself had limited food and water.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]