HAMLET — Austin Campbell slept until 4:30 in the afternoon the day after returning from a tumultuous mission trip to Haiti.
Nelson Sheppard spent a less restful day, wrestling with delayed emotions provoked by the successes of the trip, the street riots that cut it short and the tighter bonds shared among church members who had made the excursion.
“I had a rough day (Wednesday),” Sheppard said Thursday morning. “We could have not made it out of there.
But to a person, eight members of the missionary team gathered at First Baptist Church to describe their shared experience said they would have no qualms about returning to Haiti next year.
Once called to do something, they said — quoting 87-year-old team leader Helen Little of Clayton, North Carolina — “you can’t not do it.”
Set to meet Little and other representatives of her eponymously named foundation in Haiti, the Hamlet group left the States on July 3, planning to spend a week distributing medicine, vitamins and food, and teaching Bible lessons.
They had heard about government plans to raise fuel prices as much as 51 percent but did not know how much that announcement would affect their mission
They were to stay at Villa Mamika in Croix des Bouquets (Cross of Flowers), just outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. Privately owned, the villa is designated a safe place by the U.S. Embassy and employs armed guards to maintain that standing.
All went well the first part of the week.
Church members played soccer with local children, and worked with Haitian health providers to vaccinate orphans and others against the bacterial diseases of tetanus, diptheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
Pastor Allison Farrah estimated that the group helped administer about 200 TDAP inoculations, important in a humid and trash-strewn nation that has no air conditioning and little available clean water.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to statistics by the World Bank, and one of the poorest in the developing world — a situation exacerbated by frequent earthquakes, hurricanes and flooding..
“You know the statistics,” Farrah said, “but none of that adequately prepares you for the sights, the sounds, the smells …”
“… The dirt,” Sheppard said.
Haitian children, especially, tend to be in poor physical shape and to suffer from fungal and bacterial infections, as well as malnutrition and a failure to thrive.
“A 10-year-old (the group saw) weighed 37 pounds,” said Mary Catherine Coltrane, Farrah’s daughter and a group member. In the United States, 37 pounds would be the weight of a 2-year-old.
The group also prepared and distributed akamil, a mixture of ground rice and beans meant to be made into a runny mush to address malrutrition.
They laid prayerful hands on a mother who had come more than five miles over rough terrain with her 4-year-old son, Marvince. The child could not hold up his head, could not speak and had never walked.
And “his skin was eating itself,” said Rachel Jarrell, a nursing student.
Marvince “ate every bit” of the akamil, Sheppard said with satisfaction.
Each evening, group members asked themselves: “Where did you see Jesus today,” a question fashioned on Jesus’s admonition that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
But their ability to leave the compound ended abruptly on Friday, as the missionaries returned to the villa by bus with their Haitian co-workers and interpreters. The Haitians, group members said, sensed that something was not right.
“We had just gotten in when things (rioting in the streets) began to unfold,” Farrah said. “We could see it beginning in the distance” as traffic heading into town began to turn around, heading back where it had come from.
The missionaries had completed only three days of work.
Melissa Staub had bought the hoe, shovel and seeds to start a local garden, and others had bought starter plants, but the missionaries were not able to plot or plant the garden.
And they would not be able to offer vacation Bible school, with its arts and crafts, music, recreation and Bible stories.
As they “sheltered in place” under Embassy orders, the missionaries passed the time praying, playing cards and trying to teach older member John Hancock how to dance “the floss.”
They held Sunday devotions at the villa, unable to venture out to a local church.
Members called home to reassure family all was as well as could be, and they wrote reassuring notes to one another, dropping them into envelopes duct-taped to the villa wall.
And Farrah added updates to her Facebook account.
But she did not voice her private fear — that “at some point, the unrest could start again (and we) would not be able to get out.”
They left the compound under armed escort at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, arriving in Miami but facing a delay in their flight to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Not until 10:30 p.m. would they make it to Hamlet, where the city’s police officers stood on street corners, their hands over their hearts.
Despite the worries and a few anxious days, group members said they had returned home with more faith in people — especially those Haitians who hoped their own efforts could save the country or who offered to pray for their benefactors.
“I could see Jesus most clearly …,” Coltrane said. “They give you everything when they have nothing.”
Several mentioned that their faith in God also had grown.
“I’ve been praying for a bigger faith, a stronger faith,” Jarrell said. “(My prayer) was definitely answered in an extravagant way.
“I’m so ready, if it’s God’s will, to go back next year.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]