HARTINGTON — Keevin Arens, Fordyce, struggled with the idea of making a trip to Haiti — now he is happy he agreed to go.
The mission trip focused on telling the message of Christ, along with helping feed, cloth and house people in Haiti.
The trip turned out to be a life-changing encounter for Arens.
“I can’t explain what I saw. I can’t put it into words,” Arens said. “You have to experience it to know.”
Arens would encourage others to have that experience at least once in their life.
In February, Arens spent almost seven days in Haiti with Hope Mission Outreach.
Arens was with a group of 27 men and women of various Christian denominations which included Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Assembly of God and other faiths.
Arens and three others from the First Assembly Church in Yankton, S.D., had their suitcases packed to the 50-pound maximum limit as they flew out of Omaha.
Arens, Pastor Jeff Mantz and his wife Rose, Yankton, along with Mike Schurman, Crofton, took along extra clothes, shoes, caps, candy, tools and other items to hand out to the Haitians.
Schurman, who has made the trip to Haiti nine times in the past, also had 500 books with the Gospel of John and the Book of Romans that were printed in the primary language of Haiti, French Creole.
“The main purpose was to get the Gospel out but we also wanted to help feed, cloth and build houses for the people in Haiti. That is what the Mission does,” Arens said. “There is a command in the Bible to feed and clothe the poor and hungry. We were an extension of His hand.”
The team flew into Port-au-Prince which is in an area that received the most damage from an earthquake that happened a little over a year ago.
The first two days were spent remodeling the kitchen at the Mission of Hope complex.
The group then headed out to a work in a 500-home community where houses were just getting built.
“The earthquake had destroyed a lot of homes and many of the people died,” Arens said. “Their homes had previously had cement walls and roofs – during the earthquake the cement came down and crushed them.”
The new three-room buildings are sturdier and have concrete floors and walls with wood rafters and a steel roof. The houses have louvers in place of glass windows and are painted on the outside.
The team Arens was with worked on the roofs and the awnings.
Arens said he could see the Haitians were not lazy people. They had done the concrete work for the walls and floors.
Families would move into the new houses, pay $6 a month for five years and the property would be theirs according to Arens.
The houses cost the Mission of Hope approximately $6,000 to construct.
“There were so many people who did not have homes,” Arens said. “We saw a lot of tent cities – some were built on the side of hills. When it rained the water ran down the hill and into the tents. There was a lot of mud. Our goal was to replace the tents with buildings.”
As Arens went into some of the tents he could see there was little or no food and few or no cooking utensils. The tents would have bunk beds for the families.
While Arens was in Haiti the team traveled to one of the villages to help with evangelism – they stopped at a small building that was used for a church and for a school.
“My heart just went out to them – the kids were singing Christian songs,” Arens said. “It is a privilege to be able to attend school in Haiti. The kids are very obedient and want to learn.”
Mission of Hope provides schooling for approximately 2,400 kids – one half of the students go to school in the mornings and the other half in the afternoon.
Arens visited an orphanage where there were about 75 kids living.
The pastor at the orphanage would like to have the kids be adopted by Americans and be able to live in the United States.
“He wants them to learn the culture in the U.S. and then bring it back to Haiti,” Arens said.
Arens saw kids who had very little clothing – a few didn’t have any.
The children do not always have food to eat – at one point Arens took his lunch food out of his back-pack and gave it to the kids.
The Mission of Hope is currently feeding around 50,000 children a day.
The team visited with the children and prayed with them. They also handed out candy and suckers which they had brought along on the trip.
A few boys in Haiti are now wearing caps with the words Yankton Livestock Auction printed across the front.
Dean Price from Yankton Livestock Auction had sent a number of caps to hand out in Haiti.
“The caps brought huge smiles to their faces,” Arens said.
The team Arens was with had a nice place to stay while in Haiti. A breakfast buffet was provided in the mornings along with a meal in the evenings.
They carried the fruit and snacks they had brought with them from the U.S. in their backpacks for their lunch at noon.
The group gathered for devotions in the morning and shared a time of reflections at night.
“Haiti is a beautiful place – we were in the gulf area,” Arens said.
The traffic in Haiti is a little different than what Arens is used to.
As they traveled back to the airport at Port-au-Prince to fly back home there were two lanes of traffic coming towards them on a two-lane highway.
“There is lots of traffic – with people also walking in the roadway,” Arens said. “The drivers would have one foot on the gas pedal, the other foot on the brake and their hand on the horn.”
Arens said if the opportunity to travel to Haiti presented it self again – he would consider going back.
“They are such good people,” Arens said. “They are so happy even with so little.”
Mission of Hope was started 30 years ago and a group of volunteers makes the trip to Haiti two times a year.
Mission of Hope in Haiti is a 72-acre complex used for missions. The facilities there are for the implementation of missions to the people of Haiti and to short term missionaries for one or two weeks at a time.
Organizers say lives are changed forever by the power of Christ working in the hearts of both the missionaries and the Haitian people.